The French Romantic poet Gérard de Nerval explored the irrational with lucidity and exquisite craft. At the time of his death, he was dismissed as a friend of many writers but not a writer himself, as an emotional and financial failure and a madman. Shortly afterwards, however, his literary fortune changed, and with the publication of his collected works, Nerval entered the French literary pantheon. Marcel Proust acknowledged him as the inspiration for his own explorations of time lost and regained. Antonin Artaud placed Nerval beside Hölderlin, Nietzsche and Van Gogh. André Breton claimed him as a forerunner of surrealism. Modernists working between the world wars recognized the prophetic and visionary quality of his art, celebrating him as a precursor of their own aesthetic. Equally enthusiastic post-modernists claimed Nerval as a pioneer in blurring the boundaries between outer and inner, fact and fiction. Carl Gustav Jung described his oeuvre as a work of extraordinary magnitude.
Thanks to translator Richard Sieburth and Archipelago Books, we now have our Nerval for the twenty-first century. The Salt Smugglers – originally an experimental serial novel, ostensibly an account of the life and adventures of the “abbé Bucquoi” – is a wonderfully subversive book that the writer must pass off as history in order to get by the censors who have suddenly, arbitrarily forbidden the publishing of “fiction” in the press. This is a spirited, playful, and ironic tale that will be held close to the heart by every victim of the new totalitarianism that is contemporary bureaucracy, and who amongst us is not?
Craig E. Stephenson
Author of Anteros: A Forgotten Myth, and editor of C. G. Jung on Gérard de Nerval, an unpublished lecture, 1945 (to be published in 2015 by Princeton University Press).