Mort de Simon Leys: Hommage aux hérissons rusés ! (The worst way to be wrong: Looking back at an intellectual by any other name)

25 août, 2014
Sa vigilance nous manque déjà. Sartre (à la mort de Gide)
On ne sait pas si le président russe, Vladimir Poutine, où l’un de ses subordonnés, a donné l’ordre de faire sauter en vol le Boeing 777 de la Malaysia Airlines. Mais il y a déjà cinq fois plus de civils innocents massacrés à Gaza, ceux-là soigneusement ciblés et sur l’ordre direct d’un gouvernement. Les sanctions de l’Union européenne contre Israël restent au niveau zéro. L’annexion de la Crimée russophone déclenche indignation et sanctions. Celle de la Jérusalem arabophone nous laisserait impavides ? Peut-on à la fois condamner M. Poutine et absoudre M. Nétanyahou ? Encore deux poids deux mesures ? Nous avons condamné les conflits interarabes et intermusulmans qui ensanglantent et décomposent le Moyen-Orient. Ils font plus de victimes locales que la répression israélienne. Mais la particularité de l’affaire israélo-palestinienne est qu’elle concerne et touche à l’identité des millions d’Arabes et musulmans, des millions de chrétiens et Occidentaux, des millions de juifs dispersés dans le monde. Ce conflit apparemment local est de portée mondiale et de ce fait a déjà suscité ses métastases dans le monde musulman, le monde juif, le monde occidental. Il a réveillé et amplifié anti-judaïsme, anti-arabisme, anti-christianisme (les croisés) et répandu des incendies de haine dans tous les continents. (…) N’ayant guère d’accointances avec les actuels présidents du Conseil et de la Commission européens, ce n’est pas vers ces éminentes et sagaces personnalités que nous nous tournons mais vers vous, François Hollande, pour qui nous avons voté et qui ne nous êtes pas inconnu. C’est de vous que nous sommes en droit d’attendre une réponse urgente et déterminée face à ce carnage, comme à la systématisation des punitions collectives en Cisjordanie même. Les appels pieux ne suffisent pas plus que les renvois dos à dos qui masquent la terrible disproportion de forces entre colonisateurs et colonisés depuis quarante-sept ans. L’écrivain et dissident russe Alexandre Soljenitsyne (1918-2008) demandait aux dirigeants soviétiques une seule chose : « Ne mentez pas. » Quand on ne peut résister à la force, on doit au moins résister au mensonge. Ne vous et ne nous mentez pas, monsieur le Président. On doit toujours regretter la mort de militaires en opération, mais quand les victimes sont des civils, femmes et enfants sans défense qui n’ont plus d’eau à boire, non pas des occupants mais des occupés, et non des envahisseurs mais des envahis, il ne s’agit plus d’implorer mais de sommer au respect du droit international. (…) Nous n’oublions pas les chrétiens expulsés d’Irak et les civils assiégés d’Alep. Mais à notre connaissance, vous n’avez jamais chanté La Vie en rose en trinquant avec l’autocrate de Damas ou avec le calife de Mossoul comme on vous l’a vu faire sur nos écrans avec le premier ministre israélien au cours d’un repas familial. (…) Israël se veut défenseur d’un Occident ex-persécuteur de juifs, dont il est un héritier pour le meilleur et pour le pire. Il se dit défenseur de la démocratie, qu’il réserve pleinement aux seuls juifs, et se prétend ennemi du racisme tout en se rapprochant d’un apartheid pour les Arabes. L’école stoïcienne recommandait de distinguer, parmi les événements du monde, entre les choses qui dépendent de nous et celles qui ne dépendent pas de nous. On ne peut guère agir sur les accidents d’avion et les séismes – et pourtant vous avez personnellement pris en main le sort et le deuil des familles des victimes d’une catastrophe aérienne au Mali. C’est tout à votre honneur. A fortiori, un homme politique se doit de monter en première ligne quand les catastrophes humanitaires sont le fait de décisions politiques sur lesquelles il peut intervenir, surtout quand les responsables sont de ses amis ou alliés et qu’ils font partie des Nations unies, sujets aux mêmes devoirs et obligations que les autres Etats. La France n’est-elle pas un membre permanent du Conseil de sécurité ? Ce ne sont certes pas des Français qui sont directement en cause ici, c’est une certaine idée de la France dont vous êtes comptable, aux yeux de vos compatriotes comme du reste du monde. Rony Brauman, Régis Debray, Edgar Morin et Christiane Hessel
Puisqu’ils ont osé, j’oserai aussi, moi. La vérité, je la dirai, car j’ai promis de la dire, si la justice, régulièrement saisie, ne la faisait pas, pleine et entière. Mon devoir est de parler, je ne veux pas être complice. Mes nuits seraient hantées par le spectre de l’innocent qui expie là-bas, dans la plus affreuse des tortures, un crime qu’il n’a pas commis. (…) C’est un crime d’avoir accusé de troubler la France ceux qui la veulent généreuse, à la tête des nations libres et justes, lorsqu’on ourdit soi-même l’impudent complot d’imposer l’erreur, devant le monde entier. C’est un crime d’égarer l’opinion, d’utiliser pour une besogne de mort cette opinion qu’on a pervertie jusqu’à la faire délirer. C’est un crime d’empoisonner les petits et les humbles, d’exaspérer les passions de réaction et d’intolérance, en s’abritant derrière l’odieux antisémitisme, dont la grande France libérale des droits de l’homme mourra, si elle n’en est pas guérie. C’est un crime que d’exploiter le patriotisme pour des œuvres de haine, et c’est un crime, enfin, que de faire du sabre le dieu moderne, lorsque toute la science humaine est au travail pour l’œuvre prochaine de vérité et de justice. (…) Je le répète avec une certitude plus véhémente : la vérité est en marche et rien ne l’arrêtera.  (…) Je l’ai dit ailleurs, et je le répète ici : quand on enferme la vérité sous terre, elle s’y amasse, elle y prend une force telle d’explosion, que, le jour où elle éclate, elle fait tout sauter avec elle. On verra bien si l’on ne vient pas de préparer, pour plus tard, le plus retentissant des désastres. Emile Zola (J’accuse, 1898)
Chaque jour j’attache moins de prix à l’intelligence. Chaque jour je me rends mieux compte que ce n’est qu’en dehors d’elle que l’écrivain peut ressaisir quelque chose de nos impressions passées, c’est-à-dire atteindre quelque chose de lui-même et la seule matière de l’art. (…) Mais d’une part les vérités de l’intelligence, si elles sont moins précieuses que ces secrets du sentiment dont je parlais tout à l’heure, ont aussi leur intérêt. Un écrivain n’est pas qu’un poète. Même les plus grands de notre siècle, dans notre monde imparfait où les chefs-d’œuvre de l’art ne sont que les épaves naufragées de grandes intelligences, ont relié d’une trame d’intelligence les joyaux de sentiment où ils n’apparaissent que çà et là. Et si on croit que sur ce point important on entend les meilleurs de son temps se tromper, il vient un moment où on secoue sa paresse et où on éprouve le besoin de le dire. La méthode de Sainte-Beuve n’est peut-être pas au premier abord un objet si important. Mais peut-être sera-t-on amené, au cours de ces pages, à voir qu’elle touche à de très importants problèmes intellectuels, peut-être au plus grand de tous pour un artiste, à cette infériorité de l’intelligence dont je parlais au commencement. Et cette infériorité de l’intelligence, c’est tout de même à l’intelligence qu’il faut demander de l’établir. Car si l’intelligence ne mérite pas la couronne suprême, c’est elle seule qui est capable de la décerner. Et si elle n’a dans la hiérarchie des vertus que la seconde place, il n’y a qu’elle qui soit capable de proclamer que l’instinct doit occuper la première. Marcel Proust (préface de  "Contre Sainte Beuve", édition posthume, 1954)
Les hommes dont la fonction est de défendre les valeurs éternelles et désintéressées, comme la justice et la raison, que j’appelle les clercs, ont trahi fonction au profit d’intérêts pratiques. Julien Benda (La Trahison des clercs, 1927)
Cherchant à expliquer l’attitude des intellectuels, impitoyables aux défaillances des démocraties, indulgents aux plus grands crimes, pourvu qu’ils soient commis au nom des bonnes doctrines, je rencontrai d’abord les mots sacrés : gauche, Révolution, prolétariat. Raymond Aron
Si la tolérance naît du doute, qu’on enseigne à douter des modèles et des utopies, à récuser les prophètes de salut, les annonciateurs de catastrophes. Appelons de nos vœux la venue des sceptiques s’ils doivent éteindre le fanatisme. Raymond Aron (L’Opium des intellectuels, 1955)
L’écrivain est en situation dans son époque : chaque parole a des retentissements. Chaque silence aussi. Je tiens Flaubert et Goncourt pour responsables de la répression qui suivit la Commune parce qu’ils n’ont pas écrit une ligne pour l’empêcher. Ce n’était pas leur affaire, dira-t-on. Mais le procès de Calas, était-ce l’affaire de Voltaire ? La condamnation de Dreyfus, était-ce l’affaire de Zola ? L’administration du Congo, était-ce l’affaire de Gide ? Chacun de ces auteurs, en une circonstance particulière de sa vie, a mesuré sa responsabilité d’écrivain.  Sartre
Intellectuels : personnes qui ayant acquis quelque notoriété par des travaux qui relèvent de l’intelligence abusent de cette notoriété pour sortir de leur domaine  et se mêler de ce qui ne les regarde pas. Jean-Paul Sartre
Cette violence irrépressible il le montre parfaitement, n’est pas une absurde tempête ni la résurrection d’instincts sauvages ni même un effet du ressentiment : c’est l’homme lui-même se recomposant. Cette vérité, nous l’avons sue, je crois, et nous l’avons oubliée : les marques de la violence, nulle douceur ne les effacera : c’est la violence qui peut seule les détruire. Et le colonisé se guérit de la névrose coloniale en chassant le colon par les armes. Quand sa rage éclate, il retrouve sa transparence perdue, il se connaît dans la mesure même où il se fait ; de loin nous tenons sa guerre comme le triomphe de la barbarie ; mais elle procède par elle-même à l’émancipation progressive du combattant, elle liquide en lui et hors de lui, progressivement, les ténèbres coloniales. Dès qu’elle commence, elle est sans merci. Il faut rester terrifié ou devenir terrible ; cela veut dire : s’abandonner aux dissociations d’une vie truquée ou conquérir l’unité natale. Quand les paysans touchent des fusils, les vieux mythes pâlissent, les interdits sont un à un renversés : l’arme d’un combattant, c’est son humanité. Car, en ce premier temps de la révolte, il faut tuer : abattre un Européen c’est faire d’une pierre deux coups, supprimer en même temps un oppresseur et un opprimé : restent un homme mort et un homme libre ; le survivant, pour la première fois, sent un sol national sous la plante de ses pieds. Sartre (préface aux damnés de la terre, 1961)
J’ai résumé L’Étranger, il y a longtemps, par une phrase dont je reconnais qu’elle est très paradoxale : “Dans notre société tout homme qui ne pleure pas à l’enterrement de sa mère risque d’être condamné à mort.” Je voulais dire seulement que le héros du livre est condamné parce qu’il ne joue pas le jeu. En ce sens, il est étranger à la société où il vit, où il erre, en marge, dans les faubourgs de la vie privée, solitaire, sensuelle. Et c’est pourquoi des lecteurs ont été tentés de le considérer comme une épave. On aura cependant une idée plus exacte du personnage, plus conforme en tout cas aux intentions de son auteur, si l’on se demande en quoi Meursault ne joue pas le jeu. La réponse est simple : il refuse de mentir. (…) Meursault, pour moi, n’est donc pas une épave, mais un homme pauvre et nu, amoureux du soleil qui ne laisse pas d’ombres. Loin qu’il soit privé de toute sensibilité, une passion profonde parce que tenace, l’anime : la passion de l’absolu et de la vérité. Il s’agit d’une vérité encore négative, la vérité d’être et de sentir, mais sans laquelle nulle conquête sur soi et sur le monde ne sera jamais possible. On ne se tromperait donc pas beaucoup en lisant, dans L’Étranger, l’histoire d’un homme qui, sans aucune attitude héroïque, accepte de mourir pour la vérité. Il m’est arrivé de dire aussi, et toujours paradoxalement, que j’avais essayé de figurer, dans mon personnage, le seul Christ que nous méritions. On comprendra, après mes explications, que je l’aie dit sans aucune intention de blasphème et seulement avec l’affection un peu ironique qu’un artiste a le droit d’éprouver à l’égard des personnages de sa création. Camus (préface américaine à L’Etranger)
Le thème du poète maudit né dans une société marchande (…) s’est durci dans un préjugé qui finit par vouloir qu’on ne puisse être un grand artiste que contre la société de son temps, quelle qu’elle soit. Légitime à l’origine quand il affirmait qu’un artiste véritable ne pouvait composer avec le monde de l’argent, le principe est devenu faux lorsqu’on en a tiré qu’un artiste ne pouvait s’affirmer qu’en étant contre toute chose en général. Albert Camus
Le besoin de se justifier hante toute la littérature moderne du «procès». Mais il y a plusieurs niveaux de conscience. Ce qu’on appelle le «mythe» du procès peut être abordé sous des angles radicalement différents. Dans L’Etranger, la seule question est de savoir si les personnages sont innocents ou coupables. Le criminel est innocent et les juges coupables. Dans la littérature traditionnelle, le criminel est généralement coupable et les juges innocents. La différence n’est pas aussi importante qu’il le semble. Dans les deux cas, le Bien et le Mal sont des concepts figés, immuables : on conteste le verdict des juges, mais pas les valeurs sur lesquelles il repose. La Chute va plus loin. Clamence s’efforce de démontrer qu’il est du côté du bien et les autres du côté du mal, mais les échelles de valeurs auxquelles il se réfère s’effondrent une à une. Le vrai problème n’est plus de savoir «qui est innocent et qui est coupable?», mais «pourquoi faut-il continuer à juger et à être jugé?». C’est là une question plus intéressante, celle-là même qui préoccupait Dostoïevski. Avec La Chute, Camus élève la littérature du procès au niveau de son génial prédécesseur. Le Camus des premières oeuvres ne savait pas à quel point le jugement est un mal insidieux et difficile à éviter. Il se croyait en-dehors du jugement parce qu’il condamnait ceux qui condamnent. En utilisant la terminologie de Gabriel Marcel, on pourrait dire que Camus considérait le Mal comme quelque chose d’extérieur à lui, comme un «problème» qui ne concernait que les juges, alors que Clamence sait bien qu’il est lui aussi concerné. Le Mal, c’est le «mystère» d’une passion qui en condamnant les autres se condamne elle-même sans le savoir. C’est la passion d’Oedipe, autre héros de la littérature du procès, qui profère les malédictions qui le mènent à sa propre perte. [...] L’étranger n’est pas en dehors de la société mais en dedans, bien qu’il l’ignore. C’est cette ignorance qui limite la portée de L’Etranger tant au point de vue esthétique qu’au point de vue de la pensée. L’homme qui ressent le besoin d’écrire un roman-procès n’appartient pas à la Méditerranée, mais aux brumes d’Amsterdam. Le monde dans lequel nous vivons est un monde de jugement perpétuel. C’est sans doute le vestige de notre tradition judéo-chrétienne. Nous ne sommes pas de robustes païens, ni des juifs, puisque nous n’avons pas de Loi. Mais nous ne sommes pas non plus de vrais chrétiens puisque nous continuons à juger. Qui sommes-nous? Un chrétien ne peut s’empêcher de penser que la réponse est là, à portée de la main : «Aussi es-tu sans excuse, qui que tu sois, toi qui juges. Car en jugeant autrui, tu juges contre toi-même : puisque tu agis de même, toi qui juges». Camus s’était-il aperçu que tous les thèmes de La Chute sont contenus dans les Epîtres de saint Paul ? [...] Meursault était coupable d’avoir jugé, mais il ne le sut jamais. Seul Clamence s’en rendit compte. On peut voir dans ces deux héros deux aspects d’un même personnage dont le destin décrit une ligne qui n’est pas sans rappeler celle des grands personnages de Dostoïevski." René Girard – Critique dans un souterrain, Pour un nouveau procès de l’Etranger, p.140-142)
Attention, l’Amérique a la rage (…) La science se développe partout au même rythme et la fabrication des bombes est affaire de potentiel industriel. En tuant les Rosenberg, vous avez tout simplement esayé d’arrêter les progrès de la science. Jean-Paul Sartre ("Les animaux malades de la rage", Libération, 22 juin 1953)
Les groupes n’aiment guère ceux qui vendent la mèche, surtout peut-être lorsque la transgression ou la trahison peut se réclamer de leurs valeurs les plus hautes. (…) L’apprenti sorcier qui prend le risque de s’intéresser à la sorcellerie indigène et à ses fétiches, au lieu d’aller chercher sous de lointains tropiques les charmes rassurant d’une magie exotique, doit s’attendre à voir se retourner contre lui la violence qu’il a déchainée. Pierre  Bourdieu
Manet a deux propriétés uniques [...] : premièrement, il a rassemblé des choses qui avaient été séparées, et […] c’est une des propriétés universelles des grands fondateurs. […] Et, deuxième propriété, il pousse à la limite les propriétés de chacun de ces éléments constitutifs de l’assemblage qu’il fabrique. Donc, il y a systématicité et passage à la limite. Pierre Bourdieu
Dans la grande maison du symbolique, l´I.T. occupe le palier supérieur parce qu´il a reçu de l´histoire et de l´inconscient collectif le supérieur en charge : la lyre, plus la morale. Position princière. Comme le roi Charles X disait au dauphin, de Chateaubriand venu le visiter en exil à Prague, avec un respect mêlé d´effroi : attention, mon fils, voici « une des puissances de la Terre » . Un magistrat de l´essentiel, qui a « le secret des mots puissants. (…) La capitale, qui excite l´intellectuel, gâte l´artiste. L´iode et la chlorophylle entretiennent les vertus d´enfance ; poètes et enchanteurs, enfants prolongés (c´est un labeur), vieillissent prématurément dans nos bousculades. Calme et silence. Avec son optimisme végétal, Rilke a dit l´essentiel. S´en remettre au lent travail des profondeurs intimes, « laisser mûrir comme l´arbre qui ne précipite pas le cours de sa sève. (…) Quiconque veut se mettre en mesure d´écouter sa musique d´enfance aura tout à gagner à se montrer dur d´oreille aux trompettes et violons qui font frémir les cœurs dans le voisinage. Car il en va des inspirations comme des civilisations : si elles s´ouvrent trop aux autres, elles perdent leur sève et le fil. C´est en quoi l´artiste, au contraire de l´intellectuel, cet être de débat, d´échange ou de collectif, a intérêt, s´il ne veut pas diminuer ses chances, à ne pas trop communiquer avec son époque, le public et les autres artistes. Régis Debray (I.F. suite et fin, 2000)
Il importe de rapporter l’état ultime d’une figure à son état princeps pour déceler ce qui unit et distingue l’I.O. et l’I.T. D’embrasser d’un même trait l’élan, l’inflexion et la chute ; reconnaître la continuité depuis le point de lancement sans déguiser la déconvenue de l’arrivée. L’héritier du nom est à la fois le continuateur du dreyfusard et son contraire. L’I.F. fut un éclaireur, c’est devenu un exorciste. Il accroissait l’intelligibilité, il renchérit sur l’opacité des temps. Il favorisa la prise de distance, il s’applique à resserrer les rangs. Ce fut un futuriste, c’est, tout accrocheur qu’il soit, et volumineux, un déphasé, qui n’aide plus personne à devenir contemporain. Et c’est de lui qu’il faudrait maintenant s’émanciper. Régis Debray (I.F. suite et fin, 2000)
Certes, les attaques faciles où Bourdieu traite Reagan et Bush de "bellâtres de série B", n’étaient pas indispensables… En revanche, quiconque a ressenti la contrainte des rues à angle droit, funestes à toute improvisation, ce commandement totalitaire de sympathie, de familiarité, de véridicité qui rend normal de promettre sur une fiche de douane qu’on ne vient aux Etats-unis ni pour tuer ni pour répandre une infection mortelle, ne peut qu’approuver le diagnostic bourdieusien devant une société déterminée par des principes d’inexorable bienveillance et la conviction de la dichotomie entre logique et éthique. Marie-Anne Lescourret
The idea that art, ethics, and matters of the spirit, including religious faith, come from the same place is central to Leys’s concerns. All his essays, about André Gide or Evelyn Waugh no less than the art of Chinese calligraphy, revolve around this. Leys once described in these pages the destruction of the old walls and gates of Beijing in the 1950s and 1960s as a “sacrilege.” The thick walls surrounding the ancient capital were “not so much a medieval defense apparatus as a depiction of a cosmic geometry, a graphic of the universal order.” Pre-modern Chinese politics were intimately linked with religious beliefs: the ruler was the intermediary between heaven and earth, his empire, if ruled wisely, a reflection of the cosmic order. Classical Beijing, much of it built in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, was deliberately planned to reflect this order. It survived almost intact until the 1950s. Apart from a few pockets, such as the Forbidden City, nothing of this old city remains. Critics over the years have attacked Leys for being an elitist, a Western mimic of Chinese literati, an aesthete who cares more about high culture than people, more about walls and temples than the poor Beijingers who had to live in dark and primitive alleys, oppressed by absolute rulers and feudal superstition. But this misses the point. It was not Leys’s intention to defend the Chinese imperial or feudal system. On the contrary, he lamented the fact that Maoists decided to smash the extraordinary artifacts of the past instead of the attitudes that made feudalism so oppressive in the first place. The stones were destroyed; many of the attitudes, alas, remained, albeit under different rulers. Iconoclasts, not only in China, are as enthralled by the sacred properties of the objects they destroy as those who venerate them. This much we know. But Leys goes further. In his view, Maoists didn’t just reduce the walls of Beijing, and much else besides, to rubble because they believed such acts would liberate the Chinese people; they smashed Yuan and Ming and Qing Dynasty treasures because they were beautiful. Yet beauty, as Leys himself insists, is rarely neutral. His use of the term “sacrilege” suggests that there was more to Maoist iconoclasm than a philistine resentment of architectural magnificence. Leys quotes Guo Moruo, one of the most famous mandarins of the Chinese Communist revolution, on the city walls in Sichuan where the scholar and poet grew up. People approaching a town near Guo’s native village felt a “sense of religious awe when confronted with the severe majestic splendor” of the city gate. Guo notes the rarity of such superb walls outside Sichuan—“except in Peking, of course, where the walls are truly majestic.” Guo was a Communist, but not a vandal. He paid a common price for his love of the wrong kind of beauty. Persecuted during the Cultural Revolution, he was forced to declare that his books were worthless and should be burned. Two of his children were driven to suicide, and Guo had to write odes in praise of Chairman Mao for the rest of the Great Helmsman’s life. The point about the walls is, of course, not merely aesthetic, nostalgic, or even to do with awe. Heinrich Heine’s famous dictum—“Where they burn books, they will ultimately also burn people”—applies to China too. It wasn’t just buildings that were shattered under Chairman Mao, but tens of millions of human lives. In one of his essays, Leys refers to the first Communist decades in China as “thirty years of illiterates’ rule,” which might be construed as snobbish; but the relative lack of education among the top Communist cadres is not actually the main issue for Leys. His targets are never uneducated barbarians, people too ignorant or stupid to know what they are doing. The objects of his devastating and bitterly funny barbs are fellow intellectuals, often fellow academics, most often fellow experts on China, people who faithfully followed every twist and turn of the Chinese Communist Party line, even though they knew better. Such people as the writer Han Suyin, for example, who declared that the Cultural Revolution was a Great Leap Forward for mankind until she observed, once the line had changed, that it had been a terrible disaster. (…) Still, the reasons why Leys finds Orwell attractive might be applied in equal measure to Leys himself: “[Orwell’s] intuitive grasp of concrete realities, his non-doctrinaire approach to politics (accompanied with a deep distrust of left-wing intellectuals) and his sense of the absolute primacy of the human dimension.” Both Orwell and Chesterton were good at demolishing cant. Leys is right about that: “[Chesterton’s] striking images could, in turn, deflate fallacies or vividly bring home complex principles. His jokes were irrefutable; he could invent at lightning speed surprising short-cuts to reach the truth.” When Confucius was asked by one of his disciples what he would do if he were given his own territory to govern, the Master replied that he would “rectify the names,” that is, make words correspond to reality. He explained (in Leys’s translation): If the names are not correct, if they do not match realities, language has no object. If language is without an object, action becomes impossible—and therefore, all human affairs disintegrate and their management becomes pointless. Leys comments that Orwell and Chesterton “would have immediately understood and approved of the idea.” If this reading is right, Confucius wanted to strip the language of cant, and reach the truth through plain speaking, expressing clear thoughts. But Leys believes that he also did more than that: “Under the guise of restoring their full meaning, Confucius actually injected a new content into the old ‘names.’” One example is the interpretation of the word for gentleman, junzi. The old feudal meaning was “aristocrat.” But for Confucius a gentleman’s status could be earned only through education and superior virtue. This was a revolutionary idea; the right to rule would no longer be a matter of birth, but of intellectual and moral accomplishment, tested in an examination system theoretically open to all. (…) To be sure, words are used to obfuscate and lie, as well as to tell the truth. Leys believes that grasping the truth is largely a matter of imagination, poetic imagination. Hence his remark that the “Western incapacity to grasp the Soviet reality and all its Asian variants” was a “failure of imagination” (his italics). Fiction often expresses truth more clearly than mere factual information. Truth, Leys writes, referring to science and philosophy, as well as poetry, “is grasped by an imaginative leap.” The question is how we contrive such leaps. Ian Buruma
Le renard sait beaucoup de choses mais le hérisson une seule grande. Archiloque
Mieux vaut les critiques d’un seul que l’assentiment de mille. Sima Qian
People all know the usefulness of what is useful, but they do not know the usefulness of what is useless. Zhuang Zi
Hamlet was my favourite Shakespearean play. Read in a Chinese labour camp, however, the tragedy of the Danish prince took on unexpected dimensions. All the academic analyses and critiques that had engrossed me over the years now seemed remote and irrelevant. The outcry ‘Denmark is a prison’ echoed with a poignant immediacy and Elsinore loomed like a haunting metaphor of a treacherous repressive state. The Ghost thundered with a terrible chorus of a million victims of proletarian dictatorship. Rozencrantz and Guildenstern would have felt like fish in the water had they found their way into a modern nation of hypocrites and informers. As to Hamlet himself, his great capacity for suffering gave the noble Dane his unique stature as a tragic hero pre-eminently worthy of his suffering. I would say to myself ‘I am not Prince Hamlet, nor was meant to be’, echoing Eliot’s Prufrock. Rather I often felt like one of those fellows ‘crawling between earth and Heaven’ scorned by Hamlet himself. But the real question I came to see was neither ‘to be, or not to be’ nor whether ‘in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune’, but how to be worthy of one’s suffering. Wu Ningkun
As if I also was hearing it for the first time: like the blast of a trumpet, like the voice of God. For a moment I forget who I am and where I am. The companion begs me to repeat it. How good he is, he is aware that it is doing me good. Or perhaps it is something more – perhaps he has received the message, he has felt that it had to do with him, that it has to do with all men who suffer, and with us in particular; and that it has to do with us two, who dare to reason of these things with the poles for the soup on our shoulders. (…) I have forgotten at least twelve lines; I would give today’s soup to know how to connect the last fragment to the end of the Canto. I try to reconstruct it through the rhymes, I close my eyes, I bite my fingers, but it is no use, the rest is silence. Primo Levi
Let each one examine what he has most desired. If he is happy, it is because his wishes have not been granted.  Prince de Ligne
The madness of tomorrow is not in Moscow, much more in Manhattan. It has been left to the very latest Modernists to proclaim an erotic religion which at once exalts lust and forbids fertility. The next great heresy is going to be simply an attack on morality, and especially on sexual morality. G.K. Chesterton (1926)
I do not believe for instance that it is a mere coincidence that we are witnessing simultaneously the development of a movement supporting euthanasia and the development of a movement in favour of homosexual marriage. Simon Leys
S’il est une chose dont le Belge est pénétré, c’est de son insignifiance. Cela, en revanche, lui donne une incomparable liberté – un salubre irrespect, une tranquille impertinence, frisant l’insouciance. Simon Leys
La pire manière d’avoir tort c’est d’avoir eu raison trop tôt ! Simon Leys
Dans une controverse, on reconnait le vainqueur à ce que ses adversaires finissent par s’approprier ses arguments en s’imaginant les avoir inventés.  Simon Leys
Whenever a minute of silence is being observed in a ceremony, don’t we all soon begin to throw discreet glances at our watches? Exactly how long should a ‘decent interval’ last before we can resume business-as-usual with the butchers of Peking? (…) they may even have a point when they insist, in agreeing once more to sit at the banquet of the murderers, they are actively strengthening the reformist trends in China. I only wish they had weaker stomachs. Simon Leys
The other day, I was reading the manuscript of a forthcoming book by a young journalist – a series of profiles of women living in the Outback – farmer wives battling solitude and natural disasters on remote stations in the bush. One woman was expressing concern for the education and future of her son, and commented on the boy’s choice of exclusively practical subjects for his courses at boarding school. "And I can’t say I blame his choice, as I too, would prefer to be out in the bush driving a tractor of building cattleyards rather than sitting in a classroom learning about Shakespeare, which is something he will never need…" (…) Oddly enough, this disarming remark on the uselessness of literature unwittingly reduplicates, in one sense, a provocative statement by Nabokov. In fact the brave woman from the outback here seems to echo a sardonic paradox of the supreme literate aesthete of our age. Nabokov wrote this (which I shall never tire of quoting, perhaps because I myself taught literature for some time): ‘Let us not kid ourselves; let us remember that literature is of no use whatever, except in the very special case of somebody’s wishing to become, of all things, a Professor of Literature.’ And yet even Professors of Literature, when they are made of the right mettle, but find themselves in extreme situations – divested of their titles, deprived of their books, reduced to their barest humanity, equipped only with their tears and their memory – can reach the heart of the matter and experience in their flesh what literature is really about: our very survival as human beings. Simon Leys
The need to bring down to our own wretched level, to deface, to deride and debunk any splendour that is towering above us, is probably the saddest urge of human nature. Simon Leys
L’intuition de Chesterton est que le christianisme a renversé la vieille croyance platonicienne que la matière est mauvaise et que le spirituel est bon. Simon Leys
Comme Chesterton et comme Bernanos (autres écrivains de génie qui ont montré quel art le journalisme peut et doit être), Orwell a semé des perles un peu partout ; là, il faut donc tout lire, ce n’est pas une obligation, c’est un régal. (…) Chez Orwell, la qualité qui frappe le plus, c’est l’originalité. La vraie originalité, c’est le fait d’un homme qui, ayant d’abord réussi à devenir lui-même, n’a plus qu’à écrire naturellement. L’originalité échappe invinciblement à qui la poursuit pour elle-même, ne trouvant que la fausse originalité – cette lèpre qui ronge les lettres… Or un homme vrai ne saurait se réduire à des simplifications abstraites, à des définitions à sens unique (gauche, droite, progressiste, réactionnaire) ; c’est un noeud naturel de contradictions, un vivant paradoxe, comme Orwell l’a bien suggéré en se décrivant lui-même comme un « anarchiste conservateur ». (…) Orwell a explicitement récusé une façon de lire 1984 comme une description d’événements à venir. Il a lui-même défini son livre comme une « satire », développant les implications logiques de la prémisse totalitaire. Il serait donc vain d’essayer de mettre 1984 à jour. Anthony Burgess a jadis commis un 1985 qui montrait seulement sa profonde incompréhension du livre. Le vrai maître d’Orwell, c’est Swift, qu’il lisait et relisait sans se lasser. Comment concevoir une révision des Voyages de Gulliver ? À la lecture d’une intéressante interview que le professeur Jacques Le Goff vient de donner au Point (n° 1777, 5 octobre), je suis frappé par cette remarque qu’exprime le grand historien en passant : « Je déteste un livre comme 1984 d’Orwell à cause de sa non-insertion dans l’histoire. » Mais, précisément, c’est là le sujet même dont traite Orwell. Car le totalitarisme en action, c’est la négation de l’histoire – à tout le moins, sa suspension effective et délibérée. Orwell en eut la première intuition lors de la guerre d’Espagne ; et l’on peut voir dans la révélation qu’il eut alors comme le premier germe de1984. Il en fit la réflexion à Arthur Koestler, qui avait partagé cette même expérience : « L’Histoire s’est arrêtée en 1936. » Ainsi, la propagande stalinienne effaça toutes traces de batailles gagnées par les républicains lorsqu’il s’agissait de milices anarchistes et inventa de grandes victoires communistes là où nul combat n’avait été livré. Dans la presse communiste, l’expérience du front qu’avaient vécue Orwell et ses camarades se trouva frappée de totale irréalité. L’exercice du pouvoir totalitaire ne peut tolérer l’existence d’une réalité historique. Simon Leys
Le divorce de la littérature et du savoir est une plaie de notre époque et un des aspects caractéristiques de la barbarie moderne où, la plupart du temps, on voit des écrivains incultes tourner le dos à des savants qui écrivent en charabia. Simon Leys
Il est normal que les imbéciles profèrent des imbécillités comme les pommiers produisent des pommes, mais je ne peux pas accepter, moi qui ai vu le fleuve Jaune charrier des cadavres chaque jour depuis mes fenêtres, cette vision idyllique de la Révolution culturelle. Simon Leys
Je pense… que les idiots disent des idioties, c’est comme les pommiers produisent des pommes, c’est dans la nature, c’est normal. Le problème c’est qu’il y ait des lecteurs pour les prendre au sérieux et là évidemment se trouve le problème qui mériterait d’être analysé. Prenons le cas de Madame Macciocchi par exemple — je n’ai rien contre Madame Macciocchi personnellement, je n’ai jamais eu le plaisir de faire sa connaissance — quand je parle de Madame Macciocchi, je parle d’une certaine idée de la Chine, je parle de son œuvre, pas de sa personne. Son ouvrage De la Chine, c’est … ce qu’on peut dire de plus charitable, c’est que c’est d’une stupidité totale, parce que si on ne l’accusait pas d’être stupide, il faudrait dire que c’est une escroquerie. Simon Leys
Une nouvelle interprétation de la Chine par un “China watcher” français de Hongkong travaillant à la mode américaine. Beaucoup de faits, rapportés avec exactitude, auxquels se mêlent des erreurs et des informations incontrôlables en provenance de la colonie britannique. Les sources ne sont d’ordinaire pas citées, et l’auteur n’a manifestement pas l’expérience de ce dont il parle. La Révolution culturelle est ramenée à des querelles de cliques. Alain Bouc (Le Monde)
Une sinologue, Michelle Loi, publie en 1975 un court livre intitulé Pour Luxun. Réponse à Pierre Ryckmans (Simon Leys) (Lausanne, Alfred Eibel éditeur), dont le titre dévoile le nom réel de Simon Leys, au risque de lui interdire de pouvoir retourner en Chine. Wikipedia
« La “Révolution culturelle‘ qui n’eut de révolutionnaire que le nom et de culturel que le prétexte tactique initial, fut une lutte pour le pouvoir, menée au sommet entre une poignée d’individus, derrière le rideau de fumée d’un fictif mouvement de masses [...] En Occident, certains commentateurs persistent à s’attacher littéralement à l’étiquette officielle et veulent prendre pour point de départ de leur glose le concept de révolution de la culture, voire même de révolution de la civilisation (le terme chinois wenhua’ laisse en effet place à cette double interprétation). En regard d’un thème aussi exaltant pour la réflexion, toute tentative pour réduire le phénomène à cette dimension sordide et triviale d’une ‘lutte pour le pouvoir sonne de façon blessante, voire diffamatoire aux oreilles des maoïstes européens.  Simon Leys
Le spectacle de cet immense pays terrorisé et crétinisé par la rhinocérite maoïste a-t-il entièrement anesthésié sa capacité d’indignation ? Non, mais il réserve celle-ci à la dénonciation de la détestable cuisine qu’Air France lui sert dans l’avion du retour : «Le déjeuner Air France est si infect (petits pains comme des poires, poulet avachi en sauce graillon, salade colorée, chou à la fécule chocolatée – et plus de champagne !) que je suis sur le point d’écrire une lettre de réclamation". [...] Devant les écrits ‘ chinois ’ de Barthes (et de ses amis de Tel Quel), une seule citation d’Orwell saute spontanément à l’esprit : ‘ Vous devez faire partie de l’intelligentsia pour écrire des choses pareilles ; nul homme ordinaire ne saurait être aussi stupide.‘  Simon Leys
Nos admirations nous définissent, mais parfois elles peuvent aussi cerner nos manques (par exemple, un bègue qui admire un éloquent causeur, un écrivain crispé et taciturne comme Jules Renard qui vénère la tonitruante prolixité de Victor Hugo, ou un romancier concis et pur comme Chardonne qui célèbre le formidable flot deTolstoï…). Quand on rend visite à quelqu’un que l’on souhaiterait mieux connaître, on est naturellement tenté de regarder les livres de sa bibliothèque: ce n’est pas plus indiscret que de regarder son visage -c’est tout aussi révélateur (bien que parfois trompeur). Simon Leys
Je crois à l’universalité et à la permanence de la nature humaine; elle transcende l’espace et le temps. Comment expliquer sinon pourquoi les peintures de Lascaux ou la lecture de Zhuang Zi (Tchouang-tseu) ou de Montaigne peuvent nous toucher de façon plus immédiate que les informations du journal de ce matin? Pour le meilleur et pour le pire, je ne vois donc pas comment les intellectuels du XXIe siècle pourraient fort différer de ceux du siècle précédent. Malraux disait que l’intellectuel français est un homme qui ne sait pas comment on ouvre un parapluie (je soupçonne d’ailleurs qu’il parlait d’expérience; et personnellement je ne me flatte pas d’une bien grande dextérité). Du fait de leur maladresse et de leur faiblesse, certains intellectuels seraient-ils plus vulnérables devant les séductions du pouvoir, et de son incarnation dans des chefs totalitaires? Je me contente de constater mélancoliquement la récurrence du phénomène -je ne suis pas psychologue. Simon Leys
Comme je l’évoque dans le post-scriptum de mon essai sur Liu Xiaobo, par la faute d’un agent consulaire belge, mes fils (jumeaux) se sont trouvés réduits à l’état d’apatrides. La faute aurait pu être rectifiée; malheureusement, elle était tellement grotesque que les autorités responsables n’auraient pu le reconnaître sans se rendre ridicules – aussi fallait-il la cacher. Comme toujours dans ce genre de mésaventure administrative, la tentative de camouflage est cent fois pire que ce qu’elle tente de dissimuler. Le problème devient monumental et rigide, il s’enfle et gonfle comme un monstrueux champignon vénéneux qui, en fin de compte, ne contient RIEN: un vide nauséabond. Ayant jadis passé pas mal de temps à analyser et à décrire divers aspects du phénomène bureaucratique au sein du totalitarisme marxiste, j’ai découvert avec stupeur qu’il avait son pendant naturel dans un ministère bruxellois: des bureaucrates belges placés dans le plus toxique des environnements pékinois se seraient aussitôt sentis comme des poissons dans l’eau. Je voudrais tâcher de dépasser l’anecdote personnelle pour cerner une leçon universelle. De nombreux lecteurs, victimes d’expériences semblables, m’ont d’ailleurs offert des rapports d’une hallucinante absurdité. J’envisage donc de faire une petite physiologie du bureaucrate. Cela pourrait s’intituler Le Rêve de Zazie -par référence à l’héroïne de Queneau: comme on demande à Zazie ce qu’elle voudrait devenir quand elle sera grande, elle répond: "Institutrice! -Ah, fort bien et pourquoi? -Pour faire chier les mômes!" Simon Leys
 No tyrant can forsake humanity and persecute intelligence with impunity: in the end, he reaps imbecility and madness. When he visited Moscow in 1957, Mao declared that an atomic war was not to be feared since, in such an eventuality, only half of the human race would perish. This remarkable statement provided a good sample of the mind that was to conceive the “Great Leap Forward” and the “Cultural Revolution.” The human cost of these ventures was staggering: the famines that resulted from the “Great Leap” produced a demographic black hole into which it now appears that as many as fifty million victims may have been sucked. The violence of the “Cultural Revolution” affected a hundred million people. If, on the whole, the Maoist horrors are well known, what has not been sufficiently underlined is their asinine lunacy. In a recent issue of The New York Review, Jonathan Mirsky quoted an anecdote (from Liu Binyan, Ruan Ming, and Xu Gang’s Tell the World) that is so exemplary and apposite here that it bears telling once more: one day, Bo Yibo was swimming with Mao. Mao asked him what the production of iron and steel would be for the next year. Instead of replying, Bo Yibo told Mao that he was going to effect a turn in the water; Mao misunderstood him and thought that he had said “double.” A little later, at a Party meeting, Bo Yibo heard Mao announce that the national production of iron and steel would double the next year.3 The anecdote is perfectly credible in the light of all the documentary evidence we have concerning Mao’s attitude at the time of the “Great Leap”: we know that he swallowed the gigantic and grotesque deceptions fabricated by his own propaganda, and accepted without discussion the pleasing suggestion that miracles were taking place in the Chinese countryside; he genuinely believed that the yield of cotton and grain could be increased by 300 to 500 percent. And Liu Shaoqi himself was no wiser: inspecting Shandong in 1958, and having been told that miraculous increases had been effected in agricultural output, he said: “This is because the scientists have been kicked out, and people now dare to do things!” The output of steel, which was 5.3 million tons in 1957, allegedly reached 11 million tons in 1958, and it was planned that it would reach 18 million in 1959. The grain output which was 175 million tons in 1957, allegedly reached 375 million tons in 1958, and was planned to reach 500 million in 1959. The Central Committee solemnly endorsed this farce (Wuchang, Sixth Plenum, December 1958)—and planned for more. Zhou Enlai—who never passed for a fool—repeated and supported these fantastic figures and announced that the targets laid in the Second Five Year Plan (1958–1962) had all been reached in the plan’s first year! All the top leaders applauded this nonsense. Li Fuchun and Li Xiannian poured out “Great Leap” statistics that were simply lies. What happened to their common sense? Only Chen Yun had the courage to remain silent. Graphic details of the subsequent famine were provided in the official press only a few years ago, confirming what was already known through the testimonies of countless eyewitnesses. As early as 1961, Ladany published in China News Analysis some of these reports by Chinese travelers from all parts of China. All spoke of food shortage and hunger; swollen bellies, lack of protein and liver diseases were common. Many babies were stillborn because of their mothers’ deficient nutrition. Few babies were being born. As some workers put it, their food barely sufficed to keep them standing on their feet, let alone allowing them to have thoughts of sex. Peasants lacked the strength to work, and some collapsed in the fields and died. City government organisations and schools sent people to the villages by night to buy food, bartering clothes and furniture for it. In Shenyang the newspaper reported cannibalism. Desperate mothers strangled children who cried for food. Many reported that villagers were flocking into the cities in search of food; many villages were left empty…. It was also said that peasants were digging underground pits to hide their food. Others spoke of places where the population had been decimated by starvation. According to the Guang Ming Daily (April 27, 1980), in the North-West, the famine generated an ecological disaster: in their struggle to grow some food, the peasants destroyed grasslands and forests. Half of the grasslands and one third of the forests vanished between 1959 and 1962: the region was damaged permanently. The People’s Daily (May 14, 1980) said that the disaster of the “Great Leap” had affected the lives of a hundred million people who were physically devastated by the prolonged shortage of food. (Note that, at the time, China experts throughout the world refused to believe that there was famine in China. A BBC commentator, for instance, declared typically that a widespread famine in such a well-organized country was unthinkable.) Today, in order to stem the tide of popular discontent which threatens to engulf his rule, Deng Xiaoping is invoking again the authority of Mao. That he should be willing to call that ghost to the rescue provides a measure of his desperation. Considering the history of the last sixty years, one can easily imagine what sort of response the Chinese are now giving to such an appeal. Deng’s attempts to revive and promote Marxist studies are no less unpopular. Marxism has acquired a very bad name in China—which is quite understandable, though somewhat unfair: after all, it was never really tried. Simon Leys
In any debate, you really know that you have won when you find your opponents beginning to appropriate your ideas, in the sincere belief that they themselves just invented them. This situation can afford a subtle satisfaction; I think the feeling must be quite familiar to Father Ladany, the Jesuit priest and scholar based in Hong Kong who for many years published the weekly China News Analysis. Far away from the crude limelights of the media circus, he has enjoyed three decades of illustrious anonymity: all “China watchers” used to read his newsletter with avidity; many stole from it—but generally they took great pains never to acknowledge their indebtedness or to mention his name. Father Ladany watched this charade with sardonic detachment: he would probably agree that what Ezra Pound said regarding the writing of poetry should also apply to the recording of history—it is extremely important that it be written, but it is a matter of indifference who writes it. China News Analysis was compulsory reading for all those who wished to be informed of Chinese political developments—scholars, journalists, diplomats. In academe, however, its perusal among many political scientists was akin to what a drinking habit might be for an ayatollah, or an addiction to pornography for a bishop: it was a compulsive need that had to be indulged in secrecy. China experts gnashed their teeth as they read Ladany’s incisive comments; they hated his clearsightedness and cynicism; still, they could not afford to miss one single issue of his newsletter, for, however disturbing and scandalous his conclusions, the factual information which he supplied was invaluable and irreplaceable. What made China News Analysis so infuriatingly indispensable was the very simple and original principle on which it was run (true originality is usually simple): all the information selected and examined in China News Analysis was drawn exclusively from official Chinese sources (press and radio).  (…) What inspired his method was the observation that even the most mendacious propaganda must necessarily entertain some sort of relation with the truth; even as it manipulates and distorts the truth, it still needs originally to feed on it. Therefore, the untwisting of official lies, if skillfully effected, should yield a certain amount of straight facts. Needless to say, such an operation requires a doigté hardly less sophisticated than the chemistry which, in Gulliver’s Travels, enabled the Grand Academicians of Lagado to extract sunbeams from cucumbers and food from excreta.  (…) Without an ability to decipher non-existent inscriptions written in invisible ink on blank pages, no one should ever dream of analyzing the nature and reality of Chinese communism. Very few people have mastered this demanding discipline, and, with good reason, they generally acknowledge Father Ladany as their doyen. Simon Leys
 G K. CHESTERTON, whose formidable mind drew inspiration from a vast culture – literary, political, poetical, historical and philosophical – once received the naive praise of a lady: “Oh, Mr Chesterton, you know so many things!” He suavely replied: “Madam, I know nothing: I am a journalist.” The many enemies of French philosopher Jean-François Revel (1924-2006) often attempted to dismiss him as a mere journalist which, of course, he was among many other things, and very much in the Chestertonian fashion. At first he may seem odd to associate these two names: what could there be in common between the great Christian apologist and the staunch atheist, between the mystical poet and the strict rationalist, between the huge, benevolent man mountain and the short, fiery, nimble and pugnacious intellectual athlete (and, should we also add, between the devoted husband and the irrepressible ladies’ man)? One could multiply the contrasts, yet, on a deeper level, the essence of their genius was very much alike. Revel was an extrovert who took daily delight in the company of his friends (…) Always sparring with his interlocutors, he was passionately commited to is ideas, but if he took his own beliefs with utter seriousness, he did not take his own person seriously. Again, one could apply to him what Chesterton’s brother said of his famous sibling: “He had a passionate need to express his opinions, but he would express them as readily and well to a man he met on a bus.” Revel’s capacity for self-irony is the crowning grace of his memoirs, The Thief in an Empty House. Personal records can be a dangerous exercice, but in his case it eventuated in a triumphant masterpiece. His humour enchanted his readers, but kept disconcerting the more pompous pundits. The French greatly value wit, which they display in profusion, but humour often makes them uneasy, especially when it is applied to important subjects; they do not have a word for it, they do not know the thing. Whereas wit is a form of duelling – it aims to wound or to kill – the essence of humour is self-deprecatory. Once again, a Chestertonian saying could be apposite: “My critics think that I am not serious, but only funny, because they think that ‘funny’ is the opposite of ‘serious’. But ‘funny’ is the opposite of ‘not funny’ and nothing else. Whether a man chooses to tell the truth in long sentences or in short jokes is analogous to whether he chooses to tell the truth in French or German.” What compounded the dismay of Revel’s pretentious critics was his implacable clarity. One of his close friends and collaborators said he doubted if Revel, in his entire career, had written a single sentence that was obscure. In the Parisian intellectual world such a habit can easily ruin a writer’s credit, for simple souls and solemn mediocrities are impressed only by what is couched in opaque jargon. And, in their eyes, how could one possibly say something important if one is not self-important? With the accuracy of his information and the sharpness of his irony, Revel deflated the huge balloons of cant that elevate the chattering classes. They felt utterly threatened, for he was exposing the puffery of the latest intellectual fashions upon which their livehood depended. At times they could not hide their panic; for instance, the great guru of the intelligentsia, Jacques Lacan, during one of his psychoanalytical seminars at the Sorbonne, performed in front of his devotees a voodoo-like exorcism. He frantically trampled underfoot and destroyed a copy of Revel’s book Why Philosophers?, in which Lacan’s charlatanism was analysed. Yet such outbursts weere mere circus acts; far more vicious was the invisible conspiracy that surrounded Revel with a wall of silence, well documented in Pierre Boncenne’s Pour Jean-François Revel: Un esprit libre (Plon, Paris, 2006), a timely and perceptive book that takes the full measure of Revel’s intellectual, literary and human stature. A paradoxical situation developed: Revel’s weekly newspaper columns were avidly read, nearly every one of his 30-odd books was an instant bestseller, and yet the most influential “progressive” critics studiously ignored his existence. His books were not reviewed, his ideas were not discussed, if his name was mentioned at all it was with a patronising sneer, if not downright slander. Revel was quintessentially French in his literary tastes and sensitivity (his pages on Michel de Montaigne, Francois Rabelais and Marcel Proust marry intelligence with love; his anthology of French poetry mirrors his original appreciation of the poetic language), in his art of living (his great book on gastronomy is truly a “feast in words”) and in his conviviality (he truly cared for his friends). And yet what strikingly set him apart from most other intellectuals of his generation was his genuinely cosmopolitan outlook. He had spent abroad the best part of his formative and early creative years, mostly in Mexico and Italy. In addition to English (spoken by few educated French of his time) he was fluent in Italian, Spanish and German; until the end of his life he retained the healthy habit to start every day (he rose at 5am) by listening to he BBC news and reading six foreign newspapers. On international affairs, on literature, art and ideas, he had universal perspectives that broke completely from the suffocating provincialism of the contemporary Parisian elites. In the 18th century, French was the common language of the leading minds of continental Europe; 20th-century French intellectuals hardly noticed that times had changed in this respect; they retained the dangerous belief that whatever was not expressed in French could hardly matter. Revel never had enough sarcasm to denounce this sort of self-indulgence; on the bogus notion of le rayonnement français, he was scathing: “French culture has radiated for so long, it’s a wonder mankind has not died from sunstroke.” He fiercely fought against chauvinist cultural blindness, and especially against its most cretinous expression: irrational anti-Americanism. At the root of this attitude he detected a subconscious resentment: the French feel that when Americans are playing a leading role in the political-cultural world they are usurping what is by birthright a French prerogative. By vocation and academic training Revel was originally a philosopher (he entered at an exceptionally early age the Ecole Normale Superieure, the apex of the French higher education system). He taught philosophy and eventually wrote a history of Western philosophy (eschewing all technical jargon, it is a model of lucid synthesis). However, he became disenchanted with the contemporary philosophers who, he flet, had betrayed their calling by turning philosophy into a professional career and a mere literary genre. “Philosophy,” he wrote “ought to return to its original and fundamental question: How should I live?” he preferred simply to call himslef “a man of letters”. Ancient Greek poet Archilochus famously said: “The fox knows many things but the hedgehog knows one big thing.” Revel was the archetypical fox, but at the same time he held with all the determination of a hedgehog to one central idea that inspires, pervades and motivates all his endeavours: The belief that each individual destiny, as well as the destiny of mankind, depends upon the accuracy – or the falsity – of the information at their disposal, and upon the way in which they put this information to use. He devoted one of his books specifically to this issue, La Connaissance Inutile (Useless Knowledge), but this theme runs through nearly all his writings. Politics naturally absorbed a great amount of his attention. From the outset he showed his willingness to commit himself personally, and at great risk: as a young man in occupied France he joined the Resistance against the Nazis. After the war, his basic political allegiance was, and always remainded, to the Left and the principles of liberal democracy. He was sharply critical of Charles de Gaulle and of all saviours and providential leaders in military uniforms. Yet, like George Orwell before him, he always believed that only an uncompromising denunciation of all forms of Stalinist totalitarianism can ensure the ultimate victory of socialism. Thus – again, like Orwell – he earned for himself the hostility of his starry-eyed comrades. Simon Leys

Attention: un intellectuel peut ne pas en cacher un autre !

Belge de naissance, chinois de coeur, australien de résidence, chrétien revendiqué, admirateur de Chesterton, Bernanos, Orwell,  ami de Revel et Mario Vargas Llosa, intellectuel ayant fait de la nécessité de l’ "insignifiance" supposée de sa nationalité vertu, vendeur de mèche des secrets de sa tribu maolâtre et antichrétienne ayant osé dénoncer les habits neufs de l’empereur et défendre Mère Teresa, intellectuel n’hésitant pas à critiquer l’anti-intellectualisme tout en se méfiant de l’intelligence, à appeler un imbécile un imbécile,  à pratiquer tout en restant vigilant le meilleur des journalismes, à  mettre en doute  des conquêtes de l’humanité aussi grandes que l’euthanasie et le mariage homosexuel et même à révéler et remercier ses propres sources …

En ces temps étranges où, sur fond de purification ethnique et de génocide revendiqué des derniers chrétiens et juifs du Moyen-Orient …

Et où, après la tentation du fascisme, du nazisme, du communisme, du stalinisme, du maoïsme et de l’antiaméricanisme primaire, ceux qui ont toujours préféré avoir tort avec Sartre semblent repartis à la case départ de l‘antisémitisme qui avait justement, avec le fameux "J’accuse" de Zola, marqué leur acte de naissance …

Comment ne pas repenser à l’occasion de la récente disparition du sinologue Pierre Ryckmans (dit Simon Leys) dont la vigilance, pour reprendre le mot de Sartre à la mort d’un Gide dont ladite vertu lui sera hélas de peu d’utilité,  nous manque déjà …

A tous ces véritables intellectuels que nos médiacrates actuels ont indûment éclipsés quand, à la manière de l’ancien compagnon de route de Che Guevara et ex-conseiller spécial de François Mitterrand Régis Debray, ils ne les ont pas confondus avec leur version française et n’en ont pas fait l’acte de décès ?

Comment ne pas voir protégés peut-être par leur nationalité ou résidence étrangères à l’instar du sinologue belgo-australien qui fut aussi critique littéraire et écrivain …

Que ce sont aussi ceux qui correspondent le plus à la définition canonique que fit de cette version moderne des prophètes juifs d’antan après Benda et avant Bourdieu, le petit camarade d’Aron et de Camus si fier en son temps  de sa "stricte obédience stalinienne" ?

A savoir non d "‘abuser" mais d’utiliser la notoriété acquise par leurs travaux pour défendre les "valeurs éternelles et désintéressées" de la justice et de la raison …

Mais aussi, refusant le compartimentage et l’amputation de  l’une ou l’autre des grandes voies d’accès à la vérité telles que la religion, l’art, la philosophie et la science et à l’image de Proust,  se  méfiant sans la rejeter de l’intelligence, de résister aux dérives du temps qui virent la plus grande indulgence aux plus grands crimes et de ne pas hésiter, au prix fort, à vendre la mèche sur sa propre tribu ?

Et quel meilleur hommage leur faire que ces deux textes et sortes d’autoportrait en creux dans lesquels Leys fit l’éloge de deux des intellectuels dont ils partageaient la volonté farouche d’allier la connaissance et le goût de la théorie du renard à la détermination et à l’intérêt pour le  travail de terrain du hérisson mais surtout  l’amour par dessus tout de la précision et de la vérité …

A savoir le père et sinologue polonais, Laszlo Ladany dont il ne taira jamais l’inspiration et l’essayiste qui fut l’un des rares intellectuels français à le soutenir Jean-Francois Revel ?

The Art of Interpreting Nonexistent Inscriptions Written in Invisible Ink on a Blank Page
Simon Leys

The New York Review of Books

OCTOBER 11, 1990 ISSUE
The Communist Party of China and Marxism, 1921––1985: A Self Portrait
by Laszlo Ladany, foreword by Robert Elegant
Hoover Institution Press, 588 pp., $44.95
1.

In any debate, you really know that you have won when you find your opponents beginning to appropriate your ideas, in the sincere belief that they themselves just invented them. This situation can afford a subtle satisfaction; I think the feeling must be quite familiar to Father Ladany, the Jesuit priest and scholar based in Hong Kong who for many years published the weekly China News Analysis. Far away from the crude limelights of the media circus, he has enjoyed three decades of illustrious anonymity: all “China watchers” used to read his newsletter with avidity; many stole from it—but generally they took great pains never to acknowledge their indebtedness or to mention his name. Father Ladany watched this charade with sardonic detachment: he would probably agree that what Ezra Pound said regarding the writing of poetry should also apply to the recording of history—it is extremely important that it be written, but it is a matter of indifference who writes it.

China News Analysis was compulsory reading for all those who wished to be informed of Chinese political developments—scholars, journalists, diplomats. In academe, however, its perusal among many political scientists was akin to what a drinking habit might be for an ayatollah, or an addiction to pornography for a bishop: it was a compulsive need that had to be indulged in secrecy. China experts gnashed their teeth as they read Ladany’s incisive comments; they hated his clearsightedness and cynicism; still, they could not afford to miss one single issue of his newsletter, for, however disturbing and scandalous his conclusions, the factual information which he supplied was invaluable and irreplaceable. What made China News Analysis so infuriatingly indispensable was the very simple and original principle on which it was run (true originality is usually simple): all the information selected and examined in China News Analysis was drawn exclusively from official Chinese sources (press and radio). This austere rule sometimes deprived Ladany’s newsletter of the life and color that could have been provided by less orthodox sources, but it enabled him to build his devastating conclusions on unimpeachable grounds.

What inspired his method was the observation that even the most mendacious propaganda must necessarily entertain some sort of relation with the truth; even as it manipulates and distorts the truth, it still needs originally to feed on it. Therefore, the untwisting of official lies, if skillfully effected, should yield a certain amount of straight facts. Needless to say, such an operation requires a doigté hardly less sophisticated than the chemistry which, in Gulliver’s Travels, enabled the Grand Academicians of Lagado to extract sunbeams from cucumbers and food from excreta. The analyst who wishes to gather information through such a process must negotiate three hurdles of thickening thorniness. First, he needs to have a fluent command of the Chinese language. To the man-in-the-street, such a prerequisite may appear like elementary common sense, but once you leave the street level, and enter the loftier spheres of academe, common sense is not so common any longer, and it remains an interesting fact that, during the Maoist era, a majority of leading “China Experts” hardly knew any Chinese. (I hasten to add that this is largely a phenomenon of the past; nowadays, fortunately, young scholars are much better educated.)

Secondly, in the course of his exhaustive surveys of Chinese official documentation, the analyst must absorb industrial quantities of the most indigestible stuff; reading Communist literature is akin to munching rhinoceros sausage, or to swallowing sawdust by the bucketful. Furthermore, while subjecting himself to this punishment, the analyst cannot allow his attention to wander, or his mind to become numb; he must keep his wits sharp and keen; with the eye of an eagle that can spot a lone rabbit in the middle of a desert, he must scan the arid wastes of the small print in the pages of the People’s Daily, and pounce upon those rare items of significance that lie buried under mountains of clichés. He must know how to milk substance and meaning out of flaccid speeches, hollow slogans, and fanciful statistics; he must scavenge for needles in Himalayan-size haystacks; he must combine the nose of a hunting hound, the concentration and patience of an angler, and the intuition and encyclopedic knowledge of a Sherlock Holmes.

Thirdly—and this is his greatest challenge—he must crack the code of the Communist political jargon and translate into ordinary speech this secret language full of symbols, riddles, cryptograms, hints, traps, dark allusions, and red herrings. Like wise old peasants who can forecast tomorrow’s weather by noting how deep the moles dig and how high the swallows fly, he must be able to decipher the premonitory signs of political storms and thaws, and know how to interpret a wide range of quaint warnings—sometimes the Supreme Leader takes a swim in the Yangtze River, or suddenly writes a new poem, or sponsors a ping-pong game: such events all have momentous implications. He must carefully watch the celebration of anniversaries, the noncelebration of anniversaries, and the celebration of nonanniversaries; he must check the lists of guests at official functions, and note the order in which their names appear. In the press, the size, type, and color of headlines, as well as the position and composition of photos and illustrations are all matters of considerable import; actually they obey complex laws, as precise and strict as the iconographic rules that govern the location, garb, color, and symbolic attributes of the figures of angels, archangels, saints, and patriarchs in the decoration of a Byzantine basilica.

