The Real Life of Shadows

By Jean Frémon

Translated by Cole Swensen


The Post-Apollo Press
Original Language(s)
Additional Credits
Cover art by Etel Adnan
Design by Simone Fattal
Art, Literary Non-Fiction, Translation
Edition, Year
First Edition, 2009
In Print

From the Contemporary Poetry Series #2

The Real Life of Shadows presents Jean Frémon’s personal pantheon of artists in nineteen essays that explore the lives and lasting influence of these painters and writers throughout history. In this highly original work, Frémon visits each artist at a crucial moment in life, in order to distill an essential spiritual biography and portrait of the artist. The elegance and inventiveness of his writing make us privileged witnesses of these poetic investigations.

Cole Swensen
Cole Swensen has published 17 volumes of poetry, most recently On Walking On (Nightboat Books, 2017). Art in Time, a collection of hybrid lyric writings on landscape art, is coming out from Nightboat in 2021. The author ... Read More
Jean Frémon
Jean Frémon has published numerous novels and books in France, including Le jardin botanique (1998), Le singe mendiant (1991), and L'île des morts (1994). His work has been translated by Lydia Davis, Serge Gavronsky, Stacy Doris, Norma Cole, and Tom ... Read More

Praise for The Real Life of Shadows

Jean Frémon’s Real Life of Shadows delivers its dazzling récits with delicately calibrated irony. Frémon writes in “the words of others” tales of stunning quiet mystery. His painterly journey, ably translated by Cole Swensen, portrays a parallel present of chance and circumstance, where fragmented narrative, or narrative fragments, fall into the gaps as well as the text, intervals fulfilling inscription.

— Norma Cole

The stylistic elegance and intellectual brilliance of Jean Frémon’s writing about artists is unrivaled in both his essays and fictions. I cannot think of another writer who lives so fully in these very different worlds. He regularly publishes essays in which he wears his vast knowledge lightly, deals directly and deftly with complex issues, and always helps the reader to see more, and to think in another way. And as if this were not enough, in The Real Life of Shadows we are the lucky recipients of fictions full of love, tenderness, and sympathy. As with his essays, there is not a drop of sentimentality or dogma here, but there is a lot of necessary nourishment and original insight.

— John Yau

Jean Frémon is a poet, novelist and art critic who has written extensively about artists as well as for exhibition catalogues and art journals. This collection of nineteen of his essays focuses upon artists who have influenced his life; each entry is a mini-biography and aesthetic exploration of creativity. 

Translation Review

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