A Stranger in Prague: Writing and the Politics of Identity in Apollinaire, Nezval, and Camus

Alfred Thomas

in Prague Palimpsest

Published by University of Chicago Press

Published in print October 2010 | ISBN: 9780226795409
Published online February 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780226795416 | DOI:
A Stranger in Prague: Writing and the Politics of Identity in Apollinaire, Nezval, and Camus

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This chapter examines the reinvention of Prague as a modernist metropolis, focusing on the seminal influence of Guillaume Apollinaire's story “Le Passant de Prague” on avant-garde Czech writers of the interwar period. The story describes how a French visitor to the city encounters the Eternal Jew as he wanders through Prague. Inspiring numerous redactions of his life story and constantly assuming new pseudonyms across time, he personifies the city-book and its history. Vítězslav Nezval's narrative poem “Pražský chodec,” in which Prague is personified as a prostitute with whom the narrator falls in love, was directly inspired by Apollinaire's story. The modernist theme of the city as woman serves as the leitmotif of this and other poems by Nezval. Apollinaire's foundational story also had a profound impact on French cultural and political responses to Prague. The most prominent French visitor to the city between the wars was André Breton, the founder of French surrealism, who, in March 1935, during a lecture to the Czech Surrealist Group, famously described Prague as the “magical capital of Old Europe.” Unlike Apollinaire and Breton, the twenty-two-year-old Camus felt distinctly out of place and ill at ease in the “magical capital of Old Europe,” but Prague also served as a discursive impediment to his progress as a writer. The chapter also explores Camus's repeated attempts to “unwrite” Prague in order to find his own voice as a writer.

Keywords: Czech literature; Prague; central Europe; Guillaume Apollinaire; Czech writer; Vítězslav Nezval; Camus; André Breton

Chapter.  11536 words. 

Subjects: Literature

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