To find one’s way in this maze, ingenuity and astuteness are not enough; one also needs a vast amount of experience. Communist Chinese politics are a lugubrious merry-go-round (as I have pointed out many times already), and in order to appreciate fully the déjà-vu quality of its latest convolutions, you would need to have watched it revolve for half a century. The main problem with many of our politicians and pundits is that their memories are too short, thus forever preventing them from putting events and personalities in a true historical perspective. For instance, when, in 1979, the “People’s Republic” began to revise its criminal law, there were good souls in the West who applauded this initiative, as they thought that it heralded China’s move toward a genuine rule of law. What they failed to note, however—and which should have provided a crucial hint regarding the actual nature and meaning of the move in question—was that the new law was being introduced by Peng Zhen, one of the most notorious butchers of the regime, a man who, thirty years earlier, had organized the ferocious mass accusations, lynchings, and public executions of the land reform programs.

Or again, after the death of Mao, Western politicians and commentators were prompt to hail Deng Xiaoping as a sort of champion of liberalization. The Selected Works of Deng published at that time should have enlightened them—not so much by what it included, as by what it excluded; had they been able to read it as any Communist document should be read, i.e., by concentrating first on its gaps, they would have rediscovered Deng’s Stalinist-Maoist statements, and then, perhaps, they might have been less surprised by the massacres of June 4.

More than half a century ago, the writer Lu Xun (1889–1936), whose prophetic genius never ceases to amaze, described accurately the conundrum of China watching:

Once upon a time, there was a country whose rulers completely succeeded in crushing the people; and yet they still believed that the people were their most dangerous enemy. The rulers issued huge collections of statutes, but none of these volumes could actually be used, because in order to interpret them, one had to refer to a set of instructions that had never been made public. These instructions contained many original definitions. Thus, for instance, “liberation” meant in fact “capital execution”; “government official” meant “friend, relative or servant of an influential politician,” and so on. The rulers also issued codes of laws that were marvellously modern, complex and complete; however, at the beginning of the first volume, there was one blank page; this blank page could be deciphered only by those who knew the instructions—which did not exist. The first three invisible articles of these non-existent instructions read as follows: “Art. 1: some cases must be treated with special leniency. Art. 2: some cases must be treated with special severity. Art. 3: this does not apply in all cases.”

Without an ability to decipher non-existent inscriptions written in invisible ink on blank pages, no one should ever dream of analyzing the nature and reality of Chinese communism. Very few people have mastered this demanding discipline, and, with good reason, they generally acknowledge Father Ladany as their doyen.

2.

After thirty-six years of China watching, Father Ladany finally retired and summed up his exceptional experience in The Communist Party of China and Marxism, 1921–1985: A Self Portrait. In the scope of this article it would naturally not be possible to do full justice to a volume which analyzes in painstaking detail sixty-five years of turbulent history; still, it may be useful to outline here some of Ladany’s main conclusions.

The Communist party is in essence a secret society. In its methods and mentality it presents a striking resemblance to an underworld mob.1 It fears daylight, feeds on deception and conspiracy, and rules by intimidation and terror. “Communist legality” is a contradiction in terms, since the Party is above the law—for example, Party members are immune from legal prosecution; they must be divested of their Party membership before they can be indicted by a criminal court (that a judge may acquit an accused person is inconceivable: since the accused was sent to court, it means that he is guilty). Whereas even Mussolini and Hitler orginally reached power through elections, no Communist party ever received an electorate’s mandate to govern.

In China, the path that led the Communists to victory still remains partly shrouded in mystery. Even today, for Party historians, many archives remain closed, and there are entire chapters that continue to present insoluble riddles; minutes of decisive meetings are nowhere to be found, important dates remain uncertain; for some momentous episodes it is still impossible to identify the participants and to reconstruct accurately the sequence of events; for some periods one cannot even determine who were the Party leaders!

As Ladany points out, a Communist regime is built on a triple foundation: dialectics, the power of the Party, and a secret police—but, as to its ideological equipment, Marxism is merely an optional feature; the regime can do without it most of the time. Dialectics is the jolly art that enables the Supreme Leader never to make mistakes—for even if he did the wrong thing, he did it at the right time, which makes it right for him to have been wrong, whereas the Enemy, even if he did the right thing, did it at the wrong time, which makes it wrong for him to have been right.

Before securing power, the Party thrives on political chaos. If confronted with a deliquescent government, it can succeed through organization and propaganda, even when it operates from a minuscule base: in 1945, the Communists controlled only one town, Yan’an, and some remote tracts of countryside; four years later, the whole of China was theirs. At the time of the Communist takeover, the Party members in Peking numbered a mere three thousand, and Shanghai, a city of nine million people, had only eight thousand Party members. In a time of social and economic collapse, it takes very few people—less than 0.01 percent of the population in the Chinese case—to launch emotional appeals, to stir the indignation of the populace against corrupt and brutal authorities, to mobilize the generosity and idealism of the young, to enlist the support of thousands of students, and eventually to present their tiny Communist movement as the incarnation of the entire nation’s will.

What is even more remarkable is that, before 1949, wherever the population had been directly exposed to their rule the Communists were utterly unpopular. They had introduced radical land reform in parts of North China during the civil war, and, as Ladany recalls,

Not only landowners but all suspected enemies were treated brutally; one could walk about in the North Chinese plains and see hands sticking out from the ground, the hands of people buried alive…. Luckily for the Communists, government propaganda was so poorly organised that people living in regions not occupied by the Communists knew nothing of such atrocities.

Once the whole country fell under their control, it did not take long for the Communists to extend to the rest of the nation the sort of treatment which, until then, had been reserved for inner use—purging the Party and disciplining the population of the so-called liberated areas. Systematic terror was applied on a national scale as early as 1950, to match first the land reform and then the campaign to suppress “counterrevolutionaries.” By the fall of 1951, 80 percent of all Chinese had had to take part in mass accusation meetings, or to watch organized lynchings and public executions. These grim liturgies followed set patterns that once more were reminiscent of gangland practices: during these proceedings, rhetorical questions were addressed to the crowd, which, in turn, had to roar its approval in unison—the purpose of the exercise being to ensure collective participation in the murder of innocent victims; the latter were selected not on the basis of what they had done, but of who they were, or sometimes for no better reason than the need to meet the quota of capital executions which had been arbitrarily set beforehand by the Party authorities.

From that time on, every two or three years, a new “campaign” would be launched, with its usual accompaniment of mass accusations, “struggle meetings,” self-accusations, and public executions. At the beginning of each “campaign,” there were waves of suicides: many of the people who, during a previous “campaign,” had suffered public humiliation, psychological and physical torture at the hands of their own relatives, colleagues, and neighbors, found it easier to jump from a window or under a train than to face a repeat of the same ordeal.

What is puzzling is that in organizing these recurrent waves of terror the Communists betrayed a strange incapacity to understand their own people. As history has amply demonstrated, the Chinese possess extraordinary patience; they can stoically endure the rule of a ruthless and rapacious government, provided that it does not interfere too much with their family affairs and private pursuits, and as long as it can provide basic stability. On both accounts, the Communists broke this tacit covenant between ruler and ruled. They invaded the lives of the people in a way that was far more radical and devastating than in the Soviet Union. Remolding the minds, “brainwashing” as it is usually called, is a chief instrument of Chinese communism, and the technique goes as far back as the early consolidation of Mao’s rule in Yan’an.

To appreciate the characteristics of the Maoist approach one need simply compare the Chinese “labor rectification” camps with the Soviet Gulag. Life in the concentration camps in Siberia was physically more terrifying than life in many Chinese camps, but the mental pressure was less severe on the Soviet side. In the Siberian camps the inmates could still, in a way, feel spiritually free and retain some sort of inner life, whereas the daily control of words and thoughts, the actual transformation and conditioning of individual consciousness, made the Maoist camps much more inhuman.

Besides its cruelty, the Maoist practice of launching political “campaigns” in relentless succession generated a permanent instability, which eventually ruined the moral credit of the Party, destroyed much of society, paralyzed the economy, provoked large-scale famines, and nearly developed into civil war. In 1949, most of the population had been merely hoping for a modicum of order and peace, which the Communists could easily have granted. Had they governed with some moderation and abstained from the needless upheavals of the campaigns, they could have won long-lasting popular support, and ensured steady economic development—but Mao had a groundless fear of inner opposition and revolt; this psychological flaw led him to adopt methods that proved fatally self-destructive.

History might have been very different if the original leaders of the Chinese Communist party had not been decimated by Chiang Kai-shek’s White Terror of 1927, or expelled by their own comrades in subsequent Party purges. They were civilized and sophisticated urban intellectuals, upholding humanistic values, with cosmopolitan and open minds, attuned to the modern world. While their sun was still high in the political firmament, Mao’s star never had a chance to shine; however bright and ambitious, the young self-taught peasant was unable to compete with these charismatic figures. Their sudden elimination marked an abrupt turn in the Chinese revolution—one may say that it actually put an end to it—but it also presented Mao with an unexpected opening. At first, his ascent was not exactly smooth; yet, by 1940 in Yan’an, he was finally able to neutralize all his rivals and to remold the entire Party according to his own conception. It is this Maoist brigade of country bumpkins and uneducated soldiers, trained and drilled in a remote corner of one of China’s poorest and most backward provinces, that was finally to impose its rule over the entire nation—and, as Ladany adds, “This is why there are spittoons everywhere in the People’s Republic.”

Mao’s anti-intellectualism was deeply rooted in his personal experiences. He never forgot how, as a young man, intellectuals had made him feel insignificant and inadequate. Later on, he came to despise them for their perpetual doubts and waverings; the competence and expertise of scholarly authorities irritated him; he distrusted the independence of their judgments and resented their critical ability. In the barracks-like atmosphere of Yan’an, a small town without culture, far removed from intellectual centers, with no easy access to books, amid illiterate peasants and brutish soldiers, intellectuals were easily singled out for humiliating sessions of self-criticism and were turned into exemplary targets during the terrifying purges of 1942–1944. Thus the pattern was set for what was to remain the most characteristic feature of Chinese communism: the persecution and ostracisim of intellectuals. The Yan’an brigade had an innate dislike of people who thought too much; this moronic tradition received a powerful boost in 1957, when, in the aftermath of the Hundred Flowers campaign, China’s cultural elite was pilloried; nine years later, finally, the “Cultural Revolution” marked the climax of Mao’s war against intelligence: savage blows were dealt to all intellectuals inside and outside the Party; all education was virtually suspended for ten years, producing an entire generation of illiterates.

Educated persons were considered unfit by nature to join the Party; especially at the local level resistance to accepting them was always greatest, as the old leadership felt threatened by all expressions of intellectual superiority. Official figures released in 1985 provide a telling picture of the level of education within the Communist party—which makes up the privileged elite of the nation: 4 percent of Party members had received some university education—they did not necessarily graduate—(against 30 percent in the Soviet Union); 42 percent of Party members only attended primary school; 10 percent are illiterate….

The first casualty of Mao’s anti-intellectualism was to be found, interestingly enough, in the field of Marxist studies. When, after fifteen years of revolutionary activity, the Party finally felt the need to acquire some rudiments of Marxist knowledge (at that time virtually no work of Marx had yet been translated into Chinese!), Mao, who himself was still a beginner in this discipline, undertook to keep all doctrinal developments under his personal control. In Yan’an, like an inexperienced teacher who has gotten hold of the only available textbook and struggles to keep one lesson ahead of his pupils, he simply plagiarized a couple of Soviet booklets and gave a folksy Chinese version of some elementary Stalinist-Zhdanovian notions. How these crude, banal, and derivative works ever came to acquire in the eyes of the entire world the prestige and authority of an original philosophy remains a mystery; it must be one of the most remarkable instances of mass autosuggestion in the twentieth century.

In one respect, however, the Thoughts of Mao Zedong did present genuine originality and dared to tread a ground where Stalin himself had not ventured: Mao explicitly denounced the concept of a universal humanity; whereas the Soviet tyrant merely practiced inhumanity, Mao gave it a theoretical foundation, expounding the notion—without parallel in the other Communist countries of the world—that the proletariat alone is fully endowed with human nature. To deny the humanity of other people is the very essence of terrorism; millions of Chinese were soon to measure the actual implications of this philosophy.

At first, after the establishment of the People’s Republic the regime was simply content to translate and reproduce elementary Soviet introductions to Marxism. The Chinese Academy of Sciences had a department of philosophy and social sciences but produced nothing during the Fifties, not even textbooks on Marxism. Only one university in the entire country—Peking University—had a department of philosophy; only Mao’s works were studied there.

When the Soviet Union denounced Stalin and rejected his History of the Communist Party—Short Course, the Chinese were stunned: this little book contained virtually all they knew about Marxism. Then, the Sino-Soviet split ended the intellectual importations from the USSR, and it was conveniently decided that the Thoughts of Mao Zedong represented the highest development of Marxist-Leninist philosophy; therefore, in order to fill the ideological vacuum, Mao’s Thoughts suddenly expanded and acquired polyvalent functions; its study became a reward for the meritorious, a punishment for the criminal, a medicine for the sick; it could answer all questions and solve all problems; it even performed miracles that were duly recorded; its presence was felt everywhere: it was broadcast in the streets and in the fields, it was put to music, it was turned into song and dance; it was inscribed everywhere—on mountain cliffs and on chopsticks, on badges, on bridges, on ashtrays, on dams, on teapots, on locomotives; it was printed on every page of all newspapers. (This, in turn, created some practical problems: in a poor country, where all paper is recycled for a variety of purposes, one had always to be very careful when wrapping groceries or when wiping one’s bottom, not to do it with Mao’s ubiquitous Thoughts—which would have been a capital offence.) In a way, Mao is to Marx what Voodoo is to Christianity; therefore, it is not surprising that the inflation of Mao’s Thoughts precluded the growth of serious Marxist studies in China.2

No tyrant can forsake humanity and persecute intelligence with impunity: in the end, he reaps imbecility and madness. When he visited Moscow in 1957, Mao declared that an atomic war was not to be feared since, in such an eventuality, only half of the human race would perish. This remarkable statement provided a good sample of the mind that was to conceive the “Great Leap Forward” and the “Cultural Revolution.” The human cost of these ventures was staggering: the famines that resulted from the “Great Leap” produced a demographic black hole into which it now appears that as many as fifty million victims may have been sucked. The violence of the “Cultural Revolution” affected a hundred million people. If, on the whole, the Maoist horrors are well known, what has not been sufficiently underlined is their asinine lunacy. In a recent issue of The New York Review, Jonathan Mirsky quoted an anecdote (from Liu Binyan, Ruan Ming, and Xu Gang’s Tell the World) that is so exemplary and apposite here that it bears telling once more: one day, Bo Yibo was swimming with Mao. Mao asked him what the production of iron and steel would be for the next year. Instead of replying, Bo Yibo told Mao that he was going to effect a turn in the water; Mao misunderstood him and thought that he had said “double.” A little later, at a Party meeting, Bo Yibo heard Mao announce that the national production of iron and steel would double the next year.3

The anecdote is perfectly credible in the light of all the documentary evidence we have concerning Mao’s attitude at the time of the “Great Leap”: we know that he swallowed the gigantic and grotesque deceptions fabricated by his own propaganda, and accepted without discussion the pleasing suggestion that miracles were taking place in the Chinese countryside; he genuinely believed that the yield of cotton and grain could be increased by 300 to 500 percent. And Liu Shaoqi himself was no wiser: inspecting Shandong in 1958, and having been told that miraculous increases had been effected in agricultural output, he said: “This is because the scientists have been kicked out, and people now dare to do things!” The output of steel, which was 5.3 million tons in 1957, allegedly reached 11 million tons in 1958, and it was planned that it would reach 18 million in 1959. The grain output which was 175 million tons in 1957, allegedly reached 375 million tons in 1958, and was planned to reach 500 million in 1959. The Central Committee solemnly endorsed this farce (Wuchang, Sixth Plenum, December 1958)—and planned for more. Zhou Enlai—who never passed for a fool—repeated and supported these fantastic figures and announced that the targets laid in the Second Five Year Plan (1958–1962) had all been reached in the plan’s first year! All the top leaders applauded this nonsense. Li Fuchun and Li Xiannian poured out “Great Leap” statistics that were simply lies. What happened to their common sense? Only Chen Yun had the courage to remain silent.

Graphic details of the subsequent famine were provided in the official press only a few years ago, confirming what was already known through the testimonies of countless eyewitnesses.

As early as 1961, Ladany published in China News Analysis some of these reports by Chinese travelers from all parts of China.

All spoke of food shortage and hunger; swollen bellies, lack of protein and liver diseases were common. Many babies were stillborn because of their mothers’ deficient nutrition. Few babies were being born. As some workers put it, their food barely sufficed to keep them standing on their feet, let alone allowing them to have thoughts of sex. Peasants lacked the strength to work, and some collapsed in the fields and died. City government organisations and schools sent people to the villages by night to buy food, bartering clothes and furniture for it. In Shenyang the newspaper reported cannibalism. Desperate mothers strangled children who cried for food. Many reported that villagers were flocking into the cities in search of food; many villages were left empty…. It was also said that peasants were digging underground pits to hide their food. Others spoke of places where the population had been decimated by starvation.

According to the Guang Ming Daily (April 27, 1980), in the North-West, the famine generated an ecological disaster: in their struggle to grow some food, the peasants destroyed grasslands and forests. Half of the grasslands and one third of the forests vanished between 1959 and 1962: the region was damaged permanently. The People’s Daily (May 14, 1980) said that the disaster of the “Great Leap” had affected the lives of a hundred million people who were physically devastated by the prolonged shortage of food. (Note that, at the time, China experts throughout the world refused to believe that there was famine in China. A BBC commentator, for instance, declared typically that a widespread famine in such a well-organized country was unthinkable.)

Today, in order to stem the tide of popular discontent which threatens to engulf his rule, Deng Xiaoping is invoking again the authority of Mao. That he should be willing to call that ghost to the rescue provides a measure of his desperation. Considering the history of the last sixty years, one can easily imagine what sort of response the Chinese are now giving to such an appeal.

Deng’s attempts to revive and promote Marxist studies are no less unpopular. Marxism has acquired a very bad name in China—which is quite understandable, though somewhat unfair: after all, it was never really tried.

1
Looking at this phenomenon from an East European angle, Kazimierz Brandys made similar observations in his admirable Warsaw Diary (Random House, 1983).↩

2
Epilogue: in 1982, a People’s Daily survey revealed that over 90 percent of Chinese youth do not have an inkling of what Marxism is.↩

3
The New York Review, April 26, 1990.↩

Voir aussi:

Cunning like a hedgehog

Cunning like a heldgehog. In memory of Jean-François Revel, man of letters, man of integrity, friend

Simon Leys

The Australian Literary Review, 1 August 2007

G K. CHESTERTON, whose formidable mind drew inspiration from a vast culture – literary, political, poetical, historical and philosophical – once received the naive praise of a lady: “Oh, Mr Chesterton, you know so many things!” He suavely replied: “Madam, I know nothing: I am a journalist.”

The many enemies of French philosopher Jean-François Revel (1924-2006) often attempted to dismiss him as a mere journalist which, of course, he was among many other things, and very much in the Chestertonian fashion.

At first he may seem odd to associate these two names: what could there be in common between the great Christian apologist and the staunch atheist, between the mystical poet and the strict rationalist, between the huge, benevolent man mountain and the short, fiery, nimble and pugnacious intellectual athlete (and, should we also add, between the devoted husband and the irrepressible ladies’ man)? One could multiply the contrasts, yet, on a deeper level, the essence of their genius was very much alike.

Revel was an extrovert who took daily delight in the company of his friends:

I am the most sociable creature; other people’s society is my joy. Though, for me, a happy day should have a part of solitude, it must also afford a few hours of the most intense of all the pleasures of the mind: conversation. Friendship has always occupied a central place in my life, as well as the keen desire to make new acquaintances, to hear them, to question them, to test their reactions to my own views.

Always sparring with his interlocutors, he was passionately commited to is ideas, but if he took his own beliefs with utter seriousness, he did not take his own person seriously. Again, one could apply to him what Chesterton’s brother said of his famous sibling: “He had a passionate need to express his opinions, but he would express them as readily and well to a man he met on a bus.”

Revel’s capacity for self-irony is the crowning grace of his memoirs, The Thief in an Empty House. Personal records can be a dangerous exercice, but in his case it eventuated in a triumphant masterpiece.

His humour enchanted his readers, but kept disconcerting the more pompous pundits. The French greatly value wit, which they display in profusion, but humour often makes them uneasy, especially when it is applied to important subjects; they do not have a word for it, they do not know the thing.

Whereas wit is a form of duelling – it aims to wound or to kill – the essence of humour is self-deprecatory. Once again, a Chestertonian saying could be apposite: “My critics think that I am not serious, but only funny, because they think that ‘funny’ is the opposite of ‘serious’. But ‘funny’ is the opposite of ‘not funny’ and nothing else. Whether a man chooses to tell the truth in long sentences or in short jokes is analogous to whether he chooses to tell the truth in French or German.”

What compounded the dismay of Revel’s pretentious critics was his implacable clarity. One of his close friends and collaborators said he doubted if Revel, in his entire career, had written a single sentence that was obscure. In the Parisian intellectual world such a habit can easily ruin a writer’s credit, for simple souls and solemn mediocrities are impressed only by what is couched in opaque jargon. And, in their eyes, how could one possibly say something important if one is not self-important?

With the accuracy of his information and the sharpness of his irony, Revel deflated the huge balloons of cant that elevate the chattering classes. They felt utterly threatened, for he was exposing the puffery of the latest intellectual fashions upon which their livehood depended. At times they could not hide their panic; for instance, the great guru of the intelligentsia, Jacques Lacan, during one of his psychoanalytical seminars at the Sorbonne, performed in front of his devotees a voodoo-like exorcism.

He frantically trampled underfoot and destroyed a copy of Revel’s book Why Philosophers?, in which Lacan’s charlatanism was analysed.

Yet such outbursts weere mere circus acts; far more vicious was the invisible conspiracy that surrounded Revel with a wall of silence, well documented in Pierre Boncenne’s Pour Jean-François Revel: Un esprit libre (Plon, Paris, 2006), a timely and perceptive book that takes the full measure of Revel’s intellectual, literary and human stature.

A paradoxical situation developed: Revel’s weekly newspaper columns were avidly read, nearly every one of his 30-odd books was an instant bestseller, and yet the most influential “progressive” critics studiously ignored his existence. His books were not reviewed, his ideas were not discussed, if his name was mentioned at all it was with a patronising sneer, if not downright slander.

Revel was quintessentially French in his literary tastes and sensitivity (his pages on Michel de Montaigne, Francois Rabelais and Marcel Proust marry intelligence with love; his anthology of French poetry mirrors his original appreciation of the poetic language), in his art of living (his great book on gastronomy is truly a “feast in words”) and in his conviviality (he truly cared for his friends).

And yet what strikingly set him apart from most other intellectuals of his generation was his genuinely cosmopolitan outlook.

He had spent abroad the best part of his formative and early creative years, mostly in Mexico and Italy. In addition to English (spoken by few educated Fench of his time) he was fluent in Italian, Spanish and German; until the end of his life he retained the healthy habit to start every day (he rose at 5am) by listening to he BBC news and reading six foreign newspapers.

On international affairs, on literature, art and ideas, he had universal perspectives that broke completely from the suffocating provincialism of the contemporary Parisian elites. In the 18th century, French was the common language of the leading minds of continental Europe; 20th-century French intellectuals hardly noticed that times had changed in this respect; they retained the dangerous belief that whatever was not expressed in French could hardly matter.

Revel never had enough sarcasm to denounce this sort of self-indulgence; on the bogus notion of le rayonnement français, he was scathing: “French culture has radiated for so long, it’s a wonder mankind has not died from sunstroke.” He fiercely fought against chauvinist cultural blindness, and especially against its most cretinous expression: irrational anti-Americanism. At the root of this attitude he detected a subconscious resentment: the french feel that when Americans are playing a leading role in the political-cultural world they are usurping what is by birthright a French prerogative.

By vocation and academic training Revel was originally a philosopher (he entered at an exceptionally early age the Ecole Normale Superieure, the apex of the French higher education system). He taught philosophy and eventually wrote a history of Western philosophy (eschewing all technical jargon, it is a model of lucid synthesis).

However, he became disenchanted with the contemporary philosophers who, he flet, had betrayed their calling by turning philosophy into a professional career and a mere literary genre. “Philosophy,” he wrote “ought to return to its original and fundamental question: How should I live?” he preferred simply to call himslef “a man of letters”.

Ancient Greek poet Archilochus famously said: “The fow knows many things but the hedgehog knows one big thing.” Revel was the archetypical fox, but at the same time he held with all the determination of a hedgehog to one central idea that inspires, pervades and motivates all his endeavours:

The belief that each individual destiny, as well as the destiny of mankind, depends upon the accuracy – or the falsity – of the information at their disposal, and upon the way in which they put this information to use.

He devoted one of his books specifically to this issue, La Connaissance Inutile (Useless Knowledge), but this theme runs through nearly all his writings.

Politics naturally absorbed a great amount of his attention. From the outset he showed his willingness to commit himself personaly, and at great risk: as a young man in occupied France he joined the Resistance against the Nazis. After the war, his basic political allegiance was, and always remainded, to the Left and the principles of liberal democracy. He was sharply critical of Charles de Gaulle and of all saviours and providential leaders in military uniforms.

Yet, like George Orwell before him, he always believed that only an uncompromising denunciation of all forms of Stalinist totalitarianism can ensure the ultimate victory of socialism. Thus – again, like Orwell – he earned for himself the hostility of his starry-eyed comrades.

Revel’s attempt at entering into active politics was short-lived, but the experience gave him an invaluable insight into the essential intellectual dishonesty that is unavoidably attached to partisan politicking. He was briefly a Socialist Party candidate at the 1967 national elections, which put him in close contact with François Mitterrand (then leader of the Opposition). The portrait he paints of Mitterrand in his memoirs is hilarious and horrifying.

Mitterrand was the purest type of political animal: he had no politics at all. He had a brilliant intelligence, but for him ideas were neither right or wrong, they were only useful or useless in the pursuit of power. The object of power was not a possibility to enact certain policies; the object of all policies was simply attain and retain power.

Revel, having drafted a speech for his own electoral campaign, was invited by Mitterrand to read it to him. The speech started, “Although I cannot deny some of my opponent’s achievements…” Mitterand interrupted him at once, screaming: “No! Never, never! In politics never acknowledge that your opponent has any merit. This is the basic rule of the game.”

Revel understood once and for all that this game was not for him and it was the end of his political ambition. Which proved to be a blessing: had politics swallowed him at that early stage in his life how much poorer the world of ideas and letters would have been. (And one could have said exactly the same about his close friend Mario Vargas Llosa, who – luckily for literature – was defeated in presidential elections in Peru.)

Dead writers who were also friends never leave us: whenever we open their books, we hear again their very personal voices and our old exchanges are suddenly revived. I had many conversations (and discussions: different opinions are the memorable spices of friendship) with Revel; yet what I wish to record here is not something he said, but a silence that had slightly puzzled me at the time. The matter is trifling and frivolous (for which I apologise), but what touches me is that I found the answer many years later, in his writings.

A long time ago, as we were walking along a street in Paris, chatting as we went, he asked me about a film I had seen the night before, Federico Fellini’s Casanova (which he had not seen). I told him that one scene had impressed me, by its acute psychological insight into the truth that love-making without love is but a very grim sort of gymnastics. He stopped abruptly and gave me a long quizzical look, as if he was trying to find out whether I really believed that, or was merely pulling his leg.

Unable to decide, he said, “Hmmm” and we resumed our walk, chatting of other things.

Many years later, reading his autobiography, I suddenly understood. When he was a precocious adolescent of 15, at school in Marseilles, he was quite brilliant in all humanities subjects but hopeless in mathematics. Every Thursday, pretending to his mother that he was receiving extra tuition in maths, he used to go to a little brothel. He would first do his school work in the common lounge and, after that, go upstairs with one of the girls. The madam granted him a “beginner’s rebate”, and the tuition fee generously advanced by his mother covered the rest.

One Thursday, however, as he was walking up the stairs his maths teacher came down. The young man froze, but the teacher passed impassively, merely muttering between clenched teeth: “You will always get passing marks in maths.” The schoolboy kept their secret and the teacher honoured his part of the bargain; Revel’s mother was delighted by the sudden improvement in his school results.

I belatedly realised that, from a rather early age, Revel had acquired a fairly different perspective on the subject of our chat.

At the time of Revel’s death in April last year, Vargas Llosa concluded the eloquent and deeply felt obituary he wrote for our friend in Spanish newspaper El pais: “Jean-François Revel, we are going to miss you so much.” How true.

Voir encore:

To the Editors:

Bashing an elderly nun under an obscene label does not seem to be a particularly brave or stylish thing to do. Besides, it appears that the attacks which are being directed at Mother Teresa all boil down to one single crime:she endeavors to be a Christian, in the most literal sense of the word—which is (and always was, and will always remain) a most improper and unacceptable undertaking in this world.

Indeed, consider her sins:

She occasionally accepts the hospitality of crooks, millionaires, and criminals. But it is hard to see why, as a Christian, she should be more choosy in this respect than her Master, whose bad frequentations were notorious, and shocked all the Hitchenses of His time.
Instead of providing efficient and hygienic services to the sick and dying destitutes, she merely offers them her care and her love. When I am on my death bed, I think I should prefer to have one of her Sisters by my side, rather than a modern social worker.
She secretly baptizes the dying. The material act of baptism consists in shedding a few drops of water on the head of a person, while mumbling a dozen simple ritual words. Either you believe in the supernatural effect of this gesture—and then you should dearly wish for it. Or you do not believe in it, and the gesture is as innocent and well-meaningly innocuous as chasing a fly away with a wave of the hand. If a cannibal who happens to love you presents you with his most cherished possession—a magic crocodile tooth that should protect you forever—will you indignantly reject his gift for being primitive and superstitious, or would you gratefully accept it as a generous mark of sincere concern and affection?
Jesus was spat upon—but not by journalists, as there were none in His time. It is now Mother Teresa’s privilege to experience this particular updating of her Master’s predicament.

Simon Leys
Canberra, Australia

Christopher Hitchens
DECEMBER 19, 1996 ISSUE
In response to:
In Defense of Mother Teresa from the September 19, 1996 issue

To the Editors:

Since the letter from Simon Leys [“In Defense of Mother Teresa,” NYR, September 19] is directed at myself rather than at your reviewer, may I usurp the right to reply?

In my book, The Missionary Position: Mother Teresa In Theory and Practice, I provide evidence that Mother Teresa has consoled and supported the rich and powerful, allowing them all manner of indulgence, while preaching obedience and resignation to the poor. In a classic recent instance of what I mean—an instance that occurred too late for me to mention it—she told the April 1996 Ladies’ Home Journal that her new friend Princess Diana would be better off when free of her marriage. (“It is good that it is over. Nobody was happy anyhow.”) When Mother Teresa said this, she had only just finished advising the Irish electorate to vote “No” in a national referendum that proposed the right of civil divorce and remarriage. (That vote, quite apart from its importance in separating Church from State in the Irish Republic, had an obvious bearing on the vital discussion between Irish Catholics and Protestants as to who shall make law in a possible future cooperative island that is threatened by two kinds of Christian fundamentalism.)

Evidence and argument of this kind, I have discovered, make no difference to people like Mr. Leys. Such people do not exactly deny Mother Teresa’s complicity with earthly powers. Instead, they make vague allusions to the gospels. Here I can claim no special standing. The gospels do not agree on the life of the man Jesus, and they make assertions—such as his ability to cast demonic spells on pigs—that seem to reflect little credit upon him. However, when Mr. Leys concedes that Mother Teresa “occasionally accepts the hospitality of crooks, millionaires, and criminals” and goes on to say, by way of apologetics, that her Master’s “bad frequentations were notorious,” I still feel entitled to challenge him. Was his Jesus ever responsible for anything like Mother Teresa’s visit to the Duvaliers in Haiti, where she hymned the love of Baby Doc and his wife for the poor, and the reciprocal love of the poor for Baby Doc and his wife? Did he ever accept a large subvention of money, as did Mother Teresa from Charles Keating, knowing it to have been stolen from small and humble savers? Did he ever demand a strict clerical control over, not just abortion, but contraception and marriage and divorce and adoption? These questions are of no hermeneutic interest to me, but surely they demand an answer from people like Leys who claim an understanding of the Bible’s “original intent.”

On my related points—that Mother Teresa makes no real effort at medical or social relief, and that her mission is religious and propagandistic and includes surreptitious baptism of unbelievers—I notice that Mr. Leys enters no serious dissent. It is he and not I who chooses to compare surreptitious baptism to the sincere and loving gesture of an innocent “cannibal” (his term) bestowing a fetish. Not all that inexact as a parallel, perhaps—except that the “cannibal” is not trying to proselytize.

Mr. Leys must try and make up his mind. At one point he says that the man called Jesus “shocked all the Hitchenses of His time”: a shocking thought indeed to an atheist and semi-Semitic polemicist like myself, who can discover no New Testament authority for the existence of his analogue in that period. Later he says, no less confidently, that “Jesus was spat upon—but not by journalists, as there were none in His [sic] time.” It is perhaps in this confused light that we must judge his assertion that the endeavor to be a Christian “is (and always was, and will always remain)” something “improper and unacceptable.” The public career of Mother Teresa has been almost as immune from scrutiny or criticism as any hagiographer could have hoped—which was my point in the first place. To represent her as a woman defiled with spittle for her deeds or beliefs is—to employ the term strictly for once—quite incredible. But it accords with the Christian self-pity that we have to endure from so many quarters (Justice Scalia, Ralph Reed, Mrs. Dole) these days. Other faiths are taking their place in that same queue, to claim that all criticism is abusive, blasphemous, and defamatory by definition. Mr. Leys may not care for some of the friends that he will make in this line. Or perhaps I misjudge him?

Finally, I note that he describes the title of my book as “obscene,” and complains that it attacks someone who is “elderly.” Would he care to say where the obscenity lies? Also, given that I have been criticizing Mother Teresa since she was middle-aged (and publicly denounced the senile Khomeini in his homicidal dotage), can he advise me of the age limit at which the faithful will admit secular criticism as pardonable? Not even the current occupant of the Holy See has sought protection from dissent on the ground ofanno domini.

Christopher Hitchens
Washington, DC

On Mother Teresa

Simon Leys
JANUARY 9, 1997 ISSUE
In response to:
Mother Teresa from the December 19, 1996 issue

The following is a reply to Christopher Hitchens’s letter in the December 19, 1996, issue.

To the Editors:

If Mr. Hitchens were to write an essay on His Holiness the Dalai Lama, being a competent journalist, he would no doubt first acquaint himself with Buddhism in general and with Tibetan Buddhism in particular. On the subject of Mother Teresa, however, he does not seem to have felt the need to acquire much information on her spiritual motivations—his book contains a remarkable number of howlers on elementary aspects of Christianity (and even now, in the latest ammunition he drew from The Ladies’ Home Journal, he displayed a complete ignorance of the position of the Catholic Church on the issues of marriage, divorce, and remarriage).

In this respect, his strong and vehement distaste for Mother Teresa reminds me of the indignation of the patron in a restaurant, who, having been served caviar on toast, complained that the jam had a funny taste of fish. The point is essential—but it deserves a development which would require more space and more time than can be afforded to me, here and now. (However, I am working on a full-fledged review of his book, which I shall gladly forward to him once it comes out in print.)

Finally, Mr. Hitchens asked me to explain what made me say that The Missionary Position is an obscene title. His question, without doubt, bears the same imprint of sincerity and good faith that characterized his entire book. Therefore, I owe him an equally sincere and straightforward answer: my knowledge of colloquial English being rather poor, I had to check the meaning of this enigmatic title in The New Shorter Oxford English Dictionary (Oxford University Press, 1993, 2 vols.—the only definition of the expression can be found in Vol. I, p. 1794). But Mr. Hitchens having no need for such a tool in the exercise of his trade probably does not possess a copy of it. It will therefore be a relief for his readers to learn that his unfortunate choice of a title was totally innocent: when he chose these words, how could he possibly have guessed what they actually meant?

Simon Leys
Canberra, Australia
T’IEN HSIA
An Interview with Pierre Ryckmans
Daniel Sanderson
The Australian National University
The following interview was originally published in the Chinese Studies Association of Australia Newsletter, No.41 (February 2011). It was conducted via correspondence between Daniel Sanderson, the editor of the Newsletter, and Pierre Ryckmans. China Heritage Quarterly takes pleasure in reproducing it here with permission and adding it to our archive related to New Sinology.

In The Hall of Uselessness: collected essays published in mid 2011, Professor Ryckmans includes the text of a speech he made in March 2006 entitled ‘The Idea of the University’. Discussing the tension between intellectual creativity at universities and the creep of managerialism that has increasingly benighted the life of the mind at universities he made the following observation:

Near to the end of his life, Gustave Flaubert wrote in one of his remarkable letters to his dear friend Ivan Turgenev a little phrase that could beautifully summarise my topic. ‘I have always tired to live in an ivory tower; but a tide of shit is beating at its walls, threatening to undermine it.’ These are indeed the two poles of our predicament: on one side, the need for an ‘ivory tower’, and on the other side, the threat of the ‘tide of shit’.
—’The Idea of the University’, in Simon Leys, The Hall of Uselessness—collected essays, Collingwood, Victoria: Black Inc., 2011, p.398.
From September 2011 over four issues of this e-journal we will serialize Professor Ryckmans’ Boyer Lectures, Aspects of Culture: A View From the Bridge, originally broadcast by ABC Radio National in 1996.—The Editor

An internationally renowned Sinologist, Professor Ryckmans spent seventeen years teaching at The Australian National University and six years as Professor of Chinese at the University of Sydney. Having retired from academic life in 1993, he remains a regular contributor to a range of publications including The New York Review of Books, Le Figaro Littéraire and The Monthly. Throughout his career, Ryckmans has combined meticulous scholarship and a vigorous public engagement with contemporary political and intellectual issues. His elegant yet forthright style is evident in these responses to questions submitted by the CSAA Newsletter.—Daniel Sanderson
Daniel Sanderson: Can you tell us about your childhood and teenage years? Where were you born? Where did you grow up? What kind of family life did you have as a child?

Pierre Ryckmans: I was born and grew up in Brussels; I had a happy childhood. To paraphrase Tolstoy: all happy childhoods are alike—(warm affection and much laughter—the recipe seems simple enough.)
The main benefit of this is that later on in life, one feels no compulsion to waste time in ‘The Pursuit of Happiness’—a rather foolish enterprise: as if happiness was something you could chase after.

DS: What form did your early education take?

PR: A traditional-classic education (Latin—Greek).

DS: Was China in any way an element of your childhood? Was there, for instance, any scope to study Chinese history or politics, or the Chinese language, at school?

PR: No—nothing at all (alas!).

DS: You studied law and art history at the Université Catholique de Louvain [now the Katholieke Universiteit Leuven]. This seems an unusual combination. What drew you to these subjects? Were you influenced particularly by any of your teachers?

PR: I studied Law to follow a family tradition, and Art History to follow my personal interest.
At university, personal contacts, intellectual debates and exchanges with friends and schoolmates (many of whom came from Asia and Latin America) were far more important, enriching and memorable than most lectures. Lately I noted with pleasure that John Henry Newman already made a similar observation in his great classic The Idea of a University (1852).

DS: I understand you visited the People’s Republic of China with a group of Belgian students in 1955. How was this visit arranged? What was your impression of the New China at that time? Did you ever return to the PRC? If so, under what circumstances? Do you think that some experience of living in China is necessary for the scholar of China?

PR: The Chinese Government had invited a delegation of Belgian Youth (10 delegates—I was the youngest, age nineteen) to visit China for one month (May 1955). The voyage—smoothly organized—took us to the usual famous spots, climaxing in a one-hour private audience with Zhou Enlai.
My overwhelming impression (a conclusion to which I remained faithful for the rest of my life) was that it would be inconceivable to live in this world, in our age, without a good knowledge of Chinese language and a direct access to Chinese culture.

DS: What did you do after completing your undergraduate degree? Did you progress directly to further study? Did you ever consider a career outside the academy?
PR: I started learning Chinese. Since, at that time, no scholarship was available to go to China, I went to Taiwan. I had no ‘career’ plan whatsoever. I simply wished to know Chinese and acquire a deeper appreciations of Chinese culture.

DS: I would like to learn something about your PhD. What was your topic? Why was it important to you?

PR: Loving Western painting, quite naturally I became enthralled with Chinese painting (and calligraphy) – and I developed a special interest for what the Chinese wrote on the subject of painting: traditionally, the greatest painters were also scholars, poets, men of letters – hence the development of an extraordinarily rich, eloquent and articulate literature on painting, philosophical, critical, historical and technical.
We are often tempted to do research on topics that are somewhat marginal and lesser-known, since, on these, it is easier to produce original work. But one of my Chinese masters gave me a most valuable advice: ‘Always devote yourself to the study of great works—works of fundamental importance—and your effort will never be wasted.’ Thus, for my PhD thesis, I chose to translate and comment what is generally considered as a masterpiece, the treatise on painting by Shitao, a creative genius of the early eighteenth century; he addresses the essential questions: Why does one paint? How should one paint? Among all my books, this one, first published forty years ago, has never gone out of print—and, to my delight, it is read by painters much more than by sinologists!

DS: You lived for some years in Taiwan, also spending time in Hong Kong and Singapore. Do you think your time spent on the ‘periphery’ of China has influenced your approach to the study of China?

PR: During some twelve years, I lived and worked successively in Taiwan, Singapore and Hong Kong (plus six months in Japan). It was a happy period of intense activity—living and learning in an environment where all my friends became my teachers, and all my teachers, my friends. I am fond of a saying by Prince de Ligne (a writer I much admire): ‘Let each one examine what he has most desired. If he is happy, it is because his wishes have not been granted.’ For some years, I had wished I could study in China; but now, in retrospect, I realise that, had I been given such a chance at that particular time (1958-1970), I would never have been allowed to enjoy in China such rich, diverse, easy and close human contacts.

DS: You arrived in Australia in 1970 to take up a position at the Australian National University. How did this come about? What was your role? Can you tell me a little about the atmosphere at ANU during your early years there?

PR: Professor Liu Ts’un-yan (Head of the Chinese department at ANU) came to see me in Hong Kong and invited me to join his department. Thus, with my wife and four (very young) children, we moved to Canberra for what was supposed to be a three-year stay, but turned out to become our final, permanent home. Professor Liu was not only a great scholar, he was also an exquisite man; for me, working in his department till his own retirement (fifteen years later) was sheer bliss—it also coincided with what must have been the golden age of our universities. Later on, the atmosphere changed—for various politico-economic and other reasons—and I took early retirement. The crisis of Higher Education is a vast problem, and a world phenomenon; I have spoken and written on the subject—there is no need and no space to repeat it here.

DS: The 1970s were a period of great political division within the field of Chinese Studies, and across society at large. The iconoclasm of the Cultural Revolution was attractive to many in the West. It was in this context that your book, The Chairman’s New Clothes, appeared in 1971, bursting the Maoist bubble. This was followed in 1976 by the equally controversial Chinese Shadows. Both these works stirred considerable debate in Europe. What was the reaction in Australia, particularly within the Chinese Studies community? Were you ever attracted to the Maoist experiment yourself?

PR: My own interest, my own field of work is Chinese literature and Chinese painting. When commenting on Chinese contemporary politics, I was merely stating common sense evidence and common knowledge. But at that time, this may indeed have disturbed some fools here and there—which, in the end, did not matter very much.

DS: Do you think political engagement is a necessary part of the intellectual life?

PR: In a democracy, political engagement is a necessary part of everyone’s life. (The political views of the greatest philosopher on earth may well be more silly than those of his ignorant housekeeper.)

DS: You spent seventeen years at ANU and a further six years at the University of Sydney engaged in the study and teaching of Chinese literature. Can you comment on the changes you saw within Chinese Studies at those institutions, and in Australia more generally, during that time?

PR: I am poorly informed on more recent developments (I left academic life sixteen years ago). When things began to change (education becoming mere training) and took an orientation that corresponded no longer to what I always believed a university ought to be, I opted for early retirement. In front of younger colleagues who keep bravely fighting the good fight, I feel like a deserter, ill-qualified to make further comments.

DS: It is perhaps a reductive question, but I wonder whether you could tell me what it is about the literature of China that you find appealing?

PR: The virtue and power of the Chinese literary language culminates in its classical poetry. Chinese classical poetry seems to me the purest, the most perfect and complete form of poetry one could conceive of. Better that any other poetry, it fits Auden’s definition: ‘memorable speech': and indeed, it carves itself effortlessly into your memory. Furthermore, like painting, it splendidly occupies a visual space in its calligraphic incarnations. It inhabits your mind, it accompanies your life, it sustains and illuminates your daily experiences.

DS: Why, in your opinion, is the study of China necessary in Australia? Or, indeed, is it necessary at all?

PR: Why is scholarly knowledge necessary in Australia? And why culture?

DS: A large proportion of your writing has been aimed at a general readership. Do you think academics, and China scholars in particular, bear a responsibility to communicate with the public?

PR: Sidney Hook said that the first moral obligation of an intellectual is to be intelligent. Regarding academics and China scholars one might paraphrase this statement and say that their first duty is to master their discipline. Yet communicating with the public is a special talent; very learned scholars do not necessarily possess it.

DS: Though based in Canberra, you continue to take part in European political and cultural life through your writings in French. Do you think your physical distance from Europe affects your approach to these issues?

PR: Distance also has its advantages.

DS: What are you reading at the moment?

PR: Leszek Kolekowski, My Correct Views of Everything; F.W. Mote, China and the Vocation of History in the Twentieth Century—A Personal Memoir; and for bedside reading, I keep constantly dipping into two huge collections of sardonic aphorisms (gloriously incorrect!) by two eccentric and lonely geniuses: Cioran’s posthumous notebooks (Cahiers) and Nicolás Gómez Dávila’s Escolios a un texto implícito (my Spanish is very primitive, but have the help of two volumes of French translations).

DS: When you reflect on your career as a whole, what makes you proudest?

PR: I had various (rather disjointed) activities—not exactly a ‘career’ on which I can ‘reflect’.

DS: Do you have any regrets?

PR: Regrets? Usually what we regret is what we did not do. Let me think about it.

DS: What are your thoughts on the current state of Chinese Studies in Australian universities? Do you think Australian scholars have particular strengths or weaknesses when it comes to the study of China?

PR: As I said earlier, I left academe some sixteen years ago. I am really not in a position to assess the current state of Chinese Studies in Australian universities.

DS: What are your hopes for the future?

PR: May cultural exchanges further develop! (In our capital city, ANU seems particularly well placed for discharging this important task.)

DS: Do you have any advice for aspiring scholars of China?

PR: First of all, learn the Chinese language to the best of your ability (and spend as much time as possible in a Chinese-speaking environment). Language fluency is the key which will open all doors for you—practically and spiritually.

The Man Who Got It Right
Ian Buruma

The New York Review of Books

AUGUST 15, 2013
The Hall of Uselessness: Collected Essays
by Simon Leys
New York Review Books, 572 pp., $19.95 (paper)
Buruma_1-081513.jpg
Ray Strange/Newspix
Pierre Ryckmans, who writes under the name of Simon Leys, Canberra, Australia, June 2009
1.

Near the beginning of Simon Leys’s marvelous collection of essays is an odd polemic between the author and the late Christopher Hitchens, fought out in these very pages. Leys takes Hitchens to task for attacking Mother Teresa in a book entitled The Missionary Position. He writes: “Bashing an elderly nun under an obscene label does not seem to be a particularly brave or stylish thing to do.” Hitchens replies: What do you mean, obscene? You know perfectly well, answers Leys. And so on and on.

What interested me about this exchange was not the relative merits of the arguments put forth by two writers who had at least one thing in common—a love of George Orwell and G.K. Chesterton, possibly for the same reasons, to which I shall return a little later. The most interesting thing, to me, was the anecdote related by Leys at the end of his account, about sitting in an Australian café minding his own business while a radio is blaring musical and spoken pap in the background. By chance, the program switched to a Mozart clarinet quintet, for a moment turning the café “into an antechamber of Paradise.” People fell silent, there were looks of bafflement, and then, “to the huge relief of all,” one customer “stood up, walked straight to the radio,” turned the knob to another station, and “restored at once the more congenial noises, which everyone could again comfortably ignore.”

Leys describes this event as a kind of epiphany. He is sure that philistinism does not result from the lack of knowledge. The customer who could not abide hearing Mozart’s music recognized its beauty. Indeed, he did what he did precisely for that reason. The desire to destroy beauty, according to Leys, applies not just to aesthetics but as much, if not more, to ethics: “The need to bring down to our own wretched level, to deface, to deride and debunk any splendour that is towering above us, is probably the saddest urge of human nature.”
I’m not sure whether the deeds of Mother Teresa can really be compared usefully to Mozart’s music. An alternative explanation for the behavior of the man in the café might be that he disliked Mozart’s music out of class resentment. The “philistines” wouldn’t put up with something they associated with people who might sneer at their lack of refinement. Perhaps. In fact, there is no way of knowing what really went through the man’s head. But the idea that art, ethics, and matters of the spirit, including religious faith, come from the same place is central to Leys’s concerns. All his essays, about André Gide or Evelyn Waugh no less than the art of Chinese calligraphy, revolve around this.

Leys once described in these pages the destruction of the old walls and gates of Beijing in the 1950s and 1960s as a “sacrilege.”1 The thick walls surrounding the ancient capital were “not so much a medieval defense apparatus as a depiction of a cosmic geometry, a graphic of the universal order.” Pre-modern Chinese politics were intimately linked with religious beliefs: the ruler was the intermediary between heaven and earth, his empire, if ruled wisely, a reflection of the cosmic order. Classical Beijing, much of it built in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, was deliberately planned to reflect this order. It survived almost intact until the 1950s. Apart from a few pockets, such as the Forbidden City, nothing of this old city remains.

Critics over the years have attacked Leys for being an elitist, a Western mimic of Chinese literati, an aesthete who cares more about high culture than people, more about walls and temples than the poor Beijingers who had to live in dark and primitive alleys, oppressed by absolute rulers and feudal superstition. But this misses the point. It was not Leys’s intention to defend the Chinese imperial or feudal system. On the contrary, he lamented the fact that Maoists decided to smash the extraordinary artifacts of the past instead of the attitudes that made feudalism so oppressive in the first place. The stones were destroyed; many of the attitudes, alas, remained, albeit under different rulers.

Iconoclasts, not only in China, are as enthralled by the sacred properties of the objects they destroy as those who venerate them. This much we know. But Leys goes further. In his view, Maoists didn’t just reduce the walls of Beijing, and much else besides, to rubble because they believed such acts would liberate the Chinese people; they smashed Yuan and Ming and Qing Dynasty treasures because they were beautiful. Yet beauty, as Leys himself insists, is rarely neutral. His use of the term “sacrilege” suggests that there was more to Maoist iconoclasm than a philistine resentment of architectural magnificence. Leys quotes Guo Moruo, one of the most famous mandarins of the Chinese Communist revolution, on the city walls in Sichuan where the scholar and poet grew up. People approaching a town near Guo’s native village felt a “sense of religious awe when confronted with the severe majestic splendor” of the city gate. Guo notes the rarity of such superb walls outside Sichuan—“except in Peking, of course, where the walls are truly majestic.”

Guo was a Communist, but not a vandal. He paid a common price for his love of the wrong kind of beauty. Persecuted during the Cultural Revolution, he was forced to declare that his books were worthless and should be burned. Two of his children were driven to suicide, and Guo had to write odes in praise of Chairman Mao for the rest of the Great Helmsman’s life.

The point about the walls is, of course, not merely aesthetic, nostalgic, or even to do with awe. Heinrich Heine’s famous dictum—“Where they burn books, they will ultimately also burn people”2—applies to China too. It wasn’t just buildings that were shattered under Chairman Mao, but tens of millions of human lives.

In one of his essays, Leys refers to the first Communist decades in China as “thirty years of illiterates’ rule,” which might be construed as snobbish; but the relative lack of education among the top Communist cadres is not actually the main issue for Leys. His targets are never uneducated barbarians, people too ignorant or stupid to know what they are doing. The objects of his devastating and bitterly funny barbs are fellow intellectuals, often fellow academics, most often fellow experts on China, people who faithfully followed every twist and turn of the Chinese Communist Party line, even though they knew better. Such people as the writer Han Suyin, for example, who declared that the Cultural Revolution was a Great Leap Forward for mankind until she observed, once the line had changed, that it had been a terrible disaster.

I recognize the type, since they were to be found among the Dutch professors who taught me Chinese literature and history at Leyden University in the early 1970s, when the Cultural Revolution was still raging. None of them was a Maoist, in the sense that they would have advocated Mao’s politics in their own country. But China, whose unique culture my professors spent their lives studying, was different. Ordinary Chinese, one world-famous expert of early Chinese Buddhism explained to us, loved the revolutionary operas that replaced the popular classical operas, which were banned. Presumably, they also didn’t mind being cooped up in rigidly controlled state communes, and believed in the justice of “struggle sessions” against “revisionists,” “bourgeois splitists” and other “enemies of the people” who were humiliated, tortured, and often murdered in public. In any case, was it not a smug illusion to think that we were so free in our Western democracies? And apart from anything else, it was important not to ruin one’s chances to visit China. It really wouldn’t do to upset the Chinese authorities.

So when Leys first published his scorching polemical essays against the idiocies of Western apologists for Mao’s misrule in the 1970s, some of my professors were very annoyed. And yet, in the fierce debate that followed, they kept curiously aloof. They simply dismissed Leys.3 His writings on China did, however, spark strong arguments among journalists and intellectuals, which had less to with China itself than with local concerns with student protest, ideological conflict, and the colonial past.

If Leys’s views were unwelcome in Leyden, this was even more true in France, where Maoism had captivated the minds of many more intellectuals. One conspicuous feature of the European Maoists in the 1970s was their obliviousness to actual conditions in China. The Chinese were discussed almost as an abstraction. Leys, who cared deeply about the Chinese, became a hate figure in Paris. I remember watching him on a French television chat show. The host, Bernard Pivot, asked him why he had decided to take on what seemed like the entire Parisian intellectual establishment. Leys replied with one word: chagrin—grief, sorrow, distress.

2.

Simon Leys is actually the nom de plume for Pierre Ryckmans, a French-speaking Belgian with a Flemish name. He fell in love with Chinese culture when he visited China as part of a student delegation in 1955. After studying law at the Catholic university in Louvain, Leys became a scholar of Chinese, living for several years in Taiwan, Singapore, and in Hong Kong, where he made friends with a young Chinese calligrapher who, in a traditional flourish of stylish humility, named his own slum dwelling the Hall of Uselessness. Ryckmans spent two “intense and joyful years” there, “when learning and living were one and the same thing.” The name Leys is a homage to René Leys, the wonderful novel by Victor Segalen (1878–1919) about a seventeen-year-old Belgian who penetrated the mysteries of the Chinese imperial court just before the revolution of 1911.4

Ryckmans/Leys went on to become a highly distinguished professor of Chinese literature in Australia, where he still lives today, writing essays and sailing boats. Few, if any, contemporary scholars of Chinese write as well about the classical Chinese arts—calligraphy, poetry, and painting—let alone about European literature, ranging in this collection from Balzac to Nabokov. None, so far as I know, have written novels as good as his Death of Napoleon. Leys is perhaps unique in that his prose in English is no less sparkling than in French.

Unlike in the 1970s, few people now dispute that Leys was right about the horrors of Mao’s regime. Even the Chinese government admits that more than fifteen million people died of starvation as the direct result of Mao’s deranged experiments in the late 1950s. Recent scholarship shows that the real figure might be as high as forty-five million deaths between 1958 and 1962 (see Frank Dikötter’s Mao’s Great Famine, 2010). The Cultural Revolution, although Mao’s own leading role in it can still not be discussed openly, is commonly referred to as the “great disaster.” One of the questions raised by Leys is why most people got it so wrong when Maoism was at its most murderous. Was it a matter of excusable ignorance about what was then a very closed society?

Leys has a tendency to overdo his expressions of humility, a bit like Chinese mandarins in old comic books: “My little talk,” “My readers will naturally forget this article,” and so on. But he is surely right in claiming that his insights into the Maoist terrors inflicted on the Chinese people owed very little to superior expertise. Famous apologists for Mao’s regime, such as the filmmaker Felix Greene, the once-popular author Ross Terrill, or indeed Han Suyin, had traveled far more extensively in China than Leys had. He hadn’t even set foot there between 1955 and 1972. All he did was listen to Chinese friends and “every day…read a couple of Chinese newspapers over breakfast.” The information he gleaned was freely available in English as well, in the superb China News Analysis, for example, published weekly in Hong Kong by the Jesuit scholar Father Laszlo Ladany, to whom Leys pays tribute in one of his essays. Ladany’s publication was read by every serious follower of Chinese affairs at the time.

So why were the “China experts” (we might as well leave other famous dupes, such as Shirley MacLaine, aside) so obtuse? As in the case of the man who couldn’t tolerate Mozart, Leys dismisses ignorance as an explanation. His answer: “What people believe is essentially what they wish to believe. They cultivate illusions out of idealism—and also out of cynicism.” The truth can be brutal, and makes life uncomfortable. So one looks the other way. This aspect of dealing with China, or any other dictatorship where interests might be at stake, has not changed.

In an essay written after the “Tiananmen Massacre” in 1989, Leys remarks that the mass killings of demonstrators all over China offered everyone, even the most thickheaded, a glimpse of truth; it was so glaring that it was impossible to avoid. But this, too, would pass: “Whenever a minute of silence is being observed in a ceremony, don’t we all soon begin to throw discreet glances at our watches? Exactly how long should a ‘decent interval’ last before we can resume business-as-usual with the butchers of Peking?”

Well, not long, as it turned out. Businessmen, politicians, academics, and others soon came flocking back. Indeed, as Leys says, “they may even have a point when they insist, in agreeing once more to sit at the banquet of the murderers, they are actively strengthening the reformist trends in China.” Then he adds, with a little flick of his pen: “I only wish they had weaker stomachs.”

Which brings me back to Orwell and Chesterton, so much admired by Leys and Christopher Hitchens. Orwell has served as a model for many soi-disant mavericks who like to depict themselves as brave tellers of truth. The case for Chesterton, as Hitchens acknowledged in his very last article, is a little more complicated. Chesterton’s opinions on Jews and “negroes,” though not uncommon in his time, were not entirely in line with the great wisdom Leys attributes to him. The much-vaunted “common sense,” claimed as the prime virtue of Orwell and Chesterton by their admirers, might sometimes be mistaken for philistinism. And Leys’s love of Chesterton occasionally leads him down paths where I find it hard to follow. When Chesterton huffs and puffs that modern people, especially for some reason in Manhattan, “proclaim an erotic religion which at once exalts lust and forbids fertility,” Leys adds, as though his hero’s statement were the pinnacle of prophetic sagacity, that it is surely no coincidence that people in our own time are supporting euthanasia as well as homosexual marriage. Whatever one thinks of euthanasia or homosexual marriage, lust surely has very little to do with it.

Still, the reasons why Leys finds Orwell attractive might be applied in equal measure to Leys himself: “[Orwell’s] intuitive grasp of concrete realities, his non-doctrinaire approach to politics (accompanied with a deep distrust of left-wing intellectuals) and his sense of the absolute primacy of the human dimension.” Both Orwell and Chesterton were good at demolishing cant. Leys is right about that: “[Chesterton’s] striking images could, in turn, deflate fallacies or vividly bring home complex principles. His jokes were irrefutable; he could invent at lightning speed surprising short-cuts to reach the truth.”

3.

When Confucius was asked by one of his disciples what he would do if he were given his own territory to govern, the Master replied that he would “rectify the names,” that is, make words correspond to reality. He explained (in Leys’s translation):

If the names are not correct, if they do not match realities, language has no object. If language is without an object, action becomes impossible—and therefore, all human affairs disintegrate and their management becomes pointless.
Leys comments that Orwell and Chesterton “would have immediately understood and approved of the idea.”

If this reading is right, Confucius wanted to strip the language of cant, and reach the truth through plain speaking, expressing clear thoughts. But Leys believes that he also did more than that: “Under the guise of restoring their full meaning, Confucius actually injected a new content into the old ‘names.’” One example is the interpretation of the word for gentleman, junzi. The old feudal meaning was “aristocrat.” But for Confucius a gentleman’s status could be earned only through education and superior virtue. This was a revolutionary idea; the right to rule would no longer be a matter of birth, but of intellectual and moral accomplishment, tested in an examination system theoretically open to all.

