Littérature/peinture: Parfois le traître est juste un traître (After Amos Oz’s latest Judas kiss, thank God for Israel Museum’s Jesus exhibition)

24 septembre, 2017

Chagall, Exodus 1952-66

Through many a dark hour I’ve been thinkin’ about this that Jesus Christ was betrayed by a kiss but I can’t think for you you’ll have to decide whether Judas Iscariot had God on his side. Bob Dylan
Judas ! Dylan fan (Manchester, May 17, 1966)
We made him and he betrayed the cause. Dylan fan
I think most of all I was angry that Dylan… not that he’d played electric, but that he’d played electric with a really poor sound system. It was not like it is on the record [the official album]. It was a wall of mush. That, and it seemed like a cavalier performance, a throwaway performance compared with the intensity of the acoustic set earlier on. There were rumblings all around me and the people I was with were making noises and looking at each other. It was a build-up. (…)  It came as a complete surprise to me. I guess I’d heard Dylan was playing electrically, but my preconceptions of that were of something a little more restrained, perhaps a couple of guitarists sitting in with him, not a large-scale electric invasion. (…) we were still living the first acoustic LPs and I don’t think many people had moved on to the electric material. (…) It’s strange. But certainly that wasn’t the Dylan I focused on. Maybe I was just living in the past. And I couldn’t hear the lyrics in the second half of the concert. I think that’s what angered me. I thought, ‘The man is throwing away the good part of what he does.(…) I think I was probably being egged on. I certainly got a lot of positive encouragement as soon as I’d done it. I sat down and there were a lot of people around me who turned round and were saying, ‘That was great, wish we’d have said that’ – those sort of things. And at that point I began to feel embarrassed really, but not that embarrassed. I was quite glad I’d done it. (…) It came at the same time as the revelation that someone else was claiming it was they that did the shout, and that intrigued me because I couldn’t understand why anyone would want to do that. I supposed I rationalised it by saying, well, maybe two people in the auditorium shouted ‘Judas’ but I’m absolutely convinced that it was me that the microphones picked up. And, being a bit of an amateur historian, I wanted to set the record straight. (…) I don’t regret doing it because I think I did it for the right sorts of reasons. I felt betrayed by someone who’d formed a very big part of my life for two or three years. But, y’know, with the benefit of hindsight, I don’t think I would do it now. (…) Brilliant [laughs]. Absolutely brilliant. But that wasn’t the set that you heard in the auditorium. It didn’t sound like that. John Cordell
It has been reckoned to be one of the pivotal moments in popular music in the 20th Century, on a par with the riot at Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring in Paris ». (…) It’s funny – you wait 30-odd years for Judas to turn up and you get two at once. (…) I think being called Judas was the point. Betraying what? It’s quite ridiculous. (…) This was not a bad set, it was absolutely fantastic what they played. It was eye-opening and revolutionary. I’m so glad there is a record of it. (…) In essence, it’s the night that pop music became rock music. It was heavy metal, it was thrash metal, it was death metal, it was everything that’s come since then. I was totally aware, the moment it finished, I knew I had been present at something that was seismic. Dr CP Lee
The only reason tapes of those shows exist today is because we wanted to know, ‘Are we crazy?’. We’d go back to the hotel room, listen to a tape of a show and think, ‘Shit, that’s not that bad. Why is everybody so upset?’ Robbie Robertson
These are the same people that tried to pin the name Judas on me. Judas, the most hated name in human history! If you think you’ve been called a bad name, try to work your way out from under that. Yeah, and for what? For playing an electric guitar? As if that is in some kind of way equitable to betraying our Lord and delivering him up to be crucified. All those evil motherfuckers can rot in hell. Bob Dylan
For those American Jews who lack any shred of integrity, the media should be required to label them at the bottom of the television screen whenever they pop up, e.g. Bill Kristol is “Jewish and an outspoken supporter of the state of Israel.” That would be kind-of-like a warning label on a bottle of rat poison – translating roughly as “ingest even the tiniest little dosage of the nonsense spewed by Bill Kristol at your own peril. Phil Giraldi
As the New Year 5778 begins, 88% of Israeli Jews say that they are happy and satisfied with their lives. This makes sense. Israel’s relative security, its prosperity, freedom and spiritual blossoming make Israeli Jews the most successful Jewish community in 3,500 years of Jewish history. The same cannot be said for the Jews of the Diaspora. In Western Europe, Jewish communities that just a generation ago were considered safe and prosperous are now besieged. Synagogues and Jewish schools look like army barracks. And the severe security cordons Jews need to pass through to pray and study are entirely justified. (…) The crisis is a function of growing levels of popular antisemitism spurred by mass immigration from the Islamic world and the resurgence of indigenous European Jew-hatred, particularly on the far Left. The same cannot be said of the American Jewish community, which at the dawn of 5778 also finds itself steeped in an ever deepening crisis. (…)  While antisemitism is experiencing a growth spurt in the US progressive movement, and antisemitism is becoming increasingly overt in US Muslim communities, neither the Reform nor Conservative movements has taken significant institutional steps to fight them. Instead, both movements, and a large swath of the Jewish institutional world, led in large part by Reform and Conservative Jews, have either turned a blind eye to this antisemitism or supported it. Caroline Glick
Parfois, le traitre est celui qui est en avance sur son temps. Amos Oz
That’s what the Jews in Israel think because they have no notion of the limits of power. The fact is that all the power in the world cannot transform someone who hates you into someone who likes you. It can turn a foe into a slave, but not into a friend. All the power in the world cannot transform a fanatic into an enlightened man. All the power in the world cannot transform someone thirsting for vengeance into a lover. And yet these are precisely the real existential challenges facing the State of Israel: how to turn a hater into a lover, a fanatic into a moderate, an avenger into a friend. Am I saying that we do not need military might? Heaven forbid! Such a foolish thought would never enter my head. I know as well as you that it is power, military power, that stands, at any given moment, even at this very moment while you and I are arguing here, between us and extinction. Power has the power to prevent our annihilation for the time being. On condition that we always remember, at every moment, that in a situation like ours power can only prevent. It can’t settle anything and it can’t solve anything. It can only stave off disaster for a while. Shmuel Ash (Judas, Amos Oz)
Every so often in history, courageous people have appeared who were ahead of their time and were called traitors or eccentrics. Amos Oz
And so that is indeed what the Jews possess in the deepest recesses of the Jew-hater’s imagination. We are all Judas. Gershom Wald (Judas, Amos Oz)
 In front of me hangs Marc Chagall’s picture Crucifixion in Yellow. It shows the figure of the crucified Christ in an apocalyptic situation: people sinking into the sea, people homeless and in flight, and yellow fire blazing in the background. And with the crucified Christ there appears the angel with the trumpet and the open roll of the book of life [Rev 14.6]. This picture has accompanied me for a long time. It symbolizes the cross on the horizon of the world, and can be thought of as a symbolic expression of the studies which follow. Jürgen Moltmann
The sclpture, created by Russian Jewish artist Mark Antokolsky in 1876, is part of a collection of more than 150 artworks by 40 Jewish and Israeli artists who have used Christian imagery to challenge long-held taboos in both communities. It showcases the evolving attitudes of Jewish, Zionist and Israeli artists toward a figure whose place in Jewish history has been negotiated and reinterpreted over more than two millennia. It is a risky statement for an Israeli museum. Throughout history, Jews have traditionally shunned Jesus and his gospel. And while the Holy Land might be his accepted birthplace, for Jews in the modern state of Israel there is often resistance to learning about or even acknowledging Christianity. The Washington Post
We are talking about a 2,000-year-old tension between Judaism and Christianity and the fact that anti-Semitism grew in Christian thought and theology. (…) Israelis are funny about Jesus. But when we scrape the surface, we realize that there is a lot of Christian imagery all around us, even if we’re unaware of it. Amitai Mendelsohn
In the 19th century, the main issue was the Jewish artist feeling emancipated, and it was important for those artists to connect with their surrounding and the time. For Israeli artists, it’s also a kind of emancipation from the heavy Jewishness of their country. Ronit Steinberg (Jerusalem’s Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design)
Lorsque Jésus pense que tout le monde peut aimer tout le monde, peut être pensait-il à autre chose que ce que l’on a interprété. (…) L’amour prêché par Jésus tel qu’il est interprété, est quelque chose de tout à fait impossible. Le contraire de la guerre (…) n’est pas l’amour mais plutôt le compromis. (…) Mon père s’appelait Judas. Mon fils s’appelle aussi Judas. C’est quelque chose qui m’intéresse depuis mes 16 ans. De plus, cette traitrise de Judas, on peut considérer que c’était en quelque sorte le Tchernobyl de l’antisémitisme (…) Pourquoi Judas qui avait les moyens vendrait-il son maitre, son idole, son enseignant pour quelque chose comme 600 euros actuels ? Je trouvais que ça ne cadrait absolument pas. (…) Judas a cru en Jésus même plus que Jésus ne croyait en lui-même. (…) Le monde chrétien lorsqu’il l’a découvert a été choqué. C’est comme un électrochoc que de lire cela : le premier chrétien est mort ainsi, c’était également le dernier chrétien, et le seul chrétien. Un électrochoc dont personnellement je me réjouis. Je crois qu’il est bien mérité, peut-être également cela pourra-t-il un petit peu atténuer ce Tchernobyl de l’antisémitisme.  (…) Personnellement je n’ai pas de préférence pour l’un ou l’autre des personnages, ou des idées de ce roman. Je vais d’ailleurs vous donner un petit truc : il faut vous mettre dans des visions très contradictoires. Je n’ai pas voulu écrire un manifeste politique ou un roman. L’écrivain doit pouvoir se mettre à la place de l’autre. Il faut pouvoir décrire avec la même ferveur, deux ou trois visions opposées. (…) Je suis évolutionniste. Je crois aux compromis (…) et le contraire du compromis, ce n’est pas l’idéal, l’idéalisme, mais c’est le fanatisme et la mort. Amos Oz
L’intrigue de Judas cherche moins à exploiter le décor de pierres blondes et les ruelles de Jérusalem qu’à abriter un huis clos entre trois marginaux : l’ex-étudiant Shmuel Asch qu’une séparation a conduit à laisser tomber sa thèse sur l’apôtre, le vieil historien Gershom Wald, et une veuve de 45 ans, Atalia Abravanel. Entre ces trois solitaires que tout sépare et qui appartiennent à des générations différentes, des relations précaires mais fortes vont finir par se nouer. Les développements didactiques consacrés à Judas, qu’Amos Oz mêle à son histoire, doublent le roman d’un véritable essai. L’entrelacs ne prend pas toujours et sature parfois le récit. C’est l’aspect le moins convaincant du livre, malgré l’intérêt de l’hypothèse prêtée à Asch d’un Judas fidèle entre les fidèles, poussant Jésus à monter sur la croix pour faire éclater sa divinité en espérant qu’il survive à son supplice. Le dévoilement progressif du secret qui pèse sur la maisonnée est en revanche très réussi. La vérité apparaît en pleine lumière au fur et à mesure que se modifie le regard sur les objets quotidiens (canne, café, lampe à pétrole) auxquels Oz a toujours l’art de donner une âme. Nicolas Weill

Attention: une trahison peut en cacher une autre !

A l’heure où en ce Nouvel an juif

Et à l’instar d’un Judas « déçu par la ‘passivité de Jésus’ le livrant au Sanhédrin afin de provoquer une révolution armée contre l’occupant romain » …

Nombre de juifs de la Diaspora américaine ainsi qu’une minorité active de Juifs israéliens semblent déterminés à pousser Israël au suicide territorial face à ses ennemis palestiniens et arabes …

Contrairement à un nombre croissant de chrétiens ouvertement  solidaires du projet sioniste …

Comment ne pas se désoler …

Derrière son long héritage revendiqué de Jérémie à Lincoln ou de Gaulle ou même Herzl ou Ben Gourion …

De la véritable apologie de la trahison du dernier roman de l’écrivain israélien Amos Oz …

Mais comment en même temps ne pas être conforté d’initiatives du côté israélien …

Telles que cette récente  exposition du Musée d’Israël

Rappelant contre ces innombrables représentations du Christ à travers lesquelles nos musées avaient réussi à le déjudaïser …

La longue tradition de représentations de Jésus dans l’art juif et aujourd’hui israélien ?

Amos Oz: «Parfois, le traître est celui qui est en avance sur son temps»
L’écrivain plaide en faveur de Judas dans une fresque saisissante où il pose à Israël la question de la mémoire et du futurAndré Clavel
Le Temps30 août 2016

Raconter. Raconter, encore et encore. Des histoires, Amos Oz en a toujours inventé, depuis sa plus lointaine enfance, dans l’appartement familial rempli de livres – jusque dans la salle de bain. «Je ne peux m’empêcher d’écrire, dit le ténor des lettres israéliennes. Mes romans ne peuvent certes pas changer le monde mais ce que je souhaite, c’est qu’ils parviennent à ouvrir de nouvelles fenêtres dans le cœur de mes lecteurs.» Des fenêtres – et autant d’horizons –, il n’en manque pas dans Judas, son roman le plus audacieux et le plus ambitieux, une fresque qui comptait d’abord près de mille pages mais qu’il a peu à peu dégraissée des deux-tiers, après cinq ans de labeur.

Politique et religion

C’est dire le prix de ce récit où la théologie croise la politique, où les histoires intimes se mêlent à la grande Histoire – la naissance d’Israël, en particulier – et où le cofondateur du mouvement La Paix Maintenant jette un éclairage littéraire sur ses engagements citoyens tout en interrogeant les textes bibliques, sa lecture de chevet. «Ils contiennent des histoires magnifiques et douloureuses, sans parler de la beauté de la langue» dit le magicien Oz qui, nourri de l’Ancien Testament, s’est aussi plongé dès son adolescence dans le Nouveau Testament. Il est la source vive de son roman, au détour duquel il remet en scène le plus controversé des personnages, ce Judas qu’il réhabilite merveilleusement en tordant le cou aux vieilles – et tenaces – légendes qui font de lui le pire des renégats.

Dès les premières lignes, Amos Oz annonce la couleur: dans cette histoire, écrit-il, «on va parler de désir, d’un amour malheureux et d’une question théologique inexpliquée». Nous sommes à Jérusalem, pendant l’hiver 1959, au cœur d’une ville portant encore les stigmates de la guerre qui l’a divisée en deux, dix ans auparavant. C’est dans ces décors que se débat un jeune homme qui joue de malchance, Shmuel Asch, 25 ans, un étudiant en histoire des religions que sa fiancée vient de plaquer cruellement. Autre coup dur, la récente faillite de son père qui va le contraindre à trouver un emploi pour financer ses études, un emploi qu’il finira par dénicher grâce à une petite annonce: en échange d’un hébergement et d’un modeste salaire, un invalide de 70 ans cherche un garçon de compagnie pour lui faire la conversation cinq heures chaque soir.

Grincheux

C’est ainsi que Shmuel débarque chez le très fantasque Gershom Wald, un bavard impénitent, un vieux grincheux aussi érudit que misanthrope. Remplie de livres, située à l’ombre d’un figuier – comme dans une parabole biblique –, sa maison sera le théâtre de dialogues enflammés où s’affronteront deux générations, celle des certitudes et celle des désillusions. D’un côté, les beaux idéaux socialistes de Shmuel, qui brûle de réformer le monde. De l’autre, l’ironie cinglante de Gershom, qui vomit les idéologies. Don Quichotte contre Voltaire. «Je ne crois pas en la rédemption du monde. Il est sinistre et rempli de souffrances mais qui veut le sauver versera des torrents de sang» lance Gershom, avant d’ajouter: «Tout le monde ou presque traverse l’existence, de la naissance à la mort, les yeux fermés. Si on les ouvrait une fraction de seconde, on pousserait des hurlements effroyables sans jamais s’arrêter.»

Voir aussi:

Amos Oz: « Judas a cru en Jésus »

A l’occasion de la parution en France de son roman Judas (Gallimard), l’écrivain israélien Amos Oz s’est exprimé mardi 6 septembre au Musée d’art et d’histoire du Judaïsme.

A l’occasion de la parution en France de son roman Judas (Gallimard), Amos Oz a tenu une conférence ce mardi 6 septembre, au musée d’art et d’histoire du judaïsme. L’écrivain israélien, en conversation avec la journaliste du Monde Josyane Savigneau, s’est exprimé sur les nombreux thèmes qui traversent le roman déjà traduit en 15 langues. L’histoire se déroule il y a 51 ans, dans un Jérusalem dont l’auteur avoue être « nostalgique », et met en scène trois personnages principaux dans une même maison isolée : Gershom Wald, « un vieux handicapé qui a perdu la foi en tout », Attalia, « furieuse contre toute la gente masculine » dont s’amourache le jeune Shmuel Asch, qui à l’opposé de Wald veut changer le monde et s’intéresse à Jésus dans la religion juive.

Concernant le Christ, qui est l’un des sujets récurrents du roman avec Judas Iscariote, Amos Oz affirme : « Lorsque Jésus pense que tout le monde peut aimer tout le monde, peut être pensait-il à autre chose que ce que l’on a interprété. » Et va même jusqu’à affirmer que « l’amour prêché par Jésus tel qu’il est interprété, est quelque chose de tout à fait impossible ». Le contraire de la guerre, selon Oz, n’est pas l’amour mais plutôt le compromis. À ce propos, rappelle-t-il, « Shmuel, idéaliste et Wald, pessimiste, vont se changer mutuellement ».

Quant à Judas, il intéresse Amos Oz sur son trait de caractère le plus célèbre : « Qu’est-ce qu’un traitre ? Qu’est-ce qui fait qu’un traitre est considéré comme traitre ? ». Et de rappeler l’origine de son intérêt pour cette question : « Mon père s’appelait Judas. Mon fils s’appelle aussi Judas. C’est quelque chose qui m’intéresse depuis mes 16 ans. De plus, cette traitrise de Judas, on peut considérer que c’était en quelque sorte le Tchernobyl de l’antisémitisme (…) Pourquoi Judas qui avait les moyens vendrait-il son maitre, son idole, son enseignant pour quelque chose comme 600 euros actuels ? Je trouvais que ça ne cadrait absolument pas. (…) Judas a cru en Jésus même plus que Jésus ne croyait en lui-même ».

L’écrivain israélien espère que ce livre, qu’il a écrit en cinq ans, bousculera les clichés antisémites : « Le monde chrétien lorsqu’il l’a découvert a été choqué. C’est comme un électrochoc que de lire cela : le premier chrétien est mort ainsi, c’était également le dernier chrétien, et le seul chrétien. Un électrochoc dont personnellement je me réjouis. Je crois qu’il est bien mérité, peut-être également cela pourra-t-il un petit peu atténuer ce Tchernobyl de l’antisémitisme. »

Mais il précise tout de même qu’il n’a pas écrit ce livre afin d’en faire un manifeste pour l’une ou l’autre des opinions qui y sont représentées : « Personnellement je n’ai pas de préférence pour l’un ou l’autre des personnages, ou des idées de ce roman. Je vais d’ailleurs vous donner un petit truc : il faut vous mettre dans des visions très contradictoires. Je n’ai pas voulu écrire un manifeste politique ou un roman. L’écrivain doit pouvoir se mettre à la place de l’autre. Il faut pouvoir décrire avec la même ferveur, deux ou trois visions opposées. » Et de rappeler, encore, une fois, sa conviction : « Je suis évolutionniste. Je crois aux compromis (…) et le contraire du compromis, ce n’est pas l’idéal, l’idéalisme, mais c’est le fanatisme et la mort. »

Voir également:

Amos Oz : « Pourquoi Judas aurait-il trahi Jésus pour 30 deniers, soit 600 euros ? »

Ecrivain engagé, militant pour la paix, Amos Oz réhabilite la figure de Judas, dans un magnifique roman qui s’interroge sur les souffrances du peuple juif. Entretien.

Didier Jacob

Dans la Jérusalem du début des années 60, Shmuel, un jeune étudiant, accepte, moyennant rétribution, de tenir compagnie à Gershom Wald, un vieil homme solitaire qui débat sans fin sur le sionisme et les origines de l’Etat hébreu. Dans la maison du vieil homme, une jolie femme, Atalia, pleure son mari perdu, un soldat israélien sauvagement assassiné alors qu’il effectuait une dangereuse mission.

Shmuel, qui ne tarde pas à tomber amoureux de la veuve, rédige une thèse sur «Jésus dans la tradition juive», dans laquelle il tente de réhabiliter la figure controversée de Judas. Mais Shmuel est aussi fasciné par le combat du père défunt d’Atalia, un des pionniers du sionisme qui s’opposa à Ben Gourion au moment de la création de l’Etat d’Israël, et milita pour un non-Etat à la fois arabe et juif.

En inventant de toutes pièces ce personnage idéaliste accusé par les siens de les trahir, et en racontant dans ce roman si sensuellement philosophique comment Judas fut considéré à tort comme un traître, Amos Oz, le bouillant activiste à qui certains de ses compatriotes ont si souvent reproché son engagement pour la paix, tient plus que jamais son rôle d’empêcheur de conter en rond. Entretien.

Voir encore:

Roman

Judas

Amos Oz

Jérusalem, 1959, un trio hanté par le passé. Puisant dans la théologie et l’histoire d’Israël, le romancier livre une réflexion vibrante sur la trahison.

Ils sont trois personnages, rassemblés comme à huis clos. Une intimité non exclusive, dans laquelle s’immisce l’atmosphère extérieure. A commencer par celle de la ville, en cette fin de l’année 1959 : le froid de l’air, le gris du ciel, le grand silence des rues trop calmes et trop vides. « Cet hiver, Jérusalem était paisible, comme absorbée dans ses pensées. De loin en loin, on entendait sonner les cloches des églises. Une légère brise venue de l’ouest s’engouffrait dans les cyprès, ébranlant les cimes et le coeur de Shmuel. » Shmuel est l’un des trois protagonistes de Judas. Il en est même la figure centrale, si on envisage ce grand livre d’Amos Oz comme un roman d’apprentissage — ce qu’il est, mais à quoi on ne saurait le réduire.

Shmuel a 25 ans, il est hypersensible et idéaliste, en outre « corpulent, barbu, timide, émotif, socialiste, asthmatique, cyclothymique, les épaules massives, un cou de taureau, des doigts courts et boudinés : on aurait dit qu’il leur manquait une phalange ». Plaqué par sa petite amie et sans un sou en poche, il vient de décider de planter là ses études, le mémoire qu’il a entrepris sur « Jésus dans la tradition juive », pour occuper le poste d’homme de compagnie, logé, nourri, blanchi, auprès d’un vieil intellectuel invalide. Lui, c’est Gershom Wald, un grand vieillard laid, physiquement diminué mais inlassable dissertateur, érudit, sceptique, caustique. Avec lui cohabite Atalia Abravanel, la femme qui complète le trio. Autour duquel le romancier convoque aussi, au gré des pages et de l’évolution de son intrigue, nombre de fantômes : celui d’un fils disparu, d’un époux mort, d’un père renié. Et surtout, celui de Judas Iscariote, l’apôtre qui, par un baiser, livra Jésus à ses bourreaux — l’incarnation même du traître selon la tradition chrétienne qui fit de son geste son principal argument antisémite.

Tenant fermement ce thème de la trahison comme fil conducteur à son intrigue — et s’interrogeant : chacun de nous n’est-il pas le traître d’un autre ? — Amos Oz ne craint pas de puiser à la théologie, à l’histoire des relations entre judaïsme et christianisme ou à celle du sionisme et de la fondation de l’Etat d’Israël, pour tisser l’apprentissage intellectuel, politique et sentimental de Shmuel d’éléments théoriques et de développements philosophiques ou historiques passionnants. Judas est un roman d’idées, c’est incontestable. Un roman puissant et audacieux, dans lequel, de bout en bout, la rhétorique et la confrontation des points de vue tiennent une place essentielle.

Mais c’est aussi, et tout autant, dans un même geste romanesque remarquable, une fiction poignante et roborative, portée par les pensées et les émotions de Shmuel, Wald et Atalia, habitée par le passé de chacun, hantée par leurs erreurs, leurs fidélités et leurs reniements. Personnages cernés par la perte, le deuil, les spectres, ils ne sont jamais, pour Amos Oz, de plates figures métaphoriques, mais des êtres de chair, de sang, de désirs, d’incertitudes, de chagrins, de tourments — auxquels, ultimement, Amos Oz invite Judas à se joindre. Judas qui se raconte alors à la première personne et que le romancier invite à regarder, non plus comme le Traître en majuscule, mais comme un homme aveuglé par la foi et rongé par le désespoir. Devenu un assassin par excès de vertu et de passion. Parce qu’il croyait au miracle. Judas, peut-être « le premier chrétien […]. Le dernier. Le seul ».

| Ha besora al-pi yehuda iskariot, traduit de l’hébreu par Sylvie Cohen, éd. Gallimard, 352 p., 21 €.

 Voir de plus:

Jésus dans l’art israélien une exposition surprenante

Beatrice Guarrera

Terra santa

16 mars 2017

Au musée d’Israël, jusqu’à 16 avril une exposition montre comment Jésus est représenté chez les artistes israéliens. Où l’on voit l’iconographie chrétienne symboliser parfois le peuple juif, parfois le palestinien.


(Jérusalem) – Jésus représenté par les artistes israéliens (juifs ou arabes): il a le visage d’un juif emmené dans un camp de concentration, il est sur la croix comme un bédouin auquel on a confisqué ses terres, il a le regard d’un enfant palestinien qui va mourir. L’exposition qui se tient jusqu’au 16 avril au Musée d’Israël à Jérusalem, intitulée « Voici l’homme: Jésus dans l’art israélien » (Behold the Man: Jesus in Israeli Art), a de quoi surprendre.

L’image de Jésus sur la croix représente depuis longtemps la plus grande souffrance de l’humanité. Celle d’un homme mort injustement dans d’affreux tourments, homme fils du Créateur, condamné par  ses propres créatures. La gravité de cet événement, qui bouleverse depuis plus de deux mille ans, est arrivée avec le temps à symboliser aussi autre chose, au point d’être utilisée par des artistes israéliens pour représenter la douleur avec la plus grande force d’expression possible. Des artistes juifs l’utilisent depuis le XIXe siècle jusqu’à aujourd’hui des Israéliens : certaines de leurs œuvres ont été choisies et rassemblées par le conservateur de l’exposition Amitai Mendelsohn. Parmi les auteurs, Maurycy Gottlieb, Marc Chagall, E.M. Lilien, Reuven Rubin, Igael Tumarkin, Moshe Gershuni, Motti Mizrachi, Menashe Kadishman, Michal Na’aman, Adi Nes et Sigalit Landau.

Marc Chagall avec sa célèbre « Crucifixion en jaune » a été l’un des premiers à transformer la crucifixion de Jésus en symbole de la souffrance du peuple juif. Pendant longtemps, les juifs ont considéré la représentation de la croix presque comme un tabou, alors qu’ils avaient été tenus pour être le « peuple déicide ». Au XIXe siècle, la situation a changé. Les illustrations de Ephraim Moses Lilian (Autrichien, 1874-1925)  utilisent très souvent la couronne d’épines, des croix et des images associées à la figure de Marie. Elles veulent symboliser aussi bien la souffrance juive de la diaspora que le rôle du sionisme, qui a conduit à la résurrection de la Terre d’Israël. Le mal de l’holocauste est rappelé dans la série « 6.000.001 » de Moshe Hoffman (Israélien, 1938-1983). Jésus sur la croix, qui ressemble à un juif, est attrapé par le bras par un soldat allemand. Dans d’autres œuvres, les artistes utilisent encore le symbole de la croix: des juifs en ligne face aux camps de concentration forment une croix, ou ces planches de bois cassées à l’intérieur de la clôture d’un camp de concentration.

Reuven Rublin représente lui-aussi Jésus: le sionisme aurait la mission de ramener aux juifs à la vie, tout comme Jésus est ressuscité pour donner la vie à l’humanité. Au contraire, la peinture de Naftali Bezem (Israélien né en Allemgane en 1924) donne un autre sens aux symboles chrétiens. Dans « Courtyard of the Third Temple » (cours du Troisième Temple) Bezem fait référence au massacre de Kafr Kassem en 1956, qui a causé la mort d’environ cinquante Palestiniens. Pour la première fois la figure de Jésus est reprise pour peindre une victime palestinienne.
Igael Tumarkin (israélien né en Allemagne en 1933) associe à la crucifixion la souffrance des bédouins, auxquels les terres ont été confisquées, et il réalise ainsi son œuvre en assemblant des lambeaux de vêtements sur une croix en bois. Une femme palestinienne avec un enfant dans les bras est le sujet de la photographie prise dans une prison par Micha Kirshner (Né en Italie en 1947). La référence à la Vierge Marie est claire: la femme souffre, comme Marie, et le destin de l’enfant sera celui de la mort, comme Jésus.

Un dernier repas avec les apôtres en tenue militaire est l’une des dernières œuvres de l’exposition: les soldats israéliens, émissaires d’un pouvoir plus puissant qu’eux, sont les victimes qui pourraient être trahies, tout comme Jésus.
Cette intéressante exposition du Musée d’Israël montre comment l’iconographie chrétienne est toujours d’actualité, capable de décrire les conflits de notre époque. Du point de vue des artistes, la question n’est pas celle de la foi mais de la force du symbole qui ont un caractère universel et de Jésus dont le charisme les fascine.

Jusqu’au 16 avril au musée d’Israël à Jérusalem.

Voir par ailleurs:

Betrayal in Jerusalem

Avishai Margalit

Judas

by Amos Oz, translated from the Hebrew by Nicholas de Lange
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 305 pp., $25.00

On a wintry day in Jerusalem in late 1959, Shmuel Ash spots an enigmatic job posting on a university campus board:

Offered to a single humanities student with conversational skills and an interest in history, free accommodation and a modest monthly sum in return for spending five hours per evening with a seventy-year-old invalid, an educated, widely cultured man. He is able to take care of himself and seeks company, not assistance.

Ash, whose parents, we are told, “had lost their entire life savings in an instant, whose own research had stalled, who had dropped out of university, and whose girlfriend had suddenly married her former boyfriend,” decides to accept the position.

Ash moves to a house that is inhabited by two people, Atalia Abravanel, forty-five, and Gershom Wald, her seventy-year-old invalid father-in-law. They are haunted by the memories of two others who have a presence in the house: Shealtiel Abravanel, Atalia’s dead father, and Micha, Atalia’s late husband and Wald’s son. As we learn later, Micha was killed in the 1948 war and his corpse savagely desecrated.

The 1948 war between Jews and Arabs in Palestine is called the War of Independence by Jews and Al Naqba, or the Catastrophe, by Palestinian Arabs. What is striking in Judas, Amos Oz’s captivating new novel, is that the Jewish Abravanels, both father and daughter, view the 1948 war as an unmitigated catastrophe. This is so in their own lives through the loss of Micha, and for Jews nationally by heaping misery on Jews and Arabs alike.

Oz’s story zooms in on the trio of the living, which has expanded to include Ash, then zooms out onto a quintet that includes the two living-dead with their tight hold on the living. Much of the book consists of conversations between Ash, Wald, and Atalia about religion, Zionism, and the legacy of the war, as well as increasingly intimate exchanges about their private lives.

Shmuel Ash is twenty-five years old. As Lord Byron once asked: “Is there anything in the future that can possibly console us for not being always twenty-five?” In the case of the stocky and bearded Ash, the answer is Atalia—the lady of the house. Ash, “shy, emotional, socialist, asthmatic,” falls deeply in love with her.

Ash is based on the nineteenth-century Russian literary archetype of the “superfluous man”: well-read, intelligent, idealistic, with copious goodwill, and yet utterly ineffectual. Ash can interpret the world but can barely change his own underwear. Like Goncharov’s Oblomov, he stays in bed until midday, a grown baby who dusts his beard with scented talc powder.

Ash is the novel’s link between the story that takes place in 1959 and the one about Jesus and Judas that took place in the first century. His academic research, which he had recently given up, was dedicated to the way in which Jews viewed Jesus. When he tries to explain his interest in the subject, he mumbles: “The figure of Jesus of Nazareth…and Judas Iscariot…and the spiritual world of the Chief Priests and Pharisees who rejected Jesus.”

In Mikhail Bulgakov’s masterpiece The Master and Margarita, written in the 1930s, Jesus and Judas’s Jerusalem is woven onto Stalinist Moscow of the 1930s by the Master, who is writing a biography of Pontius Pilate. Oz uses a similar device: Shmuel Ash’s historical research transplants Jesus and Judas onto the divided city of Jerusalem of the late 1950s.

Oz has a formidable rhetorical talent that doesn’t always work in his favor. He is in danger of giving the impression that his novels are an excuse for delivering eloquent speeches about big ideas. Luckily, his novel is not just about abstractions. For one thing, the contentious life of Jerusalem—divided between Israel and Jordan—has a major part in the novel, and to great effect.

By describing Ash and Atalia’s long walks through its narrow alleyways, Oz brings a wintry wind into his powerful depiction of the city in December. For him, Jerusalem between winds is a place graced with moments of transcendence:

There was no rain, just a few gray tatters of clouds crossing the sky on their way from the sea to the desert. The morning light that touched the stone walls of Jerusalem was reflected back soft and sweet, honeyed light, the light that caresses Jerusalem on clear winter days between one rainstorm and the next.

Oz captures the way the harsh, blinding glare of Jerusalem summers is replaced in winter by a soft glow reflected in the washed building stones. (I have to confess that I am, perhaps, too susceptible to Oz’s evocation of Jerusalem. He and I attended kindergarten together and were raised in the same Jerusalem neighborhood, a place movingly, almost eerily evoked in Oz’s autobiographical novel A Tale of Love and Darkness.)

Oz is very particular about naming his leading characters: the name Ash is already a giveaway. Oz maintains without conviction that Shmuel, to the best of his knowledge, has no relation to the “well-known writer” Scholem Asch, who scandalized the Jewish world with his sympathetic trilogy written in the years of World War II on themes having to do with the life of Jesus. The conventional wisdom among Jews at the time was that there was a direct line between Christian anti-Semitism and the Nazi anti-Semitism calling for the elimination of the Jews. Scholem Asch’s trilogy, which depicted Jesus in a favorable light, was taken as a betrayal by many Jews.

Atalia is another telling name. The biblical Atalia of the ninth century BC is the only woman who became a ruling sovereign in Judea. In Athalie, Racine’s 1691 play, she is the epitome of a fiercely independent woman, as is Oz’s Atalia, the commanding lady of the haunted house who bears herself regally. Meanwhile, Abravanel strongly suggests the name of the descendants of the leading Jewish families who were expelled from Spain in 1492.

“Abravanel? Such an aristocratic name,” says Ash to Atalia, before adding, “If I remember rightly he was the only one to oppose the creation of the state? Or else he was only opposed to Ben-Gurion’s approach?”

Much like the symbolic names and the dual plotlines, Oz’s book is a novel of ideas, of the kind that Vladimir Nabokov hated. Then again, Oz is in good company, for Nabokov also hated Dostoevsky and Mann for this very reason. The book turns on three ideas deriving from three people: Ben-Gurion, Judas, and Jesus. “Ben-Gurion” is shorthand for the justification—or the lack thereof—of founding the State of Israel. “Judas” stands for the idea of betrayal, or rather the ambiguity of betrayal. And “Jesus” suggests Judaism’s refusal to deal seriously with the challenge of Christianity.

Ben-Gurion, the founder of the State of Israel, shaped its strategy and its major institutions like no one else. Oz, instead of dealing with Israel as it is now, goes back to its foundation, arguing back and forth with its forefather. Oz recognizes Ben-Gurion’s ability to get under one’s skin, whether as a friend or foe. After all, Ben-Gurion quite evidently got under Oz’s skin. Here is the admirer Wald:

There’s no one like Ben-Gurion…. The Jewish people has never before had such a far-sighted leader as Ben-Gurion. Few understand as he does that “the people shall dwell alone, and shall not be reckoned among the nations” is a curse and not a blessing.

And here is Ben-Gurion’s opponent Ash:

Ben-Gurion may have been in his youth a workers’ leader, a sort of tribune of the plebs, if you like, but today he heads a self-righteous, chauvinistic state and he never stops spouting hollow biblical phrases about renewing our days as of old and realizing the vision of the prophets.

Wald, the bereaved father who suffered from Ben-Gurion’s war, remains an admirer of Ben-Gurion. Ash, who belongs to a pathetic group of six dedicated to renewing socialism, is an opponent of Ben-Gurion from the left. Ash and Wald’s reactions to Ben-Gurion are not new. The interesting opposition to Ben-Gurion in the novel comes from an unexpected source: the late Shealtiel Abravanel, Atalia’s father, who

tried in vain to persuade Ben-Gurion in ’48 that it was still possible to reach an agreement with the Arabs about departure of the British and the creation of a single joint condominium of Jews and Arabs, if we only agreed to renounce the idea of a Jewish state.

Abravanel is a thoroughly Mediterranean aristocrat, much at ease with his educated Arab friends and other educated people in the Levant, and rather estranged from his fellow Jews. He speaks Hebrew, Arabic, Turkish, French, English, and Ladino but, tellingly, not Yiddish, the language of Eastern European Jews. His opposition to Ben-Gurion cuts deep—he is hostile to the notion of the nation-state. In discussing Abravanel’s ideas with Atalia, Ash asks her: “Don’t you believe that in 1948 we fought because we had no alternative? That we had our backs to the wall?” “No,” she replies categorically. “You didn’t have your backs to the wall. You were the wall.”

Is this internal Zionist talk in the middle of a work of art, to borrow Stendhal’s simile, “like a gun shot in the middle of a concert, something vulgar, and however, something which is impossible to ignore”? I don’t think so. The ideological talk here is like the cannon shots in Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture: an integral part of the music, not an outside noise. By creating Abravanel, Oz has succeeded in establishing a credible upholder of views strongly held against the mainstream Zionism of Ben-Gurion. But Abravanel amounts to much more than an ideological opponent of Ben-Gurion. The question is whether his views amount to a betrayal. And here is where the comparison to Judas, the arch betrayer of history, naturally comes to mind.

There are many manifestations of betrayal in the novel. Shmuel Ash feels that he betrayed his mother and father by fantasizing about replacing them with a better class of parents. Indeed, he “always blamed himself for his disloyalty,” as if he were an enemy agent in the family, whereas his parents and sister felt that he betrayed them by betraying his calling as a religious leader to become a scholar. Betraying one’s parents is, in the writings of Oz, a big deal. Yet Ash’s betrayal of his parents doesn’t seem at all comparable with the evocation of Judas; Abravanel’s betrayal of Ben-Gurion—if it is in fact a betrayal—would. For Oz, notwithstanding this discrepancy, both betrayers seem to be in need, at the very least, of rehabilitation.

Indeed, Ash offers a radical reevaluation of Judas, who, he claims, “was the most loyal and devoted” of all of Jesus’s disciples. Ash believes that Judas “never betrayed him, but, on the contrary, he meant to prove his greatness to the whole world.” The Gnostic Gospel of Judas of the late second century already describes Judas as the only disciple to understand the true message of Jesus, while the other disciples are portrayed as lacking understanding. Moreover, in Ash’s view, the role of Judas in the redemptive scheme of humanity is to hand over Jesus to the Romans not as an act of betrayal, but as an expression of ultimate devotion.

During the Romantic movement, the theme of Judas as the true loyalist permeated literature. Even devout Catholic writers like François Mauriac and Paul Claudel contributed, if not to Judas’s radical reevaluation (from worst to best), then at least to Judas’s rehabilitation (“not so bad”).

Ash takes this idea even further: “Judas Iscariot was the founder of the Christian religion.” It would be wrong to take Ash’s half-baked ideas about Judas as the author’s own—Ash, we are told, wrote these words in his notebook “in a state of great excitement”—but bringing Judas into the novel is a way for Oz to deal with the ambiguity of betrayal, namely its susceptibility to reevaluation (or rehabilitation) from one generation to another. It is in the notion of betrayal, and not in Judas himself, that I suspect Oz is interested.

While Ash is an academic researcher, he is also an amateur private eye searching for Abravanel’s record. His investigation leads him to the State Archives in Jerusalem, where he meets a dour archivist, a certain Mr. Sheindelevich: “What is that you wish to know, precisely?” Mr. Sheindelevich asks. “After all,” he adds, “they all wanted as one man to set up a state, and they all knew as one man that we would have to defend ourselves by force.”

“Even Shealtil Abravanel?” Ash asks. The archivist tells him dryly: “He was a traitor.”

Ash reevaluates Judas, whereas Oz, to my mind, only rehabilitates Abravanel. He doesn’t side with Abravanel’s opposition to the idea of a nation-state in general, or to the idea of Israel in particular. What he does is to give Abravanel’s position legitimacy from a Zionist perspective.

A current exhibition at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem is dedicated to the image of Jesus in Jewish plastic arts. In it, there is an imposing sculpture by Mark Antokolsky, a famous Jewish sculptor in tsarist Russia of the second half of the nineteenth century, titled Christ Before the People. The portrayal of Jesus in the sculpture is unique in not seeing Jesus from a critical Jewish perspective. Indeed, there is nothing wrong historically or conceptually with the idea that Jesus was, and remained, a Jew.* Jesus the Galilean Jew, the faith healer, was not a problem for most Jews. It is with Jesus Christ that the hostility begins.

No doubt, medieval Judaism produced nasty accounts of Jesus. As Wald puts it: “All these foul texts were written by narrow-minded little Jews because they were afraid of the attractive power of Christianity.” The standard account for the hostility of the Jewish attitude is suggested in the novel by Ash himself: “The Jews who wrote this polemic were certainly writing under the influence of their oppression and persecution by the Christians.” But Wald will have none of such explanations. “Surely if you want to challenge Jesus the Christian,” he says, “you have to elevate yourself, not descend into the gutter.”

Wald views the challenge of Christianity to Judaism in its possibility and promise of universal love. Wald, the bereaved father, does not believe in universal love: “Surely anyone who loves everybody does not really love anybody.” In my view, he speaks for Oz, for whom the main divide between Christianity and Judaism is the idea of universal love. Many Jews refuse to believe in the human possibility of such love.

Jesus is the Lamb of God, the sacrificial lamb of Passover for the sake of humanity at large. In the days leading to Passover in 1948, Micha, Wald’s son and Atalia’s husband, was a promising mathematical logician, aged thirty-seven. Because of his relatively old age and a severe kidney failure, he was exempted from taking active part in the war. But he volunteered and was killed in battle, sacrificing his life for the sake of the Jews in besieged Jerusalem.

Jewish martyrology was developed in competition with Christian martyrology. It therefore doesn’t include Jesus. The emblem of Jewish martyrology is Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his beloved son Isaac on Mount Moriah. Willingness to sacrifice oneself may seem relatively easy compared to a willingness to sacrifice one’s beloved child. Gershom Wald, in recounting the death of his only child, refers to Abraham: “He grew up with me without a mother. He was only six when his mother died. I brought him up on my own. I took him myself and led him to Mount Moriah.” Wald rehearses the Israeli mantra that the death of those who were killed in the fighting of 1948 was not in vain. But then he starts to hear an inner voice: “I seemed to hear Shealtiel Abravanel asking me silently if I still believed that it was all worthwhile.”

Was it worth it? This hovering question can be seen as the bleeding scar of the novel. It doesn’t abate or get better with time. This horrific question is posed on all levels: personal—the death of Micha—and collective—the mutually inflicted pain by Jews and Arabs.

Shmuel Ash’s initiation rite in the haunted house takes three months. Eventually he is liberated from that gnostic maze by Atalia, who brings him his traveling bag one morning and insists for his own sake that he leave. (“If you stay with us any longer you’ll turn into a fossil,” she says.) His redemption means that he is ready to begin a new life, probably in one of the development towns in Israel’s south. There, he watches as a beautiful woman hangs a wet blouse. She is the opposite of Atalia, the unattainable widow, and suggests the possibility of a new beginning.

At the end of the novel, so beautifully translated by Nicholas de Lange, Ash wonders: Where to? What next? But we are left instead with that silent question of Abravanel’s—perhaps of the novel’s: Was it worth it?

Voir aussi:

“Judas” by Amos Oz: Curiosity, Desire, Betrayal, Loyalty…

Judas (2014) by Amos Oz translated by Nicholas de Lange (2016, Houghton Mifflin)

The shortlist for the 2017 Man Booker International Prize (@ManBookerPrizewas announced in April with the following six novels making it to the top: Compass by Mathias Enard (France), A Horse Walks Into a Bar by David Grossman (Israel), The Unseen by Roy Jacobsen (Norway), Mirror, Shoulder, Signal by Dorthe Nors (Denmark), Fever Dream by Samantha Schweblin (Argentina) and Judas by Amos Oz (Israel). The winner will be announced on June 14, 2017.

I have already written about Mirror, Shoulder, Signal and also The Traitor’s Niche by Albanian author Ismail Kadare that had made it to the longlist.

I recently finished Judas by Amos Oz (born 1939) – professor of literature at Ben-Gurion University in Beersheba and Israel’s most famous living author. Some of his other notable books are A Tale of Love and Darkness Scenes from Village LifeBetween Friends and My MichaelJudas has been translated into English by Nicholas de Lange, a professor of Hebrew and Jewish Studies at the University of Cambridge.

When I first saw the title and the cover of the book (top left version) and learnt about the reputation of the writer, I hesitated to read the work, thinking it might be too “elite”. It is indeed loaded with very big and important ideas going in all sorts of directions but what makes Judas accessible, ultimately, to one and all is its simple underlying “coming-of-age” template.

The book burgeons with (often quite provocative) perspectives – on the formation and identity of Israel, the Jewish views of Jesus, the Christian views of Judas, love and hate, power and nation states, the nature of allegiance and treason, etc. Since I haven’t written much on Judaism and the Jewish experience in history (just posts on a novel called For Two Thousands Years by Romanian writer Mihail Sebastian and metal sculptures of the body by Tel Aviv-based Ofer Rubin), I thought of picking this one up.

The period is 1959-60. The place is Jerusalem – a still-divided city (a battle in 1948 had made the Israelis capture the West and the Jordanians capture the East). Shmuel Ash is a twenty-five-old idealistic (and, at times, crazily emotional) student of history and religion who has been forced to abandon his MA thesis (on the “Jewish Views of Jesus”) – and with that the dreams of a future academic career. His father’s finances have collapsed, his allowance has been cut. His girlfriend Yardena has ditched him and married her former boyfriend – Nesher Sharshevsky, a hard-working hydrologist (specialist in “rainwater collection”). Adrift, without resources, Shmuel must urgently look for work.

Shmuel discovers a note on the campus noticeboard for a paid position. A companion is needed for an old man called Gershom Wald; he wants to be read to, argued with. The young student responds and is led to a strange house, where, along with the old man, he finds a woman in her 40s – Atalia Abravanel, Wald’s daughter-in-law – mysterious, attractive, haunted by ghosts from the past. Shmuel is taken by both the figures. Drawn to the former’s intellectual vigour and the latter’s sexual appeal.

As these three characters interact over the winter – against the hum of the domestic rituals of cooking and cleaning  – they open themselves up and find themselves changed. Sweeping concepts in religion, history, politics are debated and discussed. Texts on the Jewish reception of Jesus are mixed with paragraphs on the Christian perception of Judas. According to the received wisdom of the popular mind, Judas – the ugly, greedy traitor – is synonymous with “the Jew” itself. All anti-Semitism in Western Civilisation, it is indicated in the novel…pogroms, the Inquisition, blood libels, the Holocaust…emerged from this reprehensible image in the New Testament. Gershom Wald points out: “And so that is indeed what the Jews possess in the deepest recesses of the Jew-hater’s imagination. We are all Judas.”

And yet, the role of Judas is also seen from a sympathetic perspective. For Shmuel Ash, Judas has an important role in the saga of salvation. By abandoning Jesus, selling him off, he actually gives him an opportunity to realise and display his greatness. [Such positive reassessments have been around for a long time. Saint Vincent Ferrer, a Dominican preacher (1350–1419) is believed to have asserted that Judas was on God’s side. A Biblical scholar named William Klassen wrote a book called Judas: Betrayer or Friend of Jesus? in 2004.]

There are other traitors in and around the story. Atalia’s father Sheatiel Abravanel is called a traitor for passionately believing in the brotherhood between Arabs and Jews, for having opposed Ben-Gurion’s radical nationalistic approach to the founding of modern Israel. Outside this piece of fiction, the author himself has been referred to as a traitor by his countrymen – for proposing a two-state solution to the Israeli–Palestinian conflict. He has acknowledged this designation as a badge of honour.

The intense intellectual (and sexual) drama of Judas concludes in tender, touching moments. And although several tough issues remain (understandably) unresolved, one powerful observation is etched in the reader’s mind: “Every so often in history, courageous people have appeared who were ahead of their time and were called traitors or eccentrics.” Why, Abraham Lincoln, the liberator of the slaves, was called a traitor by his opponents, the German officers who tried to assassinate Hitler were executed as traitors…

Read Judas – a multi-layered, multi-faceted narrative that superbly articulates the ambiguities and complexities of human life and culture – if you want to entertain yourself with an old-fashioned novel of ideas (particularly if you appreciate the traditions of Dostoevsky and Thomas Mann).

—-

Part of a conversation between Shmuel Ash and Gershom Wald:

SA: All the power in the world. Take the combined power of the Soviet Union and the United States and France and Britain. What can you not achieve with such power, by any manner or means?

GW: I think that with such power you could conquer whatever you felt like. From sea to sea.

SA: That’s what you think. That’s what the Jews in Israel think because they have no notion of the limits of power. The fact is that all the power in the world cannot transform someone who hates you into someone who likes you. It can turn a foe into a slave, but not into a friend. All the power in the world cannot transform a fanatic into an enlightened man. All the power in the world cannot transform someone thirsting for vengeance into a lover. And yet these are precisely the real existential challenges facing the State of Israel: how to turn a hater into a lover, a fanatic into a moderate, an avenger into a friend.

“And yet these are precisely the real existential challenges facing the State of Israel: how to turn a hater into a lover, a fanatic into a moderate, an avenger into a friend.” (Photo: The Israeli Air Force crosses all of Israel from north to south, in honor of the country’s 63rd Independence Day by User “Israel Defense Forces”, CC BY 2.0, Wikimedia Commons)

Am I saying that we do not need military might? Heaven forbid! Such a foolish thought would never enter my head. I know as well as you that it is power, military power, that stands, at any given moment, even at this very moment while you and I are arguing here, between us and extinction. Power has the power to prevent our annihilation for the time being. On condition that we always remember, at every moment, that in a situation like ours power can only prevent. It can’t settle anything and it can’t solve anything. It can only stave off disaster for a while.

—-

Two videos:

—-

Voir aussi:

Israeli artist Adi Nes’s depiction of Leonardo da Vinci’s “Last Supper” substitutes Jesus’s apostles with Israeli soldiers. (Elie Posner/The Israel Museum)
January 5
At the center of the Israel Museum’s newest art exhibit stands an imposing, life-size marble figure of Jesus. The sculpture, titled “Christ Before the People’s Court,” would not be out of place in a church in Rome.Yet in this depiction, the Christian savior wears a Jewish skullcap.The sculpture, created by Russian Jewish artist Mark Antokolsky in 1876, is part of a collection of more than 150 artworks by 40 Jewish and Israeli artists who have used Christian imagery to challenge long-held taboos in both communities. It showcases the evolving attitudes of Jewish, Zionist and Israeli artists toward a figure whose place in Jewish history has been negotiated and reinterpreted over more than two millennia.It is a risky statement for an Israeli museum.Throughout history, Jews have traditionally shunned Jesus and his gospel. And while the Holy Land might be his accepted birthplace, for Jews in the modern state of Israel there is often resistance to learning about or even acknowledging Christianity.

  Marc Chagall’s “Yellow Crucifixion” shows the suffering of Jewish Holocaust victims through the image of Jesus Christ as a Jew. (Avshalom Avital/The Israel Museum)

This stems mainly from a fear of centuries-old anti-Semitism, especially in Europe, where the crucifixion of Jesus was used as an excuse to persecute Jews.

“We are talking about a 2,000-year-old tension between Judaism and Christianity and the fact that anti-Semitism grew in Christian thought and theology,” said the exhibition’s curator, Amitai Mendelsohn.

Mendelsohn said he was surprised at just how many Jewish artists throughout history, and today in Israel, have used Jesus and Christian themes as inspirations for their work.

It is a delicate subject for Jews everywhere, including in Israel, but artists by nature “are attracted to something that is forbidden for them,” he said.

Ziva Amishai-Maisels, a professor emeritus at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem who specializes in Christian imagery in Jewish art, said that religious Jews, who might be opposed to such depictions, would probably stay away from the exhibition. “Those who do go might be stunned,” she said, “but I don’t think they will react badly.”

Some of the works, though, could offend pious Christians, she said. “They might feel the images are sacrilegious, but the wall texts are explanatory enough — if they read them, it should calm them down.”

While some of the older works by European Jews challenge Christian anti-Semitism or look at how Jesus’ Jewish roots could act as a bridge between the two religions, more-contemporary pieces explore Jesus as an anti-establishment figure who suffered at not being understood.

Ronit Steinberg, an art historian from Jerusalem’s Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design, said the appeal for Jewish artists in depicting Jesus has changed over the years, but all are tied together by a common thread.

“In the 19th century, the main issue was the Jewish artist feeling emancipated, and it was important for those artists to connect with their surrounding and the time. For Israeli artists, it’s also a kind of emancipation from the heavy Jewishness of their country,” she said.

There’s the “Yellow Crucifixion,” a 1943 Marc Chagall painting showing Jesus as a Jew. Hued in yellow, perhaps representing the star the Nazis forced Jews to wear, Jesus is strung from a cross wrapped in a Jewish prayer shawl and phylacteries.

Another artist, Moshe Hoffman, a Hungarian Jew who survived the Holocaust, used his art to question Christianity’s role in the genocide. In one work, “Six million and 1,” Hoffman shows a Nazi guard attempting to pull Jesus from the cross to make him Jewish prisoner number 6,000,001.

Others used Jesus as a Jew to connect their Jewish identity to Christian surroundings. While Antokolsky was the first Russian Jewish artist to be accepted by his peers, he suffered an identity crisis from being Jewish and Russian.

As the exhibit, which is arranged chronologically, arrives at works from the past few decades, a theme develops in which Jewish Israelis use Christian iconography to question their political and national identity.

One such work is by Igael Tumarkin. His monogram is the metal frame of a standard-issue Israeli army cot twisted to form a cross. Flanked by material that appears to be a shredded Israeli flag, the piece was created in 1984 and was a protest against the war Israel was fighting in Lebanon at the time. The title, “Mita Meshuna,” means both “strange bed” and “strange death” in Hebrew.

Perhaps the best-known contemporary artwork on display is Adi Nes’s depiction of Leonardo da Vinci’s “Last Supper,” which substitutes Israeli soldiers for the apostles.

Nes’s photograph sold at Sotheby’s for $250,000, the highest an Israeli photograph has ever fetched. And the image has become a cultural icon for Israelis, suggesting perhaps that Christian themes are becoming more acceptable in Jewish culture.

Voir enfin:

Column One: Israel and the American Jewish crisis

 The key to strengthening and supporting the community is to bypass its failed leadership and speak and interact directly with American Jews.
Caroline B. Glick
The Jerusalem Post
September 19, 2017

As the New Year 5778 begins, 88% of Israeli Jews say that they are happy and satisfied with their lives. This makes sense. Israel’s relative security, its prosperity, freedom and spiritual blossoming make Israeli Jews the most successful Jewish community in 3,500 years of Jewish history.

The same cannot be said for the Jews of the Diaspora. In Western Europe, Jewish communities that just a generation ago were considered safe and prosperous are now besieged. Synagogues and Jewish schools look like army barracks. And the severe security cordons Jews need to pass through to pray and study are entirely justified. For where they are absent, as they were at the Hyper Cacher Jewish supermarket in Paris in 2015, assailants strike.

Western European Jewry’s crisis is exogenous to the Jewish communities. It isn’t the Jews who caused the crisis, which may in time cause the wholesale exodus of the Jews from Europe. The crisis is a function of growing levels of popular antisemitism spurred by mass immigration from the Islamic world and the resurgence of indigenous European Jew-hatred, particularly on the far Left.

The same cannot be said of the American Jewish community, which at the dawn of 5778 also finds itself steeped in an ever deepening crisis. And while antisemitism is a growing problem in America, particularly on university campuses, unlike their European counterparts, American Jews could mount and win a battle against the growing anti-Jewish forces. But in large part, they have chosen not to. And they have chosen not to fight the antisemites because they are in the midst of a self-induced identity crisis.

First, there is the problem of demographic collapse.

According to the Pew Research Center’s 2013 study of American Jewry, nearly 60% of American Jews intermarry. Based on the Pew data, the Jewish People Policy Institute published a report in June that noted that not only are 60% of American Jews who get married marrying non-Jews, only half of American Jews are getting married at all. And among those who are getting married, less than a third are raising their children as Jewish in some way.

Earlier this month, a study of American Jews was published by the Public Religion Research Institute. It found that not only hasn’t the situation improved since the Pew survey was published, the trend toward assimilation and loss of Jewish identity among American Jews has accelerated.

In 2013, 32% of American Jews under 30 said that they were not Jews by religion. Today the proportion of Jews under 30 who say they have no relation to the Jewish faith has ballooned to 47%.

Not surprisingly, the wholesale abandonment of Jewish faith by nearly half of young American Jews has taken a toll on the two liberal streams of American Judaism. According to the study, the percentage of American Jews who identify as Reform or Conservative Jews is in free fall.

Whereas in 2013, 35% of American Jews identified as Reform, today, a mere four years later, only 28% identify as Reform. The situation among Conservatives is even worse. In 2013, 18% of American Jews identified as Conservatives. Today, only 14% do. Among Jews under 30 the situation is even starker. Only 20% of American Jews under 30 identify as Reform. Only 8% identify as Conservative.

To be sure, the trend toward secularism and assimilation among US Jewry is not new. And over the years, Reform and Conservative leaders have adopted varying strategies to deal with it.

In 1999 the Reform movement tried to deal with the problem by strengthening the movement’s religious practices. Although the effort failed, the impulse that drove the strategy was rational. American Jews who seek spiritual and religious meaning likely want more than a sermon about tikkun olam.

The problem is that they also want more than a rabbi donning a kippa and a synagogue choosing to keep kosher.

This is why, as the number of Reform and Conservative Jews is contracting, the number of American Jews who associate with the Orthodox movement is growing. Between 2013 and 2017, the proportion of young American Jews who identify as Orthodox grew from 10% to 15%.

Moreover, more and more American Jews are finding their spiritual home with Chabad. Today there are more Chabad houses in the US than Reform synagogues.

Unable to compete for Jews seeking religious fulfillment, the Reform and Conservative movements have struck out for new means of rallying their bases and attracting members. Over the past year, two new strategies are dominating the public actions of both movements.

First, there is a selective fight against antisemitism. While antisemitism is experiencing a growth spurt in the US progressive movement, and antisemitism is becoming increasingly overt in US Muslim communities, neither the Reform nor Conservative movements has taken significant institutional steps to fight them.

Instead, both movements, and a large swath of the Jewish institutional world, led in large part by Reform and Conservative Jews, have either turned a blind eye to this antisemitism or supported it.

Take for instance the case of Davis, California, imam Amman Shahin.

On July 21 Shahin gave a sermon calling for the Jewish people to be annihilated. His Jewish neighbors in the progressive Jewish communities of Davis and Sacramento didn’t call the police and demand that he be investigated for terrorist ties. They didn’t demand that his mosque fire him.

Instead, led by the Oakland Jewish Federation, local rabbi Seth Castleman and the JCRC, they embraced Shahin. They appeared with him at a public “apology” ceremony, where he failed to apologize for calling for his Jewish colleagues, and every other Jew, to be murdered.

All Shahin did was express regret that his call for genocide caused offense.

On the other hand, the same leaders stand as one against allegations of antisemitic violence stemming from the political Right. In the face of an utter lack of evidence, when Jewish institutions were subjected to a rash of bomb threats last winter, Reform and Conservative leaders led the charge insisting that far-right antisemites were behind them and insinuated that the perpetrators supported President Donald Trump. When it worked out that all of the threats were carried out by a mentally ill Israeli Jew, they never issued an apology.

So, too, the Reform and Conservative movements, like the rest of the American Jewish community, treated the Charlottesville riot last month like a new Reichstag fire. They entirely ignored the violence of the far-left, antisemitic Antifa protesters and behaved as though tomorrow neo-Nazis would take control of the federal government. They jumped on the bandwagon insisting that Trump’s initial condemnation of both groups was proof that he has a soft spot for neo-Nazis.

The problem with the strategy of selective outrage over antisemitism is that it isn’t at all clear who the target audience is. Survey data shows that the more active Jews are in the synagogue, the less politically radical they are and the more devoted to Jewish causes they are. So it is hard to see how turning a blind eye to leftist and Muslim antisemitism will rally their current membership more than they already have been rallied. Moreover, the more radicalized Jews become politically, the more outlets they have for their political activism both as Jews and as leftists. No matter how anti-Trump Conservative and Reform leaders become, they can never rival the progressive forces in the Democratic Party.

Prospects for success of the second strategy are arguably even lower. The second strategy involves cultivating animosity toward Israel over the issue of egalitarian prayer at the Kotel.

Last June, the government overturned an earlier decision to build a passageway connecting the Western Wall Plaza with Robinson’s Arch, along the Southern Wall, where egalitarian prayer services are held. The government also rescinded a previous decision to have representatives of the Conservative and Reform movements receive membership in the committee that manages the Western Wall Plaza.

The government’s first decision was non-political. The Antiquities Authority nixed the construction of the passage due to the adverse impact construction would have on the antiquities below the surface.

As to the second decision, it is far from a matter of life and death. The committee has no power to influence egalitarian prayers for better or for worse.

And yet, rather than acknowledge that the decision was a setback but it didn’t harm the status of egalitarian prayer at the Wall, the Reform and Conservative movements declared war against the government and dragged much of the organized Jewish establishment behind them.

The Reform leadership canceled a scheduled meeting with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, and the Jewish Agency Board followed suit.

Six hundred Conservative rabbis signed a letter to Netanyahu accusing him of betraying Diaspora Jewry and announcing they would be forced to reconsider their support for Israel.

Ambassador David Friedman, who had just taken residence in Israel a month before the explosion, used his first public remarks as ambassador to call his fellow American Jews to order.

Friedman said, “Yesterday, I heard something that I thought I’d never hear before. And I understand the source of the frustration and the source of the anger. But I heard a major Jewish organization say that they needed to rethink their support for the State of Israel.

“That’s something unthinkable in my lifetime, up until yesterday. We have to do better. We must do better,” he said.

But in the intervening months, the Conservative and Reform movements have not relented in their attacks. They have ratcheted them up.

The thinking appears to be that if they can make this problem look like a life or death struggle between Israel and progressive Jewry, they can both keep their dwindling bases engaged and attract members of the increasingly anti-Israel Jewish far Left.

The problem with this is that just as they cannot outdo the Democratic Party in their hostility toward Trump, so the Conservative and Reform movements cannot be more anti-Israel than Jewish Voices for Peace and other anti-Israel Jewish groups.

The question for Israelis is what this failure of the mainstream American Jewish leadership means for the future of Israel’s relationship with American Jewry. Jewish survival and continuity through the ages has been predicated and dependent on our ability as Jews to uphold the commandment of the sages that all Jews are responsible for one another. As the most successful Jewish community in history, Israel has a special responsibility for our brethren in the Diaspora.

The first step toward fulfilling our duty is to recognize the basic fact that while it is true that the American Jewish community is in crisis, the leaders of that community are in an even deeper crisis. And the key to strengthening and supporting the community is to bypass its failed leadership and speak and interact directly with American Jews.

