Vaché’s epiphany

So after all that frivolity over the holiday period it’s back to business as usual on Strange Flowers. Which basically means suicidal poets.

Actually it’s unclear if death was the intended destination when Jacques Vaché took to a Nantes hotel room to smoke and ingest opium on this day in 1919 with four companions (one of whom also died). Certainly Vaché’s disdainful detachment from everyone and everything made self-destruction a plausible possibility; his world-weariness and cynicism were so all-consuming that it’s almost immaterial whether he meant to overdose or not. He experienced a similar trajectory to Jacques Rigaut and Harry Crosby — active service in the Great War leading to a dandified nihilism and ending, with the brute force of inevitability, in early death. It’s just that Vaché experienced that process in fast forward and got the whole mess over with shortly after Armistice.

Vaché didn’t have time in his 23-odd years on Earth to align himself with any cultural current even in the unlikely event that he had wanted to; the only literary figure spared his scattershot scorn was Alfred Jarry. That we discuss Vaché at all today is not due to his slender oeuvre, rather it’s a result of the bromance between André Breton and the slightly older poet. Vaché was, in a sense, Che Guevara to Breton’s Fidel Castro; a charismatic figure who, once safely dead, could be used as an exemplar to guide a young movement, in this case Dadaism (the main picture above is by the Dadaist Louis Aragon). According to Breton’s biographer, Victor Castre, “Vaché is Dada before Dada, Dada in all its purity, without compromise, without any concession to snobbery.”

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