Rue Rollin is an ancient pedestrian road in the 5th Arrondissement of Paris near Place Monge metro.

6 Rue_Rollin.jpg

I have found out about it because David Gascoyne used to visit a friend at number 6, visible to the right of the photograph. Benjamin Fondane was a poet, essayist, philosopher, film-maker. Gascoyne admired his book on Arthur Rimbaud called Rimbaud le Voyou (Rimbaud the Thug). After correspondence, Fondane felt Gascoyne had really understood his writing and was soon offering regular hospitality to his young English admirer.


Fondane was a Romanian Jew who had abandoned Surrealism and taken up Religious Existentialism which he was learning from his esteemed mentor the emigre Russian Jewish philosopher Leon Chestov. This was the philosophy he passed onto Gascoyne in a direct line of transmission. Chestov was older than Fondane as Fondane was older than Gascoyne. One day in 1938, Fondane passed Gascoyne in a Paris street uttering the words ‘Chestov est mort.’ However, Fondane was not destined to outlive Chestov by very long. In 1939, Fondane gave the transcripts of all his conversations with Chestov to a friend for safekeeping. After military service which culminated in imprisonment and escape from a prisoner-of-war camp, he hid out at 6 Rue Rollin but was eventually denounced to the Nazis. After a spell of hard labour at Drancy he was sent to Birkenau and gassed.

(The bars below the plaque almost look like prison bars).

Place Benjamin Fondane.jpg

This beautiful spot on Rue Rollin has been named Place Benjamin Fondane in his honour, but he is not the only distinguished philosopher to have lived on it.

Descartes' house

Descartes stayed regularly at number 14 in the 1640s when he was able to get away from professional duties in the Netherlands.


The philosopher himself explains how this double life made him feel curiously happy and free.

Pascal's house.jpg

But there is yet another philosopher in the mix. This is the site of Blaise Pascal’s now demolished house at no 2 Rue Rollin, almost next door to Fondane. (Merci a Parsienne de Photographie for the image). I haven’t been able to ascertain much more about his time here or any other images. I can’t read the plaque either.

The Chestov/Fondane/Gascoyne line of Existentialists looked to Pascal for their inspiration and found it in his unfinished, unpublished masterpiece Pensees which he was working on at this address when he died at the age of 39 in the year 1662. (His death seems to have taken place nearby at his sister, Gilberte’s, house ie. “maison de Mme Perier, sa soeur. Paris, rue Neuve Saint-Etienne, aujourd’hui rue Rollin, Vème arr..”)

Pascal's deathplace

Religious/Christian/Jewish Existentialists are attached to his idea of the Gulf. Secular Existentialists can trace their lineage back to the rationality of Descartes.

Gascoyne wrote a poem of homage to Fondane called ‘To Benjamin Fondane’ but after he heard the news of Fondane’s death, he changed the title to ‘I.M. Benjamin Fondane’. He regarded the poem as ‘premonitory’.

About Niall McDevitt

Niall McDevitt > poet > author of b/w (Waterloo Press, 2010) and Porterloo (International Times, 2012) > urban explorer > radical pedestrian who leads Shakespeare/Blake/Rimbaud /Yeats walks, among others.
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