The question of language and truth is the main theme of Leys’s fascinating essays on classical Chinese poetry and art. We commonly assume that speech preceded the written word. In China, however, the earliest words, carved into “oracle bones” some 3,700 years ago, could have been read by people who would not have understood one another in any spoken language. Since these earliest Chinese ideographs, still recognizable in Chinese script today, had to do with forecasting harvests and military affairs, they were, as Leys puts it, “intimately associated with the spirits and with political authority.”

In a way this is still true. Chinese rulers, including the Communists, all like to display their prowess as calligraphers; banal maxims, supposedly written in their hand, are plastered all over public buildings, and even mountainsides, to show the rulers’ mastery of the word, and thus of civilization. The same custom persists not only in Japan but even in North Korea, where words of the Great Leader, or his son, the Dear Leader, or soon, no doubt, his son, General Kim Jong-un, are to be seen everywhere. The magical properties of the word were plainly believed by Red Guards who were quite ready to kill someone “sacriligious” enough to soil one of Mao’s Little Red Books.

To be sure, words are used to obfuscate and lie, as well as to tell the truth. Leys believes that grasping the truth is largely a matter of imagination, poetic imagination. Hence his remark that the “Western incapacity to grasp the Soviet reality and all its Asian variants” was a “failure of imagination” (his italics). Fiction often expresses truth more clearly than mere factual information. Truth, Leys writes, referring to science and philosophy, as well as poetry, “is grasped by an imaginative leap.” The question is how we contrive such leaps.

Leys identifies a basic difference between the Chinese and what he calls, perhaps a bit too loosely, the Western traditions. Classical Chinese poetry or paintings do not set out to mimic reality, to make the world look real in ink, or in poetry to express new ideas or come up with fresh descriptions. The aim is, rather, to make art into a manifestation of nature itself, or indeed vice versa—the found object in the shape of a perfect rock, for instance. The best traditional Chinese artists express themselves by breathing new life into old clichés—the mountains, the rivers, the lonely dwellings, etc. For poets, in Leys’s words, “the supreme art is to position, adjust and fit together…well-worn images in such a way that, from their unexpected encounter, a new life might spark.”

This is almost impossible to convey in translation, because the same images expressed in another language can lose their spark and easily become banal or incomprehensible. For that reason, Leys praises Ezra Pound’s efforts to render classical Chinese poetry in English, despite Pound’s gross linguistic misunderstandings. Pound understood that a Chinese poem “is not articulated upon a continuous, discursive thread, but that it flashes a discontinuous series of images (not unlike the successive frames of a film).”

Western artists often arrived by instinct at a similar understanding of art. Picasso, for example: “The question is not to imitate nature, but to work like it.” Or Paul Claudel: “Art imitates Nature not in its effects as such, but in its causes, in its ‘manner,’ in its process, which are nothing but a participation in and a derivation of actual objects, of the Art of God himself.”

Claudel was a devout Catholic, and thus perhaps (like Chesterton) especially dear to Leys, who makes his attachment to the Roman Church quite clear. But in this, as in other matters, Leys has a cosmopolitan spirit. Although keen to stress Chinese uniqueness in many respects, Leys also stretches himself as far as he can to find common spiritual ground between East and West. He is sensitive to the spirituality of many other traditions (though perhaps not so tolerant of people who reject organized religion per se, hence his spat with Christopher Hitchens). Classical Chinese art, in painting and in poetry, constitutes, as Leys puts it, “the visible manifestation” of “China’s true religion, which is a quest for cosmic harmony, an attempt to achieve communion with the world.”

This would seem, however, to take us a long way from George Orwell’s trust in plain speaking. Or at least, when it comes to spirituality, plain speaking clearly reaches its limits. The spiritual truth of Chinese art—and not only Chinese art—often lies in what is left unsaid or unpainted, the spaces deliberately left blank. In modern Western art, one thinks of the early paintings (White on White, say) by Malevich. But then he came from a Russian tradition, which also sees artworks as spiritual objects. Leys does not mention Russian icons; perhaps they are not part of a “Western” tradition. In any case, he quotes a modern Chinese critic, named Zhou Zuoren, to illustrate an essential part of classical Chinese aesthetics that would apply to many Western modernists as well: “All that can be spelled out is without importance.”

And yet the word remains. In one of Leys’s most interesting and provocative essays on Chinese culture, he tries to find an answer to an apparent paradox: why the Chinese are both obsessed with their past, specifically their five thousand years of cultural continuation, and such lax custodians of the material products of their civilization. India and Europe are full of historic churches, temples, cathedrals, castles, forts, mosques, manor houses, and city halls, while contemporary China has almost nothing of the kind. That this cannot be blamed entirely on Mao and his vandalizing Red Guards is obvious; far more of old Beijing disappeared at the hand of developers after Mao’s death than during the Cultural Revolution. European travelers already complained in the nineteenth century of the fatalistic indifference displayed by Chinese toward their ancient monuments.

People in the Chinese cultural sphere, and perhaps beyond, did not traditionally share the common Western defiance of mortality. The idea of erecting monumental buildings meant to last forever would have seemed a naive illusion. Everything is destined to perish, so why not build impermanence into our sense of beauty? The Japanese took this aesthetic notion even further than their Chinese masters: the cult of cherry blossoms, for example, fleetingness being the essence of their unique splendor. Chinese capital cities in the past were frequently abandoned, and new ones established elsewhere. What is considered to be historic in China is the site, not the buildings that happen to be there at any given time. Buddhist temples and Taoist halls, built a few years ago in concrete, on the same site where older buildings once stood, are still called “ancient” in the tourist guides.

But if even the strongest works of man cannot in the end withstand the erosion of time, what can? Leys’s answer: “Life-after-life was not to be found in a supernature, nor could it rely upon artefacts: man only survives in man—which means, in practical terms, in the memory of posterity, through the medium of the written word.” As long as the word remains, Chinese civilization will continue. Sometimes memories replace great works of art. Leys mentions the legendary fourth-century calligraphy of a prose poem whose extraordinary beauty was celebrated by generation after generation of Chinese, centuries after the original work was lost. Indeed, it may never even have existed.

With a civilization built on such an adaptable, supple, constantly self-replenishing, and indeed beautiful basis, who needs big city walls? But I would not wish to end my tribute to a writer I much admire on such a note of sacrilege. Better to end with a line from a poem by Victor Ségalen, deploring the barbaric Western habit of building monuments for eternity, which might equally apply to the modern Chinese habit of building dreadful kitsch on the ruins of their past:

You, sons of Han, whose wisdom reaches ten thousand years, no tens of tens of thousands of years, beware of such contempt.
1
“ Chinese Shadows,” The New York Review, May 26, 1977; reprinted in Simon Leys, Chinese Shadows (Viking, 1977). ↩

2
This line, from Heine’s play Almansor, actually refers to the burning of the Koran by the Spanish Inquisition. ↩

3
Although rumor had it that at least one tried to sabotage a Dutch translation of Leys’s first book on modern China, Les Habits neufs du président Mao [ The Chairman’s New Clothes ] (Paris: Champ libre, 1971). ↩

4
New York Review Books, 2003. ↩

Après Simon Leys : lettre ouverte aux sinologues et défenseurs des droits humains
Gregory B. Lee | sinologue
Rue 89/Le Nouvel Obs
16/08/2014

Depuis quelques jours nombre de sinologues et autres personnalités se succèdent pour rendre hommage à la mémoire de Pierre Ryckmans, le grand écrivain et sinologue belge qui écrivait sous le pseudonyme de Simon Leys.

Dans ses écrits, il a démasqué la réalité de la Chine révolutionnaire de Mao que tant d’intellectuels et d’écrivains n’ont cessé de louer jusqu’à la fin des années 1970.

Mais cette Chine-là, en dépit des vastes réformes économiques, reste un état totalitaire qui refuse à ses citoyens la liberté d’expression. Qui plus est, les autorités chinoises, non contentes de bâillonner leurs citoyens, tentent également d’imposer leur propre image de la Chine à travers le monde.

Il y a un mois, le prétendu « soft power » chinois, sous l’égide du réseau des Instituts Confucius, a été exposé comme un pouvoir dur et impitoyable, lorsque pendant le grand congrès bisannuel de la sinologie européenne, qui se tenait cette année au Portugal, les représentants du gouvernment chinois ont fait arracher des programmes une page d’information concernant la Fondation Chiang Ching-kuo de Taiwan.

Mais, pendant ce temps les médias avaient d’autres préoccupations que celles des sinologues : la situation épouvantable dans la bande de Gaza que notre gouvernement a eu tant de mal à condamner (sic), a choqué la vaste majorité des gens. Enfin, depuis une semaine nous avons également redécouvert les ravages occasionnés par les forces djihadistes de « l’état islamiste » en Iraq.

« Spectateur depuis mon canapé »

En tant que spécialiste de la Chine, que puis-je faire ? Je ne peux qu’assister en spectateur depuis mon canapé et exprimer mon désarroi et ma profonde indignation. Est-ce là vraiment tout ce que je peux faire ?

Simon Leys à aucun moment de sa carrière ne s’est limité à la seule observation et critique de la Chine. En tant que socialiste, dans le moule d’un Orwell, en tant qu’humaniste, il s’est intéressé à un large éventail de questions, de problèmes et de cultures. Et si sa critique de la Révolution culturelle et du régime qui lui a succédé fut si percutante c’est parce que l’intérêt qu’il portait aux Chinois était en tant qu’êtres humains et non pas en tant que constructions de nos propres fantasmes exotiques occidentaux.

Pour Leys, la Chine n’était pas un objet, mais une partie intégrale de l’histoire vécue et du présent de notre commune humanité.

Nous ne pouvons pas tous, hélas, prétendre à la grandeur humaniste d’un Pierre Ryckmans. Dans notre monde professionnalisé, spécialisé et micro-disciplinaire, nous avons déjà du mal à nous maintenir dans la petite sphère d’expertise que nous nous réservons.

Et pourtant nous sommes sensibles aux questions qui touchent à nos métiers, ou plutôt à l’image idéalisée que nous projetons de nos métiers. En tant qu’écrivains, scientifiques et universitaires nous sommes tous concernés par les questions de l’indépendance de l’écrivain, de la liberté d’expression des journalistes et des intellectuels.

Quel que soit notre domaine d’expertise, nous sommes tous, plus ou moins, prêts à prendre position et à faire preuve de solidarité quand nous décelons une privation ou un refus de ces droits essentiels à nos collègues.

En tant que membre de la classe intellectuelle, en tant qu’universitaire et chercheur, je dois constater que nous sommes rarement prêts à nous engager de manière collective ; individualistes, nous avons du mal à travailler en équipe.

Diplomatie culturelle chinoise

À cela il faut ajouter notre réticence à nous éloigner de ce qu’attendent de nous ceux qui contrôlent les avancements professionnels de nos carrières strictement encadrées et délimitées. Certains, cependant, à l’instar de nos collègues américains l’anthropologue sinisant Marshall Sahlins, le sociologue Perry Link ainsi que le sinologue Victor Mair, sont toujours prêts à s’élever contre ce que l’on targue de diplomatie culturelle chinoise et qui n’est en fait que tyrannie politico-culturelle.

Enfin, mon ami David Palumbo-Liu, professeur à l’université de Stanford a récemment mené courageusement campagne contre la politique de son gouvernement en Palestine, et est de surcroît un ardent défenseur de la liberté de pensée et d’expression dans le monde universitaire.

La question qui me préoccupe tout particulièrement depuis plusieurs mois est le sort réservé à mon collègue Ilham Tohti, professeur à l’Université Centrale des Nationalités de Pékin. Arrêté au mois de janvier 2014, il doit être jugé pour séparatisme dans un futur très proche.

La suppression des libertés universitaires, l’interdiction d’exprimer son opinion personnelle sur des questions sociopolitiques me révoltent où qu’elles se manifestent. Dans ce cas particulier et pour des raisons personnelles, je me sens encore plus interpellé par le cas de ce collègue et il me faut prendre position en sa faveur. Il se trouve que j’ai établi depuis de longues années des échanges universitaires et une collaboration de recherche étroite entre l’université d’Ilham Tohti et la mienne.

J’y connais plusieurs enseignants-chercheurs dont la carrière a été stoppée en raison de leur engagement courageux lors des événements de 1989 et leur refus de se rétracter. J’ai également dirigé de nombreux étudiants en Master et en doctorat de l’Université des Nationalités. Je me sens donc tout particulièrement concerné et je me dois d’exprimer ma solidarité avec Ilham Tohti accusé d’un « crime » passable de la peine de mort ou de la détention à perpétuité.

Le sort d’Ilham Tohti

Au cours de ces dernières semaines je me suis demandé pourquoi on entendait si peu parler d’Ilham Tohti dans les médias traditionnels et sur les réseaux sociaux en France. Est-ce parce qu’il est difficile d’obtenir des informations exactes, ou est-ce parce que la situation de la minorité ouïgoure que défend Tohti est trop difficile à expliquer au lecteur lambda ?

Le nom d’Ilham Tohti n’a peut-être pas suffisamment de consonances chinoises, mais il est chinois, citoyen de la République Populaire de Chine. Il défend sa minorité ethnique qui endure des problèmes semblables à ceux des Tibétains. Les Ouïgours n’ont que peu ou pas de pouvoir sur leur propre destin. Ils sont assujettis à une politique officielle d’immigration chinoise « Han » qui a pour but de diluer leur présence sur leurs terres.

Alors que le Tibet, fantasme exotique occupant une place privilégiée dans l’imaginaire occidental et dont la cause politique est personnifiée par le personnage charismatique du Dalaï Lama, bénéficie d’une grande attention de la part des Occidentaux, le Xinjiang demeure peu connu.

Le Xinjiang – ça se prononce comment ? (Les speakers radiophoniques ont déjà assez de mal à dire Beijing alors comment peuvent-il s’extirper du mot Xinjiang ?) Xinjiang, Nouvelle Frontière, nom chinois pour un territoire peuplé de non-Chinois. Je viens d’utiliser le terme de « Chinois » en référence aux Chinois Han, ce que font tous les non-initiés, ce que nous faisons tous dans la conversation de tous les jours.

Mais le terme « Han » me pose également problème : c’est un terme qui couvre une réalité beaucoup plus complexe, qui a été inventé pour désigner une ethnie majoritaire visant à rendre encore plus minoritaires les autres ethnies officiellement constituées en Chine Populaire, elles-mêmes produits d’une classification ethnologique officielle au service de la politique étatique.

Je pourrais rédiger des centaines de pages sur comment traduire « chinois » en « chinois », mais je me contenterai de me reprendre comme suit : Xinjiang, Nouvelle Frontière, (anciennement dénommé Turkestan chinois, ou connu sous le terme de Turkestan oriental), un nom en langue chinoise donné par l’état chinois à un territoire sous sa juridiction et peuplé de Ouïgours, Kazakhs, Kirghizes, Ouzbeks, Tadjiks, Hui, Mongols et de Chinois Han. L’essentiel étant que la majorité des habitants sont musulmans.

Méthodes disproportionnées

Même si depuis des semaines, des mois, des années nous assistons à la télévision aux bombardements et au massacre dans tout le Proche Orient, de musulmans, ces derniers, en raison de leur appartenance religieuse, sont toujours apparentés à des terroristes islamistes. C’est peut-être ce que nous avons le plus de mal à concevoir en regardant les bombardements de la Bande de Gaza : les responsables de la mort de près de 2000 personnes n’étaient pas musulmans. (sic)

Ce fait a bouleversé notre récit dominant de la malédiction islamiste et de la nécessité d’une alliance internationale contre la terreur (islamiste) qui a donné « carte blanche » à l’état chinois pour traiter comme de la « terreur » toute résistance et dissidence venant des peuples musulmans du Xinjiang.

Alors qu’Ilham Tohti est détenu à Urumqi, capitale du Xinjiang, des événements, émeutes et manifestations ont été réprimés dans une violence semblable à celle utilisée contre les Palestiniens de la Bande de Gaza sic). L’Etat chinois, qui n’a jamais hésité à utiliser des méthodes disproportionnées pour réprimer la dissidence au Xinjiang, a effectivement déclaré la guerre à sa population musulmane : les femmes voilées et les hommes barbus sont automatiquement soupçonnés de terrorisme.

La situation au Xinjiang est exacerbée par le fait qu’il existe très peu d’informations en provenance de sources indépendantes, et que les gens ordinaires, comme partout ailleurs sur le territoire chinois, n’ont pas la liberté de s’exprimer ou de nous informer de ce qui se passe réellement. Ainsi les médias étatiques chinois ont-ils toute liberté de diffuser leur récit unique sans aucune crainte d’être contredits.

En France, un commentateur respecté qui passe régulièrement, et pratiquement exclusivement, à la radio et à la télévision, quand on lui pose la question des droits humains en Chine répond en substance :

« Donnons encore 50 ans aux Chinois pour qu’il se démocratisent, après tout nous, nous avons bien mis deux siècles. »
Comme s’il suffisait de se réjouir du « miracle économique chinois », et que l’expérience de l’histoire démontrait que l’expansion massive du capitalisme était gage incontestable de démocratie à venir.

En fait, ce discours est ancré dans l’idée que les Chinois sont si différents de nous, ou nous sont si ’extérieurs’, que contrairement à Ryckmans, nous ne pouvons les traiter pas comme des sujets humains mais comme une catégorie à part. Personne ne devrait devoir attendre cinquante ans de plus pour bénéficier des droits humains essentiels.

Je ne suis ni viscéralement anti-Chine, ni anti-Chinois, ceux qui m’ont lu peuvent en témoigner. Je ne suis pas non plus anti-Chinois « Han », je sais pertinemment que l’immense majorité de la population de la Chine souffre de la même pauvreté, des mêmes catastrophes environnementales et de santé publique, du même manque d’autonomie et de la même incapacité de maîtriser leur propre destin.

Vers un procès spectacle

Cependant en ce moment précis, ce sont les musulmans du Xinjiang qui sont les plus touchés et qui se trouvent dans la situation la plus pernicieuse. Loin de l’attention internationale, cachés dans une région d’Asie centrale souvent rendue inaccessible aux visiteurs, et à un moment où l’Islam est considéré comme un credo terroriste, qui va leur venir en aide ?

Un homme, l’un des leurs, discrètement, savamment et avec diplomatie, a tenté d’attirer l’attention sur la réalité et la vérité des conditions d’existence de la population du Xinjiang. Pour cela il va lui falloir endurer un procès spectacle.

En tant que « China-watchers », commentateurs, journalistes, et universitaires notre devoir est de dénoncer cette injustice. Je suis sûr que c’est ce qu’aurait fait Simon Leys. De plus, je suis convaincu qu’il aurait apprécié le courage de cet homme confronté à la puissance de l’état.

Peut-être que Leys aurait alors évoqué une de ses citations préférées de l’historien chinois Sima Qian (145-90 av. notre ère), citation dont nous ferions bien de nous souvenir :

« Mieux vaut les critiques d’un seul que l’assentiment de mille. »

Simon Leys quitte la Chine pour l’éternité
Il ridiculisa les maoïstes de tous les pays
Causeur
14 août 2014

Pierre Ryckmans, plus connu sous son pseudonyme éditorial Simon Leys, est décédé, le 11 août, à l’âge de 78 ans, dans la lointaine ville de Canberra, improbable capitale administrative de l’Australie, où il résidait avec sa famille depuis le début des années soixante-dix du siècle dernier. Qu’on ne se méprenne pas à propos des louanges post mortem que  consacrent aujourd’hui les grands médias français à cet immense sinologue belge. L’encens qu’ils répandent aujourd’hui autour de son cercueil ne saurait dissiper l’odeur nauséabonde des tombereaux d’ordures qu’ils déversèrent sur lui lors de la publication de ses ouvrages consacrés à la Chine de Mao et à la Révolution culturelle, notamment Les habits neufs du président Mao , paru en 1971. Ce livre survient alors que la France intellectuelle est en pleine hystérie maoïste post soixante huitarde : de Normale Sup à Vincennes, la GRCP (Grande Révolution Culturelle Prolétarienne) la geste maoïste est venue au secours des orphelins d’une révolte tombée en quenouille. La fine fleur de l’intelligentsia hexagonale, Roland Barthes, Philippe Sollers, Michel Foucault, Jean Paul Sartre se font les chantres zélés de la geste maoïste, dont Louis Althusser et ses disciples Benny Lévy, les frères Miller (Jacques-Alain et Gérard), Jean-Claude Milner sont les coryphées. Et voilà qu’un obscur universitaire d’outre Quiévrain, inconnu au bataillon des habitués de la Closerie des Lilas, se permet, armé de sa seule connaissance de la langue, de la civilisation et de la société chinoise de démonter le mythe d’une Révolution culturelle émancipatrice de l’humanité entière.

Pour Ryckmans, devenu pour l’occasion Simon Leys pour ne pas obérer ses possibilités de retourner en Chine, cette GRCP se résume à une sanglante lutte de pouvoir au sommet de l’Etat communiste, où Mao et ses sbires instrumentalisent la jeunesse pour éliminer ceux qui l’avaient écarté du pouvoir réel à Pékin : Liu Shao Shi, Deng Hsiao Ping, puis Lin Biao. Cette interprétation, aujourd’hui universellement admise, fait alors scandale : en quelques lignes,  Le Monde  exécute l’ouvrage d’un « China watcher travaillant avec les méthodes américaines » et « comportant des erreurs et des faits incontrôlables en provenance de la colonie britannique ». Ce libelle est signé des initiales d’Alain Bouc, correspondant du  Monde à Pékin, dont la ferveur envers le «  Grand Timonier » justifiera la qualification, par les situationistes de Guy Debord,  du quotidien de la rue des Italiens de « principal organe de presse maoïste paraissant hors de Chine ».

Pierre Ryckmans, rejeton de la grande bourgeoisie belge, est pourtant tombé dans la controverse politique à son corps défendant. S’étant pris de passion pour la Chine lors d’un voyage d’étudiants belges dans les années cinquante, il se consacre à l’étude de la langue, de la littérature et des arts de ce pays. La politique, au mieux l’indiffère, au pire lui fait horreur, comme à celui qu’il reconnaîtra plus tard comme l’un de ses maîtres à penser, George Orwell. Un événement, pourtant, le précipite dans la controverse qui va marquer sa vie et son œuvre : en 1967, alors qu’il se trouve à Hong Kong, contractuel au consulat général de Belgique, un artiste de variété Li Ping est sauvagement assassiné devant sa porte par des sbires du régime de Pékin, coupable d’avoir brocardé Mao à la télévision hongkongaise. Il peut voir également chaque jour les cadavres des suppliciés de la Révolution Culturelle s’échouer sur les plages de la colonie, emmenés par milliers par le courant des fleuves se jetant dans la mer de Chine. Mettant de côté ses chères études sur la calligraphie et la peinture chinoise ancienne, il se plonge dans la sinistre langue de bois des publications maoïstes pour y déceler la part de vérité qui peut s’y cacher : un travail de décryptage dont le précurseur est un père jésuite, Lazlo Ladany, éditeur à Hong Kong de l’hebdomadaire China news analysis, épluchage minutieux des publications officielles. C’est ce qui rend le discours de Leys inattaquable : tout ce qu’il rapporte provient d’écrits dûment tamponnés par la censure maoïste, dont il suffit de connaître les codes de langages, de présentation et de mise en scène pour les décrypter. Qu’on fête, ou non, l’anniversaire d’un dirigeant national ou local, un recul ou une avancée dans la liste des personnalités présentes à une manifestation officielle, le choix des photos en une du «  Quotidien du peuple » constituent un métalangage qu’un travail de bénédictin permet de décrypter.

« La pire manière d’avoir tort c’est d’avoir eu raison trop tôt ! » dira Ryckman-Leys bien des années après avoir pu constater qu’en Occident, principalement en France, la cabale des dévots du maoïsme, de gauche comme de droite, réussira, pendant de nombreuses années, à confiner ses écrits dans la confidentialité. Il fallut attendre 1989, et la chute du communisme soviétique pour que  Les Habits neufs du président Mao soient édités en poche, et 1998 pour qu’une sélection de ses écrits sur la Chine soit publiée dans la collection «  Bouquins » à l’initiative de Jean-François Revel, l’un des rares intellectuels français ayant soutenu Ryckmans. Bernard Pivot, prudent comme de coutume, attendit 1983 avant de le convier à une séance d’Apostrophes sur le thème «  Les intellectuels face au communisme » 1. Il n’eut pas à le regretter : en quelques minutes, Ryckmans mit en pièces la maoïste de salon Maria Antonietta Macchiochi, qui avait commis un livre de 500 pages à la gloire du Grand Timonier à l’issue d’un mois de visite guidée à travers la Chine en 1971. Ryckmans «  Ce livre est stupide, c’est le plus charitable que l’on puisse en dire… si ce n’est pas une stupidité, alors c’est une escroquerie, ce qui est beaucoup plus grave… ». Pivot n’en est pas encore revenu : c’est la seule fois de sa carrière où un livre présenté à Apostrophes, celui de Macchiochi, a vu le rythme de ses ventes baisser après  l’émission…

« Dans une controverse, on reconnait le vainqueur à ce que ses adversaires finissent par s’approprier ses arguments en s’imaginant les avoir inventés » constatait encore Ryckmans dans un article de la  New York Review of Books  en hommage Lazlo Ladany, son maître en «  maologie ». Le triomphe de Ryckmans fut modeste, trop content qu’il était de pouvoir, enfin, se consacrer à ses passions littéraires, artistiques et maritimes à 20 000 km de Saint Germain des Près. La morgue de ses adversaires, en revanche, ne s’est en rien atténuée, trouvant dans d’autres passions exotiques matière à pontifier.

On peut se procurer cette émission pour la modeste somme de 2,99 euros sur le site de téléchargement de l’INA. C’est donné pour un moment jubilatoire… ↩

Voir aussi:

A propos de Pierre Ryckmans, alias Simon Leys, et des sources qui ont inspiré ‘Les Habits neufs du président Mao’
Eglise d’Asie

21/08/2014

Le sinologue et écrivain belge Pierre Ryckmans est décédé en Australie à l’âge de 78 ans. Il s’est éteint le 11 août 2014, à Canberra, capitale fédérale australienne, où il vivait et enseignait depuis les années 1970.

Pierre Ryckmans parlait peu des raisons de son exil en Australie, mais …

… les années qu’il avait vécues Hongkong, auparavant, avaient été pour lui les plus marquantes et les plus fécondes mais aussi les plus éprouvantes.

Avant tout sinologue à la culture encyclopédique, il a traduit Lu Xun et Les Entretiens de Confucius mais il restera dans la mémoire des observateurs de la Chine comme celui qui a courageusement dénoncé, avant tous et presque seul contre beaucoup, les monstruosités de la Révolution culturelle lancée par Mao de 1966 à 1976 en Chine. Son livre publié en 1971, Les Habits neufs du président Mao, dénonçant la nature meurtrière du communisme de Mao, fit l’effet d’un véritable coup de canon dans le monde des « maoïstes européens », si nombreux à l’époque qu’ils monopolisaient les informations concernant la Chine.

Ils accusèrent Pierre Ryckmans d’être un traitre et un faussaire, de colporter des ragots venus de Hongkong et des analystes de la CIA. Le fait d’avoir été si précoce dans sa dénonciation avait rendu ses propos inacceptables pour les sinologues de l’époque, admirateurs de Mao, qui refusaient de voir la véritable nature du régime chinois, habilement masquée par une intense propagande. C’est ce qui a probablement provoqué son exil en Australie. Pierre Ryckmans avait pris parti pour les victimes de la Révolution culturelle, y compris pour les milliers de chrétiens, protestants et catholiques, martyrisés par le régime.

Ce qui est moins connu, à propos de Pierre Ryckmans, c’est l’influence qu’a eue sur lui le sinologue, savant et  jésuite hongrois Laszlo (Ladislaus) Ladany (勞達一), qui dirigeait, à Hongkong, un centre qui rassemblait et analysait les informations sur la situation en Chine. Il publiait chaque mois un bulletin, China News Analysis, remarquablement bien informé et de très haut niveau. Les ambassades et consulats de la région y étaient tous abonnés malgré son prix exorbitant.

Dès le début de la Révolution culturelle, le P. Ladany avait compris que cette agitation était un conflit de personnes et une immense lutte pour le pouvoir. Il a voulu le dire haut et fort. Cependant, ses affirmations n’atteignaient pas les intellectuels d’Europe et des Etats-Unis et le P. Ladany avait le sentiment de prêcher dans le désert, jusqu’à ce que Pierre Ryckmans s’intéresse à ses écrits et les répercute dans le monde entier. Ce dernier a reconnu bien volontiers avoir puisé dans China News Analysis, notamment ses numéros 759, 761, 762, 763 (mai à juillet 1969) pour écrire son livre. Le fait est que c’est le P. Ladany qui a inspiré à Pierre Ryckmans, lui qui était un spécialiste de la littérature classique chinoise, toute sa vision de la Révolution culturelle par le biais de China News Analysis.

China News Analysis bulletin a été publié de 1953 à 1998 (1). En 1997, les jésuites avaient transféré la rédaction de Hongkong à Taipei de manière à éliminer tout risque d’éventuelles pressions politiques après la rétrocession de la colonie anglaise à la Chine continentale. Un an plus tard cependant, le bulletin était arrêté.

(eda)
Notes(1) En décembre 1982, lorsque le P. Ladany (1914-1990) se retire de la rédaction de China News Analysis, il rédige les ‘dix commandements’ qui, selon lui, devraient guider tout China Watcher digne de ce nom :
1. Remember that no one living in a free society ever has a full understanding of life in a regimented society.
2. Look at China through Chinese spectacles; if one looks at is through foreign glasses, one is thereby trying to make sense of Chinese events in terms of our own problems.
3. Learn something about other Communist countries.
4. Study the basic tenets of Marxism.
5. Keep in mind that words and terms do not have the same meaning in a Marxist society as they do elsewhere.
6. Keep your common sense: the Chinese may have the particular characteristics of Chinese, but they are human beings, and therefore have normal reactions of human beings.
7. People are not less important than issues; they are probably more so. A group may adopt the programme of those who oppose it in order to retain power.
8. Do not believe that you know all the answers. China poses more questions than it provides answers.
9. Do not lose your sense of humour. A regimented press is too serious to be taken very seriously.
10. Above all, read the small print!

Voir encore:

Le sinologue belge Simon Leys est décédé
Philippe Paquet

La Libre Belgique

11 août 2014

BELGIQUEPierre Ryckmans, alias Simon Leys, décédé à l’âge de 78 ans dans la nuit de dimanche à lundi à Sydney, où il était traité pour un cancer, est avant tout le sinologue belge devenu australien qui, avec "Les Habits neufs du président Mao" et "Ombres chinoises", fut le premier à faire voler en éclats le mythe maoïste, au début des années 70. Il démonta les rouages de la Révolution culturelle et exposa les réalités du régime communiste chinois avec une persévérance qui lui attira la haine tenace d’une certaine intelligentsia européenne, parisienne en particulier, mais aussi avec un talent littéraire qui vaut à ses "Essais sur la Chine" (réédités dans la collection "Bouquins") d’être toujours aussi appréciés aujourd’hui.

Ce fils d’éditeur était, toutefois, aussi un romancier (quoique d’un seul roman, "La Mort de Napoléon", récit d’une imaginaire autant que rocambolesque évasion de Sainte-Hélène), un critique littéraire (aussi à l’aise avec Hugo et Cervantes qu’avec Conrad et Chesterton), un essayiste politique (passionné par George Orwell et Simone Weil), un caricaturiste amateur (à qui l’on a trouvé des airs de ressemblance avec Daumier), un amoureux de la mer (depuis que, encore adolescent, il avait fait les bancs d’Islande sur un chalutier ostendais)… Cependant, c’est peintre qu’il aurait voulu être, et il n’apprécia rien de plus que les cours pris auprès du talentueux Jacques Laudy. L’université, dirait-il, le détourna tristement de ce projet.

Une grande famille belge

Pierre Ryckmans est né, le 28 septembre 1935, à Uccle, dans une maison de l’avenue des Aubépines qui existe toujours. Dans une grande famille belge aussi, aux origines malinoises et anversoises (le grand-père, Alphonse, fut échevin de la métropole portuaire, avant d’être vice-président du Sénat). Son oncle et homonyme Pierre Ryckmans fut le meilleur gouverneur général du Congo, selon David Van Reybrouck. Un autre oncle, qui fut aussi son parrain, Gonzague Ryckmans, professeur à Louvain, était une sommité mondiale de l’épigraphie arabique. L’un et l’autre exercèrent une influence d’autant plus forte sur le futur Simon Leys qu’ils se substituèrent à un père mort prématurément, quand le jeune homme n’avait que dix-neuf ans.

Après avoir brièvement fréquenté l’école des Servites de Marie, à deux pas de la maison familiale, Pierre Ryckmans fit toute sa scolarité au collège Cardinal Mercier de Braine-l’Alleud. Il n’en garda pas un souvenir exagérément ému, se rappelant surtout les trajets en tram dans un décor qui était encore champêtre, mais aussi les leçons d’un maître, l’abbé Voussure, qui acheva d’ancrer en lui une foi chrétienne inébranlable. Inscrit à Louvain en 1953, il y fit des études de droit, pour se plier à une tradition familiale, et d’histoire de l’art, pour se faire plaisir.

Un voyage en Chine en 1955

C’est le hasard qui décida de la suite, exceptionnelle : Pierre Ryckmans fut convié de façon inattendue à se joindre, en avril 1955, à une délégation de la jeunesse belge invitée par une Chine avide de reconnaissance internationale. Le séjour eut beau être court et très encadré, il déclencha la passion d’une vie. L’étudiant en revint subjugué et transformé. Il lui sembla désormais impossible d’ignorer "l’autre pôle de l’expérience humaine", comme disait Malraux, et impensable de ne pas apprendre le chinois. Comme il n’était pas possible d’aller au-delà d’une simple initiation en Belgique, une fois diplômé de Louvain, il partit pour Taïwan, nanti d’une modeste bourse du gouvernement de Chiang Kai-shek.

Sur l’île qu’on appelait Formose, ou encore la "Chine libre" par opposition à la "Chine rouge" de Mao, Pierre Ryckmans s’éprit de littérature et de peinture chinoises (il eut pour professeur Pu Hsin-yu, un cousin du "dernier empereur" Pu Yi), amassant les matériaux pour la future thèse de doctorat qu’il consacrerait à Shitao, lettré du XVIIe siècle, et qui établirait d’emblée sa réputation dans le monde de la sinologie classique. C’est là aussi, et surtout, qu’il s’éprit de Hanfang, qui deviendrait son épouse et sa muse. Le couple eut quatre enfants : Etienne, Jeanne, et des jumeaux, Louis et Marc.

"Coopération au développement"

Sa formation taïwanaise terminée, Pierre Ryckmans fut ravi de profiter d’une nouvelle législation belge sur l’objection de conscience pour troquer son service militaire contre trois années de "coopération au développement" en Asie. Il étudia et enseigna en chinois à Singapour grâce à Han Suyin – avec qui il croiserait plus tard impitoyablement le fer. Suspecté de sympathies communistes (!) par le régime paranoïaque de Lee Kuan Yew, il dut plier bagage et s’installa en 1963 à Hong Kong, où il décrocha un emploi précaire au "New Asia College", embryon de la future Université chinoise. Le jeune sinologue produisit là-bas ses premiers travaux sinologiques (une traduction de Shen Fu, publiée aux… éditions Larcier que son père avait rachetées, une monographie sur le "peintre rebelle et fou" Su Renshan, couronnée par le prestigieux prix Stanislas Julien, des dizaines de notices sur les peintres chinois pour l’"Encyclopædia Universalis").

Mais, pour soutenir une famille nombreuse, il fallait trouver d’autres ressources. Pierre Ryckmans donna des cours à l’Alliance française de Hong Kong et – ce qui était bien plus captivant – alimenta le consulat de Belgique dans la colonie britannique en rapports bimensuels sur la Révolution culturelle, à partir de la presse chinoise qu’il dépouillait et du témoignage des réfugiés qu’il interviewait. Un jeune sinologue français de passage à Hong Kong, René Viénet, convainquit le "China watcher" en herbe de rassembler ses notes et de les publier. Il en résulta en 1971 "Les Habits neufs du président Mao" et une célébrité bientôt planétaire.
Attaché culturel à Pékin

C’est à la même époque que Pierre Ryckmans reçut une proposition qui l’enthousiasma : revoir la Chine en devenant l’attaché culturel de l’ambassade que la Belgique rouvrait à Pékin. Cet intermède diplomatique de six mois, aux côtés de Jacques Groothaert et Patrick Nothomb, serait l’occasion d’aventures mémorables en territoire maoïste et fournirait la matière d’"Ombres chinoises". Dans l’intervalle, pour éviter de froisser les Chinois, Pierre Ryckmans, le sinologue et diplomate, prit le pseudonyme de Simon Leys pour publier ses pamphlets, pseudonyme trouvé comme l’on sait dans un roman de Victor Segalen ("René Leys"), mais qui fait aussi référence – ce qu’on ignore généralement – à une dynastie de peintres anversois dont le plus célèbre fut Henri Leys.

Peu avant de partir pour Pékin, le hasard avait encore souri à Pierre Ryckmans. Un collègue rencontré à Hong Kong l’invita à venir enseigner temporairement à l’Université nationale d’Australie. Ce qui devait être une expérience de deux ou trois ans, le temps d’offrir aux enfants un cadre de vie plus aéré, allait être un voyage sans retour, choix que ni le professeur de chinois à Canberra, puis à Sydney, ni sa famille n’auraient de raisons de regretter. Aux antipodes, d’où il enverrait de savoureuses lettres au "Magazine littéraire" (elles seront réunies dans "Le Bonheur des petits poissons"), Ryckmans serait à l’abri des tempêtes parisiennes soulevées par le maoïsme et pourrait ainsi poursuivre tranquillement son travail. Car, dirait-il, "en Australie, on ne reçoit pas moins de bons livres. On a seulement plus de temps pour les lire".

Des livres, Simon Leys – le pseudonyme finit par supplanter l’état civil – en lirait, et en critiquerait. Tout en continuant d’interpréter les convulsions de la Chine dans des essais souvent caustiques ("Images brisées", "La Forêt en feu", "L’Humeur, l’honneur, l’horreur"), il donna libre cours à toutes ses passions, sans se préoccuper du caractère apparemment disparate de son œuvre. Il consacra nombre de textes à la littérature, tant française qu’anglo-saxonne (l’installation en Australie fit aussi de lui un écrivain de langue anglaise, ce dont il se félicitait) ; on les retrouve dans "Protée et autres essais", "L’Ange et le Cachalot", "Le Studio de l’inutilité". Il passa aussi beaucoup de temps "en mer", traduisant le chef-d’œuvre méconnu de Richard Henry Dana "Deux années sur le gaillard d’avant", racontant le naufrage du "Batavia", assemblant sa monumentale "Anthologie de la mer dans la littérature française".

Dans toutes ses activités, Pierre Ryckmans s’amusa beaucoup – on le mesure en parcourant "Les Idées des autres idiosyncratiquement compilées par Simon Leys", un recueil qui était au départ un cadeau de Noël pour Hanfang. Ce n’est qu’exceptionnellement qu’il se résigna à feindre le sérieux (qui n’est pas le contraire d’amusant, se plaisait-il à rappeler en citant Chesterton), par exemple quand il accepta de rejoindre l’Académie royale de langue et de littérature françaises de Belgique, où on l’élit en 1990 et où il fut reçu deux ans plus tard (le temps de revenir d’Australie…). Le cadeau était empoisonné car il y succédait à Simenon, un homme et un écrivain pour lequel il n’avait qu’une admiration relative. Leys refusa, en revanche, l’invitation (pourtant inhabituelle) que lui adressa l’Académie française, dont il redoutait les contraintes mondaines.

Un "dernier combat" ubuesque

La retraite anticipée qu’il prit en 1994, parce qu’il était profondément inquiet de la mercantilisation de l’université (il la dénoncerait onze ans plus tard dans un discours iconoclaste prononcé à l’UCL lors de la remise d’un doctorat honoris causa à l’initiative du doyen Heinz Bouillon), devait être paisible et heureuse. Elle le fut jusqu’en décembre 2006, quand une bourde de notre administration priva Marc et Louis Ryckmans de leur nationalité belge. Ne mesurant pas à quel point cette grossière bévue blessait un homme resté si profondément attaché à la Belgique, le ministère des Affaires étrangères s’entêta dans l’erreur, obligeant Simon Leys à mener pour ses fils ce qu’il appela son "dernier combat". Un combat qu’il gagna haut la main, en justice, sept ans plus tard, mais qui, aussi, le rongea.

Cet homme foncièrement bon aurait sans aucun doute mérité que sa patrie d’origine lui permît de terminer sa vie d’une façon plus paisible. Dans l’intimité, Simon Leys était en effet tout le contraire du pamphlétaire impitoyable que révélaient ses écrits. Pétri de gentillesse et de simplicité, il formait avec Hanfang, après cinquante ans de mariage, un couple extraordinairement attachant.

Voir aussi:

Quand « Le Monde » étrillait Simon Leys… avant de l’encenser
|Thomas Wieder

Le Monde

12.08.2014

Dix lignes seulement, mais dix lignes assassines. C’est ainsi, le 19 novembre 1971, que Le Monde rend compte des Habits neufs du président Mao, de Simon Leys : « Une nouvelle interprétation de la Chine par un “China watcher” français de Hongkong travaillant à la mode américaine. Beaucoup de faits, rapportés avec exactitude, auxquels se mêlent des erreurs et des informations incontrôlables en provenance de la colonie britannique. Les sources ne sont d’ordinaire pas citées, et l’auteur n’a manifestement pas l’expérience de ce dont il parle. La Révolution culturelle est ramenée à des querelles de cliques. » L’article est signé « A. B. », les initiales d’Alain Bouc, qui sera nommé en 1973 correspondant du Monde à Pékin.

La nécrologie : Mort du sinologue Simon Leys

Plus de quarante ans plus tard, Gérard Guégan, cofondateur de Champ libre, où parut le livre, se souvient parfaitement de ces quelques lignes. Et notamment du tract que ses amis situationnistes rédigèrent à l’époque contre leur auteur, sous le titre « Un Bouc qui pue »…

« SILENCE DE MORT »

S’il se rappelle lui aussi très bien de la « brève dédaigneuse du Monde », Raphaël Sorin, autre ancien de Champ libre, garde surtout en tête le « silence de mort » qui entoura la parution en France du livre de Simon Leys. A part Le Nouvel Observateur, qui publia une critique positive, mais en l’accompagnant prudemment d’un point de vue opposé, la presse fut avare de comptes rendus. Ce qui ne veut pas dire qu’il n’y eut pas de réaction. « Il y a eu quelques incidents notables avec les maoïstes », se souvient ainsi Gérard Guégan. Ils ont fait un jour une descente à la fac de Vincennes pour détruire les stands où on vendait le livre. Ils sont aussi venus à la maison d’édition pour distribuer quelques coups de poing… »

RECONNAISSANCE TARDIVE
L’ostracisme dont Simon Leys fut victime en France mit des années à se dissiper. Dans Le Monde, le changement de regard fut très progressif. En 1975, quand paraît Ombres chinoises, André Fontaine se contente d’évoquer un livre qui « dénonce sur le mode de la causticité allègre les tares d’un régime a jadis beaucoup admiré ». En 1979, quand le livre est réédité, Nicole Zand est nettement plus louangeuse. Rappelant que le livre fut « diversement accueilli à sa publication », ce qui est sans doute une allusion à ce qu’avait écrit André Fontaine non sans quelque ironie fielleuse, la journaliste note que « les événements de ces dernières années ne contredisent pas, c’est le moins qu’on puisse dire, l’analyse de Simon Leys ».

Pour ce dernier, la pleine reconnaissance de sa lucidité prémonitoire ne viendra cependant qu’une vingtaine d’années plus tard. « Leys, le juste », titre « Le Monde des livres », en 1998, lors de la réédition, chez Robert Laffont, des Essais sur la Chine. Signé Francis Deron, le portrait, élogieux, est accompagné d’un texte dithyrambique de Philippe Sollers saluant ce « déchiffreur immunisé contre la propagande totalitaire ». Une façon, pour le journal comme pour l’écrivain, dont la très maoïste revue Tel Quel n’avait pas été épargnée vingt-cinq ans plus tôt par Simon Leys, de reconnaître sur le tard leurs égarements d’antan.

Voir encore:

Are Books Useless?
An extract from the 1996 Boyer lectures
Pierre Ryckmans
Australian Humanities Review

Are books essentially useless? I suggest that we indeed subscribe to such a conclusion. But so long as we remain aware that uselessness is also the hallmark of what is truly priceless. Zhuang Zi summed it up well: "People all know the usefulness of what is useful, but they do not know the usefulness of what is useless".

The other day, I was reading the manuscript of a forthcoming book by a young journalist – a series of profiles of women living in the Outback – farmer wives battling solitude and natural disasters on remote stations in the bush. One woman was expressing concern for the education and future of her son, and commented on the boy’s choice of exclusively practical subjects for his courses at boarding school. "And I can’t say I blame his choice, as I too, would prefer to be out in the bush driving a tractor of building cattleyards rather than sitting in a classroom learning about Shakespeare, which is something he will never need…"

In this passing remark, there is something which I find simply heartbreaking. For a woman who single-handedly raises and cares for a large family, while sharing in many of the men’s tasks – worrying about mortgage repayments, fighting loneliness and depression, bolstering her husband’s crumbling self-respect in front of looming bankruptcy, fending off the menaces of alcoholism and social disintegration, and who meanwhile, drives tractors and handles cattle, and faces a thousand emergencies – it would appear indeed that Shakespeare is something one will never need. And on what ground would we dare to challenge her view?

Oddly enough, this disarming remark on the uselessness of literature unwittingly reduplicates, in one sense, a provocative statement by Nabokov. In fact the brave woman from the outback here seems to echo a sardonic paradox of the supreme literate aesthete of our age. Nabokov wrote this (which I shall never tire of quoting, perhaps because I myself taught literature for some time): ‘Let us not kid ourselves; let us remember that literature is of no use whatever, except in the very special case of somebody’s wishing to become, of all things, a Professor of Literature.’

And yet even Professors of Literature, when they are made of the right mettle, but find themselves in extreme situations – divested of their titles, deprived of their books, reduced to their barest humanity, equipped only with their tears and their memory – can reach the heart of the matter and experience in their flesh what literature is really about: our very survival as human beings.

I know of one Professor of Literature at least, who would be qualified to teach the good woman from the outback how, even for people in her situation, particularly for people in her situation, there may be a very real need for reading Shakespeare.

The name of that Professor is Wu Ningkun. He is an elderly Chinese scholar. Nearly 50 years ago, moved by patriotism, he gave up a promising, and cosy, academic career in the United States where he was teaching English literature, and returned to China, knowing that his talents and expertise were sorely needed there. But under Maoism, there was no place in China for refined, cultivated and cosmopolitan minds. He was immediately suspected, ostracised, persecuted, and for the next 30 years became a victim of the totalitarian paranoia that sees humanist culture as a betrayal, intelligence as an ideological crime, and presumes that whoever reads T.S. Eliot in the original must be a dangerous international spy.

He has written a book about his experiences, A Single Tear , which is, to my mind, the best written and most essential reading on a subject on which so much has already been published, and yet so little is understood.

The darkest depth of his ordeal was reached when he was sent to a labour camp in the barren wilderness of North-Eastern China, close to the Siberian border. Around him, many inmates were crushed to death by the horrors of the camp – they were dying of starvation, brutal treatment, exhaustion and despair. Under such conditions, physical resilience was not enough to stay alive – one needed spiritual strength. Wu Ningkun sustained his spirit with poetry. He had succeeded in smuggling with him two small books: a copy of Hamlet and a collection of the Tang dynasty poet, Du Fu. Formerly, he had only studied Shakespeare; now, for the first time, he was truly reading it. Occasionally, when a blinding blizzard blew from Siberia, and the prisoners had to spend the day cooped up in a cell, he could come back to Hamlet:

"Hamlet was my favourite Shakespearean play. Read in a Chinese labour camp, however, the tragedy of the Danish prince took on unexpected dimensions. All the academic analyses and critiques that had engrossed me over the years now seemed remote and irrelevant. The outcry ‘Denmark is a prison’ echoed with a poignant immediacy and Elsinore loomed like a haunting metaphor of a treacherous repressive state. The Ghost thundered with a terrible chorus of a million victims of proletarian dictatorship. Rozencrantz and Guildenstern would have felt like fish in the water had they found their way into a modern nation of hypocrites and informers. As to Hamlet himself, his great capacity for suffering gave the noble Dane his unique stature as a tragic hero pre-eminently worthy of his suffering. I would say to myself ‘I am not Prince Hamlet, nor was meant to be’, echoing Eliot’s Prufrock. Rather I often felt like one of those fellows ‘crawling between earth and Heaven’ scorned by Hamlet himself. But the real question I came to see was neither ‘to be, or not to be’ nor whether ‘in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune’, but how to be worthy of one’s suffering."

That a man may survive for quite a while without food, but cannot live one day without poetry, is a notion which we tend to dismiss too lightly, as a sort of 19th century romantic hyperbole. But our gruesome century has provided enough evidence: it is true, in a very literal sense. Wu Ningkun’s testimony which I just invoked, confirms from the other end of the world an earlier testimony from another House of the Dead – the voice of Primo Levi who, having survived Auschwitz, wrote the classic account of the camps, If This is a Man and devoted one entire chapter to an experience very similar to the one described by the Chinese scholar.

One day, as Levi and another inmate were on duty to fetch soup for the entire barrack, on their way to the kitchen, with the heavy soup bucket hanging from a pole which they carried on their shoulders, they enjoyed the brief respite of a summer day, and started chatting. The other prisoner was a clever young Frenchman with a gift for languages. Levi, who had been teaching him some Italian, suddenly was moved by a crazy and irresistible impulse to introduce him to Dante. He began to recite a passage from The Divine Comedy, the Canto of Ulysses, clumsily translating it for the other man, verse by verse: "Here, listen, open your ears and your mind, you have to understand, for my sake."

The effect of this recitation of a few stanzas was "As if I also was hearing it for the first time: like the blast of a trumpet, like the voice of God. For a moment I forget who I am and where I am. The companion begs me to repeat it. How good he is, he is aware that it is doing me good. Or perhaps it is something more – perhaps he has received the message, he has felt that it had to do with him, that it has to do with all men who suffer, and with us in particular; and that it has to do with us two, who dare to reason of these things with the poles for the soup on our shoulders." Then, sudden catastrophe: memory fails at the end of one stanza – to reach the end of the Canto, a crucial connection is missing: "I have forgotten at least twelve lines; I would give today’s soup to know how to connect the last fragment to the end of the Canto. I try to reconstruct it through the rhymes, I close my eyes, I bite my fingers, but it is no use, the rest is silence."

The depth and truth of this particular moment were such that thirty years later – the year before he died – Levi returned to it in the last book he wrote, The Drowned and the Saved. Summing up his experience of the death camp, he concluded, "Culture was important to me, and perhaps it saved me. When I wrote ‘I would give today’s soup to know how to retrieve the forgotten passage’, I had neither lied nor exaggerated. I really would have given bread and soup – that is, blood – to save from nothingness those memories which today, with the sure support of printed paper I can refresh gratis whenever I wish, and which therefore seem of little value."

In Auschwitz, the forgotten poem became literally priceless. In that place, at that instant, the very survival of Primo Levi’s humanity was dependent on it.

Pierre Ryckmans is an internationally renowned novelist, writing under the name Simon Leys, as well as a scholar, Sinologist, artist and calligrapher. His books include Chinese Shadows and The Death of Napoleon. From 1988 he was Chair of Chinese Studies at University of Sydney from where he has recently retired.

The Boyer lectures were broadcast by the Australian Broadcasting Commission on Radio National. The book and cassettes of the six Boyer lectures are now available from all ABC bookshops.