Publicités

Pornographie enfantine: Attention, une perversion peut en cacher une autre ! (Arrested development: How the eternal child misfit or pedophiliac sexual deviant myths finally obscured Lewis Carrol’s life and works)

30 octobre, 2016
This drawing is a self-portrait of Charles Dodgson (Lewis Carroll).151aliceinherbestking-cophetuaA king and a beggar maid *oil on canvas *163 x 123 cm *signed b.l.: E.BLAIR LEIGHTON . 1898hatch_beatrice_lewis_carroll_30-07-1873
olderalicecameron_cupidrejlanderVairumati by Paul GauguinLaissez les petits enfants, et ne les empêchez pas de venir à moi; car le royaume des cieux est pour ceux qui leur ressemblent. Jésus (Matthieu 19: 14
Si quelqu’un scandalisait un de ces petits qui croient en moi, il vaudrait mieux pour lui qu’on suspendît à son cou une meule de moulin et qu’on le jetât au fond de la mer. Jésus (Matthieu 18: 6)
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.  G.K. Chesterton
Une civilisation est testée sur la manière dont elle traite ses membres les plus faibles. Pearl Buck
N’est-ce pas là, enfant, une ballade du roi et de la mendiante ? Armado (Peines d’amour perdues, IV, 1, Shakespeare)
Her arms across her breast she laid ;
She was more fair than words can say :
Bare-footed came the beggar maid
Before the king Cophetua.
In robe and crown the king stept down,
To meet and greet her on her way ;
“It is no wonder,” said the lords,
“She is more beautiful than day.”
As shines the moon in clouded skies,
She in her poor attire was seen :
One praised her ankles, one her eyes,
One her dark hair and lovesome mien.
So sweet a face, such angel grace,
In all that land had never been :
Cophetua swore a royal oath :
“This beggar maid shall be my queen!”
The Beggar Maid (Alfred Tennyson, 1842)
Selon la légende dont l’origine est inconnue, Cophetua était un roi africain très riche qui avait une absence totale d’attirance sexuelle ou amoureuse pour qui que ce soit. Un jour pourtant, alors qu’il était accoudé à la fenêtre de son palais, il vit passer une jeune mendiante. Ce fut le coup de foudre. Mythologica.fr
Tout art est une révolte contre la morale traditionnelle. Eric Gill (1927)
Il faut peut-être entendre par démocratie les vices de quelques-uns à la portée du plus grand nombre. Henry Becque
Life’s not easy as a Paul Gauguin fan. You are on the defensive too much to be effusive. Gauguin was both a syphilitic paedophile and an artist more important than Van Gogh. See the problem? Foul man, fine artist. Some say our knowledge of the former should change our opinion on the latter. Others, myself among them, think otherwise. The trouble we aesthetes have, though, is that in Gauguin’s case – just like Van Gogh’s – his life was so dramatic it’s hard not to read the biography on to the art. Indeed, much of the power of his most famous works – the Polynesian-babe paintings – derives from our uncomfortable knowledge of the context they were created in. Although rendered innocent and unerotic, these brown-skinned nudes were more than just Gauguin’s models; they were his sex slaves, too. Feminists have justifiably given the Parisian a good hammering down the years. After dumping his wife and five kids, Gauguin upped sticks to Martinique, Brittany, Arles (where he spent nine notorious weeks with van Gogh in 1888), and finally the South Pacific islands of Tahiti and Hiva Oa. He took three native brides – aged 13, 14 and 14, for those keeping score – infecting them and countless other local girls with syphilis. He always maintained there were deep-rooted ideological reasons for his emigration, that he was quitting decadent Paris for a purer life in a fecund South Seas paradise, but one wonders how pure things really were in the hut he christened La Maison du Jouir (“The House of Orgasm”). In short, posterity has Gauguin down as a sinner, and his posthumous punishment is a lack of exposure. The forthcoming retrospective at Tate Modern is the UK’s first major Gauguin show in 50 years. (…) With his patches of strong, undiluted colour, it was but a small step to Matisse – and the rest, as they say, is art history. But how sincere were Gauguin’s claims of taking painting to a higher realm? Many peers distrusted an ex-stockbroker who had turned to art only in his late twenties. “He’s not a seer, he’s a schemer,” one-time mentor Camille Pissarro railed, arguing that Gauguin never really lost his capitalist streak; that with his paintings of sun-soaked islands, Gauguin was just cashing in on the Parisian bourgeoisie’s fondness for all things “other”. As its title, Gauguin: Maker of Myth, suggests, the Tate show will tackle this charge head-on. Far from revealing any deep truth, were Gauguin’s images of the South Pacific really just contrived, faux-exotic picture postcards? The case for the prosecution is strong – take Noa Noa, his journal about life on Tahiti. The occult local legends it relates were actually lifted from a Dutch ethnographer’s accounts of the 1830s. Likewise, his renderings of “Polynesian” statuary were largely inventions, inspired by photographs of South-East Asian art he brought from France. Gauguin had never been a stranger to mythologising, of course. Part of our perception of Van Gogh as a mad, tortured genius stems from Gauguin’s tales of their troubled weeks together in Arles – most notably that of the Dutchman “charging at” him menacingly, “razor in hand”. And Gauguin was a fine self-mythologiser, too. As a self-portrait such as 1889’s Christ in the Garden of Olives exemplifies, he even embraced the role of Christ: martyr for a better type of art that no one else grasped. So, was he a fraud? The romantic in me likes to think not. Besides, moving for good to a hut halfway around the world isn’t really the sort of thing you do lightly. If he was deceiving anyone with his idyllic island pictures, it was most probably himself. To Gauguin’s disbelief, Tahiti wasn’t the “august land” he claimed or had expected – there were too many French missionaries for that. In some paintings, one senses another dark truth surfacing, too: that however hard he tried to “go native”, Gauguin always felt like an outsider, unable to share in the islanders’ profound mysteries. Consider The Ancestors of Tehamana (a portrait of his wife, wearing a high-necked missionary dress). Tehamana sits in front of a frieze that depicts the alien combination of a Buddhist idol, indecipherable glyphs and two evil spirits. She smiles at us, sort of, with all the enigma of a Polynesian Mona Lisa. Beneath the Westernised clothing, and in all but the sexual sense, it seems Gauguin found her impenetrable. His pioneering work with colour and form make the Tate retrospective long overdue. Along with Cézanne, Gauguin must rank as one of the two fathers of modern art, and one hopes he’ll now re-emerge – with characteristic brilliance – from his Dutch sidekick’s shadow. Alastair Smart
Mais il est inutile, à présent, de faire semblant d’être deux ! Alors qu’il reste à peine assez de moi pour faire une seule personne digne de ce nom. Alice
Et la morale de ceci, c’est : Soyez ce que vous voudriez avoir l’air d’être ; ou, pour parler plus simplement : Ne vous imaginez pas être différente de ce qu’il eût pu sembler à autrui que vous fussiez ou eussiez pu être en restant identique à ce que vous fûtes sans jamais paraître autre que vous n’étiez avant d’être devenue ce que vous êtes. La Duchesse
Je marque ce jour d’une pierre blanche. Le résultat de cette activité forcenée, sournoise, embarrassée, c’est cette « collection » superbe de photos. Charles Dogson
Ils disent que les photographes sont, dans le meilleur des cas, une race aveugle. Ils disent que nous ne faisons que regarder le combat de l’ombre et de la lumière dans les plus jolis visages, que nous admirons rarement et n’aimons jamais. C’est une illusion que je brûle de faire éclater en morceaux. Charles Dogson
J’espère que vous m’autoriserez à photographier tout au moins Janet nue ; il paraît absurde d’avoir le moindre scrupule au sujet de la nudité d’une enfant de cet âge. Charles Dogson (Lettre à la mère de trois fillettes)
Here I am, an amateur photographer, with a deep sense of admiration for form, especially the human form, and one who believes it to be the most beautiful thing God has made on this earth. […] Now, your Ethel is beautiful both in face and form ; and is also a perfectly simple-minded child of Nature, who would have no sort of objection to serving as model for a friend she knows as well as she does me. So my humble petition is, that you will bring the 3 girls and that you will allow me to try some grouping of Ethel and Janet […] without any drapery or suggestion of it. I need hardly say that the pictures should be such as you might if you liked frame and hang up in your dining room. On no account would I do a picture which I should be unwilling to show to all the world—or at least the artistic world. If I did not believe I could take such pictures without any lower motive than a pure love of Art, I would not ask it : and if I thought there was any fear of its lessening their beautiful simplicity of character, I would not ask it. Lewis Carroll
I had much rather have all the fairies girls, if you wouldn’t mind. For I confess I do not admire naked boys in pictures. They always seem to me to need clothes : whereas one hardly sees why the lovely forms of girls should ever be covered up ! Lewis Carroll
Ici, on vous met en prison si vous couchez avec une fille de 12 ans alors qu’en Orient, on vous marie avec une gamine de 11 ans. C’est incompréhensible! Klaus Kinski (1977)
De la petite fille, Lewis Carroll s’est fait le servant, elle est l’objet qu’il dessine, elle est l’oreille qu’il veut atteindre, elle est celle à qui il s’adresse véritablement entre nous tous. (…) Il faut dire que le comble du ridicule là dessus est représenté par un psychanalyste, pourtant averti – disons son nom, Schilder1 qui dénonce dans cette œuvre l’incitation à l’agressivité et la pente offerte au refus de la réalité. On ne va pas plus loin dans le contresens sur les effets psychologiques de l’œuvre d’art. (…) on ne lui fait justice, à lui comme à aucun autre, si on ne part pas de l’idée que les prétendues discordances de la personnalité n’ont de portée qu’à y reconnaître la nécessité où elles vont. Il y a bien, comme on nous le dit, Lewis Carroll, le rêveur, le poète, l’amoureux si l’on veut, et Lewis Carroll, le logicien, le professeur de mathématiques. Lewis Carroll est bien divisé, si cela vous chante, mais les deux sont nécessaires à la réalisation de l’œuvre. Le penchant de Lewis Carroll pour la petite fille impubère, ce n’est pas là son génie. Nous autres psychanalystes n’avons pas besoin de nos clients pour savoir où cela échoue à la fin, dans un jardin public. Son enseignement de professeur n’a rien non plus qui casse les manivelles : en pleine époque de renaissance de la logique et d’inauguration de la forme mathématique que depuis elle a prise, Lewis Carroll, quelque amusant que soient ses exercices, reste à la traîne d’Aristote. Mais c’est bien la conjuration des deux positions d’où jaillit cet objet merveilleux, indéchiffré encore, et pour toujours éblouissant : son œuvre. (…) Lewis Carroll je le rappelle était religieux, religieux de la foi la plus naïvement, étroitement paroissiale qui soit, dût ce terme auquel il faut que vous donniez sa couleur la plus crue vous inspirer de la répulsion. (…) Je dis que ceci a sa part dans l’unicité de l’équilibre que réalise l’œuvre. Cette sorte de bonheur auquel elle atteint, tient à cette gouache, l’adjonction de surcroît à nos deux Lewis Carroll, si vous les entendez ainsi, de ce que nous appellerons du nom dont il est béni à l’orée d’une histoire, l’histoire encore en cours, un pauvre d’esprit. Je voudrais dire ce qui m’apparaît la corrélation la plus efficace à situer Lewis Carroll : c’est l’épique de l’ère scientifique. Il n’est pas vain qu’Alice apparaisse en même temps que « L’Origine des Espèces » dont elle est, si l’on peut dire, l’opposition. Registre épique donc, qui sans doute s’exprime comme idylle dans l’idéologie. (…) Pour un psychanalyste, elle est, cette œuvre, un lieu élu à démontrer la véritable nature de la sublimation dans l’œuvre d’art. Lacan
Où l’on voit que, sans beaucoup étendre la portée du signifiant intéressé dans l’expérience, soit en redoublant seulement l’espèce nominale par la seule juxtaposition de deux termes dont le sens complémentaire paraît devoir s’en consolider, la surprise se produit d’une précipitation du sens inattendue : dans l’image de deux portes jumelles qui symbolisent avec l’isoloir offert à l’homme occidental pour satisfaire à ses besoins naturels hors de sa maison, l’impératif qu’il semble partager avec la grande majorité des communautés primitives et qui soumet sa vie publique aux lois de la ségrégation urinaire. Ceci n’est pas seulement pour sidérer par un coup bas le débat nominaliste, mais pour montrer comment le signifiant entre en fait dans le signifié ; à savoir sous une forme qui, pour n’être pas immatérielle, pose la question de sa place dans la réalité. Car à devoir s’approcher des petites plaques émaillées qui le supportent, le regard clignotant d’un myope serait peut-être justifié à questionner si c’est bien là qu’il faut voir le signifiant, dont le signifié dans ce cas recevrait de la double et solennelle procession de la nef supérieure les honneurs derniers.Mais nul exemple construit ne saurait égaler le relief qui se rencontre dans le vécu de la vérité. (…) Un train arrive en gare. Un petit garçon et une petite fille, le frère et la sœur, dans un compartiment sont assis l’un en face de l’autre du côté où la vitre donnant sur l’extérieur laisse se dérouler la vue des bâtiments du quai le long duquel le train stoppe : « Tiens, dit le frère, on est à Dames ! – Imbécile ! répond la sœur, tu ne vois pas qu’on est à Hommes ». Outre en effet que les rails dans cette histoire matérialisent la barre de l’algorithme saussurien sous une forme bien faite pour suggérer que sa résistance puisse être autre que dialectique, il faudrait, c’est bien l’image qui convient, n’avoir pas les yeux en face des trous pour s’y embrouiller sur la place respective du signifiant et du signifié, et ne pas suivre de quel centre rayonnant le premier vient à refléter sa lumière dans la ténèbre des significations inachevées.Car il va porter la Dissension, seulement animale et vouée à l’oubli des brumes naturelles, à la puissance sans mesure, implacable aux familles et harcelante aux Dieux, de la Guerre idéologique. Hommes et Dames seront dès lors pour ces enfants deux patries vers quoi leurs âmes chacune tireront d’une aile divergente, et sur lesquelles il leur sera d’autant plus impossible de pactiser qu’étant en vérité la même, aucun ne saurait céder sur la précellence de l’une sans attenter à la gloire de l’autre. Arrêtons-nous là. On dirait l’histoire de France. Plus humaine, comme de juste, à s’évoquer ici que celle d’Angleterre, vouée à culbuter du Gros au Petit Bout de l’œuf du Doyen Swift.Reste à concevoir quel marchepied et quel couloir l’S du signifiant, visible ici dans les pluriels dont il centre ses accueils au delà de la vitre, doit franchir pour porter ses coudes aux canalisations par où, comme l’air chaud et l’air froid, l’indignation et le mépris viennent à souffler en deçà. Jacques Lacan (L’Instance de la lettre dans l’inconscient ou la raison, 1957) Dans la photo la plus inoubliable et sans doute la plus révélatrice qu’il ait jamais prise, « La Petite mendiante », Alice, debout contre un mur sale, ses jambes et ses pieds nus, nous regarde, les yeux pleins d’une énorme tristesse. Sa robe est déchirée et la pend en lambeaux, sa chair nue comme si elle venait d’être violée. Brassaï
Had I done to Dolly, perhaps, what Frank Lasalle, a fifty-year-old mechanic, had done to eleven-year-old Sally Horner in 1948? Vladimir Nabokov
Ici, on vous met en prison si vous couchez avec une fille de 12 ans alors qu’en Orient, on vous marie avec une gamine de 11 ans. C’est incompréhensible! Klaus Kinski (1977)
There’s only three of us in this business. Nabokov penned it, Balthus painted it, and I photographed it. David Hamilton
Dans la catégorie des personnes classées vulnérables, figurent les mineurs. Cependant, le législateur semble estimer que les enfants ne sont pas suffisamment protégés, notamment dans le cadre des activités à caractère sexuel. C’est ainsi que la protection des mineurs, dans ce sens, a été intensifiée dans ce projet de Code, notamment la pornographie enfantine. Surtout pour ceux qui usent de moyens informatiques. Ce qui fait que, maintenant, celui qui produit, enregistre, offre, met à disposition, diffuse, transmet une image ou une représentation présentant un caractère de pornographie infantile par le biais d’un système informatique, est puni d’un emprisonnement de 5 à 10 ans. Les mêmes peines sont appliquées à toute personne qui possède, en connaissance de cause, une image ou une représentation présentant un caractère de pornographie enfantine dans un système informatique ou dans un moyen quelconque de stockage de données informatiques. Aussi, toute personne qui facilite sciemment à un mineur, l’accès à des images, documents présentant un caractère de pornographie, sera condamnée à une peine comprise entre 5 et 10 ans de prison. Aussi, celui qui propose intentionnellement, par le biais des technologies de l’information et de la communication, une rencontre avec un mineur, dans le but de commettre à son encontre une des infractions comme le viol, la pédophilie ou l’attentat à la pudeur, sera puni des mêmes peines. Et le législateur opte pour la répression en attestant que, lorsque la proposition sexuelle a été suivie d’actes matériels conduisant à ladite rencontre, le juge ne pourra ni prononcer le sursis à l’exécution de la peine, ni appliquer à l’auteur les circonstances atténuantes. IGFM
C’est une décision absurde de la Tate. Je ne serais peut-être pas arrivé à la même conclusion que la Tate, mais finalement, la décision est raisonnable et défendable. Si les photos montrent des jeunes filles qui ont été abusées, il est logique d’avoir un mouvement de recul. Anthony Julius (avocat)
La Tate a pris la bonne décision, parce que, moralement, les modèles sont en droit de ne pas vouloir être exposées. (…) Même en imaginant que ces oeuvres aient été réalisées par quelqu’un qui n’avait rien fait de mal, ces images sont troublantes. Elles montrent des petites filles sexualisées, et rappellent que des pulsions sombres peuvent exister en chacun de nous. Il n’est pas question d’agir sur ces pulsions, mais cela ne veut pas dire qu’elles n’existent pas. Matthew Kieran (philosophe, université de Leeds)
Fallait-il ou non montrer les oeuvres de Graham Ovenden ? Né en 1943, l’artiste britannique s’est fait connaître par ses photographies d’enfants de rue, avant de devenir une figure contestée de la peinture pop art. Le 2 avril, il a été reconnu coupable de pédophilie pour six chefs d’accusation concernant l’indécence envers un mineur et un chef d’accusation concernant la molestation sexuelle de mineur. Quatre femmes, qui avaient posé pour lui enfants, l’accusaient d’avoir abusé d’elles entre 1972 et 1985. Elles ont raconté notamment qu’il leur mettait un foulard sur les yeux pour organiser des « jeux de dégustation » menant à des abus sexuels oraux. (…) Deux jours après la condamnation, la Tate Gallery, qui possédait trente-quatre de ses oeuvres, a décidé de les retirer de la vue du public. Ces photos de jeunes filles plus ou moins dénudées, dans des poses parfois ambiguës – l’une montre clairement le pubis –, n’étaient pas exposées mais elles étaient disponibles sur le site Internet, et elles pouvaient être vues sur rendez-vous. Ce n’est plus le cas. La décision est controversée. Les oeuvres, jugées intéressantes avant le procès, sont-elles soudain différentes ? Ont-elles perdu leur valeur artistique ? (…) Le problème est que les noms des quatre plaignantes n’ont pas été publiés pour des raisons légales : personne ne sait donc si elles figurent sur les photos de la Tate. Le Monde a décidé de ne pas publier, pour cette page, de photos ou de peintures de Graham Ovenden montrant de très jeunes filles nues. Nous risquerions, puisque nous ignorons l’identité des femmes qui ont déposé plainte, de montrer des jeunes filles qui ont été abusé avant ou après les séances de pose avec le photographe. Nous publions en revanche des portraits de Maud Hewes qui, jeune fille, a posé à de nombreuses reprises pour Graham Ovenden : elle a témoigné n’avoir jamais été abusée par l’artiste. Dans certaines de ces images, l’ambiguïté saute aux yeux. Et voilà toute la difficulté : c’est précisément ce qui en fait l’intérêt. (…) Pour le philosophe, ces oeuvres soulèvent des questions intéressantes, si pénibles soient-elles. C’est pour cela qu’il avertit : il ne faut pas détruire le travail de Graham Ovenden ou imposer une censure d’Etat. Dans de nombreuses années, quand les victimes ne seront plus vivantes, il sera de nouveau possible de les exposer, estime-t-il. C’est d’ailleurs le cas de bien des oeuvres. En 1912, Egon Schiele (1890-1918) avait été condamné à vingt et un jours de prison après avoir abusé d’une fillette de 12 ans – la jeune fille avait cependant retiré son accusation pendant le procès. Les toiles du peintre autrichien n’en sont pas moins exposées dans les musées du monde entier. Des corps anguleux et nus, parfois de très jeunes femmes, laissant voir avec précision les organes génitaux. L’artiste britannique Eric Gill (1882-1940), qui a notamment réalisé les bas-reliefs du chemin de croix de la cathédrale catholique de Westminster, à Londres, est également un cas qui laisse songeur. Il a eu des relations incestueuses avec sa soeur, violé ses enfants, et eu des expériences sexuelles avec son chien. Ecstasy, un bas-relief présentant un couple en pleine fornication, est aujourd’hui en possession de la Tate. Connaître les méfaits de l’artiste change-t-il quelque chose à l’appréciation de son oeuvre ? Le Monde
Les photos d’art montrant des enfants nus sont-elles acceptables ? En Australie, c’est devenu un débat national, discuté dans les dîners ou à la tête du gouvernement. S’attaquant au sujet, une revue d’art australienne, Art Monthly Australia, vient de publier, en couverture de son numéro de juillet, la photographie d’une fillette de 6 ans, nue. Mal lui en a pris : la commission australienne de classification va procéder à l’examen de la revue pour déterminer si elle peut être vendue librement. (…) Tout a débuté lorsque fin mai, la police fédérale a mené une perquisition dans une galerie d’art de Sydney, sur le point d’inaugurer une exposition de Bill Henson, un photographe renommé, connu pour ses portraits en noir et blanc. Les policiers emportent alors des épreuves photographiques montrant une adolescente poitrine nue. L’affaire prend rapidement une dimension nationale, lorsque le premier ministre, Kevin Rudd, se dit « absolument révolté » par les images. Tandis que des associations de défense des enfants protestent contre une « exploitation » des adolescents photographiés, de nombreux artistes crient, eux, à la censure. Une lettre, signée des grands noms de la scène artistique australienne, dont l’actrice Cate Blanchett, est même adressée au premier ministre pour lui demander de revenir sur ses déclarations. Il y a quelques jours, la police a finalement annoncé qu’aucune poursuite ne serait engagée à l’encontre de Bill Henson. Mais la publication du dernier numéro d’Art Monthly a ravivé les tensions. Sur le cliché, datant de 2003, la photographe Polixeni Papapetrou a fait poser sa fille, les bras croisés autour d’une jambe, dans une posture qui ne présente a priori rien de provocateur. « Cette photo a fait le tour des expositions à travers le pays depuis cinq ans, sans aucun problème. La réaction des médias et du public pose des questions non pas sur la photo, mais sur l’évolution de la société », soutient le rédacteur en chef du magazine, Maurice O’Riordan. Cette fois encore, le premier ministre travailliste a condamné les images : « Nous parlons de l’innocence de petits enfants ici. (…) Franchement, je ne peux pas supporter ce genre de choses », a affirmé M. Rudd. Dans les médias, parents ou commentateurs s’indignent de nouveau. « Le débat n’est pas le bon : on ferait mieux de se battre pour les enfants vraiment exploités », commente pour sa part James McDougall, directeur du Centre légal australien pour les enfants et les jeunes. Le Monde (2008)
Lewis Carroll was a proper English don at Oxford, and the son of a minister; I don’t think he would have done anything. He was a romantic; he thought that young girls were made in the image of God, that they were perfect. He thought they were absolutely beautiful and they are.’ Polixeni Papapetrou
I think that the picture my mum took of me had nothing to do with being abused and I think nudity can be a part of art.  Olympia Nelson (11)
It’s hard to see what all the fuss is about. AMA’s cover is an obvious reworking of Lewis Carroll’s 1873 photograph of Beatrice Hatch, aged seven (3). Carroll’s photograph also shows a nude girl sitting on a seaweed-covered rock, with white cliffs in the background. The backdrop is hand-painted on glass. Carroll’s photo is taken sideways on, while Olympia is photographed looking directly at the camera, but otherwise the poses are similar. Beatrice Hatch was a daughter of Edwin Hatch, a theologian who was then vice-principal of St Mary Hall, Oxford, and later university reader in Ecclesiastical history. The Hatches allowed Carroll to take a number of nude shots of their young daughters. It’s ironic that, in twenty-first century Australia, similar photos cause a national controversy, with some censorial puritans campaigning for them to be made illegal. The AMA cover is in response to an earlier controversy about childhood and nudity. In May this year, the police raided the Roslyn Oxley9 gallery in Sydney and confiscated photographs of nude teenagers by Bill Henson, only hours before the opening of an exhibition. Henson is a leading Australian photographer, whose work features in collections throughout the country and who has had great acclaim internationally.  Rudd condemned Henson’s photos, too and called them ‘revolting’. He said: ‘I am passionate about children having innocence in their childhood.’ (4) Hetty Johnston, founder of the Australian child protection pressure group Bravehearts, called for Henson and the Roslyn Oxley9 gallery to be prosecuted. After a brief, but intense period of public controversy, during which the Roslyn Oxley9 gallery received firebomb threats, the Sydney authorities decided that there were no grounds to prosecute either Henson or the gallery. However, by then, presumably on a precautionary basis, the Roslyn Oxley9 gallery itself had pulled two of Henson’s photographs from its website, Untitled #8 and Untitled #39. There is nothing offensive about these particular images, and their abrupt removal from public view illustrates the chilling effect of moral panics about art, nudity and the young on artistic freedom and free speech. They lead to more and more shrill protests and to self-censorship in order to avoid controversy. It is remarkable that the gallery had held a similar show of Henson’s work in 2006, which is still available to view on the gallery’s website. This again featured some pictures of nude young models, shot in a moody light, but apparently no one was sufficiently affronted to complain to the authorities on that occasion. Now, Hetty Johnston has said that the nude photographs in the current issue of AMA amount to the ‘sexual exploitation of children’. She has called for new laws to make it illegal to take a photo of a naked child for exhibition, sale or publication. Puritanism is on the march here. And as Oscar Wilde observed: ‘Puritanism is never so offensive and destructive as when it deals with art matters.’ Defending the magazine’s cover, AMA editor Maurice O’Riordan said that he intended to ‘restore some dignity to the debate … and validate nudity and childhood as subjects for art’ (5). A blanket ban on photographs of naked children will not stop child abuse, and the notion that merely photographing a naked child or teenager is tantamount to child abuse is difficult to take seriously. The assumption that any photograph of a naked child is pornographic is simply ridiculous. Article 20.2 of the Council of Europe’s recent Convention on the Protection of Children against Sexual Exploitation and Sexual Abuse (25 October 2007), for example, gives a much more restrictive definition: ‘The term “child pornography” shall mean any material that visually depicts a child engaging in real or simulated sexual explicit conduct or any depiction of a child’s sexual organs for primarily sexual purposes.’ Is Johnston suggesting that parents should not be able to take nude photos of their own children? No one would condone a parent who permitted pornographic pictures to be taken of their child, or allowed them to be put into public circulation, but underlying Johnston’s proposal is a profound mistrust of all adults, as well as the corrosive idea that nudity is inherently corrupting. If all photos of nude children were to be banned, then logically there is no reason why photographs of Donatello’s David should not also be banned, along with Lewis Carroll’s photos of nude children, much of Wilhelm von Gloeden’s oeuvre, and any reproduction of Bronzino’s Allegory of Venus with Cupid, to name but a few. Indeed, applying Johnston’s baleful logic, just about every image in Western medieval and Renaissance art showing the naked infant Jesus, putti or Cupid would similarly need to be banned to protect us from our baser impulses. This new Puritanism would seem to be heading in the direction of a regressive anti-aesthetic, which dictates that any reproduction of the naked human form is unacceptable. Barbara Hewson (barrister, Hardwicke Building, London)
Sous le lit de mes parents, il y avait une boîte qui conte­nait des pho­tos de mes parents ado­les­cents en Grèce et aussi les pho­to­gra­phies de leurs pre­mières années en Aus­tra­lie. Je sor­tais ces pho­tos toutes les semaines pour les étudier. Elles étaient un mys­tère pour moi. Je ne peux pas pré­ci­sé­ment me sou­ve­nir d’une seule image comme la pre­mière mais cette boîte de pho­to­gra­phies fut cer­tai­ne­ment pour moi ma pre­mière ren­contre avec les images. Beau­coup plus tard, quand je voya­geais en Grèce, on m’a donné la seule pho­to­gra­phie sur­vi­vante de mes grands-parents que je n’ai jamais ren­con­trés. Ce n’est pas la pre­mière image dont je me sou­viens mais c’est l’image la plus mémo­rable pour moi. (…) Quand j’ai com­mencé l’école pri­maire, je ne savais pas par­ler anglais. On me demanda de lire un livre d’école inti­tulé « John et Betty ». Ce livre défi­nis­sait les attentes des filles et des gar­çons de l’époque. Comme nous n’avions pas de livres en anglais à la mai­son, j’en ai volé un à l’école mais je fus décou­verte : une lettre fut envoyé à mes parents avec comme résul­tat une punition. (…) J’éprouve beau­coup de rap­pro­che­ments avec les pho­to­graphes et les pra­ti­ciens d’autres arts et la lit­té­ra­ture. Peut-être que ce qui m’en dis­tingue — en dehors de mon passé et de ma per­son­na­lité — est l’opportunité d’avoir pu tra­vailler avec des êtres ins­pi­rés spé­cia­le­ment dans mon enfance. Je pense que j’ai eu un pri­vi­lège unique en ayant accès à leur inno­cence, leur com­pré­hen­sion, leur ima­gi­na­tion, leur intel­li­gence incom­pa­rable et leur naï­veté, leur com­pré­hen­sion natu­relle du sym­bo­lique et leur sens du mer­veilleux. Je me rends compte que tout le monde ne peut aimer la pers­pec­tive fraîche, enchan­tée de ce que les enfants peuvent appor­ter aux adultes quand ils sont trop réflé­chis et conditionnés. (…) Je ne suis pas ouver­te­ment fémi­niste mais ce que je retiens du fémi­nisme est son appré­hen­sion du pou­voir des struc­tures qui fonc­tionnent dans les lignes de démar­ca­tion de la notion de genre – ce que beau­coup de mes pho­to­gra­phies tentent de sub­ver­tir. Un thème per­sis­tant au cours de mon tra­vail est com­ment se tra­vaillent les « changes » à tra­vers les formes et par le jeu de rôle. Par exemple, mes enfants — fémi­nins et mas­cu­lins – ont été bénis habillés de la robe de bap­tême dévo­lues au sexe opposé (« Phan­tom­wise », 2002). J’ai aussi emprunté au fémi­nisme le désir de com­prendre les dyna­miques des filles (« Games of Conse­quence », 2008), le sym­bole phal­lique (« The Ghil­lies », 2013) et plus récem­ment com­ment les femmes, les fleurs et le jar­din ont été réin­ter­pré­tés par les fémi­nistes en tant que décons­truc­tion de la pas­si­vité fémi­nine que sou­ligne toute l’histoire de l’horticulture déco­ra­tive (« Eden », 2016).  Polixeni Papa­pe­trou
Il y a une dizaine d’années, Polixeni Papa­pe­trou a été vic­time d’une stu­pide contro­verse dans son pays. Le pré­texte en était qu’elle pho­to­gra­phiait sa fille (à l’époque âgée de six ans) nue. C’était ne rien com­prendre à ce que Polixeni Papa­pe­trou explore. Prin­ci­pa­le­ment, le thème de la trans­for­ma­tion de l’enfance à l’adolescence, de l’âge adulte à la vieillesse. Son expé­rience de la mala­die l’a ren­due encore plus poreuse à la fra­gi­lité de la vie. La beauté reste l’essence de sa vision des femmes. A sa manière la créa­trice lutte pour leur liberté comme aussi celle de la créa­tion. L’Australienne sait créer un « roman­tisme » très par­ti­cu­lier. Au lyrisme qui dis­sipe l’intelligence, elle pré­fère cette der­nière tout en demeu­rant capable d’offrir des émotions. Elles per­mettent de fran­chir le pas du passé au pré­sent et vers le futur que l’œuvre annonce sub­ti­le­ment au sein de son céré­mo­nial par­ti­cu­lier. Il est intense, dans son écono­mie de moyens l’artiste nour­rit une réelle fée­rie. Il n’existe plus d’un côté le réel et de l’autre sa fic­tion. Ne res­tent que des signes qui se par­tagent entre l’ascèse et la sou­plesse. ils deviennent moins des parures qu’une men­ta­li­sa­tion du réel. Celui-ci change de registre et qua­si­ment de sta­tut en ce qui tient du défi plastique. Le Littéraire.com
Depuis l’affaire Marc Dutroux (1996), la pédophilie est le sujet tabou par excellence. Tout écrivain qui s’avise d’y toucher risque d’être victime d’un lynchage immédiat. Puis-je rappeler, avant de me griller complètement, deux principes de base? 1) Il existe une grande différence entre le fantasme littéraire et le passage à l’acte criminel. 2) On doit pouvoir écrire sur tous les sujets, surtout sur les choses choquantes, ignobles, atroces, sinon à quoi cela sert-il d’écrire? Voulons-nous que les livres ne parlent que de choses légales, propres, gentilles? Si l’on ne peut plus explorer ce qui nous fait peur, autant foutre en l’air la notion même de littérature. Ces deux principes étant posés, il est temps de susciter ma levée de boucliers. À mon avis, l’écriture doit explorer AUSSI ce qui nous excite et nous attire dans le Mal. Par exemple, il faut avoir le courage d’affronter l’idée qu’un enfant est sexy. La société actuelle utilise l’innocence et la pureté de l’enfance pour vendre des millions de produits. Nous vivons dans un monde qui exploite le désir de la beauté juvénile d’un côté pour aussitôt réprimer et dénoncer toute concupiscence adulte de l’autre. Le roman doit-il se laisser brider par cette schizophrénie? La chasse aux sorcières qui vient d’être ranimée par l’affaire Polanski, puis le délire sur Frédéric Mitterrand (annoncé par l’attaque de François Bayrou sur Daniel Cohn-Bendit) oublient ce qui est en vente dans les librairies. Disons les choses clairement : ceux qui s’indignent avec tant de virulence doivent brûler une longue liste d’ouvrages. Messieurs et Mesdames les censeurs, dégainez vos briquets! Vous avez de l’autodafé sur la planche : Le blé en herbe de Colette, Si le grain ne meurt d’André Gide, Lolita de Nabokov, Il entrerait dans la légende de Louis Skorecki, Au secours pardon de votre serviteur, Rose bonbon de Nicolas Jones-Gorlin, Les 120 journées de Sodome du marquis de Sade, Ivre du vin perdu de Gabriel Matzneff, Les amitiés particulières de Roger Peyrefitte, La ville dont le prince est un enfant d’Henry de Montherlant, Il m’aimait de Christophe Tison, Le roi des Aulnes de Michel Tournier, Pour mon plaisir et ma délectation charnelle de Pierre Combescot, Journal d’un innocent de Tony Duvert, Mineure de Yann Queffélec, Les chants de Maldoror de Lautréamont, Microfictions de Régis Jauffret, Moins que zéro de Bret Easton Ellis, Mémoire de mes putains tristes de Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Enfantines de Valéry Larbaud, Histoire de ma vie de Casanova ou même, quoique en version platonique, Mort à Venise de Thomas Mann doivent rapidement être incendiés! Ma liste n’est pas exhaustive. Je remercie les maccarthystes français anti-pédophilie de m’aider à compléter cette liste d’autodafés en envoyant leurs lettres de délation au magazine car je suis sûr que j’en oublie et j’ai hâte de les lire… pour mieux être révolté, bien sûr, et avoir un regard désapprobateur sur ces œuvres! C’est donc le sourcil froncé que j’aimerais terminer sur une citation, insupportablement comique, tirée du Manuel de civilité pour les petites filles à l’usage des maisons d’éducation (1926) de Pierre Louys : « À partir de l’âge de huit ans, il n’est pas convenable qu’une petite fille soit encore pucelle, même si elle suce la pine depuis plusieurs années. » Ah! zut zut, nous voilà bien. Que faire de ce numéro de Lire avec cette phrase dedans? Doit-on aussi le brûler à présent? Frédéric Beigbeder (2009)
Dans la préface de Sylvie et Bruno, publié en 1889, chef-d’œuvre qui témoigne d’une technique entièrement renouvelée par rapport à Alice, Lewis Carroll proclame son désir d’ouvrir une nouvelle voie littéraire. L’audace est grande, pour l’époque, de la construction de deux intrigues, le rêve constamment accolé à la réalité. L’objectif essentiel du narrateur est de franchir le mur de la réalité pour atteindre le royaume du rêve : il voit l’un des personnages de son rêve pénétrer dans la vie réelle. Lewis Carroll crée l’effet de duplication de ses personnages. L’intérêt réside également dans la juxtaposition des deux intrigues. L’originalité de Lewis Carroll ne consiste pas à unifier rêve et réalité mais à reconstituer une unité à partir de la multiplicité initiale. Dans sa préface, ce qu’il nous dit de la construction de son livre : un noyau qui grossit peu à peu, une énorme masse de « litiérature » (litter, ordure) fort peu maniable, un agrégat d’écrits fragmentaires dont rien ne dit qu’ils formeront jamais un tout. Le roman n’est plus cette totalité harmonieuse où s’exprime le souffle de l’inspiration. Le fini romanesque est démystifié d’une façon ironique et pour tout dire sacrilège pour l’époque victorienne. Wikipedia
Il n’a pas envoyé Alice au fond d’un terrier de lapin un après-midi d’été pour le bénéfice d’une future génération de Freudiens mais pour le plaisir de trois petites Victoriennes. Derek Hudson
Karoline Leach, auteur de scénarios pour la télévision (…) renverse une à une les suspicions attachées à la personne de l’écrivain. Elle observe d’abord que Lewis Carroll, loin d’avoir été solitaire, participait très activement à la vie littéraire, photographique et théâtrale de son temps. Que ses amitiés avec les enfants étaient soigneusement inscrites dans le cadre de la famille – il était souvent l’ami des parents – et articulées à ses activités artistiques. Dans ce contexte, elle aborde l’aspect le plus troublant des activités du personnage : ses photos de nus. C’est ici précisément qu’un jugement bien avisé ne saurait faire fi de l’histoire. Leach explique avec patience que dans ces images, qui nous semblent aujourd’hui choquantes, la nudité était perçue comme un symbole spirituel. Par effet, dira-t-on, de l’hypocrisie bourgeoise ? Peut-être. Mais d’une part, poursuit Leach, «les archives des photographes les plus célèbres de l’époque, Oscar Rejlander et Julia Margaret Cameron, regorgent d’images du même genre». D’autre part, ces images ne jouent pas pour Carroll le rôle que l’on croit. En effet, Leach observa que les soi-disant «amies-enfants» de Lewis Carroll étaient parfois des jeunes femmes de vingt ou trente ans – ce qu’aucun «spécialiste» de l’écrivain n’avait relevé jusqu’à elle. Qu’il s’agissait, de surcroît, d’actrices dont Carroll suivait la carrière, encourageait les audaces et recherchait les privautés. Selon son interprétation, l’enfance n’était donc pour Lewis Carroll qu’une couverture destinée à cacher des liaisons aussi scandaleuses pour l’époque, celles qu’il entretenait avec des femmes parfaitement nubiles. On mesure la méprise. Soucieuse de suivre les distorsions de la vérité, Leach montre comment Carroll vit son alibi se retourner contre lui après sa mort, et comment, à la faveur des interprétations psychanalytiques, on en vint à soupçonner de pédophilie un homme qui pensait vivre tranquillement «à l’ombre de l’enfant-idéale» ses amours avec les actrices. Soucieux de se protéger des uns, Carroll devint ensuite la cible des autres. (…) Seulement voilà, Karoline Leach, à son tour, alla trop loin. Soucieuse de dénoncer toutes les hypocrisies, elle s’attaqua au trio bourgeois formé par Monsieur et Madame Liddell avec leur adorable fille. Il lui fut aisé de montrer que l’affection (réelle) de Carroll pour Alice avait été artificiellement isolée : ce n’est même pas à elle, mais à son ami George MacDonald, que Carroll envoya le premier exemplaire de son livre ! Leach s’avisa ensuite de citer les pages fort émouvantes que Henry Liddell avait écrites à propos de l’amour entre hommes – suggérant par là que son épouse n’était peut-être pas comblée. Par déductions successives, celle-ci se retrouvait ainsi en position, suggérait Leach, d’être la véritable cause des problèmes de conscience et des crises de culpabilité que Lewis Carroll avait traversées dans les années 1860. N’était-il pas envisageable que l’écrivain ait filé avec la maman d’Alice des amours adultères ? Ainsi, en même temps qu’elle démolissait un mythe, Karoline Leach entreprenait d’en recréer un autre. Comme si le secret explicitement souhaité par Carroll, et respecté par ses héritiers à grand renfort de mensonges, appelait irrésistiblement le fantasme ou la calomnie. Cette polémique n’est devenue constructive que tout récemment. Lors de la publication française de son livre (1), en 2010, Leach a effacé toute allusion à d’éventuelles amours entre Carroll et Mme Liddell. Sa recherche, désormais relayée par d’autres travaux, a trouvé son véritable objet : le «mythe Carroll», entendu comme l’ensemble des élucubrations universitaires, des déformations historiques et des projections imaginaires, est devenu le sujet d’études régulièrement publiées sous forme d’articles sur un site (www.carrollmyth.com). Abordant la question par des entrées entièrement renouvelées, les jeunes chercheurs montrent comment les secrets – définitivement impénétrables – de la vie de Lewis Carroll reflètent les caprices de la morale des peuples. Une chose, dirait Alice, «curieusement curieuse» («curiouser and curiouser»). Maxime Rovere
Can you ever divorce an artist’s life from their work? “Knowing Van Gogh shot himself, does that change the way you look at his paintings? Caravaggio was a murderer – does that make you look at him differently?” Searle asks. “There are lots of things we don’t like for all sorts of temporal reasons. What is unacceptable now may not be unacceptable in the future, and ditto in the past. The Victorian sculptures of black, naked slave girls tell us something about the Victorians – they are historical documents as well as sculptures.” The attitude, says art writer Jonathan Jones, “where people [think] the art exists in its own sphere – I think that’s not true at all. Ovenden’s art probably does reflect aspects of his life we now find deeply troubling.” The question of how harshly we should judge the art by its artist remains. Can you read Alice in Wonderland in the same way when you’ve seen Lewis Carroll’s photographs of naked girls? Or listen to Benjamin Britten’s work, knowing he wrote great music for children, with such attention, because he had an obsession with pubescent boys (as detailed in John Bridcut’s 2006 biography)?“One school of thought is the artwork is divorced from its creator and we should make an assessment of the work in isolation from any consideration of the artist’s intentions,” says Jonathan Pugh, research fellow at Oxford University’s Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics. “One issue that muddies the water is a question of complicity. Certain kinds of art might involve complicity in further wrongdoings. If we think that displaying certain works might entice people to carry out wrongs of the sort that are depicted in the work, then that might be cause for moral concern.”  If we only allowed art by artists with unimpeachable moral standards, we’d have empty libraries and galleries. But it appears there are degrees of what we will tolerate. If the sexual abuse of children seems to be the crime that a viewer or reader cannot get over, apparently it’s only for a while. There are no calls for the works of Caravaggio, for instance, to be hidden or destroyed, even though his paintings Victorious Cupid and St John the Baptist are of a naked, pre-pubescent boy, an assistant with whom Caravaggio is believed to have been having sex – which we would consider to be abuse by today’s standards. Instead, they are considered masterpieces. But you don’t have to go back centuries. The BBC, while busy purging all mention of Jimmy Savile, has said there are no plans to remove sculptures by Eric Gill – a man who abused his daughters, and had sex with not only his sister but also his dog – outside Broadcasting House, despite calls from charities representing people who have survived abuse asking them to do so. The Tate, which removed 34 works by Ovenden from its online collection following his conviction, has many works by Gill, who died in 1940. The Tate said it had sought to establish any connection between Ovendon’s work and his crimes, and that the prints can still be viewed on application. It has been pretty obvious that in the art world, and in wider society, great art confers a degree of protection, which has to explain why many in Hollywood stick by Roman Polanski, even though the film director sexually assaulted a child. The passing of time, and the death of an artist, also seems to help rehabilitate work. “If the art is good then the story of the life illuminates it,” says Jones. It would be a mistake to consider Ovenden a “great” artist, he adds, and some of Ovenden’s work now looks “extremely troubling”, but that does not justify its destruction. Demonising art, he says, “is not a rational response to it. There is no way that you should punish the art for the crimes of the artist. A civilised society preserves art and tries to learn from it.” (…) Pictures of children, particularly naked ones, are abhorred when we know about the reprehensible motives of their creator, but even when there is no suggestion that the artist has worrying intentions or desires, their work has raised suspicion. “This lens has crept between us and the art, that says this [a hysteria over abuse] is the thing you must look at,” says Frances Spalding, the art historian and editor of art journal the Burlington magazine. “It rather destroys the pleasure in looking at certain kinds of child nudity which can be, in other ways, an expression of a joy in life.” Charles Dodgson’s family’s incursive destruction of his papers immediately after his death, and their steady refusal to allow evidence to be made public, meant that the first hand biographical evidence remained almost non-existent until the second half of this present century. In a separate but ultimately linked development, a massive and almost irresistible myth surrounding the name « Lewis Carroll » had begun to develop even while Dodgson still lived. In the fallow space left by the lack of prima facie evidence, and the silence of his family, this myth grew in an unprecedented and powerful way. When early biographers wrote their studies of Lewis Carroll, lacking almost all first hand evidence, they had little choice but to fill their books with the stuff of this myth. And thus very early on it became dignified by an apparent scholastic pedigree. Later biographers took their lead and repeated these supposedly already verified « facts ».(…) For the Victorians, caught as they were on the cusp of a new age in which all old certainties were dying, « Lewis Carroll » came to mean a readiness to believe — in wonderland, fairytales, innocence, sainthood, the fast-fading vision of a golden age when it seemed possible for humanity to transcend the human condition. Carroll became a way of affirming that such things really had once been. Even before Dodgson’s death, his assumed name had become the ultimate embodiment of this Victorian aspiration toward otherworldliness. « Lewis Carroll » was the Pied Piper and Francis of Assisi. His supposed tenderness for all children was seen as part of a Christlike renunciation of adult pleasure and the adult world. It became an emanation of the strange Victorian obsession with childhood innocence, that identified immaturity with inviolability in a way impossible for us now. In common with so many icons-in-the-making, Dodgson himself was one of the first to perceive the growth of the myth surrounding Carroll, and with typical contrariness he both deplored and manipulated it. He instinctively understood the power of an image. He was throughout his life, not only impulsive and contradictory, but also quite a shameless manipulator of his own persona, who could very cleverly present a view of himself designed to produce his desired effect, and as we will see further on « Carroll » began to be famous at precisely the time in Dodgson’s life when he was most filled with self-doubt, most motivated to consciously re-invent himself. The guise of the patron saint of children offered itself at precisely the right time, and he took it up, as a part-time persona. By a kind of mutual agreement, he and his society began creating their mutually beneficial myth of Carroll and little girls. Purity was exactly what the Victorians wanted to connect with Carroll, and purity was precisely what it (intermittently) suited Dodgson to have associated with himself. His genuine and instinctive affection for children began to be selfconscious, exaggerated, and, inevitably, somewhat insincere. He began to play the part of child-worshipper, with a strange mix of sincerity and irony. He invented the word « child-friend », but misused it, with almost malicious intent. He worshipped the child as an article of religious faith, and exploited it as a means of concealment for his own unconventional, possibly sexual, relationships with women. It was inextricably bound up with his wish to rediscover himself as an innocent man, and — on a different level — his cynical wish for others to see him as innocent. Carroll’s love for the child was always in part a construction. In real terms, children were never as prominent in his life as the legend, or even Dodgson’s own testimony, would have it. (…)  It is an indication of the power of this need, as well as the extraordinary degree to which « Lewis Carroll » already enjoyed an existence independent of Dodgson in the public mind, that while this mythic image of child-centredness was already the assumed reality of « Carroll », his alter ego Charles Dodgson was the subject of a widespread gossip that contradicted this image almost entirely. Dodgson was being condemned and criticised for his unconventional contacts with grown women, even while « Carroll » was being sanctified for loving only children. The scandals about women and cutesy magazine stories of « little girls » co-existed but never touched. Emine Saner (The Guardian)
Comment expliquer l’absence de Carroll sur les rayonnages de l’ancienne salle de lecture de la British Library, tandis que Beatrix Potter ou Charles Kinsley figurent en bonne place parmi les plus grands noms de la littérature britannique et d’autres moins connus ? (…) Peut-être le soupçon de mise à l’écart s’avérait-il injustifié, mais il faut dire que mon interrogation quant à la cause de cette absence prenait place dans un contexte où la réputation de celui-ci semble avoir eu à souffrir du privilège accordé aux petites filles dans son œuvre ou sur ses clichés, au point que les ouvrages actuels qui lui sont consacrés se sentent tous en devoir de prendre sa défense, parfois au prix d’une révision fantaisiste de sa biographie. Les débordements de passion encore récents à propos de cas de pédophilie en Europe (en Belgique et en Angleterre en particulier) seraient-ils cause de cette éclipse silencieuse ? Nous en sommes réduits aux conjectures, mais l’orientation de celles-ci prend nul doute racine dans cette atmosphère. Matthew Sweet, dans son livre intitulé Inventing the Victorians, rapporte que l’artiste Graham Ovenden, suspecté à tort de faire partie d’un réseau de pédophilie, fut conduit à Scotland Yard en 1993 ; pour preuve à charge : sa collection de photos de Lewis Carroll. Qu’il soit pervers ou non, le « cas » Carroll, aux côtés de Nabokov, s’est en effet trouvé pris dans les arcanes des discours contemporains sur la perversion. Le mythe de l’auteur aux tendances pédophiles, dont l’œuvre composait un danger pour les enfants, fut engendré par certains psychanalystes de la première heure, comme le montre Karoline Leach. Ceux-ci détournèrent l’enseignement freudien sur le travail de l’artiste pour ne voir que corruption là où les philosophes, les linguistes, les critiques littéraires et les mathématiciens s’attachaient encore à célébrer le génie de l’œuvre et la modernité de ses intuitions. Ce mythe venait toutefois en opposition à l’image tout aussi erronée du cœur pur, adorateur de l’innocence suggérée par la première biographie de l’auteur, écrite par son neveu et qui tenait de l’hagiographie. (…) S’ils ne fournissent pas de quoi nous convaincre, les travaux récents attestent néanmoins d’une volonté d’écarter la suspicion de pathologie sexuelle qui a entouré la biographie de Carroll à la suite des publications référées à la psychanalyse au début du siècle. (…) Ces jugements étayés sur des approches divergentes de la question de la perversion, captives d’un discours moral, ne parviennent pas toutefois à sortir de l’opposition : culpabilité contre innocence. (…) Un récent travail à ce sujet me conduisit à saisir comment, du « tous pervers » post-moderne à la condamnation fondée sur une morale étriquée en passant par les plaidoiries de l’innocence, toutes les positions prises à ce sujet font fi du fantasme et de la portée de sublimation et de symptôme de l’œuvre, qui seuls s’avèrent pouvoir nous permettre de tenir une juste position éthique, de traiter du rapport de l’artiste à sa production en dehors de cette dialectique étriquée. (…) Si la loi morale a bien pour envers la perversion, selon Lacan, elles sont comme les deux faces d’une même médaille, l’une s’avérant irrémédiablement liée à l’autre. Aussi nous invite-t-il à nous écarter d’une trop simple opposition entre culpabilité et innocence qui ne saurait servir de fondement à une position éthique (celle-ci implique de prendre en compte la dimension du fantasme et de la jouissance du sujet), encore moins à une appréciation de l’œuvre. Dans son « Hommage rendu à Lewis Carroll », prononcé lors d’une intervention radiophonique en 1966 (…) relève à cet égard que jouissance et loi morale s’avèrent toutes deux participer également de la constitution de l’œuvre (…) L’homme de foi prend place au côté du poète et du mathématicien pour contribuer à l’équilibre de l’œuvre. (…) La dialectique de la culpabilité et de l’innocence contribue en effet à masquer le véritable enjeu, le véritable enseignement de l’œuvre. (…) En effet, on peut se demander en premier lieu jusqu’à quel point Lewis Carroll n’aurait pas largement participé de la construction du mythe de l’enfance et du culte de l’innocence des victoriens, lui qui devait se défendre des rumeurs qui couraient sur son compte (il ne fut pas toujours lui-même perçu de son vivant comme si innocent que cela, sa correspondance indique qu’il ne l’ignorait pas). Ainsi invoquait-il la pureté de ses intentions (il ne faut pas douter qu’il y croyait lui-même), son admiration pour la pureté formelle de ses jeunes amies qu’il associe à leur parfaite innocence. (…) S’il n’y a aucune raison de ne pas croire à sa sincérité, les multiples précautions oratoires laissent entendre qu’il n’ignorait pas que la question n’était pas si simple et que de telles pensées étaient néanmoins présentes à son esprit, ne fut-ce que pour les rejeter. Le mythe de l’innocence vient en outre lui permettre de justifier sa pratique photographique. Dans sa correspondance avec ses amies-enfants, en revanche, il se présente volontiers à elles comme un amoureux transi voire délaissé. Comment ne pas être saisi par ailleurs par le fait que ses propos au sujet de ses amies-enfants laissent bien poindre qu’en effet ce n’est pas d’amour qu’il s’agit, mais d’amitié non plus. L’affection y perce peu, il se montre plutôt attiré par des sujets photographiques potentiels (…) D’ailleurs ne l’intéressent, semble-t-il, que les petites filles qu’il repère et décide de conquérir. Les lettres attestent d’une certaine distance avec celles qui vinrent à lui d’elles-mêmes, attirées par l’auteur d’Alice. La distance qu’il marqua avec ses amies quand elles grandirent indique, en outre, que la relation qu’il entamait était plus avec ce que l’enfant représentait pour lui, une petite fille, qu’avec un sujet pour laquelle il aurait développé une affection particulière. (…) En collectionneur presque, il multiplie les amitiés, mais il ne veut rencontrer les petites filles qu’une par une. (…) La rencontre d’une enfant en particulier compte moins que le fait d’avoir une amie-enfant. Étrange assertion enfin que celle-ci dans laquelle il témoigne de son aversion pour le sexe des garçons et de son admiration pour le corps dénudé des petites filles, lorsqu’il évoque pour Gertrude Thomson ses illustrations pour Sylvie et Bruno (…) Dans son « Hommage à Lewis Carroll », Lacan (…) insiste néanmoins sur la place qu’occupe dans cette construction la figure de la petite fille dans sa « portée d’objet absolu ». Nous tiendrons qu’au-delà des mythes entendus au sens de construction idéologiques qu’elle a contribué à produire, Alice, personnage ancré dans ce que furent les petites filles pour Carroll, contribue à la dimension proprement mythique de l’œuvre au sens fort, telle que la dégage Lacan. Sophie Marret
Ce qui pose réellement problème, c’est la place grandissante de la psychopathologie de la création artistique : le génie et la névrose sont mis en étroite connexion. Mais interpréter des œuvres littéraires comme la production brute d’un inconscient, c’est nier le travail d’élaboration (d’ordre créatif) de l’auteur, et surtout, en tout état de cause, la relation de sa production littéraire à la littérature et à la culture. On déhistoricise ainsi une œuvre. On oblitère aussi tout un pan de l’analyse critique, tout ce qui tient à la volonté consciente et créatrice, au projet d’écriture. Florence Becker Lennon, par exemple, nie la portée de cette dimension du travail littéraire lorsqu’elle estime, dans sa biographie de 1945, que dans sa dernière œuvre littéraire, Sylvie et Bruno, Carroll a perdu son génie créatif en acquérant une plus grande conscience de sa propre philosophie (…) Pourquoi, précisément, les psychobiographies posent-elles un problème du point de vue de la critique littéraire ? D’une part, les psychobiographies fonctionnent sur le principe de la recherche du secret, le « sale petit secret qui nourrit la manie d’interpréter », pour citer Gilles Deleuze. Au principe de ce secret, on trouve presque toujours l’enfance. Car le noyau dur au centre de toute recherche d’ordre psychobiographique, c’est l’origine, la genèse du « sale petit secret ». Or l’origine, c’est forcément l’enfance. Ce faisant, l’écriture biographique détache le sujet des influences sociales, culturelles et littéraires qui ont formé son art. De plus, en posant tout acte créateur sur la fondation unique d’un inconscient préadulte, on met en place le concept d’un génie miraculeux et forcément naïf. Là encore se pose le problème du statut de l’écrivain. La psychanalyse, telle, du moins, qu’elle est comprise par les psychobiographes, pose clairement un problème théorique au sein du carrollisme. Elle a permis le passage radical d’une croyance en l’inconnaissable et l’indicible en ce qui concernait la personne humaine, avec le respect absolu de sa mémoire, à une recherche minutieuse des secrets réels ou supposés : il s’agit du désir de croire qu’il devient possible d’avoir accès à l’inconscient, et donc de connaître le tout de l’auteur. Sous couvert d’iconoclastie (c’est-à-dire casser une image figée pour aller voir derrière), les psychobiographes, s’ils se donnent accès à des aspects d’une personnalité restée jusque-là inexplorée, réduisent leur lecture par une orientation unique de leur interprétation. L’iconoclastie, en matière de biographie, a un intérêt qui marque aussi sa limite. D’autre part, considérer l’auteur d’abord comme un personnage dont il faut percer les secrets biographiques, c’est occulter certains aspects de son œuvre, qu’on s’empêche de voir autrement que par le prisme des éléments biographiques déjà exhumés. S’interroger sur la question de l’enfance chez Carroll, c’est souvent ignorer que cette question a, pour lui, une dimension philosophique importante. Comme Jean-Jacques Lecercle l’a noté, l’enfant pour les victoriens est à la fois emblème de la pureté, de l’innocence absolue, et un être humain déjà porteur du péché originel qu’il faut éduquer et redresser. Mais pour Carroll, l’enfant est aussi celui qui connaît l’amour, et à qui il importe de donner une vision de plus en plus large de cet amour, de le guider dans sa connaissance intuitive de l’amour divin. Non perverti par les doctrines, il est celui qui aide l’adulte à comprendre l’importance de l’amour divin, mais limité par son expérience, il est celui qu’il faut aider à acquérir le sens des devoirs envers Dieu et les hommes. Ceci prend son sens si on s’autorise à lire Sylvie et Bruno, par exemple, non pas comme un échec littéraire, mais comme l’expression d’une philosophie personnelle très aboutie, construite à partir de fréquentations et de lectures dont on a longtemps ignoré l’importance, fascinés comme l’étaient les psychobiographes par la recherche de l’anormalité du discours relatif à l’amour et l’interrogation sur les motifs possibles de cette anormalité. Certes, la question de l’enfance est importante – pas parce qu’elle se réfère à l’enfance de Carroll, ni à son amour de l’enfance, mais parce que cette question est centrale dans sa philosophie. (…) L’articulation paradoxale de l’innocence et de la perversité est un motif récurrent des psychobiographies. Elle est souvent résolue en posant que Carroll avait une connaissance intuitive de la perversité, comme tout enfant (selon la formule de Freud, incorrectement lue, selon laquelle l’enfant est un « pervers polymorphe »), mais que son inconscience de ses propres mécanismes psychiques ne lui permettait pas de la comprendre dans toute sa dimension proprement adulte. Michael Bakewell, dans sa biographie de 1996, estime ainsi que les « pensées impures » que Carroll évoque dans sa préface à Sylvie et Bruno sont impures au sens où le catéchisme l’entend. Mais lorsqu’il écrit cette préface, Carroll a cinquante-sept ans, et peut difficilement être suspecté d’entretenir une inquiétude adolescente sur la masturbation – sauf à s’acharner à croire à un esprit infantile enfermé dans le corps d’un homme mûr. L’idée qu’il puisse s’agir de doute religieux ou d’inquiétudes métaphysique ne l’effleure pas un instant, elle est pourtant digne d’être explorée. La fermeture au monde est un autre motif. On entend par là le monde adulte, événementiel, politique, etc. (…) C’est une chose de définir le nonsense comme un système clos, c’en est une autre d’affirmer que Carroll était un îlot retiré du monde adulte. Difficile, dans ce cas, de considérer que c’était un homme cultivé, par exemple. Or, Hugues Lebailly l’a montré, il était très au fait de la production culturelle de son époque, et souvent même peu orthodoxe dans ses choix ; pas parce qu’il ne connaissait pas l’orthodoxie, mais parce qu’il s’en détachait tout à fait consciemment. Fréquenter le théâtre lui était interdit implicitement, sinon explicitement, mais il était capable de défendre son point de vue et de s’y tenir. Pierre Bourdieu parle, dans Les règles de l’art, à propos de Sartre biographe de Flaubert, de « cette forme de narcissisme par procuration que l’on tient d’ordinaire pour la forme suprême de la “compréhension”». Loin d’objectiver son sujet, le psychobiographe, de la même façon, se contente souvent de plaquer sur le personnage de Carroll sa lecture d’événements biographiques réels ou imaginaires (hérités de la doxa), qui est une lecture non seulement stérile, mais également violente. Loin de s’interroger sur la genèse du travail créatif, il postule une genèse idéale et indicible et développe l’image d’un « créateur inconscient » ou « créateur incréé ». Ceci repose sur la croyance qu’une vie, telle qu’on la voit, est orientée par sa finalité : en d’autres termes, chacun des événements biographiques et des interprétations qui en sont tirées a une signification touchant à un but ultime. C’est une téléologie qui implique une forme de transcendance. Carroll, enfant dans l’âme, innocent et inconscient de son propre génie, a écrit des chefs- d’œuvre : c’est incompréhensible mais cela est, miraculeusement. Cette irruption de la transcendance dans la psychobiographie scelle son échec. Il me semble qu’une autre hypothèse peut être posée en ce qui concerne l’auteur en tant que mythe. Je me demande si le discours si prégnant dans le carrollisme sur la pureté absolue du personnage d’Alice ne nous fournit pas déjà une piste. Je ne trouve pas, personnellement, qu’Alice soit d’une exceptionnelle pureté. Tout en représentant l’innocence, elle me semble même particulièrement perverse et manipulatrice, bien qu’elle soit (ou peut-être parce qu’elle est) elle-même manipulée par les autres personnages. Je vois là une image bien perverse de petite fille. Je crois d’ailleurs que les enfants le perçoivent, certains s’en effrayent et d’autres s’en amusent, d’autres encore font les deux simultanément ou successivement. Si ma lecture est un tant soit peu correcte, alors comment le paradoxe de l’articulation entre innocence et perversité dans le personnage d’Alice se résout-il ? Je pense qu’il n’est pas absolument absurde de penser que Carroll, en tant que figure mythique, est la réponse à ce paradoxe. Ce serait bien, selon la formule de Lévi-Strauss, un « modèle logique de résolution d’une contradiction », en ceci qu’il incorpore, plutôt que son héroïne, la perversité portée par son texte. En d’autres termes, Carroll serait devenu une figure mythique quand les carrolliens, ne supportant plus de voir en Alice la perversité, l’ont fait porter, par un mécanisme collectif de projection, sur la figure de l’auteur. On obtient ainsi deux figures mythiques : celle de l’enfant parfaitement innocent et pur, et celle de l’auteur absolument pervers et anormal. De fait, cela pourrait commencer à expliquer pourquoi Sylvie et Bruno, où la perversité est sans conteste présente, est si dépréciée par les psychobiographes, qui affirment qu’avec cette œuvre, Carroll a perdu son pouvoir créatif pour écrire des bêtises. La figure de l’auteur ayant perdu là sa perversité alors que son dernier roman la regagnait, l’équation ne fonctionne plus par le mythe. Plus largement, il me semble que les psychobiographies posent le problème de la réception des œuvres littéraires (…) Dans la relation entre auteur et lecteur, le « sujet supposé savoir » est à la fois l’auteur, le lecteur et le texte, chacun étant relié aux autres par la relation très particulière de la lecture. Mais dans la relation entre auteur, lecteur et biographe, le « sujet supposé savoir » se doit forcément d’être le psychobiographe, faute d’avouer son incapacité à donner sens à son travail, ce qu’il ne fait jamais. Il me semble que les psychobiographes posent le problème des dangers de la critique littéraire, en creux : si le critique se pose en « sujet supposé savoir » il se résigne à la transcendance et à porter sur ses propres épaules tout le poids du sens qu’il donne au texte. S’il s’avoue qu’il ne sait pas, il entre dans la relation classique entre lecteur, auteur et texte, et fait fonctionner le texte en respectant sa portée, toute sa portée et rien que sa portée. Si les psychobiographies appliquées à Carroll ont un sens, c’est peut-être celui-là : démontrer par l’absurde ce que la critique ne peut pas se permettre de faire. Il me semble que le double mythe de l’enfance et de l’auteur tel qu’il a été exploité par les psychobiographies est passé dans la doxa carrollienne. Mais il doit être examiné en dehors d’elle pour que la critique ait une chance d’en faire un concept constructif. Pascale Renaud-Grosbras

Attention: une perversion peut en cacher une autre !

