"Labyrinthitis," Night Papers V (Los Angeles, 2014): 1–2.
Ecoutez. Faites silence. Robert Desnos bids you listen and be still, for the evening of Fantomas is beginning. It is November 3, 1933, and your rhapsode is as far away and near at hand as any voice on the radio — in this case, Radio Paris, which has marshaled its resources to present Desnos’s “Complainte de Fantômas.”A lyrical account of the crimes of the vagabond Fantômas, scheduled to coincide with the release of a new episode in the popular series by Marcel Allain and Pierre Souvestre, Desnos’s poem is an advertisement with an outsize avant-garde pedigree (Kurt Weill composed the background music;AntoninArtauddirectedandreadtheroleofFantômas) that would induct him into minor radio personality fame.
The poet had been initiated into the blind art some three years earlier by a young entrepreneur and radio enthusiast by the name of Paul Deharme. Deharme, perhaps more than any of the other lapsed Surrealists that would follow in his path, was devoted to the radio’s novel artistic possibilities. In March 1928, he published “Proposition pour un art radiophonique,” a strangely matter-of-fact manifesto on the potentials of this new “wireless art,” combining a semi-digested Freud with a list of techniques to produce visions in the listener — the use of the present indicative, background music, adherence to chronology, and so forth. These techniques were merely speculative; Deharme was laying out the rudiments of a new medium that, tragically, he would never develop. Deharme was killed in a car crash in 1934, leaving others like Desnos to keep beating his radiophonic drum. (And Desnos, in fact, would keep it up: following “Complainte,” he was hired by the dramatist and satellite-Surrealist Armand Salacrou to create the radio ads for the Salacrou pharmaceutical empire, becoming one of the decade’s most successful sloganeers behind such euphonic morsels as “Ricqlée, la mente forte qui renconforte,” and “Suze” — of Cubist fame — “répare les forces qui s’usent.”)
Desnos’s premiere on the radio was also Deharme’s doing: a broadcast on June 14, 1930 of his lecture on surrealist painting, “Initiation au surréalisme.” The title, one suspects, might have pleased Deharme. Over the radio, the lecture became a physical and spiritual rite, binding listener to orator, initiate to elect. One not only hears of Surrealism, one becomes (part of) it....