 


Droits de l’homme: Contre la dictature du vêtement, salopes de tous les pays unissez vous ! (Why can we be arrested for being naked in the street ? NY erotic photographer turns human rights activist)

23 mars, 2014
http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/b/be/Duchamp_LargeGlass.jpghttp://darkroom.baltimoresun.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/08/AFP_Getty-513178632.jpgSimonehttp://comunidade.sol.pt/photos/isabel25/images/2133034/original.aspxIls se partagent mes vêtements, ils tirent au sort ma tunique. Psaumes 22: 18
Les soldats, après avoir crucifié Jésus, prirent ses vêtements, et ils en firent quatre parts, une part pour chaque soldat. Ils prirent aussi sa tunique, qui était sans couture, d’un seul tissu depuis le haut jusqu’en bas. Et ils dirent entre eux:Ne la déchirons pas, mais tirons au sort à qui elle sera. Cela arriva afin que s’accomplît cette parole de l’Écriture: Ils se sont partagé mes vêtements, Et ils ont tiré au sort ma tunique. Jean (19: 23-24)
Dans un entretien (…), Duchamp révèle que cette "mariée" est un concept qui prend sa source dans un stand de fête foraine de province : les jeunes gens devaient envoyer des projectiles sur une représentation de femme en robe de mariée afin de la déshabiller, ses atours ne tenant qu’à un fil. Wikipedia (La Mariée mise à nu par ses célibataires, même, Marcel Duchamp, 1923)
Le grand verre a été qualifié de machine d’amour, mais c’est en fait une machine de souffrance. Ses compartiments supérieurs et inférieurs sont séparés les uns des autres pour toujours par un horizon désigné comme "habits de la mariée". La mariée est suspendue, peut-être à une corde, dans une cage isolée, ou crucifiée. Les célibataires restent au-dessous, à gauche avec la seule possibilité d’une masturbation fiévreuse, angoissée. Janis Mink
J’ai résumé L’Étranger, il y a longtemps, par une phrase dont je reconnais qu’elle est très paradoxale : “Dans notre société tout homme qui ne pleure pas à l’enterrement de sa mère risque d’être condamné à mort.” Je voulais dire seulement que le héros du livre est condamné parce qu’il ne joue pas le jeu. En ce sens, il est étranger à la société où il vit, où il erre, en marge, dans les faubourgs de la vie privée, solitaire, sensuelle. (…) On ne se tromperait donc pas beaucoup en lisant, dans L’Étranger, l’histoire d’un homme qui, sans aucune attitude héroïque, accepte de mourir pour la vérité. Il m’est arrivé de dire aussi, et toujours paradoxalement, que j’avais essayé de figurer, dans mon personnage, le seul Christ que nous méritions. Camus (préface américaine à L’Etranger)
Le thème du poète maudit né dans une société marchande (…) s’est durci dans un préjugé qui finit par vouloir qu’on ne puisse être un grand artiste que contre la société de son temps, quelle qu’elle soit. Légitime à l’origine quand il affirmait qu’un artiste véritable ne pouvait composer avec le monde de l’argent, le principe est devenu faux lorsqu’on en a tiré qu’un artiste ne pouvait s’affirmer qu’en étant contre toute chose en général. Albert Camus
Depuis que l’ordre religieux est ébranlé – comme le christianisme le fut sous la Réforme – les vices ne sont pas seuls à se trouver libérés. Certes les vices sont libérés et ils errent à l’aventure et ils font des ravages. Mais les vertus aussi sont libérées et elles errent, plus farouches encore, et elles font des ravages plus terribles encore. Le monde moderne est envahi des veilles vertus chrétiennes devenues folles. Les vertus sont devenues folles pour avoir été isolées les unes des autres, contraintes à errer chacune en sa solitude. Chesterton
Personne ne nous fera croire que l’appareil judiciaire d’un Etat moderne prend réellement pour objet l’extermination des petits bureaucrates qui s’adonnent au café au lait, aux films de Fernandel et aux passades amoureuses avec la secrétaire du patron. René Girard
Il faut se souvenir que le nazisme s’est lui-même présenté comme une lutte contre la violence: c’est en se posant en victime du traité de Versailles que Hitler a gagné son pouvoir. Et le communisme lui aussi s’est présenté comme une défense des victimes. Désormais, c’est donc seulement au nom de la lutte contre la violence qu’on peut commettre la violence. René Girard
L’inauguration majestueuse de l’ère "post-chrétienne" est une plaisanterie. Nous sommes dans un ultra-christianisme caricatural qui essaie d’échapper à l’orbite judéo-chrétienne en "radicalisant" le souci des victimes dans un sens antichrétien. (…) Jusqu’au nazisme, le judaïsme était la victime préférentielle de ce système de bouc émissaire. Le christianisme ne venait qu’en second lieu. Depuis l’Holocauste , en revanche, on n’ose plus s’en prendre au judaïsme, et le christianisme est promu au rang de bouc émissaire numéro un. (…) Le mouvement antichrétien le plus puissant est celui qui réassume et "radicalise" le souci des victimes pour le paganiser. (…) Comme les Eglises chrétiennes ont pris conscience tardivement de leurs manquements à la charité, de leur connivence avec l’ordre établi, dans le monde d’hier et d’aujourd’hui, elles sont particulièrement vulnérables au chantage permanent auquel le néopaganisme contemporain les soumet. René Girard
La société du spectacle, [selon] Roger Caillois qui analyse la dimension ludique dans la culture (…), c’est la dimension inoffensive de la cérémonie primitive. Autrement dit lorsqu’on est privé du mythe, les paroles sacrées qui donnent aux œuvres pouvoir sur la réalité, le rite se réduit à un ensemble réglés d’actes désormais inefficaces qui aboutissent finalement à un pur jeu, loedos. Il donne un exemple qui est extraordinaire, il dit qu’au fond les gens qui jouent au football aujourd’hui, qui lancent un ballon en l’air ne font que répéter sur un mode ludique, jocus, ou loedos, société du spectacle, les grands mythes anciens de la naissance du soleil dans les sociétés où le sacré avait encore une valeur. (…) Nous vivons sur l’idée de Malraux – l’art, c’est ce qui reste quand la religion a disparu. Jean Clair
Le gros problème des rapports entre les sexes aujourd’hui, c’est qu’il y a des contresens, de la part des hommes en particulier, sur ce que veut dire le vêtement des femmes. Beaucoup d’études consacrées aux affaires de viol ont montré que les hommes voient comme des provocations des attitudes qui sont en fait en conformité avec une mode vestimentaire. Très souvent, les femmes elles-mêmes condamnent les femmes violées au prétexte qu'" elles l’ont bien cherché ".  Pierre Bourdieu
Tout le monde dénonce les normes de silhouette imposées par les médias et elles perdurent étrangement, pourtant certains journalistes des pages société des magazines féminins sont excédés par les dossiers régime sortant systématiquement avant l’été et essaient de s’y opposer. Pourquoi? Les normes obligatoires sont de moins en moins nombreuses, tout est mis en flottement, les gens sont complètement perdus et angoissés et ils n’ont qu’une demande, surtout adressée aux médias: qu’est-ce qui est bien?, qu’est-ce qui est mal? Ou version plus soft: comment font les autres ? La plage est une usine à fabriquer le mot “normal”. C’est celui qui revient le plus fréquemment, jusqu’à la définition d’un beau sein normal. Mais la catégorie la plus intéressante est celle du “trop beau” sein (le mot a été employé), qui dans d’autres contextes a des avantages évidents, mais qui sur la plage, parce qu’il accroche trop le regard, provoque chez la personne qui le possède une moindre liberté de mouvement parce que le regard glisse moins. Cet exemple illustre la fabrication d’une norme par les gens. Ce n’est ni une norme explicite ni une norme obligatoire, on peut en sortir, mais quand on en sort, sur la plage par exemple, on subit le poids des regards. (…) Enlever le haut rend la drague plus difficile. Les hommes doivent montrer qu’ils savent se tenir. Jean-Claude Kauffmann
Nous revendiquons nos atours de filles de joie, notre propension à montrer nos genoux, nos bas résilles et nos oripeaux polissons, car la révolution se fera en talons!  Yagg (collectif de lesbiennes)
I like to wear tops that show my cleavage and show off my ladies. If that makes me a slut, then I’m a slut. Anne Watson (organiser, Australian Sex Party)
I’m proud to be a slut too, it’s all about “inner sexual confidence”.  Katherine Feeney (journaliste)
Aujourd’hui ce que nous faisons c’est SE RÉ-APPROPRIER le mot “salope”. En REPRENANT le mot salope nous lui ENLEVONS SA FORCE. Les gays ont repris le mot ‘queer’, et bravo à eux. Aujourd’hui les femmes et les hommes de Melbourne reprennent à leur compte le mot SALOPE. Leslie Cannold
While I support all efforts to challenge violence against women in all its manifestations – my blog is a witness to the global level of that violence – I hesitate to join the marching ranks. I welcome any confrontation with those who would blame the victim in rape. No woman deserves rape or invites sexual assault. I support the basic intention of the march. But I fear it has become more about the right to be ‘a slut’ than about the right to be free from violence. (…) Is it about mocking and sending up, or owning and embracing? Some organisers and supporters say it’s about reclaiming the word slut, using it as a term of empowerment for women. Some say it’s satire, a send-up, a mockery, about emptying the word of its power by making fun of it. (…) Using slut as the flagship word for this new movement puts women in danger through giving men even more license to think about women in a way that suits them, and not as targets of violence and terrible social discrimination. (…) The men chanting “We Love sluts!” don’t seem to be picking up on any satire. Why would they? Porn culture reinforces the idea that all women are sluts. Slut walks marginalise women and girls who want to protest violence against women but do not want ‘own’ or represent the word ‘slut’. I fear mainstreaming the term even further will increase harassment of women and girls because ‘slut’ will be seen as some kind of compliment. (…) The men who are responding to this message are not getting the irony at all … Men want women to be sluts and now they’re buying in. Gail Dines
As teachers who travel around the country speaking about sexual violence, pornography and feminism, we hear stories from women students who feel intense pressure to be sexually available "on demand". These students have grown up in a culture in which hypersexualized images of young women are commonplace and where hardcore porn is the major form of sex education for young men. They have been told over and over that in order to be valued in such a culture, they must look and act like sluts, while not being labeled slut because the label has dire consequences including being blamed for rape, depression, anxiety, eating disorders, and self-mutilation. Gail Dines and Wendy J Murphy
Depuis longtemps, les prostituées de rues se déguisent en pute pour bien expliquer: le rimmel, les bas-résilles, c’est moi qui vend la marchandise, j’annonce la couleur, laissez la petite secrétaire ou la mère de famille qui fait ses courses.  On savait à quoi s’en tenir.  Mais les marchands de fringues, de musique, de régimes et de cosmétiques ont su convaincre les femmes qu’être un objet était valorisant.  Et que montrer son piercing au nombril était chouette, que le string qui dépasse, la jarretière du bas auto-fixant, la bretelle de soutien-gorge était chouette et libérée.  Bref, la femme marchandise était conquérante, adulée, victorieuse. Et devenait l’étalon. Comme on imposait le voile dans d’autres pays et d’autres cultures, on imposait (moins brutalement mais plus sournoisement, certes) en modèle l’échancré, le transparent, le push-up, le moulant, le fendu, l’épilé, le siliconé. Ce sont ces fausses putes, les "salopes" médiatiques, de Madonna à Britney Spears en passant par Beyoncé qui, en vendant leur cul moulé et gigotant à longueur de vidéo clip ont promu la femme hypersexualisée, libertine et aguicheuse. Et fière de l’être.  "Dior j’adore" nous dit une bouche entr’ouverte et transpirante.  Le Perrier jaillit sur un corps bronzé, et la miss Wonderbra nous dit de la regarder dans les yeux.  La Saint Valentin, une débauche (sans jeu de mot) de peaux montrées pour vendre de la lingerie.  (…) Vous avez vu comment s’habillent les présentatrices télé?  Karine Lemarchand, Melissa Theuriau, Daphné Roulié, Anne-Sophie-Lapix, et des dizaines d’autres ont été choisie pour leur Q. S. (Quotient sexuel) AVANT leur QI.  Normal, sinon elles se feraient zapper entre les pubs qui montrent des filles sublimes.  Forum-doctissimo
“Why can we be arrested for being naked in the street, when as human beings, we are born naked?” I can understand that it would be socially unacceptable or morally discouraged, but for it to be in some cases prohibited by law…? This all seemed quite bizarre and really more so a violation of human rights. Erica Simone
There were a few times when I would manage to capture a wonderful image, but I was out of focus or some element in the photograph didn’t work. Overall, despite the technical challenges, I was quite lucky. In some cases, yes, I definitely needed the cooperation of other people in the photograph to capture what I wanted, but most of them were done guerilla-style. (…) The project is not about performance, but about photography. I didn’t feel that I was performing when producing the photos, but rather, just trying to capture an iconic image. I was never nude for that long, typically 20-30 seconds, and the whole time I focused on the other side of the camera, not the people watching or what’s going on in the street. My goal is to go in, get the shot, and quickly move away from the crime scene. It’s about the end image, not the moment in itself. (…) No actually, no one has ever overtly expressed discontent or being offended during my shoots. Most people laugh or applaud. I don’t think my physique or intentions are offensive to most people. Had I run around a church or a playground in my birthday suit—it would probably be a different story.(…)  Possibly, if I had been very out of shape, the collection could have been even more popular, because people would have been even more shocked: “How could this person possibly feel comfortable running around naked?” This brings up other questions such as “Why would one person feel more or less comfortable being naked just because of the way they look?” Some models are extremely insecure, the same way some overweight people are nudists. I don’t think one has anything to do with the other. (…) Of course I would love to eventually be financially secure enough to be able to lead a stable life with the ability to make certain choices and as anyone, I would love for my work to be successful for my own sense of accomplishment. But more importantly, if I could use my skills and social position to make a difference and to help people, then this drive would make much more sense and have much more of an impact. I am a lot more motivated to make a difference than to be a famous photographer for its own sake, so hopefully they’ll go hand in hand. (…) but I don’t think it takes a supermodel to get where you want in life. I do often use my feminine “powers” to get the pictures I want. Of course, I’ve found myself flirting with an old man to get his picture or batting my eye-lashes to get past authorities. As a woman, I think it’s a God-given right to use those charms! While men have their advantages, women have theirs and I feel it is fair game to rock what you have. (…)  I’m not too worried about what dealers and collectors want from artists. I’m only interested in what I want to do, since that’s what makes me happy. I don’t see why I wouldn’t be able to develop a style fully regardless, if that’s what I wanted to do. For me, it’s all experiment and experience and as long as I keep learning and producing more and more interesting work, while paying rent, that’s all that matters for me. Erica Simone
Nue York: Self-Portraits of a Bare Urban Citizen est né d’une interrogation à propos des vêtements et de leur importance dans la société d’aujourd’hui. La mode et les habits que nous portons valent comme un langage : ils nous permettent de dresser un portrait silencieux de qui nous sommes et de qui nous voulons être, offrant à la société une impression de nous-mêmes — quelle qu’elle puisse être. La mode tend aussi à nous différencier et à nous placer dans des catégories sociales variées, ainsi qu’à traduire un certain état d’esprit ou un sentiment particulier. Cet outil est assez précieux pour la société et comme la plupart des gens, j’utilise mes vêtements comme une manière de définir ma propre image. Dans une ville comme New York, l’industrie de la mode a un impact massif : les gens ont tendance à être très concernés par leur apparence et ce qu’elle traduit en termes sociaux, ce que j’ai pu constater quand j’ai photographié la Fashion Week il y a quelques années. Comme j’observais cette assemblée de gens très conscients d’eux-mêmes, plus intéressés par les soldes à Barney’s que par les sans-abri sur lesquels ils butaient dans la rue, j’ai commencé à me demander : « Comment serait le monde si nous étions tous nus ? Que se passerait-il si nous n’avions pas nos vêtements pour définir qui nous voulons être ou comment nous voulons nous sentir en tant qu’individus ? Si nous ne pouvions représenter notre statut social pour être traités comme nous le désirons par les autres ? Si tout ce que nous avions, c’était nos corps ? »Ces questions ont soulevé de nombreux problèmes et ces problèmes à leur tour de nouvelles questions. De là est né mon projet photographique. Armée de mon trépied et d’une bonne dose d’adrénaline, j’ai parcouru les rues nue, pour découvrir ce que serait une journée typique à New York dans ces conditions.  Erica Simone
Je ne me considère pas comme une nudiste ou une exhibitionniste, mais comme une artiste qui pose des questions à la société. Me sentant bien dans ma peau, la nudité ne me semble pas quelque chose d’effrayant. Le corps relève de l’essence humaine, animale. Que certains aient l’esprit puritain au point d’être offensés par un corps nu constitue, à mes yeux, un mystère. Certes, je conçois que la nudité ne se prête pas à toutes les situations, et que certains pourraient l’utiliser de manière malveillante. Pour autant, le fait que la loi nous interdise d’être nu en public, c’est-à-dire d’évoluer dans l’état le plus primitif et naturel qui soit, cela me rend folle. La nudité n’a jamais tué personne. Ce n’est pas le cas des armes à feu qui, elles, sont autorisées aux États-Unis. Dans ce pays, posséder un pistolet est bien plus acceptable que d’être nu en dehors de sa salle de bain ! (…) S’habiller, c’est s’exprimer. À sa seule tenue, on peut déterminer si un individu est riche, s’il est "cool" ou non, s’il a du goût, s’il est propre sur lui, si c’est un homme d’affaires, un voyou… Ainsi la société met-elle des étiquettes sur les gens. De ce fait, je m’interroge : comment serait la vie sans vêtements ? Comment interpréterions-nous la vision d’autrui ? Comment sélectionnerions-nous nos amis sans les repères fournis par les styles vestimentaires ? Traiterait-on les gens différemment ? La façon dont on jauge habituellement nos semblables s’effondrerait. Peut-être que l’on deviendrait plus attentif au regard de la personne qui est en face de nous, à l’énergie qu’elle dégage. Peut-être que l’on deviendrait plus intuitif. Qui sait ? (…) Je partage probablement un certain nombre de choses avec beaucoup de groupes militants, qu’ils soient féministes ou humanistes. "Nue York" soulève inévitablement la question du féminisme. Cela dit, je n’ai pas conçu le projet sous cet angle. Il s’agit avant tout d’interroger les gens en tant qu’êtres humains. Si mes photos poussent les spectateurs à se poser des questions sur le rôle des vêtements dans notre société, ou si la série sert de point de départ à d’autres réflexions, alors je considérerai ma mission comme réussie. Erica Simone
Erica Simone est née à Knoxville, Tennessee. Après avoir passé sa vie entre Los Angeles, Paris et New York, Erica photographie la jungle de New York. Ses images sont publiées dans de nombreux magazines inernationaux tels que National Geographic, PHOTO, the Daily News, El Mundo, La Repubblica, Whitewall Magazine, PDN et beaucoup d’autres… L’Oeil de la photographie
Vous êtes photographe? Peintre? Vous êtes en panne d’inspiration? Mettez du sein et de la fesse dans vos oeuvres!!! Ca marche à coup sur car c’est immanquablement relayé par les médias! diabolodenfer méphisto
Comment sélectionnerait-on nos amis ? J’ai bien une petite idée… Les mal foutus seraient peut-être bien seuls... Gaëlle Rosier
"Ce projet n’est pas à proprement parler quelque chose de facile à mener, mais j’apprécie les montées d’adrénaline." dixit notre belle photographe En tout cas, plus agréable à regarder que l’urinoir de notre Marcel national. On peut lui proposer de faire cela sur la place Tahrir en Egypte. Là, elle aurait sûrement une overdose d’adrénaline ! gerald B
Question soft : Elle laisse son soutif pendant les séances d’UV ou elle est partie en vacances au Qatar ? Bernard Palux
Des photos de femmes se baladant à poil en ville, comme ici, ce n’est pas ce qui manque, et depuis longtemps. Mais, ce n’est pas correct, pas féministe, c’est immoral, car elles ont le culot de prétendre y trouver du plaisir. Shocking. Impossible à entendre dans ce 21e siècle où la presse meanstream prétend nier la différence des sexes. Il y a certainement un horrible mâle derrière tout ça. En revanche, en enfumant ces nouveaux moralisateurs avec un discours pseudo politique, ça devient soudain révolutionnaire. Et les bobos peuvent regarder tranquillement des photos de cul sans se cacher. Décidément, la Com a des ressources insoupçonnées. andro mede

L’érotisme serait-il ce qui reste quand l’art a disparu ?

A l’heure où, armée de ses seuls seins nus et d’une tronçonneuse, une dissidente réussit à venir à bout d’une croix de bois commémorant les victimes du génocide ukrainien

Et où, de Toronto à Boston et Melbourne et de Paris à Londres et Amsterdam, nos salopes bravent l’enfer de nos rues pour réhabiliter plus de 2 000 ans d’expérience accumulée du "plus vieux métier du monde" …

Le Pays autoproclamé des droits de l’homme va-t-il devoir accorder l’asile politique et un nouveau timbre

A l’autoportraitiste érotique Erica Simone qui, armée elle aussi de sa seule irréprochable plastique et d’un évident sens de l’autopromotion, se dévoue corps et âme à la défense des droits de l’homme (?) dans la jungle puritaine de Manhattan ?

PHOTOS. Nue à New York contre la dictature du vêtement

Cyril Bonnet

Le Nouvel Observateur

22-03-2014

En tenue d’Ève dans la Grosse Pomme. Tel est le programme de "Nue York", série d’autoportraits dans lesquels la photographe professionnelle Erica Simone se promène dans le plus simple appareil au sein de célèbre ville américaine.

Ne la qualifiez pas d’exhibitionniste ! Cette photographe éclectique et aguerrie, passée par plusieurs continents et de prestigieuses publications, revendique une démarche artistique et a quelques messages à faire passer. Sur l’illégalité de la nudité qui la "rend folle", d’une part ; sur le carcan social dans lequel les vêtements enferment leurs propriétaires, d’autre part. En fil rouge, une même volonté de susciter la réflexion à travers des images ludiques et inattendues. Interview.

Comment se déroule une séance photo type pour la série "Nue York" ?

- Je passe beaucoup de temps à me promener en ville avec un ami pour trouver des scènes intéressantes, propices à des scénarios et des situations qui permettent de s’amuser. Il y a ensuite une longue phase d’élaboration de la composition de l’image, puis d’attente de l’instant décisif. Lorsqu’il survient, j’enlève mes vêtements et on commence à prendre les photos. En tout, je ne reste nue qu’une ou deux minutes. Trois si j’estime qu’il faut reprendre une autre série de clichés.

Quelles sont les réactions des passants ?

- Il arrive qu’ils ne me remarquent même pas. Sinon, je ne reçois que des réactions positives. Les gens rient, applaudissent, ou encore s’exclament : "Only in New York !" ("Uniquement à New York !") Je n’ai jamais eu de problème. Et je fais de mon mieux pour éviter la police. Ce projet n’est pas à proprement parler quelque chose de facile à mener, mais j’apprécie les montées d’adrénaline.

Quel message souhaitez-vous diffuser ?

- Je ne me considère pas comme une nudiste ou une exhibitionniste, mais comme une artiste qui pose des questions à la société. Me sentant bien dans ma peau, la nudité ne me semble pas quelque chose d’effrayant. Le corps relève de l’essence humaine, animale. Que certains aient l’esprit puritain au point d’être offensés par un corps nu constitue, à mes yeux, un mystère.

Certes, je conçois que la nudité ne se prête pas à toutes les situations, et que certains pourraient l’utiliser de manière malveillante. Pour autant, le fait que la loi nous interdise d’être nu en public, c’est-à-dire d’évoluer dans l’état le plus primitif et naturel qui soit, cela me rend folle. La nudité n’a jamais tué personne. Ce n’est pas le cas des armes à feu qui, elles, sont autorisées aux États-Unis. Dans ce pays, posséder un pistolet est bien plus acceptable que d’être nu en dehors de sa salle de bain !

Vous pointez également la valeur sociale des choix vestimentaires.

- S’habiller, c’est s’exprimer. À sa seule tenue, on peut déterminer si un individu est riche, s’il est "cool" ou non, s’il a du goût, s’il est propre sur lui, si c’est un homme d’affaires, un voyou… Ainsi la société met-elle des étiquettes sur les gens.

De ce fait, je m’interroge : comment serait la vie sans vêtements ? Comment interpréterions-nous la vision d’autrui ? Comment sélectionnerions-nous nos amis sans les repères fournis par les styles vestimentaires ? Traiterait-on les gens différemment ? La façon dont on jauge habituellement nos semblables s’effondrerait. Peut-être que l’on deviendrait plus attentif au regard de la personne qui est en face de nous, à l’énergie qu’elle dégage. Peut-être que l’on deviendrait plus intuitif. Qui sait ?

Vos photos servent un message particulier. D’autres personnes, comme les Femen, utilisent la nudité en lieu public à des fins politiques. Vous trouvez-vous des points communs avec elles ?

- Je partage probablement un certain nombre de choses avec beaucoup de groupes militants, qu’ils soient féministes ou humanistes. "Nue York" soulève inévitablement la question du féminisme. Cela dit, je n’ai pas conçu le projet sous cet angle. Il s’agit avant tout d’interroger les gens en tant qu’êtres humains. Si mes photos poussent les spectateurs à se poser des questions sur le rôle des vêtements dans notre société, ou si la série sert de point de départ à d’autres réflexions, alors je considérerai ma mission comme réussie.

Propos recueillis par Cyril Bonnet – Le Nouvel Observateur

Crédit photos : Erica Simone. Voir son site web.

Voir aussi:

Experiment and Experience: Peter Weiss Interviews Erica Simone

Peter Weiss

NY Arts

Peter Weiss: You have a very energetic personality; you seem very confident and secure. Am I reading it right and to what do you attribute that security?

Erica Simone: Yes, I like to think of myself as being confident and secure (most of the time). We do only have one life, one body, and one mind, so why waste time feeling bad about our failures or ourselves? All we can attempt is to improve what we don’t like or to just be accepting of it. And if you aren’t secure, it’s important to at least appear so. I think without it, people stop trusting you and you stop intriguing people.

PW: You travel light and alone at times when you work, both here and abroad. Would you describe yourself as a risk taker or adventurer in your artistic pursuit? Do you see a difference?

ES: I definitely identify with being an adventurer. I love to explore new territories and I love challenges, there is no fun in staying safe. I’m somewhat of a risk taker, but you won’t typically find me running into a flaming house … unless to save a soul.

PW: What sacrifices do you make in pursuit of your art? What has been your greatest victory? What is your greatest missed opportunity or photo? Do you have a favorite piece and why? Are there pieces that are staged and should be declared as such or have you allowed confusion? Have you ever felt guilty about an image you have taken? Has it ever seen the light of day?

ES: I don’t tend to think of the sacrifices I make as being “sacrifices,” but more so just experiences. In my nude project, I gave up the privacy of my own body, but it’s not in any way a sacrifice to me. I would never part with anything I couldn’t stand losing. I am passionate about my work, but if I hadn’t been comfortable giving that up, I would have never done it.

In the Nue York series, I’d say the greatest victory was probably the subway shot. With the constant movement of the passengers, it took quite a while for the composition of the photograph to fall the way I wanted it to and then I only had 1 subway stop to capture it. By that time, I had already traveled from the West Village to the Bronx!

There were a few times when I would manage to capture a wonderful image, but I was out of focus or some element in the photograph didn’t work. Overall, despite the technical challenges, I was quite lucky.

In some cases, yes, I definitely needed the cooperation of other people in the photograph to capture what I wanted, but most of them were done guerilla-style.

I’ve never felt guilt towards an image. I’ve felt insecure, sure, but I think that just goes hand in hand with being the model. We can’t always happy about the way we look in photographs. I know I’m not.

PW: Do you consider the shooting of the “Bare Urban Citizen” collection interventionist/ performance art?

ES: The project is not about performance, but about photography. I didn’t feel that I was performing when producing the photos, but rather, just trying to capture an iconic image. I was never nude for that long, typically 20-30 seconds, and the whole time I focused on the other side of the camera, not the people watching or what’s going on in the street. My goal is to go in, get the shot, and quickly move away from the crime scene. It’s about the end image, not the moment in itself.

PW: Have you ever found yourself in a situation where your act of taking pictures has offended the passersby or the subject? If so, did you continue despite the protests? If so what was your rational? During the Urban Nude, what gave you the idea? What are you saying with this collection? If you weren’t as pretty as you are, would that have impacted this collection?

ES: No actually, no one has ever overtly expressed discontent or being offended during my shoots. Most people laugh or applaud. I don’t think my physique or intentions are offensive to most people. Had I run around a church or a playground in my birthday suit—it would probably be a different story.

The collection contemplates the use of clothing and fashion in society. We tend to first judge or analyze others by how they look on the outside, the same way we tend to act or feel differently depending on what we are wearing. I produced this series after asking myself certain questions: “What would life be like if we didn’t have clothing to express ourselves?” “How would we perceive or judge others, on what basis?” “How would we feel with our bodies, would we be more or less secure?” “What would the environment look like?”

Thank you. I have no idea if the collection would have had more or less of an impact. Possibly, if I had been very out of shape, the collection could have been even more popular, because people would have been even more shocked: “How could this person possibly feel comfortable running around naked?” This brings up other questions such as “Why would one person feel more or less comfortable being naked just because of the way they look?” Some models are extremely insecure, the same way some overweight people are nudists. I don’t think one has anything to do with the other.

PW: Does fame and fortune motivate you or are you an artist for artist sake?

ES: Of course I would love to eventually be financially secure enough to be able to lead a stable life with the ability to make certain choices and as anyone, I would love for my work to be successful for my own sense of accomplishment. But more importantly, if I could use my skills and social position to make a difference and to help people, then this drive would make much more sense and have much more of an impact. I am a lot more motivated to make a difference than to be a famous photographer for its own sake, so hopefully they’ll go hand in hand.

PW: Where does your ego fit into your career?

ES: My ego comes and goes—a constant battle. I accept my flaws, as hard as it can be sometimes, but I also know that no one is perfect. We are all different, traveling on different journeys. All I can hope for is to keep moving forward, to keep learning and to keep making progress.

PW: You are very attractive young woman. How does this affect your entree in your photography? Do you use your feminine charms to get your pictures? How far will you go?

ES: Thank you, but I don’t think it takes a supermodel to get where you want in life. I do often use my feminine “powers” to get the pictures I want. Of course, I’ve found myself flirting with an old man to get his picture or batting my eye-lashes to get past authorities. As a woman, I think it’s a God-given right to use those charms! While men have their advantages, women have theirs and I feel it is fair game to rock what you have.

PW: As a photographer you have a very diverse body of work. The categories listed on your web site includes, portraits, people, travel, photo-journalism, self portraits, personal work, fashion, and beauty. What does your selection of subject matter say about you as a person, artist and professional photographer?

ES: I like producing a variety of work. My creative ADD introduces me to a diversity of subjects, which makes my job more exciting. I like exploring new ideas and concepts and I love a good challenge, so taking on new work is always something I have fun with. I’m not sure I’ll ever want to specialize in a certain area, there are too many interesting things to take pictures of; I want to take them all!

PW: Dealers and collectors expect from the professional artist a cohesive recognizable body of work. This work should fit a particular genre. As you know this allows dealers a sharper target in which to market an artist’s work. It could be argued that if your creative spectrum is too broad, you can’t develop a style fully and you risk losing the focus of you subject matter and continuity. How do you feel this established criteria affects your work from a professional and creative perspective?

ES: I’m not too worried about what dealers and collectors want from artists. I’m only interested in what I want to do, since that’s what makes me happy. I don’t see why I wouldn’t be able to develop a style fully regardless, if that’s what I wanted to do. For me, it’s all experiment and experience and as long as I keep learning and producing more and more interesting work, while paying rent, that’s all that matters for me.

Voir également:

Naked ambition: Photographer lays herself bare in nude poses on the streets of NYC

Rachel Quigley

The Daily Mail

28 March 2011

Photographers are often said to bare their souls through their pictures.

But Parisian Erica Simone has taken this to the next level by literally laying herself bare – she has photographed herself in nothing but her birthday suit on the streets of New York.

The 25-year-old has turned doing daily routines in the city to works of art simply by removing her clothes.

And Miss Simone made the daring decision to step out from behind the camera and go au naturel in a series of self-portraits taken in and around the Big Apple.

Speaking to MailOnline she said: ‘At first it was like, "Can I really do this?" I was into the idea, but I didn’t totally have the [nerve] to do it – I’m not totally an exhibitionist.

‘But I managed to do it on my first day of shooting in the West Village and I didn’t even get arrested.

‘I think that was just a combination of good timing and luck, and it is not as if I just spent the whole day walking around naked. I was fully clothed until I was ready to take the shot.’

‘It’s not about sex. It’s crazy that it’s illegal to be naked. The whole process was really liberating and it made me feel freer and more comfortable in my own skin and not be ashamed of my body.’

Once Erica got the idea for the exhibit, she decided to step out from behind the camera and do a number of self portraits in the nude, sometimes wearing only a variety of accessories, performing mundane activities

In the pictures, she rides the subway, checks out library books and shovels the snow on the sidewalk outside her apartment – all in the nude.

The 20 shots are part of Simone’s new exhibit Nue York: Self-Portraits of a Bare Urban Citizen, which opens next month at the Dash Gallery in Tribeca.

Miss Simone said the inspiration for the exhibition came to her during Fashion Week two years ago.

She said: ‘I was sitting around thinking about fashion and what would we be if we were naked and what if we didn’t have fashion to show who we were, our status, how much money we had, all these things.

‘Then I got the photographic idea of shooting people naked in the street, but just doing regular things, not especially posing, or being naked, but doing whatever.’

The pretty 25-year-old said she was not sure if she herself could go through with it but was intrigued by the challenge of staging the shots – which she took using a remote sensor – and stripping down to her birthday suit.

She said the general public were very accepting of her nudity and she did not have any bad experiences while doing it.

‘Most people were laughing, smiling or applauding and cheering. They seemed OK with it,’ she said. ‘The most challenging one was on the subway. I had to ride the whole way from West 14th Street to the end of the line to get the right shot.

‘The only person I told was the guy next to me as he had to hold my coat. But by the time some people even found out about it, I was clothed again.’

Miss Simone also said she has come a long way from the first shot to where she is now.

‘The first few times I was so nervous and I guess innocent about everything, and yeah it was scary a bit as well,’ she said.

‘But now I don’t care about being naked. I am more concerned about getting the shot right rather than worrying about being naked or what people in the streets are thinking.’

Voir encore:

Artist Statement

Nue York: Self-Portraits of a Bare Urban Citizen

As once an Angeleno in Paris, and now a Parisian in New York, really my mind is stuck in the stars. Photography has become a true passion and within it, a never-ending drive to try and challenge everything, even if it means getting naked in the freezing snow…

“Nue York: Self-Portraits of a Bare Urban Citizen” bloomed from an initial questioning about clothing and its importance in society today. Fashion and what we wear act as a language: they allow us to silently portray who we are or want to be, offering society an impression on us – whatever that may be. Fashion also tends to segregate and place us into various social categories as well as communicate a certain mood or particular feeling. This tool is quite precious to civil society and as most people, I organically use clothing as a way of portraying my own image. However, in a city like New York, the fashion industry has a massive impact: people tend to be very concerned with appearance and the materialistic side of it, which became very real while I was photographing Fashion Week a few years back.

As I watched an image-absorbed union of people care more about the sales at Barney’s than the homeless people they step over on the street, I began to ponder: “What would the world feel like naked? What if we didn’t have clothing to portray who we want to be or feel as individuals? What if we couldn’t show off our social status to deserve the treatment we wanted from others? What if all we had were our bodies?” These questions raised many various issues and these issues raised many various questions.

From there, my photographic project was born. With a tripod and a couple ounces of adrenaline, I took to the streets bare to see what a typical New York day would be like. At first, I wasn’t so sure what was going to happen or what was going to come of it all, but as the collection progressed, more and more issues became aware to me. For example: “Why can we be arrested for being naked in the street, when as human beings, we are born naked?” I can understand that it would be socially unacceptable or morally discouraged, but for it to be in some cases prohibited by law…? This all seemed quite bizarre and really more so a violation of human rights.

Another question that arose was that of sexuality. “Is nudity inherently sexual or is nudity just a part of being human? Why does society typically equate nudity to sex? And how does the variety of body types come into equation when asking that question?” Each person’s answer is different.

To clarify, I’m not an exhibitionist or a nudist – I’m an artist looking to humorously poke at some interesting thoughts about society and question who we are and portray as human beings. It’s now up to the viewer to answer those questions, as he/she likes.

From Houston to Hudson and from Bowery to the Bronx, photographing Manhattan has never been such a rush….


Filières du Vatican: Attention des Monuments men peuvent en cacher d’autres (Ratlines: Looking back at the other Monuments men)

19 mars, 2014

http://berlinfilmjournal.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/02/The-Monuments-Men.jpg

http://www.concordatwatch.eu/Users/X890/X890_727_CWPavelicwithFranciscans.jpghttp://www.angelismarriti.it/images/ratlines-byLoftusAarons.jpghttp://fallschirmjager.net/books/TheRealOdessa.jpghttp://images.indiebound.com/994/181/9780312181994.jpghttp://static.lexpress.fr/assets/359/poster_183999.jpgRien actuellement n’empêche plus la voix du pape de se faire entendre. Il me semble que les horreurs sans nom et sans précédent dans l’Histoire commises par l’Allemagne nazie auraient mérité une protestation solennelle du vicaire du Christ. Il semble qu’une cérémonie expiatoire quelconque, se renouvelant chaque année, aurait été une satisfaction donnée à la conscience publique… Nous avons eu beau prêter l’oreille, nous n’avons entendu que de faibles et vagues gémissements. (…) C’est ce sang dans l’affreux silence du Vatican qui étouffe tous les chrétiens. La voix d’Abel ne finira-t-elle pas par se faire entendre ? Paul Claudel (lettre à Jacques Maritain, ambassadeur de France auprès du Saint-Siège, 13 décembre 1945)
C’est de ce long, troublant et douloureux silence qu’il est devenu urgent de parler. Non pour l’interpréter à la seule lueur de la polémique antichrétienne. Non pour en conclure qu’il était d’approbation ou de complicité tacite : tout prouve exactement le contraire. Comme il est devenu d’usage, on soupçonne le pape actuel des pires intentions – sans jamais préciser lesquelles – lorsqu’il franchit une étape dans le lent processus qui pourrait mener à la béatification de Pie XII. On lui refuse le crédit d’une pensée et d’une action qui s’élèvent au-dessus des calculs et se tiennent sans coup férir dans leur sphère propre : religieuse, spirituelle. Les si fortes paroles de Claudel et de Maritain ne nous engagent pas sur la voie d’un procès d’intention dont l’acte d’accusation serait écrit d’avance. En revanche, elles jugent et condamnent sans aucune ambiguïté, avec une force qui dépasse toute polémique, le silence coupable – et non pas la culpabilité silencieuse – de Pie XII. Ce faisant, elles interrogent en toute conscience la réelle héroïcité des vertus du pontife. Le péché par omission est le dernier que le fidèle catholique avoue dans l’acte de contrition. Il n’est pas le moindre. Tout ce que j’aurais pu faire et dire, que je n’ai pas fait, pas dit, remettant à plus tard, à jamais, le bien qu’il m’est commandé d’aimer et de servir. De ne pas trahir. Omettre le bien, se soustraire à ce service, ouvre donc l’espace immense et sombre d’un manquement majeur. Un espace qui ne peut pas être occulté par des motifs contingents, des excuses fallacieuses. Un espace qui n’est étranger à personne, pas même au pape. Patrick Kéchichian
Nous devons conserver une espèce de réservoir moral dans lequel nous pourrons puiser à l’avenir. Krunoslav Draganavic
À l’époque il se produisait à Nuremberg quelque chose que personnellement je considérais comme une honte et une malheureuse leçon pour le futur de l’humanité. J’acquis la certitude que le peuple argentin aussi considérait le procès de Nuremberg comme une honte, indigne des vainqueurs, qui se conduisaient comme s’ils n’avaient pas vaincu. Maintenant nous réalisons [que les Alliés] méritaient de perdre la guerre. Juan Peron
Les contacts de Pavelic sont si élevés et sa situation actuelle si compromettante pour le Vatican, que toute extradition du sujet déstabiliserait fortement l’Église catholique. Rapport des services de renseignement militaire américains (12 septembre 1947)
Le pape François joue la carte de l’ouverture. Le Point
Les travaux d’une commission d’enquête argentine ad hoc semblent montrer au contraire que les dignitaires du Vatican (au premier rang desquels le sous-secrétaire d’état Montini, futur pape Paul VI) n’ont jamais encouragé ces exfiltrations, voire ont eu l’occasion d’y manifester leur opposition. L’Église catholique aurait simplement été, comme la Croix-Rouge, tellement submergée par les flux massifs de réfugiés qu’elle n’aurait pu procéder qu’à des enquêtes sommaires, aisément contournées par les anciens dignitaires nazis. Ce défaut de vigilance aurait d’ailleurs également profité à de nombreux espions soviétiques. Wikipedia
Washington and Bonn failed to act on the information or hand it to the Israelis because they believed it did not serve their interests in the cold war struggle. In fact, the unexpected reappearance of the architect of the "final solution" in a glass box in a Jerusalem court threatened to be an embarrassment, turning global attention to all the former Nazis the Americans and Germans had recruited in the name of anti-communism. Historians say Britain and other western powers probably did the same, but they have not published the evidence. The CIA has. Under heavy congressional pressure, the agency has been persuaded to declassify 27,000 unedited pages about American dealings with former Nazis in postwar Europe. (…) It was not just a question of bureaucratic inertia. There were good reasons not to go hunting for Eichmann. In Bonn, the immediate fear was what Eichmann would say about Hans Globke, who had also worked in the Nazis’ Jewish affairs department, drafting the Nuremberg laws, designed to isolate Jews from the rest of society in the Third Reich. While Eichmann had gone on the run, Globke stayed behind and prospered. By 1960 he was Chancellor Konrad Adenauer’s national security adviser. "The West Germans were extremely concerned apparently about how the East Germans and Soviet bloc in general might make use of what Eichmann would say about Hans Globke," Mr Naftali said. It was not just a West German concern. Globke was the main point of contact between the Bonn government, the CIA and Nato. "Globke was a timebomb for Nato," Mr Naftali said. At the request of the West Germans, the CIA even managed to persuade Life magazine to delete any reference to Globke from Eichmann’s memoirs, which it had bought from the family. But it was not just Globke. When Eichmann was captured the CIA combed files it had captured from the Nazis to find information that might be useful to the Israeli prosecution. The results caused near panic among the CIA’s leadership because, unknown to the junior staff who had looked through the files, a few of Eichmann’s accomplices being investigated had been CIA "assets". An urgent memo was sent to CIA investigators urging caution and pointing out that if Moscow discovered these ex-Nazis had been working for the Americans that would make those agents "very vulnerable". Meanwhile, some of the CIA’s German agents were beginning to panic. One of them, Otto Albrecht von Bolschwing – who also had worked with Eichmann in the Jewish affairs department and was later Heinrich Himmler’s representative in Romania – frantically asked his old CIA case officer for help. After the war Bolschwing had been recruited by the Gehlen Organisation, the prototype German intelligence agency set up by the Americans under Reinhard Gehlen, who had run military intelligence on the eastern front under the Nazis. "US army intelligence accepted Reinhard Gehlen’s offer to furnish alleged expertise on the Red army – and was bilked by the many mass murderers he hired," said Robert Wolfe, a historian at the US national archives. Alongside the Gehlen Organisation, US intelligence had set up "stay-behind networks" in West Germany, who were supposed to stay put in the event of a Soviet invasion and transmit intelligence from behind enemy lines. Those networks were also riddled with ex-Nazis who had horrendous records. One of the networks, codenamed Kibitz-15, was run by a former German army officer, Lieutenant Colonel Walter Kopp, who was described by his own American handlers as an "unreconstructed Nazi". Most of the networks were dismantled in the early 1950s when it was realised what an embarrassment they might prove. (…) The new documents make clear the great irony behind the US recruitment of ex-Nazis: for all the moral compromises involved, it was a complete failure in intelligence terms. The Nazis were terrible spies. (…) "The files show time and again that these people were more trouble than they were worth," Mr Naftali said. "The unreconstructed Nazis were always out for themselves, and they were using the west’s lack of information about the Soviet Union to exploit it." The lesson would be well learned by young CIA case officers today. "Threats change rapidly, and it’s always exiles and former government elements who are the first to come running to us saying – we understand this threat. We have seen it with Iraqi exiles. No doubt we’re seeing it now with Iranian exiles. We have to be smart and we have to know who we are really dealing with." The Guardian
J’ai enquêté personnellement sur Draganovic qui m’a dit qu’il faisait rapport à Montini, a souligné Gowen. Ce dernier a rapporté qu’à un certain moment, Montini apprit, apparemment du chef de l’antenne de l’OSS à Rome, James Angleton, qui entretenait des relations avec Montini et le Vatican, sur les recherches menées par Gowen. Montini se plaignit de Gowen à ses supérieurs et l’accusa d’avoir violé l’immunité vaticane en ayant entré dans des bâtiments appartenant à l’Église, comme le collège croate, et d’y avoir enquêté. Le but de cette plainte était de gêner l’enquête. Dans son témoignage, Gowen déclara également que Draganovic aida les Oustachis à blanchir les trésors volés avec l’aide de la Banque du Vatican : cet argent fut utilisé pour supporter financièrement ses activités religieuses, mais également pour fournir des fonds en vue de l’exfiltration des chefs Oustachis au travers de la filière. Haaretz
Jonathan Levy and Tom Easton are representing elderly Serb, Jewish and Ukrainian survivors of atrocities committed by the Nazi puppet regime in Croatia, the Ustashe, in a class action lawsuit against the Vatican Bank and the monastic Franciscan Order. Wartime intelligence documents have suggested Ustashe leaders took loot, including gold, silver and jewelry seized from their victims, to the Vatican at the end of the war. There the assets were allegedly used to help finance an escape route – the "ratline" – for Nazis trying to escape Europe, according to the Simon Wiesenthal Center, which tracks Nazi war criminals. The Vatican has consistently denied the allegations, while declining to open its unpublished wartime archives despite appeals from Jewish and other groups. The Swiss National Bank, suspected of acting as a depository for stolen Ustashe loot, has also been named as a defendant in the class action lawsuit, and the lawyers are awaiting a judge’s order allowing the case against the Swiss to proceed. Levy said it was hoped the District Court in San Francisco would order the release of more than 250 documents from files dealing with one Krunoslav Draganavic, a Croatian priest who helped run the "ratline." Some files had been released as early as the 1980s, when Nazi war criminal Klaus Barbie stood trial in France. But a core of others remained withheld on "national security" grounds, he said. Levy said Draganavic was alleged to have worked at various times for the intelligence services of Croatia, the Vatican, the Soviet Union, Yugoslavia, Britain and the U.S. The lawyers said in a statement they believed "the withheld documents, most well over 40 years old are highly embarrassing to the Americans, the British, and Vatican." (…) Parallel to the counterintelligence unit, other American army intelligence units, and mainly the Office of Strategic Services (OSS, from which the CIA developed) and British intelligence were engaged in contradictory actions. They made contact with Nazis and with the Ustashe people and enlisted them in their service as agents, collaborators and informers, with the intention of forming a front against the Soviet spread into Eastern Europe and the Balkans. Haaretz

Attention: des Monuments men peuvent en cacher d’autres !

A l’heure où après l’accident industriel de l’Obamamanie, nos médias en mal de copie repartent pour un tour avec le premier anniversaire de l’entrée en fonction du nouveau parangon d’ouverture argentin du Vatican …

Et où via le film Monument men, le monde redécouvre l’ampleur du pillage nazi des trésors culturels de l’Europe  …

Qui se souvient d’un autre "sauvetage" à peu près au même moment mais autrement plus sinistre ?

Et qui s’étonne du long silence radio (bientôt 70 ans !) dudit Vatican (comme d’ailleurs des habituelles banques suisses ou des services secrets américains et britanniques – ou français dans le cas du Grand Moufti de Jérusalem et dont on se souvient de l’embarras lors de la capture d’Eichmann par les Israéliens) sur ces mystérieuses archives que l’on continue de refuser d’ouvrir aux victimes de certains des plus grands criminels de l’histoire ?

Ces Eichmann, Mengele, Barbie et autres Priebke, Heim et Pavelic à qui, via notamment certains dignitaires catholiques tels que le prêtre croate Krunoslav Draganovic ou le prêtre autrichien pro-nazi Alois Hudal et sur fond de guerre froide commençante (mais, au-delà de la désinformation soviétique, probablement à l’insu d’un Pie XII et d’un sous-secrétaire d’état Montini et futur pape Paul VI dépassés), le Vatican fournira faux papiers et soutanes …

Mais aussi caches et blanchiment pour leurs butins de guerre en vue de financer leurs réseaux d’exfiltration vers l’Amérique latine (avec en première ligne l’Argentine péroniste) et le Moyen-Orient …

Les fameuses filières dites "rat lines" en anglais ou enfléchures en français, du nom de ces échelles de cordage qui servaient aux marins – mais aussi aux rats – d’ultime refuge au moment où coulait leur navire ?

Tied up in the Rat Lines

Yossi Melman

Haaretz

Jan. 15, 2006

It is possible that within a short time a court in the United States will prohibit the publication of the account before us. In the meantime, Haaretz has obtained the testimony given last month by William Gowen, a former intelligence officer in the United States Army, at a federal court in San Francisco. The testimony contains historical and political explosives. It links Giovanni Battista Montini, who later became Pope Paul VI, to the theft of property of Jewish, Serb, Russian, Ukrainian and Roma victims during World War II in Yugoslavia. Many studies and stories have already been written about the thundering silence of Pope Pius XII, who reigned in the Vatican during World War II. Now the former intelligence officer’s testimony has revealed that after the war, Montini, who during the war served as the Vatican’s deputy secretary of state under the pope, helped hide and launder property that had been stolen from, among others, Jews and was involved in the sheltering and smuggling of Croatian war criminals, such as the leader of the Ustashe movement, Ante Pavelic.

The smuggling and hiding of Croatian war criminals was part of the extensive network known as the Rat Lines. Senior officials at the Vatican were involved in hiding and smuggling Nazi war criminals and their collaborators so they would not be arrested and tried. Hundreds of war criminals were provided with church and Red Cross papers that enabled them to hide in safe houses and then flee from Europe, mainly to the Middle East and South America. Among them were Klaus Barbie ("the butcher of Lyon"), Adolf Eichmann, Dr. Josef Mengele and Franz Stengel, the commander of the Treblinka death camp.

The Vatican network was also used by leaders of the Ustashe – the nationalist Croatian Catholic movement that was active in Croatia and collaborated with the Nazi occupation. "The Reverend Dr. Prof. Krunoslav Draganovic seemed to be in cooperation with the Ustasha network. And he was given a Vatican assignment as the apostolic visitator for Croatians, which meant he reported directly to Monsignor Giovanni Battista Montini," states an American document based on a report from the Italian police; the document was recently placed in evidence at the court in San Francisco where Gowen testified.

The leaders of the Ustashe headed by Pavelic are the ones who stole the victims’ property: art and jewelry – silver and mostly gold. After the war they fled with the treasure and laundered it with the help of Vatican institutions. According to Gowen’s testimony, Montini, who in 1964 became the first pope to visit the State of Israel, was also involved in the Vatican’s help in laundering the wealth.

Still terrified

In 1999 a suit was filed at a court in San Franciso against the Vatican Bank (Institute for Religious Works) and against the Franciscan order, the Croatian Liberation Movement (the Ustashe), the National Bank of Switzerland and others. The suit was filed by Jewish, Ukrainian, Serb and Roma survivors, as well as relatives of victims and various organizations that together represent 300,000 World War II victims. The plaintiffs demanded accounting and restitution.

One of the lawyers representing the plaintiffs is Jonathan Levy. "Many of the plaintiffs have been reluctant to be pictured, after all these years," says Levy. "Many are still terrified of the Ustashe, the Serbs particularly. Unlike the Nazi Party, the Ustashe still exist and have a party headquarters in Zagreb."

The Ustashe was founded in 1929 as a Croatian nationalist movement with a deep connection to Catholicism. From the day it was founded the movement made its aim the establishment of an independent Croatian state and declared to fight the monarchy in Yugoslavia. The movement was banned and its founders, Pavelic and Gustav Percec (who was later murdered at Pavelic’s orders) were condemned to death in their absence. The Ustashe was linked to the assassination of Yugoslav King Alexander and French foreign minister Louis Barthou in Marseilles in 1934.

Upon the occupation of Yugoslavia, the German Nazis and the Italian Fascists formed an "independent" state in Croatia, which was basically a Nazi puppet state. Pavelic was appointed poglovnik, the leader of the country. He hastened to meet with Hitler and allied himself with the Fuehrer. When Hitler invaded the Soviet Union, Pavelic sent Ustashe units to fight alongside the Nazis and then joined the declaration of war against the United States. Ustashe leaders declared they would slaughter a third of the Serb population in Croatia, deport a third and convert the remaining third from Orthodoxy to Roman Catholicism. Anyone who refused to convert was murdered.

Immediately upon the establishment of its puppet government, the Ustashe set up militias and gangs that slaughtered Serbs, Jews, Romas and their political foes. Catholic priests, some of them Franciscans, also participated in the acts of slaughter. The cruelty of the Ustashe was so great that even the commander of the German army in Yugoslavia complained.

Himmler of the Balkans

Under the leadership of Pavelic’s right-hand man Andrija Artukovic, who earned the nickname "the Himmler of the Balkans," the Ustashe set up concentration camps, most notably at Jasenovac. According to various estimates, about 100,000 people were murdered at the camp, among them tens of thousands of Jews (it is interesting to note that some of the heads of the Ustashe were married to Jewish women). Throughout Croatia about 700,000 people were murdered. The partisans, led by the Croat Communist Josip Broz Tito, and the Chetniks – Nationalist Serb royalists – fought the Ustashe.

After the war, Pavelic and other Ustashe heads fled to Austria and, with the help of the British intelligence and their friends in the Vatican, found refuge in Italy. They hid in Vatican monasteries and were provided with false documents that gave them a new identity. Secret documents that were disclosed at the court in San Francisco show that at the end of the war, British intelligence took Pavelic under its wing and allowed him and a convoy of 10 trucks that carried the stolen treasure to travel to the British occupation zone in Austria. The British did this with the intention of using him as a counterweight to the Communist takeover in Yugoslavia.

The Ustashe brought the treasure convoy to Rome, where they put it into the hands of the Croatian ambassador to the Vatican, Rev. Krunoslav Draganovic. Draganovic also saw to hiding Pavelic and his aides in Vatican institutions and safe houses in Rome. American military intelligence located Pavelic’s hiding place. But according to a secret document Gowen wrote in July 1947, that was submitted to the court, Gowen’s unit received the instruction: "Hands off" Pavelic.

This was an order from the American Embassy, stressed Gowen in his testimony. It is also stated in the document, which is classified as top secret, that Pavelic, via his contacts with Draganovic, was receiving Vatican protection. From Italy, Pavelic was smuggled on the Rat Lines to Argentina, where he served as a security adviser to president Juan Peron (Peron granted entry visas to 34,000 Croats, many of them associated with the Ustashe and Nazi supporters).

In 1957 there was an attempt to assassinate him, in which he was wounded. The operation was attributed to Tito’s Yugoslav intelligence, although the possibility that this was an attempt at revenge by a Chetnik activist was not dismissed. Pavelic had to leave Argentina and found refuge with the Spanish dictator Franco. Two years later, in 1959, he died as a result of complications caused by the wound. The Ustashe has continued to exist over the years and until the 1980s its operatives were involved in acts of terror against diplomats and other Yugoslav targets abroad.

Montini complains

The suit filed at the court in San Francisco is based on earlier investigations and reports from American government agencies, the Simon Wiesenthal Center and committees of historians who researched the matter of the Jewish property in Swiss banks. The case was preceded by successful legal battles by attorney Levy and his colleagues against the CIA and the American Army to obtain secret documents. The defendants, on their part, led by the Vatican Bank and the Franciscan order and others, deny the charges against them and made every effort to have the charges dismissed. So far, the court has rejected these efforts outright and determined that the deliberations would continue. But the defendants are tenacious and now they are demanding that publication of Gowen’s testimony be prohibited.

After the end of the war Gowen served as a special agent, meaning an investigations officer in the Rome detachment of American counter-intelligence. This unit’s role was to track down, among others, Italian Fascists, Nazi war criminals and their collaborators, including the Ustashe leaders (Gowen said another mission included, at the request of British intelligence, surveillance of Irgun and Lehi activists). The code name for the unit’s actions was "Operation Circle."

Parallel to the counterintelligence unit, other American army intelligence units, and mainly the Office of Strategic Services (OSS, from which the CIA developed) and British intelligence were engaged in contradictory actions. They made contact with Nazis and with the Ustashe people and enlisted them in their service as agents, collaborators and informers, with the intention of forming a front against the Soviet spread into Eastern Europe and the Balkans. "To try and find Pavelic you had to discover how the Ustashe network in Italy was constituted, how it operated, what were its bases," testified Gowen.

A key person in the Pontifical Croatian college was Rev. Draganovic, the Croatian ambassador to the Vatican. Draganovic and the college issued false papers to Croatian war criminals, among them Pavelic and Artukovic. "I personally investigated Draganovic – who told me he was reporting to Montini," emphasized Gowen.

Gowen related that at a certain stage Montini learned, apparently from the head of the OSS unit in Rome, James Angleton, who nurtured relations with Montini and the Vatican, of the investigation Gowen’s unit was conducting. Montini complained about Gowen to his superiors and accused him of having violated the Vatican’s immunity by having entered church buildings, such as the Croatian college, and conducting searches there. The aim of the complaint was to interfere with the investigation.

In his testimony, Gowen also stated that Draganovic helped the Ustashe launder the stolen treasure with the help of the Vatican Bank: This money was used to fund its religious activities, but also to fund the escape of Ustashe leaders on the Rat Line.

Voir aussi:

Nazi-Era Victims Demand Army, CIA Release Documents on Vatican

Patrick Goodenough

CNS news

July 7, 2008

(CNSNews.com) – Two California attorneys have filed a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit in a bid to have the U.S. Army and CIA release documents relating to alleged Vatican collaboration with Nazi-allied fascists in the wartime Balkans.

The Army’s decision earlier this year to withhold more than 250 documents, some at the request of the CIA, was in violation of the Nazi War Crimes Disclosure Act, the lawyers contended in their complaint.

Jonathan Levy and Tom Easton are representing elderly Serb, Jewish and Ukrainian survivors of atrocities committed by the Nazi puppet regime in Croatia, the Ustashe, in a class action lawsuit against the Vatican Bank and the monastic Franciscan Order.

Wartime intelligence documents have suggested Ustashe leaders took loot, including gold, silver and jewelry seized from their victims, to the Vatican at the end of the war.

There the assets were allegedly used to help finance an escape route – the "ratline" – for Nazis trying to escape Europe, according to the Simon Wiesenthal Center, which tracks Nazi war criminals.

The Vatican has consistently denied the allegations, while declining to open its unpublished wartime archives despite appeals from Jewish and other groups.

The Swiss National Bank, suspected of acting as a depository for stolen Ustashe loot, has also been named as a defendant in the class action lawsuit, and the lawyers are awaiting a judge’s order allowing the case against the Swiss to proceed.

Levy said it was hoped the District Court in San Francisco would order the release of more than 250 documents from files dealing with one Krunoslav Draganavic, a Croatian priest who helped run the "ratline."

Some files had been released as early as the 1980s, when Nazi war criminal Klaus Barbie stood trial in France. But a core of others remained withheld on "national security" grounds, he said.

Levy said Draganavic was alleged to have worked at various times for the intelligence services of Croatia, the Vatican, the Soviet Union, Yugoslavia, Britain and the U.S.

The lawyers said in a statement they believed "the withheld documents, most well over 40 years old are highly embarrassing to the Americans, the British, and Vatican."

Among those Holocaust researchers say escaped via the "ratline" between 1945 and the late 1950s was Ustashe leader Ante Pavelic, who made his way to Latin America using papers allegedly provided by the Vatican, and disguised as a priest.

Barbie, known as "the butcher of Lyon," was another reported beneficiary of the "ratline," escaping to Bolivia. It has long been alleged the U.S. used him as an anti-communist agent after the war. A 1983 Justice Department investigation concluded that the U.S. had no relationship with Barbie since he left Europe in 1951.

Barbie was eventually deported to France in 1983, jailed for life several years later for crimes against humanity, and died in prison in 1991.

Another suspected user of the "ratline" was Adolf Eichmann, one of the architects of Hitler’s "final solution." He was abducted from Argentina by Mossad agents in 1960, convicted at the end of a marathon trial in Israel, and hanged in 1962.

Between 700,000 and 900,000 people died at the hands of the Ustashe regime, which also participated in the systematic Nazi looting of occupied Ukraine.

Voir également:

Why Israel’s capture of Eichmann caused panic at the CIA

Information that could have led to Nazi war criminal was kept under wraps

Julian Borger in Washington

The Guardian

8 June 2006

On May 23 1960, when Israeli prime minister David Ben-Gurion announced to the Knesset that "Adolf Eichmann, one of the greatest Nazi war criminals, is in Israeli custody", US and West German intelligence services reacted to the stunning news not with joy but alarm.

Newly declassified CIA documents show the Americans and the German BND knew Eichmann was hiding in Argentina at least two years before Israeli agents snatched him from the streets of Buenos Aires on his way back from work. They knew how long he had been in the country and had a rough idea of the alias the Nazi fugitive was using there, Klement.

Even though German intelligence had misspelled it as Clemens, it was a crucial clue. The Mossad effort to track Eichmann had been suspended at the time because it had failed to discover his pseudonym. They were ultimately tipped off by a German official disgusted at his government’s failure to bring the war criminal to justice.

Embarrassment

Washington and Bonn failed to act on the information or hand it to the Israelis because they believed it did not serve their interests in the cold war struggle. In fact, the unexpected reappearance of the architect of the "final solution" in a glass box in a Jerusalem court threatened to be an embarrassment, turning global attention to all the former Nazis the Americans and Germans had recruited in the name of anti-communism.

Historians say Britain and other western powers probably did the same, but they have not published the evidence. The CIA has. Under heavy congressional pressure, the agency has been persuaded to declassify 27,000 unedited pages about American dealings with former Nazis in postwar Europe.

One of the most startling of those documents is a CIA memo dated March 19 1958, from the station chief in Munich to headquarters, noting that German intelligence (codenamed Upswing) had that month passed on a list of high-ranking former Nazis and their whereabouts. Eichmann was third on the list. The memo passed on a rumour that he was in Jerusalem "despite the fact that he was responsible for mass extermination of Jews", but also states, matter-of-factly: "He is reported to have lived in Argentina under the alias Clemens since 1952."

There is no record of a follow-up in the CIA to this tip-off. The reason was, according to Timothy Naftali, a US historian who has reviewed the freshly-declassified archive, it was no longer the CIA’s job to hunt down Nazis. "It just wasn’t US policy to go looking for war criminals. It wasn’t British policy either for that matter. It was left to the West Germans … and this is further evidence of the low priority the Germans gave to hunting down war criminals."

It was not just a question of bureaucratic inertia. There were good reasons not to go hunting for Eichmann. In Bonn, the immediate fear was what Eichmann would say about Hans Globke, who had also worked in the Nazis’ Jewish affairs department, drafting the Nuremberg laws, designed to isolate Jews from the rest of society in the Third Reich. While Eichmann had gone on the run, Globke stayed behind and prospered. By 1960 he was Chancellor Konrad Adenauer’s national security adviser.

"The West Germans were extremely concerned apparently about how the East Germans and Soviet bloc in general might make use of what Eichmann would say about Hans Globke," Mr Naftali said.

It was not just a West German concern. Globke was the main point of contact between the Bonn government, the CIA and Nato. "Globke was a timebomb for Nato," Mr Naftali said. At the request of the West Germans, the CIA even managed to persuade Life magazine to delete any reference to Globke from Eichmann’s memoirs, which it had bought from the family.

But it was not just Globke. When Eichmann was captured the CIA combed files it had captured from the Nazis to find information that might be useful to the Israeli prosecution. The results caused near panic among the CIA’s leadership because, unknown to the junior staff who had looked through the files, a few of Eichmann’s accomplices being investigated had been CIA "assets".

An urgent memo was sent to CIA investigators urging caution and pointing out that if Moscow discovered these ex-Nazis had been working for the Americans that would make those agents "very vulnerable".

Meanwhile, some of the CIA’s German agents were beginning to panic. One of them, Otto Albrecht von Bolschwing – who also had worked with Eichmann in the Jewish affairs department and was later Heinrich Himmler’s representative in Romania – frantically asked his old CIA case officer for help.

After the war Bolschwing had been recruited by the Gehlen Organisation, the prototype German intelligence agency set up by the Americans under Reinhard Gehlen, who had run military intelligence on the eastern front under the Nazis. "US army intelligence accepted Reinhard Gehlen’s offer to furnish alleged expertise on the Red army – and was bilked by the many mass murderers he hired," said Robert Wolfe, a historian at the US national archives.

‘Unreconstructed’

Alongside the Gehlen Organisation, US intelligence had set up "stay-behind networks" in West Germany, who were supposed to stay put in the event of a Soviet invasion and transmit intelligence from behind enemy lines. Those networks were also riddled with ex-Nazis who had horrendous records.

One of the networks, codenamed Kibitz-15, was run by a former German army officer, Lieutenant Colonel Walter Kopp, who was described by his own American handlers as an "unreconstructed Nazi".

Most of the networks were dismantled in the early 1950s when it was realised what an embarrassment they might prove.

"The present furore in western Germany over the resurgence of the Nazi or neo-Nazi groups is a fair example – in miniature – of what we would be faced with," CIA headquarters wrote in an April 1953 memo.The new documents make clear the great irony behind the US recruitment of ex-Nazis: for all the moral compromises involved, it was a complete failure in intelligence terms. The Nazis were terrible spies.

"Subject is immature and has a personality not suited to clandestine activities," the CIA file on one of the stay-behind agents said sniffily. "His main faults are his lack of regard for money and his attraction to members of the opposite sex."

Those were the least of their flaws as would-be anti-communist agents. They had not risen in the Nazi ranks because of their respect for facts. They were ideologues with a keen sense of self-preservation.

"The files show time and again that these people were more trouble than they were worth," Mr Naftali said. "The unreconstructed Nazis were always out for themselves, and they were using the west’s lack of information about the Soviet Union to exploit it."

The lesson would be well learned by young CIA case officers today.

"Threats change rapidly, and it’s always exiles and former government elements who are the first to come running to us saying – we understand this threat. We have seen it with Iraqi exiles. No doubt we’re seeing it now with Iranian exiles. We have to be smart and we have to know who we are really dealing with."

Protected Nazis

Adolf Eichmann The SS colonel who organised the final solution was so enthusiastic about his work that he carried on even after Heinrich Himmler had called a halt. He was captured by US troops but escaped to Argentina. Israeli agents tracked him down in 1960 and he was hanged in 1962.

Hans Globke A Nazi functionary working with Eichmann in the Jewish Affairs department who helped draft the laws stripping Jews of rights. After the war he rose to become one of the most powerful figures in the government. As national security advisor to Chancellor Konrad Adenauer, he was the main liaison with the CIA and Nato.

Reinhard Gehlen A major general in the Wehrmacht who was head of intelligence-gathering on the eastern front. He sold his supposed inside knowledge of the Soviet Union to the Americans who made him head of West German intelligence, an organisation he led until 1968.

Voir encore:

Le long péché par omission de Pie XII

Patrick Kéchichian

Le Monde

29.12.2009

A propos de l’attitude de Pie XII durant la guerre, face à la Shoah qui avait lieu presque sous ses yeux (et ceux des puissances alliées) au coeur de la Vieille Europe chrétienne, les historiens s’affrontent. Tous les documents ne sont pas encore accessibles. Il est urgent qu’ils le deviennent. Ce à quoi le Saint-Siège ne s’oppose pas, que l’on sache, invoquant simplement la nécessité d’un "délai technique" pour "le classement et la mise en ordre d’une masse énorme de documents", selon les déclarations de Federico Lombardi, directeur de la salle de presse du Vatican, le 23 décembre. Il semblerait naturel et intellectuellement digne que le procès de canonisation n’aille pas plus vite que le complet dévoilement des archives.

La très diplomatique prudence de Pie XII permit-elle de sauver plus de juifs que ne l’auraient fait des interventions directes ? Les témoignages ne manquent pas, y compris du côté juif, qui attestent de gestes multiples et ponctuels. Par ailleurs, une chose est sûre : aucune complaisance idéologique avec le paganisme nazi ne peut être imputée au Saint-Père. Rappelons simplement, parmi d’autres paroles, son message de Noël 1942 évoquant les "centaines de milliers de personnes, qui, sans aucune faute de leur part, et parfois uniquement pour des raisons de nationalité ou de race, sont destinées à la mort ou à une extinction progressive".

De même, six mois plus tard, devant le collège des cardinaux, il parle des "supplications anxieuses de tous ceux qui, à cause de leur nationalité ou de leur race, sont parfois livrés, même sans faute de leur part, à des mesures d’extermination". Mais il ajoute (nous sommes donc en juin 1943) : "Toute parole de notre part, toute allusion publique devrait être sérieusement pesée et mesurée, dans l’intérêt même de ceux qui souffrent, pour ne pas rendre leur situation encore plus grave et insupportable." Ce propos qui sonne si mal à notre oreille introduit directement à l’autre aspect de la question.