En ce monde et ces temps étranges d’idées chrétiennes devenues folles

Où, démocratisation et mondialisation obligent, la quasi-fétichisation du droit des victimes (enfants, femmes, minorités, homosexuels) peut coexister avec leur pire exploitation (prostitution enfantine, pédophilie, mariages forcés/prépubères, excision, changement de sexe prépubère ou filiation mensongère mais aussi enfants-soldats, boucliers humains ou faux réfugiés) …

Où la dénonciation du long silence coupable sur la pédophilie dans l’Eglise catholique va de pair avec la complaisance la plus douteuse pour les relations proprement incestueuses de certains de nos happy few

l’irresponsabilité la plus débridée dans l’habillement comme dans le comportement ou le langage cotoie la pudibonderie la plus rétrograde dans les relations hommes-femmes …

Où après s’être si longtemps battu pour la création de toilettes séparées pour les femmes, l’on se déchire à présent,  au nom de la nouvelle minorité du moment et président américain en tête, contre la « ségrégation urinaire » fameusement décrite il y a exactement 50 ans par Jacques Lacan …

Où une affaire de détournement de mineure pourrait indirectement faire basculer l’élection de la première femme à la tête de la première puissance mondiale et du Monde libre …

Et où, protection des droits de l’enfant oblige, peintres, photographes ou cinéastes se voient, alternativement et avec leurs oeuvres et ceux qui les détiennent, portés au nues ou mis au pilori ….

Quelle meilleure illustration de la prolifération de doubles contraintes ou d’injonctions paradoxales où nous place de plus en plus notre condition postmoderne …

Que la destinée posthume de Lewis Carroll …

Lui qui vivait déjà, première mondialisation oblige, dans un monde d’extrêmes entre enfance bourgeoise quasi-vénérée d’un côté et  enfance de rue proprement dickensienne de l’autre (prostitution, « sweatshops ») …

Mais aussi d’intense compétition entre les rares nouveaux praticiens d’un art tout juste naissant …

Où un auteur à la riche carrière de romancier, essayiste, photographe et logicien-mathématicien …

Qui avait tant fait pour déniaiser la littérature enfantine et la littérature tout court …

Se voit relégué apparemment pour l’éternité au statut d’écrivain pour enfants …

 Soit, encensement précoce et expurgation familiale de ses archives aidant, comme véritable saint désincarné de l’innocence enfantine …

Soit, pansexualisation psychanalytique oblige et entre Brassaï et Nabokov, comme déviant soupçonné des pires arrières-pensées pédophiles …

Et finit à l’instar de sa dernière oeuvre, son opus magnum et inspiration des plus grands « Sylvie et Bruno » condamné comme échec littéraire …

Par se voir interdire avec ses lecteurs potentiels…

La maturité dont la prétendue non-acquisition lui était justement reprochée ?

Les petites filles : de l’inconscient au mythe

Sophie Marret

1À plusieurs égards, le nom de Lewis Carroll est devenu indissociable de la figure de la petite fille. Dans le prénom d’Alice se sont condensés les titres de ses œuvres majeures, soulignant la dimension mythique que le personnage a revêtue, dès la publication du premier volume. Entendons la notion de mythe selon une acception faible pour l’instant, suivant l’usage commun par lequel le terme désigne le caractère fabuleux du personnage imaginaire, porteur de rêve et d’idéal et dont les résonances touchent un large public, au-delà des barrières culturelles. Les petites filles sont au cœur de l’œuvre : bien qu’inégalement, Alice partage la place d’héroïne avec Sylvie ; elles se sont aussi trouvées au cœur de la vie de l’auteur, lui valant autant de regards bienveillants que méfiants. Les amitiés enfantines de Carroll ont contribué aux mythes qui entourent ses biographies. Entendons cette fois les constructions biaisées qui permettent de satisfaire tel ou tel critère d’appréciation et dont Roland Barthes a souligné le lien à l’idéologie1. En ce qui concerne Carroll, nous ne pouvons que nous référer à l’habile travail de démythification de Karoline Leach qui n’a toutefois pas su éviter l’ornière2.

2À l’heure où les échos de la vie retentissent de façon suspecte sur l’œuvre, il convient de revenir sur l’aura de scandale attachée aux amies-enfants pour dégager la véritable portée mythique de l’œuvre, entendue dans un sens positif cette fois-ci, comme ce par quoi l’œuvre de fiction emporte une vérité. Mon propos sera d’interroger comment la figure de la petite fille autour de laquelle se condensent les mythes qui entourent la vie et l’œuvre intervient dans la dimension proprement mythique de l’œuvre, partant du postulat que l’enfant de la fable est informée de ce que fut une petite fille pour Carroll, au-delà d’une analogie par trop simpliste entre la vie et l’œuvre.

Entre innocence et culpabilité

3Comment expliquer l’absence de Carroll sur les rayonnages de l’ancienne salle de lecture de la British Library, tandis que Beatrix Potter ou Charles Kinsley figurent en bonne place parmi les plus grands noms de la littérature britannique et d’autres moins connus ? Les gardiens ne surent m’apporter de réponse. Peut-être le soupçon de mise à l’écart s’avérait-il injustifié, mais il faut dire que mon interrogation quant à la cause de cette absence prenait place dans un contexte où la réputation de celui-ci semble avoir eu à souffrir du privilège accordé aux petites filles dans son œuvre ou sur ses clichés, au point que les ouvrages actuels qui lui sont consacrés se sentent tous en devoir de prendre sa défense, parfois au prix d’une révision fantaisiste de sa biographie. Les débordements de passion encore récents à propos de cas de pédophilie en Europe (en Belgique et en Angleterre en particulier) seraient-ils cause de cette éclipse silencieuse ? Nous en sommes réduits aux conjectures, mais l’orientation de celles-ci prend nul doute racine dans cette atmosphère. Matthew Sweet, dans son livre intitulé Inventing the Victorians, rapporte que l’artiste Graham Ovenden, suspecté à tort de faire partie d’un réseau de pédophilie, fut conduit à Scotland Yard en 1993 ; pour preuve à charge : sa collection de photos de Lewis Carroll3.

4Qu’il soit pervers ou non, le « cas » Carroll, aux côtés de Nabokov, s’est en effet trouvé pris dans les arcanes des discours contemporains sur la perversion. Le mythe de l’auteur aux tendances pédophiles, dont l’œuvre composait un danger pour les enfants, fut engendré par certains psychanalystes de la première heure, comme le montre Karoline Leach. Ceux-ci détournèrent l’enseignement freudien sur le travail de l’artiste pour ne voir que corruption là où les philosophes, les linguistes, les critiques littéraires et les mathématiciens s’attachaient encore à célébrer le génie de l’œuvre et la modernité de ses intuitions. Ce mythe venait toutefois en opposition à l’image tout aussi erronée du cœur pur, adorateur de l’innocence suggérée par la première biographie de l’auteur, écrite par son neveu et qui tenait de l’hagiographie4. Plaidant la nécessité d’une contextualisation de l’œuvre par rapport à la conception victorienne de l’enfance, les critiques littéraires contemporains ont pour la plupart cherché à innocenter leur favori. Karoline Leach n’échappe pas à cette tentation lorsqu’elle tente de dénoncer la fixation supposée de Carroll sur les petites filles en évoquant des erreurs concernant l’âge de certaines de ses amies-enfants, le maintien de certains liens avec d’anciennes amies après leur mariage. Elle prend appui, elle aussi, sur le contexte victorien pour repousser toute trace d’ambiguïté dans l’intérêt de Carroll pour les petites filles et pense s’attaquer aux deux mythes de l’innocence et du désir déviant, en lui supposant une vie amoureuse finalement banale. Rejetant l’hypothèse (courante mais sans véritable fondement) selon laquelle Lewis Carroll serait tombé amoureux d’Alice et l’aurait demandée en mariage, ce qui lui aurait été refusé par ses parents, Karoline Leach construit son argumentation autour de l’amour caché, car scandaleux, de celui-ci pour la mère d’Alice. Ainsi pense-t-elle pouvoir élucider les zones d’ombre des journaux, l’état dépressif dont Carroll fait part à une certaine période sans en dévoiler de cause, la référence au péché qui hante son esprit (qu’elle rapporte également à la masturbation), ou la censure appliquée à ses écrits personnels par les membres de sa famille. Son interprétation est déduite de la lecture de certains poèmes, d’un déchiffrage éminemment problématique de la correspondance et du journal et de spéculations logiques souvent douteuses (qu’il n’est pas le lieu de développer ici). S’ils ne fournissent pas de quoi nous convaincre, les travaux récents attestent néanmoins d’une volonté d’écarter la suspicion de pathologie sexuelle qui a entouré la biographie de Carroll à la suite des publications référées à la psychanalyse au début du siècle. En dépit de sa tentative de ne pas cautionner le mythe de l’innocence victorienne véhiculé par la biographie de Collingwood, Karoline Leach ne cherche pas moins à restaurer une image de pureté coïncidant avec une norme morale contemporaine, c’est-à-dire celle d’une normalité sexuelle acceptable, impliquant pratique de la masturbation à l’adolescence et désir pour une femme, alors que le célibat et la chasteté de Carroll en étaient venus précisément à attirer les soupçons.

5Certains vont jusqu’à soutenir que le jugement moral relève d’une attitude défensive devant notre propre perversion face à laquelle nous met l’auteur. C’est le cas notamment de James Kincaid5. Ces jugements étayés sur des approches divergentes de la question de la perversion, captives d’un discours moral, ne parviennent pas toutefois à sortir de l’opposition : culpabilité contre innocence. L’œuvre s’y trouve étrangement mêlée. Un récent travail à ce sujet6 me conduisit à saisir comment, du « tous pervers » post-moderne à la condamnation fondée sur une morale étriquée en passant par les plaidoiries de l’innocence, toutes les positions prises à ce sujet font fi du fantasme et de la portée de sublimation et de symptôme de l’œuvre, qui seuls s’avèrent pouvoir nous permettre de tenir une juste position éthique, de traiter du rapport de l’artiste à sa production en dehors de cette dialectique étriquée.

Perversion et sublimation

6Nous conviant à nous détacher d’une interprétation morale de ce terme, Lacan nous invite à une révision de la catégorie clinique de la perversion dont il fait une structure avec pour caractéristique une inversion de l’écriture du fantasme par rapport à la névrose. Jacques-Alain Miller, suivant ses pas, a mis en évidence par ailleurs les coordonnées de la perversion Gidienne qui tiennent en la dissociation de moins et de phi (Lacan écrit moins phi l’objet du désir, voile sur le manque qui le constitue, image attirante qui porte les traces de l’objet perdu cause du désir)7. Dans ce que Jacques-Alain Miller qualifie de forme « non standard » de la perversion8, les deux composantes sont disjointes : d’un côté le phallus mort, l’idéal désincarné, l’amour pour Madeleine (moins) et de l’autre la jouissance, ses relations avec de jeunes garçons (phi), jouissance métonymique, sur le mode de la collection, radicalement disjointe de l’amour. Lacan invite dès lors à repenser le rapport de la perversion à l’éthique et à décoller l’appréhension clinique de la perversion du jugement moral impliqué par l’emploi de ce terme ambigu. Ce qui ne signifie pas bien sûr accepter l’inacceptable.

7Lorsqu’il convoque la perversion à propos de l’éthique, Lacan vise à souligner comment loi morale et jouissance se trouvent inextricablement liées. « La genèse de la loi morale ne s’enracine pas ailleurs que dans le désir lui-même », indique-t-il9, ce qui implique une intrication de la loi morale et de la culpabilité fondamentale du sujet. Sade « complète » Kant, « la philosophie dans le boudoir […] donne la vérité de la Critique10 ». Kant néglige ce qu’avait entrevu Aristote, que le plaisir (et donc l’instinct de mort) agit comme « fonction directrice de l’éthique11 » (la recherche du bonheur), tandis que l’échec de « l’affranchissement matérialiste du désir » tient en ce que « nous ne nous trouvons pas devant un homme moins chargé de devoirs qu’avant la grande expérience critique de la pensée dite libertine12 ». Par cet énoncé, il vise l’échec de Sade.

8Si la loi morale a bien pour envers la perversion, selon Lacan, elles sont comme les deux faces d’une même médaille, l’une s’avérant irrémédiablement liée à l’autre. Aussi nous invite-t-il à nous écarter d’une trop simple opposition entre culpabilité et innocence qui ne saurait servir de fondement à une position éthique (celle-ci implique de prendre en compte la dimension du fantasme et de la jouissance du sujet), encore moins à une appréciation de l’œuvre. Dans son « Hommage rendu à Lewis Carroll », prononcé lors d’une intervention radiophonique en 1966 et récemment publié dans la revue Ornicar ?13, Lacan estimait que la curiosité quant à savoir comment Carroll en était venu à se faire servant des petites filles était vouée à rester sur sa faim, « car la biographie de cet homme qui tint un scrupuleux journal ne nous en échappe pas moins ». Il ajoutait : « L’histoire, certes, est dominante dans le traitement psychanalytique de la vérité, mais ce n’est pas la seule dimension : la structure la domine. On fait de meilleurs critiques littéraires là où on sait cela14. » Critiquant avec virulence Paul Schilder pour son approche psycho-biographique15, il en appelait à une lecture du génie de l’œuvre fondée sur son rapport à la vérité de l’inconscient. Toutefois, si d’une part il indique : « Le penchant de Lewis Carroll pour la petite fille impubère, ce n’est pas là son génie », il ajoute : « Nous autres psychanalystes n’avons pas besoin de nos clients pour savoir où cela échoue à la fin dans un jardin public16. » S’il laisse entendre par là qu’il soupçonne que Carroll relève d’une structure perverse sans s’y étendre, c’est qu’il relève à cet égard que jouissance et loi morale s’avèrent toutes deux participer également de la constitution de l’œuvre : « Lewis Carroll […] était religieux, religieux de la foi la plus naïvement, étroitement paroissiale qui soit, dût ce terme auquel il faut que vous donniez sa couleur la plus crue vous inspirer de la répulsion. [.] Je dis que ceci a sa part dans l’unicité, de l’équilibre que réalise l’œuvre. Cette sorte de bonheur auquel elle atteint, tient à cette gouache, l’adjonction de surcroît à nos deux Lewis Carroll, de ce que nous appellerons du nom dont il est béni à l’oreille d’une histoire, l’histoire encore en cours, un pauvre d’esprit17. » L’homme de foi prend place au côté du poète et du mathématicien pour contribuer à l’équilibre de l’œuvre.

9Lacan note par ailleurs que « la sublimation est l’autre face de l’exploration que Freud fait des racines du sentiment éthique18 ». Il place sur le même plan perversion et « sublimation excessive de l’objet » comme les deux cas que Kant n’envisage pas : « Deux formes de la transgression au-delà des limites normalement désignées au principe de plaisir19. » « Sublimation et perversion [poursuit-il], sont l’une et l’autre un certain rapport du désir qui attire notre attention sur la possibilité de formuler, sous la forme d’un point d’interrogation, un autre critère d’une autre, ou de la même, moralité, en face du principe de réalité20. » La mise en rapport qu’il opère entre perversion et sublimation, comme ce qui fait entrevoir la dimension de la pulsion, mérite qu’on s’y attarde. Il distingue en effet la sublimation de « l’économie de substitution où se satisfait d’habitude la pulsion en tant qu’elle est refoulée21 ». La sublimation s’avère propre à porter l’accent sur la pulsion dans la mesure où celle-ci y est dérivée mais non refoulée. Sans-doute faut- il saisir là ce qui participe au génie de l’œuvre d’art : celle de Carroll nous enseigne incontestablement sur le réel ; elle laisse entrevoir comment le sujet du désir vient en opposition au sujet de la raison, ce que Lacan s’attache également à démontrer dans cette intervention. Son ouverture sur la pulsion aurait-elle contribué à ce que certains préfèrent soutenir qu’il ne fallait rien y voir de tel ou que d’autres la tirent du côté de la perversion ? La dialectique de la culpabilité et de l’innocence contribue en effet à masquer le véritable enjeu, le véritable enseignement de l’œuvre.

10Dès lors, supposer la perversion de Carroll ne s’avère pas non plus nécessaire à l’appréhension de l’œuvre, le travail de la sublimation suffirait à rendre compte de son ouverture au réel de la pulsion. Néanmoins Lacan soulignait que l’attrait de celui-ci pour les petites filles participe de la composition de l’œuvre : « Le penchant de Lewis Carroll pour la petite fille impubère, ce n’est pas là son génie… mais c’est bien de la conjuration des deux positions [ce penchant, celui du “poète”, du “rêveur”, de “l’amoureux si l’on veut” et la position du professeur de mathématiques] d’où jaillit cet objet merveilleux […] son œuvre22. » S’il indiquait que s’attarder sur la prétendue perversion de Carroll risquait de nous faire rater le génie de l’œuvre, il tenait néanmoins ce « penchant » comme constitutif de l’œuvre, aux côtés du savoir du professeur de mathématiques.

11Il nous conduit dès lors à nous interroger malgré tout sur ce que furent les petites filles pour Carroll afin de saisir comment elles informent l’œuvre et le mythe qu’elle supporte. Pour cela, j’ai fait le pari de m’intéresser à ce qu’il dit aux petites filles à travers la correspondance23. Le décalage de ses dires est assez saisissant avec le mythe de l’enfance auquel il s’accroche et qu’il contribue à nourrir.

A travers la correspondance

12En effet, on peut se demander en premier lieu jusqu’à quel point Lewis Carroll n’aurait pas largement participé de la construction du mythe de l’enfance et du culte de l’innocence des victoriens, lui qui devait se défendre des rumeurs qui couraient sur son compte (il ne fut pas toujours lui-même perçu de son vivant comme si innocent que cela, sa correspondance indique qu’il ne l’ignorait pas). Ainsi invoquait-il la pureté de ses intentions (il ne faut pas douter qu’il y croyait lui-même), son admiration pour la pureté formelle de ses jeunes amies qu’il associe à leur parfaite innocence. En atteste une de ses lettres pour solliciter l’autorisation de prendre des clichés d’une petite fille dans le plus simple appareil :

Here I am, an amateur photographer, with a deep sense of admiration for form, especially the human form, and one who believes it to be the most beautiful thing God has made on this earth. […] Now, your Ethel is beautiful both in face and form ; and is also a perfectly simple-minded child of Nature, who would have no sort of objection to serving as model for a friend she knows as well as she does me. So my humble petition is, that you will bring the 3 girls and that you will allow me to try some grouping of Ethel and Janet […] without any drapery or suggestion of it.
I need hardly say that the pictures should be such as you might if you liked frame and hang up in your dining room. On no account would I do a picture which I should be unwilling to show to all the world—or at least the artistic world.
If I did not believe I could take such pictures without any lower motive than a pure love of Art, I would not ask it : and if I thought there was any fear of its lessening their beautiful simplicity of character, I would not ask it24.

13S’il n’y a aucune raison de ne pas croire à sa sincérité, les multiples précautions oratoires laissent entendre qu’il n’ignorait pas que la question n’était pas si simple et que de telles pensées étaient néanmoins présentes à son esprit, ne fut-ce que pour les rejeter. Le mythe de l’innocence vient en outre lui permettre de justifier sa pratique photographique.

14Dans sa correspondance avec ses amies-enfants, en revanche, il se présente volontiers à elles comme un amoureux transi voire délaissé. Il écrit à Agnes Arles : « Where shall you be in the summer ? in the land of foxes, or lilies ? I shall probably have no sleep till I hear, and next to no appetite for dinner, so I hope you’ll tell me as soon as its settled25 », ou à Gertrude Chataway :

My dear Gertrude,
Explain to me how I am to enjoy Sandown without you. How can I walk on the beach alone ? How can I sit all alone on those wooden steps ? So you see, as I shan’t be able to do without you, you will have to come26.

15L’excès hyperbolique dévoile la parodie et vise à provoquer le rire, mais c’est sous couvert des jeux de l’amour, montrés dans leur dimension de semblant, de jeu, qu’il aborde les petites filles. En passer par l’amour, balayé d’un trait d’humour pour indiquer que ce n’est pas de cela qu’il s’agit, ne relève-t-il pas d’un étrange paradoxe ? La relation épistolaire d’ailleurs s’avère propre à convoquer ce registre.

16Comment ne pas être saisi par ailleurs par le fait que ses propos au sujet de ses amies-enfants laissent bien poindre qu’en effet ce n’est pas d’amour qu’il s’agit, mais d’amitié non plus. L’affection y perce peu, il se montre plutôt attiré par des sujets photographiques potentiels :

The next 2 or 3 days were very enjoyable, though very uneventful. I called on Mrs Cameron on Monday, and told her I felt rather tempted to have my camera sent down here—there are so many pretty children about—but that it was too much trouble, and instead, I asked her if she would photograph for me (in focus) the prettiest two, one being a child of Mr Bradley’s, the master of Marlborough, and the other, name unknown, but constantly to be seen about : I described her as well as I could. “Well then,” said Mrs Cameron, “next time you see her, just ask her her name,” and this I half resolved to do27.

17D’ailleurs ne l’intéressent, semble-t-il, que les petites filles qu’il repère et décide de conquérir. Les lettres attestent d’une certaine distance avec celles qui vinrent à lui d’elles-mêmes, attirées par l’auteur d’Alice. La distance qu’il marqua avec ses amies quand elles grandirent indique, en outre, que la relation qu’il entamait était plus avec ce que l’enfant représentait pour lui, une petite fille, qu’avec un sujet pour laquelle il aurait développé une affection particulière.

18La gêne se fait sentir dans l’attitude des enfants elle-même, auxquelles il reproche occasionnellement une certaine froideur à son égard, un certain éloignement. Il écrit à Agnes Hull :

My Darling Aggie,
(Oh yes, I know quite well what you’re saying—“why can’t the man take a hint ?. He might have seen that the beginning of my last letter was meant to show that my affection was cooling down !” Why, of course I saw it ! But that is no reason why mine should cool down, to match ? I put it to you as a reasonable young person—one who, from always arguing with Alice for an hour before getting up, has had good practise in Logic—haven’t I a right to be affectionate if I like ? Surely, just as much as you have a right to be as unaffectionate as you like. And of course you mustn’t think of writing a bit more than you feel : no, no, truth before all things !). (Cheers. Ten minutes allowed for refreshment)28.

19En collectionneur presque, il multiplie les amitiés, mais il ne veut rencontrer les petites filles qu’une par une. « I like my child friends best one by one », écrit- il à Beatrice Earle29. L’âge venant, il s’avère occupé à former de nouvelles amitiés, supportant mal que celles-ci viennent à manquer. La rencontre d’une enfant en particulier compte moins que le fait d’avoir une amie-enfant. Il écrit à Edith Rix : « […] I got rather tired of having no child-friend : so made acquaintance with a child, of about 12 years old, who lodges a few doors off30. » La froideur de ses lettres ultérieures à Alice, au sujet de ses publications, indique que rien de l’affection d’antan n’a subsisté pour la femme qu’elle est devenue. Elle fut réservée à l’enfant en tant que telle (il est bien connu qu’il se désintéressait de ses amies quand elles grandissaient, cette particularité si constante ne saurait être attribuée au seul fait d’une nouvelle pudeur ou d’un changement de caractère de celles-ci).

20Étrange assertion enfin que celle-ci dans laquelle il témoigne de son aversion pour le sexe des garçons et de son admiration pour le corps dénudé des petites filles, lorsqu’il évoque pour Gertrude Thomson ses illustrations pour Sylvie et Bruno : « I had much rather have all the fairies girls, if you wouldn’t mind. For I confess I do not admire naked boys in pictures. They always seem to me to need clothes : whereas one hardly sees why the lovely forms of girls should ever be covered up31 ! » Pour le formuler en termes cliniques, les petites filles se situent entre phallus (dans sa fonction de voile sur le manque attaché à l’image idéalisée, alors que le sexe masculin est plus propre à évoquer la castration) et objet dont il tire jouissance de les collectionner et de les regarder. Elles ont presque la valeur d’un fétiche. Lacan soulignait dans son séminaire « D’un autre à l’Autre » : « La petite fille est l’objet de désir du voyeur, c’est très précisément ce qu’il peut s’y voir qu’à ce qu’elle le supporte, de l’insaisissable même, d’une ligne où il manque, c’est-à- dire le phallus32. »

L’objet du mythe

21Lacan soulignait par ailleurs la valeur phallique de la petite fille et son rapport avec l’objet dans son séminaire « L’objet de la psychanalyse », contemporain de son intervention à France Culture, dans lequel il indique : « Seule la psychanalyse éclaire la portée d’objet absolu que peut prendre la petite fille, c’est parce qu’elle incarne une entité négative, qui porte un nom que je n’ai pas à prononcer ici, si je ne veux pas embarquer mes auditeurs dans les confusions ordinaires. De la petite fille, Lewis Carroll s’est fait le servant, elle est l’objet qu’il dessine, elle est l’oreille qu’il veut atteindre, elle est celle à qui il s’adresse véritablement entre nous tous33. » Dans « L’objet de la psychanalyse », il compare à Alice l’infante du tableau de Vélasquez, Les Ménines, dont il indique qu’elle est le signe qui vient à la place de l’objet chu, du regard du peintre34.

22Là où Lacan constate que l’Alice du conte a pour valeur moins phi, les petites filles s’avèrent plutôt avoir eu pour valeur phi (coupé du moins) à travers la correspondance de Carroll. Son rapport à celles-ci semble construit sur une coupure entre amour et jouissance sur le mode de la perversion Gidienne.

23Postulons que l’écriture de l’œuvre contribua pour l’écrivain à nouer le phi et le moins par une prise du désir et de la jouissance à l’idéal (l’enfant y devient, grâce aux illustrations de Tenniel notamment, prise dans un discours, une idéologie conforme aux idéaux victoriens, la valeur de fétiche est enrobée d’un discours esthétique). L’Alice du récit en outre est devenue un nom, la petite fille du texte noue la jouissance au signifiant, de fétiche, elle devient moins phi, phallus imaginaire « qui n’est rien d’autre que ce point de manque qu’il indique dans le sujet35 ». Le texte porte dès lors une trace de la subversion de ces idéaux par le savoir sur la pulsion et l’inconscient qu’il dévoile. Nous ferons l’hypothèse que le rapport spécifique de la petite fille à la jouissance pour Carroll contribua à ce que la figure d’Alice s’avère particulièrement propre à supporter l’ouverture du texte sur le réel. « Seule la psychanalyse éclaire la portée d’objet absolu que peut prendre la petite fille », indique Lacan dans son « Hommage rendu à Lewis Carroll » (soit ici moins phi). Il faut entendre qu’il pointe les affinités de la figure d’Alice avec la jouissance. Il conclut : « Pour un psychanalyste, elle est, cette œuvre, un lieu élu à démontrer la véritable nature de la sublimation dans l’œuvre d’art36 », qu’il comprend comme la prise de l’objet cause du désir à la lettre.

24« Le mi-dire est la loi interne de toute espèce d’énonciation de la vérité, et ce qui l’incarne le mieux, c’est le mythe37 », indique Lacan. « Épave du discours de la science, le propre du mythe est de toucher à la vérité qui est sœur de jouissance », indique-t-il dans le même séminaire38. Le mythe est une écriture qui ouvre à l’inconscient, au réel de la pulsion hors signifiant.

25Dans son « Hommage à Lewis Carroll », Lacan indique comment les affinités de l’œuvre avec les mathématiques contribuent à faire émerger une intuition du réel, direction que mon propre travail ne peut que me porter à suivre. Il insiste néanmoins sur la place qu’occupe dans cette construction la figure de la petite fille dans sa « portée d’objet absolu ». Nous tiendrons qu’au-delà des mythes entendus au sens de construction idéologiques qu’elle a contribué à produire, Alice, personnage ancré dans ce que furent les petites filles pour Carroll, contribue à la dimension proprement mythique de l’œuvre au sens fort, telle que la dégage Lacan. Nous conclurons avec lui : « Il y a bien, comme on nous le dit, Lewis Carroll, le rêveur, le poète, l’amoureux si l’on veut, et Lewis Carroll le logicien, le professeur de mathématiques. Lewis Carroll est bien divisé, si cela vous chante, mais les deux sont nécessaires à la réalisation de l’œuvre39. »

Notes

1 Roland Barthes, Mythologies, Paris, Seuil, 1957.

2 Karoline Leach, In the Shadow of the Dreamchild : A New Understanding of Lewis Carroll, Londres, Peter Owens, 1999.

3 Matthew Sweet, Inventing the Victorians, Londres, Faber and Faber, 2001, p. 166.

4 Stuart Dodgson Collingwood, The Life and Letters of Lewis Carroll, Londres, Fisher Unwin, 1908.

5 James Kinkaid, Child-Loving, The Erotic Child and Victorian Culture, Routledge, 1992.

6 Sophie Marret, « Lewis Carroll : entre culpabilité et innocence », Bulletin du groupe petite enfance, n° 18, Paris, Agalma, octobre 2002.

7 Jacques-Alain Miller, « Sur le Gide de Lacan », Critique de la sublimation, La Cause Freudienne, n° 25.

8 Ibidem, p. 14.

9 Jacques Lacan, L’éthique de la psychanalyse, Le séminaire, livre VII, 1959-1960, texte établi par Jacques-Alain Miller, Paris, Seuil, 1986, p. 11.

10 Jacques Lacan, « Kant avec Sade », Écrits, Paris, Seuil, 1966, p. 766.

11 Jacques Lacan, Léthique de la psychanalyse, p. 36.

12 Ibidem, p. 12.

13 Jacques Lacan, « Hommage rendu à Lewis Carroll », texte prononcé le 31 décembre 1966 sur France Culture, sous le titre « Commentaire d’un psychanalyste ». Transcription de Marlène Bélilos à partir de la bande sonore. Texte établi par Jacques-Alain Miller in Ornicar ?, n° 50, revue du Champ Freudien, diffusion Navarin-Seuil, 2002.

14 Ibidem, p. 9.

15 Paul Schilder, « Psychoanalytical Remarks on Alice in Wonderland and Lewis Carroll », The journal of nervous and mental diseases, LXXXVII, 1938.

16 Jacques Lacan, « Hommage rendu à Lewis Carroll », p. 11.

17 Ibidem, p. 11-12.

18 Jacques Lacan, L’éthique de la psychanalyse, p. 105.

19 Ibidem, p. 131.

20 Ibid.

21 Ibid., p. 132.

22 Jacques Lacan, « Hommage rendu à Lewis Carroll », p. 11.

23 The Letters ofLewis Carroll, edited by Morton N. Cohen, Oxford University Press, 1979.

24 Ibidem, vol. 1, p. 338.

25 Ibid., vol. 1, p. 129.

26 Ibid., vol. 1, p. 254.

27 Ibid., vol. 1, p. 66-67.

28 Ibid., vol. 1, p. 421.

29 Ibid., vol. 1, p. 528.

30 Ibid., vol. 2, p. 715.

31 Ibid., vol. 2, p. 947.

32 Jacques Lacan, « D’un autre à l’Autre », séminaire inédit, cours du 26 mars 1969.

33 Jacques Lacan, « Hommage rendu à Lewis Carroll », p. 9.

34 Jacques Lacan, « L’objet de la psychanalyse », séminaire inédit, conférence du 15 décembre 1965, p. 19.

35 Jacques Lacan, « La science et la vérité », Écrits, Paris, Seuil, 1966, p. 877.

36 Jacques Lacan, « Hommage rendu à Lewis Carroll », p. 12.

37 Jacques Lacan, L’envers de la psychanalyse (1969-1970), texte établi par Jacques-Alain Miller, Paris, Seuil, 1991, p. 127.

38 Ibidem, p. 76.

39 Jacques Lacan, « Hommage rendu à Lewis Carroll », p. 11.

Voir aussi:

Lewis Carroll et les psychobiographes : la fondation du mythe ou l’enfance réifiée

Pascale Renaud-Grosbras

1Nous savons que toute biographie est une construction. Mais certaines ont des traits si spécifiques qu’elles prennent une apparence particulière, à tel point qu’elles semblent devoir remplir une fonction : il s’agit des psychobiographies. C’est l’hypothèse de travail qui sera développée ici.

2La toute première biographie de Lewis Carroll fut publiée en 1898 par Stuart Dodgson Collingwood, son neveu1. Il travaillait à partir des témoignages de la famille et des papiers laissés par son oncle, dont son Journal, et de quelques vagues souvenirs personnels. Cette biographie est typique du genre biographique souvent hagiographique de l’époque victorienne, du style « Life and Letters ». Collingwood avait entrepris de donner une image lisse de son oncle. Rappelons qu’il fut le dernier biographe à voir le Journal dans sa version intégrale, puisque plusieurs volumes disparaîtront ensuite et qu’une version lourdement expurgée sera tout ce que les biographes pourront consulter par la suite2. En choisissant de placer en fin de volume une sélection de lettres d’amies-enfants (sans jamais, d’ailleurs, préciser l’âge de ces amies dont certaines n’étaient pas exactement des enfants), il commençait à orienter la lecture de la vie et des œuvres de Carroll. On croirait à le lire que son oncle n’a jamais quitté le refuge d’Oxford et a passé son temps à faire connaissance avec des petites filles et correspondre avec elles. Le seul moment où il approche de l’admission que son oncle ait pu être intéressé par les questions qui intéressaient ses contemporains, c’est pour les mettre de côté comme rebutantes pour les lecteurs de Sylvie et Bruno :

As things are, there are probably hundreds of readers who have been scared by the religious arguments and political discussions which make up a large part of it, and who have never discovered that Sylvie is just as entrancing a personage as Alice when you get to know her3.

3Il est vrai que le roman n’avait connu qu’un succès très limité, pour ne pas dire un échec, à sa parution. Mais Collingwood expédie ainsi les questions religieuses et politiques traitées par son oncle avec un sérieux auquel il tenait énormément, comme en témoignent les deux préfaces à Sylvie et Bruno, en se contentant de dire que c’est dommage car elles empêchent de faire la connaissance du personnage de la petite fille. Voilà déjà l’enfance au cœur de la biographie carrol- lienne, et nous verrons qu’elle y restera. Je n’ai pas l’intention de faire ici une étude détaillée des biographies de Carroll, quoique ce serait certainement une étude fascinante. Je me contenterai de donner quelques repères dans l’évolution de l’écriture biographique à propos de Carroll.

4Une étape que je trouve particulièrement importante est le texte de Virginia Woolf à l’occasion de la publication des œuvres complètes par Nonesuch Press en 19394. Elle y développe la vision d’un homme si effacé qu’il en est presque inexistant, la vision aussi d’une vie à la fois poétique et mystique, mystérieuse et transcendante, idéale et stérile :

But the Reverend C.L. Dodgson had no life. He passed through the world so lightly that he left no print. He melted so passively into Oxford that he is invisible. He accepted every convention ; he was prudish, pernickety, pious, and jocose. If Oxford dons in the nineteenth century had an essence, he was that essence. He was so good that his sisters worshiped him ; so pure that his nephew has nothing to say about him5.

5La notion d’enfance prend ici une dimension poétique qui, appliquée à la biographie, aboutit à des conclusions séduisantes car elles sont succinctes et de l’ordre d’un mythe ; elles répondent en effet au désir du retour à l’âge d’une fraîcheur enfantine supposée :

Childhood normally fades slowly. […] But it was not so with Lewis Carroll. For some reason, we know not what, his childhood was sharply severed. It lodged in him whole and entire. He could not disperse it. And therefore as he grew older this impediment in the center of his being, this hard block of pure childhood, starved the mature man of nourishment. He slipped through the grown-up world like a shadow, solidifying only on the beach at Eastbourne, with little girls whose frocks he pinned up with safety pins. But since childhood remained in him entire, he could do what no one else has ever been able to do—he could return to that world ; he could re-create it, so that we too become children again6.

6La magie, l’innocence, l’immatérialité de l’enfance sont au cœur de cette lecture de Carroll par Virginia Woolf. Le thème de l’enfance détruite par quelque événement grave est au fondement de certaines approches psychanalytiques, aussi nous est-il familier ; mais pour elle, il ne s’agit pas de mettre en place une étude de cas, mais de donner à la lecture des œuvres une fraîcheur et une dimension poétique portées par une forme de transcendance mystérieuse. De fait, la biographie n’intéresse pas Virginia Woolf et peu lui importe la véracité de ses analyses. Le problème fut que cette lecture poétique s’est « incrustée » dans la doxa carrollienne. Collingwood avait utilisé le motif de l’enfance pour donner de son oncle une image pure et détourner tout intérêt de ses activités adultes ; j’entends par là sa réflexion théologique et son amitié pour les progressistes Maurice et MacDonald, par exemple, qui dans une famille aussi ancrée dans les valeurs anglicanes que la famille Dodgson ne pouvaient qu’être suspectes. Virginia Woolf, elle, fait de l’enfance un principe explicatif de l’œuvre ainsi que de la vie de Carroll, en lui conservant encore le mystère poétique du concept de l’enfant innocent. Dès lors, les biographes successifs vont s’emparer du concept de l’enfance pour l’intégrer à leur façon dans leur lecture de la vie de Carroll, et bien souvent aussi, de ses œuvres.

7L’enfance, à cette époque de l’écriture biographique consacrée à Carroll, est considérée comme la limitation d’un monde à un imaginaire enfantin et le refus d’un monde adulte. Cette lecture a perduré longtemps, notamment chez Jean Gattégno, en France, qui dans sa thèse de 1966 publiée en 1970 développe l’hypothèse selon laquelle « c’est le refus du monde réel qui forme l’ossature du projet carrollien » ; ce refus est un repli dans un monde de l’enfance sclérosé et fermé aux influences du monde extérieur7. Il considère que Carroll, même s’il se désolait, par exemple, de certaines injustices sociales, était incapable de quitter l’abri que représentait Oxford pour se lancer dans l’action collective, incapable aussi d’écrire autrement que dans le cadre strict du nonsense. Dans son livre de 1974, il avoue que l’écriture biographique semble impossible face à un homme comme Carroll, et se résout à renoncer à rechercher une unité8.

L’avènement de la psychobiographie

8Ce qui imprime définitivement le thème de l’enfance et toute la complexité y afférente dans l’image de Carroll, c’est l’avènement d’un genre particulier de biographie, qu’on peut appeler la « psychobiographie ».

9Vers le début du xxe siècle, il semble que le genre biographique ait perdu sa portée didactique et hagiographique pour permettre à l’auteur d’explorer ce qui devient un « sujet » : non plus sujet au sens de personne, mais sujet au sens de sujet d’étude. Le sujet de la biographie était jusqu’alors un personnage à respecter, un personnage littéraire central à la tentative littéraire qu’est une biographie, devant lequel s’effaçait en apparence tout point de vue idéologique. Je dis « en apparence » car il est certain que ce point de vue existait, sans être nécessairement revendiqué ni même conscient chez le biographe. Je pense ici particulièrement à Mrs Gaskell, qui s’efforce de faire de Charlotte Brontë une sainte domestique dont le sens du devoir domina toute la vie, et qui pour ce faire n’hésite pas, en toute bonne conscience, à manipuler la chronologie, à censurer délibérément certains événements de la vie de son héroïne (il s’agit ici clairement d’une héroïne), voire à passer sous silence une analyse proprement littéraire des œuvres de l’auteur qu’elle aborde9. Le point de vue idéologique de Mrs Gaskell est évident à un lecteur d’aujourd’hui : elle ne pouvait admettre qu’une femme consacre exclusivement sa vie à autre chose que l’idéal petit bourgeois de la famille et du devoir, y compris le devoir religieux. Elle avait aussi entrepris de la défendre contre les accusations de « grossièreté » qui avaient été formulées après la parution de Jane Eyre, et surtout après la révélation que l’auteur de ce roman était une femme. Elle renvoya donc à l’environnement de Charlotte Brontë, plutôt qu’à la conscience de l’auteur, tout ce qui lui semblait justifier cette accusation, égratignant au passage des personnes encore en vie, qui furent évidemment furieuses de se voir portraiturer ainsi10. Mrs Gaskell, en cherchant à défendre son héroïne qu’elle trouvait elle-même indéfendable, était de fait dans une position paradoxale, qui fait de sa biographie un monument littéraire, un modèle du genre biographique – vers lequel il est pourtant impossible de se tourner sans arrière-pensée si l’on cherche à « connaître » la vie de Charlotte Brontë, pour autant que cela soit possible. La bonne conscience de Mrs Gaskell lui permit d’écrire son livre, sinon d’en assumer totalement les conséquences : elle se hâta en effet de partir en vacances sur le continent à la parution du livre pour échapper aux poursuites judiciaires auxquelles elle s’attendait. Cette bonne conscience repose entièrement sur le but didactique de ce qui est finalement une hagiographie. Il s’agit d’enseigner au public le sens du devoir, incarné dans un personnage. Elle le fit ailleurs, comme romancière, mais ici elle n’a aucune hésitation à « utiliser » un personnage réel, et dans les deux cas, en tant que romancière ou en tant que biographe, elle s’efface derrière ses personnages qui portent, ou représentent, l’idéal qu’elle entend exposer au public. J’ai pris cet exemple car il me semble particulièrement représentatif du genre biographique anglais au xixe siècle, où la biographie a un but didactique, lequel but peut difficilement pousser vers autre chose qu’une hagiographie. On est du côté de la défense : défense du sujet de l’étude et défense d’un point de vue idéologique plus ou moins assumé.

10Les biographes qui suivirent immédiatement Mrs Gaskell se montrèrent très possessifs et protecteurs envers Charlotte Brontë, refusant de prendre la mesure de la signification des lettres à M. Heger publiées dans le Times en 1913, une mesure qu’ils jugèrent vulgaire et blessante envers la mémoire de leur héroïne. Mais en 1920, une certaine Lucile Dooley publia une étude de Charlotte Brontë pour un journal de psychologie américain, où elle étudiait la personnalité de Charlotte à la lumière du concept de la névrose, introduisant le complexe d’Electre, ou la fixation au père, pour expliquer la genèse du génie de l’auteur. Le génie est donc étroitement lié à une pathologie et l’acte d’écrire est considéré comme une soupape de sécurité destinée à l’empêcher de sombrer dans la folie, plutôt que comme une tentative artistique proprement dite. Curieusement, Lucile Dooley, tout en posant comme hypothèse que Charlotte Brontë était inconsciente des raisons profondes qui la faisait écrire et inconsciente de son art, pose comme hypothèse corollaire qu’elle a su exposer au monde les rouages de la psyché dans ce qui est finalement « une grande contribution à la psychologie ». D’autres biographes suivirent, qui clamèrent que Charlotte était restée bloquée éternellement au stade de la psychose enfantine, qui l’empêchait de vivre parmi ses semblables. Chacun d’entre eux affirme tour à tour être parvenu au « noyau dur de la personnalité » de leur sujet. Un d’entre eux ne peut s’empêcher de noter que Charlotte a disparu à trente-huit ans, l’âge auquel sa mère est morte. Le fatalisme de ces études est frappant. Toute action, qu’elle soit créative ou quotidienne, est passée par le filtre de la pathologie. Il est vrai que la biographie de Mrs Gaskell présentait déjà tous les éléments nécessaires à une telle débauche interprétative, et qu’aucun de ces biographes n’a pris la peine de vérifier certains faits que Mrs. Gaskell tenait de commérages ou avait purement et simplement inventés. Mais l’idée que la clé ultime de l’analyse est à portée de main suffit à déclencher une véritable avalanche de nouvelles biographies11.

11Vers le début du xxe siècle donc, en matière de biographie, il y a de moins en moins un souci d’édification et de plus en plus un souci d’ordre scientifique. Ce terme est douteux, certes, dans un contexte littéraire, mais il me semble important néanmoins. Le but de la biographie, en effet, devient la recherche, selon une méthode explicite, des preuves justifiant d’une hypothèse posée par l’auteur de la biographie au cours de sa recherche précédant l’écriture proprement dite. La forme de la biographie évolue : du genre « Life and Letters », on passe à un travail de remaniement des données biographiques connues en ayant recours à des théories appartenant à l’histoire de la pensée contemporaine. C’est sur ce dernier point surtout qu’il me semble important de se pencher, car l’avènement de la psychobiographie s’appuie entièrement sur l’importance grandissante de la psychanalyse, considérée non plus comme méthode thérapeutique, mais comme système explicatif. Il est vrai que Freud lui-même avait ouvert la voie, avec ses études sur Léonard de Vinci ou Dostoïevski. Il s’indignait de ce que la biographie passe sous silence le « refoulé » de la sexualité, qu’il considérait au moins aussi important que les événements proprement dits et qu’il cherchait dans la production créatrice de ces artistes. Il s’indignait surtout de la « pruderie » des biographes traditionnels. Mais en 1928, dans son texte sur Dostoïevski et le parricide, il admet que « malheureusement, l’analyse ne peut que déposer les armes devant le problème du créateur littéraire12 ».

12Une brèche était toutefois ouverte, où les biographes de Carroll se sont engouffrés. Il s’agissait de s’intéresser à la part secrète de la vie de l’auteur, non plus en tant qu’auteur, ni en tant que personnage, mais en tant que sujet porteur d’un inconscient potentiellement accessible pour peu que l’on s’appuie sur une lecture minutieuse de ses œuvres et une relecture tout aussi minutieuse de ce qui était connu de sa vie. En ce qui concerne Carroll, dans ce genre de biographies, l’écriture devient symptôme, plutôt qu’œuvre d’art. Le geste créatif est inconscient plutôt que conscient. La notion selon laquelle ses livres sont sortis tout écrits des limbes de son inconscient ou d’un pré-conscient commence à apparaître. Et chez Carroll, cela prend une dimension particulière, puisqu’il est traditionnellement vu comme auteur pour enfant : ce quelque chose de secret qu’il exprime dans ses écrits, ça doit avoir un rapport avec l’enfance. On cherche donc à accumuler, à partir de la masse de données héritées des biographies antérieures, des indices en forme de symptômes que l’écriture critique formera en syndromes : en d’autres termes, écrire une psychobiographie, c’est faire une étude de cas et dégager des syndromes à partir des symptômes tirés de ce qui est connu de la vie. Or, il est rare que ces auteurs aillent chercher ailleurs que dans les biographies précédentes les données dont ils se servent. On ne trouve que très rarement des tentatives pour interroger ceux qui ont connu leur sujet d’étude, et plus le temps passe, plus cette possibilité s’éteint. Les biographies successives s’écrivent donc peu à peu à partir des biographies précédentes, cherchant toujours plus le « secret », le « refoulé », que les auteurs précédents n’auraient pas vu. C’est alors que la séparation établie par Carroll entre sa personnalité d’auteur comme Lewis Carroll et sa personnalité en tant que Charles Lutwidge Dodgson a pris un sens particulier. Je crois qu’aucun de ces auteurs ne s’est arrêté sur le fait qu’en renversant son prénom et le nom de sa mère, Charles et Lutwidge, en les latinisant puis en les transcrivant en anglais, il a, littéralement, « coupé le nom du père » (Dodgson). Cela ne me semble pas anodin, et pas simplement pour des raisons psychologiques. En effet, en tant que fils aîné d’une grande famille de filles appelé à prendre la place de son père à la tête de la famille, il était destiné à suivre les traces de celui-ci, ce qu’il a commencé à faire en entrant à Oxford. Mais il a ensuite refusé de rentrer dans les ordres, et a acquis sa notoriété en devenant écrivain. Ce n’était pas là le comportement qui était attendu de lui. Sa famille, anglicane et traditionaliste si lui-même ne l’était pas, était néanmoins à sa charge. Il me semble que cette raison de prendre un nom de plume, et celui-là en particulier, méritait d’être explorée avant de se lancer dans ce que je considère être une hypothèse délirante, celle de la séparation pathologique de sa personnalité en deux identités distinctes. Quant à l’idée selon laquelle deux parties différentes de son cerveau prenaient le dessus tour à tour selon son activité du moment, je vois mal comment elle pourrait être défendue sérieusement. Hypocrisie peut-être, méfiance sans doute, mais pathologie je ne crois pas – ou alors il faudrait arriver à cette hypothèse en dernière analyse. Mais l’œuvre de Carroll abonde en symboles, en rêves et en jeux de mots. Là aussi, c’est pain béni pour le psychobiographe. Interpréter un symbole, c’est ainsi que la connaissance populaire de la psychanalyse voit sa pratique – symboles sexuels en premier lieu, et là aussi il est évident que Carroll fut un sujet particulièrement bien choisi par ces auteurs. L’image évolue peu à peu pour arriver chez certains à celle d’une personnalité anormale : on a vu que pour Gattégno, l’hypothèse est le refus du monde réel. Chez plusieurs autres auteurs revient le motif de la fixation à l’enfance. Dans l’esprit du public, la pédophilie est largement présente.

13Ce qui pose réellement problème, c’est la place grandissante de la psychopathologie de la création artistique : le génie et la névrose sont mis en étroite connexion. Mais interpréter des œuvres littéraires comme la production brute d’un inconscient, c’est nier le travail d’élaboration (d’ordre créatif) de l’auteur, et surtout, en tout état de cause, la relation de sa production littéraire à la littérature et à la culture. On déhistoricise ainsi une œuvre. On oblitère aussi tout un pan de l’analyse critique, tout ce qui tient à la volonté consciente et créatrice, au projet d’écriture. Florence Becker Lennon, par exemple, nie la portée de cette dimension du travail littéraire lorsqu’elle estime, dans sa biographie de 1945, que dans sa dernière œuvre littéraire, Sylvie et Bruno, Carroll a perdu son génie créatif en acquérant une plus grande conscience de sa propre philosophie :

Carroll’s philosophy became steadily more conscious and more concentrated, from Wonderland to Looking-Glass, from Looking-Glass to Sylvie and Bruno, with is moralistic detours. But, as his philosophy became more conscious, it also grew more concentrated, drier, and less nutritious13.

14C’est Florence Becker Lennon encore, dans son introduction à sa biographie, qui a cette métaphore extraordinaire sur le genre biographique, la métaphore d’un oignon qu’on pèle sans jamais arriver au cœur. On a beau décortiquer, il restera toujours quelque chose, un autre secret à découvrir dans un processus sans fin :

All the great abstractions—Genius, Love, Religion—like Peer Gynt, resemble an onion. But their onions, unlike Peer Gynt, are infinite. At least, no one has yet succeeded in defoliating any of them till all the leaves were in one hand and nothing in the other. Each one is made up of known and common qualities—plus X. And no matter how many leaves we succeed in pulling off—perhaps no single individual has pulled more than one—bulb X in the other hand never looks any smaller14.

15En 1955, Phyllis Greenacre publie une étude psychanalytique des œuvres de Swift et de Carroll15. Elle fait remonter la névrose de Carroll à l’enfance de Charles Dodgson, né de parents cousins germains, dans une famille nombreuse où les rivalités n’étaient sans doute pas exprimées à cause de l’exemple parental de vertu chré- tienne. En tant que Lewis Carroll, l’homme aurait voulu retrouver l’état de déraison propre à la période pré-verbale de la petite enfance, qu’il tenta d’éloigner dans sa vie quotidienne par ses habitudes strictes et son refoulement des émotions, mais qui affleure dans ses œuvres de nonsense. Élevé avec des petites filles, il n’aurait pas réussi à résoudre le fantasme de sa propre identité, et un attachement œdipien non résolu l’aurait poussé à s’identifier à sa mère. Dans le roman Sylvie et Bruno, Phyllis Greenacre estime que le jardinier est une image dégradée du père, qui ouvre la porte aux enfants afin qu’ils rejoignent une image idéalisée du père, capable d’enseigner l’amour universel mais pas l’amour individuel. Elle voit dans les scènes de rêve, en particulier la chanson du jardinier, une représentation onirique typique d’une scène d’excitation sexuelle. Voir dans ces passages la mise en scène d’une représentation de la scène primitive impossible à assimiler interdit de s’interroger sur la portée stylistique du poème, et sur son importance dans la construction structurelle du roman. Selon Phyllis Greenacre, tout cet aspect effrayant de la vie sexuelle adulte, l’auteur l’aura toujours repoussé, ce qui culmina dans Sylvie and Bruno où l’amour n’est qu’amour fraternel, amour universel, bref, amour désexualisé. Mais là encore cela pose un problème, puisque cette interprétation ne permet pas de s’interroger sur la portée philosophique et proprement théologique de la notion d’amour pour Carroll.

16Dans ces tentatives biographiques, le biographe est un porteur de compétence critique : loin de s’effacer devant son sujet, au moins en apparence, le point de vue du biographe s’expose, se revendique, avec plus ou moins de prudence. Le sujet de la biographie n’est plus un héros mais un sujet d’étude, en toute bonne conscience car le but est d’ordre scientifique. Il ne s’agit plus de montrer une vie qui puisse être un modèle pour le public, mais de découvrir les éléments cachés d’une personnalité, dont les œuvres servent de support à la lecture de symptômes. Plus grave, ces approches ne se limitent pas à trouver de l’anormalité chez l’homme, mais à englober aussi, voire surtout, ses œuvres littéraires. Que n’a-t-on pas écrit sur Sylvie et Bruno ? Pour ceux qui ne l’ont jamais lu mais connaissent la littérature consacrée à Carroll, le roman est un indigeste fouillis d’où le nonsense est absent, et où un petit garçon parle de façon terriblement agaçante. Mais en premier lieu, le reproche principal fait au livre est que Carroll a perdu sa capacité à approcher l’enfance et à la restituer. Roger Lancelyn Green, par exemple, considère que pour les deux volumes consacrés à Alice, Dodgson équilibrait parfaitement son âme d’enfant retrouvée et l’adresse et le jugement logique de l’adulte intelligent16. Mais quand il a écrit Sylvie et Bruno, dit-il, l’équilibre était rompu et il utilisait les paroles et les fantasmes de ses amies-enfants, sans les faire passer par le filtre de la maturité. C’est la perte de l’accès à l’enfance et le règne absolu de l’adulte qui signerait donc l’échec du roman. On ne peut plus parler ici d’anormalité psychique : on entre dans le domaine de la critique littéraire la plus abusive. On ne cherche plus seulement le secret, mais l’échec, un échec dû à des raisons psychologiques. L’auteur, pour les psychobiographes, est écrivant plutôt qu’écrivain. Pourquoi pas ? Mais dans ce cas, le genre trouve sa clôture dans le fait même qu’il prend pour sujets premiers des artistes, des écrivains. Personne ici ne peut sérieusement remettre en question le fait que Carroll est écrivain – sinon ce colloque n’aurait jamais eu lieu.

17Pourquoi, précisément, les psychobiographies posent-elles un problème du point de vue de la critique littéraire ? D’une part, les psychobiographies fonctionnent sur le principe de la recherche du secret, le « sale petit secret qui nourrit la manie d’interpréter », pour citer Gilles Deleuze17. Au principe de ce secret, on trouve presque toujours l’enfance. Car le noyau dur au centre de toute recherche d’ordre psychobiographique, c’est l’origine, la genèse du « sale petit secret ». Or l’origine, c’est forcément l’enfance. Ce faisant, l’écriture biographique détache le sujet des influences sociales, culturelles et littéraires qui ont formé son art. De plus, en posant tout acte créateur sur la fondation unique d’un inconscient préadulte, on met en place le concept d’un génie miraculeux et forcément naïf. Là encore se pose le problème du statut de l’écrivain. La psychanalyse, telle, du moins, qu’elle est comprise par les psychobiographes, pose clairement un problème théorique au sein du carrollisme. Elle a permis le passage radical d’une croyance en l’inconnaissable et l’indicible en ce qui concernait la personne humaine, avec le respect absolu de sa mémoire, à une recherche minutieuse des secrets réels ou supposés : il s’agit du désir de croire qu’il devient possible d’avoir accès à l’inconscient, et donc de connaître le tout de l’auteur. Sous couvert d’iconoclastie (c’est-à-dire casser une image figée pour aller voir derrière), les psychobiographes, s’ils se donnent accès à des aspects d’une personnalité restée jusque-là inexplorée, réduisent leur lecture par une orientation unique de leur interprétation. L’iconoclastie, en matière de biographie, a un intérêt qui marque aussi sa limite. D’autre part, considérer l’auteur d’abord comme un personnage dont il faut percer les secrets biographiques, c’est occulter certains aspects de son œuvre, qu’on s’empêche de voir autrement que par le prisme des éléments biographiques déjà exhumés. S’interroger sur la question de l’enfance chez Carroll, c’est souvent ignorer que cette question a, pour lui, une dimension philosophique importante. Comme Jean-Jacques Lecercle l’a noté, l’enfant pour les victoriens est à la fois emblème de la pureté, de l’innocence absolue, et un être humain déjà porteur du péché originel qu’il faut éduquer et redresser18. Mais pour Carroll, l’enfant est aussi celui qui connaît l’amour, et à qui il importe de donner une vision de plus en plus large de cet amour, de le guider dans sa connaissance intuitive de l’amour divin. Non perverti par les doctrines, il est celui qui aide l’adulte à comprendre l’importance de l’amour divin, mais limité par son expérience, il est celui qu’il faut aider à acquérir le sens des devoirs envers Dieu et les hommes. Ceci prend son sens si on s’autorise à lire Sylvie et Bruno, par exemple, non pas comme un échec littéraire, mais comme l’expression d’une philosophie personnelle très aboutie, construite à partir de fréquentations et de lectures dont on a longtemps ignoré l’importance, fascinés comme l’étaient les psychobiographes par la recherche de l’anormalité du discours relatif à l’amour et l’interrogation sur les motifs possibles de cette anormalité. Certes, la question de l’enfance est importante – pas parce qu’elle se réfère à l’enfance de Carroll, ni à son amour de l’enfance, mais parce que cette question est centrale dans sa philosophie.

Les fonctions : l’auteur, l’enfance

18Il me semble que les psychobiographies mettent en regard deux formes mythiques, deux fonctions, celle de l’enfance et celle de l’auteur. On a déjà vu quelques-unes des catégories que porte la figure mythique de l’enfance : le miracle, l’innocence, la naïveté, le refus d’un monde adulte incompréhensible. La liste est sans doute longue ; d’ailleurs, si la notion d’enfance est mythique, c’est bien parce que chaque époque y puise, ou y met, ce qui lui convient. C’est une fonction malléable car stable, ou stable car malléable.

19La fonction de l’auteur, c’est sans doute Michel Foucault qui l’a le mieux décrite19. Selon lui, le nom d’auteur, en premier lieu, a une fonction. Fonction classificatoire d’abord : il circonscrit un corpus. En carrollisme, le problème du corpus est réglé par l’attribution à Dodgson des textes dits « sérieux » et à Carroll des textes littéraires ; pourtant, cette distribution est débordée par le paradoxe constitutif de la classification basée sur le nom d’auteur : en témoignent les hésitations sur le statut de Sylvie et Bruno. Le nom d’auteur a aussi une fonction d’attribution d’un mode de réception spécifique, en d’autres termes il attribue un statut aux discours de l’auteur. Selon Michel Foucault :

Il manifeste l’événement d’un certain ensemble de discours, et il se réfère au statut de ce discours à l’intérieur d’une société et à l’intérieur d’une culture. Le nom d’auteur n’est pas situé dans l’état civil des hommes, il n’est pas non plus situé dans la fiction de l’œuvre, il est situé dans la rupture qui instaure un certain groupe de discours et son mode d’être singulier. […] La fonction auteur est donc caractéristique du mode d’existence, de circulation et de fonctionnement de certains discours à l’intérieur d’une société20.

20Le carrollisme a fourni un statut au discours de Carroll en s’appropriant et en construisant l’image de l’auteur ; par le même mouvement, le carrollisme fonde sa légitimité en caractérisant son propre discours par la référence à l’auteur. L’image de Carroll que nous possédons aujourd’hui est construite, cette construction est même probablement l’enjeu principal du carrollisme. On peut poser l’hypothèse selon laquelle, pour les psychobiographes comme pour tous ceux qui parlent de Carroll, l’auteur a pour fonction d’inscrire les discours dont il est porteur dans un ensemble de discours qui le concernent, lui, sa vie et ses œuvres.

21La confluence de la fonction auteur et de l’enfance considérée comme une fonction s’articule particulièrement bien dans le cas de Carroll, pour donner des figures rhétoriques typiques du mythe, tout un ensemble de figures insistantes dont on peut dresser une liste non exhaustive. Ce sont les formules de base de la doxa carrollienne.

22La figure de l’innocence, d’abord : la formule de Collingwood, « a very beautiful personality21 », était déjà vide de sens quand on considère qu’il parlait non seulement de son oncle – tout le monde peut s’amuser à écrire la biographie de son oncle – mais d’un auteur. Les psychobiographes ne se sont pas embarrassés de commenter la beauté de la personnalité de leur sujet. Ils l’ont réduite à une figure de la plus grande innocence. Un auteur proche de son âme d’enfant est forcément innocent et pur, ou innocent mais pervers, selon la vision que l’on a de l’enfance. D’autre part, si l’auteur est un enfant, alors il ne sait pas grand-chose du monde, et il devient possible à celui qui l’étudie de trouver dans ses œuvres ce qu’il ne savait pas lui-même y avoir mis. On voit le danger à ne jamais s’interroger sur cette idée ; elle peut être féconde comme totalement vide de sens. À l’inverse, on peut aussi considérer que si l’auteur est un enfant, il a joué comme un enfant : on peut dès lors s’autoriser à chercher dans ses œuvres les jeux auxquels il a joué. Un des derniers biographes de Carroll, Richard Wallace, en 1990, pose l’hypothèse selon laquelle Carroll aurait été victime d’agressions sexuelles lorsqu’il était élève à Rugby et que cela aurait développé en lui une homosexualité et une perversité qu’il aurait dévoilées dans ses écrits, sous forme d’anagrammes22. Aussi s’efforce-t-il d’explorer minutieusement les œuvres de Carroll pour y retrouver ces anagrammes – et les trouve, bien évidemment. Paradoxalement, la figure de l’innocence rejoint ici celle de la perversité. Quelques années plus tard, c’est lui encore qui a écrit ce livre affirmant que Carroll est Jack the Ripper23. Il est évident que ce type de recherche en dit plus long sur leur auteur que sur Carroll. L’articulation paradoxale de l’innocence et de la perversité est un motif récurrent des psychobiographies. Elle est souvent résolue en posant que Carroll avait une connaissance intuitive de la perversité, comme tout enfant (selon la formule de Freud, incorrectement lue, selon laquelle l’enfant est un « pervers polymorphe »), mais que son inconscience de ses propres mécanismes psychiques ne lui permettait pas de la comprendre dans toute sa dimension proprement adulte. Michael Bakewell, dans sa biographie de 1996, estime ainsi que les « pensées impures » que Carroll évoque dans sa préface à Sylvie et Bruno sont impures au sens où le catéchisme l’entend24. Mais lorsqu’il écrit cette préface, Carroll a cinquante-sept ans, et peut difficilement être suspecté d’entretenir une inquiétude adolescente sur la masturbation – sauf à s’acharner à croire à un esprit infantile enfermé dans le corps d’un homme mûr. L’idée qu’il puisse s’agir de doute religieux ou d’inquiétudes métaphysique ne l’effleure pas un instant, elle est pourtant digne d’être explorée.

