We've rather like the idea of ourselves as the "Prince of St. Germain" but it appears the role has already been filled by Boris Vian—novelist, poet, playwright, songwriter, jazz trumpeter, screenwriter, actor, and general scourge of anyone failing to have enough fun in Paris in the postwar era ... "
Vian’s great novel, “L’Écume des Jours,” written in 1946, has become one of the most popular books in all of twentieth-century French literature, making Vian, in France, the sort of hero whom succeeding generations transform into an institution. (The title translates, literally, as “Foam of the Days,” or “Scum of the Days,” though it has been rendered, in various translations, as “Froth on the Daydream,” “Mood Indigo,” and, most recently, “Foam of the Daze.”) But while he was alive Vian was known less for his work than for being the epitome of Left Bank bohemia, standing at the center of its postwar rehabilitation after the trauma of the German Occupation. He was the presiding spirit of intellectual café society, and a close conspirator with Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir. He had no allegiance to existentialism, however. Instead, he offered a single absurd voice, dedicated to pleasure and provocation, to dreams and pure subjectivity. While Albert Camus and Maurice Merleau-Ponty spent their time worrying about choosing the right sort of authentic freedom or struggling against world-historical forces, Vian was more interested in amusing himself. “I am not an existentialist,” he wrote. “For an existentialist, existence precedes essence. For me, there isn’t any such thing as essence.”