NERD YOUR ENTHUSIASM (3)

By: Lucy Sante
October 8, 2021

One in a series of 25 enthusiastic posts, contributed by 25 HILOBROW friends and regulars, on the topic of (one of) their nerdy obsessions.

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PSEUDO-AMERICAN PSEUDONYMS OF FRENCH PULP WRITERS DURING WWII

I spent a lot of time in my native Belgium in the 1990s—I was researching a book—and I devoted a great deal of that time to its flea markets. My favorite was the one that ran on Thursday mornings along Boulevard de la Constitution in Liège, where you might find just about anything, cheap, offered up by a mix of small-time professionals and people cleaning out their attics. It was there that I became fascinated by French-language pulps of the 1940s, in particular their covers. The ones from the ’30s and earlier were often beautiful, and the ones from the ’50s and ’60s were direct and sometimes comically vulgar. The ones from the war and its immediate aftermath, though, had a special crude energy. Ugly or beautiful, they conveyed mystery and intrigue in stark visual language, as if they were tattoo flash or tarot cards. What they all had in common was that they were pretending to be American.

From 1940 until more than halfway through 1944, Western Europe was of course dominated and brutalized by the Nazis, who effectively banned every culture but their own. After 1941, American popular culture was especially proscribed, although the appetite for it—movies, jazz, crime fiction—was fierce, so many Europeans simply made their own American popular culture, sometimes at considerable risk. Movies were too expensive to be a viable medium for cultural resisters, but pulp literature was cheap, beneath notice, and could be marketed by foot and bicycle. You could conceive and execute every Hollywood movie that lived in your imagination, with little overhead. If you gave your book an American-sounding title it would sell, and it would do even better if it appeared to have been written by an American. Few French or Belgians of the pulp-writer class had ever been to the United States, though, and they had maybe a year or two of school English at most; their knowledge of American culture was entirely based on movies and novels. So they built an imaginary America, something like Kafka’s Amerika or Brecht’s Mahagonny or the Arizona imagined by the hero of Jean Renoir’s Le crime de Monsieur Lange.

The names these writers gave themselves give a pretty good indication of both the limits of their knowledge and the exuberance of their imagination. Some are near-misses: Bill Blondy, Lew Dolegan, N. T. Bobmarkson, R. Teldy Naim. Some are possible but unlikely: Herbert Smally, Harry Liver, Joan Sun, Jacky Fray. Some sound purely like character names: Alphonso Steel, Diego Michigan, Duchess Holiday. And some throw caution to the winds and enter the realm of poetry: Bernard Cheyenne, Martin Slang, Lionel Rex, Cornel Milk, Jack Screen, Rupert Staircase. Someone calling him- or herself John Dull was outmatched by another calling themself Goldwyn Duller. The future historian of Surrealism Maurice Nadeau published his first book under the alias Joë Christmas; Faulkner was already big in France by then. The great crime novelist Léo Malet published his first novel as Frank Harding (Johnny Metal, 1941). Louis Chavance, who edited Jean Vigo’s L’Atalante and wrote scripts for Marcel Carné and Henri-Georges Clouzot, wrote potboilers under the names Irving Ford and Jack River. Not one of these books by pseudo-Americans has ever been translated into English.

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NERD YOUR ENTHUSIASM: INTRODUCTION by Peggy Nelson | Andrew Sempere on NERDING | Blanca Rego on RAIN | Lucy Sante on PSEUDO-AMERICAN PSEUDONYMS OF FRENCH PULP WRITERS DURING WWII | Heather Cole on AMERICAN GIRL | Nicholas Rombes on OLD GEOLOGY SURVEY BOOKS WITH MAP INSERTS | Susan Roe on TIME | Mark Kingwell on SCALE MODELS | Jessamyn West on THE POST OFFICE | Josh Glenn on ARDUIN | Vanessa Berry on NEWSAGENCY AESTHETICS | Toby Ferris on BRITISH/EALING WW2 FILMS | Annie Nocenti on MOSS | Adam McGovern on JOAN SEMMEL | Gabriela Pedranti on ILLUSTRATED BOOKS | Miranda Mellis on DOUBT | Tom Nealon on PAGE EDGES | Mandy Keifetz on KLINGON CONFIDENTIAL (NOVEL EXCERPT) | Eric Weisbard on SUMMATIONS | Kio Stark on LIBRARY OF CONGRESS CLASSIFICATION CODES | Charlie Mitchell on REPO MAN | James Parker on SEINFELD | Heather Kapplow on NOTHING | Russell Bennetts on VIDEO GAMES: MODE 7 | Vijay Parthasarathy on VIRTUAL TRAVEL | Marc Weidenbaum on NERD PROXIMITY.