23La fermeture au monde est un autre motif. On entend par là le monde adulte, événementiel, politique, etc. Nous connaissons tous cette anecdote dont il est difficile de retrouver la source une fois qu’on l’a lue, mais qui est très probablement apocryphe, de Carroll entrant à quatre pattes dans un salon, pensant n’y trouver que des enfants, et se trouvant nez à nez avec des adultes interloqués25. C’est une chose de définir le nonsense comme un système clos, c’en est une autre d’affirmer que Carroll était un îlot retiré du monde adulte. Difficile, dans ce cas, de considérer que c’était un homme cultivé, par exemple. Or, Hugues Lebailly l’a montré, il était très au fait de la production culturelle de son époque26, et souvent même peu orthodoxe dans ses choix ; pas parce qu’il ne connaissait pas l’orthodoxie, mais parce qu’il s’en détachait tout à fait consciemment. Fréquenter le théâtre lui était interdit implicitement, sinon explicitement, mais il était capable de défendre son point de vue et de s’y tenir.

24Pierre Bourdieu parle, dans Les règles de l’art, à propos de Sartre biographe de Flaubert, de « cette forme de narcissisme par procuration que l’on tient d’ordinaire pour la forme suprême de la “compréhension”27 ». Loin d’objectiver son sujet, le psychobiographe, de la même façon, se contente souvent de plaquer sur le personnage de Carroll sa lecture d’événements biographiques réels ou imaginaires (hérités de la doxa), qui est une lecture non seulement stérile, mais également violente. Loin de s’interroger sur la genèse du travail créatif, il postule une genèse idéale et indicible et développe l’image d’un « créateur inconscient » ou « créateur incréé ». Ceci repose sur la croyance qu’une vie, telle qu’on la voit, est orientée par sa finalité : en d’autres termes, chacun des événements biographiques et des interprétations qui en sont tirées a une signification touchant à un but ultime. C’est une téléologie qui implique une forme de transcendance. Carroll, enfant dans l’âme, innocent et inconscient de son propre génie, a écrit des chefs- d’œuvre : c’est incompréhensible mais cela est, miraculeusement. Cette irruption de la transcendance dans la psychobiographie scelle son échec.

Le mythe carrollien comme résolution d’un paradoxe

25Il me semble qu’une autre hypothèse peut être posée en ce qui concerne l’auteur en tant que mythe. Je me demande si le discours si prégnant dans le carrollisme sur la pureté absolue du personnage d’Alice ne nous fournit pas déjà une piste. Je ne trouve pas, personnellement, qu’Alice soit d’une exceptionnelle pureté. Tout en représentant l’innocence, elle me semble même particulièrement perverse et manipulatrice, bien qu’elle soit (ou peut-être parce qu’elle est) elle-même manipulée par les autres personnages. Je vois là une image bien perverse de petite fille. Je crois d’ailleurs que les enfants le perçoivent, certains s’en effrayent et d’autres s’en amusent, d’autres encore font les deux simultanément ou successivement. Si ma lecture est un tant soit peu correcte, alors comment le paradoxe de l’articulation entre innocence et perversité dans le personnage d’Alice se résout-il ? Je pense qu’il n’est pas absolument absurde de penser que Carroll, en tant que figure mythique, est la réponse à ce paradoxe. Ce serait bien, selon la formule de Lévi-Strauss, un « modèle logique de résolution d’une contradiction », en ceci qu’il incorpore, plutôt que son héroïne, la perversité portée par son texte. En d’autres termes, Carroll serait devenu une figure mythique quand les carrolliens, ne supportant plus de voir en Alice la perversité, l’ont fait porter, par un mécanisme collectif de projection, sur la figure de l’auteur. On obtient ainsi deux figures mythiques : celle de l’enfant parfaitement innocent et pur, et celle de l’auteur absolument pervers et anormal.

26De fait, cela pourrait commencer à expliquer pourquoi Sylvie et Bruno, où la perversité est sans conteste présente, est si dépréciée par les psychobiographes, qui affirment qu’avec cette œuvre, Carroll a perdu son pouvoir créatif pour écrire des bêtises. La figure de l’auteur ayant perdu là sa perversité alors que son dernier roman la regagnait, l’équation ne fonctionne plus par le mythe.

Le « sujet supposé savoir »

27Plus largement, il me semble que les psychobiographies posent le problème de la réception des œuvres littéraires, que je voudrais ici tenter d’exposer autrement en quelques mots. Dans la relation entre auteur et lecteur, le « sujet supposé savoir » est à la fois l’auteur, le lecteur et le texte, chacun étant relié aux autres par la relation très particulière de la lecture. Mais dans la relation entre auteur, lecteur et biographe, le « sujet supposé savoir » se doit forcément d’être le psychobiographe, faute d’avouer son incapacité à donner sens à son travail, ce qu’il ne fait jamais. Il me semble que les psychobiographes posent le problème des dangers de la critique littéraire, en creux : si le critique se pose en « sujet supposé savoir » il se résigne à la transcendance et à porter sur ses propres épaules tout le poids du sens qu’il donne au texte. S’il s’avoue qu’il ne sait pas, il entre dans la relation classique entre lecteur, auteur et texte, et fait fonctionner le texte en respectant sa portée, toute sa portée et rien que sa portée. Si les psychobiographies appliquées à Carroll ont un sens, c’est peut-être celui-là : démontrer par l’absurde ce que la critique ne peut pas se permettre de faire. Il me semble que le double mythe de l’enfance et de l’auteur tel qu’il a été exploité par les psychobiographies est passé dans la doxa carrollienne. Mais il doit être examiné en dehors d’elle pour que la critique ait une chance d’en faire un concept constructif.

Notes

1 Stuart Dodgson Collingwood, The Life and Letters of Lewis Carroll (Rev. C.L. Dodgson), Londres, Thomas Nelson & Sons, 1898.

2 The Diaries of Lewis Carroll, éd. Roger Lancelyn Green, 2 vol., Londres, Cassel and Company, 1953.

3 Stuart Dodgson Collingwood, op. cit., p. 236-237.

4 Introduction de Virginia Woolf pour The Complete Works of Lewis Carroll, éd. Alexander Woolcott, Londres, Penguin Books, 1988 [Nonesuch Press, 1939].

5 Ibidem., p. 47-48.

6 Ibid., p. 48.

7 Jean Gattégno, L’univers de Lewis Carroll, Paris, José Corti, 1970, p.

8 « Ceci est-il une biographie ? La question n’est pas rhétorique, et j’ai beaucoup hésité à écrire “La Vie de Lewis Carroll”. De qui vais-je parler en effet ? De celui qui répondait au nom de Charles Lutwidge Dodgson ? ou de celui que l’on ne connaît que sous le nom de Lewis Carroll ? La vie de Charles L. Dodgson, son neveu l’a écrite dès l’année de sa mort. Celle de Carroll supposerait, pour être possible, le pouvoir de trancher entre la vie et les livres » (Jean Gattégno, Lewis Carroll : une vie, Paris, Seuil, 1974, p. 13).

9 Elizabeth Gaskell, The Life of Charlotte Brontë, Londres, Penguin Classics, 1997 (1857).

10 Voir à ce sujet l’appareil critique du livre d’Elizabeth Gaskell, Charlotte Brontë, traduction de Lew Crossford revue, corrigée et annotée par Pascale Renaud-Grosbras, Paris-Monaco, Éditions du Rocher, 2004.

11 L’étude des biographies des sœurs Brontë a été réalisée brillamment par Lucasta Miller dans The Brontë Myth, Londres, Vintage, 2002. Voir en particulier le chapitre 5, « Secrets and Psychobiography », p. 109-139, sur lequel je me suis largement appuyée ici.

12 Sigmund Freud, « Dostoïevski et le parricide » (1928), trad. J. B. Pontalis, C. Heim et L. Weibel, in Résultats, idées, problèmes II, Paris, Presses universitaires de France, 1985.

13 Florence Becker Lennon, « Escape Through the Looking-Glass » (1945), Aspects of Alice : Lewis Carroll’s Dreamchild as seen through the Critics’Looking-Glasses (1865-1971), éd. Robert Phillips, Londres, Victor Gollancz Ltd, 1972, p. 76.

14 Florence Becker Lennon, « An apology for biographies », préface à Lewis Carroll : a Biography, Londres, Cassell & Co, 1947, p. 7.

15 Phyllis Greenacre, Swift and Carroll : a Psychoanalitic Study of Two Lives, New York, International Universities Press, 1955.

16 Cité par Selwyn H. Goodacre dans « Lewis Carroll the Creative Writer », Mr Dodgson : Nine Lewis Carroll Studies, LCSNA, 1973, p. 15-22.

17 Gilles Deleuze et Claire Parnet, Dialogues, Paris, Flammarion (Champs), 1996, p. 58.

18 Jean-Jacques Lecercle, « Un amour d’enfant », Jean-Jacques Lecercle (dir.), Alice, Paris, Autrement (Figures mythiques), 1998, p. 7-48.

19 Conférence donnée à la Société française de philosophie le 22 février 1969, texte repris dans Michel Foucault, Dits et écrits, 1954-1988, vol. 1, Paris, Gallimard, 1994, p. 789-821.

20 Ibidem, p. 798.

21 Pour évoquer Sylvie and Bruno, Collingwood parlait en effet de « revelation of a very beautiful personality » à propos de son auteur. Stuart Dodgson Collingwood, op. cit., p. 319.

22 Richard Wallace, The Agony of Lewis Carroll, Melrose, Gemini Press, 1990. Notons en passant que Richard Wallace se présente comme thérapeute pour enfants.

23 Richard Wallace, Jack The Ripper : « Light-Hearted Friend », Melrose, Gemini Press, 1996.

24 Michael Bakewell, Lewis Carroll : A Biography, Londres, Heinemann, 1996, p. 110.

25 Cet incident est rapporté pour la première fois dans la biographie de Langford Reed, The Life of Lewis Carroll, Londres, W. & G. Foyle, 1932. Il n’indique aucune source.

26 Voir Hugues Lebailly, Charles Lutwidge Dodgson et la vie artistique victorienne : les journaux et les lettres, chroniques des excentricités d’un reclus monomaniaque ou témoignages de l’intégration d’un amateur éclairé ?, thèse soutenue auprès de l’université de Strasbourg 2, 1997.

27 Pierre Bourdieu, Les règles de l’art : genèse et structure du champ littéraire, Paris, Seuil (Libre examen), 1992, p. 267.

 Voir également:

L’imagination et le diptyque chez Lewis Carroll

Toshiro Nakajima
Traducteur Pascale Renaud-Grosbras

1La photographie d’Alice Pleasance Liddell prise dans les jardins du doyen de Christ Church est une des plus connues de Lewis Carroll, logicien, photographe et écrivain, qui a su se détacher des conventions victoriennes portant sur le portrait enfantin pour créer son propre langage esthétique. Nous verrons dans cet article que chez Carroll, la photographie est le versant visuel de sa production artistique, dont les autres versants sont l’écriture et le dessin : elle est donc, par essence, intertextuelle. On ne peut comprendre cette photographie de 1858, Alice Liddell as the Beggar Maid1, sans se pencher sur les complexités esthétiques et les ambiguïtés contenues dans cette image.

2Alice Liddell as the Beggar Maid, la plus mémorable des photographies d’Alice Liddell par Lewis Carroll, montre la petite fille qui enflamma son imagination absorbée dans la contemplation du spectateur, dans une attitude de mendiante. La vérité de ce portrait trouve sa source dans la figure d’une héroïne énigmatique mais issue d’une longue tradition, figure à laquelle le modèle comme l’artiste ont collaboré : le visage de la petite fille montre une attention soutenue pour la présence du photographe, dont le regard traverse l’appareil Ottewil.Lire cette photographie, c’est s’interroger à la fois sur la place qu’elle a prise dans la culture britannique depuis l’époque victorienne et la replacer dans les débats sur l’esthétisme contemporain. Au cours des dernières décennies, comme le disent Roger Taylor et Edward Wakeling, « it has caused the most intense speculation2 ». On a souvent dit que la fascination qui s’en dégage était due à l’évocation de l’innocence enfantine et à la glorification de la pureté. Pourtant, la plupart des critiques insistent également sur la fascination d’ordre sexuel qu’inspire la figure de cette petite fille. Brassaï, un des plus grands photographes du vingtième siècle, qui considérait Lewis Carroll comme un des plus grands photographes amateurs anglais, se plaisait à imaginer son exil hors de l’âge adulte où il lisait la peur de grandir et concluait que :

[…] in the most unforgettable and doubtless most revealing picture he ever took, “The Beggar Maid,” Alice, standing against a filthy wall, her legs and feet bare, looks at us, her eyes full of enormous sadness. Her dress is torn and hanging in shreds, her flesh bare as though she has just been raped3.

3Plus tard, il devint courant d’interpréter le plaisir visible que prenait Lewis Carroll à photographier de petites filles « sans habillement » comme une preuve de sa pédophilie supposée. Cette photographie, en particulier, a servi à construire le mythe de la pédophilie de Lewis Carroll chez certains auteurs :

Alice Liddell as the “Beggar Maid” operates as further evidence of Carroll’s uneasy relationship with children outside the utopian circles of Oxford and the Pre-Raphaelites. Carroll’s camera operated like the “cult of the child” industry as a whole4.

4Helmut Gernsheim, le premier biographe du photographe Lewis Carroll, a probablement contribuer à fixer ce mythe dans les esprits :

Characteristically, his dislike of boys extended also to their nakedness. “I confess do not admire naked boys. They always seem to me to need clothes—whereas one hardly sees why the lovely forms of girls should ever be covered up.” In his hobby there was no danger of outraging Mrs. Grundy provided he found little girls—and parents—who raised no objection5.

5La question de la sexualité du photographe s’est donc souvent posée chez les critiques, qu’ils décrivent Alice comme une fillette consciente de l’attraction qu’elle exerce ou comme une délicieuse jeune innocente, des interprétations qui, sans doute, prennent leur source dans le climat contemporain d’anxiété généralisée à propos de l’exploitation sexuelle des enfants6. La question de la pédophilie a toutefois été dernièrement largement remise en cause. L’historienne de l’art Anna Higonnet met en doute ce mythe profondément ancré dans les esprits contemporains par la toute-puissance du concept d’innocence enfantine, un des plus précieux concepts de notre culture actuelle.

Having once seen Carroll’s nudes, Alice’s bare calves and shoulders, her soliciting gesture, and her ripped rags, all provoke suspicion. The whole beggar pretext seems dubious, since Alice exudes health, wealth, and the arrogant privilege. To Carroll’s contemporaries, however, Alice’s beggar portrait did not look prurient at all. No less an eminent Victorian that the British poet laureate Alfred, Lord Tennyson said it was the most beautiful photograph he had ever seen7.

6Par-delà ces considérations, que signifie réellement la figure de la petite mendiante ? Depuis que le poète William Blake a donné une voix à l’enfant, cette figure a été largement représentée et interprétée. Sa popularité tient sans doute à son ambiguïté. Le thème de la mendiante était populaire à l’ère victorienne, pour ceux qui s’intéressaient aux relations entre l’individu et la société et aux relations de classe. On rencontre souvent, dans la littérature, ce désir d’éveiller la compassion pour les maux soufferts par les plus pauvres au cœur de la cité, comme dans ce poème dont l’auteur est anonyme :

The wand’ring beggar girl may meet
Some pity, as she walks the street
While some relieve her woe ;
Her artless accents float along,
And tho the heart direct the song
The burthen sad—Heigho ! Heigho !
Although the burthen be—Heigho !

Wealth and power may guilt await,
envy not their pomp and state,
Whom virtue thus forego ;
I’d rather tune my artless voice,
And in an honest heart rejoice,
Than sigh in guilt—Heigho ! Heigho !
Nor let the burden be—Heigho8 !

7L’image de la mendiante apparaît ici comme un cliché ironique. On peut rapprocher cette image de la caricature de George Cruickshank, Our Gutter Children, qui date de 1869. Il y critiquait les efforts hypocrites des classes aisées envers les petites filles destinées à être exilées dans les colonies afin d’y trouver une vie meilleure. Indigné par le projet d’une dénommée Miss Rye, il fit circuler sa caricature parmi les députés9. Lewis Carroll, lui, ne considérait pas que l’art avait le pouvoir de faire évoluer la moralité ni la société victoriennes, et ce n’est pas précisément là qu’est la portée de sa photographie.

8Plusieurs critiques l’ont souligné, elle tire son titre du poème de Tennyson, The Beggar Maid (1842) :

Her arms across her breast she laid ;
She was more fair than words can say :
Bare-footed came the beggar maid
Before the king Cophetua.
In robe and crown the king stept down,
To meet and greet her on her way ;
“It is no wonder,” said the lords,
“She is more beautiful than day.”

As shines the moon in clouded skies,
She in her poor attire was seen :
One praised her ankles, one her eyes,
One her dark hair and lovesome mien.
So sweet a face, such angel grace,
In all that land had never been :
Cophetua swore a royal oath :
“This beggar maid shall be my queen10

9Le sujet de ce poème est dérivé d’une ballade élizabéthaine dont la plus ancienne version se trouve dans Crowne Garland of Goulden Roses (1612) de Richard Johnson. Elle est souvent citée par Shakespeare chez qui le nom de la mendiante est Zenelophon11. Chez Thomas Percy, dans Reliques of Ancient English poetry, son nom devient Penelophon. William Holman Hunt a illustré le poème de Tennyson pour l’édition Moxon. Edward Burne-Jones est l’auteur de King Cophetua and the Beggar Maid12 (1884), qui fut exposé à l’Exposition universelle de Paris en 1889, où le roi est représenté aux pieds de la mendiante, au moment où l’amour et la spiritualité transcende les barrières de classe et la raison même13.

10Tennyson demanda à Julia Margaret Cameron d’illustrer ses Idylls of the King and Other Poems, une collaboration qui met en valeur la collaboration étroite entre texte et illustration. Sa composition pour King Cophetua and the Beggar Maid représente l’arrivée de la pauvre mendiante qui couvre sa poitrine en s’avançant devant le roi, dont la photographe capture l’expression au moment où il s’apprête à plier le genou devant elle.

11Revenons à Lewis Carroll et à sa propre composition sur ce thème. L’album Lewis Carroll de la Princeton University Library contient plusieurs autres portraits d’Alice, dont Alice Liddell Dressed in her Best (1858). Cette photographie est à l’opposé de la première : Alice y est représentée comme une petite fille de la meilleure société. On a l’habitude de voir Alice as the Beggar Maid seule, hors du contexte que le photographe lui-même avait l’intention de proposer – c’est-à-dire auprès de Alice Liddell Dressed in her Best. Comme le rappelle Roger Taylor :

Like Rejlander’s genre studies, the photograph was most probably meant to be seen as one of a pair, with the other showing little Alice, then aged six, dressed in her best outfit, complete with white ankle socks and black leather shoes. It is a diptych suggestive of class distinction, as well as a fall from grace and a rise to redemption14.

12Il me semble également que ces deux photographies doivent être vues côte à côte, comme un diptyque. Le mot « diptyque », qui en grec signifie « ensemble », se réfère à un objet qui se plie en deux, le plus souvent des tablettes articulées de bois, d’ivoire ou de métal. Les surfaces internes étaient garnies de cire et étaient utilisées pour l’écriture. Les premiers chrétiens l’adoptèrent pour un usage liturgique. Au Moyen Âge et durant la Renaissance, le diptyque était plus précisément un tableau peint sur deux panneaux articulés, le donateur apparaissant fréquemment sur un des deux panneaux, dans une posture d’adoration envers les personnages peints sur l’autre.

13Carroll fit coloriser la photographie Alice Liddell as the Beggar Maid afin de l’offrir à sa muse, montée sur un carton dans un coffret couvert de velours violet15. Les diptyques contenant le nom des morts ou des vivants, en particulier des saints et des martyrs, étaient souvent déposés sur l’autel. Il est vrai cependant que cette photographie est unique, même si elle est montée sur une carte qui s’ouvre comme un diptyque ; mais j’aime à croire que Lewis Carroll, spectateur de sa muse, apparaît sur le panneau manquant pour adorer la petite fille éternelle.

14Charles Lamb disait de William Hogarth : « […] his graphic representations are indeed books : they have the teeming, fruitful, suggestive meaning of words. Other pictures we look at—his prints are read16w ». Les photographies de Lewis Carroll devraient, il me semble, être lues elles aussi par le biais de son imagination qui s’appuie sur le diptyque. On trouve beaucoup de ces photographies dans ses albums. En 1858, il y eut Quintin Twiss in « The Rat-Catcher’s Daughter » où le personnage passe le seuil d’une maison, un sac à la main, et Quintin Twiss in « The Two Bonnycastles », où il est assis, l’air rêveur, en train de fumer un brûle-gueule. En 1878, il y eut deux photographies de Xie Kitchin adossée à une pile de boîtes exotiques, vêtue d’une tunique brodée de dragons, l’une intitulée Xie Kitchin as Tea-Merchant (On Duty) et l’autre Xie Kitchin as Tea-Merchant (Off Duty).

15Il y eut la même petite fille, dans une longue chemise de nuit blanche, endormie dans un lit dans Xie Kitchin in « Where Dreadful Fancies Dwell » en 1873 et éveillée, la joue sur la main, dans Xie Kitchin in « A Summer Night » l’année suivante.

16On retrouve cette imagination orientée par le motif du diptyque dans ses écrits littéraires. Dans Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, lorsque Alice est confrontée au terrible dilemme « Who in the world am I », elle est très inquiète et évoque tous les enfants de son âge auxquels elle peut penser pour retrouver sa propre identité.

“I’m sure I’m not Ada,” she said, “for her hair goes in such long ringlets, and mine doesn’t go in ringlets at all ; and I’m sure I can’t be Mabel, for I know all sorts of things, and she, oh, she knows such a very little ! Besides, she’s she, and I’m I, and—oh dear, how puzzling it all is ! I’ll try if I know all the things I used to know17.”

17Dans ce contexte, Ada et Mabel sont tour à tour la mendiante, tandis que l’héroïne Alice est Alice elle-même dans Alice Liddell Dressed in her Best. De même, au chapitre VI, « Pig and Pepper », un bébé d’une forme étrange se met à ressembler à une étoile de mer puis se change en cochon :

“If it had grown up,” she said to herself, “it would have made a dreadfully ugly child : but it makes a rather handsome pig, I think.” And she began thinking over other children she knew, who might do very well as pigs, and was just saying to herself “if one only knew the right way to change them18…”

18Vu de l’extérieur, un étrange bébé se change en cochon ; mais le point de vue change pour considérer la situation de l’intérieur, grâce à la figure du diptyque.

19Le conflit binaire que l’on reconnaît dans les activités créatrices de Lewis Carroll, entre l’inaccessible (l’idéal) et le réel (la réalité indéterminée) se retrouve dans ses écrits comme dans ses photographies. Les deux portraits en diptyque d’Alice nous montrent, non seulement l’amour qu’il portait à la petite fille, mais aussi cette forme d’imagination, profondément ancrée chez lui, qui lui permettait de concevoir ses histoires d’Alice et ses photographies sur le même modèle, pour ce qui est de la forme comme pour ce qui est du fond.

Notes

1 « Ten prints of this image, in varying crops, are recorded. These comprise : two in the Liddell family collection ; two in the M.L. Parish collection, Princeton University ; one, carte-de-visite format, in the Pierpont Morgan Library, New York ; one in the Gilman collection, in the Henry W. and Albert A. Berg collection, New York Public Library ; one, carte-de-visite format, in a private collection, one formerly in the Justin Schiller collection, and one in a private collection », Lewis Carroll’s Alice, Londres, Sotheby’s, 2001, p. 52.

2 Roger Taylor et Edward Wakeling, Lewis Carroll : Photographer, Yale University Press, 2002, p. 61.

3 Brassaï, « Carroll the Photographer », Literature and Photography : Interactions 1840-1922, ed. Jane M. Rabb, Albuquerque, University of New Mexico Press, 1995, p. 56.

4 Carol Mavor, Pleasures Taken : Performances of Sexuality and Loss in Victorian Photographs, Londres, I. B. Tauris, 1996, p. 35.

5 Helmut Gernsheim, Lewis Carroll : Photographer, New York, Dover, 1969, p. 21.

6 Voir Diane Waggoner, « Photographing Childhood : Lewis Carroll and Alice », in Marilyn R. Brown, Picturing Children : Constructions of Childhood between Rousseau and Freud, Hampshire, Ashgate, 2002, p. 149.

7 Anna Higonnet, Pictures of Innocence : The History and Critics of Ideal Childhood, Londres, Thames and Hudson, 1998, p. 125.

8 « The Wand’ring Beggar-Girl », in The Universal Songster ; or, Museum of Mirth : Forming the Most Complete, Extensive, and Valuable Collection of Ancient and Modern Songs in the English Language, with a Copious and Classified Index, Londres, Johnes and Co., 1832, I, p. 254.

9 Voir Robert L. Patten, George Cruikshank’s Life, Times, and Art, Londres, Methuen, 1996, II, p. 447. La caricature donne la parole à quatre personnages. Le Juif dit : « There are many plans suggested for providing for the neglected children of drunken parents, but none such a Sweeping measure as this, for by this plan, we provide for them at once, and get rid of the dear little ones altogether. » Une dame s’exclame : « This is a delightful talk ! And we shall never want a supply of these neglected children, whilst the Pious and respectable Distillers and Brewers carry on their trade and we shall always find plenty of little dears about the Gin Palaces and Beer shops. » Le clergyman, pour sa part, jette des pelletées de petites filles dans une charrette en disant : « All these little Gutter girls are our sisters, and therefore, I feel it my duty as a Christian Minister to assist in this good work. » Miss Rye, tenant un fouet à la main, conclut : « I am greatly obliged to you, Christian ladies and gentlemen for your help, and as soon as you have filled the cart, I’ll drive off and pitch the little dears aboard of a ship and take them thousand of miles away from their native land, so that they may never see any of their relations again. »

10 Alfred Lord Tennyson, Poems, Londres, E. Moxson, 1857, p. 359-360.

11 Voir en particulier Love’s Labour’s Lost, IV, 1, 60-66.

12 Il commenta ainsi la fin de son travail sur ce tableau : « This very hour I have ended my work on my picture. I am very tired of it—I can see nothing more in it, I have stared it out of all countenance and it has no word for me. It is like a child that one watches without ceasing till it grows up, and lo ! It is a stranger », Lady Georgiana Burne-Jones, Memories of Edward Burne-Jones, Londres, 1904, I, p. 253.

13 Le critique d’art Fernand Khnopff remarque : « […] the polished metal reflects the beggar maid’s feet, adorable feet—their ivory whiteness enhanced by contrast with the scarlet anemones that lie here and there », Fernand Khnopff, « In Memoriam Sir Edward Burne-Jones, Bart. : A Tribute from Belgium », Magazine of Art (1898), p. 522.

14 Roger Taylor, op. cit., p. 64.

15 Voir Lewis Carroll’s Alice, p. 52.

16 Charles Lamb, « Essay on the Genius and Characters of Hogarth », The Reflector, III, 1811.

17 Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass, Harmondsworth, Penguin Books (Centenary Edition), 1998, p. 18.

18 Ibidem, p. 55-56.

Voir encore:

Lewis Carroll writer & photographer: clearing up a few myths

Lawrence Gasquet

1If the works of Lewis Carroll are still celebrated today by scholars all over the world, it is precisely because they possess the rare ability to make their readers think about the functions and limits of the media involved in oral and written language. A lot of energy has been devoted to the study of the linguistic and philosophic depth of works such as the Alices, The Hunting of the Snark, and to a lesser extent Sylvie and Bruno; however, he who looks at these works a little closer is also assured to find similar treasures as far as the aesthetic dimension is concerned. Carroll’s text deals constantly with the visual, either at a purely material level of organisation, or at a more abstract level of reference. The study of the structures that make reality intelligible in Carroll’s writings is indeed rewarding, because of his ability to turn what is mainly surface into depth, whether it be the surface of the mirror, chessboard, Euclidian plane or photographic plate. We will not have time here to detail aspects of this study; let it be sufficient for the moment to state that Carrollian Nonsense is synonymous with order, and that this orderly dimension is achieved through the combined use of image and text1. What characterises Carroll’s writing is the constant and direct interplay with the pictural. It has been shown that Nonsense thrives on structure, and takes advantages of overstructuration to reveal the flaws of our language system2. Denouncing in various ways the polysemous dimension of linguistic signs, which according to him stands in the way of accurate thought, Carroll reminds us that we indulge in approximations whenever we deal with a sign system that is complete enough to be exact. The hunting of the sign is similar to the The Hunting of the Snark, insofar as they both try to eradicate the informal and the irrepresentable, in other words, that which cannot form a valid system, and which consequently generates entropy. Thus, Lewis Carroll resorts to graphic malleability to denounce (or celebrate, depending on the point of view adopted) the inexactitude of language. Dodgson’s keen concern for form, and his mixing of the textual and the visual in order to achieve better understanding, makes him appear as extremely modern, for indeed it is relatively recently that the debate on the status of the graphic sign has led to a kind of middle-ground, acknowledging the validity of WJ.T. Mitchell’s statement:

The image/text problem is not just something constructed “between” the arts, the media, or different forms of representation, but an unavoidable issue within the individual arts and media. In short, all arts are “composite” arts (both text and image); all media are mixed media, combining different codes, discursive conventions, channels, sensory and cognitive modes3

2The reception of a work of art thus presupposes aesthetic and linguistic interdependence4. From a pragmatic point of view, it seems that image and language are linked by common goals: both function rather similarly as regards reference, expression of intention, and production of effects on the reader/spectator (hence the birth of a new discipline called visual semiotics)5. Pragmatically, then, there is no essential difference between text and image, since both obey similar strategies. The image is caught in language, and language is bound to the image; their intertwining is precisely what fascinates Carroll, and his writings make the reader experience the plenitude of the graphic sign. Jean-François Lyotard declares that the best form possible is the one that remains at an intersection between two contradictory requirements, that of the “articulate meaning” and that of the “plastic sense”: Carroll understood this perfectly when he composed rebus-letters, preferred schemas to words, varied the font-size of his texts, or attempted to create a new mathematical sign system6, in which the shape of symbols would suggest their meaning, just like Humpty-Dumpty’s name suggests his roundness (“My name means the shape I am—and a good handsome shape it is, too7” 192). Mathematical symbols, belonging to the category of signs situated at the highest level of schematic abstraction8, are then conceived as formally motivated. These attempts at improving the impact of the sign confirm the Carrollian will to control signification, to eliminate possible interferences between sign and meaning; they also testify to the ability of the visual to complete some deficiencies of the written language. In general, Carroll’s writings try to circumscribe polysemous meaning, preferring exactitude to semantic range and overdetermination to vagueness. Carrollian language looks for semantic limpidity, revealing a mistrust of the ambiguous nature of words, and the natural porosity of the sign. In Dodgson’s eyes, language cannot compete with visual sensations; both media are complementary, but they do not generate the same emotion. The visual takes you unawares and overwhelms you in one second, whereas language, caught in its own linearity, cannot possibly possess so instantaneous and powerful an impact. Both language and image are complementary, but one can detect in all of Dodgson’s works a particular sensitiveness towards the visual; visual sensations trigger his strongest emotions. This of course is palpable in his passion for photography, and his extreme frustration for not being much of a painter. Dealing with Charles Lutwidge Dodgson’s art of photography proves painstaking indeed, because of the apparent difficulty in abstracting ourselves from the influence of his literary productions, and because his photographs get inserted into the standard biographies to illustrate what then becomes “the writer’s ‘hobby’”. Yet, whoever becomes interested in the history of photography, or in the history of photographic practices, knows that although Dodgson first took up photography as a diversion from his mathematical work, it evolved into something much more meaningful, both to him and to the scholar. As Douglas Nickel underlines in the recent exhibition catalogue of the San Francisco MOMA9, the camera immediately became a passport for Dodgson, allowing him a particular kind of circulation and an excuse for meeting persons of high station. He exchanged information with the leading practitioners of photography in Victorian England (including Rejlander, Cameron, Peach Robinson), published a review of one photographic exhibition, and by 1860 was distributing his own list of 159 photographs for sale (no doubt to cover the cost of what was still an extremely expensive activity). His diaries also testify to the expense and difficulty of the undertaking and the sincerity of his ambitions for it. The impromptu success of the Alices afforded him a financial independence that enabled him to return to photography, allowing him to indulge in a more private vision, without as much concern for market opinion as before. In a period of 24 years, Dodgson generated about 3000 negatives, preserving his best images in a set of circulating albums. He became a renowned figure in photographic circles; therefore, Douglas Nickel is certainly right to claim that if we wish to make a case for Dodgson as a visual artist, we first have to engage his images as if they were not known to be the production of a household name—to show, paradoxically enough, that the photographs have artistic merit in spite of the renown of their maker: “They must not be prejudged as keepsakes, the by-products of a writer’s hobby, but as the serious expression of an innovator demonstrably committed to his medium and the world of pictures10.” The most slippery path is obviously the approach focalising exclusively on his alleged predilection for little girls, forgetting that to entertain a special interest in young females was at the time very ordinary indeed, as some colleagues have shown in illuminating articles11. It seems rather unfair that posterity should have focused on the same aspect that appealed to Nabokov for example, contributing to the building of the myth denouncing Carroll as a vile Humbert Humbert:

I have always been very fond of Carroll… He has a pathetic affinity with Humbert Humbert but some odd scruple prevented me from alluding in Lolita to his perversion and to those ambiguous photographs he took in dim rooms. He got away with it, as so many other Victorians got away with pederasty or nympholepsy.
His were sad scrawny little nymphets, bedraggled and half-dressed, or rather semiundraped, as if participating in some dusty and dreadful charade12.

3I think that there is more to his photographs than mere voyeurism and fetishism; I prefer to leave the bedraggled nymphets to psychoanalysts, and I will try to concentrate on a much less controversial aspect of his pictures, since I am going to focus on their composition.

4Let us briefly state that Dodgson was first and foremost a portraitist; he never really indulged in the Victorian craze of serious tableaux-vivants, with the exception of a handful of pictures which are quite remarkable in that they can be considered as mock tableaux-vivants, mere sketches of them enacted for fun. These embryonic tableaux do possess an irresistible charm for their very lack of perfection, for their auto-referential dimension I should say: Dodgson’s St. George hasn’t slain much of a dragon, in spite of the impressive size of his sword13; the ghosts which people some of his dreams seem indeed congenial14, and the rare special effects he uses in his pictures appear so obvious that they become all the more charming. These odd and sketchy pictures are quite interesting in Carroll’s practice because they reveal his differences as regards a majority of his Victorian fellow-photographers: his aim is not to make his spectators guess the intended subject from schematic props and perfect costumes, as was the point of tableaux-vivants, but to approximate theatrical living pictures without ever masking the personality of his models. “St. George and the Dragon” does not represent the slaughter of a dragon, it is a portrait of Xie Kitchin as a princess, just as “The Dream” is a simple pretext for representing Mary MacDonald in the act of sleeping15. The originality of Dodgson’s portraits stems precisely from their ability to depart from the norm, thereby underlining the idiosyncrasies of each sitter, and perhaps illustrating his own fantasies as well. This deviance from the norm is palpable for instance in Xie Kitchin’s portrait as Penelope Boothby, after Reynold’s painting and Millais’ Cherry Ripe. Xie Kitchin’s face has lost much of the innocence that characterized the painted girls, as she is now almost a woman, her provocative eyes challenging those of the spectator. Thus, it seems to me that Dodgson is always able to retain the personality of his sitter, by refusing to submerge her under props and by favoring some imperfections. We can also remember the picture of Agnes Grace Weld as Little Red Riding Hood16; if you compare it to the series of pictures created by Henry Peach Robinson for his Little Red Riding Hood series17, it becomes obvious that Dodgson is not in the least interested in recreating a seemingly perfect fiction. Robinson’s Riding Hood finds herself glued, so to speak, in a “narration” which weight is underlined by the profusion and exactitude of details. These pictures can hardly be deemed portraits, unlike Dodgson’s. Peach Robinson and his fellow photographers illustrate literary works, but Dodgson never illustrates anything but his own imaginary fictions. Dodgson’s photographs confirm the truthfulness of Susan Sontag’s claim that “photographs […] are attempts to contact or lay claim to another reality18”. I would say that, in the example of tableaux-vivants, fiction becomes a pretext for portraiture. I will take a last allegorical example, rarely acknowledged as such though; it is maybe the most famous of all pictures taken by Dodgson, namely Alice as a beggar-maid. In fact, thanks to the catalogue established very recently by Edward Wakeling19, we learn that this picture was one of a pair20, created in the fashion of Rejlander’s photographic diptychs. The notoriety of the photograph ensures that it is invariably displayed alone, removed from its original context. Like Rejlander’s genre studies, it is likely that Dodgson conceived the pair to be seen as the two sides of the same subject, to contrast a demure girl of good breeding with a ragged beggar girl whose knowing look and wayward stance were purposely contrived to obtain alms from willing pockets. Beyond the alleged transmutation of Alice Liddell into a temptress, there was also simply an attempt at staging allegorical figures in common fashion. The little props favoured by Dodgson are rather run-of-the-mill; as many other Victorian photographers he often uses books, flowers, and other usual accessories to convey basic metonymic information about the sitter. Dodgson here simply follows the common language in use at the time, and there is nothing especially original in the nature of his prop selection. What is sometimes slightly odd, on the contrary, is his choice of settings and his composition. Lindsay Smith has underlined how bare his settings were sometimes, as if he wanted to emphasize the intrinsic qualities of his subjects. She has noticed in her study of women and children in the 19th century how several Victorian photographers, like Hawarden or Cameron, carefully contextualise their figures in order to load them with meaning; by comparison, “in Carroll context is largely disregarded”. I can only agree with Lindsay that in some particular indoor pictures Dodgson does not seem to be interested in sustaining any fictional frame, the person captured being self-sufficient. But I wouldn’t go as far as to say that “the faults smack of a blindness to anything other than the little girl captured […] errors […] are simply not seen, it is not that the photographer’s eye is simply comfortable with them. One feels it does not notice them”. Knowing how fussy he was in matters of illustration, I cannot believe that he was blind to these defects, if we must call them so (today, to reveal the corner of a carpet or to underline the artificiality of the décor is delightfully postmodern and cutting edge). I would say that these pictures featuring a subject leaning on a wall were the result of a deliberate choice; first of all, the subjects were very often obliged to lean against a fixed surface in order not to move during the exposure time, which was quite long (approximately 65 seconds in the 1870’s); this is why Dodgson’s pictures rarely feature any depth of field. Secondly we can suppose that Carroll was not able to take all the time he would have liked when dealing with his little friends, who could not pose for hours in a row but were rather eager to play. So I would surmise that Dodgson preferred to have a rather shabby décor enhancing the beauty of his model than the contrary. Carroll ridiculed the Victorian taste for impersonating famous characters and elaborate settings in “Hiawatha’s Photographing”, a short story that he wrote in 1857, in which different family members demand that they should be photographed according to their ostentatious whims, varying from Ruskinian attitude to Napoleonic pose. Dodgson does indeed bow to the Victorian tradition for his portraits of famous personalities of the time, but it is true that as a lioniser he could hardly let go of conventions. The pictures that reveal the true dynamics of his vision are the pictures of his friends, not those of his acquaintances. I would argue that those pictures testify to a sharp concern for form, as their composition is carefully executed. We know through Dodgson’s writings that he was indeed very receptive to all kinds of visual stimuli21 and I would argue that the detailed study of the composition of his photographs confirms that Carrollian photography is just another version of a painstaking attempt to structure reality, totally similar to Nonsense in this respect.

5I would contend that a substantial majority of Dodgson’s photographs are composed according to basic geometrical figures22, their structural organisation being further enhanced by the black and white quality of the pictures23. Dodgson’s best photographs feature a criss-crossed plane, whose overall visual power lies in the intersection or parallelism of straight lines; similarly, the subjects are generally placed by Dodgson so that the final arrangement composes geometrical forms, such as triangles, squares or, less frequently, circles. Where a typical Victorian photographer would have preferred picturesque or artificial backgrounds, Carroll always favours close backgrounds and obviously selects them because of the structuring power of their straight lines. The fact that Dodgson chose to photograph many sitters holding props that divide the picture along an impressive slanting line is also quite remarkable, and cannot be purely accidental. Several studies have shown that a hierarchy exists in the perception of form by the human eye; if the same image is presented to dozens of different persons, the eyes of these persons always choose the same points to rest on. Constant patterns of perception have thus been proved to exist, and horizontal or vertical lines belong to the category of elements that immediately organize space24

6. The fact that Dodgson tries to recreate in his photographs a symmetry that does not exist in nature is worth noticing. The very exactness of his composition remains a source of harmony, and confirms that he perfectly understood the evocative power of form. Photography reproduces the outer forms of reality, the precise reality whose imprint lies on photographic paper. Dodgson, however, is never satisfied with recording passively the forms suggested by chance, that constitute a first echo of forms between reality and its representation; he always attempts to create another series of echoes, that make sense and resound inside the restricted sphere of representation. This last echo is borne by the geometrical forms that pervade his photographs. This system of visual echoing is poetic, insofar as it aims at creating emotion through visual perception; its very existence lays bare the peculiarity of Dodgson’s vision, confirming that quality photography is definitely wrought by human perception, and cannot possibly be reduced to a mere chemical process. François Soulages contends that one of the characteristics of photography lies in the twofold point of view that is presented to the viewer: the first viewpoint he calls “visual”, and the second he calls “artistic”25: photography then embodies the dialectics between the visual and the artistic, it allows both the coexistence of these two perspectives and the passing from one to the other. We could say that the common point, the intersection of these two concepts (visual and artistic) would be structure. In this vein, I would say that Dodgson indeed problematizes and illustrates this concept of structure. In fact, Dodgson’s pictures amplify or sublime structure in the same way his literary practice does. He pushes this geometrization further than other Victorian photographers, and this obvious tendency to organize space geometrically, to create what we could call visual echoes, becomes highly significant. The photographic work of Charles Lutwidge Dodgson does precisely the same as the literary work of Lewis Carroll; they both amplify and exalt a structure that is normally already present in both media. Dodgson’s particular enterprise of overstructuration doubtlessly arises from a need to classify and order, thus characterising his relation to the external world.

7Lewis Carroll’s works constitute a good example of the pragmatic use of images. Rudolf Arnheim once put forward the idea that available forms are as varied as the sounds of language but, more essentially, they organize themselves according to easily definable models, of which geometric forms are the best example26. It seems that Carroll well understood that images can help elucidate the world. Carroll strives to anticipate the mental representation of his readers, making the task easier for them. He arranges his fictional space according to clear and intelligible rules, this deformation being also, most of the time, a simplification. To simplify or purify a form does not mean weakening it, but on the contrary increasing its potential for significance. A form that is simple enough to be easily manipulated and integrated thus possesses a pragmatic function, allowing a clearer correspondence between sign and referent. By favouring simple forms, Carroll thus establishes a system of clear and univocal relations, thus making his dream of a semiotically transparent communication system come true. For instance, Carroll is especially interested in charts, diagrams or maps because they constitute different possibilities of visual representations, in which visible space structures abstract knowledge. Through the Looking-Glass is on a strictly diegetic level a faithful recording of the trajectories of chess pieces on a chess-board, as the first page reminds us; following a similar pattern, a diegetic chart meant by Carroll to help the reader find his way in a winding plot is featured in Sylvie and Brunos preface. We all remember the Captain’s blank map in The Hunting of the Snark, or Mein Herr’s ideal map on the scale of one to one in Sylvie and Bruno Concluded, which would cover the entire country. The schema, as the abstract representation of some external phenomenon, points to semantic inflation27. Pedagogy favours schemas because they allow the user to retain only what is essential, to abstract and reduce the perceived world to intelligible signs. A great defender of synthetical devices, Carroll anticipates the following statement by Arnheim on the pragmatic role of images: “visual thinking is the ability of the mind to unite observing and reasoning in every field of learning28”. In other words, visualisation undoubtedly stimulates intellectual reasoning: and we know that Carroll is primarily interested in reasoning. One of the messages that we can read in the Alices is that if solutions momentarily solve problems, they do not however suppress the problems. The unanswerable riddle of the Mad Hatter is only the most provoking example of a set of highly problematic questions, that continue to haunt our minds even after they have received some kind of answer. It is precisely this seemingly infinite questioning and reasoning that fascinates Carroll. The process was pointed out by Gilles Deleuze when he tried to rehabilitate what he called le problématique29. The yearning for the problematic pervades Carroll’s work; to dream of recreative mathematics is just another way of working out problems while pretending not to do so. The Carrollian tendency to schematise reflects his indirect but insistent need to reason. Trying to understand what Carroll’s motivation for transforming the world into a riddle could be, Deleuze concludes that:

On ne peut parler des événements que dans les problèmes dont ils déterminent les conditions. On ne peut parler des événements que comme des singularités qui se déploient dans un champ problématique, et au voisinage desquelles s’organisent les solutions. C’est pourquoi toute une méthode de problèmes et de solutions parcourt l’œuvre de Carroll, constituant le langage scientifique des événements et de leurs effectuations30.

8What constitutes the fundamental originality of Lewis Carroll is that while he attempts to enact this potentially infinite reasoning, he constantly relies on the visual dimension, which becomes a support for the intellect. “The Dynamics of a Parti-cle” and one of the Professor’s stories in Sylvie and Bruno Concluded (658) both show Lewis Carroll’s propensity to adorn abstractions with feelings, emotions, and even intelligence. In the same vein, the ingenious “Offer to the Clarendon Trustees” features unexpected prosopopeia; in the following letter Carroll requires material means to improve mathematical research in Christ Church:

It may be sufficient for the present to enumerate the following requisites: others might be added as funds permitted.
A. A very large room for calculating Greatest Common Measure. To this a small one might be attached for Least Common Multiple; this, however, might be dispensed with.
B. A piece of open ground for keeping Roots and practising their extraction; it would be advisable to keep Square Roots by themselves, as their corners are apt to damage others.
C. A room for reducing fractions to their Lowest terms. This should be provided with a cellar for keeping the Lowest Terms when found, which might also be available to the general body of undergraduates, for the purpose of “keeping Terms”[…].
D. A large Room, which might be darkened, and fitted up with a magic lantern, for the purpose of exhibiting Circulating decimals in the act of circulation. This might also contain cupboards, fitted with glass-doors, for keeping the various scales of Notation.
E. A narrow strip of ground, railed off and carefully leveled, for investigating the properties of Asymptotes, and testing practically whether Parallel Lines meet or not: for this purpose it should reach, to use the expressive language of Euclid, “ever so far”. This last process, of “continually producing the Lines”, may require centuries or more; but such a period, though long in the life of an individual, is as nothing in the life of the university.
As photography is now very much employed in recording human expressions, and might possibly be adapted to Algebraic expressions, a small photographic room would be desirable, both for general use and for representing the various phenomena of gravity, Disturbance of Equilibrium, Resolution, etc., which affect the features during severe mathematical operations.

9This little masterpiece of humour is in fact a typical example of how Carroll converts some highly abstract concepts into concrete figures that can be seen. This passage invites us to regress from the metaphorical to the literal, as very often in Carroll’s works: here he alludes to abstract mathematical entities as if they were palpable beings; he is careful to ask that the square roots should be planted carefully, so that their sharp corners do not cause any damage. What is most fascinating is that the reader ends up actually imagining the impossible objects evoked by Carroll, mingling real mathematical characteristics, sign systems and the fanciful information given by the narrator. The humour of the passage is created by the process of hybridisation that takes place within each reader.

10This ability to turn non-visual concepts into visual objects is a tour-de-force that is common to Carroll. He goes beyond other writers, because he attempts precisely to draw from the undrawable, where common writers only strive to give a depiction of what is already perceivable, usually using long descriptions. Carroll nearly never resorts to hypotyposis (apart perhaps in Sylvie and Bruno, which tends to adopt usual novelistic techniques). To find an interest in the fact that Carroll manages to give a shape to what has none, we have of course to agree upon the fact that literature generally depends for its realization on the reader’s power to convert words into effectively charged imagery (such as landscapes, room decoration, faces, and so on) and we know that this is hardly an easy task. In simpler words, the challenge for a writer is to make the reader picture his words. The Carrollian imagination seems to be primarily visual; the constant introduction of sketches in epistolary texts, the tendency to insert geometrical features everywhere (take for instance the nickname given to the little ghost in Phantasmagoria: “old brick, old parallelepiped”). All these characteristics tend to prove that the Carrollian world is carefully designed and structured, just as the literary genre of Nonsense obeys specific rules of its own, as Elizabeth Sewell argued several years ago.

11These brief examples help us understand how Carroll transforms in his texts abstract concepts into fictional anthropomorphic beings, finally questioning our primary perception of abstraction. We also understand that his favouring visual representation perfectly matches his taste for the literal; in addition to the comforting dimension of the literal (insofar as what is literal presupposes a clear correspondence between signifying and signified, contrary to the metaphoric)31, literal interpretations generally allow for concrete and thus relatively easy mental representation. This recognition that mental representation provides a cognitive prop which permits a greater efficiency of reasoning can help us better understand the Carrollian need for visual support; among his numerous intuitions, Carroll knew that seeing things allowed one to think more efficiently. Unfortunately, the fact that his sitters were often little girls has hidden this dimension behind an enticing yet superficial myth. Yet the main point should be that his devotion to photography appears then perfectly in tone with his ultimate quest for order and cognitive effectiveness.

Notes

1 For a detailed study, see Lawrence Gasquet, “De l’esprit à la lettre: forme et graphisme dans l’œuvre de Lewis Carroll”, Ph.D. Thesis, November 1999, Université Michel de Montaigne, Bordeaux III.

2 See Jean-Jacques Lecercle, Le Dictionnaire et le cri, Presses Universitaires de Nancy, 1995, Philosophy of Nonsense, London, Routledge, 1994, The Violence of Language, London, Routledge, 1990, as well as Elizabeth Sewell, Field of Nonsense, London, Chatto and Windus, 1952.

3 W.J.T. Mitchell, Picture Theory, Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 1995, p. 95.

4 On this subject, see Bernard Vouilloux, La peinture dans le texte: xviiiexxe siècles, Paris, CNRS Éditions, 1994, p. 114.

5 See Marie Carani, ed., De l’histoire de l’art à la sémiotique visuelle, Sillery (Québec), Septentrion, 1992.

6 See Sophie Marret, Lewis Carroll: De l’autre côté de la logique, Presses Universitaires de Rennes, 1995, p. 39 and Jean-François Lyotard, Discours, Figure, Paris, Klincksieck, 1971.

7 The reference edition is The Complete Works of Lewis Carroll, Harmondsworth, Penguin, 1982.

8 See Abraham Moles, L’image, communication fonctionnelle, Paris, Casterman, 1981, p. 107.

9 Douglas Nickel, Dreaming in Pictures: The Photography of Lewis Carroll, San Francisco, San Francisco MOMA, Yale University Press, 2002, p. 12.

10 Ibidem, p. 12.

11 See Hugues Lebailly, “Charles Lutwidge Dodgson et la pédolâtrie victorienne: ébauche de contextualisation d’une fascination prétendument idiosyncrasique”, in Lewis Carroll, jeux et enjeux critiques, Presses Universitaires de Nancy, 2003.

12 Interview by Alfred Appel, sept. 1966, in Wisconsin Studies in Contemporary Literature 8, n° 2, (Spring 1967), p. 143.

13 Lewis Carroll, “St. George and the Dragon”, 1875; see also “The Fair Rosamond”, 1863.

14 Lewis Carroll, “The Dream”, ca. 1860.

15 Lewis Carroll, “The Dream: Mary MacDonald Dreaming of her Father and Brother”, 1863.

16 Lewis Carroll, “Little Red Riding Hood”, 1857.

17 Henry Peach Robinson, 1858.

18 Susan Sontag, On Photography, Harmondsworth, Penguin, 1973, p. 16.

19 Edward Wakeling and Roger Taylor, Lewis Carroll Photographer, Princeton UP, 2002.

20 Ibidem, p. 6. “Alice Liddell as a Beggar-Maid” and “Alice Liddell dressed in her Best Outfit”, 1858.

21 Let us remember for example the extraordinary amount of energy he invested in the architectural modifications inflicted temporarily to Christ Church in 1872; Dodgson wrote a pamphlet entitled “The New Belfry of Christ Church, Oxford. A Monograph by D.L.C. A Thing of Beauty is a Joy Forever” (1872) and went so far as to compose a pastiche of The Compleat Angler, or The Contemplative Man’s Recreation by Isaac Walton. “The Vision of the Three T’s” was supposed to ridicule the giant wood structure meant to protect the bells while the university was being refurbished.

22 See Lawrence Gasquet, “De l’esprit à la lettre: forme et graphisme dans l’œuvre de Lewis Carroll”, chap. III.

23 About the essentially abstract quality of black and white, see Henri Cartier-Bresson, “L’instant décisif”, in Images à la Sauvette, Paris, Verve, 1952, non paginé.

24 See Abraham Moles, L’image, communication fonctionnelle, Paris, Casterman, 1981, p. 54-57; Claude Gandelman, Le regard dans le texte, Paris, Klincksieck, 1986, p. 17-25; Rudolph Arnheim, The Power of the Center, Berkeley, University of California Press, new version, 1988.

25 François Soulages, Esthétique de la Photographie, la perte et le reste, Paris, Nathan, 1998, p. 268.

26 Rudolf Arnheim, La Pensée Visuelle, Paris, Champs Flammarion, 1976, p. 98.

27 See Abraham Moles, L’image, communication fonctionnelle, p. 98.

28 Rudolf Arnheim, The Split and the Structure, Twenty Eight Essays, Berkeley, University of California Press, 1996, p. 119.

29 Gilles Deleuze, Logique du sens, Paris, Minuit, 1969, p. 70.

30 Ibidem, p. 72.

31 On the avoidance of metaphor in Nonsense, see Jean-Jacques Lecercle, Philosophy of Nonsense, p. 29 and p. 62-69.

Voir de plus:
Lewis Carroll au pays des fantasmes
Maxime Rovere
Marianne
15 Juillet 2012

Amateur «d’amies-enfants», de photos de nus mais aussi d’actrices, le père d’ «Alice au pays des merveilles» traîne depuis toujours une réputation sulfureuse relayée par les biographes. A l’occasion des 150 ans du conte, apprendra-t-on enfin la vérité ?

C’était il y a tout juste cent cinquante ans. Le vendredi 4 juillet 1862, par une après-midi légèrement pluvieuse, le révérend Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, accompagné de son ami Robinson Duckworth, emmenait trois petites filles pour une promenade en barque. Comme à son habitude, il improvisa une histoire absurde, les aventures d’une enfant portant le prénom de l’une d’entre elles – Alice – découvrant le Pays des Merveilles. Ce jour-là, Lewis Carroll (son nom de plume), donnait naissance à l’un des contes les plus extraordinaires et les plus inclassables de la littérature mondiale. Avec une insouciance désarmante, il abordait des rivages inconnus, à la croisée du jeu de hasard et de la linguistique, de la logique et de la fantaisie, exprimant d’une seule voix les obsessions de l’Angleterre victorienne et l’universelle aspiration à un monde de rêve et d’innocence.

Seulement voilà, pendant un siècle et demi, tandis que le personnage d’Alice s’élevait toujours plus haut au firmament de l’imaginaire, inspirant les plus grands artistes – John Tenniel, Arthur Rackham, Walt Disney, Salvador Dali, Annie Leibovits et Tim Burton, entre autres – l’image de son créateur, Lewis Carroll, connaissait de moins enviables mésaventures. La médisance, l’aveuglement, l’ignorance et l’esprit de sérieux se combinèrent successivement pour former à la fin un écheveau inextricable d’interprétations et de soupçons oiseux sur l’homme qui aimait les «amies-enfants». Jusqu’à ce que l’anglaise Karoline Leach, à l’aube de l’an 2000, tombe par hasard sur la pièce manquante. Depuis, ce qu’on appelle le «mythe Carroll» a volé en éclats. Qui était réellement le père d’Alice, du Lapin Blanc et du Chapelier Fou ? L’anniversaire du conte est l’occasion de laisser à nouveau Lewis Carroll mener la barque, comme en ce fameux jour de juillet 1862.

Pour comprendre l’extraordinaire raz-de-marée qui a bouleversé les études anglaises, il convient tout d’abord de restituer l’histoire officielle de Carroll telle qu’on la trouve encore un peu partout, et jusque dans la biographie de l’universitaire Morton Cohen (Lewis Carroll, une vie, une légende, éd. Autrement). Cette histoire raconte que Charles Dodgson, jeune professeur de mathématiques dans la prestigieuse université anglaise de Christ Church (Oxford), s’était pris d’affection pour les fillettes du doyen Henry George Liddell, ancien proviseur de Westminster. Peu accommodant, proche de la famille royale, cet homme et sa femme Lorina Hannah Reeve laissèrent le jeune Charles s’approcher de leurs enfants – un garçon nommé Harry né en 1847 et surtout Lorina (1849), Alice (1852) et Edith (1854) – pour un motif qui leur sembla d’abord très honorable : Dodgson prenait des photographies, et rien n’était si chic que d’avoir des portraits de famille tirés au collodion. Soucieux des convenances, les Liddell contrôlèrent néanmoins très attentivement l’amitié entre leurs enfants et le jeune professeur. Carroll voulut-il donner des cours particuliers au jeune Harry ? Mme Liddell refusa. Voulut-il organiser des séances de photographies avec d’autres enfants ? Elle refusa encore. Les têtes blondes, de leur côté, idolâtraient celui qu’elles appelaient «oncle Dodgson». Alors, la méfiance de Mme Liddell s’affaiblit. Pendant quatre années (les cahiers intimes tenus par Lewis Carroll durant cette période, 1858–1862, ont disparu, comme nombre de ses documents et photos), elle laissa croître malgré elle l’intimité entre l’écrivain et ses enfants – d’où les parties d’échec, les promenades en barque et les interminables récits imaginaires.

Mais le 27 septembre 1863, un événement eut lieu. Brutalement, toute relation cessa : alors qu’il travaillait encore à rédiger pour la petite Alice le conte qui la mettait en scène, Lewis Carroll fut déclaré persona non grata dans la maison Liddell. Il ne verra plus jamais les enfants – en tout cas, jamais en privé. Les centaines de lettres qu’il envoya à Alice, et sans doute aussi à Harry et à Lorina, furent bientôt brûlées par leur mère. Celle-ci fit savoir que le nom de Carroll ne devait plus jamais être prononcé devant elle, et lorsqu’un universitaire entreprit la biographie de son mari helléniste, elle lui imposa de ne faire aucune mention du professeur de mathématiques. Celui-ci devait passer le reste de sa vie à photographier des petites filles, tout en devenant une star mondiale de la littérature pour enfants.

Que s’est-il donc passé entre Alice et son pygmalion ? Comment expliquer une rupture aussi violente ? Le Journal que tint scrupuleusement Lewis Carroll aurait pu renseigner la postérité si une main – bien ou mal avisée ? – n’avait déchiré la page du 27 septembre 1863. Et tout serait décidément resté à l’état d’hypothèses si Karoline Leach, auteur de scénarios pour la télévision, n’avait découvert par hasard, le 3 mai 1996, dans les archives de Guilford, le document qui incite à relire toute l’histoire de Lewis Carroll. Il s’agit d’un bout de papier déchiré où se trouvent résumées les pages volontairement «censurées» du journal. Violet Dodgson, nièce et gardienne des papiers de Lewis Carroll entre 1929 et 1966, y a noté d’une écriture très reconnaissable ce que contenait la page du 27 septembre 1863 : «L. C. apprend de Mme Liddell qu’on murmure qu’il utilise les enfants afin de courtiser la gouvernante – et [certains (?)] murmurent aussi qu’il fait la cour à Ina (diminutif de Lorina, la sœur aînée d’Alice)

Ces quelques lignes, immédiatement publiées dans le Times Literary Supplement, furent un coup de tonnerre. L’hypothèse selon laquelle Lewis Carroll aurait demandé Alice en mariage, que les universitaires avaient fini par tenir pour acquise, s’effondrait comme un jeu de cartes. L’une des amitiés les plus touchantes de l’histoire littéraire n’était pas morte de s’être indûment transformée en amour : la love story n’était qu’un montage fabriqué par le temps, comme un faux portrait de couple diffusé sur internet, fruit du rapprochement oiseux de deux photographies parfaitement anodines. Il fallait tout revoir. Il fallait, pour comprendre la vie de Lewis Carroll, prendre en compte le rôle très considérable joué par la rumeur dans l’Angleterre victorienne, que l’écrivain défie sans cesse par la fantaisie de ses contes.

Retour aux passages conservés du Journal. Que lit-on ? Le 17 mai 1857, alors que son intimité avec les Liddell commence à peine, Lewis Carroll écrit : «J’ai découvert, à ma grande surprise, que certains étudiants interprètent l’attention que je porte (aux enfants) comme une marque d’intérêt à l’égard de Miss Prickett, la gouvernante. (…) Ce serait manquer de tact envers (elle) que de continuer de donner prise à des remarques de cette sorte.» Une première fois, donc, Lewis Carroll avait senti la menace de celle que les Anglais appellent « Mrs. Grundy », la voix de la rumeur, incarnation proverbiale des conventions victoriennes. Mais en dépit de ses résolutions, il avait continué de fréquenter assidûment la famille Liddell – ainsi que quelques autres, dont les MacDonald, les Price, les Brodie. En 1863, lorsqu’il apprend que non seulement les rumeurs anciennes concernant Miss Prickett ne se sont pas affaiblies, mais qu’elles concernent maintenant l’aînée de ses amis, son sang ne fait qu’un tour. Et c’est sans doute d’un commun accord avec Mme Liddell, et non pas congédié par elle, que Lewis Carroll s’éloigne de la famille. Hélas ! En faisant la lumière sur cet événement, le document découvert par Leach remettait en cause toute la biographie de Carroll.

Pendant trois ans, Karoline Leach s’efforça donc, avec plus ou moins de bonheur, de démolir point par point le récit officiel. La première version de sa biographie de Carroll (In the shadow of the dreamchild. A new understanding of Lewis Carroll, Owen, 1999) est un véritable chamboule-tout. Avec la précision d’un sniper, elle renverse une à une les suspicions attachées à la personne de l’écrivain. Elle observe d’abord que Lewis Carroll, loin d’avoir été solitaire, participait très activement à la vie littéraire, photographique et théâtrale de son temps. Que ses amitiés avec les enfants étaient soigneusement inscrites dans le cadre de la famille – il était souvent l’ami des parents – et articulées à ses activités artistiques.

Dans ce contexte, elle aborde l’aspect le plus troublant des activités du personnage : ses photos de nus. C’est ici précisément qu’un jugement bien avisé ne saurait faire fi de l’histoire. Leach explique avec patience que dans ces images, qui nous semblent aujourd’hui choquantes, la nudité était perçue comme un symbole spirituel. Par effet, dira-t-on, de l’hypocrisie bourgeoise ? Peut-être. Mais d’une part, poursuit Leach, «les archives des photographes les plus célèbres de l’époque, Oscar Rejlander et Julia Margaret Cameron, regorgent d’images du même genre». D’autre part, ces images ne jouent pas pour Carroll le rôle que l’on croit.

En effet, Leach observa que les soi-disant «amies-enfants» de Lewis Carroll étaient parfois des jeunes femmes de vingt ou trente ans – ce qu’aucun «spécialiste» de l’écrivain n’avait relevé jusqu’à elle. Qu’il s’agissait, de surcroît, d’actrices dont Carroll suivait la carrière, encourageait les audaces et recherchait les privautés. Selon son interprétation, l’enfance n’était donc pour Lewis Carroll qu’une couverture destinée à cacher des liaisons aussi scandaleuses pour l’époque, celles qu’il entretenait avec des femmes parfaitement nubiles.

