The brevity of Marcel Cohen’s stories is matched by their intensity. Written in a style that seems both classical and avant-garde, each shows us a crack in what we take for the solid surface of ordinary days, ordinary lives. As we follow their rapid succession these fissures widen into a complex geometry that resonates with the great human catastrophes of our century.
Marcel Cohen was born in 1937 in Asnieres and works as a journalist in Paris. He has written two novels, Galpa (1969) and Voyage a Waizata (1976), stories, and several volumes of very short stories whose admirable density brings them close to being poems, Miroirs (1981), je ne sais pas le nom (1986) and the volume translated here: Le grand paon-de-nuit of 1990. He has also published a volume of interviews with Edmond Jabès, From the Desert to the Book (which has been published in English by Station Hill Press).
The translator, Cid Corman, is the noted editor of the magazine Origin and author of many volumes of poems, among them Aegis: Selected Poems 1970-80 (Station Hill) and Root Song (Potes & Poets, 1986).
“All of these texts deal with the problematics of identity, interpretation, writing itself. Cohen manages to write a few lines that say more than long novels dealing with similar themes…. They remind me of the aphorisms of Kafka, Jabès, and Edson.”
–Irving Malin, Review of Contemporary Fiction
“Cohen puts his finger on situations in which a terrifying Necessitas is at work … [or] aims his ironic foil at mankind’s deep-rooted insensitivity…. The examples of human behavior appear to be so many specks of light drifting away from a common center that remains invisible, indeed lost, yet somehow ever intensely felt… It is this absence that is ever-present, an ontological predicament linking Cohen’s prose to Jabès’s stark interrogative poetry…. A crucial path of inquiry.”
–John Taylor, The Prose Poem
“No recent translations cut so deeply into the mysteries of human perception as Marcel Cohen’s work, translated beautifully by Cid Corman… (Rather than accept the notion of epiphany, Cohen challenges, deconstructs and alters it, so that the comforting, complete perspective that epiphany becomes in less subtle hands here reveals itself to have all the confusing variability of any all-too-human perception… There is always an utterly real and particular strangeness which demands that we read these dazzling narratives carefully.”
–Mark Wallace, Washington Review