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Roditi, Edouard (1910-1992)  
 
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Poet, translator, literary and art critic, and short story writer, Edouard Roditi was associated with most of the twentieth-century's avant-garde literary movements from Surrealism to post-modernism. For more than sixty years, he produced such an astonishing variety of smart, lively, and moving poetry and prose that nobody objected when he dubbed himself "The Pharaoh of Eclecticism."

A member of several predominantly homosexual social circles, Roditi maintained friendships with literary and artistic figures ranging from Paul Bowles and Jean Cocteau to Paul Tchelitchew and Christian Dior.

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His art and literary criticism held artists and writers to the very highest standards and insisted that intense but uncritical infatuation with flashy new trends could end in disappointment and heartbreak.

His Internationalist Birthright

Roditi was born in Paris on June 6, 1910. He was the beneficiary of a remarkably rich confluence of heritages--Jewish, German, Italian, French, Spanish, and Greek--and was truly international, both American and European. His father, Oscar, an Italian born in Constantinople, had become a United States citizen after his father emigrated to America and gained citizenship. Although Oscar's father had left the family behind in Europe, all the family in Europe became citizens when he did by virtue of the citizenship statutes in force at that time.

Roditi's mother, Violet, had an equally rich family history. She was born in France but became an English citizen in her youth. When she married Oscar, she too became a United States citizen. Roditi's parents held United States citizenship when he was born, but neither had set foot on American soil.

Early Education

In 1919, Roditi was enrolled in the Elstree School in Hertfordshire, England. By the age of 10, he was translating English poems into Latin, and by the age of 12 he had advanced to translations into Greek verse as well. His facility with languages, poetry, and translation was evident from an early age and it was nurtured by his family and his teachers. At the Elstree School he was encouraged to become a writer by none other than Joseph Conrad.

Roditi continued his education at Balliol College, Oxford, where he read Classics and was one of the founders of the Oxford University Poetry Society, but left without obtaining a degree.

At Oxford, Roditi had become interested in translating Saint-John Perse's epic poem Anabase (1924) from French into English. As he progressed with his translation, he discovered that T.S. Eliot was not only working on his own translation but controlled the English-language rights to the poem. Without further ado, Roditi, precocious and self-assured, began a correspondence with Eliot (who was then approaching 40) about the poem and the fine points of its translation.

Eliot was able to use Roditi's insights and advice in his eventual translation, published as Anabasis (1930). At one point during the course of their intense philosophical exchanges, Roditi was in London and stopped by Eliot's office at the publishing house of Faber and Faber. Later he gleefully recalled Eliot's shocked look when he realized that, as Roditi said, "he had been dealing with a kid." Eliot subsequently published some of Roditi's poetry in The Criterion, and their friendship endured until Eliot's death in 1965.

Roditi's talent was recognized early by other editors of eminent international literary journals. Eugene Jolas published his work, poetry and prose, in both English and French, in transition. Roditi, along with Charles Henri Ford and Paul Bowles, had the distinction of being among the youngest contributors to the magazine whose issues featured installments of James Joyce's Work in Progress (to be known eventually as Finnegan's Wake). Harriet Monroe also published his work in Poetry.

By 1928, when he was only 17, Roditi found himself a member in good standing of the loftiest avant-garde literary circles.

Surrealism and a Circle of Friends

Also in 1928, Roditi began his association with the French publishing house Editions du Sagittaire. The firm had published the Manifesto of Surrealism (1924) by André Breton, chief theoretician and promoter of Surrealism, as well as other seminal works by Surrealist poet and novelist René Crevel and poet Robert Desnos. Fascinated by Breton's hope of bringing about a revolution of consciousness through an exploration of the intersection of dreams and reality, Roditi was drawn into the movement.

Literary and avant-garde Paris was a small world at that time, and certain gathering spots and salons played central roles in connecting people. For example, Maurice Sachs recorded in his diary that on a visit to the Gallerie des Quatre Chemins one day in 1928 he had met a "whole new crowd of bright young men," including Roditi.

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