On mesure la méprise. Soucieuse de suivre les distorsions de la vérité, Leach montre comment Carroll vit son alibi se retourner contre lui après sa mort, et comment, à la faveur des interprétations psychanalytiques, on en vint à soupçonner de pédophilie un homme qui pensait vivre tranquillement «à l’ombre de l’enfant-idéale» ses amours avec les actrices. Soucieux de se protéger des uns, Carroll devint ensuite la cible des autres. Invincible Mrs. Grundy.

Seulement voilà, Karoline Leach, à son tour, alla trop loin. Soucieuse de dénoncer toutes les hypocrisies, elle s’attaqua au trio bourgeois formé par Monsieur et Madame Liddell avec leur adorable fille. Il lui fut aisé de montrer que l’affection (réelle) de Carroll pour Alice avait été artificiellement isolée : ce n’est même pas à elle, mais à son ami George MacDonald, que Carroll envoya le premier exemplaire de son livre ! Leach s’avisa ensuite de citer les pages fort émouvantes que Henry Liddell avait écrites à propos de l’amour entre hommes – suggérant par là que son épouse n’était peut-être pas comblée. Par déductions successives, celle-ci se retrouvait ainsi en position, suggérait Leach, d’être la véritable cause des problèmes de conscience et des crises de culpabilité que Lewis Carroll avait traversées dans les années 1860. N’était-il pas envisageable que l’écrivain ait filé avec la maman d’Alice des amours adultères ? Ainsi, en même temps qu’elle démolissait un mythe, Karoline Leach entreprenait d’en recréer un autre. Comme si le secret explicitement souhaité par Carroll, et respecté par ses héritiers à grand renfort de mensonges, appelait irrésistiblement le fantasme ou la calomnie.

Cette polémique n’est devenue constructive que tout récemment. Lors de la publication française de son livre (1), en 2010, Leach a effacé toute allusion à d’éventuelles amours entre Carroll et Mme Liddell. Sa recherche, désormais relayée par d’autres travaux, a trouvé son véritable objet : le «mythe Carroll», entendu comme l’ensemble des élucubrations universitaires, des déformations historiques et des projections imaginaires, est devenu le sujet d’études régulièrement publiées sous forme d’articles sur un site (). Abordant la question par des entrées entièrement renouvelées, les jeunes chercheurs montrent comment les secrets – définitivement impénétrables – de la vie de Lewis Carroll reflètent les caprices de la morale des peuples. Une chose, dirait Alice, «curieusement curieuse» («curiouser and curiouser»).

(1) Lewis Caroll, une réalité retrouvée, de Karoline Leach, traduit de l’anglais par Béatrice Vierne, Arléa, 250 p., 26 €.

LES MILLE VISAGES D’ALICE

L’héroïne inventée par Lewis Carroll est la toute première petite fille à avoir séduit le monde entier. Par voie de conséquence, elle s’est incarnée en une longue suite d’adaptations fascinées par le même problème : comment représenter celle que Carroll appelait «l’enfant idéale» («dreamchild») ? Et en particulier, quel âge devait-elle avoir ? Sur ce point, l’évolution de la morale, de l’éducation et de l’imaginaire collectif lié à l’enfance ont engendré bien des malentendus. Bientôt associée à un univers romantique, Alice a rapidement vieilli.

Arthur Rackham, sans doute l’un des plus grands illustrateurs du XXe siècle, fut le premier à lui donner en 1907 la taille, l’âge et les traits d’une jeune femme éthérée. L’étrangeté de l’univers carrollien y trouva une nouvelle dimension : il devenait inquiétant, comme si les moments où les personnages malmènent la petite fille prenaient le pas sur son propre amusement. Le dilemme de l’adolescence, divisée entre les responsabilités de l’âge adulte et les émois de l’enfance, s’invitait au Pays des Merveilles.

Tandis qu’évoluaient les acquis scolaires des tout-petits, le grand nombre de références manipulées par les personnages devinrent incompréhensibles (surtout aux non-anglophones), donc inquiétantes : les jeux sur les connaissances mathématiques, musicales, géographiques de l’école primaire se dissolvaient dans une lecture nocturne. Alice cessa d’incarner le bon sens enfantin – cet esprit volontiers terre-à-terre mais libre d’interdits, capable d’accéder à des raisonnements étrangers aux adultes et de tirer profit de ses erreurs… Elle devint gothique. L’adaptation cinématographique de Tim Burton (2009) magnifia le Chapelier Fou, mais acheva de tuer le personnage d’Alice : à la fin du film, la jeune femme suggère même à son père de se lancer… dans le commerce avec la Chine !

Pour lutter contre la colonisation du Pays des Merveilles par les adultes, un certain nombre d’illustrateurs ont cherché refuge dans l’apparence d’Alice Liddell : les interprétations de Thomas Perino (Seuil, 2008) ou de Rébecca Dautremer (Hachette, 2010) ont ainsi renoncé aux boucles blondes pour montrer une brunette arborant une coupe au carré.

Liberté des artistes ? Pourquoi pas. A condition de ne pas donner des leçons d’histoire en se cachant derrière la «vraie Alice». En réalité, Carroll ne prit à la petite Liddell que son nom ; ses propres dessins et les directives qu’il donna à John Tenniel, le tout premier illustrateur, indiquent très clairement que l’apparence de la «dreamchild» s’inspire de deux autres petites filles qu’il prit en photo : Mary Hilton Badcock et Beatrice Henley, plus blondes l’une que l’autre. Walt Disney, autre génie de l’enfance, fut scrupuleusement fidèle à ce cliché, absolument central à l’époque victorienne, toujours majeur dans les années 1950. Et pour le XXIe siècle ? On attend encore les images d’une Alice qui seraient, comme tous les personnages de rêves, «ni tout à fait la même, ni tout à fait une autre».

Voir de même:

« Lewis Carroll »: A Myth in the Making

Karoline Leach

The Victorian web

[« ‘Lewis Carroll’: A Myth in the Making » has been adapted with permission of author and publisher from the opening chapter of Karoline Leach’s In the Shadow of the Dreamchild (London: Peter Owen Ltd, 1999). E-mail: Antonia@peterowen.com. British Reviews of the book.]

« Lewis Carroll is among the immortals of literature, C. L. Dodgson was soon forgotten, except by the very few. » — Claude M. Blagden, Student of Christ Church from 1896.

« He was the last saint of this irreverent world; those who have surrendered the myths of Santa Claus, … of Jehovah, hang their last remnants of mysticism on Lewis Carroll and will not allow themselves to examine him dispassionately » — Florence Becker Lennon

Charles Dodgson was born on January 27 1832. He lived his life and eventually died on January 14 1898.

« Lewis Carroll » was born on March 1 1856, and is still very much alive.

The hundred years of scholarship surrounding the author of Alice, has, I suggest, been largely concerned with the second rather than the first of these two incarnations. It has been devoted primarily to a potent mythology surrounding the name « Lewis Carroll », rather than the reality of the man, Dodgson. The evidence for this is everywhere, the reasons are only partly explicable in rational terms.

Charles Dodgson’s family’s incursive destruction of his papers immediately after his death, and their steady refusal to allow evidence to be made public, meant that the first hand biographical evidence remained almost non-existent until the second half of this present century. In a separate but ultimately linked development, a massive and almost irresistible myth surrounding the name « Lewis Carroll » had begun to develop even while Dodgson still lived. In the fallow space left by the lack of prima facie evidence, and the silence of his family, this myth grew in an unprecedented and powerful way. When early biographers wrote their studies of Lewis Carroll, lacking almost all first hand evidence, they had little choice but to fill their books with the stuff of this myth. And thus very early on it became dignified by an apparent scholastic pedigree. Later biographers took their lead and repeated these supposedly already verified « facts ».

By the time any large amounts of prima facie data became available, the supposed « truth » about Charles Dodgson’s life had become so well known, so embedded in the scholastic tradition that revision on any major scale seemed unnecessary, even impertinent. And evidence — sometimes extremely large and conclusive amounts of evidence — that suggested other possibilities tended to be marginalised and ignored. Thus, scholarship itself has become enmeshed in the evolution of the myth, in a way that may be unique in literary scholarship. Thus, the current biography of the author of Alice is in some of its most important respects, an invented biography of an invented name. It is more an extended essay on the unconscious power of myth and its place in the most civilised society, than it is any kind of full exposition of Dodgson’s life.

I am not about to suggest by this that all modern biographers of Lewis Carroll are wilful story-tellers or incompetent fantasists. I am not about to suggest that they have no regard for the value of evidence. On the contrary, the last thirty years have seen something of a renaissance in Lewis Carroll scholarship. Research that ought to have been undertaken years before, has finally got under way. Volumes of his letters were published in the late 1970s. His unexpurgated diary is at present being prepared for publication.

But so far, the effect of this renaissance has only been to emphasise the degree to which the Carroll image exists beyond the reach of such evidence, in a curious quasi-religious realm of faith and intuition; the extent to which the entire Carroll phenomenon — popular culture and scholarship — manifests the psychology of iconicism, in its most bizarre and subliminal form. The image of the man presented by the biographies is so uniform and so confidently asserted that it gives the impression of arising from a firm and irrefutable basis. It seems inevitable that this degree of certainty, of unity, must have a considerable amount of good evidence at its source. But in fact something much stranger than straightforward biography is at work here.

Lewis Carroll’s first biography appeared, officially sanctioned by the family, within months of his death in 1898. The image it presented of the man and his life has changed very little in the ensuing hundred years. By now, it is familiar. It is a portrait of a Victorian clergyman, shy and prim, and locked to some degree in perpetual childhood. A Janus who stumbled into genius through psychological fragmentation. A man who « had no life », who lived apart from the world and apart from normal human contact, who was monkish and chaste, and « died a virgin ».

Perhaps above all else, it is a portrait of a man emotionally focused on pre-pubescent female children; a man who sought comfort and companionship exclusively through serial friendships with « little girls », and who almost invariably lost interest in them when they reached puberty. His emotional life is presented as an ultimately sterile and lonely series of « repeated rejections », as the little ones grew up and inevitably left him behind. Since Freudian analysis plucked out the heart of his mystery sixty years ago, and found it cankered, this obsession has been seen by many as evidence of a repressed and deviant sexuality, and Carroll has been described as a man who struggled to master his « differing sexual appetites ». To the popular press and the popular mind he is seen as a « paedophile ». To distinguished scholars he is a man who « wanted the company of female children ».

In the most high profile and respected of modern biography, Carroll is variously described as one « [whose] sexual energies sought unconventional outlets », who was « utterly depend[ent] upon the company and the affection of little girls ». It is said with certainty that he was infamous for this passion even during his own lifetime, his photography of their bodies « perilously close to a kind of substitute for the sexual act ». (Bakewell, xvii, 245, Cohen, 530). Even those who do not accept the sexual connotation, and set out to « defend » him against a supposed Freudian stigma — like Derek Hudson’s 1954 biography, and Roger Lancelyn Green’s preface to the edited Diaries of 1953 — make no attempt to question his supposed exclusive passion for the girl child. Their contention is merely that this obsession was largely sexless, because Lewis Carroll was too emotionally immature, too « simple hearted » to experience adult sexual desire for anyone or anything, or too prim to give any expression to it. For Hudson the very idea of Carroll as a sexual being was « delightfully absurd »: He was a man who carried his childhood with him; the love that he understood and longed for was a protective love … (Hudson, 100, 188). But the most academically impeccable of recent works, the one described more than once as « definitive », is the most outspoken about the nature and exclusivity of Lewis Carroll’s obsession. Professor Morton Cohen’s Lewis Carroll: a Biography entirely disowns the image of the asexual eternal child in favour of a picture of « a highly charged, fully grown male, with strong mature emotional responses » whose « emotions focus[ed] on children, not on adults ». (193) It is a passionately believed-in portrait of a rigidly-controlled sexual deviant.

Whichever interpretation is presented, whether of controlled deviancy or of absolute asexuality, the axiom on which they both depend, indeed the axiom upon which the entire analysis of Carroll’s life and literature depends, is the assumption that the girl-child was the single outlet for his emotional and creative energies in an otherwise lonely and isolated life. That she was the sole inspiration for his genius; that she inhabited the place in his heart, occupied in more normal lives by adult friends and by lovers. This belief, and its corollaries — his loneliness and his unassailable chastity — are the assumptions by which everything else about Carroll is evaluated.

The consensus seems to put the matter beyond question. It persuades us that the image of Carroll available in every biography is well-founded, and evidentially secure. The idea that so much respected tradition might be no more than a collation of powerful but baseless myths seems an outrageous and impudent suggestion. But nonetheless, it happens to be true.

The prima facie record, as it has emerged over the past fifty years, simply does not adequately support these images, or the present certainties of modern biography that have been built upon them. As this book will attempt to show, the very reverse is the case.

The man who emerges from the pages of Dodgson’s diary and from his own extensive correspondence is not a « simple-hearted », naive dreamer of children, not a shy asexual recluse, loathing little boys, obsessed with little girls and unable to function in an adult world. The legend is true insofar that his preferred companions were always female, but he never hated boys or men, in fact he enjoyed several important men and boy-friendships in his life. And, despite frequent self-caricature as a « hermit », and despite its frequent repetition in biography, he was never any kind of a recluse. His diary makes it clear that he was almost addicted to company — particularly female company — and he never had any shortage of this in his life. In fact certain times were characterised for him by an almost obsessive socialising, hurrying about London visiting artists and writers and business associates, and his innumerable female friends, making more than half a dozen calls a day and fitting in theatre-visits and invitations to dine in between. Myth has just preferred to have it otherwise.

The same applies to an even greater extent to the most controversial and least understood area of Dodgson’s life. Perhaps the defining emblem of his existence, whether seen as saintly uncle or as deviant; the belief that Lewis Carroll gave his love and attention exclusively to pre-pubescent girl children; that he abandoned all these friendships when the girls reached fourteen.

The reality of the life recorded in his diaries and his letters allows of no such glib and easy dismissal. It was Dodgson who invented the now famous term « child-friend ». But with typical elusiveness he chose to use it in a peculiarly personal, almost deliberately misleading way. For Dodgson a « child-friend » was any female of almost any age — at least under forty — with whom he enjoyed a relationship of a special kind of closeness. Some indeed were little girls, some began as such but grew up and were still « child-friends » at twenty or thirty; some were given the name even though their relationship with Dodgson began when they were young women. A little girl of ten and a married woman of thirty five, a child he met once at the beach and a woman he shared intimate exchanges with for twenty years or more, might equally be termed « child-friends » by Dodgson. Far from losing interest in girls when they reached puberty, at any one time a substantial proportion – anything from 30 to 90% — of his « child-friends » were already at or well beyond this watershed.

In defiance of everything that is presently believed, and beneath the misleading and infantilising appellation, his women-friendships were numerous. There were married women like Constance Burch, widows like Edith Shute and Sarah Blakemore, and single girls like Theo Heaphy, May Miller and « darling Isa » Bowman. These women were an integral part of his life, a potent source of companionship and comfort. They went on theatre trips with him, or dined tete-à-tete with him in his rooms, sometimes nursed him when he was ill, mended his clothes, shared his lodgings for extended periods. Some of them modelled for his camera, in what he called « outré » costume, long after leaving their childhood behind.

Many of these relationships were evidently very intimate and important to him; indeed he defied the conventions of his society in order to maintain them. Some of them were heavily sexualised, possessive and jealous, and certainly rumoured at the time to be sexual. He was gossiped about in consequence, sometimes vindictively, his social life, his photography all the source of powerful rumour. The gossip dogged and worried him. « Mrs. Grundy » became his personal Torquemada, tut-tutting at his heels as he walked his women-friends through polite society; whispering and hinting and rumour-mongering behind his back. His philosophy about such disapproval was barbed, but resigned.

You need not be shocked at my being spoken against. Anybody, who is spoken about at all, is sure to be spoken against by somebody. [Letters, II, 978]

he wrote to his morally-panicked younger sister, when talk about his relationship with a 25 year old woman threatened open scandal.

Beyond the bland and insincere mythology, his mature life was dominated by such scandals, about his attachment to married ladies, or unmarried women, prepared to surrender something of their reputation to be with him, in open defiance of the prevailing moral code. The reality of the author of Alice, his life and his literature, is of a rich and curious existence that, for a century or more, both biography and popular imagery have elected to ignore, in favour of a largely invented portrait.

Such apparently radical contentions will doubtless outrage those who like their biographical certitudes to be absolute, but, as I hope I will show, they are contentions that are considerably better supported by the evidence than almost any part of the current consensus. But before we begin any in-depth re-analysis of the data and its interpretation, I think we should look at how the current image was arrived at, and why it might be at the same time, so popular and so far-removed from any demonstrable reality.

The answer to the first part of this is, I believe, that his life has fallen victim, not simply to biographical selectivity, but to the process of iconisation. Lewis Carroll has become a myth almost as powerful as his fairy tale.

Carroll and his Alice have always shared a strange incestuous kind of immortality. Almost from the moment of her literary birth, they have been the two parts of a bizarre and unique symbiosis where the author and his creation have penetrated one another, merging until the boundaries of their identities are no longer clear. At the centre of the Alice stories lies the image of Carroll and at the centre of the Carroll image lies Alice. With the spread of his fame worldwide, the name « Lewis Carroll », an invention, the conceit of a man who liked to play with words and symbols, became in itself a word-symbol, a semi-tangible rendering of an idea. It became aspiration.

For the Victorians, caught as they were on the cusp of a new age in which all old certainties were dying, « Lewis Carroll » came to mean a readiness to believe — in wonderland, fairytales, innocence, sainthood, the fast-fading vision of a golden age when it seemed possible for humanity to transcend the human condition. Carroll became a way of affirming that such things really had once been. Even before Dodgson’s death, his assumed name had become the ultimate embodiment of this Victorian aspiration toward otherworldliness. « Lewis Carroll » was the Pied Piper and Francis of Assisi. His supposed tenderness for all children was seen as part of a Christlike renunciation of adult pleasure and the adult world. It became an emanation of the strange Victorian obsession with childhood innocence, that identified immaturity with inviolability in a way impossible for us now.

In common with so many icons2-in-the-making, Dodgson himself was one of the first to perceive the growth of the myth surrounding Carroll, and with typical contrariness he both deplored and manipulated it. He instinctively understood the power of an image. He was throughout his life, not only impulsive and contradictory, but also quite a shameless manipulator of his own persona, who could very cleverly present a view of himself designed to produce his desired effect, and as we will see further on « Carroll » began to be famous at precisely the time in Dodgson’s life when he was most filled with self-doubt, most motivated to consciously re-invent himself. The guise of the patron saint of children offered itself at precisely the right time, and he took it up, as a part-time persona. By a kind of mutual agreement, he and his society began creating their mutually beneficial myth of Carroll and little girls.

Purity was exactly what the Victorians wanted to connect with Carroll, and purity was precisely what it (intermittently) suited Dodgson to have associated with himself. His genuine and instinctive affection for children began to be selfconscious, exaggerated, and, inevitably, somewhat insincere. He began to play the part of child-worshipper, with a strange mix of sincerity and irony. He invented the word « child-friend », but misused it, with almost malicious intent. He worshipped the child as an article of religious faith, and exploited it as a means of concealment for his own unconventional, possibly sexual, relationships with women. It was inextricably bound up with his wish to rediscover himself as an innocent man, and — on a different level — his cynical wish for others to see him as innocent. Carroll’s love for the child was always in part a construction. In real terms, children were never as prominent in his life as the legend, or even Dodgson’s own testimony, would have it.

« Carroll » became one of the truths by which his age measured itself and its values, and reassured itself that all was well. By the 1890s, the « reality » of this image was already an axiom, magazine articles celebrated « a genuine lover of children », « as tenderly attached to his mathematical studies as he is to children », inhabiting « an El Dorado of innocent delights ». And even those who knew Dodgson, were persuaded that they saw Carroll and drew him in impossibly idealised lines. To his adoring artist friend Gertrude Thomson he was « not exactly an ordinary human being of flesh and blood. Rather … some delicate, ethereal spirit, enveloped for the moment in a semblance of common humanity. » (Harper’s Monthly Magazine, July 1890, 254; Illustrated News, 4 April 1891, 435; Interviews and Recollections, 235) To an extent one can see the same compulsion operating in the biographies of other « immortal » children’s storytellers. Hans Christian Andersen and Edward Lear have to a lesser degree been separated from the full meaning of their own lives, crammed, sometimes with great struggle, into the sailor-suit of perpetual childhood (an outfit that for Lear, with his syphilis and his possible bisexuality, seems particularly inappropriate), and then condemned for their inability to grow up. (Levi, 31) Perhaps there is something in us that refuses to allow the heroes of our own childhood out of the nursery, even while it finds them infinitely suspect for remaining there. But only Lewis Carroll has inspired such an irresistible need to realign him as a fiction. Only to him, partly by reason of his own personal charisma, and proactive involvement in making the legend, has it fallen to become a genuine icon, an image for every subsequent generation.

Even while Dodgson was still alive, and practising his own personal brand of morality, the evidence of possible sexual activity was the aspect of reality most invisible to the Carroll legend. In keeping with the vaguely religious and Christlike undertone of his mythology, Carroll has always, as an imperative, been required to appear chaste. Even now, when widely perceived as a deviant, he is defined absolutely as a non-practising, essentially innocent and virginal deviant. An abstinence from sexual activity is the first requirement of his mythology. It is an indication of the power of this need, as well as the extraordinary degree to which « Lewis Carroll » already enjoyed an existence independent of Dodgson in the public mind, that while this mythic image of child-centredness was already the assumed reality of « Carroll », his alter ego Charles Dodgson was the subject of a widespread gossip that contradicted this image almost entirely. Dodgson was being condemned and criticised for his unconventional contacts with grown women, even while « Carroll » was being sanctified for loving only children. The scandals about women and cutesy magazine stories of « little girls » co-existed but never touched. It is as if, in the public mind, the two were already quite separate individuals, and suggests that it is within our perception, not within him, that the famous « dual personality » has its root.

However complicit he may have been in using the prevalent fictions to his own advantage, the myth was not of Dodgson’s making. It existed beyond his control, and it effortlessly survived him. While he lived, the drive to turn Dodgson into Carroll was held in check to an extent by his corporeal existence. Dodgson’s life and the Carroll image existed in semi-detached tolerance of one another. But, when Dodgson died in the new year of 1898, « Carroll » continued with barely a blip, barely a shiver. To the irresistible process of bizarre apotheosis, the death was hardly more than the shedding of a skin.

Unsurprisingly, the obituaries of January 1898 set a tone of respectful eulogy on a Christian life decently lived. It is not surprising that they had nothing to say about its more controversial aspects. This was nineteenth century England, which did not have quite our modern appetite for the « outing » of the guilty. But amnesia about the reality of Dodgson’s life extended beyond what was required by the most punctilious discretion, into something far stranger.

Over the years immediately following his death, many people who had known Charles Dodgson left their impressions of him. These were almost uniformly sincere tributes from those who had admired, respected or loved him. But even the most affectionate of them seemed unable to forget it was « Lewis Carroll » they were conjuring, and in pursuit of him, not only did they choose to disregard those aspects that might have appeared morally ambiguous, they began a process of selective remembering, concentrating on the special, the magical, the unworldly or child-like aspects of Dodgson’s character to the exclusion of the ordinary, the everyday, the « normal » or the worldly. It was as if they turned the general need to believe into an article of personal faith and themselves into disciples and handmaidens; clutching the hem of the new messiah as he danced down the roads of memory, touched by magic, softened by nostalgia; « the property of an older and vanishing world. »

As he began to be seen across the great divide of a brand new century, as all the Victorian certainties collapsed into the disaster of the Great War, and the brave new world beyond, so the need to believe that what Carroll was seen to represent had once been real became ever more fervent. Alice Maitland’s heartfelt cry, « Alas! alas! that life should change; …all the dear, old, familiar places and faces disappear », could be the leitmotif for all such memoirists. In their poignant visions of antique rectitude, in the images of the perpetual child, lost in the golden splendour of a perpetual summer day, we see not reality but desperate and touching aspiration. The need to be sure that once it had really been like that. The memoirs are lyrical in their evocations of the latter-day Merlin, half lost in his own vivid fancy, or the quaint creaky philosopher with a heart of unassailable goodness. He was remembered as « one of the few genuine scholar-saints », as « a bringer of delight in those dim, far-off days’, as « one of those innocents of whom is the Kingdom of Heaven ». (Interviews and Recollections, 68-9, 124, 163, 181, 186.)

What he could never be was an adult, human male. And most things that demonstrated his sexual identity, his adulthood, were swiftly lost from the tradition, while hyperbole converted his eccentricities into near grotesqueries, his complexities into simplistic absolutes. He had to be sealed off from the ordinary, preserved for posterity, half in the cloister, half in fairyland. It was a process expedited, perhaps legitimised, by the first work of biography to appear after his death.

Voir de même:

ART begets certainties that biography can’t confirm. We know, for instance, that Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, whose nom de plume was Lewis Carroll, loved little girls a little too much. Only a man with a dangerous affinity with female children could have produced the defiantly sane Alice, debunker of Wonderland; the beautiful and troubling photographs of her real-life counterpart, Alice Liddell; and all those other portraits of startlingly unbashful prepubescent maidens. The historical record, riddled with gaps made when Dodgson’s family excised passages from his diary or mislaid volumes altogether, doesn’t prove Dodgson’s — let’s not call it pedophilia, let’s call it obsession — but doesn’t disprove it either, and so into the evidentiary void generations of biographers and novelists and filmmakers have poured their beliefs about his secret sexual predilections, which have been repeated so often they have attained the status of fact.

But what if those beliefs turned out to be wrong? In a book published three years ago in Britain, called  »In the Shadow of the Dreamchild, » the British playwright Karoline Leach proposed a revision of the reigning perception of Dodgson. Dodgson, she argues, was not the man his hagiographers made him out to be. He was not a sweet, saintly, shy, stuttering Oxford mathematics don, afraid of grown women and drawn to under-age females in partial or total undress. He was a witty, urbane, well-connected roué, a bit bored by his academic duties but completely alert to women — and not just preteenage women, but full-breasted teenagers, women nearing or past the age of majority, and in one notable case, a woman five years his senior.

This last is the subject of Leach’s most interesting and problematic claim, which is that the great love of Dodgson’s life was not Alice, as has been unanimously supposed, but her mother, Lorina Liddell, a famous beauty married to a man widely believed to have been in love with one of his male colleagues. (Her husband, Henry George Liddel, was the dean of Christ Church, the Oxford college where Dodgson taught.) Leach, like all Dodgson biographers, bases her argument on a reading of three obscure but crucial passages in the Dodgson story. There was, first, the mysterious incident in late June 1863 that led to the Liddells’ break with Dodgson after years of close friendship. Second, there is the page cropped clumsily from his 1863 diary, in which the causes of the break were presumably explained. Third, there are the many entries in that diary and others from the period in which Dodgson chronicles his anguished battles with sin, and begs God for strength to resist it.

Morton N. Cohen, considered the greatest living Dodgson scholar, speculated in his 1995 biography that the sin was his love for Alice and that the incident involved her in some way. He suggests that Dodgson may have alarmed her mother by hinting at marriage with Alice. Leach, however, has since discovered a scrap of paper in the archives written in the hand of Dodgson’s niece, one of the guardians of his papers. The paper is headed  »Cut Pages in Diary » and contains a short summary of three entries. One of these is the missing entry, which appears to have described a conversation between Mrs. Liddell and Dodgson in which she tells him that he is thought to be using the children to get to the governess or else to be courting the oldest Liddell daughter, Alice’s sister Ina.

Leach makes much of the fact that the missing page says nothing about Alice — indeed, there is little mention of Alice in any of the diaries — and shows, instead, intense anxiety about gossip. To bolster her theory, Leach adduces other evidence, all of it circumstantial: that Dodgson frequently quoted Psalm 51, King David’s hymn of repentance after his adultery with Bathsheba, in his pleas for God’s forgiveness; that the heroine of Dodgson’s love poetry written at that period was an elusive woman, not a child; that in 1862 Dodgson got the dean to exempt him from an Oxford rule requiring certain teachers to become priests in the Church of England — something the proper Liddell would only have done if he had to, perhaps out of a fear of scandal. Leach points out that in Victorian society an adulterous affair would have been much more damaging to all parties implicated than mere attraction to a child, which would have been dismissed as a charming foible.

Is Leach right? Her book has been well received in British literary circles, and she tells the story of the hypothetical affair, and both families’ efforts to suppress all trace of it, with the flair of a writer of scholarly detective fiction. More important than the truth of her thesis, though, is the skepticism she brings to the stereotype of the genius as emasculated misfit. But in an effort to explain the origins of the myth of pedophilia, Leach also advances a theory that strikes this reader as too subtle by half.

Later in life, after the  »Alice » books had made him famous, Dodgson began to cultivate a public image as a patron of little girls. He prowled beaches and streets to strike up their acquaintance; he begged mothers to let him escort the girls around town; he photographed them naked. Reading Dodgson’s letters carefully, Leach shows that many of the females Dodgson called his  »child-friends » were actually postpubescent teenagers and even young adult women, and concludes that Dodgson, and later his family, stressed his love of children in order to deflect attention from his intimacies with unmarried women, which his contemporaries would have found far more disgraceful.

And yet, to emphasize Dodgson’s adult sexuality, Leach feels she must play down the unusual attention he unquestionably paid to girls of, say, 8 and up. Many of his older  »child-friends » entered his life as actual children, and faded out of it in their mid-20’s. It is as if he made no distinction between the child and the adult. A refusal to respect the sanctity of childhood may be even more disturbing than excessive love of it, but this does help us understand the one body of work that appears to contradict Leach’s thesis: Dodgson’s photographs. The best of these are of little girls; none of his pictures of boys or grown men and women are half as good. Their success lies in their unsentimentality and Dodgson’s ability to solicit from the girls expressions of emotion as full-blown and complex as any adult’s.

One girl in her nightgown stares at the photographer in dismay at her uncombable hair. Another stands on her father’s back and crows with triumphant glee. Alice Liddell looks out from her beggar maid’s and Chinese costumes with an inquisitiveness so grave it can’t help being seductive, as if to say, I’m not sure what game you’re playing here, but I know it has consequences. There are both love and trust in that look, feelings that had to have been encouraged and reciprocated, whether romantically or in some less categorizable way. Art may not be enough to solve the puzzles of life, but if it’s good, it doesn’t lie.

Voir par ailleurs:

From Caravaggio to Graham Ovenden: do artists’ crimes taint their art?

A court this week ordered the destruction of portraits belonging to artist and sex offender Graham Ovenden on grounds of indecency – to the dismay of some observers. The question of how to treat such objects is not going away

Emine Saner

The Guardian

17 October 2015

In Court 1 of Hammersmith magistrates court on Tuesday, a judge was deciding the fate of hundreds of photographs and pictures. District Judge Elizabeth Roscoe had to rule on whether works by and belonging to the artist Graham Ovenden, a convicted paedophile, were indecent. She decided they were, ordering the destruction of a number of them, including photographs of young girls taken by the French writer and artist Pierre Louÿs in the 1860s and 1870s, and works by the German artist Wilhelm von Plüschow.

The judge acknowledged she would “invite the wrath of the art world” and said she was “no judge of art or artistic merit”. Her decision led one writer this week to compare her decision to “an act of medievalism to match any of the statue-smashing antics of the Islamic State”. Outside the court, Ovenden said: “I am a famous artist. I am an equally famous photographer, and they are destroying material which has been in the public domain for over 40 years.”

What troubled Judge Roscoe was that some of the images “appear to be sexually provocative. Some, whether overtly or not, evoke poses by adult women that are intended to be sexually alluring.” She was assessing the images, she said, “on the basis of the ‘recognised standards of propriety’ which exist today”.

From a legal perspective, what is indecent in England and Wales is subjective. “It’s purely down to the [judge’s] personal opinion. A different judge could reach a different verdict,” says Alisdair Gillespie, a professor of criminal law at Lancaster University who specialises in child pornography law. Photographs come under the Protection of Children Act 1978, whereas paintings would be dealt with as a prohibited image of a child under a different Act.

“The difficulty is that photographs that are classed as indecent are what we call child pornography, and the test is vague at best. There is no [permissible] defence of artistic merit, where there would be under obscene publications [which paintings are usually tested under], and there is case law that says context is irrelevant.”

He acknowledges differences of opinion. “There has always been doubt as to where child nudity fits into our laws. Some countries decide child pornography means sexualised photographs [to distinguish] between indecency and sexuality. Our laws cover nudity, which other countries might not.” Once a judge has decided an image is indecent, he or she has no choice but to order its forfeiture. On the whole, he says, our child pornography laws work well. “Where I think it doesn’t particularly work is at the very nuances, the close decisions. But if you were the government, would you change the law? Probably not.”

Gillespie says art is assessed in itself, and Ovenden’s conviction is not relevant to a judge. But what about the rest of us? In 2013, Ovenden, who has never shown remorse, was sentenced to two years in prison after his earlier non-custodial sentence for sexual offences against children in the 1970s and 1980s was ruled unduly lenient. But Ovenden, who had once produced a book titled Aspects of Lolita, had been considered a suspect figure long before his 2013 conviction. In 1991, US customs officials seized proofs from a book of images of children by Ovenden. Two years later, British officers removed boxes of photographs and videos from his Cornwall estate. In 2009 Ovenden was accused of making indecent images of children, but the case was thrown out.

“I’m shocked that a judge would feel they had the right to destroy these things,” says the Guardian’s art critic Adrian Searle of this latest decision. He seems less bothered about Ovenden’s work (“I always felt he was a rubbish artist”) but says there are grounds for appeal to avoid the destruction of photographs by Louÿs and others. “The judge needs to see it in the context not of Ovenden and his proclivities, or what use he put the photographs to, but in terms of [the works’] interest and importance in relation to early photography.” Also, Searle points out, they will have been reproduced over the years – destroying the originals seems idiotic.

Can you ever divorce an artist’s life from their work? “Knowing Van Gogh shot himself, does that change the way you look at his paintings? Caravaggio was a murderer – does that make you look at him differently?” Searle asks. “There are lots of things we don’t like for all sorts of temporal reasons. What is unacceptable now may not be unacceptable in the future, and ditto in the past. The Victorian sculptures of black, naked slave girls tell us something about the Victorians – they are historical documents as well as sculptures.”

The attitude, says art writer Jonathan Jones, “where people [think] the art exists in its own sphere – I think that’s not true at all. Ovenden’s art probably does reflect aspects of his life we now find deeply troubling.” The question of how harshly we should judge the art by its artist remains. Can you read Alice in Wonderland in the same way when you’ve seen Lewis Carroll’s photographs of naked girls? Or listen to Benjamin Britten’s work, knowing he wrote great music for children, with such attention, because he had an obsession with pubescent boys (as detailed in John Bridcut’s 2006 biography)?

“One school of thought is the artwork is divorced from its creator and we should make an assessment of the work in isolation from any consideration of the artist’s intentions,” says Jonathan Pugh, research fellow at Oxford University’s Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics. “One issue that muddies the water is a question of complicity. Certain kinds of art might involve complicity in further wrongdoings. If we think that displaying certain works might entice people to carry out wrongs of the sort that are depicted in the work, then that might be cause for moral concern.”

If we only allowed art by artists with unimpeachable moral standards, we’d have empty libraries and galleries. But it appears there are degrees of what we will tolerate. If the sexual abuse of children seems to be the crime that a viewer or reader cannot get over, apparently it’s only for a while. There are no calls for the works of Caravaggio, for instance, to be hidden or destroyed, even though his paintings Victorious Cupid and St John the Baptist are of a naked, pre-pubescent boy, an assistant with whom Caravaggio is believed to have been having sex – which we would consider to be abuse by today’s standards. Instead, they are considered masterpieces. But you don’t have to go back centuries. The BBC, while busy purging all mention of Jimmy Savile, has said there are no plans to remove sculptures by Eric Gill – a man who abused his daughters, and had sex with not only his sister but also his dog – outside Broadcasting House, despite calls from charities representing people who have survived abuse asking them to do so. The Tate, which removed 34 works by Ovenden from its online collection following his conviction, has many works by Gill, who died in 1940. The Tate said it had sought to establish any connection between Ovendon’s work and his crimes, and that the prints can still be viewed on application.

It has been pretty obvious that in the art world, and in wider society, great art confers a degree of protection, which has to explain why many in Hollywood stick by Roman Polanski, even though the film director sexually assaulted a child. The passing of time, and the death of an artist, also seems to help rehabilitate work. “If the art is good then the story of the life illuminates it,” says Jones. It would be a mistake to consider Ovenden a “great” artist, he adds, and some of Ovenden’s work now looks “extremely troubling”, but that does not justify its destruction. Demonising art, he says, “is not a rational response to it. There is no way that you should punish the art for the crimes of the artist. A civilised society preserves art and tries to learn from it.”

Ovenden was given 21 days to appeal, and those who disagree with the judge’s decision will be in the uncomfortable position of supporting a paedophile’s right to keep his collection of questionable images. Ovenden has suggested the V&A take them, but this would be up to the police. The police have the right to destroy them, says Gillespie. It is unlikely they could be displayed “but they could theoretically be stored. If the police were to do this, I suspect they would do so privately.”

Pictures of children, particularly naked ones, are abhorred when we know about the reprehensible motives of their creator, but even when there is no suggestion that the artist has worrying intentions or desires, their work has raised suspicion. “This lens has crept between us and the art, that says this [a hysteria over abuse] is the thing you must look at,” says Frances Spalding, the art historian and editor of art journal the Burlington magazine. “It rather destroys the pleasure in looking at certain kinds of child nudity which can be, in other ways, an expression of a joy in life.”

Several works have been looked at by police, often by the artist mothers of child subjects, even though there has been no suggestion any abuse has taken place, or that the artists have suspect motives. In 2001, police visited the Saatchi Gallery after concern was raised about a photograph of the artist Tierney Gearon’s children, photographed naked on a beach. No further action was taken. “I don’t see sex in any of those prints, and if someone else reads that into them, then surely that is their issue, not mine,” wrote Gearon in this paper about the uproar. In 2007, a photograph of two little girls – one partially clothed and dancing over another naked child – by the American photographer Nan Goldin was seized from the Baltic gallery in Gateshead (it was later returned after the CPS decided it was not indecent).

Richard Prince’s work, Spiritual America, an appropriation of a nude photograph of the then 10-year-old Brooke Shields, wearing makeup and posing provocatively, was removed from an exhibition at Tate Modern in 2009. Last year, a gallery in Germany cancelled an exhibition of photographs by the artist Balthus after public criticism. But both Prince’s work and Balthus’s photographs had been shown elsewhere without incident.

The American photographer Sally Mann’s work Immediate Family, published in a book in 1992, became instantly controversial: her fascinating and beautiful black-and-white images, which included naked photographs of her three young children, were said to be pornographic by some (mainly on the religious right). Mann has defended herself, saying her photographs are “natural through the eyes of a mother”. She has talked of a time just before hysteria about paedophilia exploded. Child pornography, she said, “wasn’t in people’s consciousness. Showing my children’s bodies didn’t seem unusual to me. Exploitation was the farthest thing from my mind.”

Voir aussi:

 Des photos d’enfants nus choquent l’Australie

S’attaquant au sujet, une revue d’art australienne, « Art Monthly Australia », vient de publier, en couverture de son numéro de juillet, la photographie d’une fillette de 6 ans, nue.

Marie-Morgane Le Moël

Le Monde

23.07.2008

Les photos d’art montrant des enfants nus sont-elles acceptables ? En Australie, c’est devenu un débat national, discuté dans les dîners ou à la tête du gouvernement.

S’attaquant au sujet, une revue d’art australienne, Art Monthly Australia, vient de publier, en couverture de son numéro de juillet, la photographie d’une fillette de 6 ans, nue. Mal lui en a pris : la commission australienne de classification va procéder à l’examen de la revue pour déterminer si elle peut être vendue librement.

La polémique a pris de l’ampleur depuis plusieurs semaines.

Tout a débuté lorsque fin mai, la police fédérale a mené une perquisition dans une galerie d’art de Sydney, sur le point d’inaugurer une exposition de Bill Henson, un photographe renommé, connu pour ses portraits en noir et blanc. Les policiers emportent alors des épreuves photographiques montrant une adolescente poitrine nue. L’affaire prend rapidement une dimension nationale, lorsque le premier ministre, Kevin Rudd, se dit « absolument révolté » par les images. Tandis que des associations de défense des enfants protestent contre une « exploitation » des adolescents photographiés, de nombreux artistes crient, eux, à la censure.

Une lettre, signée des grands noms de la scène artistique australienne, dont l’actrice Cate Blanchett, est même adressée au premier ministre pour lui demander de revenir sur ses déclarations.

Il y a quelques jours, la police a finalement annoncé qu’aucune poursuite ne serait engagée à l’encontre de Bill Henson. Mais la publication du dernier numéro d’Art Monthly a ravivé les tensions. Sur le cliché, datant de 2003, la photographe Polixeni Papapetrou a fait poser sa fille, les bras croisés autour d’une jambe, dans une posture qui ne présente a priori rien de provocateur. « Cette photo a fait le tour des expositions à travers le pays depuis cinq ans, sans aucun problème. La réaction des médias et du public pose des questions non pas sur la photo, mais sur l’évolution de la société », soutient le rédacteur en chef du magazine, Maurice O’Riordan. Cette fois encore, le premier ministre travailliste a condamné les images : « Nous parlons de l’innocence de petits enfants ici. (…) Franchement, je ne peux pas supporter ce genre de choses », a affirmé M. Rudd. Dans les médias, parents ou commentateurs s’indignent de nouveau. « Le débat n’est pas le bon : on ferait mieux de se battre pour les enfants vraiment exploités », commente pour sa part James McDougall, directeur du Centre légal australien pour les enfants et les jeunes.

 Voir de plus:

FOUR years ago, artist Polixeni Papapetrou found herself the centre of a controversy when a nude photograph of her six-year-old daughter, Olympia, graced the front cover of Art Monthly.

The magazine was joining in a noisy debate that had erupted over the artistic portrayal of children in the wake of the Bill Henson debacle, when police swooped on a Sydney gallery and seized photographs of naked adolescent girls in the belief they could be pornographic (the inquiry was abandoned two weeks later and the pictures put back on display).

The effect, however, was similar to dousing a fire with petrol. Kevin Rudd called the photograph disgusting, prompting the young Olympia to face a barrage of media baying at her front door with a lofty denunciation of the then PM, and a declaration that the picture was beautiful. What is not known is that behind the impressive facade of their home in Fitzroy, Papapetrou was recovering from radical surgery for breast cancer.  »Olympia was very angry that it was happening at this time, » she recalls.

Now Papapetrou’s two children are back on display in a new exhibition, The Dreamkeepers, only this time they are fully clothed and disguised with puppet masks. As they enter adolescence, she is keen to protect their identity.

Was she surprised at the furore?  »Yes. What I failed to realise is that the culture had changed. We are living in more anxious times; we are anxious about looking at children and we worry about them being exploited. »

Perhaps the concern over the picture of Olympia was that the shot of her perched on a rock against a painted backdrop of white cliffs was a replica of an earlier work by children’s author Lewis Carroll. The tortured genius had an avid interest in photographing naked young girls, leading to speculation that he had an erotic attraction to them.

 »It’s an interesting idea, » she concedes.  »But Lewis Carroll was a proper English don at Oxford, and the son of a minister; I don’t think he would have done anything. He was a romantic; he thought that young girls were made in the image of God, that they were perfect. He thought they were absolutely beautiful and they are. » Olympia, she says, bears no scars from having her body so publicly discussed.

In The Dreamkeepers, Papapetrou explores the theme of transformation: from child to adolescence, and adulthood to old age, dramatic points in a person’s life. She does this by collapsing the state of the child and the elderly into one body and the result is arrestingly surreal; young frames with old heads on their shoulders engaging in simple pleasures; collecting shells, watching waves. The colours are vivid and the landscapes beautiful; Mount Buller on a clear day; the ochre cliffs at Black Rock. The photographs emanate an unspeakable poignancy and act as a gentle reminder of the fragility of life. Papapetrou has two relatives with dementia, who are returning to a childlike state, and her experience of cancer has prompted her to think about death differently.

 »I had only thought about it before as an idea, a concept. Now it has become a reality. I have started taking more risks with my work. I realise that art doesn’t have to be safe. » And she has got over any residual guilt she felt about working with her children.  »I know that when I am not here I have left behind a record of our journey together. They will remember that we had a lot of fun doing this. »

Voir encore:

Australian PM in new nude art row

A child pictured naked on the cover of an Australian arts magazine has said she is « offended » by Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s criticism of the photo.

BBC news

7 July 2008

Mr Rudd re-ignited a row over children in art when he criticised the July cover of Art Monthly Australia.

The girl, Olympia Nelson, 11, has said she is proud of the image taken by her mother, a photographer, in 2003.

The magazine’s editor said the cover was in protest at the closing of a photo exhibition of naked children.

Childhood innocence

Mr Rudd had reacted strongly to the front cover image, saying: « Frankly, I can’t stand this stuff. »

He added: « We’re talking about the innocence of little children here. A little child cannot answer for themselves about whether they wish to be depicted in this way. »

He was supported by opposition Liberal Party leader Brendan Nelson, who described the image as a « two-fingered salute to the rest of society ».

Officials have said they will review the magazine’s public funding.

Editor Maurice O’Riordan wrote in the magazine that he knew the photograph would be controversial, but that he hoped to « restore some dignity to the debate… and validate nudity and childhood as subjects for art ».

In May, an exhibition of pictures of naked children by photographer Bill Henson was closed before it opened, in a case that provoked a nationwide debate over censorship.

‘Part of art’

However, Olympia Nelson appeared at a press conference with her father, the art critic Robert Nelson, and said the picture was her favourite image.

It shows her sitting naked in front of a painted landscape. The photograph was taken by her mother, Melbourne photographer Polixeni Papapetrou, when she was six years old.

« I’m really, really offended by what Kevin Rudd had to say about this picture, » she told reporters.

« I love the photo so much, » she aded. « I think that the picture my mum took of me had nothing to do with being abused and I think nudity can be a part of art. »

The Australian Childhood Foundation said that parents had no ethical right to consent to nude photographs being taken of their children, as it could have psychological effects in later years.

Child protection activist Hetty Johnston told told Nine Network Television that the photographs amounted to the « sexual exploitation of children » and called for new laws against the use of photographs of naked children for exhibition, sale or publication.

« We need to put a line in the sand – because clearly some of those in the arts world can’t do that – and say this is where you don’t go, this is a no-go zone, » she said.

The debate has provoked a strong debate in the Australian media. In an editorial entitled « Art stunt betrays our children », the Australian daily newspaper The Daily Telegraph said it saw the need to protect artistic expression but said some of the images of children published in Art Monthly Australia were « highly sexualised ».

Corrie Perkin

The Australian
August 22, 2008

ONE Sunday morning last month, a culture war was declared on an unsuspecting Melbourne family. Artist and lawyer Polixeni Papapetrou and her husband Robert Nelson were woken up at 5.30am by a television producer seeking an interview to discuss the July issue of Art Monthly Australia magazine. The Sunday Telegraph had published a story that morning under the headline « Art mag’s ‘sick’ nude child stunt » that referred to the cover image of a naked five-year-old girl.

Papapetrou, creator of the 2002 image Lewis Carroll’s Beatrice Hatch before White Cliffs, declined to be interviewed at the time. She’d given the magazine permission to reproduce the photograph, which had toured nationally as part of an exhibition in 2003. And she had done this after discussing it with the model, her daughter Olympia, now 11, and her husband, a respected art academic and critic. Now, artist and photograph were under attack.

Papapetrou was bewildered by the media attention that followed, including TV crews camped outside her house. « It’s not as if I had photographed Olympia now, it was a very old image and it had been seen by a lot of people, » she says.

« When I asked Olympia if we could use the image on the cover, she said: ‘Sure, Mum.’ I said it could appear on the newsstands and be bought by people; she said: ‘That’s fine, it was taken when I was a baby.’ She sees that body as very different to the body she has now. »

Olympia is one of the subjects in Papapetrou’s latest body of work, opening at Sydney’s Stills Gallery next Thursday.

The exhibition, Games of Consequence, reveals children playing in the landscape. « Away from our familiar urban environment, Papapetrou’s children act out roles that take us into a familiar but forgotten past, » curator Natalie King writes in the exhibition catalogue essay.

« In doing so, Papapetrou induces what she calls the ‘wonderfully heterogenous dimensions of childhood, where the fear and danger mix with the angelic’. »

King adds: « Lost in a beguiling narrative, the young characters in Papapetrou’s fabrications wander without a story, escaping the inevitable fate of all tales: an ending. »

Papapetrou developed her passion for photography while studying law at the University of Melbourne. She has photographed many children, including her nine-year-old son Solomon, during her critically acclaimed career. Her PhD, which she completed in 2006, examined children in 19th-century photography.

« You’re only a child for such a short time but you’re an adult for the rest of your life, » she explains when asked why she finds children such interesting subjects to photograph. « A lot of people look back on their childhood very nostalgically. They loved it or they hated it. Childhood is such a formative period and I think I’m privileged to have been able to photograph children. Because once they’re 15 or 16, it’s over. »

She shows me a black-and-white photograph of Olympia, taken when she was eight months old. The baby stares boldly at the camera; her dark eyes mesmerise the viewer.

Her daughter, Papapetrou says, is a constant source of inspiration. « I didn’t start photographing her for my work until she was much older, but I was aware from a young age she had this incredible presence before the camera, » she says.

« As a subject matter, Olympia is totally fascinating. I have photographed Solomon, but Olympia has this relationship with the camera. I think it’s like why some film directors work with the same actors over and over again. »

Papapetrou, who was born in 1960, says Games of Consequence was partly inspired by her own childhood. The oldest child of Greek migrants, she grew up in a Melbourne bayside suburb when children played in parks, on the beach and in the neighbourhood streets with no adults to monitor their safety. « I wanted to make pictures about my childhood so I could show my children what I did and how I discovered a world of freedom, » she says. « I don’t think that world exists for children any more. »

Papapetrou dressed the children in clothes from the late 1960s and early ’70s, then asked them to re-enact the games she remembered from her own youth.

For example? « At the beach it was picking up shells and listening to the water; we believed it was the mermaids singing to us, » Papapetrou says. « And we’d just sort of walk around paddocks and vacant lots and play with ropes, we’d tie each other up. We tested ourselves. We would wander for hours and sometimes we’d become lost but we always found our way home. »

Papapetrou’s parents both worked. She was often left in charge of her younger sister and brother. « It would be all of us – other neighbourhood children and my brother and sister – playing as a group, » she says. « We would just wheel my brother around in a pram. Can you imagine a six-year-old today wandering around with a newborn baby? That’s what we did, and we’d do it for hours. We had such fun. »

These childhood photographs were taken during 2007. Then in October, two weeks after her last shoot, Papapetrou was diagnosed with breast cancer. She had two active tumours in one breast but decided to have a bilateral mastectomy. « I really had no time to think about my work, other than simply trying to manage my life and my children and my family, » she recalls.

In March her work featured in an exhibition at Tokyo’s National Art Centre. She has also been preparing for the Games of Consequence exhibition, which travels to New York, then back to Melbourne after its Sydney run.

Papapetrou is ready to start working again. Her recent health battle and the Art Monthly Australia saga have prompted her to think deeply about children and the complex world into which they step once they become teenagers.

The Art Monthly Australia cover image reignited the passionate anti-child pornography debate that surfaced during the previous month’s imbroglio over artist Bill Henson’s images of naked underage children. Papapetrou says she agreed for her photograph to be reproduced by Art Monthly Australia after NSW police decided to drop their investigation into the Henson issue. « I thought, ‘Well, we all know where we stand now, »‘ she says.

« If Bill Henson’s images had been given an R rating or if charges had been laid against him, I would have thought: ‘Well, maybe the ground has shifted, the territory has changed.’

« What I failed to realise was that even though the matter had been settled in Bill Henson’s favour, that actually there had been a cultural shift in this country. »

Kevin Rudd fuelled the debate when he expressed his concern that the image was onthe cover of a national magazine.

« We’re talking about the innocence of little children here, » the Prime Minister said. « A little child cannot answer for themselves about whether they wish to be depicted in this way. »

Papapetrou says Olympia was angered by Rudd’s response and the way her naked body had been blacked out on TV.

« She was just upset by the way people were making a big deal out of it, » Papapetrou says. « Most of all, she was angry that part of her body had been blocked and that the PM said disparaging things about the work. She felt very let down by the politicians and the media, who she felt had misunderstood the work. »

She adds: « At no point did she feel a victim. She had been consulted the whole way through the process. She enjoyed being photographed, and I think is proud of the work we’ve done together. She wanted to defend it. »

And how did the artist, who was recovering from surgery after recent cancer treatment, respond?

« I was astounded, » she recalls over a cup of tea. « Everything that I believe in was attacked. My art was attacked, my role as a mother was attacked, as if I’d abrogated my maternal duties by allowing the work to be published, then allowing Olympia to appear before the media. »

Papapetrou and Art Monthly Australia’s critics were vindicated two weeks later when the Classification Board said the July edition – including the three essays – warranted unrestricted classification.

Standing in front of the 2002 original photograph that hangs on Papapetrou’s sitting-room wall, I ask what she feels when she sees the image.

« Oh, love, » she says. « And Olympia is not ashamed of this picture. She sees this as a part of her life that’s gone, she will never be like this again. It’s her baby body. »

Speaking about her children’s images, Papapetrou says: « I’ve journeyed from domestic space to play space to imaginative space to the real world, and what I’m finding now is that I want to go back to where I started from. »

She picks up the photo of eight-month-old Olympia, still sitting on the table next to her cup of tea. « It may sound strange, but I think I’ve done a complete circle with my work. I want to go back to where I started, exploring that intimacy you find in the space that is the home. I’m ready for that. »

Games of Consequence opens at Stills Gallery, Paddington, NSW, on August 28.

The Dreamkeepers exhibition is at Nellie Castan Gallery, 12 River Street, South Yarra, until June 2.

Voir également:

A naked return for puritanism
A row in Australia over an art magazine cover shows that our leaders are less at ease with child nudity than the prudish Victorians were
Barbara Hewson
Spiked
15 July 2008

Kevin Rudd, Australia’s prime minister, has started yet another row over nudity in art by protesting about the July cover of Art Monthly Australia (AMA). The cover photograph was taken by Melbourne photographer Polixeni Papapetrou in 2003, and it shows her daughter Olympia at the age of six, seated nude on a seaweed-covered rock on a beach, against a painted backdrop of white cliffs. The July AMA issue also contains two other pictures of nude children.

Rudd complained: ‘Frankly, I can’t stand this stuff.’ (1) The leader of Australia’s opposition Liberal Party, Brendan Nelson, was also outraged, calling Papapetrou’s photo ‘indefensible’ and a ‘two-fingered salute to the rest of society’. Olympia, now 11, has rushed to her mother’s defence. She appeared at a press conference with her father, the art critic Robert Nelson, and told reporters that she is proud of the cover picture. ‘I love the photo so much. It is one of my favourites’, she told reporters. ‘I think that the picture my mum took of me had nothing to do with being abused and I think nudity can be a part of art.’ (2)

Indeed, it’s hard to see what all the fuss is about. AMA’s cover is an obvious reworking of Lewis Carroll’s 1873 photograph of Beatrice Hatch, aged seven (3). Carroll’s photograph also shows a nude girl sitting on a seaweed-covered rock, with white cliffs in the background. The backdrop is hand-painted on glass. Carroll’s photo is taken sideways on, while Olympia is photographed looking directly at the camera, but otherwise the poses are similar.

Beatrice Hatch was a daughter of Edwin Hatch, a theologian who was then vice-principal of St Mary Hall, Oxford, and later university reader in Ecclesiastical history. The Hatches allowed Carroll to take a number of nude shots of their young daughters. It’s ironic that, in twenty-first century Australia, similar photos cause a national controversy, with some censorial puritans campaigning for them to be made illegal.

The AMA cover is in response to an earlier controversy about childhood and nudity. In May this year, the police raided the Roslyn Oxley9 gallery in Sydney and confiscated photographs of nude teenagers by Bill Henson, only hours before the opening of an exhibition. Henson is a leading Australian photographer, whose work features in collections throughout the country and who has had great acclaim internationally.

Tom Slaterenson’s photos, too and called them ‘revolting’. He said: ‘I am passionate about children having innocence in their childhood.’ (4) Hetty Johnston, founder of the Australian child protection pressure group Bravehearts, called for Henson and the Roslyn Oxley9 gallery to be prosecuted.

After a brief, but intense period of public controversy, during which the Roslyn Oxley9 gallery received firebomb threats, the Sydney authorities decided that there were no grounds to prosecute either Henson or the gallery. However, by then, presumably on a precautionary basis, the Roslyn Oxley9 gallery itself had pulled two of Henson’s photographs from its website, Untitled #8 and Untitled #39. There is nothing offensive about these particular images, and their abrupt removal from public view illustrates the chilling effect of moral panics about art, nudity and the young on artistic freedom and free speech. They lead to more and more shrill protests and to self-censorship in order to avoid controversy.

It is remarkable that the gallery had held a similar show of Henson’s work in 2006, which is still available to view on the gallery’s website. This again featured some pictures of nude young models, shot in a moody light, but apparently no one was sufficiently affronted to complain to the authorities on that occasion.

Now, Hetty Johnston has said that the nude photographs in the current issue of AMA amount to the ‘sexual exploitation of children’. She has called for new laws to make it illegal to take a photo of a naked child for exhibition, sale or publication. Puritanism is on the march here. And as Oscar Wilde observed: ‘Puritanism is never so offensive and destructive as when it deals with art matters.’ Defending the magazine’s cover, AMA editor Maurice O’Riordan said that he intended to ‘restore some dignity to the debate … and validate nudity and childhood as subjects for art’ (5).

A blanket ban on photographs of naked children will not stop child abuse, and the notion that merely photographing a naked child or teenager is tantamount to child abuse is difficult to take seriously. The assumption that any photograph of a naked child is pornographic is simply ridiculous. Article 20.2 of the Council of Europe’s recent Convention on the Protection of Children against Sexual Exploitation and Sexual Abuse (25 October 2007), for example, gives a much more restrictive definition: ‘The term “child pornography” shall mean any material that visually depicts a child engaging in real or simulated sexual explicit conduct or any depiction of a child’s sexual organs for primarily sexual purposes.’

Is Johnston suggesting that parents should not be able to take nude photos of their own children? No one would condone a parent who permitted pornographic pictures to be taken of their child, or allowed them to be put into public circulation, but underlying Johnston’s proposal is a profound mistrust of all adults, as well as the corrosive idea that nudity is inherently corrupting.

If all photos of nude children were to be banned, then logically there is no reason why photographs of Donatello’s David should not also be banned, along with Lewis Carroll’s photos of nude children, much of Wilhelm von Gloeden’s oeuvre, and any reproduction of Bronzino’s Allegory of Venus with Cupid, to name but a few.

Indeed, applying Johnston’s baleful logic, just about every image in Western medieval and Renaissance art showing the naked infant Jesus, putti or Cupid would similarly need to be banned to protect us from our baser impulses. This new Puritanism would seem to be heading in the direction of a regressive anti-aesthetic, which dictates that any reproduction of the naked human form is unacceptable.

Barbara Hewson is a barrister at Hardwicke Building in London.

Previously on spiked

Nathalie Rothschild outlined how a photograph of 15-year-old Disney star Miley Cyrus’ back caused a global storm of controversy. Previously, she argued that censoring photos of children is damaging to artistic licence. Brendan O’Neill said a Sensitivity Stasi is eroding artistic freedom. Josie Appleton said paedophile panics blurred our view of Betsy Schneider’s photos at a London exhibition on childhood. Or read more at spiked issue Arts and entertainment.

(1) Australian PM in new nude art row, BBC News, 7 July 2008

(2) Australian PM in new nude art row, BBC News, 7 July 2008

(3) Indeed, it is part of a series of pictures inspired by Lewis Carroll. See the Johnston Gallery website

(4) Blanchett steps into nude art row, BBC News, 28 May 2008

(5) Rudd v art critic over child nudity, The Age, 7 July 2008

Voir aussi:

The world debate over naked children in art that arose over Polixeni Papapetrou’s pictures in Art Monthly Australia is bigger than art and touches on civil liberties. This has been acknowledged obliquely in international media, with papers such as El Universal in Mexico expressing surprise that the debate had arisen in Australia and not an ultraconservative country like Iran (15 July 2008). In their Australian resolution, the issues go well beyond Kevin Rudd’s paternalistic instructions to the Australia Council that artists dealing with children must now follow protocols to protect the innocence of children.

Unbeknown to many artists working only six years ago like my wife Polixeni the image of naked children became criminalized. We all knew that child pornography was banned but that’s very different to art: pornography is explicitly and proactively sexual, as in a definition from the Council of Europe, describing child pornography as any material that visually depicts a child engaging in real or simulated sexually explicit conduct or any depiction of a child’s sexual organs for primarily sexual purposes. (Convention on the Protection of Children against Sexual Exploitation and Sexual Abuse, article 20.2, 25 October 2007).

We had no idea that perceptions had moved so far beyond the law to become intolerant of all images of naked children. Nowadays you cannot collect shots of a naked child at a colour lab without fear of being reported to the Police as a paedophile. Detectives will be waiting for you. Families with naked children captured digitally live in fear of a Police audit of their hard disk. Orthodox families, once proud of their baptismal image, with the body held up after immersion in the sacred font, now feel forced to demote the picture from the mantelpiece to the archive at the back of the wardrobe, where it languishes under layers of uncertainty and worry.

All of this has occurred without good science and without the necessary debate. It has arisen in a mood of panic and has ended in a culture of repression, cultivating anxieties of the most destructive kind throughout the general community which have the paradoxical consequence of abolishing the innocence of children, for the innocence of children can no longer be recognized or celebrated for what it is. Not surprisingly, art has got itself caught up in this shift of increasingly obtuse public perception, as artists have always been schooled in more liberal ways and are, for the most part, unsympathetic to a moral order that is destined to cloak children in shame for their bodies.

The debate has even moved during the Art Monthly Papapetrou controversy. Child protection spokespeople no longer feel obliged to explain how an image is pornographic. It suffices that it show a naked child. The discourse is no longer about pornography but child exploitation. Child protection advocates have receded from the term pornography because this might entail some demonstrations of visual intentionality and have begun using ugly terms like child exploitation image which exonerates the accuser from any form of proof of erotically stimulating content.

This has persistently struck me as irrational and even sly; but it is telling of the culture that now engulfs us. For me, an image of a naked child can only be exploitative if it is pornographic. Its something in the nudity, otherwise pictures of children fully clad would also be exploitative. To become reprehensible in any sense, the nudity must be seen as sexual in adult terms, inappropriately sexualizing the child and conferring on the child an unwholesome availability to transgressive erotic engagement by an adult. The very term child exploitation image is a way of stigmatizing the picture of a naked child without having to prove (a) that the image is pornographic and (b) that any harm can come to anyone through its publication.

The problem with child nudity

We have to ask ourselves, as if nothing had ever been said: what is the problem with child nudity? A child’s body is not intrinsically sinful. It would be a terrible adult hang-up if we considered it so, as if a sign of the Fall; and this perception ought to be dispelled for the prejudice that it is. To maintain the rage against naked children in pictures without having to prove their pornographic quality, three claims have emerged.

First, nudity in pictures strips children of their innocence and children need protection from such a violation. This was the argument by which the Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd initiated the debate over Papapetrou. He stated, from within his deeply held personal beliefs, that the protection of the innocence of children should be stepped up. On one level, who can deny that children’s innocence should be protected? It’s a truism, but applied illogically to the circumstance. It seemed necessary to ask how innocence can be lost by the body being seen in a photograph, a question that I posed in The Age (8 July 08) and which Rudd didn’t answer. The Prime Minister had all the passion to make the claim but none of the patience to justify it. I argued that a loss of innocence can only occur if the consciousness of the child is corrupted, that is, if adult consciousness somehow intrudes upon and displaces the clean mind of the young one. It seemed unclear when and how this could occur in an artistic picture. No one, as far as I know, has so far helped Rudd out with this question.