MORE ENTHUSIASM at HILOBROW

NERD YOUR ENTHUSIASM (4Q2021): TIME | THE POST OFFICE | ARDUIN | PAGE EDGES | SUMMATIONS | & 20 other nerdy passions. SWERVE YOUR ENTHUSIASM (3Q2021): WARHOL’S WALT WHITMAN | 70, GIRLS, 70 | TYRAEL’S MIGHT | SHIRATO SANPEI | THE LEON SUITES | & 20 other never-realized cultural productions. FIVE-O YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2Q2021): DARK SHADOWS | MANNIX | GET SMART | THE ADDAMS FAMILY | I DREAM OF JEANNIE | & 20 other Sixties (1964–1973) TV shows. FERB YOUR ENTHUSIASM (1Q2021): STEVEN UNIVERSE | TOP CAT | REN & STIMPY | SHE-RA AND THE PRINCESSES OF POWER | DRAGON BALL Z | & 20 other animated series. CARBONA YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2020): “Sex Bomb” | “Going Underground” | “Soft South Africans” | “Typical Girls” | “Human Fly” | & 20 other Seventies (1974–1983) punk singles. KLAATU YOU (2020 weekly): ZARDOZ | METROPOLIS | DARK STAR | SINS OF THE FLESHAPOIDS | SOLARIS | & dozens of other pre-STAR WARS sci-fi movies. CONVOY YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2019): THE TAKING OF PELHAM ONE TWO THREE | ROLLERBALL | BLACK SUNDAY | SORCERER | STRAIGHT TIME | & 20 other Seventies (1974–1983) action movies. SERIOCOMIC (2019 weekly): LITTLE LULU | VIZ | MARSUPILAMI | ERNIE POOK’S COMEEK | HELLBOY | & dozens of other comics. TUBE YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2018): LOONEY TUNES | THREE STOOGES | THE AVENGERS | ROCKY & BULLWINKLE | THE TWILIGHT ZONE | & 20 other Fifties (1954–1963) TV shows. WOWEE ZOWEE (2018 weekly): UNISEX | UNDER THE PINK | DUMMY | AMOR PROHIBIDO | HIPS AND MAKERS | & dozens of other Nineties (1994–2003) albums. KLUTE YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2017): THE KILLERS | BANDE À PART (BAND OF OUTSIDERS) | ALPHAVILLE | HARPER | BLOW-UP | & 20 other Sixties (1964–1973) neo-noir movies. #SQUADGOALS (2017 weekly): THE WILD BUNCH | BOWIE’S BAND | THE BLOOMSBURY GROUP | THE HONG KONG CAVALIERS | VI ÄR BÄST! & dozens of other squads. GROK MY ENTHUSIASM (2016 weekly): THE THEORY AND PRACTICE OF LUNCH | WEEKEND | MILLION YEAR PICNIC | LA BARONNE EMILE D’ERLANGER | THE SURVIVAL SAMPLER | & dozens more one-off enthusiasms. QUIRK YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2016): “Tainted Love” | “Metal” | “Frankie Teardrop” | “Savoir Faire” | “Broken English” | & 20 other Seventies (1974–1983) new wave singles. CROM YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2015): DARKER THAN YOU THINK | THE SWORD IN THE STONE | OUT OF THE SILENT PLANET | THIEVES’ HOUSE | QUEEN OF THE BLACK COAST | & 20 other Thirties (1934–1943) fantasy novels. KERN YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2014): ALDINE ITALIC | DATA 70 | TORONTO SUBWAY | JOHNSTON’S “HAMLET” | TODD KLONE | & 20 other typefaces. HERC YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2013): “Spoonin’ Rap” | “Rapper’s Delight” | “Rappin’ Blow” | “The Incredible Fulk” | “The Adventures of Super Rhyme” | & 20 other Seventies (1974–1983) hip-hop songs. KIRK YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2012): Justice or vengeance? | Kirk teaches his drill thrall to kiss | “KHAAAAAN!” | “No kill I” | Kirk browbeats NOMAD | & 20 other Captain Kirk scenes. KIRB YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2011): THE ETERNALS | BLACK MAGIC | DEMON | OMAC | CAPTAIN AMERICA | & 20 other Jack Kirby panels.

Categories

Enthusiasms

What do you think?

  1. James Thurber has an interesting piece on French adaptations — “translations” is not quite the right word — of American “dime novels” of the early 20th Century. It is called “The French Wild West” and I think it was reprinted in The Beast In Me and Other Animals (ca. 1948). (I keep loaning Thurber to people and not getting him back.)

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