Friday, February 13, 2009

Parceling of the Sky

A meditation on levitation. Reminds me of Colson Whitehead's Intuitionist cast of elevator inspectors, with their discussion of "uplift", a word used by elevator theorist James Fulton to describe the action of his elevators as well as the development of civil rights.

Aaron Schuster describes levitation here in a similarly laden way. Here he is discussing Blaise Cendrars' book and hypothetical movie, in which flight is escape, journey and mourning:

One of the great literary works of the past century dealing with levitation, combining the technology of aviation with Christian mysticism, is Blaise Cendrars’s Le lotissement du ciel (literally "The Parceling of the Sky" but translated as Sky Memoirs). Begun during World War II and published in 1949, Cendrars’s book presents a kind of literary collage. Prose poetry, exotic travelogues, personal memoirs, and found texts, including scholarly documents, are all pasted together in a complex construction. Cendrars is renowned as an adventurer, and the stories he recounts here do not disappoint: there is his trip across Siberia with a jewelry merchant, his pilgrimage to a strange Brazilian doctor obsessed with Sarah Bernhardt, his voyage from Rio to Cherbourg with 250 tropical birds (none survive the boat ride), his work as a war correspondent for British headquarters in Paris. But it is the death of his son Rémy, a pilot who perished in the early months of the war, that provides the novel’s "center of gravity." Often Cendrars’s "parceling of the sky" is interpreted as an act of mourning. He had spoken with his son about the idea of proposing St. Joseph of Copertino, famed levitator, as the patron saint of French aviators. Though Cendrars’s plan was foiled by the American air force, which adopted St. Joseph as their own guardian angel in 1943, his fascination for the flying priest was unabated. While hiding from the Gestapo in Aix-en-Provence, he spent his time in the library immersing himself in the study of levitation, and in particular the life of St. Joseph.

Cendrars ends the first part of the book with a passionate proposal to make a film about the levitating saint: "If a producer ever feels like making this prodigious film, I—I, who have sworn never again to waste my time making films—will drop everything, give up my solitude, my tranquility, and my writing, to make this film about St. Joseph of Copertino, in memory of my son, Rémy, the pilot, and as a souvenir for his sometime girlfriend, the out-of-work baker’s girl, with whom I lost touch in wartime Paris."

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