Second, the image increases the risk of sexual crime against the child. I have repeatedly called for evidence of this claim and it has not, to my knowledge, been forthcoming. The overwhelming majority of sexual crimes committed against children occurs within families by people known to the family. Such horrible people already have access to the child. They have no need of artworks of that child. In the history of the world, there has never been a case of a sexual crime against children being caused by an artwork. The exposure to significant paedophilic risk is unsubstantiated and, based on the statistics, is exceedingly unlikely. If the image is a genuine artwork, it will be thoughtful presumably a total turn-off for a paedophile and will avoid that pure objectification which is supposed to make someone lust after a targeted individual. And even if the image is not thoroughly thoughtful, the link between literal exposure and exposure to risk is still missing. So there would be two steps that you would have to take to mount the case: (a) that a thoughtful artwork can act as a sexual stimulant and (b) that an image of any kind causes sexual crime against its subject.

When we see children on TV, in theatre, dance and film, any given child would be subject to the same exploitative exposure, because (while not exactly nude) the child is nearly always projected as lovely and cute in its body as well as mind, inviting quite as much undesirable attention by perverts who could arrive to watch the child by the advertising associated with the event. So unlikely is a crime against such children that the public endorses these child spectacles with full confidence. We are all complicit in their creation as consumers of the film or theatrical production when we buy the ticket. By the criteria now applied to art, if ever you have watched a film or play or dance with an adorable child in it, you have supported child exploitation. This is self-evidently silly. Having a child seen as gorgeous in the public view involves negligible risk and zero moral problem along the lines of exploitation. And that is why you continue to buy your ticket, uninhibited by such scruples.

Third, it has been argued that other children are exposed to greater risk by virtue of one child being seen naked in an artwork. Never mind Olympia herself (Papapetrou’s model and our daughter), who may remain safe with vigilant parents minding their daughter under lock and key. It is other children in less secure environments who become subject to predators as a result of the artistic encouragement by artists like Papapetrou. I call this the induction of vulnerability argument. It basically says that if culture accepts nude pictures of children in one circumstance, kids become vulnerable in another circumstance. The suggestion is that if we allow naked child pictures to proliferate, we valorize a kind of laying bare of children’s flesh for adult delectation and hence precipitate a lustful predisposition toward children in these offenders. Again, this argument only holds if the pictures can truthfully be described as pornographic.

Leaving aside the need for that proof, there is a fault in logic. Let us also leave aside the obvious question: why would you not consider it nobler to cultivate a society where children’s nudity is seen as natural? Unless we can return to this, we promulgate adult hang-ups, project anxieties upon children and induce destructive fears into our relationship with children. We move toward an epoch in which parents now feel remiss in letting their children’s bodies be seen; and this taboo in turn encourages children to be ashamed of their bodies. And so we go headlong into a culture of shame, creating transgenerational repression of something that ought to be natural. But this may be too idealistic for the moment (artists are idealistic!) and so let us return to the logic.

The induction of vulnerability argument also comes without any evidence or good reasoning. No image has these inductive powers. An image cannot create evil lust where none existed beforehand; nor can it justify illicit lust or promote a crime against the knowledge that the crime is wrong. Even if you count the image as totally objectifying (i.e. porn rather than art) the causal link between the image and the crime lacks credibility. We have other serious crimes: for example, the rape of women. The rape of women is absolutely unacceptable. There is no degree to which we can say: raping women is more acceptable than any other crime. The offence is absolute. So do we ban pornography which objectifies women on the basis that it normalizes a rapist’s designs and assuages his guilty conscience? No, we do not, because the community does not fundamentally believe that there is a causal link between the image and the crime. And rightly so. Impugning the image on this basis presupposes a direct connexion between visual fantasy and actual felony; and this is an unfounded assumption in which nobody in our community really believes; otherwise we would criminalize adult pornography forthwith. Pornography is tolerated on a massive scale, presumably on the basis that it is more likely to help desperate men manage their lust than cause them to convert their desires into crime. We know full well that pictures don’t make rapists or paedophiles. Neither logic nor evidence has been brought to the induction of vulnerability argument. To use the appropriately Australian term, it is a furphy.

Even if one day an artwork is found among a child rapists possessions (among all the thousands of cases where none has been detected) the causal link in that instance still remains weak. There is no greater demonstration of agency in the picture than if, say, a gunman is found to have had violent movies in the house or an axe-murderer is known to have possessed splatter flicks. These items of artifice neither create nor justify nor normalize criminality, because bitter and twisted people do not become bitter and twisted through representations but a horrible prior cycle of abuse, humiliation and repression. The artworks or films neither provide a cue nor a justification nor a motif of escalation. You could just as easily say that the male killer committed the murder because the movies failed him; they were no longer effective in keeping the angry outlet within his fantasy. The argument that pictures of any kind much less pictures authorized by the chastity of art cause these enormities does not stand up to scrutiny.

The question of rights

Without the righteous being able to demonstrate a link between pictures and ill-consequence, parents can still be accused of exploiting their child by photographing them naked and exhibiting the image. Even though the picture might be rated as benign (which was often conceded with Polixeni’s Olympia as Beatrice Hatch by White Cliffs, the image on the cover of Art Monthly) the accusation has been maintained that the use of the child for this artistic purpose is still intrinsically unfair to the child because the child is not in a position to decide the issue with the necessary cognitive maturity. Much has been debated on the question of rights. This issue was raised by Kevin Rudd who immediately said that a child at six, eight or ten could not be presumed to have the ability to evaluate the consequences. So the debate was bound to take that direction. Who decides that a picture with a naked child can be made and published? How is consent constituted between parents and kids? Who considers all of the moral consequences and who does the risk evaluation? Who, if anyone, mediates?

The argument has been put that a child’s rights must not be subsumed by the guardian. Given that a child cannot evaluate all the issues, it is immoral so we hear for the parent to presume to decide on the child’s behalf. There has been a suggestion that it is necessary to wait till age 18 for the child, by then an adult, to give permission to publish the image. The child cannot decide for herself or himself because a child cannot be informed of all consequences.

This argument continues: therefore, either a third party must intercede a body of unknown shape and size, an authority, an ethical rule, perhaps the new Australia Council protocols, something super-parental with the power of legalizing or we need blanket prevention. Some have taken this argument to the extreme: we need total undiscriminating censorship, a totalitarian ban on naked children in art and presumably beyond art as well, wherever an image can be seen by a third party.

How necessary is it to repeal the sacrosanct rights of parents in judging what is best for their children? The only way of answering this is to compare the risks involved with those in other areas of life where parents subject their children to certain risks.

In turn, to scrutinize the parental economy of risk, we need to understand the concept of risk, which is more or less quantifiable according to the OHS culture that we now know in every workplace throughout the developed world. Risk is computed as the severity of any possible damage multiplied by the likelihood of the event occurring. We judge, for example, that driving a car or riding a bike is an acceptable risk. We say this even though the possible damage is extremely severe. You can be killed. There is proof, because lots of people get killed on the roads each week. But given the number of total motor journeys, it isn’t very likely that you’ll have a serious accident on any given day. So you declare the risk worth taking and drive (with children in the cabin) or ride the bike every day.

The incitement to paedophiles (or perhaps loss of privacy, if that is the problem) caused by nude children in an artwork can therefore be compared with other risks. It should be compared with sport, for example; because though seen as a kind of archetype of health and youth, implanted in us as wholesome from early education, sport is in fact the source of permanent injury, where people wreck their knees, break necks and spines and encounter other corporal disasters that cripple them for life. Every weekend yields a fresh harvest in our hospitals. Notwithstanding, children in our community face immense pressure not just from parents but also teachers and junior associations to entertain the sporting spirit in a fierce degree, to strive to win with all energy, to take on feverish enthusiasm, overcome all fear of risk, and trounce the opposition. I am personally relieved that our boy Solomon has rejected football for this reason, because I feel sure that one day he would return home via the surgery, as I once did in competition sport, with a permanent disability.

So as not to be too culturally elitist in targeting sport, consider ballet. This beautiful and understandable artistic enthusiasm is also incubated under massive parental pressure and manipulation: you’re so pretty in your tutu, girls are assured. They are indoctrinated by their parents, with the typical blend of hope, ambition and vanity that all parents project on their kids. The parent is hugely gratified to see a daughter move gracefully on the stage to public applause. Yet this same reward may also yield anorexia and arthritis, well known risks to any psychiatrist or even any soul with balletic experience.

The physical and psychological damage to the child in these instances is not just likely but widespread. In any given street, every family is likely to be affected, because the massive societal endorsement makes sport unavoidable and artistic activities like ballet compellingly attractive. So on a social level, these activities are a much greater worry, because the serious damage that they cause is constant and ubiquitous.

Parents make decisions on their children’s behalf, either by forcing them, brow-beating them, shaming them, or (we hope) by lovely encouragement, sweet blandishments and benign imploring. Yet the result is the same: we expose them to risk. So why not institute some super-parental discouragement? Why not invoke anti-football protocols and demand identification for when it is ethically appropriate for children to be allowed to participate in these tangibly damaging activities? The only reason we do not think this way in relation to sport but do when it comes to nudity in art is just that sport is common, usual, accepted. It is valorized by custom and, because it is mainstream, it is unchallenged. Parents absolutely enjoy the right to decide and bring on these risks for their children.

The reason nudity in art is singled out among all these parental prerogatives is that it’s unusual: it’s a minority activity. The majority regularizes. The risk to kids is accepted if institutionalized and maintained by custom. Art is rat bag and deviant because individual. It is based on individual choice rather than convention in a way that makes the responsibilities more conspicuous. It seems easier to accuse the parental influence of being irresponsible, even though it exposes children to much lower levels of risk than socially normalized leisure activities. While other forms of risk-taking are programmed in conformity to expectations, art is not. So it is mercilessly targeted.

Through all of this, we are witnessing the great discourse against difference playing itself out in the realm of art. You might cast a glance at the vocabulary used by the psychologist Michael Carr-Gregg speaking out against our daughter Olympia when he called her mouthy. The implication behind this gratuitous insult is that she mustn’t stand out. We are irresponsible parents if we let our children be identified in any way as different, because this will lead to bullying at school. Instead of helping to bring dignity to difference, Carr-Gregg finds difference a liability which is dangerous to let out. Let us leave aside the hypocrisy of a psychologist so piously looking after children against bullying while at the same time fomenting strife for Olympia with an abusive intervention in the media which may as well be designed to shame her with the quality of difference.

Because our antagonists have produced no good arguments, I have tried to develop some for them to explain their rancour in my own mind.

Perhaps a more benign interpretation of the hatred of parental prerogative in art matters but not in conformist matters like sport and traditional ballet would be the sentiment associated with the possible damage. Maybe the community feels more h4ly about risks to children through artistic nudity just because it seems to involve crime? The worst outcome is not an innocently broken spine but a heinous deed perpetrated upon a child by human will. The fact that the possible damage is criminal obscures from public consciousness that risk is risk and damage is damage, irrespective of the source of the harm and whether or not it involves volition. To focus on a danger just because there is a criminal narrative within it creates an irrational promotion of the danger in public consciousness. Subjecting a child to risk seems okay if the risk can be seen as natural as if there is anything natural about football or ballet! but it inspires horror when the risk has a human element of malevolence and perversion. The criminality entails a cocktail of emotion and blame that are not taken care of through apparently guilt-free terms like accident. The scene is set for emotion to prevail over reason.

The scale of unscientific desperation

In fact, risk is risk and the currency is not altered by the source of the danger. We must disentangle the issues analytically at every stage and the community deserves its experts to keep them separate. Our authorities and leaders need greater scrupulosity in their arguments, people like Kevin Rudd, the leader of the opposition Brendan Nelson, state premiers Morris Iemma and John Bracks, senior lawyers Moira Rainer and David Galbally, child psychologists and journalists, all variously accusing good parents of dereliction and child abuse, even in letting Olympia speak to the cameras.

When Polixeni constructed her photographs in 2003, she was busy not just with the artistic work but also concerned herself as a scholar with the proprieties of photographing children. Her investigation formalized in a PhD at Monash University took her both to the analysis and historical interpretation of the photography and writing of Charles Dodgson, aka Lewis Carroll, as well as the tradition of female photographers whose subject matter has been their own children.

Sadly, the best international mother-artists have encountered the worst and most embittered reactions, from Sally Mann and Nan Goldin to Tierney Garson and Betsy Schneider. These women have all been vilified for their work. In 2007, Polixeni had the opportunity to meet personally with Connie Petrillo in Perth, whom the WA Police had prosecuted ten years ago for photographing her boys naked. Though acquitted by the jury, the process left Petrillo traumatized. There has never been an apology emanating from the Police or the State for their false accusations and bullying. This I call an injustice against motherhood. The ferocity with which the warm artistic inquiry of mother-artists has been attacked is a blot on civil society.

Polixeni has shown due diligence as an intellectual, a mother and an artist in investigating the moral, historical, psychological and legal issues that touch on her work. In the campaign against her, we have witnessed (a) a total absence of evidence being adduced and (b) psychological brutality against her and Olympia, as if neither child protection advocate, legal counsel, clinician nor art critic has ever heard of defamation. Art critic? Yes, John McDonald was not ashamed to represent our family on the ABC as calculating attention-seekers, feeling persecution envy when the Henson affair was current and bringing ourselves as inferior artists into the media limelight. He expressed glee that now were really getting it. This is a stage family pushing a daughter out there. Watching stuff happening to Henson, asking, Why him and not us? Well they’ve got it now. (PM, 10 July 2008)

Bah, artists should be inured to malice. It is curious for me to front up at our primary school and greet all the other parents and their children, knowing that I stand accused of being a child abuser and a derelict father who has willfully abandoned the paternal duty to protect his girl, a dad who has effectively sold his daughter into visual prostitution.

Fortunately, contact with our wonderful school community has revealed to me that parents do not share the views of so many critics in the media. In response to Janet Albrechtsen, who fulminated that we dismally shirked our heavy responsibility as parents and failed to understand that adults are the grown-ups, one of the school mothers said: well, she as a grown-up forgot her manners. In their zeal to be seen as upholders of moral standards and best parental practice, our critics have failed to remember what they were taught at school and university, that they need evidence to back up their claims, not to mention any politeness of avoiding an attack ad hominem.

But never mind such subtleties of civility and etiquette! The zeal over this matter caused one commentator to come perilously close to fabricating evidence against us. Andrew Bolt asked me a question in The Herald-Sun: did Olympia consent as a toddler to being photographed and exhibited sucking on a dummy as if she were dreaming of sex? In a letter on Bolts blog at breakfast time on the same day as his column appeared (11 June 2008), I pointed out that this question implicitly described a picture which Bolt had never seen. I asked Bolt: had he ever seen any of the Pacifier images? Monica Attard later asked him the same question and he replied that he had seen a picture of Olympia with her grandmother’s jewelry. Well, this is not a Pacifier image. Bolt, not normally a shy man, did not answer the question with a simple yes, so I think the implication is clear.

Unless I have misunderstood, Bolt was detected fabricating a picture in his own mind one that he hadn’t yet seen but in which he already imagined the model dreaming of sex to project his own fantasy upon it, thus condemning the work and its interpreter. Bolt cannot tell us that he has seen the work, yet wreaked opprobrium upon it and its creator. Even if it’s just an implication, it seems as if Bolt misled the public, concocting false shadows in order to discredit Polixeni and me. Such zeal to denounce us as filth-mongers (deeply, deeply disturbing as Bolt said), even if it means risking a kind of journalistic fraud, is deplorable. In order to frame Polixeni and me as pornographers, the scrupulosity that honours the truth like evidence and logic can be sacrificed.

Making a political point

During the Papapetrou controversy, I was repeatedly asked why we had used (or abused) our daughter in order to make a political point, first in creating a nude picture and allowing it to be published and second in encouraging her to speak on our behalf. For many commentators, this was proof of child exploitation. It was never credited as Olympia speaking on her own behalf. Unlike Henson, the argument went, the decision to publish the image was not made innocently, unaware of the sensitivities and inflammatory consequences of a naked child being seen in an image at this time. It was a shameless exercise to gain attention, a stunt, for which we exploited our daughter.

It is difficult to explain the problems of being asked to provide an image in a magazine. As the artist, you don’t have control of the editorial content. Polixeni and I felt that the magazine was quite within its rights to provide an artistic forum to debrief over Henson and also to contemplate earlier cases of censorship in which Polixeni was involved. It seemed important to do this; and granted that the edition would scrutinize the rights and wrongs of child nudity in art, it seemed entirely fair that the editor, Maurice O’Riordan, would seek to illustrate the magazine with some balance, choosing an alternative to Henson, an Australian artist who also enjoys a h4 international profile but who works with children as a female and a mother at that and had encountered controversy before. (Incidentally, when Kevin Rudd visited the National Art Center in Tokyo to see the show of the late Emily Kngwarreye, he may have been told that if he’d arrived only a few weeks earlier, he would have seen a large exhibition of Polixeni Papapetrou in the same gallery.) In all events, the bona fides of the Art Monthly approach to Polixeni was borne out by the content of the magazine, one article in which (by Adam Geczy) was in fact quite critical of the Hensonesque approach.

In a way, though all of this is true, I was surprised that the media seemed to need these defences. The work was made in 2003 and earlier, when there was no talk of provocation. The spirit of all of Polixeni’s works is non-combative and non-provocative. But even if the editor of the magazine, Maurice O’Riordan, phrased the purpose of the edition as a protest which in fact he did not it would not have changed the image nor Polixeni’s reasons for allowing it to be published. As a work of art, it has been produced in good faith to entertain the higher powers of the mind, with the conviction of the artist that it is wholesome and worth seeing. In the artists estimation, either the image is worth seeing or not; and this was an image in which the artist had excellent faith. It had already received huge endorsement locally and interstate; it was published in broadsheets; cards for Citibank reproduced it; and, in all of this, the picture had caused no controversy locally or internationally.

The idea that the magazine was motivated by a political purpose and therefore Olympias contribution constituted a form of exploitation to make a political point makes no sense. The only reason that you would make an artwork is to have it seen. If it was worth seeing in 2003, then it is worth seeing now as well. We are not about to concede that the times have temporarily made it inappropriate. There was never going to be a time in the future in which the work would be more or less acceptable according to child protection pressure groups. If anything, their influence is rising, owing to the support that they get from the Commonwealth and the media. There is no prospect of a more diplomatic moment. An editor wanted to publish it in a serious context. As there is nothing wrong with the image, there was also no reason to refuse publication. All the talk about exploitation to make a political point is a red herring. It all presupposes that there is something wrong with the image. But if you begin with the premise that there is nothing wrong with the image, then there is no exploitation in displaying the work at any time.

Commentators of course charged us with the likelihood that one day Olympia would disavow her participation in the picture and reproach her mother either for making the picture or both parents (and herself) for consenting to have it displayed on Art Monthly. And I had to agree with these interrogators on one point. Her willingness at age five and enthusiasm at age eleven are no guarantee of her support in years to come. Certainly, she may foreswear the whole exercise and recriminate both of us for leading her into an embarrassment. This is a possibility. It is entirely up to Olympia. But there is also a much likelier possibility based on what we know of other enlightened children of art that she will remain delighted with the image, that it will be an object of great pride which logically accompanies her personal courage in defending it against the scorn of the Prime Minister. Like any actor in a film, the performance of Olympia in her mother’s photographs is a substantial achievement. She has had a rare artistic and educational opportunity and has been able to grow with the experiences. It is likelier that she will look fondly on the family culture that provided this privilege than despise it. But of course time will tell and we will take responsibility for it.

One possible ground for Olympia reproaching us would be along the lines of what Guy Rundle has stated, Arena Magazine, 96: children need their privacy protected and this should surmount the artist’s right to free speech. But then we have to ask: what privacy is lost, even if the images circulate unrestricted on the web? It just so happens that in none of Polixeni’s images under discussion is there any genital exposure. To be sure, in Olympia as Beatrice Hatch, anyone can see that Olympia has thighs and the contour of a rump. I would expect that when she is a lot older, Olympia will be able to reason as she does now that every child has these features and none should be ashamed of them.

We would be worried about the likelihood of future recrimination if we felt that there was something wrong with the pictures or something of Olympia’s future privacy was at stake. But a child at five is innocent. Olympia already identifies her body in the image from 2003 as her kid body, the one that she’s already outgrown. When children grow up, their bodies change greatly and maybe we then have something to be ashamed of (or maybe not). But a picture of anyone as a weenie in no way compromises the privacy that the same person enjoys in later life. That has always been the reason we allow kids to promenade naked on the beach: they have nothing to be ashamed of. This doesn’t change just because now we have the internet. Privacy is not an issue precisely because children are innocent. The protection of privacy makes little sense unless there is a demonstrable link to a loss of innocence.

This is why artists need to make images of naked children. The mother-artists cited above, who been vilified for their work, have in many ways created the best record of child innocence that history can lay claim to. I find it sad that Rundle forecloses on their warm artistic inquiry, which has never done any harm to anyone. The innocence of children deserves to be recognized, celebrated and understood. It is a fundamental part of child identity and human experience; and it crucially involves nudity. If we ban its representation, our community plunges headlong into repression, all at the expense of curiosity and insight, and all without evidence or good grounds to impugn it.

If there was a political point in making and disseminating the image, it was only the political point that all serious art makes in its every manifestation: it is the universal right of free speech. But even this is not the reason the work was made nor the reason it was published. It was made and published because it is beautiful, evocative, resonant and totally harmless.

The industrialization of anxiety

From beginning to end, the Papapetrou controversy was very unlike the Henson affair. In Henson’s case, the saga commenced with the NSW Police seizing pictures from the gallery. The materials that the Police considered offensive were the photographs themselves, an invitation in the mail plus the publication of the photographs on the internet. The allegation was that the material is child pornography; and the main defence given was that the artist has a formidable reputation. The artist said nothing and a large body of arts figures supported Henson with arguments of dubious substance. The best that I read more or less only argued that the works deserve to sell for a steep price and that they’re very good pictures, with grand art-historical ancestry, which do not resemble porn because the models do not have a come-hither look. A come-hither look is not a prerequisite for porn, so I didn’t rate this as a particularly h4 argument. Most utterances in Henson’s favour did not recognize the key theme of the public polemic, namely that the pictures stood accused not of nakedness in general but specifically the nakedness of children. Nevertheless, the case fizzled out once the Classification Board gave the pictures a G rating. Throughout the debate, the taciturn Henson remained the same charismatic Dark Lord of the Camera as he was called in The Age in 2005.

In Papapetrou’s case, a magazine published images that she had taken in 2003 and earlier in order to restore dignity to the debate. The magazine was accused of provocation in the wake of the Henson affair and was referred to the Classification Board. h4 protestations were made by the artist and her family. As noted, the debate swung around more clearly to the theme of child exploitation and precipitated a world response.
The really big deal in the Papapetrou controversy that didn’t emerge in the Henson affair is the question of civil liberties. The terms of the Henson debate were to do with the freedom of art. The terms of the Papapetrou debate are more to do with the freedom of parents and children. At no stage did any of us in the Nelson-Papapetrou family justify what we did because art is a higher priority than the rights of children. We have never seen art as quarantining anyone from civil codes or insulating them from parental responsibilities. Art is not a screen and we have never invoked its protection for that purpose.

The main reason that my family has been vociferous against the accusations during the Papapetrou controversy is that our feelings are not just about art but parental culture in general and civil rights in particular. This is the first test-case where a robust family has been threatened with the withdrawal of their freedom to act as any family might, not just an artistic family. The freedom at issue is to photograph a child naked and to let other people see the image. In my mind, at least, this attack upon civil liberties is also an attack upon the innocence of children, because it cruels our chances as parents of recognizing and celebrating the innocence of children within families and beyond.
We can see culture within the space of a couple of years turning to deny the dignity of a child’s body (not just as representation but in reality), seeing it as a sign not of the innocence of the child but the depravity of the adult witness. Its not a case of a couple of rotten eggs spoiling it for everyone else. Its a problem of massive impercipience, brought on by the industrialization of anxiety.

My fear that people are losing a natural relationship to children has been graphically demonstrated through the opinion on numerous antagonistic blogs in response to the Papapetrou controversy. In many vituperative comments, Olympia has been incorrectly described as wearing make-up in the now famous Olympia as Beatrice Hatch by White Cliffs of 2003. Bloggers have repeated this erroneous claim again and again, which was also discussed on radio. In fact, Olympia was wearing no make-up and wig. Just as there is no wig, so there is no rouge on her cheeks, no eye shadow, lippy, nothing, just Olympia’s skin and hair. This is the natural colour of a five year old girl. Not only is there no make-up but there is no Photoshop either. There is no digital manipulation between the model, the negative and the print.

When the public decides that Olympia is wearing make-up, it has jumped to a conclusion that assumes, I guess, that children are as grey as we adults are. But in fact they often have a wonderful colour that we lack entirely and subsequently fudge in mature years through artificial means. To see this wonderful chromatic richness and luminosity, however, you actually have to look, rather as Polixeni looks with her Hasselblad. And here is the problem. Its as if no one any longer looks at children. Its as if they’re too scared to. If you get caught looking at a child, you might be considered a paedophile. So people are wary of looking at children by extension to the ban on touching them. Males, especially, are scared to make jokes with them, to develop any intimacy with them and make wriggly giggly gags that cause children to become excited and in which men, in the past, have shown winsome talent. Playing with kids always used to be one of the few behavioural options that humanized men and let them relax their rigid masculinity. And as we now know from the Papapetrou controversy, women can also be suspected of various degrees of child abuse. They too have to be guarded in their gaze to avoid suspicion as having an unhealthy or exploitative interest in children.

We are as a community losing the innocence of children, because we have already lost an assumption that our fondness for children is untainted. The incrementally regulatory environment is killing childhood innocence, not the artist who seeks to celebrate childhood innocence.

The moral panic over protecting the innocence of children against artists is a symptom of something larger, more insidious and more sinister in our culture. It is the anxiety revolution, in which a vast array of goods and services is promoted by stimulating anxiety. Anxiety is commercialized from health insurance to the marketing of private schools to schemes for monitoring adolescents in a panorama of drug and sex hazards. Check out Michael Carr-Greggs website for voyeuristic evidence.

In our culture, only one emotional stimulant for boosting sales is as powerful as sex and that is fear. It began with fundamentalist religion and reactionary politicians and it has spread virally throughout the fabric of institutional life. It is the most common commercial strategy, because once you have inseminated fear, you can sell security. Business was never simpler: identify risk, conflate it with great emotion and then sell solutions. Who would be without a marketing plan that does not propagate fear? The h4est purveyors of fear are the media. TV could not live a day in its competitive environment without promoting fear in the community. It thrives on predators, on cases of people not being sufficiently guarded and falling prey to villains or bad luck. There is always a coda implying that superior levels of security should have been provided. It is a mad spiral, a constantly worsening manipulation of public perception toward insecurity by the most influential channels.

So where does the irresponsibility lie? The cultivation of anxiety for commercial purposes is extremely damaging and one of the victims now is childhood innocence. It has caused childhood nudity to be criminalized. Put this together with the equally massive projection of teen sexuality upon children and you have a lot of very confused parents. Parents sense that they are out of control in this media-environment, when each weekend they can watch their tiny daughters emulating all the erotic moves on television that their pumping teenage role-models promiscuously exhibit to loud thumping music. Actually, parents often feel that they have to go along with this emulation and admire their daughters for such precocity. The sexualization of children is endemic throughout our culture (with absolutely nothing to do with art) and remains powerfully promoted by the commercial interests that shape popular culture and seduce the very young especially girls to gaze, act and dance with a sexual body language.

Parents are struggling to achieve a sense of control in all of this and look for the likeliest scapegoat in the vicinity. Again, the politicians and media will gladly spring to their assistance. An artist with an unpronounceable name, an outspoken daughter and a husband in a bright shirt and bowtie will certainly do. These must be the people who are wrecking child innocence. We need a law against their visual profanities. They are terrible snobbish people who thumb their nose at the law. They give, as Brendan Nelson said, the two finger salute to the nation. They are arrogant and slippery, enjoying indulgences that should now finally stop.

Back to art and children

And this brings me to the final sadness. The Australian community has long been suspicious of artists; but now the caricature of the irresponsible artist has acquired a new dimension, arousing not just suspicion but resentment. The new persona of the artist is someone who can use art as a loophole to break the law and obtain a dear privilege denied to everyone else. Parents in the general community no longer enjoy the privilege of photographing their kids in the nude. How come artists get to do this? What puts them above the law?

Though this is a terrible insult to artists, I actually have some sympathy for the reaction. It proves to me that parents have been diddled of something owing to them. They would dearly love to be able to photograph their children in the nude and not fear prosecution. So I completely understand their resentment over the privilege of artists, that its all right for some but not for us. An inalienable right has been taken away from ordinary parents. How hurtful, then, that ordinary parents are not allowed to possess a record of their children’s innocence but artists are allowed to seize this privilege! The mums and dads who work an honest living and have the fondest relationship with their kids are denied a record of enormous value to their family and their children when they grow up. Unless their parents were artists, the future men and women who are now kids will never see what they looked like lounging around in the nude as only children can (if they are still allowed). The memory of a key part of their innocence is deleted. Permanently.

We are in a most unfortunate predicament where everyone is a loser. With the incremental attack on civil rights, parents lose an inestimable treasure in the imagery of their child’s innocence. The artist earns the resentment of the general community for retaining this privilege. The child protection spokesperson is on the losing legal side and resorts to insulting a child. The politicians are caught talking about things that they know nothing about. Senior lawyers risk getting caught defaming an artistic family. The righteous journalist is caught fabricating a picture that lets him indulge his sexual fantasy and bring false witness to his adversary. Opinion writers are caught speaking with neither evidence nor science nor decorum. No one gains in this dire moral downward spiral. It has brutalized so many commentators and few have escaped with their honour intact. It wrecks the credibility of everyone who goes near it. It makes fools of the police who are ordered to prosecute and then have to return the confiscated artworks. It bludgeons the gallerists and artists who will never hear an apology over the way they are mishandled. The issues are beyond the Classification Board, whose criteria have nothing to do with the current preoccupations. The moral downward spiral sucks the Australia Council into becoming a super-parent, forced to take over relations between artist, child and parent. The Australia Council has to come up with a world-first in paternalism, imposing a kind of toddler harness on the nations artists, where the people who think profoundly about the issues are constrained by politicians who scarcely think about them at all. In short, there was never a cultural mess like it since the epoch of iconoclasm in Byzantium.

But while artists may suffer from a new alienation in the general community, the real victims are children, children who can no longer be gazed upon without occasioning fears of paedophilia among their onlookers. In 2000, I wrote a Freudian essay recognizing the sensuality of children which has been held up as an example of a disturbing paedophilic tendency. Amazingly, I got into trouble and had to explain myself on radio for having said, back then, that the sensuality of children is integral to parental fondness. Just what did you mean by that? I was asked, as if cuddling your own child is suspect and expressing it breaches a taboo. When the essay described the oral pleasure of infantile dummy sucking, various commentators thought that they had proof of my depravity.

Wherever artistic and academic interest is suppressed, you can be sure that the general public suffers a yet more serious eradication of consciousness. As the community is harrowed of its visible affection for children, children grow up with emotionally stunted relations with their adult families. Children are being quarantined from the recognition of their sensual pleasures; and so they, too, are denied much: emotional things that are important and integral to their development and wellbeing, things that arise from the curiosity and fond empathetic wonder of adults. We are witnessing an unprecedented alienation of childhood where it is considered shameful to wonder what makes a kid giggle, in which parental curiosity is being eliminated for fear of being condemned as paedophilic.

I remember when I was a boy how I used to smile at everyone in the street. People used to smile back and I felt that I could generate this warmth between me and others. My friendliness had my parents approval; they used to admire my toothy grin. That sense of being an emotional agent in the world is progressively being denied to children and for no good reason. Nowadays, hardly any male dares look at a child much less smile at one, for fear of the friendliness being misconstrued. The relationship is increasingly suspect, with an intervention emanating from state control. What we demand of the state is that it protect children from psychological and physical violation. We do not for that reason permit the state to wipe the smile from the child’s face, to wreck what innocence we have retained between adults and children and to banish the child’s body from public view. The state has no moral right to make this incursion into family life. It never had a mandate to interfere in this way. It is a new bureaucratic barbarism, in which some ambitious brave hearts and vulgarizing politicians have persuaded the world to abandon reason, art and science.

 Voir également:

Déesse grecque d’Australie : entretien avec Polixeni Papapetrou

Le littéraire.com

21 juillet 2016

Il y a une dizaine d’années, Polixeni Papa­pe­trou a été vic­time d’une stu­pide contro­verse dans son pays. Le pré­texte en était qu’elle pho­to­gra­phiait sa fille (à l’époque âgée de six ans) nue. C’était ne rien com­prendre à ce que Polixeni Papa­pe­trou explore. Prin­ci­pa­le­ment, le thème de la trans­for­ma­tion de l’enfance à l’adolescence, de l’âge adulte à la vieillesse.
Son expé­rience de la mala­die l’a ren­due encore plus poreuse à la fra­gi­lité de la vie. La beauté reste l’essence de sa vision des femmes. A sa manière la créa­trice lutte pour leur liberté comme aussi celle de la créa­tion. L’australienne sait créer un « roman­tisme » très par­ti­cu­lier. Au lyrisme qui dis­sipe l’intelligence, elle pré­fère cette der­nière tout en demeu­rant capable d’offrir des émotions. Elles per­mettent de fran­chir le pas du passé au pré­sent et vers le futur que l’œuvre annonce sub­ti­le­ment au sein de son céré­mo­nial par­ti­cu­lier. Il est intense, dans son écono­mie de moyens l’artiste nour­rit une réelle fée­rie.
Il n’existe plus d’un côté le réel et de l’autre sa fic­tion. Ne res­tent que des signes qui se par­tagent entre l’ascèse et la sou­plesse. ils deviennent moins des parures qu’une men­ta­li­sa­tion du réel. Celui-ci change de registre et qua­si­ment de sta­tut en ce qui tient du défi plastique.

 Entretien :

Qu’est-ce qui vous fait lever le matin ?
Il y a tou­jours tant de choses à faire que je dois sor­tir du lit. La pre­mière chose que je fais est de pré­pa­rer le petit-déjeuner, lire le jour­nal et ache­ver mon crois­sant. La nour­ri­ture est une puis­sante moti­va­tion. Récem­ment, je suis deve­nue gour­mande des crois­sants pour le petit-déjeuner car une bou­lan­ge­rie fran­çaise s’est ouverte près de chez moi.

Que sont deve­nus vos rêves d’enfant ?
Enfant, je me rap­pelle que j’éprouvais une forte urgence de quit­ter ma famille et décou­vrir une autre vie que la mienne. Je crois que mes rêves tour­naient tous autour de l’idée de fuite : le rêve majeur était de par­tir pour l’université et je l’ai réa­lisé. Ce qui a changé ma vie pour toujours.

A quoi avez-vous renoncé ?
A rien je pense et c’est plu­tôt le contraire : j’ai beau­coup gagné.

D’où venez-vous ?
Je suis née et j’ai grandi à Mel­bourne de parents grecs. Je suis Aus­tra­lienne avec un héri­tage grec. Aussi je me res­sens comme si je venais de Grèce parce que, lorsque je visite ce pays, je me sens autant chez moi qu’en Australie.

Quelle est la pre­mière image dont vous vous sou­ve­nez ?
Sous le lit de mes parents, il y avait une boîte qui conte­nait des pho­tos de mes parents ado­les­cents en Grèce et aussi les pho­to­gra­phies de leurs pre­mières années en Aus­tra­lie. Je sor­tais ces pho­tos toutes les semaines pour les étudier. Elles étaient un mys­tère pour moi. Je ne peux pas pré­ci­sé­ment me sou­ve­nir d’une seule image comme la pre­mière mais cette boîte de pho­to­gra­phies fut cer­tai­ne­ment pour moi ma pre­mière ren­contre avec les images. Beau­coup plus tard, quand je voya­geais en Grèce, on m’a donné la seule pho­to­gra­phie sur­vi­vante de mes grands-parents que je n’ai jamais ren­con­trés. Ce n’est pas la pre­mière image dont je me sou­viens mais c’est l’image la plus mémo­rable pour moi.

Et votre pre­mière lec­ture ?
Quand j’ai com­mencé l’école pri­maire, je ne savais pas par­ler anglais. On me demanda de lire un livre d’école inti­tulé « John et Betty ». Ce livre défi­nis­sait les attentes des filles et des gar­çons de l’époque. Comme nous n’avions pas de livres en anglais à la mai­son, j’en ai volé un à l’école mais je fus décou­verte : une lettre fut envoyé à mes parents avec comme résul­tat une punition.

Qu’est-ce qui vous dis­tingue des autres artistes ?
J’éprouve beau­coup de rap­pro­che­ments avec les pho­to­graphes et les pra­ti­ciens d’autres arts et la lit­té­ra­ture. Peut-être que ce qui m’en dis­tingue — en dehors de mon passé et de ma per­son­na­lité — est l’opportunité d’avoir pu tra­vailler avec des êtres ins­pi­rés spé­cia­le­ment dans mon enfance. Je pense que j’ai eu un pri­vi­lège unique en ayant accès à leur inno­cence, leur com­pré­hen­sion, leur ima­gi­na­tion, leur intel­li­gence incom­pa­rable et leur naï­veté, leur com­pré­hen­sion natu­relle du sym­bo­lique et leur sens du mer­veilleux. Je me rends compte que tout le monde ne peut aimer la pers­pec­tive fraîche, enchan­tée de ce que les enfants peuvent appor­ter aux adultes quand ils sont trop réflé­chis et conditionnés.

Acceptez-vous le terme de pho­to­graphe fémi­niste ?
Oui, dans le sens que je ne peux dire le contraire. Je ne suis pas ouver­te­ment fémi­niste mais ce que je retiens du fémi­niste est son appré­hen­sion du pou­voir des struc­tures qui fonc­tionnent dans les lignes de démar­ca­tion de la notion de genre – ce que beau­coup de mes pho­to­gra­phies tentent de sub­ver­tir. Un thème per­sis­tant au cours de mon tra­vail est com­ment se tra­vaillent les « changes » à tra­vers les formes et par le jeu de rôle. Par exemple, mes enfants — fémi­nins et mas­cu­lins – ont été bénis habillés de la robe de bap­tême dévo­lues au sexe opposé (« Phan­tom­wise », 2002). J’ai aussi emprunté au fémi­nisme le désir de com­prendre les dyna­miques des filles (« Games of Conse­quence », 2008), le sym­bole phal­lique (« The Ghil­lies », 2013) et plus récem­ment com­ment les femmes, les fleurs et le jar­din ont été réin­ter­pré­tés par les fémi­nistes en tant que décons­truc­tion de la pas­si­vité fémi­nine que sou­ligne toute l’histoire de l’horticulture déco­ra­tive (« Eden », 2016).

Ou travaillez-vous et com­ment ?
Je tra­vaille tou­jours en Aus­tra­lie. Chaque cor­pus est créé soit à l’extérieur, soit en stu­dio. Je vais de l’un à l’autre cela, dépend du type d’espace que je désire pour entou­rer mes portraits.

A qui n’avez-vous jamais osé écrire ?
Mmm, ma mère ? C’est juste une plai­san­te­rie. Je suis une épis­to­lière quelque peu intré­pide. A peine sor­tie de mes études pho­to­gra­phiques, j’ai écrit à Richard Ave­don (et j’ai eu une belle réponse) et j’ai aussi écrit à un ancien Pre­mier Ministre aus­tra­lien pour expri­mer ma décep­tion face à son phi­lis­ti­nisme. Le seul pro­blème que j’ai à écrire est la crainte de leur faire perdre leur temps.

Quelle musique écoutez-vous ?
J’aime la musique et j’en écoute de tous les genres et de toutes les époques. Je chante sou­vent à par­tir de la petite liste de mon iPhone. Elle contient des airs popu­laires avec les­quels j’ai grandi en tant que tee­na­ger dans les années 70. La musique clas­sique repré­sente une grande par­tie de la culture de ma famille. Ma fille Olym­pia joue du vio­lon dans un orchestre et j’aime son réper­toire. Mon com­po­si­teur favori est sans doute Bach.

Quel livre aimez-vous relire ?
« Madame Bovary » de Flau­bert pour la struc­ture psy­cho­lo­gique d’Emma et com­ment celle-ci est en par­tie déter­mi­née par la posi­tion de la femme au XIXème siècle. Sa morale, son déclin finan­cier et psy­cho­lo­gique est un récit tra­gique et édifiant sur beau­coup d’aspects du XIXème siècle.

Quand vous regar­dez dans un miroir qui voyez-vous ?
Par chance moi-même. Mais c’est une grande ques­tion. En anglais, nous uti­li­sons le pro­nom réflexif “myself’ (moi-même). Mais nous pou­vons dire aussi je vois « my self » : signi­fi­ca­tion de ma nature inté­rieure. Je ne ferais pas cette allu­sion sous pré­texte que j’essaye tou­jours de com­prendre qui je suis. Comme l’appareil photo, le miroir ne ren­voie pas d’analyse. C’est à l’œuvre d’art de la proposer.

Quel lieu à valeur de mythe pour vous ?
Paris, énor­mé­ment, et pour rai­sons de pur plai­sir. Il y a d’autres villes en tant que capi­tales du monde. Londres par exemple qui est pour moi majes­tueuse et belle. Mais Paris pos­sède une gran­deur baroque et la gran­di­lo­quence du dix-neuvième siècle qui ne cessent jamais d’être intimes, lyriques, par­lantes, déco­ra­tives et gaies. Cela me rend heu­reuse d’y pen­ser. Il y a d’autres endroits qui manquent entiè­re­ment de l’élégance cha­ris­ma­tique de Paris mais qui résonnent puis­sam­ment avec moi. Les terres autour de Mil­dura, au nord-ouest de mon état de Vic­to­ria en est un exemple. Tout l’Australie pré-coloniale est char­gée d’histoires avec une signi­fi­ca­tion spi­ri­tuelle pro­fonde. Vous pou­vez tou­jours le sen­tir for­te­ment dans cette par­tie sèche mais belle que nous appe­lons le Mallee.

Quels sont les artistes dont vous êtes le plus proche ?
Ce sont des artistes qui sont des amis ou que je connais per­son­nel­le­ment. Bien sûr, pour avoir une rela­tion proche, il faut que j’admire leur tra­vail et leur engagement.

Quel film vous fait pleu­rer ?
C’est une bonne ques­tion. J’ai tou­jours et seule­ment pleuré devant les films sur l’Holocauste. Bien que je trouve ces films dif­fi­ciles à regar­der, je m’oblige à les regar­der et je demande à mes enfants (de 17 et 19 ans) de le faire afin de ne pas se trom­per sur ce qui est arrivé et de com­prendre l’histoire de leur grand-mère paternelle.

Que voudriez-vous rece­voir pour votre anni­ver­saire ?
Ah, tris­te­ment, je vou­drais que mon doc­teur me dise que je fête­rai le pro­chain après celui-ci.

Que vous ins­pire la phrase de Lacan : “L’amour c’est don­ner quelque chose qu’on n’a pas à quelqu’un qui n’en veut pas “ ?
L’idée de Lacan est un modèle du défi­cit d’amour. Il sup­pose que vous avez un dépôt fini d’actif d’amour selon lequel vous emprun­tez, simu­lez ou pro­met­tez de rendre de quoi vous man­quez. De l’autre côté, « notre » amant ne manque de rien et n’a aucun besoin de l’amour, autre­ment la rela­tion serait la dépen­dance et non de vrai amour. Cette vision est intel­li­gente mais fausse. Je dirai qu’il pro­pose une réa­lité proche de l’offrande par­ti­cu­lière des fleurs. Vous n’avez pas de fleurs et per­sonne pour les rece­voir (comme mon mari par exemple). On peut donc consi­dé­rer que c’est inutile. Mais le miracle de l’amour fait que plus on donne, plus on doit don­ner. Ce n’est pas un modèle défi­ci­taire mais génératif.

Et celle de Woody Allen : « la réponse est oui mais quelle était la ques­tion » ?
Nous connais­sons cette énigme. La ques­tion doit être : « La vie a-t-elle un sens ? ». Bien sûr, la réponse est oui. Mais après cette affir­ma­tion, nous ne connais­sons tou­jours pas la ques­tion. Et toutes les autres et belles ques­tions séman­tiques suivent. L’art, la musique ont-ils un sens ? Oui ! Mais quelle est la question ?

Quelle ques­tion ai-je oublié de vous poser ?
Aimez-vous faire du shop­ping ? Et la réponse est…

Pré­sen­ta­tion, entre­tien et tra­duc­tion réa­li­sés  par jean-paul gavard-perret pour lelitteraire.com, le 18 juillet 2016.

Voir de plus:

L’art pervers

Célèbre pour ses tableaux et photos de petites filles, Graham Ovenden vient d’être reconnu coupable d’actes de pédophilie sur ses modèles. La Tate Gallery cache ses images. Connaître la vie d’un artiste joue-t-il sur l’appréciation de son oeuvre?

Eric Albert (Londres, correspondance)

LE MONDE CULTURE ET IDEES

02.05.2013

Attention, sujet tabou. Pour cet article, plusieurs commentateurs de la scène artistique britannique ont refusé de nous répondre. La Tate Gallery n’a pas donné suite à nos demandes répétées d’entretien. Et nous avons hésité sur l’attitude à adopter : fallait-il ou non montrer les oeuvres de Graham Ovenden ?

Né en 1943, l’artiste britannique s’est fait connaître par ses photographies d’enfants de rue, avant de devenir une figure contestée de la peinture pop art. Le 2 avril, il a été reconnu coupable de pédophilie pour six chefs d’accusation concernant l’indécence envers un mineur et un chef d’accusation concernant la molestation sexuelle de mineur.

Quatre femmes, qui avaient posé pour lui enfants, l’accusaient d’avoir abusé d’elles entre 1972 et 1985. Elles ont raconté notamment qu’il leur mettait un foulard sur les yeux pour organiser des « jeux de dégustation » menant à des abus sexuels oraux.

POSES PARFOIS AMBIGÜES

La peine n’a pas encore été prononcée, et Graham Ovenden – qui clame son innocence – peut faire appel. Il a déjà connu des démêlés avec la justice, notamment pour possession d’images indécentes de mineurs, mais il avait chaque fois été blanchi.

Deux jours après la condamnation, la Tate Gallery, qui possédait trente-quatre de ses oeuvres, a décidé de les retirer de la vue du public. Ces photos de jeunes filles plus ou moins dénudées, dans des poses parfois ambiguës – l’une montre clairement le pubis –, n’étaient pas exposées mais elles étaient disponibles sur le site Internet, et elles pouvaient être vues sur rendez-vous. Ce n’est plus le cas.

La décision est controversée. Les oeuvres, jugées intéressantes avant le procès, sont-elles soudain différentes ? Ont-elles perdu leur valeur artistique ? « C’est une décision absurde de la Tate », répond d’emblée Anthony Julius, avocat, auteur de plusieurs ouvrages sur la transgression dans l’art.

Mais après réflexion, il se reprend : « Je ne serais peut-être pas arrivé à la même conclusion que la Tate, mais finalement, la décision est raisonnable et défendable. Si les photos montrent des jeunes filles qui ont été abusées, il est logique d’avoir un mouvement de recul. »

RESPECTER LES VICTIMES

Pour Matthew Kieran, professeur de philosophie et d’art à l’université de Leeds, toute la question est là : quelle que soit la valeur artistique des oeuvres, il faut respecter les victimes. « La Tate a pris la bonne décision, parce que, moralement, les modèles sont en droit de ne pas vouloir être exposées. » Le problème est que les noms des quatre plaignantes n’ont pas été publiés pour des raisons légales : personne ne sait donc si elles figurent sur les photos de la Tate.

Le Monde a décidé de ne pas publier, pour cette page, de photos ou de peintures de Graham Ovenden montrant de très jeunes filles nues. Nous risquerions, puisque nous ignorons l’identité des femmes qui ont déposé plainte, de montrer des jeunes filles qui ont été abusé avant ou après les séances de pose avec le photographe.

Nous publions en revanche des portraits de Maud Hewes qui, jeune fille, a posé à de nombreuses reprises pour Graham Ovenden : elle a témoigné n’avoir jamais été abusée par l’artiste.

Dans certaines de ces images, l’ambiguïté saute aux yeux. Et voilà toute la difficulté : c’est précisément ce qui en fait l’intérêt. « Même en imaginant que ces oeuvres aient été réalisées par quelqu’un qui n’avait rien fait de mal, ces images sont troublantes, souligne le philosophe Matthew Kieran. Elles montrent des petites filles sexualisées, et rappellent que des pulsions sombres peuvent exister en chacun de nous. Il n’est pas question d’agir sur ces pulsions, mais cela ne veut pas dire qu’elles n’existent pas. »

EGON SCHIELE EN PRISON

Pour le philosophe, ces oeuvres soulèvent des questions intéressantes, si pénibles soient-elles. C’est pour cela qu’il avertit : il ne faut pas détruire le travail de Graham Ovenden ou imposer une censure d’Etat. Dans de nombreuses années, quand les victimes ne seront plus vivantes, il sera de nouveau possible de les exposer, estime-t-il.

C’est d’ailleurs le cas de bien des oeuvres. En 1912, Egon Schiele (1890-1918) avait été condamné à vingt et un jours de prison après avoir abusé d’une fillette de 12 ans – la jeune fille avait cependant retiré son accusation pendant le procès. Les toiles du peintre autrichien n’en sont pas moins exposées dans les musées du monde entier. Des corps anguleux et nus, parfois de très jeunes femmes, laissant voir avec précision les organes génitaux.

L’artiste britannique Eric Gill (1882-1940), qui a notamment réalisé les bas-reliefs du chemin de croix de la cathédrale catholique de Westminster, à Londres, est également un cas qui laisse songeur. Il a eu des relations incestueuses avec sa soeur, violé ses enfants, et eu des expériences sexuelles avec son chien. Ecstasy, un bas-relief présentant un couple en pleine fornication, est aujourd’hui en possession de la Tate. Connaître les méfaits de l’artiste change-t-il quelque chose à l’appréciation de son oeuvre ?

Voir de :

De la pédophilie en littérature

Frédéric Beigbeder

Lire

Novembre 2009

Ouh là là! Quel titre effrayant! Que vais-je bien pouvoir dire sur ce sujet sans déclencher une avalanche de courrier? ! Depuis l’affaire Marc Dutroux (1996), la pédophilie est le sujet tabou par excellence. Tout écrivain qui s’avise d’y toucher risque d’être victime d’un lynchage immédiat. Puis-je rappeler, avant de me griller complètement, deux principes de base? 1) Il existe une grande différence entre le fantasme littéraire et le passage à l’acte criminel. 2) On doit pouvoir écrire sur tous les sujets, surtout sur les choses choquantes, ignobles, atroces, sinon à quoi cela sert-il d’écrire? Voulons-nous que les livres ne parlent que de choses légales, propres, gentilles? Si l’on ne peut plus explorer ce qui nous fait peur, autant foutre en l’air la notion même de littérature. Ces deux principes étant posés, il est temps de susciter ma levée de boucliers. À mon avis, l’écriture doit explorer AUSSI ce qui nous excite et nous attire dans le Mal. Par exemple, il faut avoir le courage d’affronter l’idée qu’un enfant est sexy. La société actuelle utilise l’innocence et la pureté de l’enfance pour vendre des millions de produits. Nous vivons dans un monde qui exploite le désir de la beauté juvénile d’un côté pour aussitôt réprimer et dénoncer toute concupiscence adulte de l’autre.

Le roman doit-il se laisser brider par cette schizophrénie? La chasse aux sorcières qui vient d’être ranimée par l’affaire Polanski, puis le délire sur Frédéric Mitterrand (annoncé par l’attaque de François Bayrou sur Daniel Cohn-Bendit) oublient ce qui est en vente dans les librairies. Disons les choses clairement : ceux qui s’indignent avec tant de virulence doivent brûler une longue liste d’ouvrages. Messieurs et Mesdames les censeurs, dégainez vos briquets! Vous avez de l’autodafé sur la planche : Le blé en herbe de Colette, Si le grain ne meurt d’André Gide, Lolita de Nabokov, Il entrerait dans la légende de Louis Skorecki, Au secours pardon de votre serviteur, Rose bonbon de Nicolas Jones-Gorlin, Les 120 journées de Sodome du marquis de Sade, Ivre du vin perdu de Gabriel Matzneff, Les amitiés particulières de Roger Peyrefitte, La ville dont le prince est un enfant d’Henry de Montherlant, Il m’aimait de Christophe Tison, Le roi des Aulnes de Michel Tournier, Pour mon plaisir et ma délectation charnelle de Pierre Combescot, Journal d’un innocent de Tony Duvert, Mineure de Yann Queffélec, Les chants de Maldoror de Lautréamont, Microfictions de Régis Jauffret, Moins que zéro de Bret Easton Ellis, Mémoire de mes putains tristes de Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Enfantines de Valéry Larbaud, Histoire de ma vie de Casanova ou même, quoique en version platonique, Mort à Venise de Thomas Mann doivent rapidement être incendiés! Ma liste n’est pas exhaustive. Je remercie les maccarthystes français anti-pédophilie de m’aider à compléter cette liste d’autodafés en envoyant leurs lettres de délation au magazine car je suis sûr que j’en oublie et j’ai hâte de les lire… pour mieux être révolté, bien sûr, et avoir un regard désapprobateur sur ces œuvres! C’est donc le sourcil froncé que j’aimerais terminer sur une citation, insupportablement comique, tirée du Manuel de civilité pour les petites filles à l’usage des maisons d’éducation (1926) de Pierre Louys : « À partir de l’âge de huit ans, il n’est pas convenable qu’une petite fille soit encore pucelle, même si elle suce la pine depuis plusieurs années. » Ah! zut zut, nous voilà bien. Que faire de ce numéro de Lire avec cette phrase dedans? Doit-on aussi le brûler à présent?

Voir par ailleurs:

Is it wrong to admire Paul Gauguin’s art?

He changed painting for ever, but Paul Gauguin’s despicable lifestyle presents a challenge to our appreciation of his greatness, says Alastair Smart.

Much of the power of Paul Gauguin’s most famous works derives from our uncomfortable knowledge of the context they were created in

Life’s not easy as a Paul Gauguin fan. You are on the defensive too much to be effusive. Gauguin was both a syphilitic paedophile and an artist more important than Van Gogh. See the problem? Foul man, fine artist. Some say our knowledge of the former should change our opinion on the latter. Others, myself among them, think otherwise.

The trouble we aesthetes have, though, is that in Gauguin’s case – just like Van Gogh’s – his life was so dramatic it’s hard not to read the biography on to the art. Indeed, much of the power of his most famous works – the Polynesian-babe paintings – derives from our uncomfortable knowledge of the context they were created in. Although rendered innocent and unerotic, these brown-skinned nudes were more than just Gauguin’s models; they were his sex slaves, too.

Feminists have justifiably given the Parisian a good hammering down the years. After dumping his wife and five kids, Gauguin upped sticks to Martinique, Brittany, Arles (where he spent nine notorious weeks with van Gogh in 1888), and finally the South Pacific islands of Tahiti and Hiva Oa. He took three native brides – aged 13, 14 and 14, for those keeping score – infecting them and countless other local girls with syphilis. He always maintained there were deep-rooted ideological reasons for his emigration, that he was quitting decadent Paris for a purer life in a fecund South Seas paradise, but one wonders how pure things really were in the hut he christened La Maison du Jouir (“The House of Orgasm”).

In short, posterity has Gauguin down as a sinner, and his posthumous punishment is a lack of exposure. The forthcoming retrospective at Tate Modern is the UK’s first major Gauguin show in 50 years.

Contrast that with the mass pilgrimage to the Royal Academy last winter for The Real Van Gogh. A marketing masterstroke, that exhibition showed the Dutchman’s works alongside letters he wrote. Avidly we looked for the story behind the art, for a glimpse into the mind of a genius, almost disregarding the very reason we proclaimed genius to begin with: the paintings themselves.

But perhaps Van Gogh’s art isn’t enough any more. Yes, it was unique, and brilliant in its day, but those boots, sunflowers and cypress trees have become rather old hat. They’re fit for greetings cards, fridge magnets and hotel-wall reproductions, but no longer for inspiring the wow factor. Gauguin, by contrast, was too much of a cad in life to ever reach such heights of commodification in death. Besides which, his outrageous range of colours is poorly served by reproduction. They have to be seen to be believed – which makes the Tate show all the more exciting.

It’s often held against Gauguin that he couldn’t draw (they said the same about Titian) and that his figures are crudely shaped (well, it never did his disciple Picasso any harm). But who cares about that when his colouring is so sumptuous?

Inspired by the flat fields of unmodulated colour in Japanese prints, Gauguin cast realism aside in a quest for more profound meaning. He had no time for naturalistic appearance or the Impressionists’ shimmering evocations of it: that was too superficial. He believed, rather, in “the music of painting”, in finding a harmony of intense colours to reflect the deeper harmony of the universe. Think of 1897’s meditation on the course of human life, D’où venons-nous?, where the complementary golds and browns of Tahitian bodies are set against the complementary blues and greens of the tropical glade.

With his patches of strong, undiluted colour, it was but a small step to Matisse – and the rest, as they say, is art history. But how sincere were Gauguin’s claims of taking painting to a higher realm? Many peers distrusted an ex-stockbroker who had turned to art only in his late twenties. “He’s not a seer, he’s a schemer,” one-time mentor Camille Pissarro railed, arguing that Gauguin never really lost his capitalist streak; that with his paintings of sun-soaked islands, Gauguin was just cashing in on the Parisian bourgeoisie’s fondness for all things “other”.

As its title, Gauguin: Maker of Myth, suggests, the Tate show will tackle this charge head-on. Far from revealing any deep truth, were Gauguin’s images of the South Pacific really just contrived, faux-exotic picture postcards? The case for the prosecution is strong – take Noa Noa, his journal about life on Tahiti. The occult local legends it relates were actually lifted from a Dutch ethnographer’s accounts of the 1830s. Likewise, his renderings of “Polynesian” statuary were largely inventions, inspired by photographs of South-East Asian art he brought from France.

Gauguin had never been a stranger to mythologising, of course. Part of our perception of Van Gogh as a mad, tortured genius stems from Gauguin’s tales of their troubled weeks together in Arles – most notably that of the Dutchman “charging at” him menacingly, “razor in hand”. And Gauguin was a fine self-mythologiser, too. As a self-portrait such as 1889’s Christ in the Garden of Olives exemplifies, he even embraced the role of Christ: martyr for a better type of art that no one else grasped.

So, was he a fraud? The romantic in me likes to think not. Besides, moving for good to a hut halfway around the world isn’t really the sort of thing you do lightly. If he was deceiving anyone with his idyllic island pictures, it was most probably himself. To Gauguin’s disbelief, Tahiti wasn’t the “august land” he claimed or had expected – there were too many French missionaries for that.

In some paintings, one senses another dark truth surfacing, too: that however hard he tried to “go native”, Gauguin always felt like an outsider, unable to share in the islanders’ profound mysteries. Consider The Ancestors of Tehamana (a portrait of his wife, wearing a high-necked missionary dress). Tehamana sits in front of a frieze that depicts the alien combination of a Buddhist idol, indecipherable glyphs and two evil spirits. She smiles at us, sort of, with all the enigma of a Polynesian Mona Lisa. Beneath the Westernised clothing, and in all but the sexual sense, it seems Gauguin found her impenetrable.

His pioneering work with colour and form make the Tate retrospective long overdue. Along with Cézanne, Gauguin must rank as one of the two fathers of modern art, and one hopes he’ll now re-emerge – with characteristic brilliance – from his Dutch sidekick’s shadow.

Last year, German art historians voiced the theory that Van Gogh’s ear had actually been hacked off by Gauguin with his fencing sword. Nonsense, of course, but it struck a chord with the public, partly because we’re engrossed by every detail of the turbulent maestros’ coming together, but more because it reflected the distinct images we have of them. In the popular imagination, Gauguin is considered the sinner to Van Gogh’s saint. A Rolling Stone to Van Gogh’s Beatle. The 1956 movie Lust for Life captured this perfectly, with Anthony Quinn as the brutish Paul opposite Kirk Douglas’s fragile and unhinged Vincent.

It’s as though we feel a collective guilt for our forebears’ failure to spot Van Gogh’s genius while he was alive, and we assuage it by blaming that bounder Gauguin for all the heated clashes that hastened the Dutchman’s demise. He was a graceless survivor, and everyone prefers a heroic victim. No matter how majestic Gauguin’s canvases, it’s hard finding sympathy for the devil.

