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3:AM Cult Hero: Albert Cossery

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“So much beauty in the world, so few eyes to see it.”

Andrew Gallix on Cossery:

All his life, Cossery sided with those he felt God had forgotten: petty thieves, pretty prostitutes, exploited workers and hungry vagrants. He despised materialism and eschewed the rat race. In Proud Beggars (1955), usually considered his masterpiece, a university professor finds peace of mind by becoming a bum, proving that beggars can be choosers. In The Lazy Ones (1948), a character stays in bed, out of choice, for a whole year. Another decides, on reflection, not to take a wife for fear she might disrupt his precious sleep patterns. In an early short story, the inhabitants of an impoverished neighbourhood even take up arms against all those who prevent them from snoozing in peace until midday.

For the author and his lovable rogue’s gallery, sleep, daydreams and hashish-induced reverie are endowed with mystical qualities. Idleness is more than a way of life. It offers the greatest luxury of all: time to think and therefore the chance to be fully alive, “minute by minute”. The overt message of these people whom God has forgotten (but who themselves have not forgotten God) is that paradise is not lost, but most of us are too busy to bask in “the Edenic simplicity of the world”.

More: An extract from Splendid Conspiracy (New Directions) / Cossery’s The Jokers (NYRB Classics, July 2010) / Graphic novel extract from Proud Beggars in Words Without Borders, translated by Lulu Norman / ‘A Voltaire of the Nile’, Lulu Norman’s obit of Cossery in the Independent / The Times obit / Albert Cossery’s Last Siesta in Paris

First posted: Wednesday, April 28th, 2010.

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