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3:AM Cult Hero: Arthur Cravan


“Every great artist has the sense of provocation.”

From ‘Living Poetry’ by Andrew Gallix:

Fabian Lloyd aka Arthur Cravan (1887-1918) put all his genius into his short life; he put only his talent (and a limited one at that) into his works. As David Lalé writes in the recently-published Last Stop Salina Cruz [3:AM‘s Novel of the Year 2007]: “His was a life dedicated to wanton destruction, to the extent that he elevated scandal and humiliation into an art form”.

Almost too bad to be true, he inspired Gide‘s Lafcadio – the infamous character who kills a man for no other reason but to exercise his free will – and kick-started the Dada insurrection when he crossed paths with Picabia in Spain.

After being expelled from an English military academy for spanking a teacher, Lloyd relocated to bohemian Paris where he adopted his pseudonym, partied hard with the likes of Blaise Cendrars and managed to become France’s heavyweight champion without fighting a single match. Never one to shy away from self-promotion, Cravan ruthlessly exploited his reputation as a pugilist poet (although his boxing was on a par with his writing skills) and got a lot of mileage out of being Oscar Wilde‘s nephew. His antics – including giving lectures during which he insulted, mooned and fired gunshots at the audience – led to rough justice at the hands of an angry mob of avant-garde painters as well as a duel challenge courtesy of poor old Apollinaire.

Significantly enough, he printed his literary journal on wrapping paper from a butcher’s shop. The onset of the war marked the beginning of a convoluted vanishing act that led him – in various guises – from Paris to Mexico where he disappeared at sea on a drunken boat of his own making. His body was never found. Cravan, the eponymous colossus of Mina Loy‘s novel, had always been larger than life; now, he had taken elusiveness to the point of illusiveness. For decades, he would continue to be spotted in different parts of the world. He is still at large.

More: Cravan vs Cravan / 4 Dada Suicides published by Atlas Press / Arthur Cravan, boxer & art critic / ‘The Provocations of Arthur Cravan’ by Andy Merrifield / Shadow-Box, a novel on Cravan, Mina Loy & Jack Johnson by Antonia Logue / Cravan: Mystery Man of the Twentieth Century, a graphic novel that speculates that Cravan was also B, Traven, author of The Treasure of the Sierra Madre

First posted: Wednesday, December 30th, 2009.

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