  • ‘Gauguin: Maker of Myth’ is at Tate Modern from Sept 30 to Jan 16 (020 7887 8888)

Dylan nobélisé: C’est du sampling, imbécile ! (Born sampler tries his hand at painting but gets caught copying other works)

20 octobre, 2016

176521.bin

dylanopiumlady2 leonbusyautochrome-vietnam_1915
dylantrade
dylanstreetplayers
dylanbonze
dylanemperor
dylanbigbro
woman-dylan
packhorse-dylan
trax
rescue-team
2sis
drawn-blank-seriesLes bons artistes copient, les grands artistes volent. Picasso
Though you might hear laughing, spinning
Swinging madly across the sun
It’s not aimed at anyone, it’s just escaping on the run
And but for the sky, there are no fences facing
And if you hear vague traces of skipping reels of rhyme
To your tambourine in time, it’s just a ragged clown behind
I wouldn’t pay it any mind, it’s just a shadow
You’re seeing that he’s chasing … Bob Dylan
In folk and jazz, quotation is a rich and enriching tradition. That certainly is true. It’s true for everybody, but me. I mean, everyone else can do it but not me. There are different rules for me. And as far as Henry Timrod is concerned, have you even heard of him? Who’s been reading him lately? And who’s pushed him to the forefront? Who’s been making you read him? And ask his descendants what they think of the hoopla. And if you think it’s so easy to quote him and it can help your work, do it yourself and see how far you can get. Wussies and pussies complain about that stuff. It’s an old thing – it’s part of the tradition. It goes way back. These are the same people that tried to pin the name Judas on me. Judas, the most hated name in human history! If you think you’ve been called a bad name, try to work your way out from under that. Yeah, and for what? For playing an electric guitar? As if that is in some kind of way equitable to betraying our Lord and delivering him up to be crucified. All those evil motherfuckers can rot in hell. (…) I’m working within my art form. It’s that simple. I work within the rules and limitations of it. There are authoritarian figures that can explain that kind of art form better to you than I can. It’s called songwriting. It has to do with melody and rhythm, and then after that, anything goes. You make everything yours. We all do it. (…) I’m not going to limit what I can say. I have to be true to the song. It’s a particular art form that has its own rules. It’s a different type of thing. All my stuff comes out of the folk tradition – it’s not necessarily akin to the pop world. (…) I try to get past all that. I have to. When you ask me if I find criticism of my work irrelevant or silly, no, not if it’s constructive. If someone could point out here or there where my work could be improved upon, I guess I’d be willing to listen. The people who are obsessed with criticism – it’s not honest criticism. They are not the people who I play to anyway. (…) People have tried to stop me every inch of the way. They’ve always had bad stuff to say about me. Newsweek magazine lit the fuse way back when. Newsweek printed that some kid from New Jersey wrote « Blowin’ in the Wind » and it wasn’t me at all. And when that didn’t fly, people accused me of stealing the melody from a 16th-century Protestant hymn. And when that didn’t work, they said they made a mistake and it was really an old Negro spiritual. So what’s so different? It’s gone on for so long I might not be able to live without it now. Fuck ’em. I’ll see them all in their graves. Everything people say about you or me, they are saying about themselves. They’re telling about themselves. Ever notice that? In my case, there’s a whole world of scholars, professors and Dylanologists, and everything I do affects them in some way. And, you know, in some ways, I’ve given them life. They’d be nowhere without me. Bob Dylan
Additional information has come to our attention about the handwritten poem submitted by Bob Dylan to his camp newspaper, written when he was 16, entitled « Little Buddy’. The words are in fact a revised version of lyrics of a Hank Snow song. This still remains among the earliest known handwritten lyrics of Bob Dylan and Christie’s is pleased to offer them in our Pop Culture auction. Christie’s
Les reprises dans le folk et le jazz sont une tradition enrichissante (…) Tout le monde peut le faire sauf moi. Bob Dylan
Mon inspiration doit commencer avec quelque chose de tangible. Bob Dylan
Raeben taught me how to see in a way that allowed me to do consciously what I unconsciously felt… When I started doing it, it the first album I made was Blood on the Tracks. Everybody agrees that was pretty different, and what’s different about it is there’s a code in the lyrics, and also there’s no sense of time. Bob Dylan
I was just trying to make it like a painting where you can see the different parts but then you also see the whole of it. With that particular song, that’s what I was trying to do… with the concept of time, and the way the characters change from the first person to the third person, and you’re never quite sure if the third person is talking or the first person is talking. But as you look at the whole thing, it really doesn’t matter. Bob Dylan
 Bob Dylan écrit une poésie pour l’oreille, qui doit être déclamée. Si l’on pense aux Grecs anciens, à Sappho, Homère, ils écrivaient aussi de la poésie à dire, de préférence avec des instruments. Il est extrêmement doué pour la rime. C’est un sampleur littéraire qui convoque la grande tradition et peut marier de façon absolument novatrice des musiques de genres différents, des textes de genres différents.  Sara Danius (secrétaire générale de l’Académie Nobel)
Ce Nobel ouvre aussi la porte aux grands paroliers, y compris aux artistes de hip-hop, un style de musique que je considère souvent très proche de la poésie. Il va peut-être permettre à d’autres genres d’écriture d’être appréciés comme des vecteurs de changements littéraires et sociaux. (…) la composition de chansons sera désormais considérée comme un genre littéraire. Un enfant pourra maintenant amener à l’école une chanson de hip-hop, ou d’un autre style musical, et en débattre comme d’une autre forme de littérature. Gabrielle Calvocoressi
Questionné sur ses plagiats de Mémoires d’un Yakuza de Junichi Saga et de l’oeuvre du poète américain Henry Timrod, il avance que sans lui, personne ne parlerait de ces auteurs, ces citations leur permettant d’être mis sur le devant de la scène. Et d’ajouter: « Puisque vous pensez qu’il est si facile de citer Henry Timrod pour écrire ses textes, faites le vous-même, nous verrons ce que vous en faites ». Plusieurs fois accusé de plagiats, Bob Dylan n’a jamais changé sa ligne de conduite. Récemment, les peintures du chanteur étaient exposées à la Gagosian Gallery de New York et provoquaient un tollé. Et pour cause, elles étaient similaires en tout point aux photographies d’un artiste japonais. L’Express
Si la composition de certaines peintures de Bob Dylan s’est fondée sur une variété de sources, comme des archives, des images historiques, la fraîcheur et le dynamisme des peintures proviennent des couleurs et textures des scènes de la vie quotidienne observées durant ces voyages. Galerie
Dylan’s drawings and paintings are marked by the same constant drive for renewal that characterizes his legendary music. He often draws and paints while on tour, and his motifs bear corresponding impressions of the many different environments and people that he encounters. A keen observer, Dylan works from real life to depict everyday phenomena in such a way that they appear fresh, new, and mysterious. The Asia Series, a visual journal of his travels in Japan, China, Vietnam, and Korea, comprises firsthand depictions of people, street scenes, architecture and landscape, which can be clearly identified by title and specific cultural details, such as Mae Ling, Cockfight, The Bridge, and Hunan Province. Conversely, there are more cryptic paintings often of personalities and situations, such Big Brother and Opium, or LeBelle Cascade, which looks like a riff on Manet’s Le Déjeuner sur l’Herbe but which is, in fact, a scenographic tourist photo-opportunity in a Tokyo amusement arcade. The most celebrated singer-songwriter of our time, Dylan has been making visual art since the 1960s, but his work had not been publicly exhibited until 2007, when an exhibition of The Drawn Blank Series was held in Chemnitz, Germany, followed by The Brazil Series at the Statens Museum, Copenhagen, 2008. The Asia Series will be his first exhibition in New York. Art Daily
The most striking thing is that Dylan has not merely used a photograph to inspire a painting: he has taken the photographer’s shot composition and copied it exactly. He hasn’t painted the group from any kind of different angle, or changed what he puts along the top edge, or either side edge, or the bottom edge of the picture. He’s replicated everything as closely as possible. That may be a (very self-enriching) game he’s playing with his followers, but it’s not a very imaginative approach to painting. It may not be plagiarism but it’s surely copying rather a lot. Michael Gray
The paintings—well I can only say they were disappointing. Not because of all the hoopla being made over Dylan’s alleged copying, but because the works themselves had a kind of amateurish quality. It was clear to me that if Bob Dylan’s name was not on these paintings, they would never have gotten such a prestigious showing. Back to the hoopla, which not only surprised me, but demonstrated again just how gullible many of Dylan’s fans actually are. The man, himself, admitted he had done some of the paintings from other images. So what? Dylan’s been doing that in his music since the early 1960s. What I think is confusing to some critics with no sense of creative history is the recording industry’s misleading campaign against music copyright infringement. The Recording Industry of America (RIAA) would have people think that all songs are completely original and come out of thin air. This has led many, especially younger people, to believe the use of other works of art is outright theft. Most art is copied and reinterpreted. Pete Seeger calls it the “folk process,” the phenomenon in which folk music, folk tales and folklore come into being or are passed from one person or generation to the next. We Shall Overcome, a key anthem of the civil rights movement, is a good example of the folk process. The lyrics of the song originated from a gospel song published in 1947 by Rev. Charles Tindley. Originally titled We Will Overcome, it was a favorite of Zilphia Horton, then music director of the Highlander Folk School of Monteagle, Tennessee, a school that trained union organizers. She taught it to Seeger. The song then became associated with the civil rights movement from 1959, when Guy Carawan stepped in as song leader at Highlander, and the school was the focus of student non-violent activism. It quickly became the movement’s unofficial anthem. Seeger and other famous folk singers in the early 1960s, including Joan Baez, sang the song at rallies, folk festivals, and concerts and helped make it widely known. It was at Highlander that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. first heard We Shall Overcome. Today, the song, with the “shall” contributed by Seeger, is copyrighted by Seeger and Carawan. That’s how the folk process works. The passing of traditional tales and music among musicians from ear to ear. So is it OK that Bob Dylan copied photographs by Henri Cartier-Bresson, Leon Busy and Dimitri Kessel? It’s fine with me, as long as he does a masterpiece like he has done with so many songs. However, his paintings, I’m afraid, don’t live up to that high standard. Bob Dylan has engaged in the folk process all his life. A few years ago, a poem, written by a 16-year-old Dylan and submitted to his Jewish summer camp’s newspaper, was going up for auction at Christies when alarms went off.  The auction house failed to detect that this “Dylan Original,” with a few minor alterations, was actually the words of Hank Snow’s previously recorded song, Little Buddy. Now 70, Dylan has continuously borrowed lyrics and melodies.  (…) Blowin’ in the Wind (…) had come from the melody of a spiritual called No More Auction Block for Me, a song that Dylan had probably heard first on a Carter Family record. (…) In a motel room at Newport with Joan Baez, Sandy Bull, Jack Elliott and some others, Dylan and Cash sat on the floor trading songs. Baez set up a portable audio player, and that’s where Bob gave Johnny It Ain’t Me, Babe and Mama, You’ve Been On My Mind. In 1965, Johnny Cash and June Carter, released It Ain’t Me Babe. It became a hit for them. And, in case you wonder, It Ain’t Me Babe was also part of the folk process. The song’s opening line (“Go away from my window…”) was allegedly influenced by musicologist/folk-singer John Jacob Niles’ composition Go ’Way From My Window. Niles was referred to by Dylan as an early influence in Chronicles. (…)  Don’t Think Twice (…) was actually traced to a number that was exactly the same as the one by Paul Clayton. It was called Who’s Gonna Buy Your Chickens When I’m Gone.  (…) So, does using the folk process diminish Bob Dylan’s music?  Hardly. In virtually all cases, what Dylan borrowed, he improved. Blowin’ in the Wind is most certainly better than No More Auction Block for Me. It’s the way the greatest artists have always worked and will continue to work. Dylan’s paintings are something else. Frank Beacham
C’est signé Bobby Zimmerman, 15 ans. C’est écrit pendant une colonie de vacances au milieu des années 50, avec comme seul but une publication dans le journal de la colo. Un demi siècle plus tard, le bout de papier, fautes d’ortographe et tout, se retrouve aux enchères chez Christie’s sous le titre très alléchant de plus vielle trace du génie de ce bon vieux Bob Dylan. Le titre du poème c’est Little Buddy, l’histoire d’un chien qui se fait frapper à mort pour s’être trop approché d’un clochard. « C’est un exemple de son génie », s’extasie Simeon Lipman, le « spécialiste de la culture pop » chez Christies. Sauf que…Sauf que le poème n’est pas de Dylan, mais presque complètement pompé sur la chanson éponyme de Hank Snow, un chanteur country canadien. Sans jeter la pierre sur Dylan (à quinze ans, quoi de plus normal que de copier ses idoles), jetons un rocher entier à la gueule de Christies, qui, sans broncher et en reconnaissant les faits, garde la même présentation et demande entre 10 000 et 15 000 dollars pour deux pages et des mots en encre bleue signés Bobby Zimmerman. Luc Vino
Dylan est une encyclopédie musicale, un expert de musique américaine et il serait trop long de répertorier toutes ses influences, tous ses emprunts, tous les groupes obscurs qu’il cite sans arrêt sans qu’on s’en aperçoive forcément. (…) Charlie Patton : Troubadour à la voix de canard qui chante l’apocalypse, le « père du delta blues » est une influence majeure. Dylan va fréquemment piller l’enfant du Mississippi qui, à sa mort d’une crise cardiaque en 1934, était loin de se douter qu’un fils spirituel chanterait 70 ans plus tard sur l’inondation de 1927 dans un texte qui porte son nom (High Water For Charley Patton). Hank Williams : Le plus grand songwriter country et une grosse influence pour le jeune Robert Zimmerman, écoutant les complaintes du lonesome cowboy en collant son oreille à la petite radio près de son lit. Il le reprendra fréquemment sur scène (« Lonesome Whistle ») et ira même jusqu’à enregistrer un texte posthume sur le disque hommage The Lost Notebooks (2011). Dylan a hérité de quelques maniérismes country, en particulier lors de la période Nashville Skyline/Selfportrait (1969). Allez aussi voir du côté de Jimmie Rodgers et Hank Snow. Woody Guthrie : Le père spirituel. Le barde des opprimés qui, plus proche d’un Jack London que d’un Jack Kerouac, traversait l’Amérique de la Grande Dépression avec ses ballades poussiéreuses pour cowboys et ouvriers. C’est en l’écoutant et en allant lui rendre visite sur son lit d’hôpital à New York que le jeune Bobby a découvert l’art du talkin’ blues, de la complainte universelle et de la crise d’identité. Au départ, c’est comme lui qu’il va s’habiller et chanter et c’est pour lui qu’il écrira « Song To Woody », l’une de ses premières compositions. Pete Seeger : Le vieux sage, lien entre la bande de Woody et ses héritiers du Greenwhich Village. Un musicien ancré dans la tradition orale qui aura écrit et préservé des centaines de tranches d’Amérique. S’il aura du mal à supporter la transition électrique de son jeune protégé, il restera jusqu’à sa mort en 2014 une figure bienveillante. Et pas le seul troubadour militant à avoir inspiré les meilleurs protest-songs de Dylan : voir aussi Lead Belly et la bibliothèque musicale recueillie par l’explorateur Alan Lomax. Allen Ginsberg : Quand il débarque à Minneapolis pour faire ses études, Dylan va surtout passer du temps à traîner avec des musiciens et à plonger tête baissée dans la culture beat affectionnée par ses potes hipsters. La lecture de Kerouac est cruciale bien entendu tout comme celle du poète Allen Ginsberg. L’auteur de Howl profite des sixties pour jouer le trublion et faire le lien entre les beatnicks et les hippies. Bouleversé à l’écoute d’un morceau comme « Hard Rain », il deviendra un apôtre de Dylan, le suivant en Angleterre lors de sa tournée 65 et jouant le rôle du grand gourou lors de la Rolling Thunder Review. En 71, il demandera même au chanteur d’enregistrer un album avec lui dont il reste aujourd’hui quelques sessions expérimentales… Frank Sinatra : On n’a pas encore évoqué le dernier album en date de Dylan, Shadows in the Night (2015), une collection de reprises de Sinatra. De la pochette aux arrangements, c’est un projet old-fashionned où Bob s’applique et livre l’une de ses plus belles performances vocales sur des morceaux intemporels. L’ambiance feutrée et la mélancolie ambiante vont à merveille au vieillard qui en fera les moments les plus incontournables de son répertoire scénique (« Autumn Leaves« , « Why Try To Change Me Now »). Sinatra était déjà dans ses valises depuis longtemps (« Lucky Old Sun » est un classique du Never Ending Tour) tout comme Nat King Cole et Bing Crosby (voir Christmas in the Heart), les grandes voix américaines. (…) Et ce n’est pas fini puisque le prochain LP, Fallen Angels (2016) sera lui aussi consacré à Sinatra. Elvis Presley : Les bonnes ondes du King n’ont pas mis longtemps à se téléporter de Memphis jusqu’à Hibbing, dans les oreilles du petit Robert. Fan de la première heure, le gamin a même tenté de monter son groupe rockabilly au lycée (les Golden Chords) et d’accompagner Bobby Vee, une copie locale de Presley. Ce dernier sera mentionné dans « Went To See The Gypsy » (oui Julie, c’est bien sur l’album New Morning en 70 !) et repris sur disque (« Can’t Help Falling in Love », « Blue Moon« ) et sur scène (« Blue Suede Shoes« ). Elvis lui rendra la pareille en s’accaparant « Tomorrow is a Long Time« . (…) Johnny Cash : C’est en 64, au Newport Festival, que le jeune Dylan croise pour la première fois la route de celui qui lui offrira sa guitare et quelques bons conseils. L’homme en Noir venait de reprendre et populariser « It Ain’t Me, Babe » avec June Carter. Ils se recroiseront en 66 pour une jam enivrée et en 69 pour de nouvelles sessions bancales à Nashville. Seule une jolie reprise de « Girl From the North Country » sera officialisée ainsi qu’un « Wanted Man » écrit à deux mains. Cash n’est pas le seul outlaw country à s’associer avec le Zim : Willie Nelson et Merle Haggard suivront à l’occasion le Never Ending Tour. LES FRÈRES D’ARMES C’est pas facile d’être l’ami ou le collaborateur de Dylan. Il faut supporter rivalité, coups bas, lunatisme et indifférence. Il faut savoir rester dans l’ombre, s’effacer. Certains y sont parvenus le temps d’une tournée ou de plusieurs décennies (les fidèles Bob Neuwirth et Victor Maymudes, le groupe scénique mené par le bassiste Tony Garnier). D’autres ont réussi à faire carrière avec ou malgré lui. Et puis il y a ceux qui ne s’en sont toujours pas remis (…). Dinkytown : On oublie souvent qu’avant de partir à New York, Dylan a fait ses premiers pas à Minneapolis (et reviendra y enregistrer Blood on the Tracks en 74). Après avoir abandonné rapidement ses études pour se consacrer à la musique, il a pu sceller quelques amitiés décisives, des potes à qui il volera des morceaux ou des collections de disques. Parmi eux, citons les érudits John Koerner et Tony Glover à qui Dylan rend hommage dans ses Chroniques.  Le Greenwich Village : Dans le quartier bohème où il se produisait dans divers cafés-concerts (le Gaslight, le Café Wha), Dylan a fait quelques belles rencontres. Qu’il s’agisse de vieux bluesmen (il fit les premières parties de Lonnie Johnson et John Lee Hooker) ou d’irlandais bourrus (les Clancy Brothers), son esprit a pu éponger un bon paquet de styles et de chansons. C’est à Dave Van Ronk qu’il piquera les arrangements du House of the Rising Sun entendu sur son premier album et c’est avec Peter LaFarge qu’il se mettra à écrire ses premiers textes. On a pu entendre son harmonica auprès de la douze-cordes de Karen Dalton, de Mavis Staples (qu’il rejoindra en tournée l’été prochain) ou des New Lost City Ramblers. La plupart de ses frères d’armes lui rendront hommage devant la caméra de Scorsese dans le docu No Direction Home et le suivront dans d’autres aventures (Ramblin’ Jack Elliott au casting de la Rolling Thunder). Mais sa rapide ascension attira bien vite la jalousie de certains. Le très engagé Phil Ochs ne s’en remettra jamais. Victime des sautes d’humeur de Dylan (qui le considérait plus comme un journaliste qu’un poète) et d’une dépression accentuée par l’alcool, il se suicidera en 1976. L’écurie Grossman : Si Dylan est son client le plus connu (il le signera en 62, le rendra célèbre et s’en ira avec la caisse), Albert Grossman a eu d’autres clients célèbres. La chanteuse Odetta dont le style unique a influencé le jeune Bobby. Peter, Paul & Mary, trio fabriqué de toutes pièces par Grossman et qui permettra au revival folk de bien se vendre, notamment en propulsant « Blowin’ in the Wind » sur toutes les radios. Le bluesman John Lee Hooker avec lequel Dylan a pu partager l’affiche au Greenwich Village. Et on peut également citer The Band, Richie Havens, Todd Rundgren et Janis Joplin. (…) Joan Baez (…) prend le jeune Bobby sous son aile et (paraît-il) dans son lit, Dylan ne lui renverra pas l’ascenseur quand elle le suivra lors de la tournée anglaise de 65 (voir le docu Don’t Look Back) et, malgré une brève réconciliation lors de la Rolling Thunder Revue (voir le film Renaldo & Clara), leurs chemins vont se séparer. Si Dylan s’en remettra, Baez continuera à reprendre ses chansons, à écrire des albums entier sur ses regrets (Diamonds & Rusts en 75) et à parler de lui à chaque interview… (…) Neil Young : En terme de discographie imposante et de carrière pleine de virages, Neil Young n’a rien à envier à Dylan. (…) Si Dylan a suspecté son rival de le plagier avec « Heart of Gold », leur relation s’est par la suite améliorée. Ils ont partagé la scène à un concert de charité en 75, lors des adieux du Band en 76 et pour l’anniversaire de Dylan en 92. Tandis qu’on a pu entendre « Old Man » lors du NET, le Loner reprendra régulièrement sur scène et en studio des classiques comme « Blowin’ in the Wind » ou « Girl From the North Country« . The Grateful Dead : Une admiration mutuelle entre Dylan et les hippies de San Francisco qui, comme on l’a vu la semaine dernière, occasionnera le meilleur comme le pire. Le pire, c’est donc la tournée 87 et surtout son témoignage live, Dylan & The Dead (1988). Le meilleur, ce sont les reprises du Dead lors du Never Ending Tour (« Friend of the Devil« , Alabama Getaway »). Jerry Garcia était un vrai pote pour lui, l’un des rares pour lequel il s’est pointé à l’enterrement. LES FIDÈLES MUSICIENS  En cinquante ans et malgré ses sautes d’humeurs, Dylan a réussi à s’entourer d’une légion de musiciens. Le temps d’un album, d’une collaboration ou d’une vie toute entière. Difficile d’établir une liste complète mais vous avez intérêt à retenir les plus fidèles, ceux qui ont su s’accommoder des méthodes pas toujours diplomates d’un patron pas comme les autres. (…) La loyauté est également requise pour être choriste et même plus si affinités. Embauchée dès Slow Train Coming et présente sur Saved et Empire Burlesque, Carolyn Dennis va épouser son boss en 86, un mariage qui va durer six ans et un enfant. Durant la tournée gospel, ça n’empêche pas le prophète de coucher avec une autre choriste, Clydie King, qui restera dans le coin de Saved à Empire Burlesque. LES HÉRITIERS Donovan : Il y a ce passage terrible dans le docu Don’t Look Back. Le jeune barde écossais rencontre son idole dans un hôtel luxueux  et, à la recherche d’approbation, lui interprète une ritournelle à la limite du plagiat. En réponse, un Dylan plus arrogant que jamais se lance dans It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue et prouve à son disciple qu’il est inimitable. Heureusement, Donovan n’est pas qu’une simple copie et saura tirer son épingle du jeu que ce soit avec de jolies ballades ou des choses plus psychédéliques. The Byrds : L’influence va dans les deux sens. En donnant une couleur « folk-rock » aux morceaux de leur idole, les Byrds lui donneront envie de rebrancher les guitares et d’agrandir son registre sonore. On n’a jamais su aussi bien retranscrire l’atmosphère carillonnante de « Mr Tambourine Man » qu’avec la Rickenbacker douze cordes et les harmonies du trio McGuinn/Clark/Crosby.  Bruce Springsteen : Régulièrement, la presse désigne le moindre type qui joue de la guitare comme le nouveau Dylan. Au milieu des années 70, Springsteen méritait vraiment ce raccourci, en particulier en tant que songwriter et porte-parole d’une génération (un fardeau qu’il n’a jamais refusé). Il y a du respect entre l’élève et le maître et c’est le petit gars du New Jersey qui introduira le petit gars du Minnesota au « Rock & Roll Hall of Fame » avec ce joli discours. Dylanesquetv
Dans le monde anglo-saxon (…) l’intensité de la polémique est au moins aussi haute que chez nous. Mais vous mettez d’emblée le doigt sur un des principaux problèmes, celui de la langue. Les textes de Bob Dylan, souvent obscurs, sont très difficiles à saisir pour quiconque ne parle pas anglais très couramment. Et pourtant, ses chansons nous paraissent familières. Pensez ! Dans un très grand nombre de pays, elles sont sur ondes des radios ondes depuis une soixantaine d’années. L’écrivain et traducteur Tim Parks explique ainsi, dans la New York Review of Books, pourquoi cette impression de proximité que nous éprouvons en face de ces chansons, fausse le jugement que nous pouvons porter sur l’œuvre de Dylan. Le public a fait confiance aux jurés du Prix Nobel lorsqu’ils ont couronné des poètes comme Octavio Paz ou Wislawa Szymborska. La plupart d’entre nous n’avait jamais eu l’occasion de lire un de leurs poèmes. Au contraire, dans le cas de Bob Dylan, tout le monde a chantonné un jour ou l’autre Mr. Tambourine Man, sans en comprendre le sens complet. Qu’on lui attribue le Prix Nobel est donc bien plus troublant. On a la fausse impression de voir décerner la plus haute distinction littéraire à un faiseur de chansonnettes. Tim Parks pointe un autre problème : les chansons de Dylan prennent véritablement leur sens à travers la manière dont leur auteur les a interprétées. Elles comportent souvent un élément de sarcasme que seule, sa manière chanter rend perceptible. C’est un aspect sur lequel insiste un grand dylanologue, Ron Rosenbaum, auteur de plusieurs essais sur le chanteur : Dylan, dit-il, mine et sape le langage. Il a d’ailleurs exercé une subtile influence sur sur la façon dont nous parlons, ce côté contrefait et pince-sans-rire. Bref, selon Tim Parks, ses textes sont d’abord des chansons jouées à la manière d’une performance , et non pas principalement des poèmes. La secrétaire permanente de l’Académie suédoise a répondu d’avance aux critiques qui ont estimé qu’un auteur de chansons ne pouvait pas être considéré comme un poète. Les textes d’Homère comme de Sappho, a dit Sara Danius, étaient eux aussi destinés à être déclamés ou probablement chantés en public. Pareil pour ceux de Dylan ». Alors, ces chansons relèvent-elles ou non de la littérature ? Il est évident, selon Spencer Kornhaber, dans The Atlantic, que les jurés du Nobel ont voulu élargir la notion de littérature, afin d’y introduire la chanson à texte. « On peut le lire et il devrait être lu », a encore déclaré Sara Danius, insistant ainsi sur la qualité proprement littéraire des textes de Bob Dylan. En réalité, cela fait déjà bien longtemps que ses œuvres sont étudiées dans les départements d’anglais des universités du monde entier. Un « fond Bob Dylan » sera ouvert aux étudiants par l’Université de Tulsa au printemps prochain. De nombreuses thèses et études lui ont été consacrées. Les unes pour les situer dans le contexte de la Beat Generation, d’autres adoptant des angles d’attaque beaucoup plus inattendus. Ainsi, le grand dylanologue et éminent professeur de Boston Christopher Ricks, a étudié la notion de péché chez Dylan. Son œuvre, de par les oscillations permanentes de son auteur entre le judaïsme de ses origines et l’évangélisme protestant, est pétrie de références bibliques. Mais (…) « On décerne un Prix littéraire à quelqu’un qui est un grand folk-singer, peut-être même le plus grand de tous, mais qui n’a jamais écrit une ligne de littérature ». Voilà ce qu’écrit Tim Stanley dans The Telegraph, le grand quotidien conservateur britannique. A ses yeux, Dylan n’est pas situé sur le même barreau de l’échelle – c’est la métaphore qu’il emploie – que les Nobels d’autrefois. Les jurés auraient cédé au « snobisme anti-élitiste ». Ils ont voulu caresser le grand public dans le sens de sa nostalgie des sixties ; courir après la foule. Ils ont suivi l’idéologie du moment selon laquelle tout se vaut et la distinction entre haute et basse culture appartient au passé. Si Bob Dylan a mérité le Prix Nobel pour ses chansons, pourquoi, dans l’avenir, ne pas penser à Donald Trump pour ses twitts tellement lyriques ? ironise-t-il ? Si les jurés suédois pensaient que le tour des Américains était venu, ils auraient mieux fait de décerner leur prix à Don DeLillo, à Philip Roth, ou même à Thomas Pynchon. Eux au moins écrivent des livres… Ce sont des écrivains. Pas Bob Dylan. D’autres personnalités critiquent non pas la qualité littéraire de l’oeuvre dylanesque, mais le fait d’avoir attribué un prix littéraire à un musicien. C’est le cas d’Irvine Welsh, l’auteur de Transpotting. Il a twitté : « Si vous êtes un fan de musique, regardez dans le dictionnaire à « musique ». Puis à « littérature ». Comparez et contrastez. » D’autres accusent Bob Dylan de plagiat. Dans ses Chroniques Volume 1 – car Dylan a aussi publié ce livre – on a repéré des recopiages manifestes de Jack London. Et l’album Love and Theft (2001) comporte de larges passages d’un livre du romancier japonais Junichi Saga. Quant à l’album de sa « renaissance », Blood on the Tracks », que tout le monde a pris, lors de sa parution, en 1975, comme de part en part autobiographique, il serait entièrement basé sur des nouvelles de Tchekhov, que Dylan dévorait à New York, au cours des mois précédant son enregistrement. Qu’est-ce que cela prouve ? Que Dylan a de bonnes lectures. Qu’il a toujours baigné dans la littérature. Et pas seulement dans le protest-song. Brice Couturier

Après la réécriture de l’histoire, celle de la peinture !

Recopiage d’une chanson de Hank Snow dès l’âge de 16 ans, pillages de toute une génération de chanteurs folk, emprunts à des écrivains (London, Chekov, Junichi Saga), à des photographes (Cartier-Bresson, James Ricalton, Bruce Gilden, Dmitri Kessel, Léon Busy) et à des peintres, et peut-être bientôt à des sculpteurs ?

Au lendemain de la polémique – parfaitement résumée par Brice Couturier – soulevée par la première attribution à un auteur-compositeur du prix Nobel de littérature …

Confirmation du jugement de la secrétaire de l’Académie Nobel …

Bob Dylan est bien un « sampleur »

Mais dès l’âge de 16 ans et tout particulièrement suite à sa rencontre avec le peintre russo-américain Norman Raeben …

Un « sampleur » qui …

Reprenant le mot d’ordre du « voleur » de génie Picasso et à condition bien sûr de faire mieux que l’original …

Va bien au-delà de la littérature !

Dylan, Prix Nobel de littérature. La polémique

Brice Couturier

France Culture

20.10.2016

Il n’y a pas qu’en France que cette attribution fait débat.

L’attribution du Prix Nobel de littérature a indisposé bien des intellectuels français – Pierre Assouline et notre collègue Alain Finkielkraut, pour ne citer qu’eux. Qu’en est-il dans le monde anglo-saxon, où, par définition, ses textes sont mieux compris ?

Eh bien, l’intensité de la polémique est au moins aussi haute que chez nous. Mais vous mettez d’emblée le doigt sur un des principaux problèmes, celui de la langue. Les textes de Bob Dylan, souvent obscurs, sont très difficiles à saisir pour quiconque ne parle pas anglais très couramment. Et pourtant, ses chansons nous paraissent familières. Pensez ! Dans un très grand nombre de pays, elles sont sur ondes des radios ondes depuis une soixantaine d’années.

L’écrivain et traducteur Tim Parks explique ainsi, dans la New York Review of Books, pourquoi cette impression de proximité que nous éprouvons en face de ces chansons, fausse le jugement que nous pouvons porter sur l’œuvre de Dylan. Le public a fait confiance aux jurés du Prix Nobel lorsqu’ils ont couronné des poètes comme Octavio Paz ou Wislawa Szymborska. La plupart d’entre nous n’avait jamais eu l’occasion de lire un de leurs poèmes. Au contraire, dans le cas de Bob Dylan, tout le monde a chantonné un jour ou l’autre Mr. Tambourine Man, sans en comprendre le sens complet. Qu’on lui attribue le Prix Nobel est donc bien plus troublant. On a la fausse impression de voir décerner la plus haute distinction littéraire à un faiseur de chansonnettes.

Tim Parks pointe un autre problème : les chansons de Dylan prennent véritablement leur sens à travers la manière dont leur auteur les a interprétées. Elles comportent souvent un élément de sarcasme que seule, sa manière chanter rend perceptible. C’est un aspect sur lequel insiste un grand dylanologue, Ron Rosenbaum, auteur de plusieurs essais sur le chanteur : Dylan, dit-il, mine et sape le langage. Il a d’ailleurs exercé une subtile influence sur sur la façon dont nous parlons, ce côté contrefait et pince-sans-rire. Bref, selon Tim Parks, ses textes sont d’abord des chansons jouées à la manière d’une performance , et non pas principalement des poèmes.

La secrétaire permanente de l’Académie suédoise a répondu d’avance aux critiques qui ont estimé qu’un auteur de chansons ne pouvait pas être considéré comme un poète. Les textes d’Homère comme de Sappho, a dit Sara Danius, étaient eux aussi destinés à être déclamés ou probablement chantés en public. Pareil pour ceux de Dylan ».

Alors, ces chansons relèvent-elles ou non de la littérature ? Il est évident, selon Spencer Kornhaber, dans The Atlantic, que les jurés du Nobel ont voulu élargir la notion de littérature, afin d’y introduire la chanson à texte. « On peut le lire et il devrait être lu », a encore déclaré Sara Danius, insistant ainsi sur la qualité proprement littéraire des textes de Bob Dylan.

En réalité, cela fait déjà bien longtemps que ses œuvres sont étudiées dans les départements d’anglais des universités du monde entier. Un « fond Bob Dylan » sera ouvert aux étudiants par l’Université de Tulsa au printemps prochain. De nombreuses thèses et études lui ont été consacrées. Les unes pour les situer dans le contexte de la Beat Generation, d’autres adoptant des angles d’attaque beaucoup plus inattendus. Ainsi, le grand dylanologue et éminent professeur de Boston Christopher Ricks, a étudié la notion de péché chez Dylan. Son œuvre, de par les oscillations permanentes de son auteur entre le judaïsme de ses origines et l’évangélisme protestant, est pétrie de références bibliques. Heureusement qu’il n’existe pas de Prix Nobel de théologie, vous allez dire…

Mais quels sont les arguments de ceux qui regrettent que ce Prix Nobel ait été décerné à Bob Dylan ?

« On décerne un Prix littéraire à quelqu’un qui est un grand folk-singer, peut-être même le plus grand de tous, mais qui n’a jamais écrit une ligne de littérature ». Voilà ce qu’écrit Tim Stanley dans The Telegraph, le grand quotidien conservateur britannique. A ses yeux, Dylan n’est pas situé sur le même barreau de l’échelle – c’est la métaphore qu’il emploie – que les Nobels d’autrefois. Les jurés auraient cédé au « snobisme anti-élitiste ». Ils ont voulu caresser le grand public dans le sens de sa nostalgie des sixties ; courir après la foule. Ils ont suivi l’idéologie du moment selon laquelle tout se vaut et la distinction entre haute et basse culture appartient au passé. Si Bob Dylan a mérité le Prix Nobel pour ses chansons, pourquoi, dans l’avenir, ne pas penser à Donald Trump pour ses twitts tellement lyriques ? ironise-t-il ? Si les jurés suédois pensaient que le tour des Américains était venu, ils auraient mieux fait de décerner leur prix à Don DeLillo, à Philip Roth, ou même à Thomas Pynchon. Eux au moins écrivent des livres… Ce sont des écrivains. Pas Bob Dylan.

D’autres personnalités critiquent non pas la qualité littéraire de l’oeuvre dylanesque, mais le fait d’avoir attribué un prix littéraire à un musicien. C’est le cas d’Irvine Welsh, l’auteur de Transpotting. Il a twitté : « Si vous êtes un fan de musique, regardez dans le dictionnaire à « musique ». Puis à « littérature ». Comparez et contrastez. »

D’autres accusent Bob Dylan de plagiat. Dans ses Chroniques Volume 1 – car Dylan a aussi publié ce livre – on a repéré des recopiages manifestes de Jack London. Et l’album Love and Theft (2001) comporte de larges passages d’un livre du romancier japonais Junichi Saga. Quant à l’album de sa « renaissance », Blood on the Tracks », que tout le monde a pris, lors de sa parution, en 1975, comme de part en part autobiographique, il serait entièrement basé sur des nouvelles de Tchekhov, que Dylan dévorait à New York, au cours des mois précédant son enregistrement. Qu’est-ce que cela prouve ? Que Dylan a de bonnes lectures. Qu’il a toujours baigné dans la littérature. Et pas seulement dans le protest-song.

Voir aussi:

Bob Dylan: The Music Travels, the Poetry Stays Home
Tim Parks
The NY Review of books
10.16. 2016

No one has been a fiercer critic of the Nobel Prize in Literature than I. It’s not the choices that are made, though some (Elfriede Jelinek, Dario Fo) have been truly bewildering; it’s just the silliness of the idea that a group of Swedish judges, always the same, could ever get their minds round literature coming from scores of different cultures and languages, or that anyone could ever sensibly pronounce on the best writers of our time. The best for whom? Where? Does every work cater to everybody? The Nobel for literature is an accident of history, dependent on the vast endowment that fuels its million-dollar award. What it reveals more than anything else is the collective desire, at least here in the West, that there be winners and losers, at the global level, that a story be constructed about who are the greats of our era, regardless of the impossibility of doing this in any convincing way.

At times I have even thought the prize has had a perverse influence. The mere thought that there are writers who actually write towards it, fashioning their work, and their networking, in the hope of one day wearing the laurels, is genuinely disturbing. And everyone is aware of course of that sad figure, the literary great who in older age eats his or her heart out because, on top of all the other accolades, the Swedish Academy has never called. They would be better off if the prize did not exist. As for the journalists, one might say that the more they are interested in the prize, the less they are interested in literature.

All that said, this year I have to admit that the judges have done something remarkable. And you have to say, chapeau! For they have thrown the cat among the pigeons in a most delightful manner. First they have given the prize to someone who wasn’t courting it in any way, and that in itself is cheering. Second, in provoking the backlash of the purists who demand that the Nobel go to a novelist or poet, and the diehard fans who feel their literary hero has been short changed, they have revealed the pettiness, and boundary drawing that infests literary discourse. Why can’t these people understand? Art is simply not about a solemn attachment to this or that form. The judge’s decision to celebrate a greatness that also involves writing is a welcome invitation to move away from wearisome rivalries and simply take pleasure in contemplating one man’s awesome achievement.

But the most striking thing about the choice of Dylan has little to do with his primary status as a musician rather than novelist or poet. Far more interesting, at least from my point of view, as a long-term resident in Italy, translator, and teacher of translation, is that this prize divides the world, geographically and linguistically, in a way no other Nobel has done. Which is quite something when you think that the Nobel was invented precisely to establish an international consensus on literary greatness.

Why? Because while Dylan’s greatness seems evident in English-speaking countries, even to those scandalized that he has been given the Nobel, this is simply not the case in all those places where Dylan’s music is regularly heard, but his language only partially understood. Which is to say, in most of the world.

When the prize is given to a foreign poet—Tomas Tranströmer, Wisława Szymborska, Octavio Paz—whose work one perhaps has not read, or is not even available in English, one takes it on trust that the judges know a thing or two. For however arbitrary and absurd the prize might be, the judges themselves no doubt take it seriously and do their best. Even in those cases where there are translations, those few people who read and think about poetry are usually sophisticated enough to realize that a poem in translation is not, or only rarely, the real thing. More a shadow, a pointer, a savoring of impossibility.

But everyone has heard Dylan, everyone who has a radio or watches television, worldwide. In this sense the jury has exposed itself as never before. And they have heard him in the pop culture mix alongside other musicians and bands whose lyrics are perhaps banal and irrelevant. Outside the English-speaking world people are entirely used to hearing popular songs in English and having only the vaguest notions of what they might be about. They do not even ask themselves whether these are fine lyrics or clichés, just as we wouldn’t if we heard a song in Polish or Chinese. Even those who do speak English to a certain level and have heard “Mr. Tambourine Man” a thousand times, will very likely not react to it in the same way that a native English speaker would.

Though you might hear laughing, spinning, swinging madly across the sun
It’s not aimed at anyone
It’s just escaping on the run
And but for the sky there are no fences facing
And if you hear vague traces of skipping reels of rhyme
To your tambourine in time
It’s just a ragged clown behind
I wouldn’t pay it any mind
It’s just a shadow you’re seeing that he’s chasing.
Dylan sings the words clearly enough. But for the foreign listener this is hard work. He doesn’t see them written down. He can’t linger over them. He doesn’t know if they exhibit great facility or are merely nonsense. In particular, when he gets three verbs in a row ending in “ing”—laughing, spinning, swinging—it isn’t clear to him whether they are gerunds or participles. How to parse this phrase? And how to understand the charm of “But for the sky there are no fences facing,” if you don’t immediately grasp that in English we can say that fences “face” each other.

Let’s not even begin to imagine the difficulties with “Subterranean Homesick Blues.”

When we read poetry on the page we take time over it. We puzzle over it. We relish it. When we hear poetry sung, and sung intensely as Dylan sings, drivingly, with a snarl and a drawl, which is also a sophisticated form of irony, how can we, if we are not native speakers, be expected to appreciate it?

So we have this fantastic paradox. Of all Nobel winners, Dylan is surely and by far the best known worldwide. Hurrah. But only known in the sense that people have heard the songs, not understood, not relished the words. So, barely an hour after the Swedish Academy made its announcement., I was receiving messages and mails from Italian friends, of the variety, “I’ve always loved Dylan, but what on earth has he got to do with literature?” And these are people who know English fairly well. Until finally someone wrote, “I’ve always suspected Dylan’s words were something special.” And in this message there was an element of pride, in knowing English well enough to recognize this.

Needless to say, there are some translated versions of Dylan in Italy. In 2015 the excellent singer-songwriter Francesco De Gregori came out with an album Amore e furto, (Love and Theft), which has some fine renderings of Dylan, or “stolen” from Dylan, in Italian. He calls “Subterannean Homesick Blues” Acido Seminterrato and does his best to keep up with Dylan’s mad rhymes:

ragazzino cosa fai
guarda che è sicuro che lo rifarai
scappa nel vicolo,
scansa il pericolo
nel parco uno con un cappello ridicolo
ti dà la mano

vuole qualcosa di strano
But this kind of virtuosity is the exception that proves the rule, and even then, one is mainly marveling at De Gregori’s getting so near, while remaining so far away. For the most part cover translations are just a trite dumbing down of the original, entirely at the whim of the music’s rhythm and the need for rhyme. I would argue that they actually undermine rather than enhance the singer’s reputation.

We should hardly be surprised then if outside the English-speaking world the controversy over this Nobel is even fiercer than within it. For the award has laid bare a fact that international literary prizes usually ignore, or were perhaps designed to overcome: that a work of art is intimately bound up to the cultural setting in which it was created. And language is a crucial part of that. Quite simply Dylan’s work means more and more intensely in the world that produced Dylan. To differing degrees, and in the teeth of internationalism and globalization, this will be true of every literary work.

Voir également:

Les peintures de Bob Dylan, des escroqueries?

Voir de même:

I visited the Gagosian Gallery in Manhattan this weekend to see Bob Dylan’s Asia Series paintings. The viewing rooms were nearly empty when I was there and the paintings—well I can only say they were disappointing.Not because of all the hoopla being made over Dylan’s alleged copying, but because the works themselves had a kind of amateurish quality. It was clear to me that if Bob Dylan’s name was not on these paintings, they would never have gotten such a prestigious showing.

Back to the hoopla, which not only surprised me, but demonstrated again just how gullible many of Dylan’s fans actually are. The man, himself, admitted he had done some of the paintings from other images. So what? Dylan’s been doing that in his music since the early 1960s.

What I think is confusing to some critics with no sense of creative history is the recording industry’s misleading campaign against music copyright infringement. The Recording Industry of America (RIAA) would have people think that all songs are completely original and come out of thin air. This has led many, especially younger people, to believe the use of other works of art is outright theft.

Most art is copied and reinterpreted. Pete Seeger calls it the “folk process,” the phenomenon in which folk music, folk tales and folklore come into being or are passed from one person or generation to the next.

We Shall Overcome, a key anthem of the civil rights movement, is a good example of the folk process. The lyrics of the song originated from a gospel song published in 1947 by Rev. Charles Tindley. Originally titled We Will Overcome, it was a favorite of Zilphia Horton, then music director of the Highlander Folk School of Monteagle, Tennessee, a school that trained union organizers. She taught it to Seeger.

The song then became associated with the civil rights movement from 1959, when Guy Carawan stepped in as song leader at Highlander, and the school was the focus of student non-violent activism. It quickly became the movement’s unofficial anthem.

Seeger and other famous folk singers in the early 1960s, including Joan Baez, sang the song at rallies, folk festivals, and concerts and helped make it widely known. It was at Highlander that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. first heard We Shall Overcome.

Today, the song, with the “shall” contributed by Seeger, is copyrighted by Seeger and Carawan. That’s how the folk process works. The passing of traditional tales and music among musicians from ear to ear.

So is it OK that Bob Dylan copied photographs by Henri Cartier-Bresson, Leon Busy and Dimitri Kessel? It’s fine with me, as long as he does a masterpiece like he has done with so many songs. However, his paintings, I’m afraid, don’t live up to that high standard.

Bob Dylan has engaged in the folk process all his life. A few years ago, a poem, written by a 16-year-old Dylan and submitted to his Jewish summer camp’s newspaper, was going up for auction at Christies when alarms went off.  The auction house failed to detect that this “Dylan Original,” with a few minor alterations, was actually the words of Hank Snow’s previously recorded song, Little Buddy.

Now 70, Dylan has continuously borrowed lyrics and melodies. At one of Bob Levinson’s Dylan classes that I took, Billy Altman, the music and pop culture writer, did an analysis of Dylan’s album, Together Through Life. Though Altman very much likes Dylan’s work, he traced how songs on the record originated from other artists. For example, Beyond Here Lies Nothin’ channels back to Otis Rush’s All Your Love (I Miss Loving) and If You Ever Go to Houston extends to Leadbelly’s Midnight Special.

One song, My Wife’s Home Town, got special mention. Altman noted from the liner notes that the song gives a compositional co-credit to the late Willie Dixon. That’s because Dixon wrote Muddy Water’s sound-alike hit, I Just Want to Make Love to You. Perhaps Dixon’s estate wasn’t so keen on allowing the folk process to work in this case.

Bob Cohen, another guest with Altman at Levinson’s class, was a member of 1960’s folk group, “The New World Singers” with Happy Traum, Gil Turner and Delores Dixon. When they played in the early 60s at Gerde’s Folk City in Greenwich Village, a young Bob Dylan was often present. Not only did he like the group’s music, but—as Dylan wrote in his memoir, Chronicles—his “part-time girlfriend” at the time was Dixon, a black woman and New York City schoolteacher with a deep alto voice.

One day, Cohen said, Dylan announced that he had a new song and invited the group to the rat and roach-infested basement of Gerdes to hear Blowin’ in the Wind. The rest is history. The New World Singers were the  first to record the song, which, Cohen noted, that Ahmet Ertegun of Atlantic Records refused to record unless they changed the words to make it into a love song.

Interestingly, when Cohen talked with Delores Dixon ten years later, after she had left the group, she revealed her then secret relationship with Dylan and told of his writing Blowin’ in the Wind. The song had come from the melody of a spiritual called No More Auction Block for Me, a song that Dylan had probably heard first on a Carter Family record.

Also, Dylan knew it because Delores sang it often at Gerde’s. It was a moving song of freedom written during slavery times, insisting “no more, no more” and sadly reflecting on the “many thousands gone.” Cohen sang it for the class, noting that in the Civil War an abolitionist wrote it down from Negro Union soldiers.

Delores told Cohen that Dylan had gone home with her one night and the next morning was working on Blowin’ in the Wind. When she heard it, she said “Bobby, you just can’t do that.” To Delores, one should not take a traditional song and write new words for it.

But the group felt otherwise and quickly adopted Blowin’ in the Wind. They sang it on stage at Gerdes and asked Dylan to join them. Later, in 1963 and 64, the New World Singers took the song to Mississippi, where it became a civil rights anthem.

Cohen revealed another interesting fact about that first recording. When Ertegun refused to use Blowin’ in the Wind, Moe Asch of Folkways decided to release the song on Broadside Records. It came out even before Dylan’s own version.

However, Delores insisted on singing the chorus as “The answer my friend is blown in the wind.” Cohen said the group couldn’t talk her out of it, and it stands today on that first recording. Apparently, as a school teacher, Delores thought Dylan had used improper English with his use of “blowin.’”

Altman revealed another side of Dylan to the class, one as an aggressive promoter of his compositions from the earliest days. At the Newport Folk Festival in 1964, when Dylan really got to know Johnny Cash for the first time, Altman said the young singer/songwriter used the occasion to vigorously push his songs to the country legend.

In a motel room at Newport with Joan Baez, Sandy Bull, Jack Elliott and some others, Dylan and Cash sat on the floor trading songs. Baez set up a portable audio player, and that’s where Bob gave Johnny It Ain’t Me, Babe and Mama, You’ve Been On My Mind. In 1965, Johnny Cash and June Carter, released It Ain’t Me Babe. It became a hit for them.

And, in case you wonder, It Ain’t Me Babe was also part of the folk process. The song’s opening line (“Go away from my window…”) was allegedly influenced by musicologist/folk-singer John Jacob Niles’ composition Go ’Way From My Window. Niles was referred to by Dylan as an early influence in Chronicles.

The folk process stories go on and on in Dylan’s life. Barry Kornfeld, a guitarist who played on Dylan’s Blood on the Tracks, noted that Paul Clayton had a copyright on a song called Who’s Gonna Buy Your Ribbons When I’m Gone. The lyrics are “Ain’t no use to sit and sigh; ain’t no use to sit and wonder why… tell me, who’s gonna buy your ribbons when I’m gone.”

Kornfeld wrote that he was with Clayton one day and Dylan wandered by and said, “Hey, man, that’s a great song. I’m going to use that song.” Dylan then wrote Don’t Think Twice.

When it became a legal issue, the song was actually traced to a number that was exactly the same as the one by Paul Clayton. It was called Who’s Gonna Buy Your Chickens When I’m Gone.  So, in effect, everything that Dylan took was actually in the public domain. Dylan and Clayton remained friends even though their publishing companies sued each other.

So, does using the folk process diminish Bob Dylan’s music?  Hardly. In virtually all cases, what Dylan borrowed, he improved. Blowin’ in the Wind is most certainly better than No More Auction Block for Me. It’s the way the greatest artists have always worked and will continue to work.

Dylan’s paintings are something else. I read that before the Gagosian show Dylan wanted assurances that his art would not embarrass him. The advice he was given was it would not. Sadly, these voices of commerce misled Dylan.

As Altman wrote in his review of Dylan’s Together Through Life, « our reactions say more about us than about him. » Only a few good critics truly analyze Dylan’s work well, perhaps because most are lazy, unquestioning, and know little about their subject. Today, we live in a thumbs “up” or “down” media culture. It’s the same with the Asia series paintings.

The Mysterious Norman Raeben
Bert Cartwright
Geocities

Norman Raeben was one of the most influential people in Bob Dylan’s life. It was Norman Raeben, Dylan said, who, in the mid ‘70s, renewed his ability to compose songs. Dylan also suggested that Norman’s teaching and influence so altered his outlook upon life that Sara, his wife, could no longer understand him, and this was a contributory factor in the breakdown of the Dylans’ marriage. It’s strange that, given the importance of Norman Raeben’s influence on Bob Dylan, he isn’t even mentioned in either of the big biographies published in the 1980.

Dylan first began to talk about Raeben in the round of interviews he did in 1978 to promote his movie, Renaldo & Clam, though for a while he wouldn’t specifically identify him. “There ain’t nobody like him,” Dylan told Pete Oppel, of the Dallas Morning News. “I’d rather not say his name. He’s really special, and I don’t want to create any heat for He was, Dylan told Playboys Ron Rosenbaum, “just an old man. His name wouldn’t mean anything to you.

Dylan’s interest in Norman began sometime in 1974, when several friends of Sara came to visit:

They were talking about truth and love and beauty and all these words I had heard for years, and they had ‘em all defined. I couldn’t believe it… I asked them, ‘Where do you come up with all those definitions?’ and they told me about this teacher.

Sufficiently impressed, Dylan looked up the teacher the next time he was in New York. It was the spring of 1974 when Dylan popped his head around Norman’s door:

He says, ‘You wanna paint?’ So I said, ‘Well, I was thinking about it, you know.’ He said, ‘Well, I don’t know if you even deserve to be here. Let me see what you can do.’ So he put this vase in front of me and he says, ‘You see this vase?’ And he put it there for 30 seconds or so and then he took it away and he said, ‘Draw It’. Well, I mean, I started drawing it and I couldn’t remember shit about this vase — I’d looked at it but I didn’t see it. And he took a look at what I drew and he said, ‘OK, you can be up here.’ And he told me 13 paints to get… Well, I hadn’t gone up there to paint, I’d just gone up there to see what was going on. I wound up staying there for maybe two months. This guy was amazing…

When Dylan looked back upon what happened during those two months, he came to believe that he was so transformed as to become a stranger to his wife:

It changed me. I went home after that and my wife never did understand me ever since that day. That’s when our marriage started breaking up. She never knew what I was talking about, what I was thinking about. And I couldn’t possibly explain it.

Dylan talked about Norman at length to Pete Oppel, describing in more-than-casual words how Norman taught in his eleventh-floor studio in Carnegie Hall:

Five days a week I used to go up there, and I’d just think about It the other two days of the week. I used to be up there from eight o’clock to four. That’s all I did for two months…

In this class there would be people like old ladies — rich old ladies from Florida, – standing next to an off-duty policeman, standing next to a bus driver, a lawyer. Just all kinds. Some art student who had been kicked out of every art university. Young girls who worshipped him. A couple of serious guys who went up there to clean up for him afterwards — just clean up the place. A lot of different kinds of people you’d never think would be into art or painting. And it wasn’t art or painting, it was something else…

He talked all the time, from eight-thirty to four, and he talked in seven languages. He would tell me about myself when I was doing something, drawing something. I couldn’t paint. I thought I could. I couldn’t draw. I don’t even remember 90 per cent of the stuff he drove into me.

It seems, then, that Norman was more interested in metaphysics than in technique. His teaching dealt with ultimate realities which could be expressed in a variety of modes. It is not certain that Norman made Dylan a better painter, but he clearly changed Dylan:

I had met magicians, but this guy Is more powerful than any magician I’ve ever met. He looked into you and told you what you were. And he didn’t play games about it. If you were interested in coming out of that, you could stay there and force yourself to come out of it. You yourself did all the work. He was just some kind of guide, or something like that…

It was some time later when I was finally able to identify Dylan’s mysterious man called Norman as Norman Raeben, born in Russia in 1901, who visited the USA with his family when be was three years old and emigrated for permanent residence when he was about 14. Norman’s father was the noted Yiddish writer, Sholem Aleichem (1859-1916), a man best known today for having created the character Tvye, whose fictional life-story was adapted for the musical, Fiddler On The Roof. The most remarkable change brought about by the months Dylan spent in Norman Raeben’s studio was upon the way Dylan composed lyrics.

Dylan told Rolling Stone’s Jonathan Cott that following his motorcycle accident on July 29, 1968, he found himself no longer able to compose as freely as before:

Since that point, I more or less had amnesia. Now you can take that statement as literally or as metaphysically as you need to, but that’s what happened to me. It took me a long time to get to do consciously what I used to do unconsciously.

Dylan reiterated the point to Malt Damsker:

It’s like I had amnesia all of a sudden…I couldn’t learn what I had been able to do naturally — like Highway 61 Revisited. I mean, you can’t sit down and write that consciously because it has to do with the break-up of time…

In the interview with Jonathan Cott, Dylan described his albums John Wesley Harding and Nashville Skyline as attempts:

…to grasp something that would lead me on to where I thought I should be, and it didn’t go nowhere — it just went down, down, down… I was convinced I wasn’t going to do anything else.

It was in this mood of near-despair of ever composing as he once had, that Dylan had the “good fortune” to meet Norman, “who taught me how to see”:

He put my mind and my hand and my eye together, in a way that allowed me to do consciously what I unconsciously felt.

The time with Norman helped Dylan’s psyche be redirected sufficiently for him to write some new songs, the songs that were included on what is still his most celebrated LP, Blood On The Tracks:

Everybody agrees that that was pretty different, and what’s different about it is that there’s a code in the lyrics, and there’s also no sense of time…

Dylan made further efforts to explain the concept of “no time” in the new songs to Matt Damsker:

 Blood On The Tracks did consciously what I used to do unconsciously. I didn’t perform it well. I didn’t have the power to perform it well. But I did write the songs… the ones that have the break-up of time, where there Is no time, trying to make the focus as strong as a magnifying glass under the sun. To do that consciously is a trick, and I did it on Blood On The Tracks for the first time. I knew how to do it because of the technique I learned — I actually had a teacher for it…

In the Biograph booklet, Cameron Crowe’s comment on Blood On The Tracks seems to be the product of an uncredited observation by Dylan himself:

Reportedly inspired by the breakup of his marriage, the album derived more of its style from Dylan’s interest in painting. The songs cut deep, and their sense of perspective and reality was always changing.

“Always changing” is the product of the LP’s sense of no-time. Speaking to Mary Travers on April 26, 1975, Dylan commented upon the concept of time, the point he tried to make being not only that “the past, the present and the future all exists”, but that “it’s all the same” — something learned from Norman, Dylan told Jonathan Cott, who used to teach that:

You’ve got yesterday, today and tomorrow all in the same room, and there’s very little that you can’t imagine happening.

Dylan’s assertion to Malt Damsker that he didn’t perform the songs on Blood On The Tracks particularly well may be surprising but, he went on, “they can be changed… “. In fact, Dylan has continually reworked the songs, changing the lyrics again and again in such songs as “Simple Twist Of Fate” and “Tangled Up In Blue”. Dylan ties up ideas of time and change to the idea of song-as-painting with specific reference to “Tangled Up In Blue” on the jacket notes to Biograph, where he says of the song:

I was just trying to make it like a painting where you can see the different parts but then you also see the whole of it. With that particular song, that’s what I was trying to do… with the concept of time, and the way the characters change from the first person to the third person, and you’re never quite sure if the third person is talking or the first person is talking. But as you look at the whole thing, it really doesn’t matter.

The dissolving of persons and of time in the Blood On The Tracks songs was a remarkable achievement; Dylan was to try to apply the same technique when he made his film Renaldo 8’ Clara. In tracing the influence of Norman Raeben’s thinking, Dylan called Jonathan Cott’s attention to Renaldo & Clara:

 …in which I also used that quality of no-time. And I believe that that concept of creation is more real and true than that which does have time…The movie creates and holds the time. That’s what it should do —it should hold that time, breathe in that time and stop time in doing that. It’s like if you look at a painting by Cézanne, you get lost in that painting for that period of time. And you breathe — yet time is going by and you wouldn’t know it. You’re spellbound.

Small wonder, then, that Dylan was most annoyed by those who criticized the film’s length, and perhaps it is not inappropriate to mention a more recent statement of annoyance — at those who tried to pin down one of his no-time, no-person songs from Blood On The Tracks:

“You’re A Big Girl Now”, well, I read that this was supposed to be about my wife. I wish somebody would ask me first before they go ahead and print stuff like that.

Dylan once unconsciously created songs with the no-time quality of painting. Many times he spoke of parallels between song and painting — one recalls, for example, Dylan’s introduction of “Love Minus Zero/No Limit” in concerts in 1965 as “a painting in maroon and silver” or “a painting in purple”, but only after studying with Norman Raeben was he to recapture his apparently lost ability to write such songs, now with the notable difference of conscious composition. And if Blood On The Tracks was to be the first attempt to translate what Dylan had learned from Norman into song, it was Street-Legal which Dylan would come to regard as the culmination of the insights into the nature of time as no-time. As he told Matt Damaker:

Never until I got to Blood On The Tracks did I finally get a hold of what I needed to get a hold of, and once I got hold of it, Blood On The Tracks wasn’t it either, and neither was Desire. Street-Legal comes the closest to where my music Is going for the rest of time. It has to do with an illusion of time. I mean, what the songs are necessarily about is the illusion of time. It was an old man who knew about that, and I picked up what I could…

Dylan’s Bloody-Best Album: 40 Facts About the 40-Year-Old ‘Blood on the Tracks’

For the landmark album’s 40th anniversary, here are 40 facts about Blood on the Tracks:

As the years go on, more and more fans and critics regard it as Dylan’s best album.

When Rolling Stone magazine’s editors made a list of the 500 Greatest Albums of all time in the early 2000s, Blood on the Tracks came in at a mere No. 16, trailing top 10 choices Blonde on Blonde and Highway 61 Revisited. But in a 2012 reader poll, fans voted for Blood as his finest work.

Prior to Blood on the Tracks, Dylan hadn’t had a critical success since 1966.

His late ‘60s work was described as “pastoral,” which was not what most fans wanted from rock’s greatest fire-breathing poet. His first proper studio album after years of reclusion, Planet Waves, had reestablished him as a commercial force in 1974, debuting at No. 1, but “Forever Young” was the only classic that stuck.

Rolling Stone initially ran a mixed review of the album.

Then-critic Jon Landau, later to be Bruce Springsteen’s producer/manager, praised Dylan’s vocal work but not the instrumentation, saying it “would only sound like a great album for a while” and was “impermanent.”

Is the album really a secret tribute to a Russian playwright?

In his memoir, Chronicles, Dylan was assumed to be referring to Blood on the Tracks when he wrote: “I would even record an entire album based on Chekhov short stories. Critics thought it was autobiographical – that was fine.” No one was certain whether he was serious about the Chekhov.

Novelist Rick Moody is an evangelist for the album, frequently proclaiming it the greatest album ever recorded.

In a 2001 speech that was subsequently anthologized, Moody rhapsodized: “Of thee I sing, best album ever made, or that’s my hypothesis, best rock &roll record ever — more heroic than The Sun Sessions, more consistent than Exile on Main Street, more serious than Never Mind the Bollocks, better than Revolver because there’s no ‘Good Day Sunshine’ on it, more discerning in its rage than Nevermind, more accepting than What’s Going On, less desperate than Pet Sounds, and more adult than Blonde on Blonde and Highway 61 Revisited.”

Another huge fan: Miley Cyrus.

Cyrus released her version of “You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go” in 2012 and subsequently made the song a staple of her touring. No longer was the focus on which lost love Dylan wrote the song about. Hollywood Life spotlighted Miley’s cover version with the headline: “Is She Singing About Liam Hemsworth?”

Miley may not be the strangest artist to have covered one of the songs from the album.

In 2002, Great White released their version of “Tangled Up in Blue.”

“Tangled Up in Blue” also has a special honor in the Rock Band 2 game.

It’s the Mount Everest of Rock Band 2 songs, being the last hurdle to overcome in the “Impossible Vocal Challenge” section.

Hootie and the Blowfish paid serious tribute to the album… and paid for it.

Their 1994-5 smash “Only Wanna Be With You” offers nearly nonstop homage to Blood on the Tracks: A reference to “a little Dylan” is followed by a quote from “You’re a Big Girl Now,” a much longer quote from “Idiot Wind” (“Said I shot a man named Gray / Took his wife to Italy / She inherited a million bucks / And when she died it came to me / I can’t help it if I’m lucky”), and finally a reference to a third song as Darius Rucker adds, « Ain’t Bobby so cool… Yeah, I’m tangled up in blue. » Surely they’d gotten permission? No, and flattery got them nowhere with Dylan’s legal team. In August 1995, the band and Dylan’s publishing company reached an out-of-court settlement that reportedly resulted in an immediate six-figure payout, ownership of half the publishing, and a co-writing credit. (Rucker didn’t hold the legal action against his hero, as he subsequently had a No. 1 country hit with the Dylan co-written “Wagon Wheel.”)

Plenty of other songs sound a little like “Tangled Up in Blue,” though no one’s wanted to go so explicitly down the Hootie path.

Just in case anyone missed that the acoustic strumming at the opening of Elvis Costello’s “King of America” has a resemblance to the beginning of “Tangled,” Costello would sometimes start off his concert versions of his tune with a snippet of the Dylan classic.

Jack White took part in the belated live premiere of the album’s least loved song.

“Meet Me in the Morning” has always been the least celebrated song on Blood on the Tracks. But its blues-based form was right up White’s alley. In 2007, Dylan and the White Stripes’ former leader did a duet of the song at Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium — astonishingly, the first time Dylan had ever sung it live, and still the last up to this point.

David Duchovny sang a snippet of “If You See Her, Say Hello” on Californication.

His character describes Blood on the Tracks as “a real heartbreak album.”

Jakob Dylan has acknowledged how the album brings up memories of his parents’ marital discord.

In a New York Times profile of the younger Dylan, former Wallflowers manager Andrew Slater recalled a revealing conversation. « I said, ‘Jakob, what goes through your mind when you listen to your father’s records?’ He said, ‘When I’m listening to ‘Subterranean Homesick Blues,’ I’m grooving along just like you. But when I’m listening to Blood on the Tracks, that’s about my parents.’ I never asked him again.”

Shortly after the album’s release, Dylan seemed to acknowledge that it was a personally painful work.

Dylan did not do many interviews to promote the album, per usual. But in an April 1975 radio discussion with Mary Travers (of Peter, Paul & Mary fame), he said, “A lot of people tell me they enjoyed that album. It’s hard for me to relate to that—I mean, people enjoying that type of pain.”

Later, he repeatedly scoffed at the idea that the album is the slightest bit “confessional” or “autobiographical.”

In a 1985 interview with Cameron Crowe that accompanied the Biograph boxed set, Dylan expressed his displeasure with the wisespread belief that the Blood lyrics were rooted in his real life. “’You’re a Big Girl Now,’ well, I read that this was supposed to be about my wife. I wish somebody would ask me first before they go ahead and print stuff like that. I mean, it couldn’t be about anybody else but my wife, right? Stupid and misleading jerks these interpreters sometimes are…I don’t write confessional songs. Emotion’s got nothing to do with it. It only seems so, like it seems that Lawrence Olivier is Hamlet… Well, actually I did write one once and it wasn’t very good—it was a mistake to record it and I regret it… back there somewhere on maybe my third or fourth album.” (He was referring to 1964’s “Ballad in Plain D,” an exploration of his breakup with Suze Rotolo, which he claimed was the one time he ever overtly mined his own emotional trauma for a song: “That one I look back and I say, ‘I must have been a real schmuck to write that.’”)

