I have just finished reading THE LAST DAYS OF NEW PARIS by China Miéville and I am overawed by the explosion of imagery, of erudition, of poetry and wonder that the book contains. The novella embodies what it describes: the surrealist Resistance to the Nazi occupation of Paris has led to the creation of a surrealist bomb, whose explosion produces an “S-Blast” that has liberated a myriad of “manifestations”, impossible entities freed from surrealist painting and sculptures to wreak havoc on the Nazi occupying forces.
Two story threads are interwoven by means of alternating chapters. The events in 1941 leading to the fabrication and detonation of the S-bomb. The Nazi plot in 1950 to gain control over Paris by means of demonology and, possibly, the fabrication of a Nazified “manifestation” capable of taking on and defeating these creatures that do not obey the laws of phyics or biology. It is at once a masterfully told story and an inspiring manifesto, an ode to the liberating power of poetry, and to the creations, and the lives, of those who are steeped in it.
The poetry, the beauty, the freedom, and the adventure all recall the excitement one feels in reading Deleuze and Guattari’s ANTI-OEDIPUS, KAFKA, and A THOUSAND PLATEAUS, and their “schizoanalytic” liberation of the unconscious. Michel Foucault in his preface to that book declared that ANTI-OEDIPUS could be characterised as an “introduction to the non-fascist life”, and this epithet describes all of Deleuze’s work. This non-fascist formula of resistance and (self-)creation comes to life again in the pages of Miéville’s THE LAST DAYS OF NEW PARIS.
One of the key characters is an “exquisite corpse”, an assemblage or composite collage created by André Breton, Yves Tanguy, and Jacqueline Lamba that has come to life as a surrealist Big Friendly Giant to help the protagonists in their struggle against the Nazi occupying forces:
The sheer abundance of imagery taken, or extrapolated from, surrealist works including many by little known artists has led Miéville to include a final chapter giving details about the works and their origins. The effect of reading these notes after finishing the narrative is not one of having to plod through scholarly references, but of awakening curiosity and of reliving the story in condensed form.
Melville also gives us an autobiographical account of the genesis of the novel, instigated by a very strange interview with an enigmatic old man who Miéville suspects may be Thibaut, the protagonist of the main action. This indicates that there may be some permeability or overlap between Paris in our world and New Paris.Further, this would suggest that the title is misleading, and that the “last days” have still not come for New Paris.
I lived in Paris for seven years and it was often a poetic and surrealist experience, although what Deleuze and Guattari called the “micro-fascism” of everyday life was present too. So I can confirm that there are in fact passages between the two worlds. China Miéville’s THE LAST DAYS OF NEW PARIS constitutes one such passage. Dadaism and surrealism, but also schizoanalysis and science fiction, provide us with other passages.
I kept thinking of Aliette de Bodard’s THE HOUSE OF SHATTERED WINGS while reading China Miéville’s THE LAST DAYS OF NEW PARIS. The link may seem tenuous, as the styles and stories are very different. They have in common the poetic evocation and reworking of a magic-saturated Paris after a devastating and reality-distorting event, the Magic War for THE HOUSE OF SHATTERED WINGS and the surrealist S-Blast for THE LAST DAYS OF NEW PARIS.