In some respects, the poem resembles Jack Kerouac’s On the Road. In composition, they share a common conceit: the illusion that they were composed, or narrated, in a single sitting, the intimate testimonial quality of a tale of alienation and transgression, drawing the listener or reader in. Both are road-trip stories, with socially marginalized traveling companions, that move across vast landscapes. Both are simultaneously life-changing inward journeys. And anyone who’s seen the Kerouac manuscript, the scroll, will immediately recognize the physical resemblance. With visual art, though, the two reading experiences diverge, and it is the hybrid nature of what we are looking at that distinguishes La prose as a unique and transcendent experience for the reader and viewer.
The interplay of colors and the synesthetic illusion of movement in Delaunay’s pochoir has an uncanny parallel in the psychedelic light shows of the 1960’s, where bright, pulsating, liquid forms merged with an experience of rhythmic sound, as the rhythms of Cendrars’s lines – dedicated, as he says, “to the musicians” – seem to emerge from the artist’s abstract color-forms.
The steady growth of the field of book art in recent decades finds an iconic predecessor in La prose. Its unique appropriation of structure, and its hybrid nature, have made it an influence on succeeding generations of artists and writers who take the book beyond the limits of conventional form. For his spectacular book Nature Abhors, Philip Zimmermann used a structure devised by influential book artist Hedi Kyle — seen here in an animation by Radek Skrivanek.