Pour y répondre, je laisserai la parole à un homme peu soupçonnable de la moindre inimitié à l’égard de la papauté ou d’esprit de querelle face aux faits et gestes du magistère romain. Paul Claudel, le 13 décembre 1945, écrivit à Jacques Maritain, alors ambassadeur de France auprès du Saint-Siège – ce document et ses commentaires furent publié par les Cahiers Jacques Maritain, n° 52, 2006. "Je pense souvent à vous et à la mission si importante et si difficile que vous remplissez auprès de Sa Sainteté. Rien actuellement n’empêche plus la voix du pape de se faire entendre. Il me semble que les horreurs sans nom et sans précédent dans l’Histoire commises par l’Allemagne nazie auraient mérité une protestation solennelle du vicaire du Christ. Il semble qu’une cérémonie expiatoire quelconque, se renouvelant chaque année, aurait été une satisfaction donnée à la conscience publique… Nous avons eu beau prêter l’oreille, nous n’avons entendu que de faibles et vagues gémissements."

Puis, faisant référence à l’Apocalypse, il parle du sang des "6 millions (de juifs) massacrés" et conclut par ces mots : "C’est ce sang dans l’affreux silence du Vatican qui étouffe tous les chrétiens. La voix d’Abel ne finira-t-elle pas par se faire entendre ?" Peut-on imaginer plus claire prise de position ?

Jacques Maritain, dont la réflexion sur l’antisémitisme s’est approfondie au cours des années 1930, était lui-même intervenu, dès 1942, pour obtenir de Pie XII une encyclique "qui délivrerait beaucoup d’âmes angoissées et scandalisées". Il avait même proposé, la même année, de faire du Yom Kippour un jour de prière pour les chrétiens en faveur des juifs persécutés. L’on sait que toutes ces démarches restèrent lettre morte.

C’est de ce long, troublant et douloureux silence qu’il est devenu urgent de parler. Non pour l’interpréter à la seule lueur de la polémique antichrétienne. Non pour en conclure qu’il était d’approbation ou de complicité tacite : tout prouve exactement le contraire.

Comme il est devenu d’usage, on soupçonne le pape actuel des pires intentions – sans jamais préciser lesquelles – lorsqu’il franchit une étape dans le lent processus qui pourrait mener à la béatification de Pie XII. On lui refuse le crédit d’une pensée et d’une action qui s’élèvent au-dessus des calculs et se tiennent sans coup férir dans leur sphère propre : religieuse, spirituelle.

Les si fortes paroles de Claudel et de Maritain ne nous engagent pas sur la voie d’un procès d’intention dont l’acte d’accusation serait écrit d’avance. En revanche, elles jugent et condamnent sans aucune ambiguïté, avec une force qui dépasse toute polémique, le silence coupable – et non pas la culpabilité silencieuse – de Pie XII. Ce faisant, elles interrogent en toute conscience la réelle héroïcité des vertus du pontife.

Le péché par omission est le dernier que le fidèle catholique avoue dans l’acte de contrition. Il n’est pas le moindre. Tout ce que j’aurais pu faire et dire, que je n’ai pas fait, pas dit, remettant à plus tard, à jamais, le bien qu’il m’est commandé d’aimer et de servir. De ne pas trahir. Omettre le bien, se soustraire à ce service, ouvre donc l’espace immense et sombre d’un manquement majeur. Un espace qui ne peut pas être occulté par des motifs contingents, des excuses fallacieuses. Un espace qui n’est étranger à personne, pas même au pape.

Patrick Kéchichian, auteur de Petit éloge du catholicisme (Gallimard, 130 p. 2 €), ancien collaborateur du Monde des livres.

L’Eglise catholique face au génocide

Marc Riglet

Lire

05/07/2012

Spécialiste des relations judéo-chrétiennes, l’auteur revoit la position de l’Eglise vis-à-vis des Juifs.

Quelle fut l’attitude de l’Eglise romaine, des années 1930 jusqu’à la fin de la Seconde Guerre mondiale, envers les Juifs persécutés ? Quelles positions de principe adopta-t-elle par rapport au fascisme en général et au national-socialisme en particulier et quelle politique fut conduite, par le Vatican, avec l’Allemagne nazie ? L’antijudaïsme chrétien s’accommoda-t-il de l’antisémitisme racialiste moderne ou bien y a-t-il eu entre l’un et l’autre solution de continuité ? Quel jugement, enfin, convient-il de porter sur la personnalité et les actions de Pie XII qui, de la nonciature à Berlin dans les années 1930 au trône de saint Pierre pendant la guerre, joua le tout premier rôle et commanda l’essentiel des réponses à ces questions ?

Dans les années 1960, la pièce de Rolf Hochhuth, Le Vicaire, qui dénonçait sans ménagement les silences du pape face aux persécutions des Juifs, avait provoqué une vive polémique. Les travaux historiques conduits depuis, les réflexions menées au sein même de l’Eglise romaine, l’aggiornamento de Vatican II revisitant et déplorant l’antijudaïsme traditionnel, et puis, surtout, les déclarations de repentance de nombreuses autorités ecclésiales semblaient avoir établi solidement le "jugement de l’Histoire". Non seulement Pie XII était bien resté silencieux face au martyre juif, mais sa position ambiguë sur l’antisémitisme rendait ce silence coupable. Or, voici que ce constat est à nouveau discuté. Menahem Macina, éminent spécialiste des relations judéo-chrétiennes, s’en émeut dans un excellent livre où la richesse de la documentation le dispute au caractère serré de l’argumentation. Et comment ne pas être sensible, avec lui, à ce qu’il peut y avoir d’indécent dans l’entreprise de "révision hagiographique de l’attitude de Pie XII envers les Juifs" ? Elle s’explique dans le projet, bien avancé, de béatifier ce pontife et culmine même, chez certains, dans la proposition de conférer à Pie XII la qualité de "Juste des Nations" dont Israël honore ceux qui, dans les épreuves, ont aidé le peuple juif.

Menahem Macina reprend toutes les pièces du dossier. Ses conclusions sont sévères mais justes. Pie XII, tout attaché à la défense de son Eglise, a manqué, vis-à-vis des Juifs, de la troisième vertu théologale : la charité. Ce serait la force de l’Eglise catholique que de le reconnaître et de s’en tenir là… une fois pour toutes.

LA CAVALE DES MAUDITS

Conan Eric

L’Express

12/08/1993

A la fin des années 40, fuyant l’épuration, des centaines de Français débarquent à Buenos Aires. Dans cette ville qui leur rappelle Paris, on n’est pas trop regardant sur leur passé. Et ils ne risquent pas d’en être extradés. Certains s’y referont une vie de notable. D’autres végéteront. Quelques-uns y sont encore. Beaucoup sont rentrés. Récit d’une débandade.

Il y a ceux qui sont restés et ceux qui sont repartis. La plupart sont restés. Souvent jusqu’à leur mort, au terme d’une seconde vie, paisible et confortable. Très loin de leur éternel sujet de discussion, de passion et de ressentiment: la France. Cette France qui les a fait fuir. Et qui les a perdus. Personne n’a tenu la chronique de cet exil silencieux: à la fin des années 40, des centaines de Français ont débarqué à Buenos Aires, redoutant la justice de la Libération, ou désireux de s’y soustraire lorsqu’elle s’était déjà prononcée.

L’exil argentin reste une tradition française. Plusieurs générations de proscrits ont échoué ici: communards, anarchistes, juifs fuyant Vichy, collaborateurs, soldats de l’OAS. Jean-Michel Boucheron, le député socialiste ripou, constitue le dernier arrivage de marque… Ce tropisme s’explique d’abord par l’absence de convention d’extradition entre la France et l’Argentine, qui rend la sérénité à beaucoup de fuyards. De plus, Buenos Aires, véritable cité européenne, rassure avec ses immenses quartiers copiés sur Paris, Madrid ou Bruxelles, et sa population comme sa gastronomie offrent un agréable échantillon des silhouettes et traditions du Vieux Continent. La vie y fut longtemps facile, et les Français, très bien accueillis. D’autant plus que la tradition locale veut que l’on n’importune jamais les migrants sur les raisons qui ont pu les pousser à faire subitement des milliers de kilomètres pour s’établir dans un pays qu’ils ne connaissent pas…

A leur arrivée, beaucoup de ces Français de l’épuration tiennent cependant à s’expliquer, en donnant une version retouchée des événements qui les ont conduits à quitter la France: ils sont résistants, mais, à cause de De Gaulle, le Parti communiste a pris le pouvoir et fait la chasse aux vrais patriotes. En danger de mort, il leur a fallu fuir… Version peu discutée dans une Argentine péroniste qui croit alors à l’imminence d’une troisième guerre mondiale… Ils viennent de Suisse, d’Italie ou d’Espagne, pays refuges où beaucoup ont attendu de connaître leur jugement par contumace avant de décider d’aller voir ailleurs. Certains débarquent à Buenos Aires avec femme et enfants, comme ces notables de province engagés tardivement dans la folie meurtrière de la Milice de 1944. Beaucoup ont dû tout abandonner. Le clivage se fait vite entre ceux qui ont de l’argent, facile à faire fructifier en Argentine, et ceux qui n’ont rien. Ces derniers, souvent, commencent par trimer comme dockers sur le port avant de trouver mieux. Mgr Barrère, évêque de Tucuman et proche de l’Action française, fut secourable pour certains. Mais, entre eux, il n’y eut jamais de réelle solidarité, sauf peut-être au sein de l’importante tribu des anciens journalistes de "Je suis partout": Charles Lesca, directeur de l’hebdomadaire, condamné à mort par contumace en mai 1947, avait la double nationalité française et argentine et une petite fortune héritée d’un père négociant dans la viande à Buenos Aires. Mais il est mort dès 1948, immédiatement après son arrivée.

Un petit groupe de nostalgiques essaya pourtant de maintenir l’ambiance de l’ex- "nouvelle Europe". Dans le quartier Belgrano, une association, la Casa Europa (la "Maison Europe"), dirigée par Radu Guenea, ancien ambassadeur de Roumanie à Madrid, leur permettait de se retrouver: Français, Allemands, Roumains, Italiens, Croates, Belges, Hongrois se réunissaient et suivaient à travers la presse étrangère les développements de la guerre froide en Europe. Ils avaient choisi pour quartier général la brasserie Adam’s, près du port, où les soirées se prolongeaient souvent fort tard, dans la gaieté et la bonne humeur. Il s’agissait alors moins de nostalgie que d’espoir: la troisième guerre mondiale leur semblait une hypothèse sensée, et son déclenchement leur aurait permis de revenir en Europe participer au combat final contre le communisme. Espoir que la plupart perdent définitivement après la fin de la crise de Corée, en 1953. Les manifestations collectives chez Adam’s deviennent moins régulières. "J’ai vite compris qu’il fallait s’en sortir tout seul, précise un ancien Waffen SS français. Continuer chez Adam’s, c’était la meilleure façon de se faire remarquer. Et, à cette époque, c’était encore dangereux."

Car, dans ces années d’après guerre, l’ambassade de France demeure active, comme le raconte un ancien membre des services spéciaux auprès de l’attaché militaire: "Nous devions repérer ceux qui arrivaient et établir des rapports sur leur identité, leur comportement et leurs activités. Selon leur ?calibre?, plusieurs devaient faire l’objet d’une élimination physique. C’était la tâche de commandos qui, sur la base de nos renseignements, agissaient de façon autonome. Certains sont même venus spécialement de France. Le travail était difficile, car il ne fallait absolument pas éveiller les soupçons des Argentins, très sourcilleux sur leur souveraineté et leur hospitalité. Beaucoup d’opérations ont ainsi échoué au dernier moment." Une dizaine de Français ont finalement été "neutralisés" sans bruit et sans éclat: morts naturelles apparentes et surtout accidents divers.

ÉPURATION SECRÈTE

Jean de Vaugelas, l’un des principaux chefs de la Milice, est l’une des plus célèbres victimes de cette épuration secrète. Cité par Laval à l’ordre de la Nation le 8 juillet 1944 ("commandant de la Franc-Garde permanente de la Milice française. Chef milicien de très grande classe"), cet aristocrate, ancien officier d’aviation monarchiste, fut un temps le responsable de l’école des cadres de la Milice à Uriage (Isère), avant de prendre la tête de l’une des unités les plus redoutées de la Franc-Garde (la Milice armée), appelée à intervenir contre les maquis les plus importants. Il dirigea ainsi les 600 miliciens accompagnant les 5 000 Allemands qui détruisirent le maquis des Glières en mars 1944. Le mois suivant, il est chargé des opérations de maintien de l’ordre qui sèmeront la terreur dans la région de Limoges. Puis dans des maquis du Massif central. Lorsque la débâcle se précise, il n’hésite pas, le 10 août 1944, à rejoindre en avion plus de 1 000 miliciens encerclés par le maquis autour de Limoges, pour en organiser l’évacuation, avant de partir avec la division Charlemagne comme chef d’état-major. Prisonnier des Soviétiques en Lituanie, il s’échappe en compagnie du chef milicien Jean Bassompierre, et, avec lui, traverse la Lituanie et l’Allemagne pour rejoindre l’Italie. Là, ils sont trahis. Bassompierre sera arrêté (puis fusillé en France), tandis que Vaugelas s’échappe à nouveau et parvient à gagner Buenos Aires en 1948 avec un passeport de la Croix-Rouge. Son périple s’arrête brusquement en 1954, à Mendoza, région viticole, où il est devenu administrateur des Caves franco-argentines: il est exécuté dans une mise en scène d’accident de voiture.

Cette vindicte cesse au cours des années 50, l’ambassade se bornant encore pendant quelques années à "suggérer" aux entreprises françaises implantées en Argentine de ne pas employer quelques compatriotes en situation irrégulière. Et le consulat, à rappeler de temps en temps à certains membres de la communauté française au lendemain de dîners mondains: "Quand vous invitez le consul, évitez les condamnés à mort!"

Que peut faire un exilé politique en Argentine? Entre ceux qui n’ont jamais pu imaginer changer d’activité et ceux qui ont réussi une reconversion radicale, les nuances sont nombreuses. D’autant plus que d’aucuns ont développé de nouvelles compétences tout en conservant leurs anciennes obsessions (1).

Parmi les premiers s’impose d’abord le célèbre Dewoitine: il a passé sa vie à construire des avions. Pour les Français, les Allemands, les Espagnols. Et les Argentins. L’un des plus grands créateurs français d’avions de l’entre-deux-guerres avec Henry Potez et Marcel Bloch (Dassault), Emile Dewoitine, fondateur des usines aéronautiques de Toulouse (2) et père du D 520 (le dernier chasseur que la France put opposer aux Messerschmitt en 1940), avait mis pendant l’Occupation ses talents au service de la firme allemande Arado, en dirigeant, à Paris, un bureau d’études de 200 employés (dont une partie venait des usines de Toulouse). A la même époque, il travailla également pour l’Espagne et le Japon. Lorsqu’il est recherché, à la Libération, pour "intelligence avec l’ennemi" et "atteinte à la sûreté extérieure de l’Etat", il se trouve depuis longtemps en Espagne. Et en Argentine quand, le 9 février 1948, la cour de justice de la Seine le condamne par contumace à vingt ans de travaux forcés, à l’indignité nationale à vie et à la confiscation de ses biens. Il n’a pas perdu de temps: dès son arrivée à Buenos Aires, en mai 1946, il s’est attelé à la construction du premier avion à réaction argentin! Le prototype du Pulqui (la Flèche) a volé le 9 août 1947: grâce à lui, l’Argentine péroniste est le cinquième pays au monde à posséder un avion à réaction. Le retentissement est énorme, y compris dans les couloirs du ministère de l’Air à Paris. Mais Dewoitine, qui a créé sa société, Dewoitine Aviacion, et fait venir de Toulouse une dizaine de spécialistes français pour passer à la phase industrielle, sera évincé par l’ingénieur allemand Kurt Tank (ancien ingénieur de la Luftwaffe, créateur du célèbre Focke-Wulf 190), qui, venu en Argentine avec une cinquantaine de techniciens allemands, mettra au point le Pulqui II. Dépité, Emile Dewoitine écrit à son ami Charles Lindbergh pour proposer ses services aux Etats-Unis. Indésirable, il se voit refuser le visa d’entrée. Il vivote en mettant au point un avion de tourisme pour les aéro-clubs argentins (El Boyero), avant de partir, en 1951, offrir ses services en Uruguay. En vain. Il revient alors en Espagne pour répondre à un appel d’offres du ministère de l’Air concernant un avion d’entraînement. Il se fait à nouveau devancer par un avionneur allemand, cette fois-ci le grand Willy Messerschmitt en personne!

RETOUR NÉGOCIÉ

Les lois d’amnistie étant votées, il peut envisager de rentrer en France et négocie son retour: cinq ans après sa condamnation, il est acquitté au cours d’un procès express – le commissaire du gouvernement abandonne l’accusation, et l’on n’entend même pas les témoins. Mais Emile Dewoitine pousse le bouchon un peu loin et agace ses protecteurs en réclamant la restitution de ses bénéfices acquis illicitement sous l’Occupation… Très vite, il offre ses services à son ancien concurrent Marcel Dassault, qui refuse de le recevoir en déclarant que "Dewoitine n’est plus dans le coup"… Il tente ensuite sa chance au Japon. Sans résultat. Vexé, il retourne en Argentine et s’installe en Patagonie pour y créer un élevage de 8 000 moutons et se livrer à son plaisir favori: la pêche. Il se retire dans les années 60 à Montreux, en Suisse, puis à Toulouse, où, à la fin des années 60, les milieux de l’aérospatiale lui accordent sa place d’ancêtre fondateur de l’aéronautique française. Il ne manque plus un Salon de l’aéronautique à Toulouse (il sera même un jour assis à dîner à la droite de Pierre Messmer, ministre des Armées… et ancien des Forces françaises libres). Il est invité à l’un des premiers vols à mach 2 du Concorde (mais refuse de participer à un vol inaugural d’Airbus, par rancune envers son responsable, Henri Ziegler, ancien ingénieur du ministère de l’Air ayant rallié la France libre…). L’année de sa mort, la promotion 1977 de l’école d’apprentissage de Toulouse porte son nom.

Même obstination professionnelle chez l’ex-conseiller d’Etat Jean-Pierre Ingrand. L’obsession du service de l’Etat l’avait conduit sous l’Occupation à administrer envers et contre tout. En exil, il n’eut qu’une passion: l’administration, et il est mort en décembre dernier président de l’Alliance française de Buenos Aires. Représentant du ministère de l’Intérieur à Paris, auprès de Fernand de Brinon, de juillet 1940 à janvier 1944, il avait, à moins de 40 ans, les 48 préfets de la zone nord sous son contrôle. Ce rôle d’intermédiaire entre le ministre de l’Intérieur et l’autorité militaire allemande (avec pouvoir de négociation politique) l’a amené à jouer un rôle essentiel, en août 1941, dans la mise en place de la Section spéciale de Paris, tribunal d’exception qui renia le principe de non-rétroactivité des lois. Prévoyant son sort, il se cache à la Libération. Dénoncé, arrêté, mis en liberté provisoire, il préfère s’échapper en Suisse avant son procès, qui a lieu en 1948 (voir L’Express du 8 août 1991). Puis en Argentine, où, grâce à un ami inspecteur des Finances, il devient administrateur de la Compagnie financière de Santa Fe, avant d’investir dans l’agriculture et la faïence. Tout en se consacrant vite au développement spectaculaire de l’Alliance française: en vingt ans, il en fait le plus beau fleuron au monde, avec plus de 30 000 élèves et une multitude de succursales dans tout le pays. Situation dont ne profitèrent guère les autres exilés: "Il était hors de question d’aller demander de l’aide à Ingrand, cette marionnette de Laval, ce suppôt de l’ordre bourgeois de Vichy!" explique un ancien de "Je suis partout". Seul rappel du passé pour l’ancien délégué de Pierre Pucheu en zone occupée: lors de la visite du général de Gaulle au cours de son grand périple en Amérique latine, en octobre 1964, Christian Margerie, ambassadeur de France en Argentine, le convoque et lui demande, "pour éviter tout incident", de ne pas participer aux cérémonies et d’aller prendre quelques jours de vacances, par exemple au Brésil… Refus de l’ancien conseiller d’Etat révoqué en 1944: il est chez lui à Buenos Aires, il est chez lui à l’Alliance française. De plus, il a connu de Gaulle à Bordeaux, en juin 1940, lorsque celui-ci était sous-secrétaire d’Etat à la Guerre dans le gouvernement Reynaud, et il est curieux des retrouvailles. Tout se passera bien, le Général se contentant de lui envoyer une apostrophe très gaullienne: "Alors, Ingrand, ça marche, l’Alliance française, à Buenos Aires?"…

L’esprit de continuité peut aller jusqu’à l’absurdité, comme chez Olier Mordrel, ancien chef du Parti national breton (PNB) allié avec les nazis: il passa une partie de ses années d’exil, au fin fond de l’Amérique du Sud, à réinventer une langue pure à partir du breton de la Renaissance pour remplacer le dialecte parlé, qu’il jugeait trop vulgaire… Architecte, cet autonomiste bretonnant présente la particularité d’avoir été condamné à mort deux fois, en mai 1940 et en 1946. En août 1939, il avait envoyé de Berlin un manifeste proclamant la neutralité de la Bretagne et appelant les Bretons à la désertion. Avant de revenir au pays avec les nazis, qui offraient, selon lui, aux "êtres supérieurs" qu’étaient le marin et le paysan bretons la chance historique d’être enfin libérés de l’ "exploitation du capitalisme juif et français". Ses illusions de parti et d’Etat bretons ne prendront que la forme sanglante, en 1943, d’une Milice régionale (la "Milice Perrot") et se termineront par l’épisode pathétique du protocole signé le… 15 février 1945, sur le lac de Constance, avec Jacques Doriot (autoproclamé chef de l’Etat français), qui le désigne comme gouverneur en exil d’une Bretagne enfin reconnue en tant qu’Etat associé à la France… Mordrel débarque à Buenos Aires en juin 1948 et rachète, à un ancien nazi, un hôtel à Cordoba. Ses études linguistiques, étendues aux langues celtiques, et quelques correspondances avec des Bretons occupent une grande partie de ses vingt-trois ans d’exil. Il part pour l’Espagne en 1969, en attendant la mesure de grâce qui lui permettra de rentrer en Bretagne en 1971. Après avoir tenté de renouer avec le mouvement régionaliste breton (qui préfère ne pas utiliser la culture phénoménale de cet encombrant ancêtre), il s’occupera un temps d’une crêperie, avant de mourir en 1985.

Quelques-uns en sont réduits à exploiter le seul atout qui reste à un exilé: sa langue. Comme Philippe Darnand, qui donna pendant longtemps des cours de français à l’Alliance française. Fils du chef de la Milice, Joseph Darnand, et lui-même ancien membre de l’Avant-garde (les jeunes de la Milice qui montaient la garde à Sigmaringen, le château sur le Danube où s’était réfugié en 1944 le gouvernement de Pétain), il s’était enfui en Italie, où il travailla comme speaker à Radio-Vatican. Après l’exécution de son père, en 1945, et sur les conseils de Jean de Vaugelas, il se rend avec sa mère en Argentine, à Tucuman, où il enseigne le français. Mal à l’aise dans le pays, il décide, à 28 ans, de passer son bac, entreprend des études et quitte l’Argentine en 1960, avec un diplôme d’ingénieur, pour aller travailler en Allemagne, à Cologne, où il trouve une place chez Hoechst grâce à un ami allemand de son père, ancien secrétaire de l’ambassade du Reich à Paris.

LE CAS LE VIGAN

La langue française fut également le gagne-pain de quelques acteurs. Maurice Rémy, membre du PPF, qui joua un rôle important dans le film de propagande "Forces occultes" et animait des sketchs politiques dans l’émission "Au rythme du temps" sur Radio-Paris, trouva du travail dans les émissions en langue française de "La Voix de l’Argentine". En compagnie d’une autre ancienne de Radio-Paris, Lola Robert. Mais le cas le plus célèbre – et le plus paradoxal – reste celui de Robert Le Vigan. Car le ténébreux interprète du "Quai des Brumes" et de "Goupi Mains rouges", recyclé dans les émissions de propagande de Radio-Paris et auteur d’un délire antisémite digne de Céline (dont il était l’ami et qu’il accompagnera à Sigmaringen), n’a pas fui l’épuration: il ne s’est exilé qu’après avoir été condamné, en 1946, à dix ans de travaux forcés. Libéré en 1949, et se heurtant au boycottage du cinéma français, il part tenter sa chance en Espagne, puis en Angleterre. En vain. En Argentine, deux essais tourneront court, et il doit vite se contenter de donner des cours de français et de diction, à Tandil, à quelques centaines de kilomètres de Buenos Aires, où il traîne péniblement sa silhouette, avec sa cape et son épée, ruminant sa hantise de la victoire prochaine du communisme. Confronté à de coûteux problèmes de santé, il survivra difficilement jusqu’à sa mort, en 1972, grâce à l’aide financière de quelques bienfaiteurs parisiens: Pierre Fresnay, Madeleine Renaud, Jean-Louis Barrault, Maurice Ronet, Fernand Ledoux et Arletty (qui lui rendit visite en 1966).

Les véritables reconversions sont plus ou moins spectaculaires. Beaucoup d’anciens responsables de la Milice ont simplement troqué un statut de notable de province en France contre celui de notable de la Pampa. C’est le cas de X., ancien ingénieur de Centrale, industriel, responsable de la Milice dans le Sud-Ouest, qui réussit à organiser la fuite de la Milice de Toulouse par la vallée du Rhône en août 1944, avant de diriger le bataillon des 500 derniers "soldats" de l’Etat français à Sigmaringen. Arrivé en Argentine via l’Italie, il rentra en France dans les années 60. Ou du Dr Y., ancien chef de la Milice de Limoges, mêlé au pillage et au massacre de Magnac-Laval (Haute-Vienne) le 8 juillet 1944, mais surtout célèbre grâce à sa femme, milicienne exubérante et surexcitée, qui participait aux opérations sanglantes des francs-gardes et aimait à répéter publiquement qu’il lui fallait un "sac à main en peau de maquisard".

Parmi les reconversions plus originales, celle d’Henri Queyrat mérite d’être citée. Délégué du PPF de Jacques Doriot pour toute l’Afrique du Nord, il retourne clandestinement en Tunisie après le débarquement des Alliés, en novembre 1942, pour former, en 1943, un réseau d’espionnage allemand. Nommé ensuite secrétaire fédéral du PPF de la Seine, il crée, en mars 1944, les "Groupes d’action du PPF", formés par les Allemands à Taverny (Val-d’Oise), spécialistes de la chasse aux résistants, aux réfractaires au STO, aux juifs, et réputés pour leurs chantages et leurs pillages. Engagé dans la Waffen SS en mai 1944, il sera condamné à mort par contumace. En Argentine, il effectue divers travaux pour les éditions Larousse, rédige le journal de la Chambre de commerce franco-argentine et travaille plusieurs années comme journaliste à l’AFP (où il sera remplacé par Jean Dumazeau, un ancien milicien du Nord), avant de se consacrer à sa nouvelle passion: l’oenologie. Devenu l’un des meilleurs spécialistes des vins argentins, il sera, jusqu’à sa mort, récente, le conseiller très écouté de plusieurs caves de Mendoza (qui sont encore loin d’atteindre la qualité de la production chilienne). Et l’auteur, chez Hachette, de très bons livres de référence sur les vins (et les fromages) argentins.

La confrérie tumultueuse des anciens de "L’Action française", de "Je suis partout" ou du "Cri du peuple" (le quotidien du PPF de Doriot) arriva en force à la fin des années 40. Il y avait notamment là Pierre Daye, ancien grand reporter du "Soir" de Bruxelles et correspondant belge de "Je suis partout" depuis 1932, tout en étant député et président du groupe rexiste au Parlement de Bruxelles. Condamné à mort en 1946, il fut professeur de littérature française à l’université de La Plata, avant de mourir en 1960.

Georges Guilbaud, ancien marxiste ayant intégré le PPF, dont il devint le responsable en Tunisie, dirigeait le quotidien "Tunis-Journal", organe du collaborationnisme en Tunisie. Venu en France après le débarquement allié de 1942, il est chargé par Pierre Laval d’organiser la Milice en zone nord. Il tentera d’en faire un organe unique, en essayant en vain d’y faire fusionner toutes les organisations collaborationnistes. Au début très actif, à Buenos Aires, au sein du groupe des nostalgiques de la brasserie Adam’s, il se lança, au milieu des années 50, dans les activités financières, où il excellait, en travaillant avec la maison de change Piano. Gagnant beaucoup d’argent, il devint administrateur d’un célèbre palace de Buenos Aires, avant de partir, dans les années 60, exercer ses talents financiers en Suisse.

Contrairement aux Flamands et aux Allemands, rares furent les Français qui se passionnèrent pour la politique locale. Mais il y eut quelques exceptions sérieuses. Comme W., ancien militant de l’Action française rallié au PPF et journaliste hyperactif (chroniqueur à "Je suis partout", au "Cri du peuple" et l’un des chroniqueurs du "Radio-Journal" de Radio-Paris). Violemment antivichyste (il sera interné trois mois sur ordre de Laval, avant d’être libéré sur pression allemande), il termine la guerre en s’enrôlant dans la brigade SS Wallonie, dont la croisade s’arrête en 1945 devant Cracovie. Parvenu en Suisse, il y attend de connaître sa condamnation par contumace à perpétuité, en 1948, et part pour Buenos Aires, où il débarque avec 50 francs en poche. Il se plonge alors dans les subtilités du péronisme et fait la connaissance de Victor Paz Estenssoro, chef du Mouvement national révolutionnaire (MNR), parti de la gauche nationaliste bolivienne en exil à Buenos Aires, dont il devient un actif conseiller politique. Lorsque Victor Paz Estenssoro conquiert la présidence de la République de Bolivie, en 1952, W. le suit au palais Quemado, où il occupe pendant trois ans les fonctions de conseiller officiel, avant que sa femme, qui supporte mal La Paz, le contraigne à revenir à Buenos Aires. Il entame alors une carrière alimentaire de publicitaire, tout en restant passionné par la politique argentine. Dans les années 70, il participe à "Segunda Repùblica", revue de Marcello Sorrendo, vieux nationaliste maurrassien et l’un des pères spirituels des Montoneros, péronistes dissidents d’extrême gauche passés à la guérilla.

Même passion politique chez Jacques de Mahieu, professeur de philosophie, ancien de l’Action française, où il fut le théoricien du maurrassisme social et du corporatisme. Ayant terminé la guerre dans les rangs de la division Charlemagne, il arrive en 1946 avec sa famille à Buenos Aires. Devenu professeur polyvalent (économie, français, ethnographie) à l’université de Cuyo et directeur de l’Institut d’études et de recherche du marché, il publie de nombreux ouvrages sur le syndicalisme, les problèmes sociaux et le corporatisme. Il eut son heure de gloire pendant la période des gouvernements militaires à partir de 1966, quand il devint le maître à penser sur les questions sociale et syndicale auprès des jeunes profs de droit et de sciences politiques proches des militaires. Il est resté très lié avec un autre intellectuel, William Gueydan de Roussel, philosophe germaniste engagé dans la lutte contre la maçonnerie, cofondateur du Cercle aryen de Paris, avec Paul Chack, et président du Cercle d’études judéo-maçonniques, dont le principal objectif était de prouver l’origine juive de la maçonnerie. Etabli à El Bolson, Gueydan de Roussel mit son érudition bibliographique au service de la Bibliothèque nationale de Buenos Aires.

LES VIKINGS, DIEUX INCAS

Mais Jacques de Mahieu est également connu en France comme auteur à succès de la collection Les énigmes de l’Univers, chez Robert Laffont. Dans "L’Agonie du dieu Soleil", publié en 1974, il prétend révéler que l’Amérique du Sud a été découverte par des Vikings. Il avait monté à la fin des années 60 des expéditions d’ethnographie au Paraguay et retrouvé, à la frontière du Brésil, des fresques représentant de grands gaillards blonds, pour lui incontestablement "de race aryenne". Il échafauda une théorie selon laquelle le continent aurait été découvert au xe siècle par les Vikings, qui auraient civilisé les Indiens et fondé l’Empire inca, dont ils devinrent les "dieux blancs". Les actuels Guayakis seraient, d’après cette théorie, leurs derniers représentants, malheureusement "dégénérés par

métissage".

Quelques exilés n’ont pas connu les bonheurs d’une seconde vie parce qu’ils n’ont pas supporté l’Argentine et sont rentrés le plus tôt possible. Il y eut deux vagues de retours: dans les années 50, après les lois d’amnistie de 1951 et de 1953, et au milieu des années 70, grâce à la prescription des poursuites. Ainsi Henri Lèbre, qui fut à la fois directeur du "Cri du peuple" et l’un des dirigeants de "Je suis partout", journaux dans lesquels il s’insurgeait contre la mollesse de la politique antijuive de Vichy (statut des juifs et aryanisation), qu’il qualifiait de "solution dérisoire". Arrivé en Argentine en 1947 avec un passeport de la Croix-Rouge, après sa condamnation à mort par contumace en France, il ne s’adapte pas au pays et repart très vite pour le Portugal, où il attend la loi d’amnistie qui lui permet de rentrer en France dans les années 50, afin de reprendre du service à "Rivarol" et à "Spectacle du monde". A la même période quitte également Buenos Aires Pierre Villette, cofondateur de "Je suis partout", membre du PPF et journaliste au "Cri du peuple", qui avait terminé sa carrière de journaliste engagé à Radio-Patrie, à Sigmaringen, et au "Petit Parisien", publié à Constance, à la fin de 1944, avant d’être condamné à mort par contumace en 1947. Marc Augier, journaliste à l’hebdomadaire "La Gerbe", ancien de la LVF et de la division Charlemagne, réfugié à Mendoza, aidera un temps l’armée argentine à organiser des expériences de résistance au froid en zone montagneuse, avant de rentrer en France, dans les années 50, pour entamer une seconde carrière d’écrivain et de chroniqueur dans la presse d’extrême droite, sous le pseudonyme de Saint-Loup. C’est plus tard, au tout début des années 70, qu’Henri Janières regagne la France. Ancien de "Paris-Soir" et de "Notre combat", organe oeuvrant pour "une France socialiste dans l’Europe nouvelle", ce dandy obsessionnel occupa à Buenos Aires la place enviée de correspondant du "Monde" de 1961 à 1969, tout en étant très proche de l’ambassade de Syrie. Autre personnage particulièrement affecté par le mal du pays: Simon Sabiani, le célèbre maire PPF de Marseille et véritable empereur de l’agglomération, mise en coupe réglée pendant l’Occupation au profit de ses hommes de main du clan corse de Simon Mema et de la pègre de Carbone et Spirito. Condamné à mort par contumace et réfugié à Rome, ce personnage célèbre pour son goût du luxe et de l’opulence s’est retrouvé dans une petite pension de famille de Buenos Aires, vivotant en travaillant dans une agence immobilière. Ne supportant plus de vivre si loin de sa vieille mère corse, il vint s’installer en 1952 à Barcelone, où les fervents sabianistes venaient le voir en car de Marseille et d’où il fit quelques voyages clandestins en Corse pour voir sa mère. A sa mort, en 1956, des centaines de personnes assistèrent à son enterrement dans le petit cimetière de Casamaccioli, près de Corte.

Les passions sont retombées depuis longtemps chez la plupart des exilés restés sur place et encore vivants. "De temps en temps, on a eu des bouffées de chaleur, comme les femmes de 40 ans, précise un ancien de ?Je suis partout?, au moment de la guerre d’Algérie, quand on a paniqué l’ambassade de France en lui faisant croire que s’était créé un ?Comité Algérie française? à Buenos Aires, puis en Mai 68, quand les jeunes de Paris ont failli foutre en l’air de Gaulle. Mais c’est tout. Et c’est bien fini." Aujourd’hui, la plupart viennent régulièrement passer des vacances en France. "Les Français vivent bien, c’est un beau pays, bien tenu, et vous avez un bon président de la République, qui vous a enfin débarrassés des communistes", conclut un ancien SS français.

(1) Nous avons préservé l’anonymat des personnes encore vivantes que nous avons mentionnées.

(2) Voir Emmanuel Chadeau, "Histoire de l’industrie aéronautique en France, 1900-1950", Fayard.

PHOTOS:

ÉMILE DEWOITINE

Le célèbre avionneur au service des Allemands, puis de Peron (ci-dessus, dans son bureau à Buenos Aires); rentrera à Toulouse dans les années 60 (ci-contre, chez lui, en 1977, l’année de sa mort).

JEAN-PIERRE INGRAND

Délégué du ministre de l’Intérieur à Paris (ci-dessus, dans son bureau), auprès des autorités allemandes, entre 1940 et 1944. Meurt à Buenos Aires en décembre dernier, où il dirigeait l’Alliance française (ci-contre).

ROBERT LE VIGAN

L’interprète de "Quai des Brumes" (ci-contre, avant la guerre) sera condamné

(ci-dessous, pendant son procès) pour avoir animé les émissions de propagande de Radio-Paris. Vivotera de leçons de français en Argentine (ci-dessus), où il mourra en 1972.

HENRI QUEYRAT

Responsable au PPF de Doriot (ci-dessus, tenant une réunion salle Wagram en avril 1944), engagé dans la Waffen SS, condamné à mort, il s’enfuit en Argentine. Après quelques années à l’AFP, il se lance dans l’oenologie à Mendoza (en haut) et publie des livres de référence sur le vin (ci-contre).

PIERRE DAYE

Journaliste à "Je suis partout", député belge d’extrême droite (au centre sur la photo, en 1944). Condamné à mort, il enseignera la littérature française à l’université de La Plata. Meurt en 1960.

GEORGES GUILBAUD

Chargé par Laval d’organiser la Milice en zone nord (ici, lors d’une conférence au théâtre des Ambassadeurs, à Paris, en mars 1944), il fera ensuite fortune en Argentine, puis en Suisse.

JACQUES DE MAHIEU

Intellectuel de l’Action française, théoricien du corporatisme social, il débarque en 1946 à Buenos Aires. Professeur d’université, influent auprès des militaires argentins en matière sociale, il se rend célèbre en Europe pour ses thèses ethnologiques, publiées chez Laffont (ci-contre): selon lui, l’Amérique du Sud aurait été découverte par les Vikings, fondateurs de l’Empire inca.

HENRI LÈBRE

Directeur du "Cri du peuple", le journal de Doriot, condamné à mort. Court séjour en Argentine, puis amnistie et retour à Paris dans les années 50. Il rejoint les rédactions de "Rivarol" et de "Spectacle du monde".

SIMON SABIANI

Maire de Marseille, qu’il se partagea avec les célèbres gangsters Carbone (à sa gauche, ci-dessus) et Spirito; proche de Doriot (ci-contre, à la droite du chef du PPF). Condamné à mort, s’installa à Barcelone après un exil malheureux en Argentine.

Background Report on Krunoslav Draganovic

The Pavelic papers

This is a follow-up report to Counter-Intelligence Corps Agent Robert Clayton Mudd’s earlier report in which he indicated that the Monastery of San Girolamo was acting as a haven for Ustase fugitives, and that he had run an agent into the network smuggling accused Ustase war criminals out of Croatia. Mudd appeared earlier to be suspicious that Ustase agents had infiltrated legitimate networks to help refugees, rather than that these networks themselves had been set up in order to smuggle out hunted Ustase officials. His conclusions in Paragraph 15 remain unchallenged to this day. This is an improved copy of the document originally published here, found among the CIA papers on Krunoslav Draganovic.

HEADQUARTERS

COUNTER INTELLIGENCE CORPS

ALLIED FORCES HEADQUARTERS

APO 512

February 12, 1947

SUMMARY OF INFORMATION

SUBJECT: Father Krunoslav DRAGANOVIC,

RE: PAST Background and PRESENT Activity.

1. Fr. Krunoslav DRAGANOVIC is a Croatian Catholic priest in the Monastery of San Geronimo [sic - here and below], 132 Via Tomacelli. ROME. This man has for some time now been associated with Ustashi elements in Italy and, while in many instances it is hard to distinguish the activity of the Church from the activity of one man whose personal convictions might lie along a certain line, it is fairly evident in the case of Fr. DRAGANOVIC that his sponsorship of the Ustashi cause stems from a deep-rooted conviction that the ideas espoused by this arch-nationalist organization, half logical, half lunatic, are basically sound concepts.

2. Fr. DRAGANOVIC is a native of TRAVNIK where he finished his elementary and secondary school. Shortly after this he went to SARAJEVO to study theology and philosophy. Here he fell under the personal magnetism of Dr. Ivan SARIC, archbishop of SARAJEVO, whose particular interest he soon became and after graduation he was sent to ROME under the auspices of Dr. SARIC who had some good connections in the Vatican.

3. Having completed his studies at ROME where he majored in ethnology and Balkan affairs he returned to SARAJEVO where he held various political offices, all of a minor importance. Shortly after the formation of the Independent State of Croatia under Ante PAVELIC in April 1941 DRAGANOVIC became one of the leading figures in the Bureau of Colonization. In the middle of 1943 however he became involved in a disagreement over the relative merits of the younger Eugen KVATERNIK, whom he called a "madman and a lunatic", and he left Croatia and returned to ROME.

4. According to a reliable informant it is believed that this departure of DRAGANOVIC from Croatia to Italy is a classic example of "kicking a man upstairs" inasmuch as it is fairly well established that the leaders of the Independent State of Croatia expected the prelate, through his good connections in the Vatican, to be instrumental in working out the orientation of Croatia towards the West rather than the East. These same leaders, being occidental-minded and knowing full well that Croatia’s militant Catholocism [sic] made her a "natural" in such a deal, relied on DRAGANOVIC to assist them in their aims. He was eminently unsuccessful.

5. DRAGANOVIC has a brother still in ZAGREB who is a member of the Napredak Co., who recently was ignored in the elections to determine the members of the Board of Directors. He has another brother, whereabouts unknown, who was a member of the Croatian Embassy in BERLIN. He is in touch with his brother, ZVONKO, in ZAGREB but not with KRESO, whsoe [sic] whereabouts are not definetly [sic] known although he has been reported in the British zone in Germany.

6. About a year ago DRAGANOVIC is alleged in some circles to have somewhat denounced his now ardent pro-Ustashi sentiments during a conference of Croats in ROME. Having been accused by a certain Dr. KLJAKOVIC (apparently a member of the Croat Peasant Party) of being in very close contact with only Ustashi emogrees [sic] DRAGANOVIC is said to have replied that if working for an independent Croatia meant being an Ustasha then "I am an Ustasha". "However," he added, "I disassociate myself from all other attributes of the Ustashi."

7. With this aim in view DRAGANOVIC is working with the Ustashi and also with some leftovers of the Croat Peasant Party in exile. When Milan PRIBANIC, erstwhile Commandant of the Guard of Vlado MACEK, appeared in ROME, he immediately contacted him and thus made his aims and purposes clear to MACEK.

8. Many of the more prominent Ustashi war criminals and Quislings are living in ROME illegally, many of them under false names. Their cells are still maintained, their papers still published, and their intelligence agencies still in operation. All this activity seems to stem from the Vatican, through the Monastary of San Geronimo to Fermo, the chief Croat Camp in Italy. Chief among the intelligence operatives in the Monastery of San Geronimo appear to be Dr. DRAGANOVIC and Monsignor MADJARAC.

9. The main messenger between the Vatican, the Monastary and Fermo is an Ustasha student by the name of BRISKI. BRISKI was interned in the 209 POW Camp at AFRAGOLA and was with the Ustashi Cabinet members when their escape was organized from there. His physical description is as follows: 25 years old, medium height, black hair, seen mostly without a hat. Has very bad teeth in upper and lower jaw. Appears to be very wise.

10. This Agent managed to run a counter-operative into this Monastary to find out if possible if the internal setup of the place was as had been alleged, namely that it was honeycombed with cells of Ustashi operatives. This was established and several things more but operations were stopped abruptly when it became too dangerous for the counter-intelligence agent in the Monastary. The following facts were ascertained:

11. In order to enter this Monastary one must submit to a personal search for weapons and identification documents, must answer questions as to where he is from, who he is, whom he knows, what is purpose is in the visit, and how he heard about the fact that there were Croats in the Monastary. All doors from one room to another are locked and those that are not have an armed guard in front of them and a pass-word is necessary to go from one room to another. The whole area is guarded by armed Ustashi youths in civilian clothes and the Ustashi salute is exchanged continually.

12. It was further established that the following prominent ex-Ustashi Ministers are either living in the monastery, or living in the Vatican and attending meetings several times a week at San Girolamo:

1. Ivan DEVCIC, Lt. Colonel

2. VRANCIC, Dr. Vjekoslav, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs.

3. TOTH, Dr. Dragutin, Minister of Croat State Treasury.

4. SUSIC, Lovro, Minister of Corporations in Croatian Quisling Government

5. STARCEVIC, Dr. Mile, Croat Minister of Education.

6. RUPCIC, General Dragutin, General of Ustashi Air Force.

7. PERIC, Djordje, Serbian Minster of Propaganda under NEDIC.

8. PECNIKAR, Vilko – Ustasha General and CO of Ustashi Gendarmerie

9. MARKOVIC, Josip, Minister of Transport in Pavelic Government.

10. KREN, Vladimir – Commander-in-Chief of the Croat Air Force.

13. While this "Croat", directed by this Agent to try to penetrate the Croat intelligence network, was inside the Monastary he personally heard a conversation ensue between this Monsignor MADJERAC and Dr. SUSIC, who, at the time of the conversation, was in the Vatican library. He also heard a conversation between two of the Ustashi in the monastary which established the fact that a brother of Dr. PERIC runs a hotel in ROME, and that often this hotel is visited at night for the purpose of holding important Ustahi [sic] conferences. The money for the purchase of the hotel was given this man by his brother, Dr. PERIC.

14. It was further established that these Croats travel back and forth from the Vatican several times a week in a car with a chauffeur whose license plate bears the two initials CD, "Corpo Diplomatico". It issues forth from the Vatican and discharges its passengers inside the Monastary of San Geronimo. Subject to diplomatic immunity it is impossible to stop the car and discover who are its passengers.

15. DRAGANOVIC’s sponsorship of these Croat Qusilings definetly [sic] links him up with the plan of the Vatican to shield these ex-Ustashi nationalists until such time as they are able to procure for them the proper documents to enable them to go to South America. The Vatican, undoubtedly banking on the strong anti-Communist feelings of these men, is endeavoring to infiltrate them into South America in any way possible to counteract the spread of Red doctrine. It has been reliably reported, for example that Dr. VRANCIC has already gone to South America and that Ante PAVELIC and General KREN are scheduled for an early departure to South America through Spain. All these operations are said to have been negotiated by DRAGANOVIC because of his influence in the Vatican.

16. This agent will continue to make an effort to keep abreast of the situation in this area and also to advise G-2 of any new plans or changes of operations on the part of DRAGANOVIC and his satellites.

[signed]

ROBERT CLAYTON MUDD,

SPECIAL AGENT, CIC DISTRIBUTION:

AC of S, G-2, AFHQ (2)

Chief, CIC, AFHQ (1)

File (1)

:: filing information ::

Title: Background Report on Krunoslav Draganovic

Source: CIA, declassified September 12, 1983

Date: February 12, 1947 Added: March 15, 2003

Voir enfin:

Peron’s Nazi Ties

How the European fascist sensibility found new roots and new life in the South Atlantic region

Mark Falcoff

Time

November 9, 1998

Since the 1930s, the political culture of Argentina has been afflicted by periodic spasms of covert violence, secrecy and denial. As in the case of Vichy France, memory can be an inconvenience or an embarrassment; faced with incidents that require explanation, too many Argentines instinctively reach for the words borron y cuenta nueva (Let’s forget it all and start over with a clean slate). As a result, even today nobody knows exactly how many people disappeared during the "dirty war" against subversion (1976-83), nor the number of victims in the left-wing guerrilla violence that preceded it. The 1992 and 1994 bombings of the Israeli embassy in Buenos Aires and the city’s Jewish center, causing the loss of 115 lives, remain unsolved. Even events far more remote have had to wait decades for elucidation.

One of the most important of those events is Argentina’s vaunted neutrality in World War II, a posture it maintained long after other American republics broke off relations with the Axis. Only since the country’s return to democracy in 1983 has the real story of Argentina’s covert alignment with the Axis finally begun to emerge. A commission to investigate the activities of Nazism in Argentina, appointed by President Carlos Menem and assisted by an international team of scholars, started work last July. A preliminary report is expected in mid-November, when the scholars meet in Buenos Aires, and a final report a year later.

At issue here is not merely a matter of diplomatic taste. Throughout the war, Argentina was regarded by U.S. diplomats and the U.S. media as the regional headquarters for Nazi espionage. After 1945, reports kept cropping up in the U.S. press that Argentina was the final redoubt of important Nazis and their European collaborators, a point dramatically brought home as late as 1960 by the capture and forcible removal to Israeli justice of Adolf Eichmann, principal director of the "final solution."

Over the years, these allegations seemed at least superficially credible in light of the emergence in 1946 of Colonel Juan Peron as the leader of a defiant, nationalist Argentina. Though in practice the Peron regime resembled hardly at all the defeated European fascist dictatorships, Peron made no secret of his sympathy for the defeated Axis powers.

Argentina’s and Peron’s apparent preference for the Axis, and particularly for Nazi Germany, has muddied the country’s relations with the Anglo-Saxon powers and poisoned its domestic politics. Anti-Peronists have often used the term Nazi (or Pero-Nazi) a bit too freely in attempting to discredit their opponents–not just Peron but also the administration of President Ramon S. Castillo (1940-43), who preceded him. Indeed, Argentina’s 1946 elections, the first of three in which Peron was elected to the presidency, were, as much as anything else, a plebiscite on the credibility of such accusations. In recent years, the Canadian scholar Ronald Newton, in his masterly The "Nazi Menace" in Argentina, 1931-47 (Stanford), has suggested that much of the Nazi-fascist menace in Argentina was an invention of British intelligence, fearful of the loss of historic markets in that country to the U.S. after the war, and therefore desirous of straining relations between Buenos Aires and Washington.

Far in advance of the final report of President Menem’s commission (of which Newton is a member), that theory has now been refuted in an extraordinary piece of investigative reporting–also a major breakthrough in historical scholarship–by Uki Goni, whose Peron and the Germans has just been published in Buenos Aires. In this book the author, who also works as a local correspondent for TIME, establishes that, for all the hyperbole, Washington’s darkest suspicions were if anything greatly understated. For one thing, Goni demonstrates that the Castillo administration, and particularly the Argentine Foreign Ministry, was honeycombed with Nazi sympathizers as early as 1942–so much so that it is difficult to see why any of the most anxious partisans of neutrality, such as found in the secret lodges of the Argentine army, felt the need to overthrow the government at all!

Voir par ailleurs:

Qui étaient les «Monuments Men»?

Métro

11/03/2014

CINEMA – Le film «Monuments Men» et le livre qui l’a inspiré racontent l’histoire d’une poignée de soldats britanniques et américains chargés de sauver le patrimoine culturel…

Basée sur des faits réels. C’est une histoire passionnante et méconnue que relate le film Monuments Men, tiré du livre éponyme de Robert M. Edsel. Après s’être installé à Florence, cet homme d’affaires texan explique à 20 Minutes qu’il avait commencé à s’intéresser à l’art: «Je me suis demandé comment, lors de la Seconde Guerre mondiale, qui a causé la mort de 65 millions de personnes, tant d’œuvres d’art avaient pu survivre et surtout qui les avaient sauvées.» Soit, en Europe, lors de la fin officielle des hostilités le 8 mai 1945, une soixantaine de personnes, engagés dans la section des Monuments, des Beaux-Arts et des Archives.

De la préservation à l’enquête

En 1944, les Monuments Men débarquent en France avec le souci de préserver le patrimoine, «d’éviter que les Etats-Unis et la Grande-Bretagne détruisent les musées et les œuvres d’art, en bombardant les sites culturels». Au fur et à mesure, les Monuments Men découvrent que les œuvres d’art, issues d’institutions ou propriétés de particuliers, ont été dérobées en masse par les Nazis. Hitler avait pour projet de bâtir son «Führermuseum», un musée gigantesque, à Linz, en Autriche. «En progressant vers Paris, ils se sont aperçus de l’extension du pillage. De leur mission de préservation du patrimoine, ils sont passés, comme des détectives, à la recherche des œuvres d’art.» Parmi celles-ci, L’Autel de Gand, chef-d’œuvre de la peinture des primitifs flamands ou encore La Madone de Bruges, sculptée par Michel-Ange.

Mettre la main sur ces trésors

Alors que la date de la fin de la guerre reste encore inconnue, s’engage une course contre la montre pour mettre la main sur ces trésors, acheminés vers l’Est, comme vers l’extravagant château de Neuschwanstein, en Bavière, ou vers les mines de sel de Altaussee (Autriche) ou de Heilbronn (en Allemagne). Dans cette dernière a travaillé Harry Ettlinger, 88 ans, qui avait fui l’Allemagne pour les Etats-Unis, avant de s’engager dans l’armée. L’ex-Monuments Men se rappelle pour 20 Minutes: «A 18 ans, j’étais le boss juif, rigole-t-il. Je dirigeais les mineurs, je localisais les boîtes, identifiables grâce au nom des institutions marquées dessus, et vérifiais leurs contenus. Par les ascenseurs, on les emmenait aux camions. C’est là qu’on a retrouvé les caisses contenant les vitraux de la cathédrale de Strasbourg»… Aujourd’hui encore, des œuvres dérobées par les Nazis réapparaissent, comme celles découvertes à Munich en 2012. «Mais des centaines de milliers manquent toujours», déplore Robert M. Edsel.

Une reconnaissance pour Rose Valland

L’essayiste conserve l’amertume d’une critique en France au sujet de son livre, intitulée «Pillages et approximations». Il espère toutefois que le rôle de Rose Valland, attachée de conservation au musée du Jeu de Paume pendant l’Occupation, qui a aidé les Monuments Men, sera davantage considéré. «Elle n’a jamais eu en France la reconnaissance qu’elle méritait.» L’héritage des Monuments Men a permis selon lui de largement influencer la rédaction par l’Unesco de «la Convention pour la protection des biens culturels en cas de conflit armé» datant de 1954. Mais leur idéal semble s’être tari. Il déplore que les Américains aient oublié de s’en inspirer en bombardant des sites historiques, pendant la Guerre d’Irak en 2003.

"Monuments Men" : Cate Blanchett incarne une résistante française oubliée

Stéphanie Trouiilard

France 24

05/03/2014

En écrivant sur Rose Valland, une résistante qui permit de sauver des œuvres d’arts volées par les nazis, la sénatrice Corinne Bouchoux était loin d’imaginer son livre porté à l’écran. C’est pourtant chose faite avec le film "Monuments Men".

"La boucle est bouclée ! Mission accomplie ! Je suis plutôt contente." Corinne Bouchoux a du mal à cacher son excitation. Il y a quelques jours, la sénatrice Europe Écologie-Les Verts (EELV) a été personnellement invitée à assister à l’avant-première parisienne du dernier film de Georges Clooney "Monuments Men". Très émue, l’élue du Maine et Loire a pu voir sur grand écran le fruit d’un long travail. Dans cette superproduction, l’actrice australienne Cate Blanchett redonne vie à la résistante Rose Valland, à laquelle Corinne Bouchoux a consacré une biographie. "Si on m’avait dit un jour que mon livre, qui n’a intéressé personne pendant des années et que j’ai fait dans une solitude totale, pourrait inspirer un film, je ne l’aurais pas cru !".

Un coup de fil d’Hollywood

En 2006, en effet, son ouvrage "Rose Valland, la résistance au musée" sort dans une relative discrétion. Le livre est imprimé à seulement 2 000 exemplaires. "Après des années de recherches, j’étais très contente de l’avoir publié. Mais ensuite, j’ai estimé qu’une page de ma vie s’était tournée et je ne m’en suis plus occupée. On me sollicitait juste pour des conférences", raconte Corinne Bouchoux, interviewée par FRANCE 24 dans son petit bureau du Sénat . "Mais un jour, il y a un peu plus de cinq ans, un monsieur avec un fort accent américain m’a appelée pour me dire qu’il voulait racheter les droits de mon livre pour en faire un film à Hollywood."

Incrédule, la sénatrice croit d’abord à une plaisanterie. Mais au bout du fil, son interlocuteur est des plus sérieux : Robert Edsel est un ancien homme d’affaires texan reconverti dans l’histoire de l’art. Passionné par la Seconde Guerre mondiale, ce riche américain a regroupé dans un livre, aujourd’hui porté à l’écran par Georges Clooney, les mémoires des Monuments Men, ces soldats alliés chargés de récupérer les œuvres d’art volées par les nazis. "Il s’est aperçu qu’en France, il y avait eu très peu de recherches sur ce sujet. Il a juste trouvé mon livre sur Rose Valland, précise Corinne Bouchoux. Il a fait un chèque de 7 500 euros à mon éditeur pour racheter les droits. Il l’a fait traduire et il le vend même aujourd’hui sur son site comme un produit dérivé du film".

Rose Valland, une résistante de l’ombre

Il faut dire que le parcours de Rose Valland est indissociable de celui des Monuments Men. Tombée dans l’oubli, cette femme originaire d’une famille modeste de l’Isère a pourtant joué un rôle essentiel auprès de ces soldats pour sauver les chefs d’œuvre spoliés durant le conflit. Attachée de conservation au musée du Jeu de Paume, à l’époque le centre de triage des tableaux et des sculptures promis au musée d’Hitler à Linz en Autriche ou encore à la collection personnelle d’Hermann Goering, cette spécialiste de l’histoire de l’art a été un témoin privilégié du pillage nazi. "Pendant l’occupation, elle a été une véritable espionne, notant tous les tableaux qui partaient, avec leur destination. Elle a informé la résistance française et ensuite les Américains afin qu’ils évitent de bombarder certaines caches. Si son cahier n’était pas arrivé entre de bonnes mains, tout cela aurait été perdu", insiste la sénatrice.

Le long-métrage "Monuments Men" se concentre précisément sur ce travail de l’ombre et sur les risques encourus par Rose Valland. Son personnage, joué par Cate Blanchett sous le nom de Claire Simone, fournit de précieux renseignements au soldat américain James Granger (incarné par Matt Damon) pour l’aider à identifier les endroits où les nazis stockaient les œuvres réquisitionnées.

Le film tait toutefois une large partie de sa vie. "Elle aurait pu avoir un rôle plus consistant, car le film s’arrête en 1945 alors que Rose Valland est restée en Allemagne jusqu’en 1954", regrette Corinne Bouchoux. Au lendemain de la capitulation allemande, poursuit la sénatrice, la résistante a en effet pris une décision courageuse. Devenue capitaine de l’armée française, elle parcourt pendant de longues années – et en uniforme – les ruines du Troisième Reich pour retrouver les œuvres d’arts emportées par les Allemands. "Grâce à elle, 70 000 œuvres sont revenues en France, où sont enregistrées 100 000 réclamations. À l’époque, elle était aussi une négociatrice souterraine pour les diplomates, une sorte de sherpa lorsqu’étaient entamés des pourparlers. Elle s’est ainsi déplacée une quarantaine de fois en zone soviétique pour voir ce que les Russes avaient récupérés. Ce n’était pas facile car ils considéraient qu’ils pouvaient bien tout garder étant donné tout ce qu’on leur avait pris. Elle a ainsi joué un rôle crucial pendant et après la guerre."

Devenue conservatrice des musées nationaux en 1952 et décorée des titres les plus prestigieux (Chevalier de la Légion d’honneur, Médaille de la Résistance, Médaille de la Liberté en 1948, et Officier de l’Ordre du Mérite de la République fédérale d’Allemagne), Rose Valland a ensuite passé le reste de sa vie dans l’anonymat le plus total. "On l’a mise dans un placard quand elle est rentrée en France. On lui a confié une nouvelle mission, celle de défendre le patrimoine français en cas de troisième guerre mondiale. Elle était la madame sécurité des musées français", poursuit Corinne Bouchoux. "Mais elle n’a jamais accepté qu’on lui dise que c’était terminé. Elle était obsédée par le sujet. Elle a travaillé jusqu’à sa mort [En 1980, NDLR], elle voulait retrouver un propriétaire pour chaque tableau volé par les nazis et renouer le fil de l’histoire".

Pour sa biographe, Rose Valland est finalement tombée dans l’oubli pour plusieurs raisons : "D’abord, c’était une femme, et dans ce pays, on préfère les héros masculins. Elle était aussi issue d’un milieu modeste, loin du sérail culturel. Et elle était également homosexuelle. Elle a vécu avec la même compagne, mais pendant longtemps on l’a prise pour une vieille fille acariâtre, alors qu’elle ne l’était pas du tout. Elle était juste discrète. Enfin, elle était aussi au courant d’un certain nombre de scandales et d’abus. Personne n’avait intérêt à ce qu’elle les révèle".

