I’m still working on Aragon. It’s something best read in small bits. What has been puzzling me so far is the extent to which it is a surrealist work – it certainly feels surrealist, but why? The weird thing about it is that it’s not weirder. It’s not what I was expecting.
The most interesting passages so far haven’t been the discourse of Imagination or anything like that, but the forensic attention to the details of the commonplace, a level of attention that reveals the surreal in the everyday. This isn’t Dada as flights of imagination, but as a mirror to real life, pointing out its oddities. That is rendered wonderfully – Paris is brought to life in a way that would be impossible in a more conventional book.
By accident I re-read Orwell’s Down and Out in Paris and London before this, but it makes a good companion piece. The real is surreal; that seems to be the message of Louis Aragon. Orwell examines the underside of life, the hidden realities, so the two overlap. I wish I’d got round to reading Aragon whilst studying Walter Benjamin’s The Arcades Project, because you can really see how Aragon influenced Benjamin, and the former highlights the surreal nature of Benjamin’s magnum opus.
I actually think that The Arcades Project would work really well as a website, but I think I’ll leave that for another post.