22 by 16 inches

finished reading Cendrars collected, and wanted to post about his collection “Kodak”. Kodak is a series of snapshots of exotica – it takes us to America, Canada, the Aluetian Islands, Japan, Africa, South and Central America. The poems are mainly descriptive, with no heiratic lyricism and no attempt to romanticize.

Squaw’s Wigwam

When you go through the rickety door made of boards ripped from packing crates and with pieces of leather for hinges
You find yourself in a low room
Smell of rotten fish
Stench of exquisitely rancid fat […]

Golden Gate

The old grillwork provided a name for the establishment
Iron bars thick as a wrist which separate the drinkers from the counter where bottles of every kind of alcohol are lined up
Back when gold fever was at its height
When women from Chile or Mexica were auctioned off right and left by slave traders
All the bars had grill work like this […]

The poems have a documentary feel to them, the authorial presence reduced to a “Kodak” consciousness. Here’s another intersting section from a poem called “Islands” (no chamorus in this poem, however):

1. Chow

The little port is very busy this morning
Coolies — Tagals Chinese Malays — are unloading a big junk with a golden stern adn sails of woven bamboo
The cargo is china from the big island of Japan
Swallows’ nests harvested in teh caves of Sumatra
Sea cucumbers
Ginger preserves
Pickled bamboo shoots
All the merchants are very excited
Mr. Noghi pretentiously dressed in an American-made checked suit speaks very fluent English
Which is the language these gentlemen use in their arguments
Japanese Kanaks Tahitians Papuans Maoris and Fijians

The colonial condition is markedly present in these poems…not only do these poems provide snapshots, but they give us surface insight in the changes of global economy / culture – “the english of their arguments.” section 2 of the poem “Islands” reinstates Cendrars’s fascination with the advertising (note his essay on advertising and poetry) of this new economy:

2. Brochure

Visit our island
It is the southernmost island of the Japanese possessions
Our country isn’t as well known in Europe as it should be
It merits greater attention
The fauna and flora are highly varied and have heretofore hardly been studied
You will find picturesque views everywhere
And in the interior
Ruins of Buddhist temples which of their type are pure marvels.

Section 6 of this poem, however, returns to a strict imagism:

In a basin filled with Chinese goldfish and fish with hideous mouths
A few have little silver rings through their gills


Cendrars called these poems “verbal photographs”: throughout the poems, there is both a tenderness and violence of observation. this is most embodies in the poem called “Elephant Hunt.” The speaker is on safari and documents his various attempts to hunt / photograph an elephant: “In the camp we can hear the elephants in the forest / I keep one man with me to carry the big Kodak” […]

At ten yards I vaguely see something
Can it be the animal?
Yes look a huge white tooth
At that moment a torrential rain starts falling with a heavy darkness
The film is ruined

The poem reaches its climax within the union of gunshot and shutter (Winchester and Kodak – the use of brand names foregrounds the substructure of capitalism and industrialism in colonial desire):

I approach in a semicircle
Raising his enormous head decked out with large husks
Stirring the air with his big ears
His trunk turned toward me
He sniffs the wind
A photo and a bullet are shot
The elephant takes the shock without flinching
I do it again quick
He rolls headfirst onto the ground with a tremendous death rattle
Then I fire a shot toward the heart then two in the head
The powerful rattle continues but finally the life’s gone out of him
I noted the position of the heart and its measurements which are 22 by 16 inches


This passage saddens me, the poor elephant. The violent ethnography / ethnographic violence culminate in the moment “a photo and a bullet are shot”. And for what? a few notes and measurements. a photograph and poem. to sate an insatiable desire. for husks and money. It is sad and telling.


The last poem in Kodak, which follows “Elephant Hunt”, is called “Menus.” and it is seriously a list of menu items. Cendrars also mentions how beautiful menus are in his essay on advertising. Its economy of description, its common lyricism. Also, it highlights how colonialism, er i mean cross cultural exchange, has allowed for ingredients all over the world to be used in the same dish, or menu. It is a celebration of hybridity, the carnivalesque of cuisine! the only problem is that it doesn’t take into the count the whole infrastructure that makes these foods available in European restaurants. sure the menu sounds great, but only the privileged are able to enjoy consuming the entire world. “only anthropophagy unites us.” right.


Truffled green turtle liver
Lobster Mexican
Florida pheasant
Iguana with Carribean sauce
Gumbo and palmetto


Winnipeg salmon
Scottish leg of lamb
Royal Canadian apples
Old French wines


River crab and pimento stew
Suckling pig ringed with fried bananas
Hedgehog ravensara


So, after all this, I must reveal that apparently Cendrars stole the scenes in “Kodak” by revising passages from an adventure novel called “The Mysterious Doctor Cornelius, by Gustave Le Rouge, a voluminous author of pulp fiction. Ah, orientalism at its best.

Another interesting note is that Cendrars was forced to change the name of the book because the Kodak Co. threatened to sue for using their name without permission. So he changed the title to “Documentaries.” Cendrars tried to argue that he was giving the company free publicity, but Kodak Co. thought that it was actually detrimental because it “distracted customers from the precise uses” of their products.


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