Word and Image in France, 1880–1926
Coda - Visual and Verbal Simultaneity in the Early Twentieth Century 233
Coda Visual and Verbal Simultaneity in the Early Twentieth Century When Gide’s character Strouvilhou pondered, in 1926, ‘by what miracle painting got ahead, and how literature got so far behind?’, he voiced an anxiety about the growing prominence of visual art that was increasingly manifest among contemporary writers.1 In a 1929 article on André Masson, Carl Einstein registered the pre-eminence of painting in similar terms to Strouvilhou, opening his analysis with the observation that ‘In this genera- tion, it is the literary men who are limping laboriously behind the painters’. While visual artists had broken with tradition, undermining ‘conventional grammar’, writers remained mired in ‘the swamps of syntax’. Citing Picasso as evidence of this role reversal, Einstein concluded that ‘We have slipped behind the painters […] Instead of laying their head on the line, writers believed in language’.2 However, this perception that visual art had outstripped literature did not emerge with the Surrealist movement. Although Strouvilhou’s disgruntled observation suggests a sudden disruption to the conventional hierarchy, over a decade earlier two prominent poets, Blaise Cendrars and Apollinaire, revealed a similar sensitivity to the advantages of painting. Cendrars, who had come into contact with Apollinaire and Delaunay during 1912, confessed in his poem ‘Journal’ (August 1913): ‘I even wanted 1 ‘par quel prodige la peinture était en avance, et comment il se faisait que la littérature se soit ainsi laissé distancer?’, Gide, Les Faux-monnayeurs (1926), 1994 edn, p. 319. 2 ‘Pour cette génération, ce sont les litt...
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