Soixante-dix ans après son engagement héroïque, le film "Monuments Men" lui rend enfin honneur. Mais l’action de Rose Valland est loin d’être une page révolue de l’histoire. Dans les musées nationaux français, 2 000 œuvres issues de la spoliation (appelées MNR) n’ont toujours pas retrouvé leurs propriétaires. À l’image de son illustre aînée, Corinne Bouchoux en a fait un combat personnel. Rapporteuse d’une commission sur le sujet au Sénat, elle souhaite que la France donne réellement aux ayants droit des propriétaires juifs les moyens de retrouver leurs trésors culturels et que l’État ne se contente plus d’attendre qu’ils se manifestent. Elle préconise la création d’une cellule de recherches. "Si on ne peut pas les identifier, il faut au moins qu’on soit au clair sur ces tableaux. Je ne veux plus qu’aucun musée français n’achète une œuvre alors qu’il y a un doute sur son passé", assène-t-elle.

Pour faciliter ce travail, un site Internet portant le nom de Rose Valland a été créé par le ministère de la Culture. Il permet notamment de consulter le répertoire des MNR en dépôt dans les musées français ou de se documenter sur le sujet. Mais ce bel hommage ne satisfait pas encore pleinement Corinne Bouchoux : "Je trouve cela anormal qu’il n’y ait pas dans tous les musées une plaque avec son nom et sa photo. J’espère que cela va arriver. Que Rose Valland soit aussi méconnue m’a toujours semblé être une injustice. J’ai juste voulu la réparer". Sur les écrans le 12 mars, le film "Monuments Men", va aussi contribuer à lui redonner sa juste place dans l’Histoire.


Mimétisme: Attention, un triangle peut en cacher bien d’autres ! (From Venitian vanitas and Venus in sackcloth to NSFW, nude yoga and pubic hair mannequins: the long road to the domestication of the male gaze)

19 janvier, 2014
Debate: Shoppers have had mixed reactions to the window display, with some agreeing that it' a positive move for feminism and others believing it is too graphichttp://medias.unifrance.org/medias/170/200/116906/format_page/belle-comme-la-femme-d-un-autre.jpghttps://pbs.twimg.com/media/BeBb3GJIIAAbIWR.jpgTu ne convoiteras point la femme de ton prochain; tu ne désireras point la maison de ton prochain, ni son champ, ni son serviteur, ni sa servante, ni son boeuf, ni son âne, ni aucune chose qui appartienne à ton prochain. Deutéronome 5: 21
Si le Décalogue consacre son commandement ultime à interdire le désir des biens du prochain, c’est parce qu’il reconnait lucidement dans ce désir le responsable des violences interdites dans les quatre commandements qui le précèdent. Si on cessait de désirer les biens du prochain, on ne se rendrait jamais coupable ni de meurtre, ni d’adultère, ni de vol, ni de faux témoignage. Si le dixième commandement était respecté, il rendrait superflus les quatre commandements qui le précèdent. Au lieu de commencer par la cause et de poursuivre par les conséquences, comme ferait un exposé philosophique, le Décalogue suit l’ordre inverse. Il pare d’abord au plus pressé: pour écarter la violence, il interdit les actions violentes. Il se retourne ensuite vers la cause et découvre le désir inspiré par le prochain. René Girard
Monsieur le président, mesdames les ministres, cet amendement concerne l’article 206 du code civil. J’évoquais tout à l’heure Jaurès. Je souhaite maintenant convoquer les mânes de Courteline, Feydeau, Labiche et Guitry. Pourquoi ? Parce qu’en transformant l’article 206, mes chers collègues, vous supprimez la belle-mère ! Vous supprimez un personnage essentiel de leur théâtre ! Vous portez un coup terrible au théâtre de boulevard ! La belle-mère disparaît ! Marc Le Fur (député UMP, débat parlementaire sur la suppression des mots "père" et "mère", 05.02.13)
Je vous jure, Monseigneur, qu’il n’existe pas d’homme perspicace qui ne la prenne pour une femme en chair et en os. Il n’existe pas d’homme assez usé par les ans, ni d’homme aux sens assez endormis, pour ne pas se sentir réchauffé, attendri et ému dans tout son être. Ludovico Dolce
Les toiles de Titien et les Sonnets luxurieux de l’Arétin ont la même raison – érotique – d’être. Mais, à la différence de ces sonnets, les nus de Titien peuvent sembler répondre à l’exigence du Livre du Courtisan de Baldassar Castiglione, livre de chevet de l’empereur Charles Quint, livre qui régit les convenances de toutes les cours : « Pour donc fuir le tourment de cette passion et jouir de la beauté sans passion, il faut que le Courtisan, avec l’aide de la raison, détourne entièrement le désir du corps pour le diriger vers la beauté seule, et, autant qu’il le peut, qu’il la contemple en elle-même, simple et pure, et que dans son imagination il la rende séparée de toute matière, et ainsi fasse d’elle l’amie chérie de son âme. Pascal Bonafoux
Le système de l’amour du prochain est une chimère que nous devons au christianisme et non pas à la nature. Sade
Il me semblait même que mes yeux me sortaient de la tête comme s’ils étaient érectiles à force d’horreur. Georges Bataille
Il arriverait, si nous savions mieux analyser nos amours, de voir que souvent les femmes ne nous plaisent qu’à cause du contrepoids d’hommes à qui nous avons à les disputer, bien que nous souffrions jusqu’à mourir d’avoir à les leur disputer ; le contrepoids supprimé, le charme de la femme tombe. On en a un exemple douloureux et préventif dans cette prédilection des hommes pour les femmes qui, avant de les connaître, ont commis des fautes, pour ces femmes qu’ils sentent enlisées dans le danger et qu’il leur faut, pendant toute la durée de leur amour, reconquérir ; un exemple postérieur au contraire, et nullement dramatique celui-là, dans l’homme qui, sentant s’affaiblir son goût pour la femme qu’il aime, applique spontanément les règles qu’il a dégagées, et pour être sûr qu’il ne cesse pas d’aimer la femme, la met dans un milieu dangereux où il lui faut la protéger chaque jour. (Le contraire des hommes qui exigent qu’une femme renonce au théâtre, bien que, d’ailleurs, ce soit parce qu’elle avait été au théâtre qu’ils l’ont aimée. Proust
Vous nous avez fait faire tout ce chemin pour nous montrer quoi: un triangle à la française ? Eglinton (Ulysse, James Joyce)
Elle était belle comme la femme d’un autre. Paul Morand
En 1974, un accident de la circulation impliquant le président Giscard d’Estaing, qui conduisait lui-même une voiture aux côtés d’une conquête, au petit matin dans une rue de Paris avait fait les titres de la presse satirique. (…) Mitterrand, entre deux dossiers, consacrait beaucoup de temps à son harem. Chirac nommait ses favorites au gouvernement. Ses disparitions nocturnes entraînaient l’inévitable question de Bernadette : "Savez-vous où est mon mari ce soir?" C’est ainsi: en France, sexe, amour et politique sont indissociables. Sexus Politicus
Les sorties de l’Elysée en direction d’un souterrain où l’attendaient un scooter et un casque intégral, les séjours rue du Cirque (cela ne s’invente pas) semblent sortir d’une comédie de boulevard ou d’un vaudeville. La France est passée en quatre décennies d’un Président qui sortait de l’Elysée en petite voiture discrète pour aller voir ses maîtresses, et qui pouvait heurter le camion du laitier à l’aurore à un Président polygame entretenant sa deuxième famille aux frais du contribuable, avant que vienne le célèbre monsieur « trois minutes douche comprise ». Elle a échappé au priapique du Sofitel de New York pour avoir le premier Président non marié et acteur burlesque à ses heures, dans le rôle « je trompe ma femme, mais elle ne le sait pas, d’ailleurs ce n’est pas ma femme ». Ce Président a voulu le mariage pour les homosexuels, mais surtout pas pour lui-même. Guy Millière
L’éventail proposé dans Benefits Street est large : il y a la mère de famille polonaise qui élève seule ses deux enfants et tente de trouver un boulot, un couple de 22 et 23 ans avec deux enfants qui ne travaille pas, une famille de 14 Roumains, récemment installés, qui inspectent les poubelles pour trouver du métal afin de le revendre, le vieil alcoolique revendiqué qui explique fièrement «être la vedette du programme et avoir inventé le titre» et affirme utiliser ses allocations pour nourrir son chien et acheter ses bouteilles. Bref, on plonge droit dans le cliché complet de ce que certaines critiques – et elles sont nombreuses – ont qualifié de "pornographie de la pauvreté". Libération

Après le mariage, le vaudeville pour tous !

A l’heure où, oubliant le double accident qui entre le rejet de Sarkozy et la défection de DSK l’avait fait, l’actuel maitre de la synthèse qui nous tient actuellement lieu de président vient de rappeler au monde l’une des plus grandes contributions du pays de Sade et de Bataille à la compréhension de la nature humaine, à savoir le fameux "French triangle"  de nos célébrissimes pièces de boulevard …

Et en ces temps du tout est permis où le terme de pornographie ne peut plus guère qualifier que le rappel de la pauvreté …

Pendant que, du yoga nu aux mannequins aux poils pubiens, nos cousins américains rivalisent d’ingéniosité pour contourner les nouveaux interdits du "male gaze" des féministes et du NSFW de leurs employeurs …

Comment ne pas voir derrière les efforts titienesques de nos premiers grands peintres il y a quelque 500 ans pour tenter de légitimer, entre vénus et marie-madeleines, leur célébration du corps humain et surtout féminin …

Et, du voyeurisme (autre importante contribution lexicale française au monde) au contrepoids proustien ou à la pulsion scopique freudienne ou au miroir lacanien, derrière les efforts non moins titanesques de nos romanciers et de nos cliniciens  …

La vérité, longtemps oubliée depuis l’avertissement multimillénaire du dixième commandement mais retrouvée et théorisée récemment par René Girard, de la nature intrinsèquement triangulaire du désir humain  …

Autrement dit, comme le rappelle si efficacement, le titre morandien d’un film (français) qui vient de sortir sur nos écrans, qu’aucune femme n’est jamais aussi belle que la femme d’un autre ?

To NSFW or not to NSFW? (now SFW)

Roger Ebert

October 31, 2010

This entry is safe for work.

I hesitated just a moment before including Miss June 1975 in my piece about Hugh Hefner. I wondered if some readers would find the nude photograph objectionable. Then I smiled at myself. Here I was, writing an article in praise of Hefner’s healthy influence on American society, and I didn’t know if I should show a Playmate of the Month. Wasn’t I being a hypocrite? I waited to see what the reaction would be.

The Sun-Times doesn’t publish nudes on its site, but my page occupies a sort of netherland: I own it in cooperation with the newspaper, but control its contents. If anyone complains, I thought, it will be the paper, and if they do I’ll take it down.

You dance with the one that brung you. But no one at the newspaper said a word, even though they certainly saw the page because the same article also appeared in the Friday paper. Hefner was in town for the weekend for a nostalgic visit to his childhood home, and a screening at the Siskel Film Center of the new documentary about his life . He’s a local boy who made good.

At first no one at all objected to the photo, even though the entry was getting thousands of hits. It went online early on Sunday afternoon. But Monday was a workday, and a reader asked if it had occurred to me to label it NSFW ("not suitable for work"). The thought may have crossed my mind, but come on, would anybody be surprised to find a nude somewhere during a 2,200-word piece on Hef? It wasn’t like I was devoting a whole page to it; I embedded it at a prudent 300 pixels. Like this:

Sorry. After learning that the mere presence of this photograph could get you fired and my blog put on a restricted list, I have removed the "prudent 300 pixels" and linked the photograph here.

Then other readers started wondering about a NSFW warning. They weren’t objecting to the photo; indeed, no one ever did, even some readers who felt Hefner had been a pernicious influence on the world. Feminist readers, some well known and respected by me, spoke of his objectification of the female body, his misuse of the Male Gaze, and so on. But no one objected to the photo itself. No, they explained that they read the column at work ("during lunch break," of course) and were afraid a supervisor or co-worker might see a nude on their monitor. I asked one of these readers if his co-workers were adults. Snark.

As a writer, it would have offended me to preface my article with a NSFW warning. It was unsightly — a typographical offense. It would contradict the point I was making. But others wrote me about strict rules at their companies. They faced discipline or dismissal. Co-workers seeing an offensive picture on their monitor might complain of sexual harassment, and so on. But what about the context of the photo? I wondered. Context didn’t matter. A nude was a nude. The assumption was that some people might be offended by all nudes.

This was a tiny version of this photograph. When will we grow up?

I heard what they were saying. I went in and resized the photo, reducing it by 2/3, so that it was postage-stamp 100 pixel size (above) and no passer-by was likely to notice it. This created a stylistic abomination on the page, but no matter. I had acted prudently. Then I realized: I’d still left it possible for the photo to be enlarged by clicking! An unsuspecting reader might suddenly find Miss June 1975 regarding him from his entire monitor! I jumped in again and disabled that command.

This left me feeling more responsible, but less idealistic. I knew there might be people offended by the sight of a Playmate. I disagreed with them. I understood that there were places where a nude photo was inappropriate, and indeed agree that porn has no place in the workplace. But I didn’t consider the photograph pornographic. Having grown up in an America of repression and fanatic sin-mongering, I believe that Hefner’s influence was largely healthy and positive. In Europe, billboards and advertisements heedlessly show nipples. There are not "topless beaches" so much as beaches everywhere where bathers remove swimsuits to get an even tan.

At Cannes you see this on the public beach, and pedestrians nearby on the Croisette don’t even stop to notice. Ironically, the only time you see a mob of paparazzi is when some starlet (on the Carlton Hotel pier say), is making a show of removing her clothes. Then you have a sort of meta-event, where paparazzi are photographing other paparazzi photographing this event. It’s all a ritual. The clothes come off, the photographers have a scrum, everyone understands it’s over, and the paparazzi leave, sometimes while the starlet is still standing there unadorned. In Europe, people know what the human body looks like, and are rather pleased that it does.

America has a historical Puritan streak, and is currently in the midst of another upheaval of zeal from radical religionists. They know what is bad for us. They would prefer to burn us at a metaphorical stake, but make do with bizarre imprecations about the dire consequences of our sin. Let me be clear: I am not speaking of sexual behavior that is obviously evil and deserves legal attention. But definitions differ. Much of their wrath is aimed at gays. I consider homosexuality an ancient, universal and irrefutable fact of human nature. Some radicals actually blamed it for 9/11. For them the ideal society must be Saudi Arabia’s, which I consider pathologically sick.

When we were making "Beyond the Valley of the Dolls," I got to know Cynthia Myers and Dolly Read (above), the two Playmates in the film, and have followed them through the years. They have good memories of the experience. I am in touch with Marcia McBroom, the actress who played the third of the movie’s rock band members. She is a social activist, loves the memory of her Hollywood adventure, and recently sponsored a benefit showing of BVD for her Africa-oriented charity, the For Our Children’s Sake Foundation. These women looked great in the 1970s and they look great today, and let me tell you something I am very sure of: We all want to look as great as we can.

Now back to the woman in the photograph. Her name is Azizi Johari. She went on after her centerfold to have some small success in motion pictures, most notably in John Cassavetes’ "The Killing of a Chinese Bookie." Today she would be in her 50s and I hope is pleased that such a beautiful portrait of her was taken. A reader sent me a link to Titian’s 16th century painting "Venus of Urbino" (below), and suggested to me that this was art and Miss Johari’s photograph was not. I studied them side by side. Both women are unclothed, and regard the viewer from similar reclining postures on carefully-draped divans. I looked at them with the Male Gaze, which I gather that (as a male) is my default Gaze. I want to be as honest as I can be about how these two representations affect me.

Let us assume that the purpose of both artworks is to depict the female form attractively. Both the photographer and the painter worked from live models. Titian required great skill and technique in his artistry. So did the photographer, Ken Marcus, because neither of these portraits pretends to realism. Great attention went to the lighting, art direction and composition of the photograph, and makeup was possibly used to accent the glowing sheen of Miss Johari’s skin. I would argue that both artworks are largely the expressions of imagination.

For me, Miss Johari is more beautiful than Venus. She strikes me as more human. She looks at me. Her full lips are open as if just having said something. Her skin is lustrous and warm. Venus, on the other hand, seems to have her attention directed inward. She is self-satisfied. She seems narcissistic, passive, different. Johari is present. She seems quietly pleased to suggest, "Here I am. This is me." Wisely she avoids the inviting smile I find so artificial in "pin up" photography. She is full of her beauty, aware of it, it is a fact we share. Venus is filled by her beauty, cooled by it, indifferent to our Gaze. If you were to ask me which is the better representation of the fullness of life, I would choose Johari.

Of course abstract artistic qualities are not the point of either work. The pictures intend to inspire a response among their viewers. For men, I assume that is erotic feeling. Women readers will inform me of the responses they feel. Homosexuals of both sexes may respond differently. They will tell me.

For me? Miss June is immediately erotic. I regard first of all her face, her eyes, her full lips and then her breasts, for I am a man and that is my nature. I prefer full lips in women, and hers are wonderful. I admire full breasts. Hers are generous but manifestly natural. The female breast is one of the most pleasing forms in all of nature, no doubt because of our earliest associations. I dislike surgical enhancements. As my friend Russ Meyer complained in the early days of silicone, "It misses the whole principle of the matter."

Miss Johari’s arms and legs are long and healthy, she is trim but not skinny, she is not necessarily posing with her left arm but perhaps adjusting a strand of hair. I find the dark hue of her skin beautiful. Photographs like this (she was the fifth African-American Playmate) helped men of all races to understand that Black is Beautiful at a time when that phrase came as news to a lot of people. In a blog about her, I find she was "the first black Playmate to have distinctly African features." Another entry could be written about that sentence.

As for Venus of Urbino, she has no mystery at all. I look at her and feel I know everything, and she thinks she does too. She gives no hint of pleasure or camaraderie. If you tickled her with a feather, she would be annoyed. Miss Johari, I imagine, would burst into laughter and slap the feather. I can see myself having dinner with her. To have dinner with Venus would be a torment. My parting words would be, "This bill is outrageous! I wouldn’t pay it if I were you!"

Of course these are all fantasies. I know nothing about either model. That is what we do with visual representations of humans; we bring our imaginations to them. It’s the same with movies. The meaning is a collaboration between the object and the viewer. That is how we look at pictures, and how we should. If it seems impertinent of my to compare the photograph with the painting, the best I can do i quote e. e. cummings:

mr youse needn’t be so spry

concernin questions arty

each has his tastes but as for i i likes a certain party

gimme the he-man’s solid bliss for youse ideas i’ll match youse

a pretty girl who naked is is worth a million statues

Now as to the problem of the workplace. I understand there will be pictures on a computer screen that will be offensive. I get that. Why will they be offensive? Perhaps because they foreground a worker’s sexual desires, and imply similar thoughts about co-workers. Is that what’s happening with the blog entry on Hefner? Is anyone reading it for sexual gratification? I doubt it. That’s what bothers me about so many of the New Puritans. They think I have a dirty mind, but I think I have a healthy mind. It takes a dirty mind to see one, which is why so many of these types are valued as censors or online police.

The wrong photographs on a screen might also suggest a blanket rejection of the values of the company. Some corporations require an adherence to company standards that is almost military. Sex has a way of slicing through all the layers of protocol and custom and revealing us as human beings. But lip service must be paid to convention.

We now learn that the recent Wall Street debacle was fueled in part by millions spent on prostitution and drugs. We have seen one sanctimonious politician and preacher after another exposed as a secret adulterer or homosexual. I don’t have to ask, because I guess I know: If an employee in the office of one of those bankers, ministers or congressman had Azizi Johari on his screen, he would be hustled off to the HR people.

I haven’t worked in an office for awhile. Is there a danger of porn surfing in the workplace? Somehow I doubt it. There is a greater danger, perhaps, of singling out workers for punishment based on the zeal of the enforcers. And of course there is always this: Supervisors of employee web use, like all employees, must be seen performing their jobs in order to keep them.

There is also this: Perfectly reasonable people, well-adjusted in every respect, might justifiably object to an erotic photograph on the computer monitor of a coworker. A degree of aggression might be sensed. It violates the decorum of the workplace. (So does online gaming, but never mind.) You have the right to look at anything on your computer that can be legally looked at, but give me a break! I don’t want to know! I also understand that the threat of discipline or dismissal is real and frightening.

I’ve made it through two years on the blog with only this single NSFW incident. In the future I will avoid NSFW content in general, and label it when appropriate. What a long way around I’ve taken to say I apologize.

Voir aussi:

Behind the mask

Jonathan Jones

The Guardian

04 January 2003

Very little is recorded of the life of the great Renaissance artist Titian. What we do know of his personality and his turbulent sexuality is laid bare in his painting

He could not help looking. It was an accident – well, all right, an accident combined with curiosity. But what was a man to do? Actaeon, the story goes, was out hunting with his friends in the woods when he got lost. That was his only mistake, really – that and looking at a naked goddess. "There is nothing sinful in losing one’s way," points out the ancient Roman poet Ovid, who tells the story of Actaeon in his fabulist poem Metamorphoses, written 2,000 years ago.

The grandson of Cadmus had hunted all morning with his friends, and their nets and swords were dripping with blood, when Actaeon suggested they call it a day and enjoy the noon heat. He himself wandered off from the sweaty mob into a thickly overgrown valley, and found a cave. It was a beautiful and refreshing place, entered via a graceful arch, and inside there was cold, clear water, flowing from a spring into a deep pool where Diana, goddess of the hunt, liked to come to cool off when she was tired from shooting her bow and hurling her javelin. Here she was, accompanied by her nymphs, who took her weapons and her clothes so that, naked, unencumbered, she could bathe. And that was when Actaeon blundered in.

Did his eyes fix on her breasts, her thighs? Or did he try not to look? Diana didn’t care if he was guilty or innocent. She was a modest goddess. She hadn’t got her bow, so instead she threw water – magic water – in the young fool’s face, yelling at him, "Now go and tell everyone you saw Diana naked – if you can!" Actaeon was growing antlers, his face was turning furry. Diana turned him into a stag – a dumb male animal, his phallic antlers useless when what he needed, and no longer had, was a voice to tell his hunting dogs it was him, their master, Actaeon, that they were hunting down.

In Titian’s painting The Death Of Actaeon, the dogs have just caught up with their hapless master. They are good, zealous dogs, doing what they were trained to do. In a line of energy, they fly at him – the three pack leaders are already on him. In Titian’s version, some details of Ovid’s story are changed in a way that brilliantly simplifies and intensifies the action, and heightens its emotion. Titian’s Actaeon has the body of a burly man; only his head has changed into that of a very stupid-looking stag, like a dead, stuffed trophy fixed on to his shoulders. The strangest thing about Actaeon’s head is that you can barely see his eye on the profile facing us; Titian – who painted the reflective depths of eyes as well as anyone in history – has chosen here to blind Actaeon in a painterly equivalent to Ovid’s robbing him of speech.

Titian’s painting has humour – it’s a blackly comic tale of voyeurism punished, and Titian relishes Diana’s mighty presence in a way that’s joyous and celebratory – but it is also heartfelt, sombre, magnificently piteous. The tragedy is in the trees. They are yellow and brown and seared and autumnal; these are not the fresh, green trees of youth, but the tired woods of age, decay; it is as if Actaeon’s youth has sped into senescence as the life not lived flashes in front of him. And yet those trees are lovely; the matted texture of them is so deliberately thick and rough that you can feel it on your skin, on your face. You can feel the stormy air, too, the chill breeze before the storm that those roiling clouds and that terrific sky – eerily turning from grey to yellow – promise.

It was said that Tiziano Vecellio was 104 years old when he died in 1576. This was probably an exaggeration, but an understandable one – 500 years ago, living beyond your 30s was an achievement. The one rival to Titian’s crown as the supreme genius of Renaissance Venice – the romantic, turbulent Giorgione – died of plague as a young man in 1510, after less than a decade’s work. Titian outlived him, and the average life span, by 10, 20, 30 . . . eventually, in that world, you lost count. He was probably born in the 1480s, making him between 86 and 96 when he died. Which means that Titian was at least in his 60s when he wrote to Philip II of Spain in June 1559, telling him he had "two poesie already under way: one of Europa on the Bull, the other of Actaeon torn apart by his own hounds".

Actaeon never got to Spain; it never joined the collection commissioned by Philip II from Titian, illustrating myths from Ovid. Instead, it seems to have stayed in his studio, possibly until his death. It is a chromatically muted painting – very different from the erotic, visual banquets of Titian’s other poesie; some say that it is unfinished, that it would have eventually looked much brighter. But I think the lack of finish is telling. The Death Of Actaeon seems to me a fearsomely personal work. It is one of those paintings in which Titian speaks about himself: he is Actaeon. An Actaeon grown old, a frenzied animal at the mad mercy of his eye, his roving, incredible eye.

About his greatness there has never been any doubt – not since he painted his astonishing altarpiece of the Assumption in the church of Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari in Venice as an up-and-coming contender in 1516-18. The Frari is a gothic church, high and bare, its glory a tall, semicircular network of arched windows that turns its south-west wall into a broken dazzle of sunlight. Insanely, the ambitious Titian accepted a commission to make an altar painting to stand in front of this wall of light – a painting that was doomed to be cast into a deep shadow, to seem a mere eccentric, dull daub against the sun that shone above and around it.

Titian’s painting meets the sun on equal terms. It is so bright, the gold heaven towards which the Virgin Mary is raised on a cloud borne by putti is so luminous, that instead of being overpowered by the sunlight streaming above, it seems that the sun is paying its compliments to Titian. Look more closely, and it turns out that Titian has tricked the eye by mimicking the contrast of light and shade that threatens to dull his painting. Down at the bottom of the seven metre tall panel, at our level, the disciples – as we do – look up at the ascending Virgin; they are in shade in a dowdy space. At the very centre of the earthbound crowd is a black hole. Up above, the heavenly gold light Mary enters is a shining circle, its circumference clearly defined by angels’ faces, and it gets whiter towards the centre: it is a depiction of the sun. Seeing how this light outshines the cooler colours below, we somehow accept that this painted sun is as powerful as the real one. Titian is a magician, and this is his most jaw-dropping sleight of hand.

No one has ever questioned that this is one of the world’s indispensable works of art; and no one has ever questioned Titian’s stature. He is the painter’s painter, and he is also the prince’s painter (not to mention, as he was nicknamed, the Prince of Painters); he is the expert’s painter and the people’s painter; he has never gone out of fashion, not in his lifetime, not ever. His art is endlessly fresh and generative. Even when they parodied him – Manet’s Olympia is a travesty of Titian’s Venus Of Urbino – artists learned from him, studied him, were inspired by him.

The three most influential post-Renaissance painters, Velázquez, Rubens and Rembrandt, were devoted to Titian – Rembrandt modelled one of his own self-portraits on Titian’s Portrait Of A Man (with a blue sleeve) in the National Gallery; Velázquez learned his luxurious style from Titians in the Spanish royal collection; Rubens copied many of his paintings. More than anyone else, Titian shaped our idea of painting – what it is, what it is capable of.

When he was young, oil painting was a new idea, and it was used with a raw excitement, as if every painting were a scientific discovery – the first time a landscape was depicted in convincing perspective, the first accurate painting of a reflection. When Titian died, oil painting had grown up – it had at its command an incredible array of techniques, an empire of the visual. It was Titian who created this empire. It was Titian who demonstrated the full range of powers specific to painting on canvas – to be at once a convincing imitation of appearances and also something else, something abstract. At the same time he displayed painting’s sensuality: when the American artist Willem de Kooning said oil paint was invented to depict flesh, it must have been Titian (and his disciple, Rubens) he was thinking of. Today, it is possible to argue that Titian was the most influential painter in history. And because his painterliness has an abstract quality, he has continued to influence modern artists. In the 19th century, Delacroix took Titian’s colour into realms of romantic madness – his Death Of Sardanapalus is a psychotic riff on Titian – and Degas took up his cult of the flesh. Even today, the best living painters, Gerhard Richter (who has done versions of Titians) and Lucian Freud, echo different aspects of Titian.

Titian is part of a triumvirate, with Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo Buonarroti, who invented the very idea of the modern artist. Da Vinci and Michelangelo, in their refusal to complete commissions and, in Michelangelo’s case, his stroppiness, established the image of the self-pleasing, wilful genius; Titian, partly because of his long career, but mostly through his dominance of a Europe-wide art market in which kings and princes collected his work for decades, established the authority of painting. He once dropped his brush in the presence of Emperor Charles V, and it was the Emperor who insisted on picking it up in deference to Titian.

And yet, he wears a mask. He lived for perhaps 90 years, in the most sophisticated city in the world, and he was famous from his 20s onwards. He was by all accounts an articulate, courtly, sociable man, a close friend of the writers Ariosto and Aretino, bright enough to be sent on diplomatic missions on behalf of the Venetian Republic, refined enough to become the companion of kings. And yet behind the screen of constant, smooth success, his life is practically unknown. His work, because of that, retains an enigmatic distance. The Frari altarpiece is Venice’s answer to Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel; and yet it’s nothing like as touristed because Titian doesn’t have the charisma of Michelangelo, his Florentine contemporary. Titian’s personality doesn’t burst out of the past like Michelangelo’s.

Titian never said anything quotable, but Michelangelo said something quotably mean about Titian. In the 1540s, Titian worked for a while in Rome. There, Michelangelo visited his studio. Titian had just finished his painting of Danaë – illustrating another tale from ancient mythology, in which the god Jupiter takes the form of a shower of gold to make love to Danaë. He did several versions of the painting – but the one Michelangelo saw is the best (part of the Capodimonte Museum exhibit in Naples, it is coming to the National Gallery’s Titian exhibition). It is the erotic pendant to Titian’s Frari altarpiece; just as he creates his own blazing sun in the Frari, here he makes flesh and gold merge in an uncanny, inexplicable bit of magic – a painting that is at once sensual and mystical, or rather, that is mystical about the senses.

As in the Frari, it is the play of light and darkness that weaves a spell. On her bed, the naked Danaë is warmed by subtly golden light. Titian captures the richness rather than the vulgarity of gold: that is also true of the almost bronze cloud, flecked with coins, that looms above Danaë in a dark, dense interior. The void of darkness at the centre makes the scene incomplete, luring the viewer to complete it; the imagination does this by abstracting and fusing the colours of skin and gold, that hang in memory as a dream, a vision of desire beyond verbal expression.

After seeing this incredible painting, Michelangelo praised the painting to Titian’s face. When he left the studio, however, he commented that it was very nice, its colouring was very nice – but it was a pity that Titian couldn’t draw.

Michelangelo’s put-down is the most celebrated expression of the fundamental difference between Florentine and Venetian art: while Tuscan Renaissance artists believed that line came first, Venetian painting defines space by colour, and it is in his colours that Titian’s personality will be found, in the texture of his paint. Titian’s paintings are not designed, then filled in; they exist in total spontaneity, in the brushing that Titian makes visible. His paintings are not smooth; he paints on rough canvas in which paint catches; and he pursues the same emotive, personal themes across his long career. Titian was a high-class kind of guy; his friend, the poet Aretino, commented on how Titian always knew how to speak to a lady, kissing hands, making courtly jests. And there’s a pleasure in civilised restraint – or, perhaps, a need for it – that distinguishes his art. This comes out most profoundly in his love of genre.

Titian, I think, enjoyed the discipline of objective rules – for example the conventions of portraiture – which he could then stretch, challenge, reinvent. His incredibly lifelike Portrait Of A Man (with a blue sleeve), painted in 1512, which may be a self-portrait, is an example of this. Titian’s joy as an artist in this painting is purely technical; he reinvents the repertoire of poses available to painters. Doing something stylish, Titian communicates something personal – the deeply felt presence of this unnamed 16th-century man.

Titian’s most accomplished genre of all is the one he himself invented or helped to invent – that of erotic mythology. There had been classical mythological paintings in Italy since the 15th century, but the kind of narrative, Ovidian art for which Titian is famous was new; it was his genre, the "poesie", as he called his paintings for Philip II. If genre is a discipline, and literary subject matter is an objective constraint, what Titian gave himself when he developed his unique kind of narrative painting was a way of both restraining and at the same time releasing – in a stylised, mediated way – his own sexuality. It is as if he was so obsessed with eroticism, so obsessed with women – like Picasso in his sometimes loving, sometimes hateful portraits – that he had to invent a new art of organised fantasy, of civilised eroticism.

Because the fantasies that Titian painted, from early on, are not just the lovingly painted, perhaps slightly complacent images of bountiful, sexually generous women, such as his Venus Of Urbino in the Uffizi – a painting that strikes you as pure body, openly desired by the artist. Or his dreamlike Le Concert Champêtre in the Louvre, once attributed to Giorgione, in which the same woman – depicted twice, including from behind, as if Titian wanted to record her entire physical presence – is the unashamedly naked attendant, the sexy yet docile companion, of two fully dressed men (this is a another picture Manet parodied – Le Déjeuner Sur L’Herbe).

Titian loved women – this has to be the least debatable statement in the history of art. This wasn’t just sex. He painted women as heroic and strong social actors – his portrait known as La Schiavona in the National Gallery stands above a marble relief of her own face, making her resemble a proud Roman matron, and she’s a big, forceful character. And the most brilliant of all Titian’s portraits, the most lovingly alive, is his dignified picture of a two-year-old girl, Clarissa Strozzi.

Titian’s emotional life pervades his paintings. Far from coming easily, the civilised tone of his art seems hard-won – violence, rage, terror are frothing in his brushwork. His overriding eroticism is not something worked up for patrons – although there was obviously a market for paintings like "the nude lady", as the man who commissioned it called the Venus Of Urbino – but something in him which painting allows him to project, simultaneously to enjoy and control.

Through his career, he is drawn to fierce and violent images. In his very first major public commission, a series of frescoes in Padua, he includes a scene of shocking brutality: the story of a jealous husband who murdered his wife. She begs for mercy while he prepares to stab her a second time. Later, Titian did several paintings of The Rape Of Lucretia, including a late, expressionistic work comparable to The Death Of Actaeon.

None of this is to say that Titian’s paintings are misogynist, hateful or hypocritical – on the contrary. There is a stale view of paintings such as the Venus Of Urbino, which arises from their popularity in the 19th century, as mildly saucy soft porn. In reality, and this is the source of his power, Titian’s sexuality is complicated, emotional, tortured and alive; his paintings embody the desires and terrors of a man who was capable of acute jealousy, anger, and a kind of religious worship of women.

Titian’s paintings of women are personal in another way. The same models recur in many of his pictures. One group of paintings seems to depict a woman who – a flower she holds suggests – may have been called Violante. It used to be said she was his lover and the pictorial evidence makes that romantic Victorian idea very plausible. The woman who posed as Flora, Titian’s most iconic beauty, is also in his painting Sacred And Profane Love. Flora is interpreted in all kinds of ways – as the goddess Flora, as a Venetian courtesan, as an image of correct sexual behaviour in a Venetian marriage – but the intimacy and warmth and passion of this painting (which is coming to the National Gallery from the Uffizi in Florence) might actually be Titian’s, and her, secret. Many of his most erotic paintings may be games in which Titian paints monuments to his lovers under the guise of heady mythological and pastoral art. It has even been suggested that Flora is Titian’s mistress Cecilia, whom he finally married in 1525 to legitimise their children.

Titian, so quiet about himself and so organised in his professional career, is in reality a powder keg of emotion, artfully channelled but never suppressed; his art is profoundly confessional. The Death Of Actaeon is a confession. And at the end of his life, Titian movingly drops all his elaborate strategies, takes off his Venetian mask and addresses us – and his God – directly in one of the most unguarded paintings anywhere. Only a master of irony could make such a total confession; only a master of colour could make a painting that is so denuded of it: Titian’s Pietà in the Accademia in Venice was painted as an ex-voto offering, a prayer, when Titian was very old and when Venice, the city he adored, was being devastated by plague. Titian’s Pietà pleads (the text is on a painted tablet) for mercy for Titian himself and for his son, Orazio. Titian puts himself in the painting, an almost naked, bearded old man, pathetically and hopelessly touching the hand of the dead Christ. Light has almost gone from the world – apart from a dull glow on the mosaic above Christ’s dimly shining corpse, the painting sinks into reveries of shadow, of death. If you look, you will eventually see what you fear, and in this last painting Titian sees death, his own death. Titian’s offering failed; neither he nor Orazio outlived the plague epidemic.

What is striking is that Titian, in his 80s, or 90s, or – who knows? – at the age of 104, so obviously wanted more life, more colour, more flesh. And looking at his paintings, so do we

· Titian is at the National Gallery, London WC2 (020-7747 5898), from February 19-May 18, 2003.

Voir également:

Italy’s Most Mysterious Paintings: Titian’s Sacred and Profane Love

Walks of Italy

November 29, 2012

Titian’s Sacred and Profane Love… a beautiful, and mysterious, painting in Italy!

Titian’s Sacred and Profane Love is the gem of Rome’s Borghese gallery… and one of the most famous paintings of Renaissance Italy. It’s so beloved, in fact, that in 1899, the Rothschild family offered to pay the Borghese Gallery 4 million lira for the piece—even though the gallery’s entire collection, and the grounds, were valued at only 3.6 million lira!

Perhaps the painting is so famous simply because of its beauty and because it’s a masterpiece by the Renaissance great Titian.

Or perhaps people have fallen in love with it because of its hidden secrets and symbolism—much of which art historians still don’t completely understand!

There’s a lot of mysterious stuff going on here.

At first glance, the painting might just look like another portrait of two lovely ladies, with a pastoral background behind them.

Look again.

First of all, there are the women themselves. One is clothed, bejeweled, and—seemingly—made up with cosmetics. She’s wearing gloves, and holding a plant of some kind. The other is (almost) stark naked, holding just a torch.

The church and pasture in Sacred and Profane Love

Then look at what they’re sitting on. That’s no carved-marble bench… that’s a sarcophagus. In other words, a coffin, of the type the ancient Romans used.

And it’s a strange sarcophagus, because it appears to be filled with water, which a cherubic baby is swirling.

Look even closer, and you can see a spout in the sarcophagus’ front, which the water is pouring out of and, seemingly, watering a growing plant below.

In the background, meanwhile, you have some other strange things going on: On our left, a horse and rider race up a mountaintop to a looming fortress, while two hares appear to be playing (or chasing each other); on our right, shepherds herd sheep in a pasture in front of a picturesque church, while a dog chases a hare.

Nothing that’s here is here by mistake. So what does it all mean?

We’re not sure. We have to rely on our knowledge of the painting’s symbols and hidden meanings to find out. And that’s because…

We don’t even know the real title of one of the most famous paintings in Europe

Although the piece is called Sacred and Profane Love, that’s not its original name. In fact, we don’t know what its original name was.

Here’s what we do know: Titian painted the piece in 1513-1514, at the age of just 25. And it was commissioned to celebrate the marriage of Niccoló Aurelio, a secretary to the Council of Venice, to Laura Bagarotto. No name is listed in the records for the painting, but in 1693, almost 200 years after it was painted, it showed up in the Borghese Gallery’s inventory under the name Amor Divino e Amor Profano (“divine love and profane love”).

…or what it’s supposed to show.

Sacred—or profane?

For a long time, art historians thought that the painting was supposed to show two different kinds of love: the sacred, and the profane.

It’s definitely safe to say the painting is about love. Symbols of love are scattered throughout, from the roses on the sarcophagus to the myrtle the woman on our left clasps (more on that later!). And, of course, the painting was a marriage gift, which would make this focus highly appropriate.

But does it show sacred and profane love? Well, if so, that might explain the background. The fortress, symbol of war and humanity, could symbolize the profane (or worldly); the church would, obviously, symbolize the sacred.

And it could explain the two women. Perhaps one is meant to be a Venus showing what worldly love looks like; the other, a Venus showing us sacred love.

But the interesting question is:

If this is true, then which of the two women represents sacred love, and which is the profane?

Is nudity actually a sign of the sacred? (Maybe!)

At first glance, you might think the woman on our left represents sacred love. After all, she’s clothed! The other, naked one would, of course, represent worldly, amorous love.

Some aspects of each woman’s costume do back up that theory, because there are so many hidden symbols here! For example, the clothed woman’s belt was generally considered a symbol of marital ties; and the myrtle in her hand symbolized the lasting happiness of marriage. On the other hand, the nude woman’s flame symbolized earthly lust.

But look again, and you see just as much symbolism pointing us in the opposite direction. For one thing, the clothed woman is seated, and therefore below—and closer to the earth than—her nude counterpart. She’s wearing gloves for falconry, or hunting, and holding a case of jewels, both signs of worldly pursuits. And she’s dressed very sumptuously (and not all that modestly!), with rich fabrics and even a touch of cosmetics.

But heavenly beauty doesn’t need any worldly adornment. The nude woman, therefore, might be sacred.

The key could be Cupid, mixing the waters in the sarcophagus…

Water swirls in the sarcophagus… and waters a growing plant?

Of course, that’s no baby between the two depictions of love (in this interpretation, two versions of Venus, goddess of love, herself): It’s Cupid. By mixing the waters in the well/sarcophagus, he might be suggesting that the ideal love is, in fact, a mix of these two kinds.

But this painting might not even be about sacred and profane love.

In the 20th century, art historian Walter Friedländer argued that the painting wasn’t about these two types of love at all. He thought it showed Polia and Venere, two characters in Francesco Colonna’s popular 1499 romance Hypnerotomachia Poliphili (don’t worry, there won’t be a test on that name!).

Another interpretation that’s much more simple… and makes a lot of sense? The painting could show the bride, Laura Bagarotto, herself, dressed in virginal white on the left. And the nude woman on the right? She might be Venus, initiating Laura into what love is like—complete with showing her the passion that’s necessary to make a marriage work (the torch).

But no one is sure what this painting really means. There’s a lot going on here, that’s for sure. And it’s kept art historians interested—and arguing!—for centuries.

Voir encore:

Titien ou l’art plus fort que la nature : être Apelle

Pascal Bonafoux

Ecrivain et critique d’art. Professeur d’histoire de l’art à l’université.

Clio

Le 5 janvier 1857 dans son Journal, Delacroix note : « Si l’on vivait cent vingt ans, on préférerait Titien à tout. » Cézanne affirme quant à lui : « La peinture, ce qui s’appelle la peinture, ne naît qu’avec les Vénitiens. » Cézanne songe à Titien comme il songe à Tintoret et à Véronèse. Peu lui importe que Titien ait près de trente ans, trente ans peut-être, lorsque naît Tintoret, qu’il ait dix ans de plus lorsque naît Véronèse en 1528. Ces regards de peintres sont essentiels. Parce qu’ils savent ce que « regarder », ce que « voir » veut dire. Parce qu’ils savent ce que « peindre » veut dire. Or la peinture est la seule vérité de Titien. Pour le reste…

Plus jeune en sa jeunesse, plus âgé en son vieil âge

Le 1er août 1571, Titien écrit à Philippe II pour réclamer des sommes qui lui sont dues. Il se dit dans cette lettre « serviteur du roi, maintenant‚ âgé de quatre-vingt-quinze ans ». Un émissaire espagnol, un certain Garcia Hernandez, dans un rapport daté du 15 octobre 1564, assure que Titien a près de quatre-vingt-dix ans. Raffaello Borghini écrit, quelques années après la mort du peintre, qu’il mourut en 1576 « à l’âge de quatre-vingt-dix-huit ou quatre-vingt-dix-neuf ans ». Ce qui confirme à peu près la même date… Titien serait né en 1477…

Dans le registre de la paroisse de San Canciano où meurt Titien le 27 août 1576, on inscrit son âge : cent trois ans. Titien serait né en 1473… Dans une lettre du 6 décembre 1567, Thomas de Cornoça, consul d’Espagne à Venise, affirme alors au roi que Titien a « quatre-vingt-cinq ans ». Titien serait né en 1482… Lorsqu’il lui rend visite en 1566, Vasari note que Titien a alors « environ soixante-seize ans ». Titien serait né en 1490… Dans le Dialogo della Pittura qu’il publie à Venise en 1557, Lodovico Dolce, qui est de ses amis, assure que lorsqu’il entreprit de peindre les fresques du Fondaco dei Tedeschi auprès de Giorgione en 1508, il « n’avait pas encore vingt ans ». Titien serait donc né en 1488…

1477, 1473, 1482, 1488, 1490 ?… Jeune, longtemps Titien a sans doute laissé entendre qu’il était plus jeune encore. Pour que l’on ne doute pas de sa précocité. Âgé, Titien n’a vu aucun inconvénient à ce qu’on le crut plus vieux qu’il n’était. Pour que l’on rende hommage aux prodiges dont il ne cessait pas d’être capable en dépit de son âge.

Prouver qu’il est Titien

Regarder la peinture de Titien, c’est devoir songer à une lettre de Pietro Aretino – l’Arétin – qui regarde la nuit tomber sur Venise. « Vers certains côtés apparaissait un vert-bleu, vers d’autres un bleu-vert, des tons vraiment composés par un caprice de la nature, maîtresse des maîtres. À l’aide des clairs et des obscurs, elle donnait de la profondeur ou du relief à ce qu’elle voulait faire avancer ou reculer; et moi qui connais votre pinceau comme son inspirateur, je m’exclamai trois ou quatre fois : Ô Titien, où êtes-vous donc ? » Posée en mai 1544, la question reste sans réponse… Ou, plus exactement, les seules réponses qui vaillent sont celles de la légende, de la fable et du mythe. Parce que, grevées de soupçons, elles s’accordent aux silences qui bruissent de sens qui sont ceux de ses toiles.

Les lettres de Titien, celle adressée en 1513 au Conseil des Dix de la Sérénissime République de Venise, celle écrite en 1530 à Frédéric de Gonzague, duc de Mantoue, celle qu’il fait écrire en 1544 par Giovanni della Casa au cardinal Alessandro Farnese, celle encore qu’il adresse en 1545 à Sa Très Sainte Majesté Césarienne, Charles Quint, l’assurance qu’il donne en 1562 à Philippe II : « J’emploierai tout le temps de vie qui me reste pour faire le plus souvent possible à Votre Majesté Catholique la révérence de quelque nouvelle peinture, travaillant pour que mon pinceau lui apporte cette satisfaction que je désire et que mérite la grandeur d’un si haut roi », toutes ces lettres sont celles d’un peintre qui semble n’avoir d’autre ambition que de servir. Maldonne. Titien n’est, n’a jamais été fidèle qu’à Titien. Titien ne sert, n’a servi, que Titien.

Et tous les moyens lui auront été bons. Récit de Vasari : « À ses débuts, quand il commença à peindre dans la manière de Giorgione, à dix-huit ans à peine, fit le portrait d’un gentilhomme de la famille Barbarigo, son ami… on le jugea si bien peint et avec tant d’habileté que, si Titien n’y avait mis son nom dans une ombre, on l’aurait pris pour une œuvre de Giorgione. » Titien ne laisse pas longtemps son nom dans l’ombre… Il n’a voulu qu’on le confonde avec Giorgione, emporté par la peste en 1510, que parce que cette confusion le sert lorsqu’il n’a pas vingt ans encore. Lorsque les « faux » Giorgione qu’il a peints lui ont acquis la renommée qu’il estime devoir lui revenir, il n’a plus d’autre ambition que de prouver qu’il est Titien. Donc incomparable.

Le 5 octobre 1545, Titien lui-même écrit à Charles Quint : « Très Sainte Majesté Césarienne, j’ai remis au Seigneur Don Diego de Mendoza les deux portraits de la Sérénissime Impératrice, pour lesquels j’ai été aussi vigilant que possible. J’aurai voulu les apporter moi-même, mais la longueur du voyage et mon âge ne me le permettent pas. Je prie Votre Majesté de me faire dire les erreurs et les manquements, en me les renvoyant afin que je les corrige ; et que Votre Majesté ne permette pas qu’un autre y touche. » Nouvelle lettre impatiente, le 7 décembre 1545 : « Très Sainte Majesté Césarienne, j’ai envoyé il y a quelques mois à Votre Majesté par les mains du Seigneur Don Diego votre ambassadeur le portrait de la sainte mémoire de l’Impératrice votre épouse, fait de ma main, avec cet autre qui me fut donné par elle comme modèle. J’attends avec un infini dévouement de savoir si mon œuvre Vous est parvenue et si elle Vous a plu ou non. Car si je savais qu’elle vous a plu, je sentirais dans l’âme un contentement que je ne suis pas capable d’exprimer… » On raconte que devant ce portrait peint en 1545 de sa femme Isabelle de Portugal morte le 1er mai 1539, l’empereur pleura. Titien peut ne plus douter de la puissance de sa peinture. Qu’il peigne une impératrice morte ou une déesse, son pouvoir est le même.

« L’art plus puissant que la nature »

En 1554, quelques mois avant qu’une toile dont le Livre X des Métamorphoses d’Ovide a tenu lieu de modèle, quelques mois avant que la toile, récit de l’amour que porte Venus à Adonis, jeune mortel, ne soit expédiée à Madrid, Ludovico Dolce décrit l’œuvre découverte dans l’atelier de Titien : « Je vous jure, Monseigneur, qu’il n’existe pas d’homme perspicace qui ne la prenne pour une femme en chair et en os. Il n’existe pas d’homme assez usé par les ans, ni d’homme aux sens assez endormis, pour ne pas se sentir réchauffé, attendri et ému dans tout son être. » Les toiles de Titien et les Sonnets luxurieux de l’Arétin ont la même raison – érotique – d’être. Mais, à la différence de ces sonnets, les nus de Titien peuvent sembler répondre à l’exigence du Livre du Courtisan de Baldassar Castiglione, livre de chevet de l’empereur Charles Quint, livre qui régit les convenances de toutes les cours : « Pour donc fuir le tourment de cette passion et jouir de la beauté sans passion, il faut que le Courtisan, avec l’aide de la raison, détourne entièrement le désir du corps pour le diriger vers la beauté seule, et, autant qu’il le peut, qu’il la contemple en elle-même, simple et pure, et que dans son imagination il la rende séparée de toute matière, et ainsi fasse d’elle l’amie chérie de son âme. »

Le 10 mai 1533, Charles Quint nomme Titien comte du Palazzo Laterrano, du Consiglio Aulico et du Consistoro. Il lui accorde encore le titre de comte palatin et de chevalier « dello Sperone ». Titien a libre accès à la cour. Enfin l’empereur reconnaît à ses fils, auxquels il concède le titre de « Nobles de l’Empereur », les mêmes privilèges qu’à ceux qui portent un pareil titre depuis quatre générations. La devise que se choisit Titien est NATURA POTENTIOR ARS – l’art est plus puissant que la nature. Elle s’accorde à celle de Charles Quint, « Plus oultre ». Même volonté. Même orgueil.

Apelle, mythe et modèle

Au monastère de San Yuste où il se retire après avoir, rongé par la goutte, abdiqué à Bruxelles, le 28 août 1556, comme aucun empereur ne l’a fait depuis Dioclétien quelque douze siècles plus tôt, Charles Quint emporte plusieurs tableaux de Titien. Titien n’a peut-être pas eu d’autre ambition que d’être l’Apelle de cet empereur. D’Apelle, mort vers 300 avant J.-C., il ne reste rien. Il ne reste qu’un nom que rapportent quelques fragments de textes anciens, il ne reste que quelques anecdotes… Reste un mythe. C’est à ce mythe que Titien s’identifie.

On rapporte qu’Apelle datait des œuvres à l’imparfait. Le légat du pape à Venise commande à Titien un polyptyque. Lorsqu’il l’achève en 1520, il le signe et le date TICIANUS FACIEBAT MDXXII. À l’imparfait. Comme Apelle. Description par Ovide de l’œuvre la plus célèbre d’Apelle : « L’on voit Vénus ruisselante séchant avec ses doigts sa chevelure humide, toute couverte des eaux où elle vient de naître. » En 1520 peut-être, Titien peint une pareille Vénus qui essuie ses cheveux. Comme Apelle.

Pline assure : « Il n’y a de gloire que pour les artistes qui ont peint des tableaux. Il n’y avait aucune peinture à fresque d’Apelle. » Titien ne peint que de rares fresques. Après 1523, il n’en peint plus aucune. Comme Apelle. Alexandre, rapporte encore Pline, « avait interdit par ordonnance qu’aucun autre peintre fit son portrait. »

Charles Quint ne commande plus son portrait qu’à Titien qu’il dit en 1536 être son « Premier peintre ». Titien a auprès de Charles Quint la place qui fut, auprès d’Alexandre, celle d’Apelle. Titien est Apelle. Presque. Un geste de Charles Quint est nécessaire encore. Roger de Piles rapporte en 1708 : « Titien donna tant de jalousie aux courtisans de Charles Quint, qui se plaisait dans la conversation de ce peintre, que cet empereur fut contraint de leur dire qu’il ne manquerait jamais de courtisans, mais qu’il n’aurait pas toujours un Titien. On sait encore que ce peintre ayant un jour laissé tomber un pinceau en faisant le portrait de Charles Quint, cet empereur le ramassa, et que sur le remerciement et l’excuse de Titien lui en faisait, il dit ces paroles : Titien mérite d’être servi par César. » Par ce geste qui fut celui d’Alexandre qui, raconte-t-on, se baissa pour ramasser le pinceau d’Apelle, Charles Quint fait de Titien un nouvel Apelle – comme il se sacre lui-même l’égal d’Alexandre le Grand.

Voir enfin:

How long for France’s accidental president?

Konrad Yakabuski

The Globe and Mail

Jan. 16 2014

The narrow Paris laneway where French President François Hollande allegedly conducted his trysts, in a rented apartment tied to the Corsican mafia, is called Rue du Cirque – Circus Street, owing to its history as the site of a 19th-century summer carnival. And the no-drama nerd who promised to restore decorum to the presidency after the bling and histrionics of Nicolas Sarkozy has certainly ended up creating a circus worthy of his media-baiting predecessor.

In choosing not to marry his companion when he entered the Élysée Palace, Mr. Hollande was supposed to be making an honest break from the French tradition of presidents who had sexless wives for official functions but sexy mistresses for fun or love. Mr. Hollande was the modern man, finding his soulmate and satisfying protocol in his common-law relationship with journalist Valérie Trierweiler.

Ms. Trierweiler (pronounced Tree-air-vay-lair) became France’s first unmarried first lady, with her own Elysée office, staff, state schedule and web page. Allegations that Mr. Hollande has been having an affair with a younger actress have thrown Ms. Trierweiler’s official status up in the air and left the Socialist Mr. Hollande’s carefully constructed 2014 agenda in tatters. His own ministers see him as a millstone and his ability to govern his fractured nation is in doubt.

To be clear, the French don’t give a flying steak-frites about whom their presidents sleep with. But they do prize elegance. Mr. Sarkozy was an affront to both, with his messy marital breakup, his remarriage to a tipsy model, his new-money friends and his flashy presence. If Mr. Sarkozy’s private life was an open book, it was a cheesy Harlequin the French had no desire to read.

François Mitterrand had elegance. Three decades ago, he could maintain a second family without the media making a fuss or questioning the first-lady status of wife Danielle. Both wife and mistress attended his 1996 burial, which, while noted, was hardly big news.

Mr. Hollande’s mistake was to believe his after-hours dalliances would be treated with similar discretion by the mainstream media. The presidency is no longer held in much reverence by the French. Today, not even Mr. Mitterrand could get away with living a double life, especially if seen to be interfering with his job or contradicting the image he was seeking to project.

But what the French find most galling about Mr. Hollande’s alleged affair, which he has not denied, is his sloppiness. The photos of the helmet-wearing President sneaking out on the back of a scooter, with minimal security detail following him, raise serious questions about whether those protecting this G-7 head of state are plain incompetent or just out to undermine their boss.

Didn’t the Groupe de securité de la présidence de la République, France’s secret service, know of paparazzi snapping photos from a building adjacent to where Mr. Hollande allegedly met actress Julie Gayet? Didn’t it know that the apartment was rented by a Gayet acquaintance whose two previous partners (one of whom was murdered just this year) had possible ties to the Corsican mafia?

This is not just tabloid fodder. Even Le Monde is playing the conspiracy card, asking whether Mr. Sarkozy’s aim of recapturing power had something to do with a gossip magazine’s publication of the compromising photos just four days before Mr. Hollande was set to give a critical speech. “At the Elysée, those loyal to [Mr. Sarkozy] are still in place, particularly in the GSPR,” Le Monde wrote in Monday’s edition.

Mr. Hollande’s Tuesday speech came after a disastrous year economically in France. In pledging tax and spending cuts, Mr. Hollande aimed to make headlines with new pro-business policies and a goal to spread French influence globally. But those ambitions now look laughable, as steamier headlines crowd out Mr. Hollande’s desired narrative.

All this makes the otherwise jovial Mr. Hollande a tragicomic figure. He became president by accident; voters did not so much choose him as reject Mr. Sarkozy. But he has been true to his nickname (Flanby, after a jiggly French custard dessert). In office, he’s had the consistency of Jell-O, with ambiguous policies that please no one in his factionalized party or the broader electorate.

All he had going for him was the appearance of normalcy at home. Now, that’s gone. How long before he is, too?


