Frauds (freuds) 4 : Arthur Cravan, tangoing till dawn


You might think that someone who went by the names of Fabian Avenarius Lloyd, Edouard Achinard, Isaac Cravan, Arthur Cravan, Dorian Hope, Sebastian Hope, B. Holland, Robert Miradique, Marie Lowitska, W. Cooper, James M. Hayes and Eva, Dowager Empress of Iceland, would easily qualify for our Frauds(freuds) series. Someone who was said to have disappeared without trace in 1918 in a small boat off Mexico, but who may have been behind forged Oscar Wilde manuscripts a few years later and may even have been round in the form of James M. Hayes as late as 1956. Someone who frequently travelled on forged passports and claimed to be a European boxing champion, and who for a brief time was the scandalous darling of the New York art establishment while at the same time sleeping rough in Central Park. Someone who was the editor of a literary review Maintenant in which he wrote all the articles under pseudonyms. Someone who wrote an account of a post-mortem night on the tiles with the white-haired Oscar Wilde 13 years after Wilde’s death that for a while fooled the New York Times. Poet, drinker, thief, lumberjack, draft dodger, forger, professional shock-artist, this is the man known these days as Arthur Cravan.

What makes Arthur Cravan  different from our earlier candidates is that his life project was to throw into question the idea that we do have a fixed identity, to make the word “fraud” both an oxymoron and a tautology.

each flower transforms me into a butterfly

I am all things/all man and all animals

You need to dream your life with great care

So does he qualify as a fraud? It all depends where you’re standing, which is probably just the way he would have liked it.

You can read more about this giant iconoclast in this 2004 article in The Brooklyn Rail , which concludes

I fear these mad, raving types are needed more than ever these days, if only to pillory the purveyors of the status quo, a status quo in which nonentities and mediocrities not only rise to fame and fortune, but also control some of the world’s most powerful governments. For the sake of us all, I hope some budding Arthur Cravans are still waiting in the wings, out there somewhere wearing odd socks, and tangoing till dawn.

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