Having a Gas

The surreal death Graphic David Barlow-Krelina

“We are, all of us, after a myth, I think,” Peter Dubé says in his new book Subtle Bodies: A Fantasia on Voice, History and René Crevel.

“Every one of us scribbling our weird tales, or drawing incongruous pictures, hopes for something that is both vital enough and subtle enough to walk away from us and into the lives of multitudes.”

Montreal writer and critic Dubé has chosen to unveil such a myth by imagining in fiction the life—and death—of surrealist writer René Crevel.

Doing justice to one’s favourite authors is not an easy task. Subtle Bodies is Dube’s fictional tribute to the entropic mind of Crevel and his struggle in the intellectual revolution of the thunderous ‘30s in Paris.

Dubé attempts to evoke the tone of life in a society corroded by a profound demoralization, with a body of surrealists nursing their apathy through the Freudian process of psychic automatism and limitless expression.

The story is divided into three parts: Bodies of Speech, Bodies of Desire and Bodies of Power.

The first two are an insight into Crevel’s intellectual and emotional experiences, as he fights with oppressed feelings towards his best friend André Breton and explores the powerful nature of language in symbiosis with his mind.

The third part is his inevitable encounter with a hypocritical body of politics and the disassembling of his ideals as they come into increasing contact—and conflict—with reality.

Crevel’s story is certainly a frantic and controversial one. His battle with tuberculosis and his dismissal from the Surrealists—due to his homosexual inclinations and his “too Communist aproaches”—bring him to an abyss where his own death becomes the ultimate solution.

Accordingly, the plot is centered on all those incidents that bring him to commit suicide by inhaling gas, specifically his thoughts as he takes in his last gasps.

In terms of a biographical mapping, Dubé does a good job. In a shade more than 100 pages, he is able to capture Crevel’s dilemmas and their culmination in an accessible language. Whether he is able to render visible Crevel’s inner turmoil is perhaps more up to discussion, however.

Dubé will be reading from Subtle Bodies at Casa del Popolo (4873 St. Laurent Blvd.) on Oct. 18. at 7:00 p.m.

This article originally appeared in Volume 31, Issue 09, published October 12, 2010.