Andrea Bocelli: Attention, un miracle peut en cacher bien d’autres (We talk about beauty, but we all keep score)

12 janvier, 2014
https://scontent-a-cdg.xx.fbcdn.net/hphotos-ash2/486460_10151394534058953_1363323043_n.jpg

Si Dieu chantait, sa voix ressemblerait à celle d’Andrea Bocelli. Céline Dion
Because of my personal convictions as a devout Catholic, I am not only fighting against something, I am fighting for something – and I am for life. … A young pregnant wife was hospitalized for a simple attack of appendicitis. The doctors had to apply some ice on her stomach and when the treatments ended the doctors suggested that she abort the child. They told her it was the best solution because the baby would be born with some disability. But the young brave wife decided not to abort, and the child was born. That woman was my mother, and I was the child. Maybe I’m partisan, but I can say that it was the right choice. … I hope this could encourage many mothers that sometimes find themselves in difficult situations – in those moments when life is complicated but want to save the life of their baby. Andrea Bocelli
Les gens n’aiment pas que l’on explique des choses qu’ils veulent garder " absolues ". Moi, je trouve qu’il vaut mieux savoir. C’est très bizarre que l’on supporte si mal le réalisme. Dans le fond, la sociologie est très proche de ce qu’on appelle la sagesse. Elle apprend à se méfier des mystifications. Je préfère me débarrasser des faux enchantements pour pouvoir m’émerveiller des vrais " miracles ". En sachant qu’ils sont précieux parce qu’ils sont fragiles.  (…) Le succès de la pilule Viagra n’est que l’attestation visible de ce qui se sait depuis longtemps dans les cabinets médicaux ou psychanalytiques. Les hommes, surtout, pourraient se simplifier la vie. Le rôle masculin m’est très insupportable depuis très longtemps dans son côté faiseur, bluffeur, m’as-tu-vu, exhibitionniste. Si les rapports masculins/féminins (qui se reproduisent aussi chez les homosexuels) étaient dépouillés de ce devoir d’exhibition, on respirerait mieux. Les numéros d’hommes, c’est tuant! Pierre Bourdieu
Je crois que la culture dans nos sociétés est un des lieux du sacré : la religion culturelle est devenue pour certaines catégories sociales – dont les intellectuels – le lieu des convictions les plus profondes, des engagements les plus profonds. Par exemple, la honte de la gaffe culturelle est devenue l’équivalent du péché. Je pense que l’analogie avec la religion peut-être poussée très loin. Alors qu’aujourd’hui, une analyse de sociologie religieuse peut être poussée très loin, comme celle sur les évêques ; elle ne touche personne même pas les évêques. … La sociologie de la culture se heurte à des résistances fantastiques. Et le travail d’objectivation qui a été fait sur la religion : personne ne peut contester qu’il y a une certaine corrélation entre la religion que l’on a acquise dans sa famille et la religion que l’on professe ; on ne peut pas nier qu’il y ait une transmission de père en fils des convictions religieuses, que quand cette transmission disparaît, la religion disparaît. Bon, quand on le dit sur la culture, on enlève à l’homme cultivé un des fondements du charme de la culture, à savoir l’illusion de l’innéité, l’illusion charismatique : c’est à dire j’ai acquis ça par moi-même, à la naissance comme une espèce de miracle. Pierre Bourdieu
Les miracles, ce sont les situations dans lesquelles les lois ordinaires sont suspendues. Il y a l’amor fati. C’est un truc que j’ai dit à propos de la Kabylie et du Béarn : c’est terrible, les gens aiment vraiment ceux qu’ils ont des chances socialement définies d’aimer. Quand on dit : « Il a épousé sa promise », on le dit très clairement. Dans les milieux que j’ai étudiés — les paysans kabyles ou béarnais —, pour chaque garçon, il y a trois filles possibles. Et il se trouve qu’il aime une de celles-là. Sauf accident, il y a des mésalliances… C’est assez désespérant. Parmi toutes les lois sociales, une des plus terribles est la loi de l’homogamie. Or ces lois sont vraies à grande échelle ; et quand on raffine, c’est pire. Quand on prend l’espace social tel qu’il est décrit dans La Distinction, plus on découpe petit, plus l’homogamie se renforce. J’avais fait une toute petite note dans La Noblesse d’Etat sur l’homogamie des normaliens. Ça fait froid dans le dos. Mais ce qui se passe dans le cercle homogame peut être vécu comme miraculeux : les rapports de violence, de domination peuvent être suspendus. Pierre Bourdieu
Le goût "pur" et l’esthétique qui en fait la théorie trouvent leur principe dans le refus du goût "impur" et de l’aïs­thèsis ["sensation" en grec, ce qui a donné "esthétique"] forme simple et primitive du plaisir sensible réduit à un plaisir des sens, comme dans ce que Kant appelle "le goût de la langue, du palais et du gosier", abandon à la sensation immédiate [...]. On pourrait montrer que tout le langage de l’esthé­tique est enfermé dans un refus principiel du facile, entendu dans tous les sens que l’éthique et l’esthé­tique bourgeoises donnent à ce mot. (… Comme le disent les mots employés pour les dénoncer, "facile" ou "léger" bien sûr, mais aussi "frivole", "futile", "tape-à-l’oeil", "supericiel", "racoleur" … ou dans, dans le registre des satisfactions orales, "sirupeux", "douceâtre", "à l’eau de rose", "écoeurant", les oeuvres vulgaires ne sont pas seulement une une sorte d’insulte au raffinement des raffinés, une manière d’offense au public "difficile" qui n’entend pas qu’on lui offre des choses "faciles" (on aime à dire des atistes, et en particulier des chefs d’orchestre, qu’ils se respectent et qu’ils respectent leur public); elles suscitent le malaise et le dégoût par les méthodes de séduction, ordinairement dénoncées comme "basses", "dégradantes", "avilissantes" qu’elles mettent en oeuvre, donnant au spectateur le sentiment d’être traité comme le premier venu, qu’on peut séduire avec des charmes de pacotille, l’invitant à régressser vers les formes les plus primitives et les plus élémentaires du plaisir. Pierre Bourdieu
La musique la plus légitime fait l’objet, avec le disque et la radio, d’usages non moins passifs et intermittents que les musiques "populaires" sans être pour autant discréditée et sans qu’on lui impute les effets aliénants qu’on attribue à la musique populaire. Quant au caractère répétitif de la forme, il atteint un maximum dans le chant grégorien (pourtant hautement valorisé) ou dans nombre de musiques médiévales aujourd’hui cultivées et dans tant de musiques de divertissement du 17e et du 18e siècles, d’ailleurs conçues à l’origine pour être ainsi consommées "en fond sonore". Pierre Bourdieu
There are occasional miracles…but such blockbusters are rare. . . . They have to be seen as special, almost freak occurrences. Decca senior vice president
There are simply so many other options competing for our scarce leisure time and our ever-rising disposable income. A hundred years ago, we didn’t have TV. Fifty years ago, there was no Internet. Twenty-five years ago, the $10 billion video game industry was in its infancy. As the entertainment market offers an ever-increasing number of options, classical music’s fight for our attention has become more competitive and makes the classical audience look small, even as it holds on to its share. If Lizst had to vie with the Matrix Reloaded or video games such as Grand Theft Auto III, would he have captured the public’s imagination? …Some argue that classical music has more intrinsic value than other forms of entertainment because of its significance for our musical tradition and its intellectual complexity. But whether this makes it more valuable depend on why one listens to music. We may admire the musical facility in Mozart or be challenged by the expansive musical canvas in Mahler, but be more profoundly moved by “Amazing Grace” on a lone bagpipe. Still, classical music’s prevailing culture and conventions do feel increasingly out of sync with contemporary experience. As most people will tell you, a modern classical music concert is an entirely somber, serious affair for performers and audiences alike. It is predictable and almost lifelessly professional. No classical music stage today would tolerate the onstage shenanigans of Vladimir de Pachmann, a world-famous nineteenth-century pianist who earned millions touring and was known to dip each finger in brandy before a recital. Although the dress code has relaxed somewhat in recent years—much to the horror of the old guard—some rules are strictly observed, such as no applause between movements. These conventions may seem unnecessarily restrictive for those who have known only dress-casual workplaces. This widening gap between the conventions of classical music and the rest of society tends to reinforce classical music’s image as music for the economic elite. And yet this image is not entirely borne out by the facts. According to the National Endowment for the Arts, the classical music concert audience is no richer than audiences for jazz or musical plays. This survey shows that the level of participation in all arts rises with income. It is not simply that classical music audiences tend to be richer than other audiences, but that all audiences tend to be richer than average. Moreover, both rich and poor share similar preferences. For example, musical plays are more popular than classical music at each income level, with similar relative participation rates. Perhaps more worrisome is the cultural elitism of many people in the classical music community. The fact that there are 276 versions of Beethoven’s 5th, already tends to foster an atmosphere where someone who can’t tell one from the other is made to feel less than welcome. Even those in the business end, “encouraged the attitude that you have to be able to spell Tchaikovsky backwards to be qualified to buy something,” noted the President of EMI Classics back in 1990. And some classical music proponents criticize any attempt to reach a wider audience as “dumbing down.” They view the enormous popularity of The Three Tenors and other crossover albums as a phenomenon that degrades or reduces the status of classical music. In the words of essayist Joseph Epstein: “The bloody snobbish truth is, I prefer not to think myself part of this crowd [his fellow audience at a Pops concert]. I think myself…much better—intellectually superior, musically more sophisticated, even though I haven’t any musical training whatsoever and cannot follow a score.” This attitude, albeit half-joking, may hurt classical music’s ability to reinvent itself and adapt to the modern audience and the modern world. On the contrary, to emotionally connect to today’s audiences and capture their imaginations will take vision and innovation. But there are examples out there. One of the most unlikely successes on Broadway last year was a production of Puccini’s La Bohème, the 1896 opera about a doomed love between Mimi, a Parisian seamstress, and Rodolfo, a starving poet. While the music is exactly as Puccini wrote it and the characters sing in Italian, Baz Luhrmann, the director of Strictly Ballroom and Moulin Rouge, reimagined the story set in 1957. More importantly, he ignored the usual opera conventions and hired singers who looked and acted the parts. Although purists criticized the quality of the singing and objected to the use of microphones, Luhrmann’s experiment shows that there is an enthusiastic new audience for classical music if classical music is made relevant. Even in tradition-bound solo recitals, old customs are loosening up. At the end of a recent recital, Maxim Vengerov, a rising twenty-something violinist, picked up a microphone and talked to the audience for 20 minutes. On a stage where the only thing usually uttered by the soloist is the announcement of the encores, his entertaining anecdotes and sincere answers to questions left the audience more connected to both the music and the musician. Is it possible to make money in today’s classical recordings business without blockbuster crossovers? Absolutely, says Naxos, the world’s bestselling budget label, with 15 percent of classical CD sales in the U.K., 25 percent in Canada, and more than 5 percent in the U.S. While the major labels pursued blockbusters, Naxos, founded in 1987, focused on producing the standard repertory cheaply. “My ambition was to make classical recordings available on CD at a price comparable to that of LPs,” states Klaus Heymann, founder and chairman. Think of Naxos as the Southwest Airlines of classical CDs. It delivers classical music without frills and at rock-bottom prices. It hires young or unknown recording artists, many from Eastern Europe, and pays them a flat fee with no added royalties. It keeps one recording of each work in its catalog, limiting the catalog to about 2,500 titles and eliminating duplication of repertoire. It doesn’t waste a lot of money on expensive promotions. That way, it can sell its CDs for $6.98, not $16.98. And it sells a lot of CDs. Enough to be profitable in spite of budget prices. The other successful strategy focuses on niche markets and nonstandard repertory. Hyperion, a British label founded in 1980, and others have taken this approach. “I didn’t see the point in doing the 103rd version of the New World Symphony, so I went for the more neglected areas, but not so neglected that nobody would buy them,” said Hyperion founder Ted Perry. The label’s first hit was an album of Latin hymns by Hildegard von Bingen (1098-1179), which sold over 150,000 copies. Along with Nonesuch, which released Górecki’s Third Symphony and the works of other contemporary composers, Hyperion has shown that record companies can be profitable by exploiting a niche market that has been neglected in the catalogs of the major labels. Boston Fed
I believe Andrea’s voice is similar to the way people sang bel canto at the time bel canto was written. It was a chest voice admittedly up to G, maybe A-flat. Everything after that, basically from A-flat or A on, goes into a mixed voice. It’s half head, half chest. Andrea can get to a G, maybe an A-flat, in that full voice. After that, which was bel canto tradition, they turned it into, if not a real falsetto, a mixed voice. If you look at some of these old Donizetti things, written up to high Bs, by the time they were singing that high, they were singing in a falsetto. Andrea has always had this sort of half voice. Now, if you’re trying to sing B-flat and Cs, which opera singers like the Marcello Giordanis of the world do, well, they’re singing those high notes in full voice. And when they sing over an orchestra, they cut glass. In other words, it gets really exciting. Whereas Andrea’s voice, amplified, is just fine. Singing that stuff on stage unamplified is where the issue is. Andrea’s voice comes originally from the pop side. It comes from the pop side so it speaks clearly. And so when he sings opera in that style it doesn’t sound overly mannered. Now that has pros and cons. This is where the big battle comes. Because the opera purist will say, ‘Well, that’s not really an opera voice. Because he can’t do what the so-called real opera singers do on stage. He can’t do those high notes. They don’t grow and get bigger.’ But therefore he’s less histrionic. So people who are coming from a non-opera background will say, ‘Oh, isn’t it nice to hear that?’ Because Andrea doesn’t sound like he’s exaggerating, he sounds like he’s just singing in a nice lyrical way. So it’s easy for people to approach that without feeling like they’re hearing somebody barking in that exaggerated operatic way. People who don’t know how to approach opera. But people can get to opera by liking Andrea’s pop stuff. And when he sings opera or classical stuff, since it’s all amplified, and recorded, and he’s singing in that nice lyric way, they won’t feel put-off. That’s a big point of contention for the real opera fan or the real opera critic. They’re saying that’s not real. That’s a recording studio or an amplified reality. What happens to the poor opera singer who lives day in and day out, who’s screaming their guts out, trying to cut over an orchestra? Of course they’re going to sound more histrionic, even on recording, because that’s the way they sing. Likewise, that’s why a lot of opera singers, when they sing pop music, tend to sound exaggerated. Because they learn what the Italians call l’impostazione, a way of placing the voice in this way to cut glass over the second row, and they don’t know how to turn that off. Steven Mercurio
Pavarotti’s great career therefore ended with a virtual performance, something sad but inevitable. It would have been too dangerous for him, because of his physical condition, to risk a live performance before a global audience. First I recorded a number of versions of the orchestra playing the aria, then [I] took the tapes to the small studio at Pavarotti’s house in Modena. He selected the right version before I directed him alone as he sang along, while being recorded. He found the force to repeat it until he was completely satisfied. Then he collapsed on his wheelchair and closed his eyes, exhausted. (…)  The orchestra pretended to play for the audience, I pretended to conduct and Luciano pretended to sing. The effect was wonderful. Leone Magiera
Beginning with the premise that a listener always wants the most beauty possible, it would have been interesting to offer ticket buyers in Modena this choice: ripe Pavarotti, U.S.D.A.-inspected, guaranteed and pretested; or Pavarotti as a gamble on the unknown — and given the lack of rehearsal time a bad gamble at that. It was going to be his voice either way. Everyone, of course, would reject the simulation to see what happened. The explanation they would no doubt give is that live sound is better than recorded sound. But I think the real reason would be something else. It’s the time factor. People don’t want to be two-timed. Everything we do in life is geared to cause and effect, and when Mr. Pavarotti opens his mouth, we insist on not knowing what will come out. Public performance is more of a sporting event than we like to admit. We talk about beauty, but we all keep score. Picture a soccer match on television. Diego Maradona is outwitting defenders and speeding toward the enemy goal. Now picture Mr. Pavarotti and the Modena concert’s producer, Tibor Rudas, in the telecast booth. "Maradona looks off balance," they say to themselves. "This isn’t going to be a very beautiful kick. But wait. Remember that great goal by Di Stefano for Real Madrid 35 years ago. We have that right here, queued up on tape. Our fans deserve the most beautiful football we can give them, so let’s cut from Maradona and show them this instead." How could soccer fans possibly complain? The substitute is going to have just about the same look: two-dimensional and shrunk to the scale of a television screen. And it is more beautiful. But of course they are going to complain. Soccer fans are being denied the link of action to consequence, the motion of time, the chunk of data that connects the past (Maradona’s approach) and the future (the result of his kick). If anyone was cheated by Mr. Pavarotti, it was the good citizens of Modena, the ones who were in attendance when it happened. They had the great man in front of them, sharing the same space, the same moment. They had their right to the present and to the unknown. For BBC listeners who could not see the Pavarotti lips moving out of whack with the music, ignorance may have been bliss and the sounds divine. When broadcasters record "live" events for future transmission (which they frequently do), the margin for complaint narrows even more. Here the thrill of the moment was never theirs to begin with. Frozen on tape, a firsthand experience is now secondhand. Mr. Pavarotti’s tactic would change the process to a thirdhand experience of a secondhand event. The difference isn’t all that dramatic. The Maradona analogy reminds us of the two kinds of listening going on in music these days: what is about to happen versus what has already happened. The dichotomy, which actually predates electronics by a generation or two, began with the marketing of eternal masterpieces, unmovable and omnipresent. Here, you get to know the music so well that, after bar 50, bar 51 is scarcely a surprise. Recordings — the kind Mr. Pavarotti lip-synced to — have simply reinforced the syndrome. You not only know exactly what, but exactly how. This is the little self-deception we exercise every time we play a favorite record or tune in a "Live From Lincoln Center" repeat. If we don’t already know the results, we at least know that if the performance had been a disaster, it wouldn’t be there for us to hear in the first place. Maybe Mr. Pavarotti wasn’t fooling his listeners any more than they have consented to fool themselves. Bernard Holland
Audiences have changed. People who go and hear Bocelli hear opera in soundbites – just one aria from Boheme or Tosca, like you would hear a pop song. … It’s more that I have such respect for what it takes to be a great jazz or pop artist that I know how few opera singers can really do that. To be Ella Fitzgerald, who to me is one of the greatest singers ever, you have to improvise, you have to be raw, you need to be able to lose that trained style that can sound so mannered. Collette
Compared with sopranos, tenors are a rare breed, partly because the way in which they sing is unnatural. The natural male voice is a baritone. With training, some voices have the ability to go down and become bass or bass baritone, fewer have the ability to go up and become tenors. But if the voice is forced, it can be ruined, as has happened to many great tenors with short careers. And there is no magic formula in terms of a teaching method. Each voice is unique and determined by factors such as nationality, which will influence the sound the larynx can produce – in some countries, the language spoken produces a more open sound than others. Who you like is also very much a question of personal taste. John Cargher
Bocelli has gone about it the other way round, beginning his career as a recording artist before attempting to earn credibility in staged productions. The reason for this is obvious: Bocelli’s blindness is a serious obstacle, not only in terms of the dramatic interaction with fellow cast members but in terms of his relationship with the conductor. In the 19th century, conductors followed singers when it came to tempo, these days it’s the other way round. But there is no way that Bocelli can follow a conductor he can’t see. The result is that his limited appearances in opera productions have been treated with derision by unforgiving critics. At one stage Bocelli’s management, it’s rumoured, offered several opera companies around the world the opportunity to use the star in a fundraising concert in exchange for casting him in an operatic production. All of them declined. Kevin Berger
Bocelli is, plain and simple, a San Remo smoocher who was snapped up by desperate classical labels as a marketing gimmick – it’s the blind leading the deaf. He is rarely in tune and never in tempo. Listen to his recording of the Verdi Requiem and blush. The conductor, Valery Gergiev, only tolerated him because he was assured that it would multiply sales and it did, but no person of discrimination would keep it in the house. Norman Lebrech
It’s more that I have such respect for what it takes to be a great jazz or pop artist that I know how few opera singers can really do that. To be Ella Fitzgerald, who to me is one of the greatest singers ever, you have to improvise, you have to be raw, you need to be able to lose that trained style that can sound so mannered. These days it is the fashion, and indeed universally expected, for tenors to take high notes at full volume, but this was not always the case. Until the 1850s, top Cs were sung falsetto. Audiences now would feel cheated if deprived of the thrill of anticipating whether or not a singer will clear the bar of the last note in the first act of La Boheme. And today we also expect our tenors to be true romantic leads, as in the case of the suavely handsome Roberto Alagna. These days what’s expected of a singer is that he has to have all the vocal ability plus he has to have the acting talents and presence of a theatre actor or a Hollywood star. Record companies and opera management know that’s what audiences want. … The concept exploited unique opportunities to build a global crossover audience of people who might never feel comfortable in the supposedly starchy atmosphere of an opera house, but wanted to hum along to Nessun Dorma. It was a logical, irresistible opportunity: the association with sport enabled opera to score a goal with an added oomph of virility. The Sydney Morning Herald
La technique d’enseignement des conservatoires de musique a tendance à polariser les élèves entre deux solutions extrêmes, la professionnalisation et l’échec, aux dépends de l’amateurisme actif, qui se trouve de fait peu encouragé par la pratique normale du conservatoire, par sa fermeture sur lui-même et l’exclusivité de son répertoire. Antoine Hennion, Françoise Martinat, Jean-Pierre Vignole
Si la musique commence lorsque la formation est terminée, cela implique que les élèves n’ayant pas atteint le niveau requis pour devenir virtuose ne seront jamais musiciens. Il en résulte, en France, un malentendu qui jalonne l’histoire de l’inscription sociale de la musique, où la place et le statut de l’amateur dans la société n’a pas été pensée, car elle n’est tout simplement pas pensable dans un tel contexte. La figure du musicien virtuose, telle qu’elle est si parfaitement incarnée par le violoniste Morel de Marcel Proust, chasse toute possibilité d’envisager l’amateurisme, lequel ne se conçoit alors que de manière négative : l’amateur est celui qui a échoué à devenir musicien, qui n’a pas atteint la perfection ; qui ne jouera donc jamais de musique. Le nageur qui reste sur son tabouret n’est pas un nageur, le musicien qui ne joue pas de musique n’est pas un musicien. Noémi Lefebvre
 Si les publications sur ce qu’on appellera par commodité « le rock », et ses publics, sont aujourd’hui bien répandues, le grand absent des travaux sur les musiques populaires est incontestablement ce qu’on range sous la catégorie « musique de variété ». La raison principale en est sans doute que, alors que le rock à la suite du jazz a acquis ses lettres de noblesse au fur et à mesure qu’il cessait de devenir l’expression de la rébellion postadolescente et que les politiques publiques le consacraient comme nouveau territoire légitime d’intervention, la variété reste considérée comme le vilain petit canard de la portée : au mieux, une musique à faire pleurer à bon compte dans les chaumières, une sorte d’équivalent du roman à l’eau de rose pour ménagères rêvant d’évasion ; au pire, la version la plus aboutie et donc idéologiquement la moins défendable de l’industrie musicale, une machine à vendre du disque et à asséner des tubes sur les radios, des tubes forcément simplistes qui puissent plaire au plus grand nombre. Cette légitimité inexistante de la variété est probablement accentuée par le fait que les valeurs qu’elle met en scène – dans les textes des chansons autant que par certains arrangements « dégoulinants » – sont l’expression d’un certain romantisme, valeur que la division sexuelle des loisirs a pendant longtemps et sans doute encore aujourd’hui attribué préférentiellement aux femmes (alors que le rock est plutôt du côté des pratiques et des représentations masculines). Philippe Le Guern

Attention: un miracle peut en cacher bien d’autres !

En ces temps où, avec les progrès de la médecine, l’oreille absolue sera bientôt à la portée du premier venu …

Mais où les exigences et les cadences infernales tant de l’opéra moderne que des grand messes sportives contraignent les chanteurs contre-nature que sont les ténors à la retraite précoce ou à la tricherie du playback

Pendant que, comme vient de le redémontrer le Washington Post, la beauté semble plus que jamais dans l’oreille de celui qui écoute …

Et qu’en France, un enseignement de la musique centré sur la virtuosité technique ne laisse aucune place au simple amateur …

Comment ne pas voir, de sa condamnation médicale dès la naissance à sa perte ultérieure de la vue (le privant largement du contact indispensable avec le chef d’orchestre) et,  sans compter une église qui en lui refusant le remariage le contraint au concubinage, son rejet actuel par les professionnels de l’opéra toujours plus guindés …

Le véritable miracle de la consécration désormais planétaire de l’ancien chanteur de piano-concert devenu ténor lyrique Andrea Bocelli (plus de 40 millions de disque vendus) ?

Beyond the criticism: Deconstructing Andrea Bocelli’s voice

Kevin Berger

The Los Angeles Times

December 8, 2010

Steven Mercurio knows Andrea Bocelli well. The dynamic New York-based conductor has guided some of the world’s best singers, including Luciano Pavarotti and Plácido Domingo, on celebrated opera stages. Because of his passionate approach to all styles of music, and his natural talents as a teacher, Mercurio was called upon to school Bocelli through his first starring performance in an opera, Rodolfo in "La Boheme," in 1998. Since then Mercurio has conducted Bocelli in countless stage performances and recordings, arranged many of his songs, and been his good friend.

I didn’t want to devote my Los Angeles Times profile of Bocelli, who’s appearing Friday at Staples Center, to retreading the timeworn critical controversy over his voice. But I did want to hear from the straight-shooting Mercurio, whose infectious energy is matched by his musical intelligence. I asked him to explain, if he didn’t mind, Bocelli’s vocal range to me. He didn’t mind at all.

"I believe Andrea’s voice is similar to the way people sang bel canto at the time bel canto was written," Mercurio said. "It was a chest voice admittedly up to G, maybe A-flat. Everything after that, basically from A-flat or A on, goes into a mixed voice. It’s half head, half chest. Andrea can get to a G, maybe an A-flat, in that full voice. After that, which was bel canto tradition, they turned it into, if not a real falsetto, a mixed voice. If you look at some of these old Donizetti things, written up to high Bs, by the time they were singing that high, they were singing in a falsetto. Andrea has always had this sort of half voice.

"Now, if you’re trying to sing B-flat and Cs, which opera singers like the Marcello Giordanis of the world do, well, they’re singing those high notes in full voice. And when they sing over an orchestra, they cut glass. In other words, it gets really exciting. Whereas Andrea’s voice, amplified, is just fine. Singing that stuff on stage unamplified is where the issue is."

How would he explain Bocelli’s popularity?

"Andrea’s voice comes originally from the pop side," Mercurio said. "It comes from the pop side so it speaks clearly. And so when he sings opera in that style it doesn’t sound overly mannered. Now that has pros and cons. This is where the big battle comes. Because the opera purist will say, ‘Well, that’s not really an opera voice. Because he can’t do what the so-called real opera singers do on stage. He can’t do those high notes. They don’t grow and get bigger.’ But therefore he’s less histrionic.

"So people who are coming from a non-opera background will say, ‘Oh, isn’t it nice to hear that?’ Because Andrea doesn’t sound like he’s exaggerating, he sounds like he’s just singing in a nice lyrical way. So it’s easy for people to approach that without feeling like they’re hearing somebody barking in that exaggerated operatic way. People who don’t know how to approach opera.

"But people can get to opera by liking Andrea’s pop stuff. And when he sings opera or classical stuff, since it’s all amplified, and recorded, and he’s singing in that nice lyric way, they won’t feel put-off. That’s a big point of contention for the real opera fan or the real opera critic. They’re saying that’s not real. That’s a recording studio or an amplified reality. What happens to the poor opera singer who lives day in and day out, who’s screaming their guts out, trying to cut over an orchestra? Of course they’re going to sound more histrionic, even on recording, because that’s the way they sing. Likewise, that’s why a lot of opera singers, when they sing pop music, tend to sound exaggerated. Because they learn what the Italians call l’impostazione, a way of placing the voice in this way to cut glass over the second row, and they don’t know how to turn that off."

Voir aussi:

Andrea Bocelli worked hard to become a big draw

With a concert tour stop at Staples Center, he is a long way from the days of singing classic pop covers in piano bars. He looks back at his time as a struggling singer with fondness.

Kevin Berger

The Los Angeles Times

December 9, 2010

Reporting from New York

Friday evening, as Christmas lights glittered outside the window of his Central Park hotel suite, Andrea Bocelli was doing his best to explain himself in English. At his side was gracious Italian translator Maria Galetta, ready to help out. But the singer remained determined to find the right words himself.

Ten years ago, at a peak of his international stardom, Bocelli wrote an ingratiating memoir. He frankly described his blindness, the pains and prejudices he confronted as a kid, and the years he scraped by as a piano singer in bars and clubs in his native Tuscany. Why had he called his book "The Music of Silence"?

Bocelli, 52, furrowed his brow and leaned forward. He was unshaven and wearing a white-knit sweater, open at the neck. He had a day off from his Christmas tour, which arrives Friday at Staples Center, and had the look of a perennial performer glad to be free for a moment from his tailored suits and image. A seriousness took hold.

"First, silence is part of music," he said slowly in English. "In the scores, the pauses are very important. Second, because in our society, what we really miss is the silence. We live in a society full of big sounds, big confusion, big mess, you know? Everywhere there is music, in the elevator, in the restaurant, in the cars, at theaters. Cars, they make noise, the engines. There’s no place where we can feel the peace of silence. For this reason I discovered that silence is music for me."

A gentle lyricism and warm tone animate Bocelli’s singing voice. His hugely popular repertoire glides from the classic Neapolitan songs of Enrico Caruso to swooning pop duets with Celine Dion, or, as the case will be at Staples Center, Heather Headley, best known for her marquee Broadway roles in "The Lion King" and "Aida."

Bocelli’s forays into opera have enchanted fans — though seldom critics, who argue he doesn’t have the vocal prowess and range of a classically trained tenor. Steven Mercurio, who has worked with Bocelli on stage and in the studio more often than any other conductor, agreed.

But, said Mercurio in a phone interview — he is busy conducting the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra on tour with Sting — Bocelli’s voice is "expressive and lyrical." When Bocelli stays true to his range, Mercurio added, "he sounds beautiful."

Given Bocelli’s romantic mystique, it’s surprising, and refreshing, to revisit his memoir. He wanted to explain his life to his sons (Amos, 15, and Matteo, 13), he said, and composed his book like a novel. "It’s easier to do it telling a story," he said. "Because otherwise you end up writing an essay. Nobody’s interested in an essay."

Did he also want to set the record straight, given so many others had written about him? "No. Because honestly I read probably 1% of the things that people write about me."

As Bocelli acknowledged, the book has been poorly translated from Italian into English, which may explain why it quickly disappeared in the U.S. after being published in 2002. Still, it lays bare a little hellion — his parents called him Terremoto (earthquake) — behind the international hits.

Bocelli was born with congenital glaucoma and had partial sight until he was 12. He attended a school for the blind and one day, while playing goalie in a soccer game, was struck in the face by a ball.

The ball had a special metal plate in it so the kids could hear it when kicked. The plate caught Bocelli in the eye that had allowed him to see light and colors.

At the hospital, doctors attempted to stop the hemorrhage. They placed leeches between Bocelli’s eye and temple to suck out the blood. The treatments failed. From that point on, Bocelli would have to learn to live with complete blindness, like one learns to live "with sadness and pain," he wrote.

Bocelli soon forged an internal fortitude about his blindness. As he wrote, referring to himself in third person, "He felt himself capable of doing everything that other boys his own age did, and claimed the right to be treated and judged by the same standards as everyone else."

Bocelli has never veered from that attitude. Mercurio recalled that after their performances of the Jules Massenet opera "Werther" at the Detroit Opera House in 2000, he would drive Bocelli to the Detroit Athletic Club and teach him to play basketball. "I’d put him on the foul line and stand under the basket and say, ‘No, shoot a foot higher,’ " Mercurio said. "When it went in and he heard the swish he went out of his mind."

Bocelli hates to talk publicly about his blindness. Journalists are warned by his publicist that he may end the interview if they bring it up. In private it’s a different story. "With friends he’ll say anything," Mercurio said.

Given Bocelli’s lavish fame — spotlighted by his massive concerts at the Statute of Liberty, St. Peter’s Basilica, Leicester Square — it’s hard not to ask him to reflect on the nights in the1980s when he sang over clinking glasses, through clouds of cigarette smoke, in Italian clubs.

He fondly remembered one club that was part disco, part bar.

Patrons would meander between thumping disco music in one room and him playing the piano in another. What songs did he sing?

"Classic pop music like Frank Sinatra, Charles Aznavour, Stevie Wonder. the Beatles," Bocelli said. He started singing in a jarringly flawless American voice, "Don’t go changing to try and please me, you never let me down…." He laughed.

Reminded that he called that period of his life "dissolute," Bocelli let slip a sly grin. "I had many friends, some girlfriends," he said.

Galetta, the translator, conferred with him in Italian. "In Italian, female friends and girlfriends can easily be confused," she said.

Bocelli assured her he meant "girlfriends."

One summer night in an open-air club in the town of Chianni, a 17-year-old fan, Enrica Cenzatti, introduced herself to Bocelli. The two fell in love and married when Bocelli got his first big break — an endorsement from Luciano Pavarotti, who had heard and liked one of Bocelli’s demos.

Bocelli, Cenzatti and their boys moved to the coastal commune of Forte dei Marmi. The marriage unraveled in 2002; today Bocelli lives with his girlfriend and manager, Veronica Berti, in a villa near his wife, whom he hasn’t divorced, and their kids.

Talking about his carefree nights as the piano man seemed to put Bocelli in a slightly melancholic mood. "When I played in the piano bar I was very comfortable, much more than now," he said. "Because now I have many responsibilities. Many people come to my concerts just for me. And often the tickets are very expensive. And I am sorry for this. At that time I spent my time very easy. Now it’s much more difficult. But I feel a big affection from the people."

Indeed, it must feel like he’s come a long way from singing "Strangers in the Night" to 30 people, toasting him with shot glasses of grappa? This time he responded without hesitation. "Many, many kilometers."

Voir également:

The king of popera

The Sydney Morning Herald

August 28, 2004

He may be a hit with the masses, but tenor Andrea Bocelli has few fans within opera’s establishment, writes Caroline Baum.

It’s no accident that IMG, the global entertainment management company that represents the world’s biggest sporting stars (Tiger Woods, the Williams sisters, Michael Schumacher) also has a few of the world’s top tenors in its stable. Tenors are the elite athletes of the opera world, the Olympians of track and field: they need the stamina of the marathon runner, the quick reflexes of the sprinter and the vocal and physical agility of the hurdler.

The late Mark McCormack, IMG’s founder, understood that, blessed with natural gifts and sometimes freakish talents, tenors could be as profitable as champions. So it’s no coincidence that these days you are as likely to hear a tenor in a sporting arena as you are in an opera house.

No one embodies the new "popera" genre more than Andrea Bocelli, the 46-year-old Italian tenor who has sold more than 40 million albums worldwide since 1997.

A love of sport had tragic consequences in Bocelli’s life, when he was blinded in an accident during a soccer game at home in Tuscany.

But that disability has also contributed to his success, creating an aura of sympathy and pathos around him. In other ways, he has been blessed, with several lucky breaks leading to a career no one could have envisaged for a lawyer who sang Sinatra songs in piano bars to pay for his musical tuition.

Bocelli’s big chance came when Luciano Pavarotti heard him singing a song by U2’s Bono on an audition tape. Pavarotti later invited Bocelli to sing a duet with him at a concert. The audience went wild and has been doing so ever since.

Yet when Bocelli comes to Sydney, he’ll be performing at the SuperDome at Sydney Olympic Park, not at the Opera House, singing to a capacity crowd of 18,000 each night. And thanks to amplification and giant-screen technology, everyone will be able to hear and see him as if they had the best seat in the house, something you can’t always guarantee in a conventional theatre.

But it is the very use of such technology that helps, at least in part, to explain the sniffy attitude that means Bocelli is not taken seriously by true opera lovers. The fact that he sings into a microphone disguises the inherent lack of power in his voice, they contend.

For purists, the power of a tenor’s voice is very much part of the thrill. The microphone is to opera what illicit drugs are to sport.

Not that Bocelli is the first, or the only operatic tenor to resort to such aids. Pavarotti’s former manager, Herbert Breslin, reveals in a new kiss-and-tell book to be published later this year that the legendary tenor would occasionally lip-synch during concerts if he was tired.

It’s a claim never before made in the world of opera, but common in pop, which relies completely on amplification and its many tricks to boost vocal effect.

As Opera Australia’s managing director Adrian Collette explains: "Amplification doesn’t just augment the voice, it can cover up a lot of mistakes.

"Bocelli, for example, has a small voice and sings out of tune from time to time, but the amplification reverb helps cover that up. It can also extend notes so they sound like they’re being held longer."

Without the phenomenal success of the Three Tenors (Pavarotti, Placido Domingo and Jose Carerras), there would have been no precedent for the Bocelli phenomenon. It was they, and their canny managers, who embraced the notion of arena performances.

In a stroke of marketing genius, impresarios such as Mario Dradi, who staged the first Three Tenors concert in Rome in 1990, and Tibor Rudas, who managed several of Pavarotti’s outdoor concerts, brought together the three most charismatic male voices of the second half of the 20th century.

The concept exploited unique opportunities to build a global crossover audience of people who might never feel comfortable in the supposedly starchy atmosphere of an opera house, but wanted to hum along to Nessun Dorma. The Three Tenors brand (a registered trademark) played on the trio’s shared passion for football, making their first performance at a soccer World Cup.

It was a logical, irresistible opportunity: the association with sport enabled opera to score a goal with an added oomph of virility.

Of course, it helped that on their own, each of the Three Tenors possessed prodigious talents, enormous reputations, undoubted charisma and a devoted following, but were sufficiently different in style and temperament to make the mystique of the tenor an elusive quality.

In the case of Pavarotti it is the sweet natural beauty of his voice and an unmistakable presence; in the case of Domingo, the darker timbre of the voice plus a dramatic intensity; and in Carreras, a matinee idol persona heightened by a sense of tragedy (he overcame life-threatening leukaemia with a bone marrow transplant).

Enrico Caruso, considered by many the greatest tenor of all time, defined a great tenor as, "a big chest, a big mouth, 90 per cent memory, 10 per cent intelligence, lots of hard work and something in the heart".

What he could not foresee as being equally crucial was the power of management and marketing, although he took part in the beginning of the era of mass communication as the first tenor to make a recording, thereby guaranteeing himself the largest operatic audience in the world at that time.

Mario Lanza, to whom Bocelli is sometimes compared, made the transition from opera singer to crossover artist by starring in several Hollywood movies, in the process tarnishing his operatic credibility and reducing him to the status of schmalzy crooner at a time when the synergy between film, considered a lowbrow medium, and opera, a highbrow medium, had not been fully understood. It was something that Domingo, a consummate actor, seized on to great success in films like Tosca and La Traviata.

Breslin, a veteran of the opera world who once also represented Joan Sutherland, says: "Several things have changed: first of all, there are very few great tenors around, so of course the public is hungry for what they can get and are prepared to settle for second best. When Pavarotti began his career, there were a dozen brilliant tenors singing around the world, which kept standards very high.

"Secondly, audiences have changed. People who go and hear Bocelli hear opera in soundbites – just one aria from Boheme or Tosca, like you would hear a pop song."

Pavarotti, Domingo and Carreras had already earned themselves impeccable credentials as the finest tenors of the age inside opera’s inner sanctum, performing the traditional repertoire to critical acclaim in the most august houses on the circuit, such as La Scala, Covent Garden and the Metropolitan.

Bocelli has gone about it the other way round, beginning his career as a recording artist before attempting to earn credibility in staged productions.

The reason for this is obvious: Bocelli’s blindness is a serious obstacle, not only in terms of the dramatic interaction with fellow cast members but in terms of his relationship with the conductor. In the 19th century, conductors followed singers when it came to tempo, these days it’s the other way round. But there is no way that Bocelli can follow a conductor he can’t see.

The result is that his limited appearances in opera productions have been treated with derision by unforgiving critics. At one stage Bocelli’s management, it’s rumoured, offered several opera companies around the world the opportunity to use the star in a fundraising concert in exchange for casting him in an operatic production. All of them declined.

Opera Australia’s Collette, who has only heard Bocelli on recordings, describes his voice as "pretty, light, with a very individual colour and timbre – he’s got a unique sound". He insists that he’s not a snob about singers who attempt to crack the highly lucrative crossover market, singing popular tunes by Rodgers and Hammerstein, Andrew Lloyd Weber or the Beatles along with a bit of Puccini and Verdi.

"It’s more that I have such respect for what it takes to be a great jazz or pop artist that I know how few opera singers can really do that. To be Ella Fitzgerald, who to me is one of the greatest singers ever, you have to improvise, you have to be raw, you need to be able to lose that trained style that can sound so mannered.

"If you’re Domingo, you’re not Hugh Jackman. There’s only one tenor in Australia who has had real success as a crossover artist and that’s David Hobson, whose voice suits the lighter repertoire in opera as well as musicals."

Breslin is reluctant to call Bocelli an opera singer, but recognises that he is a great entertainer "who sings pretty songs in a nice voice, a bit like Engelbert Humperdinck".

Compared with sopranos, tenors are a rare breed, partly because the way in which they sing is unnatural, as John Cargher, the doyen of opera connoisseurs explains.

"The natural male voice is a baritone. With training, some voices have the ability to go down and become bass or bass baritone, fewer have the ability to go up and become tenors. But if the voice is forced, it can be ruined, as has happened to many great tenors with short careers. And there is no magic formula in terms of a teaching method. Each voice is unique and determined by factors such as nationality, which will influence the sound the larynx can produce – in some countries, the language spoken produces a more open sound than others. Who you like is also very much a question of personal taste."

And, like wine (which Bocelli’s father produces at the family vineyard, under the label of Chianti Bocelli), some voices mature better than others.

These days it is the fashion, and indeed universally expected, for tenors to take high notes at full volume, but this was not always the case. Until the 1850s, top Cs were sung falsetto. Audiences now would feel cheated if deprived of the thrill of anticipating whether or not a singer will clear the bar of the last note in the first act of La Boheme. And today we also expect our tenors to be true romantic leads, as in the case of the suavely handsome Roberto Alagna.

Pavarotti was the exception to the rule, simply because the quality of his voice meant audiences made allowances for him. "He was an irresistible force," says Collette, who, having heard the singer live, calls him "one of the two or three greatest ever".

"These days what’s expected of a singer is that he has to have all the vocal ability plus he has to have the acting talents and presence of a theatre actor or a Hollywood star," Collette says. "Record companies and opera management know that’s what audiences want. For the OA, the bottom line is if you can’t sing it, no matter how well you act or look, you won’t get the role."

Among the current batch of homegrown tenors singing with Opera Australia, Collette singles out Stuart Skelton as "the one to watch". Cargher also mentions Skelton, together with three other Australian tenors building a reputation with their performances in European opera houses: Steve Davislim, Julian Gavin and Glen Winslade.

But no one is suggesting that any of these singers is going to fill a sports stadium. And despite the best efforts of Alan Jones and friends, former shoe repair man Peter Brocklehurst, featured recently on the ABC’s Australian Story program and in Good Weekend magazine pursuing his dream of becoming a tenor at the age of 44, is not, according to the opera world’s sharpest ears, a contender.

London opera critic Norman Lebrecht, who has written several books on the classical music world, sees the triumph of Bocelli as a cynical exercise on the part of a recording industry facing diminishing audiences.

"Bocelli is, plain and simple, a San Remo smoocher who was snapped up by desperate classical labels as a marketing gimmick – it’s the blind leading the deaf. He is rarely in tune and never in tempo.

"Listen to his recording of the Verdi Requiem and blush. The conductor, Valery Gergiev, only tolerated him because he was assured that it would multiply sales and it did, but no person of discrimination would keep it in the house."

Of course, such criticism is unlikely to deter his hundreds of thousands of (mostly female) fans around the world. They’ll keep buying his CDs, pelting him with red roses and begging for encores of French and Italian love songs, swooning in the aisles over Bocelli’s potent combination of vulnerability, intensity and good looks.

For them, the future looks rosy: Bocelli, could have another 20 years as a successful recording artist and arena performer ahead of him. Perhaps the shrewdest assessment that IMG’s Mark McCormack made is that, unlike athletes, whose peak performance period usually spans a brief time, tenors can go the distance for far longer than any marathon man.

Andrea Bocelli performs with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra at the SuperDome on September 17 and 18.

A fistful of top tenors

Roberto Alagna, Franco-Italian

Is married to star soprano Angela Gheorghiu; as opera’s royal couple, they appear in many productions together.

Ramon Vargas, Mexican

A glamorous lyrical tenor, suited to the romantic repertoire.

Juan Diego Florez, Peruvian

Brilliant in ornamental, florid repertoire, such as Rossini.

Josef Calleja, Maltese

Tipped by some as the next Pavarotti.

Ben Heppner, Canadian

Heroic tenor particularly suited to big Wagnerian roles.

Jose Cura, Argentinian

Like Domingo, is also pursuing a career as a conductor.

Marcello Alvarez, Argentinian

Quit his job in a furniture factory to pursue an operatic career at 30.

Salvatore Licitra, Italian

Replaced Pavarotti to debut at the Metropolitan Opera in New York.

Voir encore:

Critic’s Notebook; Pavarotti Lip-Syncs, And the Echoes Are Far-Reaching

Bernard Holland

The New York Times

October 27, 1992

The BBC, by all reports, is not happy with Luciano Pavarotti. The British broadcasters bought the rights to a Sept. 27 concert in Modena, Italy, and discovered that the Italian tenor had silently moved his mouth (inexpertly, some of those present said) to recorded music. Mr. Pavarotti’s part in this two-hour event was small, but the BBC paid for the real thing and wants some of its money back. Mr. Pavarotti says he did it because he had had no time to rehearse.

Deciding what the term "real thing" means has not been so easy since music first started using electrical current. Once upon a simpler time, a musician made a noise and someone else’s ears received it. Now there are an awful lot of wires in between. There is nothing artificial about them. They have become part of the music.

Sound engineers possess little boxes that can make the inside of a small recording studio sound like a cathedral, and vice versa. And can we call Mr. Pavarotti’s little subterfuge fraudulent when Frank Sinatra’s voice in concert is being reconstituted by microphones, amplifiers and loudspeakers on its way to paying customers?

The Sinatra transaction and the Pavarotti caper aren’t the same, but the confusions between live and electronic are. Modena is different mainly in the time gap between the original "real thing" and the synthesized "real thing." Maybe the BBC ought to be glad it caught Mr. Pavarotti in such good voice, even if it wasn’t the one he had on Sept. 27.

Beginning with the premise that a listener always wants the most beauty possible, it would have been interesting to offer ticket buyers in Modena this choice: ripe Pavarotti, U.S.D.A.-inspected, guaranteed and pretested; or Pavarotti as a gamble on the unknown — and given the lack of rehearsal time a bad gamble at that. It was going to be his voice either way.

Everyone, of course, would reject the simulation to see what happened. The explanation they would no doubt give is that live sound is better than recorded sound. But I think the real reason would be something else. It’s the time factor. People don’t want to be two-timed. Everything we do in life is geared to cause and effect, and when Mr. Pavarotti opens his mouth, we insist on not knowing what will come out. Public performance is more of a sporting event than we like to admit. We talk about beauty, but we all keep score.

Picture a soccer match on television. Diego Maradona is outwitting defenders and speeding toward the enemy goal. Now picture Mr. Pavarotti and the Modena concert’s producer, Tibor Rudas, in the telecast booth. "Maradona looks off balance," they say to themselves. "This isn’t going to be a very beautiful kick. But wait. Remember that great goal by Di Stefano for Real Madrid 35 years ago. We have that right here, queued up on tape. Our fans deserve the most beautiful football we can give them, so let’s cut from Maradona and show them this instead."

How could soccer fans possibly complain? The substitute is going to have just about the same look: two-dimensional and shrunk to the scale of a television screen. And it is more beautiful.

But of course they are going to complain. Soccer fans are being denied the link of action to consequence, the motion of time, the chunk of data that connects the past (Maradona’s approach) and the future (the result of his kick).

If anyone was cheated by Mr. Pavarotti, it was the good citizens of Modena, the ones who were in attendance when it happened. They had the great man in front of them, sharing the same space, the same moment. They had their right to the present and to the unknown. For BBC listeners who could not see the Pavarotti lips moving out of whack with the music, ignorance may have been bliss and the sounds divine.

When broadcasters record "live" events for future transmission (which they frequently do), the margin for complaint narrows even more. Here the thrill of the moment was never theirs to begin with. Frozen on tape, a firsthand experience is now secondhand. Mr. Pavarotti’s tactic would change the process to a thirdhand experience of a secondhand event. The difference isn’t all that dramatic.

The Maradona analogy reminds us of the two kinds of listening going on in music these days: what is about to happen versus what has already happened. The dichotomy, which actually predates electronics by a generation or two, began with the marketing of eternal masterpieces, unmovable and omnipresent. Here, you get to know the music so well that, after bar 50, bar 51 is scarcely a surprise. Recordings — the kind Mr. Pavarotti lip-synced to — have simply reinforced the syndrome. You not only know exactly what, but exactly how.

This is the little self-deception we exercise every time we play a favorite record or tune in a "Live From Lincoln Center" repeat. If we don’t already know the results, we at least know that if the performance had been a disaster, it wouldn’t be there for us to hear in the first place. Maybe Mr. Pavarotti wasn’t fooling his listeners any more than they have consented to fool themselves.

Voir de plus:

Pavarotti mimed at final performance

· Millions watched tenor’s opening of Olympics

· Star’s conductor Leone Magiera reveals secret

Tom Kington in Rome

Monday 7 April 2008 00.04 BST

On a freezing February night in 2006, an ailing Luciano Pavarotti rose from his wheelchair at the opening of the Turin Winter Olympics to give a resounding rendition of the aria Nessun Dorma, his final public performance before he died of cancer last September.

Details have emerged of how the opera singer was unsure of his weakening voice and faked the live appearance in front of a TV audience of millions, using video trickery, careful lipsynching and a compliant orchestra that pre-recorded its backing days earlier.

"Pavarotti’s great career therefore ended with a virtual performance, something sad but inevitable," said Leone Magiera, the star’s longtime pianist and conductor, who has revealed the ploy in a book. "It would have been too dangerous for him, because of his physical condition, to risk a live performance before a global audience."

Magiera said that the trick took days to set up. "First I recorded a number of versions of the orchestra playing the aria, then [I] took the tapes to the small studio at Pavarotti’s house in Modena," he said.

"He selected the right version before I directed him alone as he sang along, while being recorded."

In the book, Pavarotti Visto da Vicino, or Pavarotti Seen from up Close, Magiera says: "He found the force to repeat it until he was completely satisfied. Then he collapsed on his wheelchair and closed his eyes, exhausted."

Less than a week later, just before the Olympics ceremony, Pavarotti was filmed on stage miming to the recordings as the orchestra pretended to play behind him.

On the big night, that video was played for TV audiences along with the pre-recorded music, while crowds in the stadium heard the music and saw conductor, singer and orchestra faking it for a second time.

"The orchestra pretended to play for the audience, I pretended to conduct and Luciano pretended to sing. The effect was wonderful," Magiera wrote in the book.

The effect was good enough for one fan who wrote on YouTube after watching the video: "Knowing when to cut off that final high note to match a tape would be next to impossible … It’s live, it’s him."

Looking back, Magiera said he preferred to recall another performance given by Pavarotti in the 1990s, this time to a deserted opera house in the Amazon jungle. Built in 1896 for rubber barons, the opulent Amazon Theatre featured in the film Fitzcarraldo.

"He was determined to sing at the old opera house in Manaus, where he was convinced Caruso had once sung," he said.

"We went up there by boat, located a piano but found the theatre out of use. Nevertheless, we went in and he sang two arias from Tosca, E lucevan le stelle and Recondita armonia to an audience of about five."

Magiera’s memoir details Pavarotti’s struggle to work, even as he succumbed to pancreatic cancer. While giving lessons to young singers, he would drift off, whereupon his Peruvian assistant would ring him on his mobile phone. Jerked awake, Pavarotti "would immediately make a more or less relevant observation about the performance he had only partly listened to".

At the end, even his legendary appetite deserted him, Magiera writes. When he could not eat the plate of rigatoni he had asked for, "he looked at me with a sad smile and said ‘That’s a bad sign for me if I prefer mashed potato to macheroni’."

Voir de même:

Andrea Bocelli Miracle Birth Gave Us Music

Fool’s gold today

In 1958 a pregnant mother went to the hospital with severe abdominal pain. A diagnosis of acute appendicitis was made and surgery was the obvious best option.

It can be a formidable challenge to anesthetize and do surgery on a pregnant patient, especially non-obstetric surgery. Every time I face such a case, I am well aware that I must take care of two patients, and their lives and well-being are equally important to me. The stakes are increased not only because there are two individuals under my care, but because pregnancy increases the anesthetic risk for the mother significantly.

Imagine how much more difficult this situation was in 1958, when surgical and anesthetic technique was not nearly as developed as today!

At the time of surgery, the young mother-to-be was advised to abort her baby due to the risk of developmental defects as a result of surgery and anesthesia. But contrary to medical advice, the mom trusted God and decided to keep the baby in the hopes things will work out alright.

She gave birth to a boy who had congenital glaucoma, but who was otherwise healthy. He had decreased vision, and following some trauma during a football game he lost his vision at age 12.

But this boy was special for a different reason. He was blessed with an unbelievable talent. He had and continues to have the voice of an angel.

During a concert he thanked his mother, Edi, who made the right decision to allow him to live so he can bless the world with the common grace of beautiful music. He ended up selling over 70 million records, and his music is well-loved throughout the world.

That musician’s name is Andrea Bocelli.

Voir encore:

Andrea Bocelli : une voix et un coeur.

Un chanteur lyrique qui flirte avec la variété et dont le grand Al Jarreau a dit qu’il avait "la plus belle voix au monde" : portrait.

Andrea Bocelli est né le 22 Septembre 1958 dans la ferme familiale Lajatico (Toscane). Il devient aveugle à l’âge de 12 ans à la suite d’un glaucome congénital aggravé par un diabète chronique. Il apprend le braille dans une école spécialisée de Reggio Emilia où la beauté de sa voix lui permet de devenir soliste dans le choeur. Selon ses propres termes, il ne se souvient pas avoir vécu sans passion pour la musique, et il a poursuivi très tôt le rêve de devenir chanteur d’opéra. Durant l’adolescence, il gagne nombre de concours de chant mais choisit par prudence de passer un diplôme de Droit à l’Université de Pise tout en faisant quelques apparitions remarquées dans les bars musicaux de la ville dans un répertoire allant d’Aznavour à Sinatra. Le réel tournant dans sa vie d’artiste est sa rencontre avec le légendaire ténor Franco Corelli qui accepte de prendre comme élève celui qu’il surnomme "l’ange aveugle". Fini le Droit et les cafés-concerts…

En 1992, la rock-star italienne Zucchero Fornaciari, qui avait besoin d’un ténor de doublure pour lui donner la réplique dans la préparation du duo "Miserere" à chanter avec Luciano Pavarotti, recrute Andrea Bocelli. Pavarotti est enchanté. Le jeune débutant est ensuite approché par la maison de disque Sugar Label dont la présidente l’a entendu chanter le fameux "Nessun dorma" du Turandot de Puccini lors d’une soirée privée. La maison de disque fait en sorte de faire inviter son protégé au Festival de San Remo où il obtient le succès escompté et une révélation au public italien. Le reste du monde le découvre à l’occasion de la sortie du tube planétaire "Con te partirò", numéro 1 en France pendant six semaines et meilleure vente de disques de tous les temps en Allemagne…

En 1994, Luciano Pavarotti invite personnellement Andrea Bocelli au festival Pavarotti de Modène où il chante en duo avec le Maestro (qui l’a désigné comme son successeur) mais aussi avec Bryan Adams, Andreas Vollenveider et Nancy Gustavsson. "Le ténor qui voit avec le coeur" passe même la veillée de Noël aux côtés du Pape! L’année suivante, il fait une tournée télévisée triomphale en Europe où il partage la vedette avec Al Jarreau, Bryan Ferry, Roger Hodgson (Supertramp) et John Miles. Depuis, il a chanté sur les scènes les plus prestigieuses avec la plupart des stars mondiales.

Ses grands débuts sur une scène d’opéra se font en 1998 à Cagliari (Sicile) dans une production de la Bohème de Puccini, où il tient le rôle de Rodolphe. Malheureusement, sa voix rencontre des difficultés à "passer la fosse d’orchestre", pour employer l’expression des critiques lyriques : Bocelli ne réussit pas à cette occasion à être reconnu par la presse et les "aficionados" comme le grand ténor capable d’enflammer le public des salles d’opéra. A la scène, c’est donc vers la carrière de chanteur de variétés qu’il s’oriente, tout en poursuivant son travail de ténor pour le disque, enregistrant les arias les plus célèbres du répertoire et quelques intégrales lyriques à destination du grand public. Marié en 1993, Andrea Bocelli est le père de deux garçons. Il a, dit- il, fait sienne la devise du Petit Prince de Saint- Exupéry : "On ne voit qu’avec le coeur; l’essentiel est invisible pour les yeux"…

Voir encore:

A Requiem for Classical Music?

Julie Lee

Boston Fed

Regional ReviewQuarter 2, 2003

A man stands surrounded by women. He is tall and handsome with long, flowing hair; the women are worshipful, kneeling at his feet. There is one particularly zealous admirer with large scissors, ready to cut a lock of his hair. If it weren’t for the corsets and bustles, this could be a scene of a rock star being hounded by hysterical female fans. Yet, this is a caricature from 1876 depicting Franz Lizst and admirers after one of his concerts.

A lot has changed since then. Today, such an enthusiastic reception is reserved for teen pop idols and movie stars. Even as overall sales of music grew steadily until the late 1990s, the sales of classical music CDs hovered at a scant 3 to 4 percent of the total. Record companies such as BMG Classics are slashing the number of new classical releases or, like CRI (a not-for-profit label which has recorded 42 Pulitzer Prize-winning composers), closing altogether. Classical music stations have disappeared in many cities; one-third of the nation’s top 100 radio markets do not have a classical station. After 63 years, ChevronTexaco’s radio broadcast from the Metropolitan Opera House will be off the air next year. Many symphony orchestras are cutting back programs and suffering financial difficulties. The Pittsburgh Symphony is selling its concert hall. A sign of the times: the “Death of Classical Music Archive” on ArtsJournal.com contains more than 50 recent articles on the topic.

At the same time, it is easier than ever to buy any classical CD one might desire. A recent search on Amazon.com for Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5 yielded a staggering 874 options, including 276 different recordings of a complete performance of all four movements. The choices included every imaginable compilation (from Beethoven: Greatest Hits to Beethoven: Super Hits) and every possible price point (from $2.98 for a performance by an unnamed orchestra to $101.98 for a boxed set with famed conductor Herbert von Karajan). Previously hard-to- find works are also more readily available. As a piano student 20 years ago, I had trouble locating Debussy’s “Children’s Corner” (a suite of miniatures for piano) performed by Walter Gieseking—but Amazon instantly offered up two choices.

Moreover, attendance at classical concerts appears to be rising slightly. According to a 1997 survey commissioned by the National Endowment for the Arts, more than 15 percent of respondents attended a classical music event the previous year, a 3 percentage point increase from five years earlier. And while classical’s share of CDs is not large, it appears to have held steady over the past 20 years.

So, is classical music dying? Or are the reports of its demise simply exaggerated?

A STAR IS BORN:

A SHORT HISTORY OF THE CLASSICAL MUSIC BUSINESS

Everybody knows classical music when they hear it. It’s old. It’s serious. It’s stuffy. Yet, classical music is an imprecise term, generally referring to Western music from medieval times to the present day. Most of what is commonly called classical music is indeed old, dating back to the sixth century when church chants were first written down and codified. However, much new classical music is being written right now, and much more is still to be written. During the 2002-2003 season alone, 207 works were premiered worldwide.

It is often assumed that all classical music is serious and is written with artistic merit as its purpose. But that is not the case. Classical music can be complex, deep, and intellectually meaty (like Beethoven or Brahms symphonies), but it also can be light, irreverent, and frivolous (like Strauss waltzes). And while knowledge and familiarity can enhance one’s enjoyment of classical music, they are not required, much in the way one needn’t be an Elizabethan scholar to enjoy Shakespeare or a film studies major to enjoy movies. Many people enjoy classical music with little or no formal training.

Whatever its pretensions, artistic or otherwise, until the 19th century the classical music business was relatively prosaic. The composer was a staff function within the machinery of social organizations like the royal court, which employed musicians to sing and play for worship in the cathedral and for entertainment at the palace. Many prominent composers, including Monteverdi, Haydn, and Mozart, held such positions. These hired composers/conductors/music directors generally worked at the whim of their employers, who were not always interested in music. Haydn is said to have composed the “Surprise” symphony to wake dozing patrons after a big meal and the “Farewell” symphony to send his employer a message that it was time to cut short a stay in the country because the musicians were homesick.

Consequently, many famous works in classical music were composed because they were in the job description. For example, J.S. Bach (1685-1750) wrote his cycle of cantatas so that his choir would have a piece to perform each Sunday. And he dedicated the Brandenburg Concertos to a potential employer, as a job application of sorts. By all accounts, Bach was a methodical and industrious employee, “in the business of holding jobs.” He did not set out to create masterpieces of artistic importance; those turned out to be fortunate by-products.

The rise of the bourgeois class by the eighteenth century set the stage for change, including the appearance of freelance composers, star performers, and the modern market for music. As music moved out of the salons of aristocracy to the concert halls of the middle class, it became a public commercial activity in which the professional musicians performed for the paying audience. By the nineteenth century, many of the principles governing the classical music business today were already in place. The new system of an organized market for mass consumption of music required two key elements: star performers to attract an audience, and the supporting business apparatus to deliver the star and the music to the public efficiently. There were tickets to sell, seats to fill, and stars to manufacture and market.

Which bring us back to Franz Lizst (1811-1886), a Hungarian- born composer-pianist and, along with Nicolò Paganini, the first modern virtuoso and international superstar. First and foremost, there was his brilliant technique. In the words of Felix Mendelssohn, “Lizst has a certain suppleness and versatility in his fingers, as well as a thoroughly musical feeling, which may nowhere find its equal.” But Lizst was also a showman. He heightened the effect of his technique by performing from memory (a requirement on today’s stage) and by refusing to share the stage with other musicians (before him, there were no solo recitals and no instrumentalist gave a concert without others). And not unlike today’s rock stars, his extra-musical activities and scandalous love affairs were integral to his mystique. Although critics and detractors considered him cheap and flashy, those very qualities made him a star. He gave his audience what they wanted.

The twentieth century brought additional ways to consume music and new ways to promote star performers. Recordings, radio, television, and eventually the Internet further increased the potential audience for classical music. Tenor Enrico Caruso was the first recording star. His 1904 performance from the opera I Pagliacci became the first record to sell one million copies; and several other artists had top ten hits in the years between 1900 and 1920. Superstar conductors like Arturo Toscanini, Eugene Ormandy, and Leopold Stokowski were successful enough to become household names. Although accurate sales figures are hard to come by, Ormandy and Toscanini are reported to have sold more than 20 million records each over the course of their careers. And Stokowski shook hands with twentieth-century pop icon, Mickey Mouse, in Disney’s 1940 movie, Fantasia.

WHERE’S THE MONEY?

THE CASE OF THE RECORDING INDUSTRY

In spite of the commercial success of its biggest stars, classical music recordings were not traditionally expected to make much of a profit, at least not a quick one. The typical recording sold at a relatively slow rate, two or three thousand on first release, but steadily over a longer period. Walter Legge, arguably the best-known record producer in the history of classical music, said that he wanted to make records that would sell for 20 or 30 years—and 40 years later, many still do. But this also meant that many recordings (especially those by large orchestras) wouldn’t make a profit until they were reissued as part of a midprice or budget series.

For the most part, record companies seemed content with the prestige and comparatively small profit margins of their classical recordings or were willing to subsidize them with profits from their pop divisions. They kept their focus on “documenting” star performances. “The major labels all operated on the principle that the best way to make money was to record prominent names in standard repertory. . . [and they] signed exclusive contracts with the biggest artists they could find,” wrote music critic Terry Teachout in Commentary. Under this regime, Leonard Bernstein, Leontyne Price, Artur Rubinstein, and other big names continued to sell records into the 1960s and 1970s. Bernstein, in particular, brought classical music into millions of homes during the 1960s with his television series introducing classical music to young people.

But cracks were appearing in the traditional business model. The market for classical music and its star performers began to shrink if not in absolute sales, at least relative to the alternatives: Elvis, the Beatles, and Michael Jackson. The explosion of other entertainment options such as television, movies, and later videogames only intensified the competition for the audience’s time and pocketbook.

Moreover, this stars-and-standard repertory approach also resulted in market saturation of the core product, the Bach-Beethoven-Brahms fare constituting the canon. Since a “new” product meant a recording of an old piece by a young performer or a second recording by a veteran, the number of recordings of a relatively small number of pieces eventually proliferated. The result was a catalog consisting of tens of thousands of titles—the majority concentrated in the standard repertory—which was expensive for labels and retailers to maintain and potentially confusing to fans.

The industry also underwent several periods of consolidation including, a particularly intense round of mergers in the late 1980s and early 1990s. For example, Decca, a British label founded in 1929, merged with Polygram in 1980 (which itself was formed by a merger of Deutsche Grammophon and Philips in 1972) and then was incorporated into Universal Music after its purchase in 1998. Similarly, RCA (Toscanini’s label) is now part of Bertelsmann, a German conglomerate, and Columbia Records (Vladimir Horowitz’s label) is part of Sony. As a division within a multinational conglomerate, these labels now competed directly with the more lucrative popular music divisions, and faced increasing pressure to maximize profits.

THE THREE TENORS

It was under these circumstances, that classical music experienced its most unprecedented commercial triumph. The phenomenal success of the Three Tenors in the early 1990s changed expectations and set a new standard for the industry. “Gone were the days when it was acceptable for classical music sales to chug along at a few hundred per year. Now they were expected to perform like popular music divisions,” observed Ian Lace in BBC Music Magazine.

José Carreras, Placido Domingo, and Luciano Pavarotti, the three tenors of world renown, first sang together as a trio for the 1990 World Cup in Rome. What nobody could have imagined was the extraordinary success of this venture. About 800 million people worldwide saw the television broadcasts, and the recording, The Three Tenors in Concert, became by far the bestselling classical album of all time, with sales exceeding 10 million. The Three Tenors became both a franchise and a marketing concept. They went on to sing at subsequent World Cups (Los Angeles in 1994, Paris in 1998, and Yokohama in 2002), and spawned imitators like the Three Sopranos and even the Three Chinese Tenors.

In addition to making the singers extremely rich, The Three Tenors in Concert had an enormous effect on the business. It demonstrated that a classical CD can sell in the millions. In the way that Star Wars changed the movie industry, The Three Tenors instigated the industry’s relentless search for the next blockbuster that would immediately sell millions. Marketing became more expensive and sophisticated as companies worked to amplify small successes into hits. And some predicted this would help build a new, larger audience for classical music.

Such efforts have been successful to a point, leading to a string of highly popular crossover albums that topped pop charts. A 1992 recording of Henryk Górecki’s Third Symphony, a mournful work for soprano and orchestra by the contemporary Polish composer—previously more cult figure than superstar —sold more than 1 million CDs. Even more successful was Chant, recorded by Benedictine monks in northern Spain. Originally promoted by EMI Spain as an antidote to stress, the company undertook a U.S. marketing campaign after sales began to rise that included reducing the two-CD recording to one disc, shortening the title from Las Mejores Obras del Canto Gregoriano (The Best of Gregorian Chants) to the snappier Chant, commissioning an eye-catching new cover, and even shooting a video clip to accompany “Alleluia, beatus vir qui suffert.” Sales, in excess of 4 million, probably amount to more copies than all other Gregorian chant CDs combined.

Yet, a business strategy based on crossover blockbusters has turned out to be unreliable. Just as nobody had imagined the extraordinary success of The Three Tenors, finding and marketing the next classical mega-hit has been difficult and unpredictable, with little guidance from the three very different hits mentioned above: The Three Tenors is a crowd-pleasing medley of songs including the greatest hits of the opera repertory sung by the reigning tenors of the day; Chant consists of simple, unaccompanied melodies from the very beginning of Western music; and Górecki’s Third Symphony is a somber piece in the minimalist tradition by a modern composer. Notes then senior vice president at Decca (the record label responsible for The Three Tenors): “There are occasional miracles…but such blockbusters are rare. . . . They have to be seen as special, almost freak occurrences.”

Moreover, if Amazon’s “customers also bought” links are any indication, such one-time hits don’t appear to have spilled over into increased sales in the standard repertoire. Customers who purchased The Three Tenors have also bought other crossover CDs, like Pavarotti’s Greatest Hits or The #1 Opera Album, but don’t appear to have ventured into traditional opera CDs, like Pavarotti’s Turandot or La Bohème.

While the major recording companies pursued the seductive but elusive lure of mega-hits, a number of companies have been quite successful—commercially and artistically—by taking other approaches. The label Naxos, for example, records new versions of the standard repertory without star performers to keep costs reasonable; Hyperion and others specialize in recording and releasing less often heard, more adventurous works. (See sidebar.) The success of these firms suggests that classical music may still have some life in it yet.

REVERENCE VS. RELEVANCE:

THE CASE FOR EXPANDING THE AUDIENCE

It is worth noting that concerns about the health of classical music have popped up fairly regularly. In 1980, a New York Times article announced a “classical crisis” in the recording industry. In 1971, another New York Times piece noted a decline in classical radio stations going back to 1967; in 1949, articles in other publications complained of similar circumstances.

Yet, a closer look suggests that the demand for classical music seems to have held fairly steady, at least over the past 20 years. During that time, the share of classical recordings has remained relatively stable at about 3 to 5 percent. (The figure briefly reached an unusually high 7 to 8 percent in the late 1980s as classical music buffs replaced their LPs with CDs.) Moreover, according to the National Endowment for the Arts, 30 million adults (16 percent) had attended a classical music event in the previous 12 months—on par with the rates for jazz concerts and plays but smaller than for watching TV (96 percent) or going to the movies (66 percent). However, in reviewing all the evidence for an article published by the Symphony Orchestra Institute, Professor Douglas Dempster, of the Eastman School of Music concluded, “Classical music is more widely heard and available, performed at a higher level of preparation and artistry,

So, what is the source of the evident concern? One reason may be that there are simply so many other options competing for our scarce leisure time and our ever-rising disposable income. A hundred years ago, we didn’t have TV. Fifty years ago, there was no Internet. Twenty-five years ago, the $10 billion video game industry was in its infancy. As the entertainment market offers an ever-increasing number of options, classical music’s fight for our attention has become more competitive and makes the classical audience look small, even as it holds on to its share. If Lizst had to vie with the Matrix Reloaded or video games such as Grand Theft Auto III, would he have captured the public’s imagination?

Some argue that classical music has more intrinsic value than other forms of entertainment because of its significance for our musical tradition and its intellectual complexity. But whether this makes it more valuable depend on why one listens to music. We may admire the musical facility in Mozart or be challenged by the expansive musical canvas in Mahler, but be more profoundly moved by “Amazing Grace” on a lone bagpipe.

Still, classical music’s prevailing culture and conventions do feel increasingly out of sync with contemporary experience. As most people will tell you, a modern classical music concert is an entirely somber, serious affair for performers and audiences alike. It is predictable and almost lifelessly professional. No classical music stage today would tolerate the onstage shenanigans of Vladimir de Pachmann, a world-famous nineteenth-century pianist who earned millions touring and was known to dip each finger in brandy before a recital. Although the dress code has relaxed somewhat in recent years—much to the horror of the old guard—some rules are strictly observed, such as no applause between movements. These conventions may seem unnecessarily restrictive for those who have known only dress-casual workplaces.

This widening gap between the conventions of classical music and the rest of society tends to reinforce classical music’s image as music for the economic elite. And yet this image is not entirely borne out by the facts. According to the National Endowment for the Arts, the classical music concert audience is no richer than audiences for jazz or musical plays. (See sidebar in full-text PDF.) This survey shows that the level of participation in all arts rises with income. It is not simply that classical music audiences tend to be richer than other audiences, but that all audiences tend to be richer than average. Moreover, both rich and poor share similar preferences. For example, musical plays are more popular than classical music at each income level, with similar relative participation rates.

Perhaps more worrisome is the cultural elitism of many people in the classical music community. The fact that there are 276 versions of Beethoven’s 5th, already tends to foster an atmosphere where someone who can’t tell one from the other is made to feel less than welcome. Even those in the business end, “encouraged the attitude that you have to be able to spell Tchaikovsky backwards to be qualified to buy something,” noted the President of EMI Classics back in 1990. And some classical music proponents criticize any attempt to reach a wider audience as “dumbing down.” They view the enormous popularity of The Three Tenors and other crossover albums as a phenomenon that degrades or reduces the status of classical music. In the words of essayist Joseph Epstein: “The bloody snobbish truth is, I prefer not to think myself part of this crowd [his fellow audience at a Pops concert]. I think myself…much better—intellectually superior, musically more sophisticated, even though I haven’t any musical training whatsoever and cannot follow a score.” This attitude, albeit half-joking, may hurt classical music’s ability to reinvent itself and adapt to the modern audience and the modern world.

On the contrary, to emotionally connect to today’s audiences and capture their imaginations will take vision and innovation. But there are examples out there. One of the most unlikely successes on Broadway last year was a production of Puccini’s La Bohéme, the 1896 opera about a doomed love between Mimi, a Parisian seamstress, and Rodolfo, a starving poet. While the music is exactly as Puccini wrote it and the characters sing in Italian, Baz Luhrmann, the director of Strictly Ballroom and Moulin Rouge, reimagined the story set in 1957. More importantly, he ignored the usual opera conventions and hired singers who looked and acted the parts. Although purists criticized the quality of the singing and objected to the use of microphones, Luhrmann’s experiment shows that there is an enthusiastic new audience for classical music if classical music is made relevant.

Even in tradition-bound solo recitals, old customs are loosening up. At the end of a recent recital, Maxim Vengerov, a rising twenty-something violinist, picked up a microphone and talked to the audience for 20 minutes. On a stage where the only thing usually uttered by the soloist is the announcement of the encores, his entertaining anecdotes and sincere answers to questions left the audience more connected to both the music and the musician.

REPRISE

Classical music may never be the most popular music. And changes are afoot in the industry—and not only in classical music —as the Internet and other technological advancements roil the landscape and challenge traditional ways of doing business. For example, the initial success of Apple’s iTunes Music Store suggests there may be new and viable ways of buying recorded music over the Internet. These developments may change the ways in which we consume and experience classical music. But that does not necessarily signal its demise.

However, both artists and business people need to think hard about who their future audience is going to be and how to make classical music exciting and relevant to that audience. Whether by delivering neglected repertory, or offering fresh interpretations of old favorites to a small but dedicated audience, or by shedding antiquated conventions and trying to expand into new territory, in the end, successful strategies will need to make people care about the music. These experiments may mean the death of the classical music business as we know it, but also may provide an opportunity for rebirth and renewal.

Indie Classical (sidebar)

Is it possible to make money in today’s classical recordings business without blockbuster crossovers? Absolutely, says Naxos, the world’s bestselling budget label, with 15 percent of classical CD sales in the U.K., 25 percent in Canada, and more than 5 percent in the U.S. While the major labels pursued blockbusters, Naxos, founded in 1987, focused on producing the standard repertory cheaply. “My ambition was to make classical recordings available on CD at a price comparable to that of LPs,” states Klaus Heymann, founder and chairman.

Think of Naxos as the Southwest Airlines of classical CDs. It delivers classical music without frills and at rock-bottom prices. It hires young or unknown recording artists, many from Eastern Europe, and pays them a flat fee with no added royalties. It keeps one recording of each work in its catalog, limiting the catalog to about 2,500 titles and eliminating duplication of repertoire. It doesn’t waste a lot of money on expensive promotions. That way, it can sell its CDs for $6.98, not $16.98. And it sells a lot of CDs. Enough to be profitable in spite of budget prices.

The other successful strategy focuses on niche markets and nonstandard repertory. Hyperion, a British label founded in 1980, and others have taken this approach. “I didn’t see the point in doing the 103rd version of the New World Symphony, so I went for the more neglected areas, but not so neglected that nobody would buy them,” said Hyperion founder Ted Perry. The label’s first hit was an album of Latin hymns by Hildegard von Bingen (1098-1179), which sold over 150,000 copies. Along with Nonesuch, which released Górecki’s Third Symphony and the works of other contemporary composers, Hyperion has shown that record companies can be profitable by exploiting a niche market that has been neglected in the catalogs of the major labels.

Julie Lee is a health economist. After years of piano lessons, she is more comfortable as a fan of classical music than as a performer.

Voir enfin:

Pierre Bourdieu : Les aventuriers de l’île enchantée

entretien avec Catherine Portevin et Jean-Philippe Pisanias

Télérama n°2536

19/08/98

Conclusion naturelle de notre série d’entretiens avec le sociologue avant la sortie en librairie, le 26 août, de son livre, La Domination masculine (éd. du Seuil) et l’amour ? Quelle place a-t-il dans ces rapports de force que sont les relations entre les hommes et les femmes ?

Souvent, en lisant Bourdieu, on s’était posé cette question. À nous qui nous croyions des individus libres et indépendants, toute son oeuvre ne cessait de révéler nos déterminismes sociaux. Nos choix professionnels, affectifs, esthétiques, nos fragilités, nos souffrances ou nos assurances, nos ascensions sociales ou nos ruptures, nos façons de parler ou de penser, nos adhésions conscientes ou inconscientes répondent à des logiques sociales, selon nos origines, nos généalogies, le " champ " auquel nous appartenons… Dans tout ça, peut-il seulement exister un sentiment pur, un amour vrai, irréductible au social et qui soit un des moteurs les plus puissants de l’existence?

C’est la première fois, à notre connaissance, que Pierre Bourdieu répond à cette question. Et par l’affirmative; un oui à la fois enflammé et prudent, enthousiaste et sage.

TELERAMA: Vous dessinez, en conclusion de votre livre, un " amour pur ", seul " îlot enchanté " ou peuvent s’annihiler les rapports de domination entre les sexes. Qu’est-ce, en la circonstance, que la pureté?

PIERRE BOURDIEU : Pur, cela veut dire indépendant du marché, indépendant des intérêts. L’amour pur, c’est l’art pour l’art de l’amour, l’amour qui n’a pas d’autre fin que lui-même. L’amour de l’art et l’amour pur sont des constructions sociales nées ensemble au XIXe siècle. On dit toujours que l’amour remonte au siècle des troubadours, ce n’est pas faux. Mais l’amour romanesque, tel que nous le connaissons, est vraiment une invention de la vie de bohème, et c’est entièrement le sujet de L’Education sentimentale, de Flaubert : la confrontation entre l’amour pur et l’amour " normal ",…

TRA : C’est quoi, l’amour normal ?

P.B. : C’est l’amour socialement sanctionné. L’amour pur s’invente chez les artistes, chez les gens qui peuvent investir dans une relation amoureuse du capital littéraire, du discours, de la parole… Tout ce que Flaubert a mis dans son roman. Les trois femmes qu’il met en scène sont chacune une des représentations de l’amour et se définissent les unes contre les autres. Mme Dambreuse est l’incarnation de l’amour bourgeois, Mme Amoult de l’amour pur et Rosanette, de l’amour vénal et mercenaire. Et l’amour pur se définit à la fois contre l’amour bourgeois qui a pour objectif la carrière, et contre l’amour vénal qui a pour objectif l’argent. Les deux étant en fait des amours mercenaires.

TRA Est-ce que, dès lors, cet amour pur est forcément une transgression sociale ?

P.B. : Oui, dans la mesure où il est en rupture avec l’ordre social qui demande d’autres gages. L’amour pur, c’est l’amour fou ; l’amour social convenable est un amour subordonné aux impératifs de la reproduction pas seulement biologique mais sociale.

TRA : Il peut tout de même y avoir de l’amour, là-dedans aussi ?

P.B. : Evidemment, c’est aussi de l’amour. Mais pas de l’amour fou. C’est de l’amour conforme, de l’amour du destin social, l’amor fati. On aime sa " promise ". Ces constats de la sociologie désespèrent beaucoup en général. Or, quand on étudie statistiquement les mariages, on observe qu’ils unissent des hommes et des femmes de même milieu. Autrefois, cette homogamie était garantie et aménagée par les familles ; c’était le mariage de raison, de raison sociale. Aujourd’hui, les garçons et les filles se rencontrent de manière apparemment libre, et l’homogamie fonctionne toujours. Dans le Béarn, j’ai étudié les effets de ce passage des mariages arrangés aux mariages libres, le bal devenant le " marché " où se nouaient les unions d’où sortiront les mariages. Ce qui est intéressant, c’est qu’ils ne sont le produit ni d’un choix ni de l’intervention d’une instance supérieure (la famille) ; ils sont le produit de dispositions sociales qu’on appelle amour…

Peut-être, d’ailleurs, avons-nous un taux de divorce élevé parce que nous investissons dans le mariage des attentes démesurées. C’est lié, en particulier, aux femmes qui dépendent plus des valeurs d’amour que les hommes. Pour – j’insiste encore – des raisons uniquement sociologiques qui n’ont rien à voir avec la supposée " nature " féminine. On dit souvent que les femmes sont romanesques, et c’est vrai, dans tous les milieux, à tous les niveaux, comme l’atteste le fait que les femmes ont partie liée avec la lecture et la littérature.

TRA L’amour pur serait alors I’ exception, forcément éphémère. Et il ne semble pouvoir exister qu’hors du monde. N’est- il pas possible cependant que, même en se colletant au monde, aux contraintes sociales, il reste le plus fort?

P.B. : Cela arrive. La littérature est remplie des triomphes de l’amour pur. Dans la réalité, cette île enchantée sans violence, sans domination, est vulnérable en diable. Ce n’est pas raisonnable, raisonnable voulant dire conforme aux réalités sociales. C’est " miraculeux ", avec beaucoup de guillemets, miraculeux sociologiquement : c’est peu probable, cela peut arriver, mais cela a une chance sur mille. La réciprocité parfaite, l’émerveillement réciproque, c’est voué au dépérissement… ne serait-ce que sous l’effet de la routine.

Les gens n’aiment pas que l’on explique des choses qu’ils veulent garder " absolues ". Moi, je trouve qu’il vaut mieux savoir. C’est très bizarre que l’on supporte si mal le réalisme. Dans le fond, la sociologie est très proche de ce qu’on appelle la sagesse. Elle apprend à se méfier des mystifications. Je préfère me débarrasser des faux enchantements pour pouvoir m’émerveiller des vrais " miracles ". En sachant qu’ils sont précieux parce qu’ils sont fragiles.

TRA : Et si on chassait toutes les marques de la domination masculine, quelle serait la part possible, entre les hommes et les femmes, de la séduction (dont vous dîtes qu’elle est une reconnaissance implicite de la domination sexuelle), du jeu entre les êtres, voire du charme?

P.B. : Certains intellectuels défendent la tradition française de la courtoisie, en s’inquiétant de la voir mise en péril par ce désenchantement actuel de la relation hommes/femmes. Ce genre d’attitude, qui va souvent de pair avec la méfiance à l’égard du féminisme, m’est très antipathique parce que c’est une manière moderne de s’en rapporter à de vieilles lunes. Ce n’est pas intéressant et puis c’est faux. Est-ce que la lucidité sur les rapports entre les sexes, ou sur les rapports sexuels en général, pourrait détruire tout enchantement? Je n’en suis pas sûr.

Cela débarrasserait au contraire les relations de ce qui les encombre, de la mauvaise foi (au sens sartrien de " mensonge à soi-même "), de la tricherie, des malentendus.

Dieu sait si je ne suis pas très optimiste mais, sur certains terrains, l’analyse des effets de domination symbolique a une vertu clinique. Cela détruit les contraintes que les gens s’imposent parce qu’ils sont dans des rôles pré-constitués, dans des " programmes " sociaux. L’un pour faire l’homme, l’autre pour faire la femme.

TRA : Quand on voit le succès de la pilule Viagra, on se dit que ce n’est pas demain la veille, tant la virilité reste une valeur et une angoisse…

P.B. : Une angoisse parce qu’une valeur. Le succès de la pilule Viagra n’est que l’attestation visible de ce qui se sait depuis longtemps dans les cabinets médicaux ou psychanalytiques.

Les hommes, surtout, pourraient se simplifier la vie. Le rôle masculin m’est très insupportable depuis très longtemps dans son côté faiseur, bluffeur, m’as-tu-vu, exhibitionniste. Si les rapports masculins/féminins (qui se reproduisent aussi chez les homosexuels) étaient dépouillés de ce devoir d’exhibition, on respirerait mieux. Les numéros d’hommes, c’est tuant!


Mona Lisa : C’est le vol, imbécile ! (Was she trying to smile without betraying the gaps in her teeth, which were common in the dentally challenged early 16th century?)

5 novembre, 2013
http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/.a/6a00d8341c630a53ef0167617ee67a970b-600wihttp://blogs.getty.edu/iris/files/2013/03/mona_lisa_image_search.jpghttp://i.imgur.com/n6r3i4Q.jpgIl nous arriverait, si nous savions mieux analyser nos amours, de voir que souvent les femmes ne nous plaisent qu’à cause du contrepoids d’hommes à qui nous avons à les disputer (…) ce contrepoids supprimé, le charme de la femme tombe. On en a un exemple dans l’homme qui, sentant s’affaiblir son goùt pour la femme qu’il aime, applique spontanément les règles qu’il a dégagées, et pour être sûr qu’il ne cesse pas d’aimer la femme, la met dans un milieu dangereux où il faut la protéger chaque jour. Proust
L’histoire des pommes de terre a commencé il y a environ 8000 ans sur les hautes plateaux de la Cordillère des Andes, où elles poussaient à l’état sauvage. Les Incas, qui les appelaient "papas", les ont cultivées dès le XIIIè siècle. La pomme de terre a ensuite traversé l’Atlantique vers 1570, avec les conquistadores espagnols de retour des Amériques. Introduite d’abord en Espagne sous le nom de « patata », elle se diffuse timidement vers l’Italie et les états pontificaux qui la prénomme « taratouffli (petite truffe) , puis vers le sud de la France et l’Allemagne. C’est à Saint-alban d’Ay, en ardèche, que la plante produisant les tubercules de pommes de terre, aujourd’hui encore appelés "Truffoles" (du patois "las Trifòlas") aurait été cultivée pour la première fois en Europe. Elle fait une seconde entrée en Europe au milieu du 16ème siècle, cette fois-ci par l’Angleterre où l’a ramené l’aventurier Raleigh. Et c’est d’Angleterre qu’elle partira coloniser l’Amérique du Nord. Elle est introduite en France dès le début du 16ème siècle, au sud par Olivier de Serres, sous le nom de "cartoufle" et par l’est, par Charles de l’Escluze. Si elle s’implante assez rapidement dans la plupart des pays d’Europe, grâce, si l’on peut dire à la guerre de Trente Ans qui les ravage à partir de 1618, elle est longtemps boudée en France, et réservée à l’alimentation des animaux. Et ce n’est qu’au 18ème siècle, grâce à la ténacité et l’ingéniosité d’Antoine-Augustin Parmentier, pharmacien aux armées, que ses qualités sont enfin reconnues. Parmentier avait pu apprécier les vertus nutritives de la pomme de terre pendant qu’il était en captivité en Prusse. Il les recommande donc pour résoudre le problème des famines endémiques qui ravageaient encore la France à cette époque. Il va plus loin encore en plantant des champs de pommes de terre aux alentours de Paris et en obtenant du roi qu’ils soient gardés le jour seulement par des soldats. La nuit, attirés les habitants dérobent les précieux tubercules et en assurent ainsi la publicité. CNIPT
Mona Lisa, Mona Lisa, men have named you
You’re so like the lady with the mystic smile
Is it only ’cause you’re lonely they have blamed you?
For that Mona Lisa strangeness in your smile?
Do you smile to tempt a lover, Mona Lisa?
Or is this your way to hide a broken heart?
Many dreams have been brought to your doorstep
They just lie there and they die there
Are you warm, are you real, Mona Lisa?
Or just a cold and lonely lovely work of art?
Do you smile to tempt a lover, Mona Lisa?
Or is this your way to hide a broken heart?
Many dreams have been brought to your doorstep
They just lie there and they die there
Are you warm, are you real, Mona Lisa?
Or just a cold and lonely lovely work of art?
Mona Lisa, Mona Lisa
Mona Lisa (Nat King Cole, 1968)
Se retrouver à Paris – la ville la plus visitée au monde – a été sa première "chance", bien que pas tout de suite. Pendant un demi-siècle, elle est restée accrochée au Louvre presque inaperçue. Puis au milieu du XIXe siècle, elle fut redécouverte par les écrivains français et britanniques et transformée en objet de mystère et presque de convoitise. C’était des critiques d’art du XIXe siècle et les écrivains qui devinrent obsédés par le sourire de Mona Lisa. Trop de théories au sujet de sa curieuse expression ont été avancées pour les énumérer toutes. Etait-elle enceinte et donc sereine ? Essayait de sourire sans trahir les lacunes de ses dents, qui étaient courantes dans cette époque dentalement difficile du début du XVIe siècle ? Quelle que soit l’explication, il y a quelque chose de tentante impermanent dans le sourire de la Mona Lisa. Maintenant, on le voit, et maintenant on le voit plus. Le sourire, ignoré pendant 350 ans, est pour une grande part du mystère et du succès modernes de La Joconde. Mais elle n’atteint vraiment la célébrité mondiale qu’avec son vol du Louvre par un Italien en 1911. L’événement provoqua une crise xénophobe en France, comme une sorte de mini-affaire Dreyfus. On a supposé dans un premier temps que des "étrangers" et des artites d’ "avant – garde" étaient impliqués, parce qu’ils désapprouvaient la haute culture européenne bourgeoise. Pablo Picasso, récemment arrivé d’Espagne, fut interrogé. Le poète d’origine italienne Guillaume Apollinaire fut brièvement emprisonné. Au moment où elle fut retrouvée à Milan en 1913, Mona Lisa était une star. The Independent
Comment le vol, à l’instar des fameuses pommes de terres de Parmentier, fit finalement le succès de la Joconde
.
Retour, avec un vieux mais particulièrement éclairant article de The Independent …
Sur l’oeuvre d’art la plus visitée, commentée, chantée et parodiée du monde …
Dont, avec la redécouverte il y a un an d’une de ses plus fidèles copies au Prado, on rédécouvre la beauté originale ..
Et qui dut, semble-t-il, son installation définitive en France à l’amour jaloux que lui vouait son auteur …
Et sa célébrité planétaire, non pas tant, grossesse cachée ou dents problématiques, au sourire probablement le plus mystérieux de l’histoire de l’art …
Mais au vol apparemment  que lui fit subir au début du siècle dernier le plus humble et le plus anonyme des Italiens …

The moving of the Mona Lisa

This Wednesday, amid huge fanfare, the Mona Lisa is to be unveiled in her new home in the Louvre. John Lichfield asks what makes this painting the most visited, most written about, most sung about, most parodied work of art in the world

The Independent

2 April 2005

Next week a wooden object 502 years old, inventory number 779, will be moved to a new location in the largest art museum in the world. The object is a small portrait of an obscure Florentine gentlewoman, painted on a thin panel of poplar. It is known to most of humanity – but not to France or Italy – as the Mona Lisa.

Next week a wooden object 502 years old, inventory number 779, will be moved to a new location in the largest art museum in the world. The object is a small portrait of an obscure Florentine gentlewoman, painted on a thin panel of poplar. It is known to most of humanity – but not to France or Italy – as the Mona Lisa.

On Monday, for the first time in 31 years, other than Tuesday closings and occasional strikes, the best known, the most visited, the most written about, the most sung about, the most parodied work of art in the world, will not be on public display at the Musée du Louvre in Paris. On Wednesday at 2pm, amid great fanfare, she will reappear in a new, permanent home, better suited to her ceaseless, jostling crowds of admirers.

Contrary to initial reports, the Mona Lisa will not acquire every girl’s heart’s desire – a room of her own. The small painting – 77cm by 55cm (2ft 6in by 1ft 10in) – will hang alone on an enormous false wall, or screen, in a gallery full of other Italian paintings.

Leonardo da Vinci’s masterpiece (one of the few paintings he finished) will be placed, once again, behind glass to protect her maddening smile from thieves, bullets, explosives, knives, spray cans and ballpoint pens. She will, however, no longer lurk in a gloomy hallway. She will stare her slightly cross-eyed, gently supercilious grin from just behind the armoured glass of a purpose-built "safe" sunk into the wall. Her pleasant features, her folded hands and the weird, blasted landscape behind her will be bathed in natural and artificial light in a room remodelled with a €4.8m (£3.3m) donation from the Japanese television network, NTV.

After 500 years, the Mona Lisa is in desperate need of cleaning. If she were any other painting, the Louvre would probably have taken the opportunity to remove the patina of half a millennium, and the darkening of an early misguided restoration, before displaying her in her new home.

With the Mona Lisa, cleaning is out of the question. She must remain precisely like the image of her implanted in the world’s eye by countless reproductions, spoofs, pastiches and advertisements. And from Wednesday, Mona Lisa’s admirers – an average of 1,500 people an hour – will be able to take a close look at her, grime and all, for the first time since she was placed behind glass 31 years ago.

There are 6,000 paintings in the Louvre. Ninety per cent of the museum’s visitors make a beeline to the Mona Lisa. Most seem to spend no more than three minutes gazing at her. Many have their photo taken (breaking a rule which is rarely enforced). Then they leave. Some appear to go away disappointed. The most frequent comment is: "Isn’t she small?" Mona Lisa has become a box to be ticked on the Paris tourist itinerary, alongside the Eiffel Tower and Notre Dame cathedral. She is a painting-superstar, a celeb, an icon, a spelling mistake.

Her name should really be Monna Lisa, abbreviation of Madonna Lisa or "my lady Lisa". The French call her " La Joconde", a pun on "amused woman" and the married name of Leonardo’s presumed sitter, Lisa del Giocondo, née Gherardini.

Many theories have been advanced about who she "really" was, ranging from aristocrats and harlots to Leonardo da Vinci’s mother and even a self-portrait of Leonardo in drag. (Further scientific "proof" of the cross-dressing self-portrait theory has recently been offered by American computer studies. The idea is not taken seriously by art historians.)

Why has this, of all paintings, become so famous? The Louvre is stuffed with wonderful paintings. Why do so many people throng to see this small, dark portrait of a grinning woman with no eyebrows? Is the Mona Lisa truly a transcendentally magnificent work of art? Or is she just famous because she is famous?

In a marvellous book, published in 2001, the British historian, Donald Sassoon, traced the origins of the Mona Lisa mystique through five centuries ( Mona Lisa: The History of the World’s Most Famous Painting, Harper Collins paperback, £8.99). He concluded that there was something special about the painting itself. The pose and technique were regarded as revolutionary by contemporaries of Leonardo, including Michelangelo.

The brushstrokes are so fine – piled layer upon layer in a method called sfumato (smoky) pioneered by Leonardo – that they cannot be individually identified even under a microscope. The Lady Lisa’s pose, turning slightly towards and looking at the viewer with no intervening barrier, was unorthodox in the early 1500s – and much copied. All the same, the beauty of the painting alone cannot explain Mona Lisa’s fame, says Professor Sassoon.

Her status as "the one painting everyone knows" is, he says, the "product of a long history of political and geographical accident, fantasies conjured up, connections made, images manufactured, and luck." The painting appears to have been started in 1503. For reasons unknown, Leonardo did not hand the work over to Lisa Gherardini’s husband, as originally commissioned. He took it with him when he was invited to the court of the French king, François I in 1516. In other words, Leonardo ran away with another man’s wife – or at least her image. After the artist’s death in France in 1519, the painting was bought by the king, entered the royal collection and then the state collection after the Revolution in 1789. She was displayed in the Empress Josephine’s bedroom during Napoleon’s reign and then placed in the Louvre.

Ending up in Paris – the most visited city in the world – was her first piece of "luck", although not at first. For half a century, she hung in the Louvre almost unnoticed. In the mid 19th century, she was rediscovered by British and French writers and turned into an object of mystery and almost an object of lust.

In 1869, the British art critic Walter Pater, in an influential passage later made into poetry by W B Yeats, promoted the Mona Lisa as a kind of elemental mother-temptress, madonna-femme fatale, uniting the age old male fantasies and myths of womanhood. "She is older than the rocks among which she sits; like the vampire she has been dead many times, and learned the secrets of the grave; and has been a diver in deep seas, and keeps their fallen day about her; and trafficked for strange webs with Eastern merchants; and, as Leda, was the mother of Helen of Troy, and, as Saint Anne, the mother of Mary…"

It was 19th-century art critics and writers who first became obsessed with Mona Lisa’s smile. Too many theories about her curious expression have been put forward to list them all. Was she pregnant and therefore serene? Was she trying to smile without betraying the gaps in her teeth, which were common in the dentally challenged early 16th century? Whatever the explanation, there is something tantalisingly impermanent about the Mona Lisa’s smile. Now you see it and now you don’t. The smile, ignored for 350 years, is a large part of La Joconde’s modern mystery and success.

So is her lack of eyebrows. Shaved brows may have been a 16th-century Florentine fashion. Alternatively they may have been removed by a clumsy restoration. Mistake, or not, the absence of eyebrows helps to give Mona Lisa her enigmatic expression. Draw on some eyebrows (on a photograph) and she becomes rather forbidding. Another piece of luck, maybe.

She was not a worldwide celebrity, however, until she was stolen from the Louvre by an Italian in 1911. The event provoked a xenophobic crisis in France, like a mini-Dreyfus affair. It was assumed at first that "foreign" and "avant -garde" artists were involved because they disapproved of bourgeois-approved, European high culture. Pablo Picasso, recently arrived from Spain, was interrogated. The Italian-born poet Guillaume Apollinaire was briefly imprisoned. By the time that she was recovered in Milan in 1913, Mona Lisa was a star.

In the 1960s and 1970s, she became a diplomat. She was loaned to the US by President Charles de Gaulle in an attempt to improve Franco-American relations. In 1974, she travelled to Japan and the Soviet Union. There was briefly a plan to loan her to London to celebrate Britain’s entry to the EEC in 1973. Nothing came of it. Could Euro-scepticism have been cured for ever by Mona Lisa’s smile? In the late 20th century, she became a canvas upon which contemporary artists, admen and comedians doodled. Already in 1919, the surrealist artist Marcel Duchamp had protested against the museumification of art – and made a name for himself – by producing a version of the Mona Lisa with a moustache and a goatee beard. He called his work LHOOQ, an early form of text message which reads aloud in French as " elle a chaud au cul" (she has a hot bum).

This was followed by Andy Warhol’s multiple Mona Lisas, like strips of passport photos, Thirty are Better than One (1963); a Mona Lisa dressed as Mao, Mona Tse Tung by Roman Cieslewicz (1976); naked Mona Lisas; pregnant Mona Lisas; a Mona Lisa made out of toast; Mona Lisas as Jackie Kennedy or Monica Lewinsky; Monty Python’s animated Mona Lisa and a disturbingly convincing drawing by the British cartoonist Steve Best in 1992. The cartoon’s caption was: "Mona was trying not to smile as she waited for her silent fart to reach Leonardo."

The image of the Mona Lisa has also been hijacked to advertise everything from condoms to horsehair corsets, from oranges to inter-uterine devices. There have been references to her in pop songs from Cole Porter: "You’re the Nile, You’re the Tower of Pisa; You’re the smile on the Mona Lisa"; from Nat King Cole: "Are you warm, are you real, Mona Lisa? Or just a cold and lonely, lovely work of art?"; and several appearances in the oeuvre of Elton John.

Such over-exposure has inevitably cheapened the Mona Lisa as a work of art. It has become difficult to look at the painting and separate it from the layers of pastiche and mockery and exploitation. On the other hand, the more Mona Lisa is exploited, mocked or ripped off, the greater her mystique and popularity becomes.

Professor Sassoon believes that this is a positive thing: a refreshing proof that popular culture and high culture can overlap. "It demonstrates that something can be both a classic of Western art and pop, hip and cool."

The Louvre, reading between the brushstrokes, is not so sure. The Mona Lisa is a terrific money-spinner. The Louvre gift shop sells more than 330,000 pieces of Jocondarama each year. But there is, one detects, something of an unease in the museum about sheltering a kitsch tourist attraction which is also a great work of art.

Officially, the Louvre now says that it never intended to give the Mona Lisa a room of her own. Museum officials say that they spoke four years ago of giving La Joconde a "space" of her own. Many interpreted that as meaning a "room". In fact what was meant, the museum says, was a wall. Hmmm.

There have been reports of a struggle of principle within the Louvre on what to do with NTV’s donation. Some officials thought that the only way to manage the crowds was to put the Mona Lisa into solitary confinement.

Others thought that this would betray the museum’s wider purpose – to educate the public on great art. They insisted that the Mona Lisa should be shown in context. The educators appear to have won the day over the tour operators.

When the Salle des Etats reopens to the public on Wednesday, the tiny Mona Lisa will face the gigantic painting of the Wedding at Cana by Veronesi (Venice, 16th century). In the same room, there will be 50 other 16th- century Venetian paintings, including Titians and Tintorettos. Far from having a room of her own, Mona Lisa will be in a dormitory of great, Italian art. The Louvre presumably hopes to persuade more of its visitors to look beyond the Mona Lisa and enjoy the rest of the riches that the museum has to offer.

Many visitors already do. But not all. On a brief observation this week, at least one in two of the celebrants of the Mona Lisa cult turned on their heel and walked straight out to the tour buses.

Voir encore:

Happy families: Mona Lisa and her prehistoric ancestor

The world’s oldest known portrait, the ‘Ice Age Mona Lisa’, is currently on show at the British Museum – and the parallels with Da Vinci’s masterpiece are fascinating, says Alastair Smart

Alastair Smart

The Telegraph

17 Feb 2013

Analysed, lionised, romanticised, satirised, mythologised, canonised, commercialised. The Mona Lisa is the most famous painting in the world by far, yet – even after 500 years – still she remains unknowable. Much of her fame, indeed, rests on her alluring inscrutability. “She’s older than the rocks among which she sits,” raved the Victorian aesthete, Walter Pater. “Like the vampire, she’s been dead many times and learned the secrets of the grave.”

Much of her mystery stems from that smile, which seems to come and go at will and has been interpreted endlessly and variously over the centuries. In recent years, clinical anatomists at Yale have explained it as the glow of early pregnancy; Dutch scientists, in turn, have applied “emotion recognition” computer software and revealed it to be 83% happy, 9% disgusted, 6% fearful and 2% angry.

It’s been mooted, too, that Leonardo’s sitter – Lisa Gherardini, the wife of a Florentine silk merchant – suffered from Bell’s Palsy, a facial paralysis causing muscle contraction around the corners of the mouth. Last year, art sleuths in Florence even dug up what they believe to be Gherardini’s skull from an old Franciscan convent, in the hope lab analysis will reveal the secret to the famous smile.

The truth is, of course, that Leonardo spent a good 15 years working and reworking the painting, and its secrets reside in his artistic genius not the remains of a long-dead signora. Yet, the suggestion of palsy does make for an interesting parallel with one of the stand-out works in the British Museum’s new Ice Age exhibition: a 26,000-year-old head, sculpted from mammoth ivory, found in the Moravian Gate region of the Czech Republic. The oldest known portrait in the world, it depicts a woman with highly individualised features who’s been dubbed by archaeologists the “Ice Age Mona Lisa”.

Why the nickname? In part, because this is the portrait of a female subject whose identity is unknown. Five years ago, a Florentine book from 1503 was found in Heidelberg University Library with a note inside saying Leonardo was at work on a portrait of Lisa Gherardini. This discovery seemed, at last, to confirm who the Mona Lisa really was – though, before that, speculation had been rife, including the Da Vinci Code notion of a da Vinci self-portrait.

The Ice Age sculpture boasts a skewed smile (another reason for the Mona Lisa sobriquet) and deformed left eye. The latter is disproportionately large and has a heavily dropping lid, quite possibly – like the smile – a result of palsy or a stroke. Was the image, then, intended to cure its subject? To ward off her evil curse? Or a singling out for artistic treatment of someone, within a shamanic belief system, deemed to embody special powers because of her disability?

Other distinctive features include a dimpled chin and a line carved across her forehead, marking the boundary between hair and face. For those looking for further parallels with the Leonardo, the line recalls that across the Mona Lisa’s own forehead: the edge of the transparent veil she wears over her hair.

Commissioned by Lisa’s husband Francesco, at the turn of the 16th century, the Mona Lisa was, in fact, never delivered: the portrait became Leonardo’s long-term companion and personal plaything, travelling with him wherever he went, even to his final home in France in 1516, regularly being retouched and rethought over time.

In many ways, the Mona Lisa is a musing on the passage of time. The lady’s almost-smile is forever in the instant of becoming an actual smile; the diurnal light of evening falls evocatively on her face; and the aeons of geology are caught in the rock- and mountain-forms in the distance behind her.

Talking of time: the follow-up fame that our two works have attained – long after their creation – is as interesting as any physical similarity between them. Though always celebrated, and singled out for praise in Giorgio Vasari’s Leonardo biography of 1550, the Mona Lisa only became truly iconic courtesy of the French romantics in the 19th century.

Through her, they indulged their morbid fantasies for the femme fatale. “She attracts me, revolts me, consumes me,” wrote Jules Michelet. “I go to her in spite of myself, like the bird to the snake”. The painting’s fame has been secure ever since, helped by its high-profile theft from the Louvre in 1911 and moustachioed parody by Duchamp in 1919.

As for Mona’s Ice Age ancestor, quite incredibly her afterlife began after a gap of myriad millennia, during excavations at the Moravian site of Dolní Věstonice in the 1930s. The ivory sculptures, ceramic figurines and other finds there prompted the Illustrated London News to proclaim “a Palaeolithic Pompeii”. Yet, after Moravia was declared a German protectorate in 1939, the works at Dolní turned into objects of Nazi propaganda – the Ice Age Mona Lisa, in particular.

Earlier sculpture had tended towards the abstract, without defined facial features, and great claims were now made for the supremacy of Indo-Germans. For, they had been the sophisticates who’d created works of unprecedented detail, individuality and carving technique. A “pre-historic, proto-Aryan da Vinci” was hailed on thoroughly racial grounds.

In their different ways, the world’s oldest portrait and the world’s most famous one were always more than just art-works. Yet, over time, they’ve become so very much more: celebrities in their own right and receptacles for the hopes, fears and prejudices of different societies and generations.

Lisa Gherardini might have been amused by her achievement of global pop-icon status; but her prehistoric predecessor, in context of appropriation by the Nazis, would surely have had rather less to smile about.

‘Ice Age Art: Arrival of the Modern Mind’, to May 26

Voir enfin:

Earliest known copy of the ‘Mona Lisa’ (re-)discovered in Spain

LA Times

February 1, 2012

REPORTING FROM MADRID — Spanish art curators have discovered a secret the "Mona Lisa" kept behind that enigmatic smile: a long-lost twin.

Madrid’s renowned Prado Museum unveiled on Wednesday what its curators believe is the oldest copy of Leonardo da Vinci’s "Mona Lisa," painted around the same time and possibly in the same room as the original masterpiece.

"It is as if we were in the same studio, standing next to the easel," Gabriele Finaldi, the Prado’s deputy director of collections, told reporters.

The so-called "Mona Lisa of the Prado" has long been in the museum’s collection, tucked away in its vaults and displayed only occasionally, its significance not fully understood. Not until restorers lifted off an 18th-century coat of black paint obscuring the background did curators realize the painting was much older than that — with a backdrop of Tuscan hills similar to the one in the original, which hangs in the Louvre in Paris.

"This is very, very close to how the "Mona Lisa" looked in 1505," when Leonardo finished his masterpiece, Finaldi said. There are dozens of other copies, he said, but none has been dated as close to the original.

X-ray tests also revealed that smudges and changes made in the Prado version correspond with changes Leonardo made on his canvas. Museum officials said the copy is probably the work of Francesco Melzi, an apprentice of Leonardo’s, who may literally have been standing next to his master while replicating his every brush stroke.

The Prado plans to display its find this month before sending it to Paris to hang side by side with the original, at a Leonardo exhibit in March.

"Our colleagues at the Louvre now have a whole lot more information they can use in their research on their own painting," Finaldi said.

The "Mona Lisa" is believed to be a portrait of Lisa Gherardini, the wife of a wealthy cloth merchant, Francesco del Giocondo, who lived in Florence around the start of the 16th century.

The Prado’s Mona Lisa looks fresh-faced and younger than the original, an effect Finaldi attributed to the fact that it has not been continuously displayed, and it lacks a graying varnish. The other major difference between the Spanish Mona Lisa and the one in Paris is eyebrows: The original figure has none.

Perhaps some mysteries still remain behind that enigmatic smile.

- See more at: http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/world_now/2012/02/earliest-known-copy-of-the-mona-lisa-re-discovered-in-spain.html#sthash.LVGfMf0p.dpuf


Journées du Patrimoine/29e: A Pantin, une cathédrale du vandalisme qui va disparaître (European Heritage Open Days: France mourns vandals’ spawning ground)

19 septembre, 2013
http://erreur14.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/09/dimanche_street.jpgIMG_1715La société du spectacle, [selon] Roger Caillois qui analyse la dimension ludique dans la culture (…), c’est la dimension inoffensive de la cérémonie primitive. Autrement dit lorsqu’on est privé du mythe, les paroles sacrées qui donnent aux œuvres pouvoir sur la réalité, le rite se réduit à un ensemble réglés d’actes désormais inefficaces qui aboutissent finalement à un pur jeu, loedos. Il donne un exemple qui est extraordinaire, il dit qu’au fond les gens qui jouent au football aujourd’hui, qui lancent un ballon en l’air ne font que répéter sur un mode ludique, jocus, ou loedos, société du spectacle, les grands mythes anciens de la naissance du soleil dans les sociétés où le sacré avait encore une valeur. (…) Nous vivons sur l’idée de Malraux – l’art, c’est ce qui reste quand la religion a disparu. Jean Clair
When you think back, and saw what eventually happened to the trains, you feel bad about it, said Taki, who asked that his last name not be used. « I never thought it would be such a big thing. » (…) Now, in an irony that would please city officials, Taki has his own graffiti problem, on his shopfront. « I am a victim, » he said, smiling. « I painted it over and two weeks later it was all written up again. But I guess what goes around, comes around. It’s justice. Joel Siegel (Daily News, April 9, 1989)
Pourquoi pas un musée du street art, au lieu d’une vulgaire agence de pub? Anonyme
A Pantin, une cathédrale du graff qui va disparaître. Rue 89

En ces temps étranges où la transgression a été littéralement élevée  au rang d’art …

Et où à l’occasion des Journées européennes du patrimoine l’une des principales frayères du vandalisme mural du pays se visite comme un musée …

Comment encore s’étonner, de la part de nos médias et gouvernants, de cette énième célébration d’une activité …

Qui, ayant désormais contaminé la planète entière, coûte probablement chaque année des centaines de millions à la communauté à nettoyer ?

Visite privée

Street-art : à Pantin, une cathédrale du graff qui va disparaître

Elodie Cabrera

Rue89

14/09/2013

Audrey Cerdan | Photographe Rue89

Ils n’allaient pas le laisser filer comme ça. En Seine-Saint-Denis, amarré au canal de l’Ourcq, les anciens magasins généraux de la Chambre de commerce et d’industrie de Paris (aussi dit « bâtiment des douanes ») va changer de vie. Ce paquebot de béton, 41 000 mètres carrés de surface, accueillera d’ici 2015 les locaux d’une agence de publicité.

Les magasins généraux à Pantin, au milieu du XXe siècle (© AM Pantin) et en 2013 (Audrey Cerdan/Rue89)

Pour la première et la dernière fois, la mairie de Pantin se montre fière de cet édifice et l’ouvre pour les Journées du patrimoine. Ce week-end avaient lieu des concerts, projections et visite de monument historique. Des visites « strictement » encadrées.

Abandonnés à la fin des années 90

1929-1931. La ville de Paris décide d’élargir le canal de l’Ourcq pour faciliter la navigation des bateaux. Après d’importants travaux de remblai et de stabilisation des rives, les magasins généraux sont édifiés sur l’ancien lit du canal.

1931-fin des années 90. Les entrepôts stockent des marchandises (grains, papier de presse, fuel, bois, automobiles) surtout en provenance de l’étranger. L’activité diminue, jusqu’à l’arrêt complet à la fin des années 90.

2004. La vile de Pantin rachète à la ville de Paris les terrains de la CCIP pour 7 millions d’euros.

2006. De jour comme de nuit, les graffeurs s’approprient les lieux.

2013. Début des travaux pour créer le nouveau siège de l’agence de pub BETC.

Mais Rue89 s’est introduit là où vous n’aurez pas forcément le droit d’aller, dans ces deux énormes cubes en béton armé qui se dressent : 60 mètres de largeur sur 30 mètres de hauteur, reliés entre eux par des passerelles jetées dans le vide.

Le sol crépite. Un mélange de pierre éboulée et d’éclats de verre pilé, vestiges du temps qui passe et de soirées bien arrosées.

De larges portes métalliques protègent l’édifice de (presque) toute intrusion. Ces mêmes portes qui rythmaient le ballet des marchandises et des dockers. La singularité du bâtiment des douanes est sa résistance au sol : de 1 800 à 400 kilos au mètres carrés, les charges les plus lourdes étaient stockées au premier niveau.

Aux magasins généraux à Pantin (Audrey Cerdan/Rue89)

Depuis une coursive (Audrey Cerdan/Rue89)

D’’un niveau à l’autre, on retrouve de vastes plateaux éclairés par d’immenses baies vitrées en structure métallique, brisées pour la plupart. Partout, des vitraux, de la pierre, des gravats, des cloisons. Puis des pierres, du verre, oh… des cadavres de bombes de peinture (encore), des gravats…

Les techniciens qui préparent les éclairages pour les concerts de ce week-end ont fléché le sol, utilisant la même méthode que les artistes-squatteurs qui tatouaient le lieu de part en part.

Les grands noms du graff sur les façades, les locaux à l’intérieur

Presque chaque centimètre de son épiderme porte la trace des artistes qui s’y sont succédé depuis 2006. A l’intérieur, ce sont plutôt les « crews » (« équipes ») du coin. Les grands noms du graff, eux, se réservent les façades. Plus visibles et donc plus convoitées, mais aussi plus dangereuses.

Perchés sur des escabeaux, les graffeurs s’installaient sur les coursives qui ressemblent comme deux gouttes d’eau aux allées d’un bateau. Encerclant chaque étage, elles sont si étroites qu’il est impossible de prendre du recul sur son œuvre.

Artof Popof, Dacruz et Marko93, trois serial painters, ont même été mandatés par le comité départemental du tourisme de la Seine-Saint-Denis, l’année dernière pour « redonner des couleurs au bâtiment ». Et si un petit dernier se prend d’envie de recouvrir leurs créations, un message le met en garde : « Si tu touches, on te couche. »

Les anciens magasins généraux, à Pantin (Audrey Cerdan/Rue89)

D’autres graffeurs ont également apposé leur blase sur les façades, comme Bezyr, Kevlar ou encore Lilyluciole. Elle se souvient :

« J’ai toujours vu ce bâtiment de très loin. Il était là, incroyable, fantastique, sorti de nulle part. J’ai rencontré Artof Popof qui m’a invité à venir peindre l’extérieur. Et j’ai pu visité cet édifice insolite, de la tête au pied. [...]

Personne ne s’est battu pour avoir les meilleurs morceaux. Il restait encore beaucoup place. Ce n’est pas un gâchis mais presque. »

« Un monstre du graff, comme le 5PointZ »

Pour Lilyluciole, le bâtiment des douanes lui rappelle un emblème du graff de l’autre côté de l’Atlantique, le 5Pointz, dans le quartier du Queens à New-York.

« C’est aussi un monstre du graff. Là-bas les artistes se battent pour préserver ce monument. Peut-être que le bâtiment des douanes aurait pu devenir un lieu de rencontre pour les artistes internationaux. »

Paris/Pantin : stop-motion & street art !

Au cinquième étage, les terrasses. Plus de dessins, mais la vue. Presque l’intégralité de la surface des deux bâtiments s’étend jusqu’au précipice. Ni rambardes, ni filet de sécurité. Et au centre, deux alcôves entourées de baies vitrées métalliques s’étirent.

Dans une pièce de plus de dix mètres sous plafond, s’élèvent des escaliers en métal qui grimpent. La dernière terrasse, la plus haute et la plus petite, offre une vue panoramique sur toute la Seine-Saint-Denis jusqu’à Paris.

Voir aussi:

Les anciens entrepôts de la Chambre de Commerce et d’Industrie de Paris à Pantin

Le bâtiment « des douanes » situé à Pantin sur les berges du canal est devenu un formidable « terrain de jeu » pour de nombreux artistes graffeurs par ailleurs très actifs sur toute cette portion du canal. Dans le cadre de l’édition 2012 de l’Eté du canal, des artistes s’emparent des murs extérieurs du bâtiment pour célébrer, au travers d’un œuvre collective, la fin joyeuse de sa vie transitoire de spot artistique et sa nouvelle vie, L’œuvre collective sera ancrée sur la façade ouest, la plus visible depuis Pantin. Puis chacun des trois artistes, Artof Popof, Da Cruz et Marko, laissera sa propre esthétique envahir tel un flux horizontal un niveau de la façade nord, qui longe le canal. Les performances graff auront lieu chaque week-end du 23 juin au 26 août 2012, au Bâtiment des Douanes (métro église de Pantin).

Les entrepôts de la Chambre de Commerce et d’Industrie de Paris (CCIP) s’installent sur les rives du canal de l’Ourcq en 1929 après l’élargissement du canal pour la création du port de Pantin. La plate-forme portuaire, gérée par la CCIP, est constituée du remblai de l’ancien lit du canal. Le site se composait, à l’origine, de deux entrepôts monumentaux situés de part et d’autre du canal. Ceux de la rive gauche ont été détruits par un violent incendie en juin 1995.

Le bassin de Pantin devient le plus grand port du canal de l’Ourcq

Le canal de l’Ourcq, long d’une centaine de kilomètres entre Mareuil-sur-Ourcq et le bassin de La Villette, est ouvert en 1822. Sa traversée de Pantin coupe le village en deux, mais la communication est rétablie grâce à la construction de deux ponts. Dans un premier temps, seules les galiotes, longs bateaux couverts, circulent sur le canal, transportant à la fois des marchandises et des passagers. Puis, le trafic de plus en plus florissant donne naissance à une flottille spéciale, les flûtes de l’Ourcq. Utilisées que sur ce canal, elles profitent de la descente pour se laisser porter par la vitesse du courant, évitant la traction humaine ou animale. D’une longueur de 28 mètres sur 3 mètres de large, ces bateaux peuvent transporter 40 à 50 tonnes de bois ou de matériaux de construction.

Dans son ouvrage sur Pantin, Roger Pourteau raconte qu’en 1837, deux organisateurs de voyages ont l’astucieuse idée de mettre en service un cargo en fer, long d’une vingtaine de mètres, qui assure un service régulier entre Paris et Meaux à raison de deux départs quotidiens dans chaque sens. Tracté par quatre chevaux, ce cargo file à la vitesse de quatre lieues à l’heure. Les affiches publicitaires précisent que « Les salons sont chauffés en hiver ». Le canal devient trop étroit et ne correspond plus au trafic. Dès 1892, il a fallu agrandir le canal entre la Villette et la mairie de Pantin, puis, en 1895, prolonger quelque peu vers l’amont cette mis à grande section. Pour ces travaux d’élargissement et d’approfondissement, la municipalité est mise à contribution à hauteur de 600 000 francs de l’époque. Somme considérable que la commune s’empresse d’amortir en établissant une « taxe de tonnage » sur les marchandises embarquées et débarquées dans la zone portuaire. À cette époque, le trafic atteint 95 800 tonnes par an.

En 1899 la Chambre de commerce de Paris, consciente du rôle majeur du canal de l’Ourcq, exprime le souhait d’établir à Pantin « des magasins appropriés à chaque nature de marchandises. La situation permettrait de faire arriver bateaux et wagons sans remplir aucune formalité d’octroi et d’effectuer de même les réexpéditions pour le dehors sans que la Ville de Paris puisse craindre aucune fraude. Ce serait, si l’on admet cette expression, un grand bassin de triage. ». Mais il faudra attendre 30 ans, le 10 mai 1929, pour que la mise en eau du bassin ait lieu. A ce moment le bassin de Pantin est devenu le port le plus important du canal de l’Ourcq, recevant les plus gros bateaux de la navigation intérieure en provenance de Rouen, via la Seine et la canal Saint-Denis.

Ces aménagements sont réalisés dans le cadre d’un ambitieux projet de prolongation de d’élargissement du canal qui le transforme en voie navigable pour les grands chalands. Au début de 1931 les deux magasins entrent en activité et stockent des produits variés.

Deux grands entrepôts à l’aspect d’un paquebot en bordure de berge

Ancienne CCIP – Crédit photo Gil Gueu – Ville de PantinLes magasins de la CCIP avaient pour fonction essentielle de recevoir des grains et des farines. La Chambre de Commerce et d’Industrie de Paris est, à cette époque, raccordée aux gares de Pantin et de Noisy-le-Sec dont les voies ferrées desservaient les deux rives du canal. Les deux grands entrepôts qui dominent encore la rive droite sont particulièrement intéressants du point de vue de l’architecture. Construits sur six niveaux communiquant entre eux par des passerelles métalliques, leur structure est en béton et la façade composée d’un remplissage en briques gris claire dont la bichromie forme des motifs réguliers. De grandes verrières en façade éclairent les six étages tandis que les balcons soulignent l’horizontalité du bâtiment à l’aspect de paquebot.

Le grain y était à l’origine acheminé par bateaux. Un outillage pneumatique permettait de l’aspirer directement dans une tour de distribution, située dans la partie supérieure de l’édifice, tandis que des grues permettaient l’approvisionnement des bâtiments à partir des balcons. Avant d’être désaffectée, la Chambre de Commerce et d’Industrie devient un lieu de stockage pour le fret venant des villes du nord. Celui-ci arrivant par route, une gare routière est ouverte à la demande de l’administration des douanes en 1950. Avec les Grands Moulins de Pantin, les entrepôts de la CCIP demeurent les témoins visibles du rôle majeur qu’ont tenu la Seine-Saint-Denis en général et Pantin en particulier dans l’approvisionnement de Paris.

Sur le plan architectural, la volumétrie des bâtiments, qui totalisent une surface utile de 41 000 m2, est des plus simples. Pour chacun, il s’agit d’un empilement de 6 plateaux identiques, desservis par des coursives extérieures, en porte-à-faux sur les quatre façades. Toute l’ossature des deux bâtiments est en béton armé. Dans un souci d’économie ou d’esthétique, le constructeur a pris le soin d’augmenter la taille des poteaux au fur et à mesure qu’on s’approche du soubassement comme s’il s’agissait d’exprimer la transmission des efforts et des surcharges dans le squelette de l’édifice. En façade, l’effet produit est singulier puisqu’à chaque niveau la section des poteaux change. Au rez-de-chaussée, de puissantes piles supportent tout le poids de l’édifice et son contenu, tandis qu’au dernier niveau les piles se sont amincies et laissent davantage de place aux éléments de remplissage en briques polychromes et aux surfaces vitrées.

Une reconversion en activités culturelle, résidentielle et de loisirs

Ancienne Chambre de Commerce de Paris à PantinL’ère industrielle étant révolue, la reconquête des berges du canal est à l’ordre du jour. L’emprise des bâtiments de la CCIP fait actuellement l’objet d’une requalification. Celle-ci s’inscrit dans la réalisation d’un nouveau quartier, identifié sur le plan local d’urbanisme comme la ZAC Sud Canal, qui s’articulera autour de deux axes principaux occupant pas moins de quatre hectares entre la voie d’eau et l’avenue Jean-Lolive. Les bâtiments jumeaux de l’ancienne Chambre de Commerce et d’Industrie de Paris seront réhabilités afin d’y accueillir des activités économiques. Sur la partie sud du site, un espace résidentiel (de 400 logements), de loisirs et de promenade devrait être aménagé. Si l’on y intègre l’ancienne cité administrative devenue le Centre national de la Danse et les Grands Moulins de Pantin, la reconversion du site de la CCIP constituera une continuité cohérente de la problématique patrimoniale de l’architecture industrielle depuis le parc de la Villette.

Crédit photo 1 : Gil Gueu – Ville de Pantin

Crédit photo 2 : Hélène Sallet-Lavorel – Comité départemental du tourisme

Télécharger le fac-similé la transformation du canal de l’Ourcq en voie navigable à grande section et la création d’un port à Pantin, le génie civil, samedi 11 octobre 1930 (format pdf, 4,4 Mo). Ce document est conservé au pôle Mémoire et Patrimoine de la ville de Pantin.


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