But at one point he at least acknowledged being able to see how other people could see Blood on the Tracks as his personal breakup album.

“I’ve read that that album had to do with my divorce,” he told interviewer Bill Flanagan in 1985. “Well, I didn’t get divorced till four years after that.” (Actually, his wife filed papers just over two years after the album was released.) “I thought I might have gone a little bit too far with ‘Idiot Wind’… I didn’t really think I was giving away too much; I thought that it seemed so personal that people would think it was about so-and-so who was close to me. It wasn’t… I didn’t feel that one was too personal, but I felt it seemed too personal. Which might be the same thing, I don’t know.” Flanagan pressed and said the album “must at least be somewhat about that.” Dylan’s reply: “Yeah. Somewhat about that. But I’m not going to make an album and lean on a marriage relationship. There’s no way I would do that, any more than I would write an album about some lawyers’ battles that I had. There are certain subjects that don’t interest me to exploit. And I wouldn’t really exploit a relationship with somebody.”

A girlfriend who lived with Dylan on and off during a 1974 marital separation acknowledged that “You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go” was about their relationship.

Ellen Bernstein was an A&R executive for Columbia Records who embarked on a relationship with Dylan in 1974 while he was living on an 80-acre farm in Minnesota, separated from his wife. The geographical references in the lyrics all pertained to Bernstein, as did, apparently, a particular flower. In Clinton Heylin’s biography, Behind the Shades, Bernstein said, “I remember… when we were walking out in the fields somewhere and I found a Queen Anne’s lace, and he didn’t know that’s what it was called… This was in Minnesota. I would come up there for long weekends and then I would leave. I did say I was planning a trip to Hawaii. And I lived in San Francisco, Honolulu, [her birthplace of] Ashtabula—to put it in a song is so ridiculous. But it was very touching.” Of the relationship, she said, “It felt sorta like ‘Don’t ask, don’t tell.’ I was a very young 24… This was brand-new stuff to me, so I never thought to ask, ‘So, what’s going on with your wife?’… I didn’t want to get married, and I wasn’t being asked to leave.”

One outtake may have been cut from the album’s final track list because it really would have invited speculation about Dylan’s failing marriage.

The cut song “Call Letter Blues” (which was finally issued in 1991) included the lyrics: “Well, your friends come by for you/I don’t know what to say/I just can’t face up to tell ’em/Honey, you just went away… Well, children cry for mother/I tell them, ‘Mother took a trip.’”

Both the album and Dylan’s marital breakup were apparently influenced by an octogenarian art teacher.

Dylan fell under the artistic sway of a mercurial painter, Norman Raeben, who taught classes high above Carnegie Hall. He said that Raeben’s artistic methods were the impetus behind him writing time-jumping songs like “Tangled Up in Blue.” “It changed me,” he recalled in an interview with the Dallas Morning News in 1978. “I went home after that and my wife never did understand me ever since that day. That’s when our marriage started breaking up. She never knew what I was talking about, what I was thinking about. And I couldn’t possibly explain it.”

At one point Dylan wanted the album to be less acoustic and more of a return to the Highway 61 Revisited sound.

He paid a visit to Michael Bloomfield, the electric guitar hero identified with Dylan’s most rousing mid-‘60s triumphs, and played the  some of the new material he was eager to record. But Bloomfield felt confused and unable to follow Dylan’s lead, so the reunion and that sound were not to be.

The one musician credited by name on the album is acoustic multi-instrumentalist Eric Weissberg, who was then famous for his hit “Dueling Banjos,” as heard in the movie Deliverance.

“Eric Weissberg and Deliverance” are officially credited as the sole backing musicians on the project. Yet the album’s recording history was tumultuous enough that Weissberg only appears on one track on the finished album, “Meet Me in the Morning.”

A version of the album that was recorded in New York City was finished and even pressed as a test acetate before Dylan grew displeased with it at the last minute. He decided to postpone the release by a month so he could re-record half the songs.

That original acetate was widely bootlegged, and some fans still insist the five recordings that were scrapped are superior to the replacement versions he came up with. Most Dylanologists think the call to re-do half the album was the right one, however. Those five tracks he got rid of have never been officially released on any of his subsequent Bootleg Series archival albums, although numerous other alternate takes have.

The musicians at the initial New York sessions felt baffled when Dylan wanted them to record songs he hadn’t taught them yet.

Weissberg’s band grew flummoxed when Dylan not only didn’t have charts but didn’t seem interested in even doing a complete run-through of songs before the tapes rolled. “I got the distinct feeling Bob wasn’t concentrating,” Weissberg told Uncut magazine, “that he wasn’t interested in perfect takes. He’d been drinking a lot of wine; he was a little sloppy. But he insisted on moving forward, getting onto the next song without correcting obvious mistakes.” While they were listening to the playback of the first song they’d performed, “Simple Twist of Fate,” Dylan interrupted it to begin teaching them another tune. “He couldn’t have cared less about the sound of what we had just done. We were totally confused, because he was trying to teach us a new song with another one playing in the background… I was thinking to myself, ‘Just remember, Eric, this guy’s a genius. Maybe this is the way geniuses operate.’”

The initial New York sessions took place over four evenings, but after the first night’s chaos, Dylan stopped inviting the full band and started working with an increasingly stripped down, drumless lineup, creating a particular intimacy in the recordings that made it to the final product.

By the time they got to “Shelter from the Storm,” it was just Dylan and bassist Tony Brown.

Engineer Glenn Berger, now a psychologist, wrote a fascinating and widely circulated account of the New York sessions that corroborated the musicians’ tales.

“He called off a tune. ‘Let’s do “If You See Her, Say Hello.”’ He barely rehearsed the song when he told us to record,” wrote Berger. “The players were just beginning to figure out the changes and what to play. On the third try, he threw everyone off by playing a different song. The musicians stumbled… Barely having recovered from the shock, after a run-through or two of the new song, Dylan changed songs midstream, again, without letting anyone know… One by one, the musicians were told to stop playing. This hurt. You could see it in the musicians’ eyes as they sat silently behind their instruments, forced not to play by the mercurial whim of the guy painting his masterpiece with finger-paints… We cut an entire album’s worth of material like that in six hours.”

Berger had even less regard for producer Phil Ramone’s management style than Dylan’s.

“How did (Ramone) get it so good that the heaviest cats in the world flocked to his door?… Between takes, I asked him how he did it,” Berger wrote. “Without warning, he twirled around and was an inch from me, his face purple and trembling with rage. ‘Who do you think you are, asking the great Ramone a question? You don’t question what I do, you just obey… You’re nothing! To you I am a god!’ » The engineer concluded: “I know it’s Dylan’s blood on those tracks and that’s what makes them great. But I take some small measure of solace for my pain and limitations by telling myself that along with his blood, there is also a little bit of mine.”

After the album was supposedly finished, and tens of thousands of LP sleeves already printed, Dylan’s brother, David Zimmerman, convinced him that it would be a flop if released as it was… and came up with a plan to salvage it.

Dylan and his brother were set to spend the holidays together in Minnesota, and David suggested getting a band of locally based musicians together right after Christmas to re-record some of the material. On Dec. 27 and again on the 30th, some of the top session players in Minneapolis gathered to re-cut five songs, and they clicked as a band in a way that the New York players had never been allowed to. A critical difference: Since Dylan had little patience for teaching a full band all the chords and changes of a song at great length, he ended up teaching the tunes to a local guitar shop owner, Chris Weber, who then taught the other musicians. Still, they rarely ran the songs all the way through before recording them. The nine-minute “Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts” is so much a first take that you can hear Dylan realizing in the opening bars that his harmonica is in a different key than he thought and adjusting on the fly. Four of the five tracks they cut, including “Tangled Up in Blue” and “Idiot Wind,” are basically live recordings mixed live to two-track on the spot, with almost no overdubs.

After 40 years, the Minneapolis musicians who made the album come alive have still never been credited for their work.

In the book Simple Twist of Fate, the anonymous players expressed varying attitudes about never receiving the due they were promised. Said Weber, who came up with the key change and licks that brought “Tangled Up” to life, “We were told that there were 100,000 jackets already printed with Eric Weissberg and Deliverance credited, but if the album was a success and they printed more, they would give credit to the other musicians who were on the album.” The album went double-platinum, but the cover was never altered, despite David Zimmerman’s alleged promise to do so as the sessions ended. Nor did they ever receive thank-you calls, gold records, or even a free copy of the record… just union scale. In 2002, Gregg Inhofer wondered “what might have happened if we got credit… Any time I hear a Dylan song, whether I played on it or not, it just sticks in my craw and I go, ‘Man, what if, what if, what if?’ Why was I so stupid? Why was I so naïve?… I was taken advantage of, totally.”

Not that even the guys who did get credit walked away happy. Weissberg wasn’t thrilled about having him and his team replaced on much of the album.

“We could have done what he wanted, given a fair shake,” Weissberg told Andy Gill in Simple Twist of Fate. “I would say that we were all somewhat bummed about it. But I feel absolutely no bitterness about it.” Charlie Brown was not so sanguine: ““I was pissed, frankly!… You’ve got some of the best damn players on the planet playing on your record, and you replaced it?”

For his next album, Desire, Dylan put aside the vituperation of songs like “Idiot Wind” and recorded songs that seemed expressly designed to win his estranged wife back — including the inescapably autobiographical “Sara.”

On July 31, 1975, the couple seemed to be exploring the idea of getting back together, and Sara was visiting the studio when Dylan had the band go in and play the new song “Sara” as she watched. As an observer noted in Bob Spitz’s biography, “Bob obviously wanted to surprise her with it… He turned and sang the song directly at Sara… He was really pouring out his heart to her… It was obvious she was unmoved.” But reconcile they did, for a short time.

The marriage had begun to unravel again by the time Dylan made “Idiot Wind” a focal point of the Rolling Thunder Revue tour.

In the early part of the tour, he focused on the more upbeat material from Desire, but eventually shoved that aside in favor of angrier stuff. As Uncut put it, “At a televised gig in Colorado on his 35th birthday, with his wife and children watching, he sang it into a howling gale. Released on Hard Rain (the 1976 live album), it beats even Blood On The Tracks’ version for paint-blistering bile.” Among the lyric changes that night: “Visions of your chestnut mare” became “Visions of your smoking tongue.”

Blood on the divorce papers?

Sara filed on March 1, 1977, and the divorce was finalized on June 30, with a reported $36 million settlement, seeming to establish that it’s more of a Blood on the Tracks world than a Desire one.

Three of the songs have only been performed live by Dylan once.

Besides the aforementioned duet of “Meet Me in the Morning” with Jack White in 2007, there are two other songs from the album that only merited a single live performance from Dylan. The epic “Lily, Rosemark and the Jack of Hearts” was never played again after he did it as a duet with Joan Baez in Salt Lake City in May 1976. “Buckets of Rain” had to wait for its live premiere (and possibly final appearance) until November 1990, when Dylan shocked fans by opening a Detroit show with the album-closer. Others have also counted as concert rarities, like “You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go,” which he hasn’t performed since 1976.

On the other hand…

He’s sung “Tangled Up in Blue” in concert over 1,400 times.

A lot of other artists seem to like “Buckets of Rain” more than Dylan.

Neko Case included it on a live album, and it’s also been performed by David Gray, Coldplay’s Chris Martin, John Mayer, Beth Orton, and even Dave Van Ronk.

The band Mary Lou’s Corvette covered the entire running order of Blood on the Tracks for a live album.

She can be heard expressing her nervousness about tackling all 15 verses of “Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts.”

Mary Lou’s Corvette still missed a verse.

Dylan’s original/discarded New York recording of “Lily, Rosemark and the Jack of Hearts” included a 16th verse, which Joan Baez did include when she covered the track.

Dylan recorded a goofy duet with Bette Midler of “Buckets of Rain.”

She recorded the track for her 1976 album Songs for the New Depression — a version despised by many Dylan fans but beloved for its off-the-cuff silliness by a few. For reasons never properly explained, the lyric in her version is rendered as “nuggets of rain.” At the end, she says, “Bobby, Bobby, hey there Mr. D, you set me free.” His final line: “You and Paul Simon should have done this one. »

The most covered song?

Possibly a tie between “Tangled Up in Blue” (besides Great White: Baez, Jerry Garcia, the Indigo Girls, Ani Difranco, the String Cheese Incident, KT Tunstall, Leftover Salmon, the War on Drugs) and “Simple Twist of Fate” (Diana Krall, Bryan Ferry, Sarah Jarosz, Coldplay, Wilco, Concrete Blonde, etc.)

In 2012, a movie version of Blood on the Tracks was announced.

Brazilian-based RT Features made the trades with news they’d acquired rights, saying, « As longtime admirers of one of the greatest albums in the history of music, we feel privileged to be making this film. Our goal is to work with a filmmaker who can create a classic drama with characters and an environment that capture the feelings that the album inspires in all fans. » The company was undaunted by the fact that Blood on the Tracks has no plot, although that may have sunk in during the last four years of apparent inaction.

‘Eventually I would record an entire album based on Chekhov short stories—critics thought it was autobiographical…’ Chronicles: Volume I

Meet Me in the Morning (Early Take)The bloodletting began, fittingly, in a red notebook. Estranged from his wife at the time, living on a farm in Minnesota with his kids and his new girlfriend, he started filling up pages with story-laden imagery, thumbnail sketches that bled, one into another. The first to spill forth was the purgatorial Western of ‘Lily, Rosemary, and the Jack of Hearts,’ which appears in précis form in the notebook’s early pages, followed by ‘Tangled Up in Blue’ and then draft after draft of ‘Idiot Wind.’ About the latter, he later explained, ‘It wouldn’t stop. Where do you end? You could still be writing it, really. It’s something that could be a work continually in progress.’

Critics (and listeners too) tend to think of Blood on the Tracks as an excavation of Dylan’s own love life up to that time. The whole devastating break-up cliché just seems to chime so well with the mood and content of the music. Who cares if he was never a cook in the Great North Woods, or if Sara Dylan had never gone anywhere near Tangier, it’s all just a metaphor, one big allegory for the devastation he found himself surrounded by at the time. The key to the songs is that ‘he’ is only ever ‘Dylan’ and ‘she’ is only ever his wife or someone he slept with.

Idiot WindBut to interpret the songs such a way, as if tracing a star map through the back roads of the songwriter’s life, is to do a disservice to the artistry of the storytelling.  Blood on the Tracks is not a memoir, a confession, or even a roman à clef. What we encounter in these songs is layer upon layer of thematically-linked images, flicker-book fictions. Gone are the mythic Americana mash-ups of Highway 61 Revisited. Gone are the elaborate opium dreams and surrealist backrooms of Blonde on Blonde. What we get instead is a cast of couples and jilted lovers, their battered narratives composed of raggedy scraps—not biography. If these scenes are meant to correspond solely to Dylan and the various women in his life, then why did he bother with the artistic obfuscation, the multiplicity of perspectives? Why introduce the Man named Gray, the one-eyed undertaker, the roommates down on Montague Street? And why this determination to play Picasso with narrative?

Because, he said later, ‘I wanted to defy time, so that the story took place in the present and the past at the same time. When you look at a painting, you can see any part of it, or see all of it together.’

The catalyst for all this may well have been the dissolution of his marriage, or it may have been painting classes he’d been taking the year before and from which he’d returned with a fire in his head (‘I went home and my wife never did understand me ever since that day’). On a purely technical level, however, the thing that definitively flicked the switch from heartbreak to newfound creativity was a matter of tuning. Specifically open-E (or, to be even more specific, open-E tuned down a whole step to D). Mythology tells us that a post-Blue Joni Mitchell taught this guitar tuning to him, although, if true, this would have to be qualified as re-taught, since he’d used it extensively during the Freewheelin’ sessions (see ‘Corrina, Corrina,’ ‘Oxford Town,’ ’I Shall Be Free’ etc.) What is undeniable is that, up to this point, he had never played in an open-tuning like this: flicking his way through the chords, alternating bluesy slides up the neck and Everly Brothers changes with vaguely medieval harmonics.

In the months prior to recording, he went around, trying the songs out on different people. He played them to Shel Silverstein on a houseboat in Marin County; he played them to Stephen Stills in a Minneapolis hotel room after a CSN gig (according to Graham Nash, who was standing in the doorway, Stills’s verdict afterwards was ‘He’s a good songwriter, but he’s no musician’); at one stage, he even played them to some Hasidic friends in a backyard in Crown Heights, Brooklyn.  When he collared Mike Bloomfield, his foot was already tapping hyperactively, impatient to get the songs out. But Bloomfield (who’d been there onstage with him at Newport, who’d helped him turn ‘Like a Rolling Stone’ into what it was) was bewildered. It took the guitarist too long to realize he was being used more as a sounding board than a collaborator.

‘He came over and there was a whole lot of secrecy involved, there couldn’t be anybody in the house…He took out his guitar, tuned to open D tuning and he started playing the songs nonstop…He just did one after another and I got lost. They all began to sound the same to me, they were all in the same key, they were all long. I don’t know. It was one of the strangest experiences of my life. And it really hurt me…’

Lily, Rosemary, and the Jack of HeartsThis was a songwriter wanting less to polish his newly minted songs than to be rid of them. In the studio, he similarly kept his head down, ignoring everyone. The musicians he took with him into A&R Recording’s Studio A (the same studio at which he’d recorded his first six albums) ended up feeling just as alienated as Bloomfield. Made up of Eric Weissberg and the band that had played on the Deliverance soundtrack, these were top session men who knew how to follow a lead. But the performer in question was not offering any leads. No quick rehearsals, no chord charts. They couldn’t even follow his hands along the fret board because of the weird tuning he was using. Phil Ramone, the producer (despite claiming greater responsibility after the fact), basically had the mic-stands set up and hit record. If the buttons on Dylan’s jacket were click-clacking against his guitar through every take—and he didn’t seem to mind—then so be it.

The New York Sessions of Blood on the Tracks were quick work, recorded over four inebriated nights in September of 1974. In the end, the drums and lead guitars were all dropped; after nailing down two tracks with a full band (‘Meet Me in the Morning’ and ‘Buckets of Rain’) the accompaniment would be reduced to just bass, some touches pedal steel and some overdubbed organ. On an album that thematically professed it was ‘doom alone that counts,’ minimalism seemed the obvious way forward.

You’re a Big Girl NowBlood on the Tracks is not an album about a relationship (not Dylan’s, not anybody’s), but an album about the brokenness inherent, ultimately, in all relationships. The tarot deck is stacked from the start, romance can only play itself out. Lovers just have to ‘keep on, keeping on’ as best they can. Even in a song about the breathless, flower-picking, high-point of love (‘You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go’), the inevitable end of the affair still haunts the proceedings. Philosophically, we’re very much in that post-Watergate wasteland of paranoid, Marathon Men, everyone trying unsuccessfully to extricate themselves from pantomimes of intrigue and gossip. Here, the very idea of finding shelter from the storm is an archaism from another lifetime, remembered nostalgically. What else to see buckets of rain/buckets of tears everywhere?  If the songs on Blood on the Tracks give us a world in which heartbreak is endemic and inevitable, then it’s the New York Sessions that are still reeling, still hung up, still raw.

There are photos of him at the time of the recordings, waiting around in the swanky lobby of A&R’s Studio A. Standing in a white-walled room that looks like a set halfway between Logan’s Run and Emmanuelle, he poses with his guitar and what can only be the infamous blazer. In the first few shots he stands shyly, chin deep in his lapels. He strums a little bit beside a cup of coffee—but, eventually, he’s lying flat on the white shag throw rug, looking like he’s been run over.

Tangled Up in BlueTwo months later, he was given a test pressing of the album which he took back with him to Minnesota and played for his brother. The younger Zimmerman sagely advised that said album was too dark and downbeat to be commercially viable. The album opener (‘Tangled Up in Blue’) was too laidback and melancholy; the solo version of ‘Lily, Rosemary, and the Jack of Hearts,’ was just too damn long; ‘Idiot Wind’ had no bite to match its bark; why was everything in the same weird tuning, and what about those noisy buttons on his jacket? Columbia HQ was phoned and told to apply the brakes. A group of local musicians were rounded up in Minneapolis and half the album was re-recorded over four more nights, with an aim towards revitalizing the songs.

In creating a far more dynamic album, however, some of the finer nuances on individual tracks were undeniably lost. Because Dylan was mostly unaccompanied on the New York Sessions (and because every song shared that same open-E blood-type) it was left primarily to his vocal to give the songs their shape. Throughout the early sessions, it is his phrasing that adds depth and emotional range, drives the songs down their storied paths. You need only compare the different versions of ‘If You See Here, Say Hello’; on the record-as-released, it sounds as if the band have all agreed that this is a torch song and supplied lugubrious atmospherics accordingly. Earlier, in New York, Dylan could have been singing from the floor of the studio lobby, so beaten-down is the performance (on one take, his vocal is nothing more than a deathbed whisper). ‘Idiot Wind,’ too, lost something in the space between September and December 1974: where the fiery official version spews forth increasingly mad accusations, the earlier, more subdued performance leans more towards regret and fatalism (to such the extent that it becomes ambiguous who’s hurting who, who’s fated to be lying in that ditch, blood on their saddle). The rawness of the songs recorded in New York all suggest an emotional vulnerability. The performer was still walking wounded, still howling in the night. On these tracks, the blood was still wet. words / dk o’hara

164: Bob Dylan, ‘Tangled Up in Blue’

Jeff Meshel’s world

Feb 15, 2013

Bob Dylan, 1974, the man of a thousand faces, as multifaceted and puzzling as life itself.

After nine monolithic albums in eight years (1963-70) that not only described but actually prescribed the lives of an entire generation, then a creative drought of four years. After years of frenetic touring, then a seven year hiatus induced by a motorcycle crash. What was he doing in those interim years?

Well, he married in 1965 and had four children. In ‘Sign on the Window’ from “New Morning”, one of the greatest songs on the last in his string of great albums, he sings “Build me a cabin in Utah/Marry me a wife, catch rainbow trout/Have a bunch of kids who call me “Pa”/That must be what it’s all about.”

But then came 1973-1974. A new album for a new record company, “Planet Waves” for David Gefen’s Asylum, commercially mediocre, artistically uneven. The “After the Flood” tour with The Band, more shouted than sung.

In the midst of all this activity, Dylan began to study painting with 73 year-old Russian-born Norman Raeben, the son of Sholem Aleichem. He stressed perceptual honesty rather than conceptualization. “Bob”, Norman said to Dylan, “look at that round coffee table. Now, show me how you would paint it.” He thought the scruffy Dylan was destitute, and told him that if he’d clean up the studio after class he could crash there. Raeben berated his students in class, with a kill-or-cure indifference to their feelings.

“He put my mind and my hand and my eye together in a way that allowed me to do consciously what I unconsciously felt,” said Dylan. This metamorphosed into a songwriting technique employing a fragmented narrative of time, place and person. Events, personae, and sequences Bob and shift. It is left to the listener to struggle to reconstruct some coherence, some linear narrative. He never quite succeeds, because the images are built for slipping and sliding, defying mere denotations. But the energy generated in the leap between the given and the sought for creates a kinetic aesthetic experience, ever-changing, transcending time and place, forever young.

“I had met magicians, but this guy is more powerful than any magician I’ve ever met. He looked into you and told you what you were. And he didn’t play games about it.”

The experience with Raeben seems to have brought trouble to Dylan’s domestic paradise. “Needless to say, it changed me. I went home after that and my wife never did understand me ever since that day. That’s when our marriage started breaking up. She never knew what I was talking about, what I was thinking about, and I couldn’t possibly explain it.”  (‘Idiot Wind’: ‘Even you, yesterday, you had to ask me where it’s at. I couldn’t believe after all these years, you didn’t know me better than that, sweet lady.’)

The technique and the trauma engendered an artistic achievement of monumental scale in the resulting 1974 album, “Blood on the Tracks.” It is a collection of ten songs, mostly written in D, employing lots of major seventh chords (giving the overall tone of sweet, pained wistfulness) and performed on an acoustic guitar in open tuning with minimal accompaniment – a bass, sometimes a steel guitar, sometimes a touch of organ (very reminiscent of the format he employed on the softer acoustic songs on Bringing It All Back Home). He first recorded the songs in New York City in September, 1974, with a shifting array of studio musicians in a series of sessions that took Dylan’s notoriously casual studio work to new levels of shoddiness. He would just start playing and expect the musicians to follow. Adding verses, extending breaks. At times, they pleaded with him to do another take. Then three months later, he redid the songs in Minnesota with a bunch of his brother’s buddies.

The officially released version of the album is a mix, five recordings from New York (‘Simple Twist of Fate’, ‘You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go’, ‘Meet Me in the Morning’, ‘Shelter from the Storm’ and ‘Buckets of Rain’), five from Minnesota (‘Tangled Up in Blue’, ‘You’re a Big Girl Now’, ‘Idiot Wind’, ‘Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts’, ‘If You See Her, Say Hello’). The NY takes are softer, gentler, more sincerely loving, more nakedly pained. The Minnesota takes have a harder surface, faster tempi, more aesthetically distanced. Uniformly, the New York takes are superior. Some of the Minnesota takes are respectable, none improve on the originals.

That would be impossible. They’re pretty perfect. “Blood on the Tracks” is widely considered a peak achievement for Dylan, for the music of our times. It was ranked number 16 on Rolling Stone’s list of the 500 greatest albums of all time. Bill Wyman (of The Rolling Stones) considered it “…his only flawless album… It is his kindest album and most dismayed, and seems in hindsight to have achieved a sublime balance between the logorrhea-plagued excesses of his mid-1960s output and the self-consciously simple compositions of his post-accident years.” Logorrhea? Bill Wyman??

Dylan famously said, in a radio interview with Mary Travers, “A lot of people tell me they enjoy that album. It’s hard for me to relate to that. I mean, it, you know, people enjoying that type of pain, you know?” Well, ‘enjoy’ certainly doesn’t begin to encompass the rich experience which can be derived from “Blood on the Tracks”. If you’re going to revisit it or learn it, I urge you to seek out the bootleg New York sessions.

For our Song of The Week, we have the pleasure of saying a few words about the iconic, seductive, elusive, indelible song that opens the album, ‘Tangled Up in Blue’. All Dylan’s passion – both the love and the pain, strongly weighted towards the latter – and the wit and the wisdom and the humor are there. We often forget what a master craftsman of lyrics Dylan is. He’s not just deep or profound. He has a command of the technique of writing lyrics that is often obscured by his many other talents.

Dylan riffed his writing abilities on ‘Tangled Up in Blue’. From the start, he invented new lyrics at every turn. Here’s Take 1 from New York. Here’s Take 2. In both, you can hear the clicking of his jacket buttons against the guitar. And you can feel the pounding of his heart. Here’s the official release, the Minnesota version. At the bottom, you can see the lyrics of Minnesota (mostly first person) juxtaposed with those from New York (mostly third person).

Serious people have made a study of comparing variant versions of the song.  Here’s one. Here’s another. Here’s a third. There are many more. And what is so remarkable is that every switch, every shift, works. They’re all great, they’re all legitimate. Do you get that? He writes a magnificent song, and then recreates the lyrics every time he sings it!! Not even Charlie Parker did that.

The song seems to tell a story, even though the details can’t be pinned down. Dylan plays with pronouns, with personae. ‘He’ and ‘I’ and ‘she’ and ‘they’ are indecipherable, shifting, a dance of veils.

In the first verse, he’s remembering her: the song is a flashback. At the end, he’ll say that he’s going back to her. They wanted to get married, but her parents didn’t approve. He’s hitching East. Why? Who knows. Let your imagination work. The humor—I was wondering if she’d changed, if her hair was still red. Oh, Bobby.

Second verse. He extricates her, they run off, they split. ‘I heard her say over my shoulder’—he doesn’t even turn around. But he’s saying this all with unbounded love. Boy, is there a whole world right there.

Third verse. Lumberjack cook, the ax fell. Rhyming ‘employed’ and ‘Delacroix’. Jeez.

Fourth verse. She’s dancing topless in the spotlight. He’s gaping at the side of her face. Right. ‘Later on as the crowd thinned out, I was just about to do the same.’ It don’t get no better than that. ‘I muttered something underneath my breath.’ Ok, it just did. He ‘gets uneasy’ when this topless dancer hitting on him ‘bends down to tie his shoes’.  I have nothing to say, I’m just shaking my head in appreciation and enjoyment.

Fifth verse. Dante Alighieri, 1265-1321, author of The Divine Comedy. In subsequent versions, this changed to Jeremiah and Baudelaire and others. This stoned, topless, brazen red-head introduces our Horatio Alger to Dante.

Verse Six. Who knows who is in the scene—2 people? 3? But the fragments are indelible: ‘There was music in the cafés at night/And revolution in the air.’ That is the 1960s encapsulated in a single image. ‘Keep on keeping on’. That’s life.

Last verse. What is ‘tangled up in blue’? It’s a chaotic pastiche, a vortex of glimpses of situations that makes absolute emotional sense. It’s a perfect union of fifty states of mind. It’s a song.

We know exactly where we are in every bar, be it a measure of beats or booze. Until the next one, then we’re somewhere wholly other. We’re on a six-minute road trip, in flux, heading for another joint at every moment. But we always feel the same, we just see it from different points of view. And we all know why. Because we’re all so tangled up in blue.

1 Early one mornin’ the sun was shinin’
I was layin’ in bed
Wond’rin’ if she’d changed at all
If her hair was still red
Her folks they said our lives together
Sure was gonna be rough
They never did like Mama’s homemade dress
Papa’s bankbook wasn’t big enough
And I was standin’ on the side of the road
Rain fallin’ on my shoes
Heading out for the East Coast
Lord knows I’ve paid some dues gettin’ through
Tangled up in blue
Early one mornin’ the sun was shinin’
He was lyin’ in bed
Wond’rin’ if she’d changed at all
If her hair was still red
Her folks they said their lives together
Sure was gonna be rough
They never did like Mama’s homemade dress
Papa’s bankbook wasn’t big enough
He was standin’ on the side of the road
Rain fallin’ on his shoes
Heading out for the old East Coast
Lord knows he’s paid some dues gettin’ through
Tangled up in blue
2 She was married when we first met
Soon to be divorced
I helped her out of a jam, I guess
But I used a little too much force
We drove that car as far as we could
Abandoned it out West
Split up on a dark sad night
Both agreeing it was best
She turned around to look at me
As I was walkin’ away
I heard her say over my shoulder
“We’ll meet again someday on the avenue”
Tangled up in blue
She was married when they first met
Soon to be divorced
He helped her out of a jam, I guess
But he used a little too much force
They drove that car as far as we could
Abandoned it out West
Split up on a dark sad night
Both agreeing it was best
She turned around to look at him
As he was walkin’ away
She said “This can’t be the end,
We’ll meet again someday on the avenue”
Tangled up in blue
3  I had a job in the great north woods
Working as a cook for a spell
But I never did like it all that much
And one day the ax just fell
So I drifted down to New Orleans
Where I happened to be employed
Workin’ for a while on a fishin’ boat
Right outside of Delacroix
But all the while I was alone
The past was close behind
I seen a lot of women
But she never escaped my mind, and I just grew
Tangled up in blue
He had a job in the great north woods
Working as a cook for a spell
But he never did like it all that much
And one day the ax just fell
So he drifted down to LA
Where he reckoned to try his luck,
Workin’ for a while in an airplane plant
Loading cargo onto a truck
But all the while he was alone
The past was close behind
He seen a lot of women
But she never escaped his mind, and he just grew
Tangled up in blue
4 She was workin’ in a topless place
And I stopped in for a beer
I just kept lookin’ at the side of her face
In the spotlight so clear
And later on as the crowd thinned out
I’s just about to do the same
She was standing there in back of my chair
Said to me, “Don’t I know your name?”
I muttered somethin’ underneath my breath
She studied the lines on my face
I must admit I felt a little uneasy
When she bent down to tie the laces of my shoe
Tangled up in blue
She was workin’ in a topless place
And I stopped in for a beer
I just kept lookin’ at the side of her face
In the spotlight so clear
And later on as the crowd thinned out
I’s just about to do the same
She was standing there in back of my chair
Said to me, “What’s your name?”
I muttered somethin’ underneath my breath
She studied the lines on my face
I must admit I felt a little uneasy
When she bent down to tie the laces of my shoe
Tangled up in blue
5  She lit a burner on the stove
And offered me a pipe
“I thought you’d never say hello,” she said
“You look like the silent type”
Then she opened up a book of poems
And handed it to me
Written by an Italian poet
From the thirteenth century
And every one of them words rang true
And glowed like burnin’ coal
Pourin’ off of every page
Like it was written in my soul from me to you
Tangled up in blue
She lit a burner on the stove
And offered me a pipe
“I thought you’d never say hello,” she said
“You look like the silent type”
Then she opened up a book of poems
And handed it to me
Written by an Italian poet
From the thirteenth century
And every one of them words rang true
And glowed like burnin’ coal
Pourin’ off of every page
Like it was written in my soul from me to you
Tangled up in blue
6  I lived with them on Montague Street
In a basement down the stairs
There was music in the cafés at night
And revolution in the air
Then he started into dealing with slaves
And something inside of him died
She had to sell everything she owned
And froze up inside
And when finally the bottom fell out
I became withdrawn
The only thing I knew how to do
Was to keep on keepin’ on like a bird that flew
Tangled up in blue
He was always in a hurry,
Too busy or too stoned.
And everything that she had planned
Just had to be postponed.
He thought they were successful
She thought they were blessed
With objects and materiel things,
But I never was impressed.
And when it all came crashing down
I became withdrawn
The only thing I knew how to do
Was to keep on keepin’ on like a bird that flew
Tangled up in blue
7  So now I’m goin’ back again
I got to get to her somehow
All the people we used to know
They’re an illusion to me now
Some are mathematicians
Some are carpenters’ wives
Don’t know how it all got started
I don’t know what they’re doin’ with their lives
But me, I’m still on the road
Headin’ for another joint
We always did feel the same
We just saw it from a different point of view
Tangled up in blue
So now I’m goin’ back again
I got to get to her somehow
All the people we used to know
They’re an illusion to me now
Some are mathematicians
Some are carpenters’ wives
Don’t know how it all got started
I don’t know what they’re doin’ with their lives
But me, I’m still on the road
Headin’ for another joint
We always did feel the same
We just saw it from a different point of view
Tangled up in blue

 

In an archive piece taken from Uncut’s January 2005 issue (Take 92), we look back at Dylan in 1975, when he turned the crisis of a deteriorating relationship into one of rock’s most compelling dramas. This is the story of Blood On The Tracks, the album that marked the demise of Dylan’s marriage – and his artistic rebirth. Words: Nick Hasted

February 13, 1977. Bob and Sara Dylan are screaming themselves hoarse. Sara has just walked down to breakfast in their Malibu mansion to find Bob and their children sat down to eat – with another woman. She’s one of countless girlfriends Bob has been seeing over the previous year. This one has even moved into a house on their estate. But seeing her sitting with their children makes something in Dylan’s wife finally snap. In the furious slanging match that follows, she will later allege, Bob punches her in the face, damaging her jaw. Then he tells her to get out. Their 11-year marriage, one of rock’s great romances, is finished.

But 30 years ago this month, in December 1974, Dylan was completing its true epitaph. Written during their first separation, Blood On The Tracks is one of the most truthful dissections of love gone wrong in rock history, by turns recriminatory, bitter and heartbroken. It is one of Dylan’s peaks, the record where his genius and frail humanity meet.

It comes at a cost. It is the culmination of eight years in which Dylan, settled with Sara and their children, tries to evade his fame and talent, seeking a series of bolt-holes across America where he can somehow be ordinary again. Trying hard to be a good husband, music ceases to matter. For three years in the early ’70s, he releases nothing at all. At one time rock’s untouchable king, he seems washed up. With awful irony, it takes his marriage smashing apart to rekindle his art. Blood On The Tracks is the record he pulls from the wreckage.

__________________

Woodstock 1969. Bob Dylan, the peace movement’s errant prince, sleeps with two single-shot Colt pistols close at hand, and the Winchester blasting rifle he calls “the Equaliser” stacked by his door. Hippies have been capering on his roof, swimming in his pool, fucking in his bed, marching up his driveway in straggling droves. They are coming for answers, or to stare and point, or with less clear, more malign motives. Rifles have been recovered from one persistent, insane intruder. With one part of his mind, Dylan fears his own weapons could mangle these fans. Simultaneously, he wants to “set fire to them”.

It is the height of the countercultural tumult in America, and the stray battalions fetching up at Dylan’s door are looking for the legend they see as its leader: Dylan the acid guru of Blonde On Blonde, who laid down what rock could be, then vanished from view as a generation fell under his spell. These fans are desperate for Dylan to make another great statement, to admit he is music’s messiah. But greatness is the last thing on Dylan’s mind, his mid-’60s mastery an irritant he’s desperate to escape. He is like Clint Eastwood in Unforgiven, hiding out in a farmhouse, wanting the world to forget him. He has put away the musical weapons that tore rock apart, and he has no plans to ever use them again.

Dylan has lived in Woodstock since 1965. He married the ex-model Sara Lownds on November 22 that year. He adores his quiet, shy young wife, immortalised in “Sad-Eyed Lady Of The Lowlands”. It was she who helped ensure his survival from the suicidal pace of his mid-’60s career, as much as the contentious bike crash – on July 29, 1966 – which brought it to a halt. “Until Sara, I thought it was just a question of time until he died,” Dylan’s personal assistant in Woodstock, Bernard Paturel, said. “But later, I had never met such a dedicated family man.” Bob had adopted Maria, Sara’s young daughter from a previous marriage, and the couple had four more children in quick succession. Living with his new family, the almost supernatural creative fire of the mid-’60s passed from him like a fever. Suddenly, he seemed content to walk his daughter to the school bus. In the afternoons, he would write and paint, or visit neighbours, while Sara (typically for non-feminist Dylan) did the chores. It seemed idyllic.

“Having children changed my life and segregated me from just about everything that was going on,” he recalls in Chronicles. “Outside my family, nothing held any real interest for me… I was fantasising about a nine-to-five existence, a house on a tree-lined block with a white picket fence… That would have been nice. That was my deepest dream.”

The music he made in this period of retreat – secret “basement tapes” with The Band never meant for release, John Wesley Harding (1968), Nashville Skyline (1969), Self Portrait (1970) and New Morning (1970) – turned its back on the world and its demands. Though good records, they were placid compared to their predecessors, a calm after the storm. It seemed permanent.

After New Morning, Dylan made no more studio albums for four years. In Chronicles, Dylan claims the period was one of deliberate, near-schizoid deception. Shaken by fame’s assault on his everyday life, resentful of fans’ crazy expectations, he resolved to “demolish my identity”, to transform his image from messiah to the happy hick of Nashville Skyline’s sleeve. “It’s hard to live like this,” he remembers of that mundane mask, as if recalling being a spy, or a serial killer. “The first thing that has to go is any form of artistic self-expression that’s dear to you… Art is unimportant next to life… I had no hunger for it anymore, anyway.”

The playwright Archibald MacLeish, frustrated at the superficial songs Dylan wrote for one of his productions in 1969 (later used on New Morning), asked for something darker, truer. Dylan denied him: “I wasn’t going to go deeper into the darkness for anybody. I was already living in the darkness. My family was my light and I was going to protect that light at all costs.”

The rock community buzzed with consternation as their formerly infallible leader flitted between silence and MOR experiments. However, Dylan soon found that his period of tranquility and abstention from the rock mêlée had damaging effects of its own. Before long, his impersonation of uninspired drift became all too real. “Until the accident, I was living music 24 hours a day,” he told Robert Shelton in 1971. “If I wrote a song, it would be two hours, two days… now, two lines…”

Letting his genius collapse for the sake of a quiet life with his kids couldn’t really continue. And, as the ’70s progressed, the tension between the two sides of his nature slowly tore him in half. Like some awful horror tale, the more he tried to flee from his fame, the more he circled back into its grip. He had left Woodstock’s supposed idyll in late 1969, dismissing it as a “daily journey into nothingness”. Moving his family into the heart of his old Greenwich Village haunts, though, was hardly likely to shake off his fans. When he walked the streets there, he felt stared at like “a giant jungle rat”, a disgusting, unnatural freak. Self-styled “Dylanologist” AJ Weberman made things worse. He picketed Dylan’s house, berating him with a bullhorn for abandoning his flock. He rooted through Dylan’s garbage, looking for clues. He even shoved past an outraged Sara to try to breach their apartment. Dylan eventually battered his tormentor in the street. But dreams of a normal New York life were smashed.

In November 1972, Bob and Sara tried fleeing to Mexico, where Dylan had a part in Pat Garrett And Billy The Kid (1973). “I’d gotten them out of New York, that was the important thing, there was a lot of pressure back there,” he recalled. But the drunken, leering machismo of a Peckinpah set in Durango was no sanctuary. “My wife got fed up almost immediately. She’d say to me, ‘What the hell are we doing here?’ It was not an easy question to answer.”

The Dylans made one last dash for freedom in 1973, heading west to Point Dume, California. It was there that the pressure of their harried life began to tell, and cracks in their marriage appeared. The house started it. Sara wanted another bedroom, which the whole building was knocked down to accommodate. Bob dreamily saw this as an opportunity for a new house, “my own fantasy”. With a less than practical grasp of the building trade, the Dylans had soon caused the project to spiral out of control. An enormous fireplace was torn out and replaced almost weekly; a bridge shaped like women’s legs crossed a fake-natural lake. Fifty-six hippies camped on the site in tepees at Bob’s expense for two years, firing up bricks in flaming kilns for the endless extravagance. An oriental dome crowned this rock folly. Bob and Sara, renting nearby with their five children, fell into fighting over fixtures and fittings. No one had ever seen them argue before.

Meanwhile, Dylan’s musical stasis, self-induced or not, began to crack, too. He’d had a rancorous separation from his manager Albert Grossman in 1971, on discovering his Woodstock neighbour kept half of his songwriting royalties, an arrangement that ran out in 1973 – not unconnected, perhaps, to his writer’s block. Dylan also cut himself loose from Columbia, his home since 1961, sweet-talked into a deal with David Geffen’s Asylum Records. Suddenly, songwriting joints that had seemed seized up creaked back into life. Bob called his old compadres The Band to LA in November 1973 and punched out Planet Waves, his first real LP since 1970, in three days. At one time to be titled Wedding Song, it had its share of odes to married bliss. But one track, “Dirge”, also offered a first rumble of the darkness he had so carefully erased from his recent music. It seemed to recall a regretted, sadistic affair. Real or imaginary: who could tell? “I hate myself for lovin’ you,” he spat, with his old, cold contempt, “but I’ll soon get over that.”

Bleak fantasy or confession, Dylan was soon cheating on Sara for real. The deal Geffen had tempted him with included a blockbusting comeback tour of America with The Band, and an accompanying live album. Tour ’74 and the fiery double LP Before The Flood were triumphs, as Dylan shed his diffident mask to aggressively stake his place in ’70s rock’s new stadium hierarchy.

Sara, though, stayed behind. “She despised the rock’n’roll lifestyle,” Dylan roadie Jonathan Taplin told biographer Howard Sounes. “People who just wanted to talk about music were boring to her.” “She doesn’t have to be on the scene to be happy,” Dylan had said admiringly of his sad-eyed lady, back in Woodstock. Now, though, he was out on his own – after eight years’ abstinence, just as rock touring reached new debauched depths. The Band had roadies take Polaroids of girls wanting to get backstage, poring over potential beauties like horse-traders. Cast-offs were handed to the crew. How far Dylan dived into the groupie pool isn’t known. But by February, he was certainly straying. He met Columbia Records executive Ellen Bernstein, 24, in California, seeing her for much of that year. Actress Ruth Tyrangiel claimed Dylan began a 19-year affair with her the same month, becoming, she claimed in court in 1995, “nurse, confidante, home-maker, housekeeper, cook, social companion and advisor” to Dylan, who she said promised to leave Sara for her. Though her charges were dismissed, Dylan’s wandering dick, and the massive strain on his marriage, were common knowledge in the papers that summer.

With his dream home a bomb site, Dylan was also back in New York by the spring. Here, he started a stranger relationship. When he anonymously attended art classes at Carnegie Hall, painter Norman Raeben, 73, took a fatherly shine to him. Dylan had male-bonded over his amateurish art before, with Woodstock neighbour Bruce Dorfman. Now, Raeben’s more radical tutelage gave Dylan a guru and father figure. The catalyst came when Raeben made Dylan glance at a vase, then took it away. “Draw it!” he snapped. Dylan began to buzz with new ideas about perception, which would soon surface in his songs. At the same time, his adoration of the older man lured him further from Sara. Raeben was “more powerful than any magician”, he later claimed, clearly under his spell. “I went home after that and my wife never did understand me ever since that day. She never knew what I was talking about. And I couldn’t possibly explain it.”

After eight years of suppression, the mask was slipping. Like Clint the killer in Unforgiven, the taste Tour ’74 had given Dylan of his old life proved addictive. He had begun to smoke and drink heavily again; even the mellow, mature voice he had essayed since Nashville Skyline (when on a smoking break) was roughed up, raw and raging on Before The Flood. Jekyll was turning into Hyde, and Sara couldn’t stand it. In summer 1974, they separated.

Dylan retreated to a farm he’d just bought back in his home state, Minnesota, which he shared with his brother David. His new lover, Ellen Bernstein, visited for a while. Sara was rarely seen. In this bolt-hole, he began to write Blood On The Tracks.

__________________

“Private songs” was what Dylan told his old Columbia mentor John Hammond he’d be recording when he rang to book studio dates, in September 1974. Certainly the lyrics he’d hammered out in Minnesota were unlike anything he’d written before. “Tangled Up In Blue” was among a dozen songs owing little to the lysergic torrents of his twenties, or the homilies he’d settled for since. These were words singed by the experience of heartbreak, the 33-year-old Dylan now ruefully mature.

The songs’ importance to him was shown by Blood On The Tracks’ unusually protracted recording, using three sets of musicians in two states, in sessions spread over three months. It still only took six days in all. But for a man who created the classic John Wesley Harding in six hours, that was a marathon.

When the Blood On The Tracks sessions began, though, on September 12, Dylan’s mood was unaccountably slapdash, even for him. The first musicians were chosen by chance when producer Phil Ramone, pacing nervously outside New York’s Columbia Studio, bumped into guitarist Eric Weissberg of crack session band Deliverance (Weissberg had made his name with the “Duelling Banjos” sequence of John Boorman’s film). Ramone told Weissberg that Dylan was due that evening, but hadn’t bothered to book a band. Deliverance filled in at Ramone’s request. But the Dylan who arrived that night was skittish, with nerves, excitement – or maybe just the red wine he was gulping like water.

“I got the distinct feeling Bob wasn’t concentrating,” Weissberg recalled, “that he wasn’t interested in perfect takes. He’d been drinking a lot of wine; he was a little sloppy. But he insisted on moving forward, getting onto the next song without correcting obvious mistakes.”

The half-cut legend’s disdain for studio convention was driven home to a shocked Weissberg when they listened to a playback of their first effort, “Simple Twist Of Fate”: “In the middle of it all, Bob starts running down the second song for us. He couldn’t have cared less about the sound of what we had just done. We were totally confused, because he was trying to teach us a new song with another one playing in the background.” Weissberg, a session veteran, tried to stay calm. “I was thinking to myself, ‘Just remember, Eric, this guy’s a genius. Maybe this is the way geniuses operate.’”

“Meet Me In The Morning” and “Call Letter Blues” – near-identical, swaggeringly played blues melodies with radically distinct lyrics – were among the four songs completed in this first three-hour blast. Their power showed the instincts of the apparently plastered Dylan were fully focused. But Deliverance was dispensed with the next day as he shuffled the deck, searching for the sound he really wanted. A new pared-down trio – pedal-steel guitarist Buddy Cage, bassist Tony Braun and organist Paul Griffin – finished the recording, which stayed well-oiled. A passing Mick Jagger considered chipping in on drums and backing vocals, but settled for swigging Dylan’s champagne.

Twelve tracks were completed at these New York sessions, whittled down to 10 for the promo version of Blood On The Tracks pressed and sent to key radio stations in November, as Columbia prepared for its release on Christmas Day, 1974. This phantom album, which would never make it to the racks, was very different from the record Dylan would eventually sanction. And even at this stage, he was clearly worried by what such autobiographical insights might encourage in his troubled marriage. The relatively benign “Meet Me In The Morning” was chosen over the far more rancorous “Call Letter Blues”. The latter, finally released on 1991’s Bootleg Series box set, seethes with the guilt and bitterness of a man newly abandoned by his wife. Its pathetic domestic details can only come from life: “Well, your friends come by for you/I don’t know what to say,” Dylan complains. “I just can’t face up to tell ’em/Honey, you just went away.” And what would Sara have made of these lines, spat with gleeful venom?: “Well, children cry for mother/I tell them, ‘Mo-ther TOOK A TRIP.’” The song’s sensitivity is emphasised by the mysterious omission, as late as 2004’s definitive Bob Dylan Lyrics book, of its final verses, in which he watches his ex-partner with another man and considers “call-girls in the doorway/giving me the eye”. This long dark night of a divorcee’s soul, too much even for Dylan at his most exposed, was swiftly buried.

Dylan took the record back to Minnesota with him for the Christmas holidays. Back in New York, hardboiled journalist Pete Hammill had written elegiac sleevenotes, which would later net him a Grammy. Columbia printed them up on iconically elegant covers, the front of which showed a solarised, side-on photo of Dylan in shades: impassive, indistinct, and seemingly shaking apart.

The presses were ready to roll. But Bob and brother David, listening to the sessions, convinced themselves at least half the tracks lacked some vital spark. “I had the acetate,” Bob later recalled. “I hadn’t listened to it for a couple of months. The record still hadn’t come out, and I put it on. I just didn’t… I thought the songs could have sounded differently, better. So I went in and re-recorded them.” Dylan rang Columbia to stop production on Christmas Eve, hours before release. The pressure on everyone involved, as schedules were shredded, must have been awful. It was the only time Dylan ever took such a stand over a recording. His personal investment in it couldn’t have been clearer.

David convinced his brother there was no need for a desperate flight back to New York. He had worked in Minnesota’s music industry for years, and had all the contacts they would need. On December 27, Minneapolis’ Sound 80 studio was booked for a swiftly assembled group of crack local musicians. The introverted Dylan only spoke to these strangers through David at first. But when they kicked into “Idiot Wind”, Blood On The Tracks finally fell into place.

Dylan was concerned that verses in this epic song, about an affair’s sad collapse, corresponded too blatantly to his split with Sara – another reason, perhaps, for his sudden cold feet. He spread the new lyrics across a music stand on pink post-it slips. After one take, he wandered off for a soda, and came back with yet another scribbled verse. Then they launched into the second take, which would define the album.

Whatever had happened to Dylan’s head since September, thoughts of love and peace for his absent wife were not to the fore. Whether or not they were less traceable to Sara, his new lyrics envisioned an ex-lover blinded by corruption, whose face had warped beyond recognition. Even getting near her room or touching her possessions made him ill with loathing. Worse, he lumped her in with the fame-crazed fans who had hounded them both out of Woodstock and New York, making her ask him “where it was at”. His voice was a lashing whip of high venom, as an organ churned the track into a carnival whirl. With its instinctively surreal images (“There’s a lone soldier on the cross, smoke pourin’ out of a boxcar door…”), it would prove the only time he would ever plug back into the mysterious source of Blonde On Blonde’s supernatural lyric streams and “wild mercury sound”. This was appropriate because, as verse piled onto verse, “Idiot Wind” seemed to unmake one of that album’s most potent spells. It was the dark flipside of “Sad-Eyed Lady Of The Lowlands”, an equally majestic rejection of that song’s idol, Sara.

“You have a nice way of picking things up here,” Dylan mildly told engineer Bill Martinson, when it was finished. He moved straight onto “Tangled Up In Blue”.

Another candidate for Dylan’s greatest song, he had been struggling to wrestle it into shape since he first wrote it that summer (and he would stay unsatisfied, releasing a third, messy draft on 1986’s Real Live). A prismatic overview of a love affair sadly faltering over the years, its second verse in particular (“She was married when we first met/Soon to be divorced…”) seemed to refer directly to Dylan’s determined extraction of Sara from her first marriage, to Hans Lownds. But its autobiographical undercurrents were matched in importance by Dylan’s brilliant use of techniques learned from Norman Raeben.

Dylan explained the song’s shifts in perspective, blurring the lovers and a narrator, with clear reference to his teacher. “What’s different about it,” he said, “is that there’s a code in the lyrics, and there’s also no sense of time. I was trying to make it like a painting where you can see the different parts but then you also see the whole of it… the characters change from the first person to the third person, and you’re never quite sure if the third person is talking or the first person is talking. But if you look at the whole thing it doesn’t really matter.”

Again, something vital was gained in Minnesota. Where the New York sessions added up to a superb example of ’70s acoustic singer-songwriting, ready to duke it out with James Taylor, Dylan was now consciously searching for his old mid-’60s punch. He’d already gone back to his former womanising, drinking ways. Now the crisis with Sara this had caused made him rebuild his full musical arsenal. Everyone chipped in to help. Musician Kevin Odegard suggested he pitch his voice up a key, allowing a more sprightly assault. David rewrote the drum parts, shoving up snapping snares. Dylan’s instructions were explicit. “It was specifically made clear to us,” Odegard recalled, “that Bob wanted to duplicate the sound he’d gotten on Highway 61.”

Dylan broke for the weekend, returning on December 30, 1974. He brought his children with him. Their reaction removed any doubt that Blood On The Tracks was, as Jakob Dylan would later claim, “my parents talking”. The holiday atmosphere chilled as Dad started to sing “You’re A Big Girl Now” and “If You See Her, Say Hello” – taken to be heart-broken farewells to Sara. “It was a little down,” said bassist Billy Petersen. “The sentiment was a little heavy.”

Almost the final touch was a high mandolin part Dylan wanted to add to “If You See Her…” for a sound “like birds’ wings flapping”. The mandolin player, Peter Ostroushko, refused to play so high up its neck, claiming such notes wouldn’t ring true. Dylan snatched it from him and played it perfectly himself.

Blood On The Tracks was finally released on January 20, 1975, split 50/50 between the New York and Minnesota sessions. Despite the emotional devastation that inspired it, the album Dylan had created was not a maudlin tearjerker, or pure sobbing confession. It was a balanced masterpiece – “Idiot Wind” bracketed by the softer sentiments of “You’re A Big Girl Now” and “You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go”. The latter, allegedly written about Ellen Bernstein after her visit the previous summer, may have secretly twisted the knife into Sara. But when “Shelter From The Storm”, a plea for salvation from an old lover, is tallied, the album becomes a rounded, mature picture of love in crisis. Amusing and dramatic, too – not least on “Lily, Rosemary And The Jack Of Hearts”, a tense western epic in 16 verses, as astonishing as the heart-breakers around it. And Dylan’s performances were as powerful and perfectly judged as any he’d ever given. After trying to disappear for eight years, trauma had stripped his genius bare.

Reviewers agreed. They noted with cruel satisfaction how the break-up had blown away his malaise, replacing Dylan the dull, happy husband with the ‘real’ Bob. “The message is a bleak one,” wrote The Village Voice’s Paul Cowan. “At 34, with his marriage on the rocks, he is an isolated, lonely drifter once again… as in all Dylan’s great albums, pain is the flip-side of his legendary cruelty… [he] bears a very special kind of curse.” Dylan tried to throw such critics off the scent. “I would even record an entire album based on Chekhov short stories,” he ‘recalls’ in Chronicles with Olympic cheek. “Critics thought it was autobiographical – that was fine.” In 1985, he was angrier: “Well, I read this was supposed to be about my wife. I wish somebody would ask me first before they would go ahead and print stuff like that. Stupid and misleading jerks… anyway, it’s not the experience that counts, it’s the attitude towards the experience. I don’t write confessional songs. Emotion’s got nothing to do with it. It only seems so, like it seems that Laurence Olivier is Hamlet…”

Back in 1975, though, he was more honest, when a radio interviewer said she’d enjoyed the record. “A lot of people tell me they enjoyed that album,” he snapped. “It’s hard for me to relate to people enjoying that kind of pain.” Whatever their motives, a million Americans had bought Blood On The Tracks by March ’75. It went to No 1 (No 4 in the UK), for a while even fending off Bruce Springsteen’s Born To Run. His family’s collapse had saved his career.

__________________

The pain Blood On The Tracks describes didn’t end when the album was finished. A few months later, Bob and Sara tried to reconcile, making a strained joint appearance at a benefit concert. But when he holidayed in France to celebrate his 34th birthday, staying with artist David Oppenheim (who painted Blood On The Tracks’ back cover), Sara would not come. Dylan constantly rang her. He became “completely despairing, isolated, lost”, Oppenheim recalled. They drank and womanised themselves into oblivion, but Bob was in a bad way.

The man who claimed that he didn’t write autobiographical songs then did so in shameless style to try to win Sara back. In New York’s Columbia studio on July 31, making Desire, everyone was surprised when she appeared. She wanted to see if there could be a “getting back together”, the album’s co-lyricist, Jacques Levy, said. As the session was breaking up, Dylan ordered the band back into the studio. “‘Sara’,” he barked. “‘Part One.’”

The song was a plea for forgiveness, Dylan fighting dirty as he described old holidays with their children, and “writing ‘Sad-Eyed Lady Of The Lowlands’ for you”. The venom of “Idiot Wind” seemed reversed as he sang with abandon to the “love of my life”.

“Bob obviously wanted to surprise her with it,” a witness recalled to biographer Bob Spitz. “He hadn’t told anyone he intended to record it, not even the band who were expected to follow him. Those of us sitting in the control room stopped talking and froze. Nobody moved, not a word was said. Bob had the lights dimmed more than usual, but as the music started, he turned and sang the song directly at Sara, who sat through it all with an impervious look on her face. It was as if she had put on an expressionless mask. The rest of us were blown away, embarrassed to be listening in front of them. He was really pouring out his heart to her. It seemed as if he was trying to reach her, but it was obvious she was unmoved.”

As the song finished, only a groupie stirred. “I don’t know who this Sara chick is,” she drawled obliviously to Dylan’s wife. “But she better hurry up before she’s six feet under.”

“She was absolutely stunned by it,” Levy told Howard Sounes. “And I think it was a turning point… It did work. The two of them really did get back together.”

That take of “Sara” became Desire’s last track. Other songs, “Isis” especially, and the album’s mood of joyous release, suggested Blood On the Tracks had only been a bleak interlude. But the Rolling Thunder tour that rumbled through 1975-6 proved its dark insights were only too true.

Sara went on the tour to play both Dylan’s lover and a whore in the movie he planned to make around it, Renaldo And Clara. The torn feelings in this casting were played out nightly. Bob and Sara’s romance seemed rekindled at first. But Joan Baez wasn’t his only sometime lover on the road with them. Other girlfriends popped up at every stop and travelled openly with Dylan. Band members Scarlet Rivera (violinist on Desire) and Ronee Blakley were rumoured to be sleeping with him. Even a girl bizarrely employed to teach Bob tightrope-walking was soon in his bed. By the tour’s second half in 1976, Sara was an infrequent, glowering visitor. Baez once glimpsed Dylan kneeling before her, begging for forgiveness yet again. At other times, they had poisonous rows, in parking lots and motel rooms. Dylan, always a wine-drinker, switched to brandy. “Idiot Wind”, not “Sara”, was his song again now. At a televised gig in Colorado on his 35th birthday, with his wife and children watching, he sang it into a howling gale. Released on Hard Rain (1976), it beats even Blood On The Tracks’ version for paint-blistering bile.

The final act was played out in Point Dume, where their troubles had begun. By 1976, their dream home was finally fit for habitation. It was just in time to stage their marriage’s meltdown. Sara’s court papers, when she filed for divorce on March 1, 1977, showed how savagely things had deteriorated. The man who had abandoned rock’s most brilliant career to be with her seemed a monster now.

“He began to act in a bizarre and frightening manner, causing me to be terrified of him,” she alleged. “He would come in and out of the house at all hours, often bursting into my room, where he would stand and gaze at me in silence and refuse to leave… I was in such fear of him that I locked doors to protect myself from his violent outbursts…”

She filed for divorce after those brutal scenes over the breakfast table, when Dylan allegedly hit her. A nasty battle over the children’s custody followed (he eventually got to see them each summer), before Sara was awarded $36 million – roughly half of Dylan’s worth – when the divorce was finalised on June 30, 1977. The idiot wind – or Bob’s womanising and weird moods – had blown them apart. “Marriage was a failure,” he told a journalist in 1978. “Husband and wife was a failure, but father and mother wasn’t a failure. I wasn’t a very good husband… I don’t know what a good husband is. I figured it would last forever.”

Dylan and Sara were never close again. But her part in his music carried on. In 1977, while visiting Rolling Thunder tour-mates Steven Soles and T-Bone Burnett, he played a set of songs too frightening to ever be heard again: like Blood On The Tracks 2, with the love torn out. “They were all very, very, very tough, dark, dark, dark songs,” Soles told Howard Sounes. “None of them saw the light of day. They got discarded because I think they were too strong. They were the continuation of the Bob and Sara tale, on the angry side of that conflict.” One of these blackest of tracks, “I’m Cold”, scared Soles. “It was scathing and tough and venomous. A song that would bring a chill to your bones. That’s what it did to me. T-Bone and I, when he left, our mouths were just wide open. We couldn’t even believe what we’d heard.”

Dylan’s last official word on Sara, Street-Legal (1978), was a more chastened affair. In too ragged a state to craft Blood On The Tracks’ true sequel, “Where Are You Tonight? (Journey Through Dark Heat)”, swirling with images of betrayal, sorrow and corruption, was at least a worthy coda.

The so-called Alimony Tour (1978), though, his divorce’s final fall-out, saw Dylan widely ridiculed. The career Blood On The Tracks had saved soon went into a long tailspin – two dark decades where he once more seemed washed up. But the emotional honesty its painful making had wrenched from him lingered. His most recent revival, Time Out Of Mind (1997), is a death-haunted old man’s companion piece to Blood On The Tracks’ thirtysomething blues.

The blood Dylan spilt 30 years ago, in the end, was his own. The wounds are still with him.

Bob Dylan’s Former Classmate Muses About His Paintings at Gagosian Gallery

Amy Zimmer

September 26, 2011

UPPER EAST SIDE — Andy Warhol, Pablo Picasso, Richard Avedon and Richard Serra grace the walls of the Gagosian Gallery, but its latest star is better known for his singing than his painting.

On show at the high-end gallery’s Upper East Side location are paintings by legendary singer Bob Dylan.

Dylan, a man of many talents, has been making visual art since the 1960s but had not publicly exhibited his work until 2007 with a show in Germany, followed by one in Copenhagen.

His show at the Gagosian — « Bob Dylan: The Asia Series, » which runs through Oct. 22 — is his first in New York, the city he moved to in the 1960s where he made a name for himself on the Greenwich Village folk-singing circuit.

Art lovers and Dylan fans are taking in his street scenes, people and landscapes from his travels in Japan, China, Vietnam and Korea — including one man who walked in Friday with « Positively Fourth Street » playing on his smart phone.

He was almost evicted by a security guard.

A woman in a beige leopard print coat and glasses and a purple leopard print scarf, who was looking intently at the paintings, left a note for Dylan with the Gagosian staff.

It wasn’t merely a fan note. It turns out the woman — Bernice Sokol Kramer, now a professional artist — had taken an art class with Dylan in 1974 on the 11th floor of Carnegie Hall with Norman Raeben, the son of famous Yiddish author Sholom Aleichem.

« Nobody cared who he was, » Kramer told DNAinfo of the famous troubadour, who used his real name Bob Zimmerman in class. « We were painting fanatics. Nobody cared about anything else. »

They were all taken with Raeben, who had studied with George Luks and Robert Henri, of the Aschan School, and who taught not just technique but philosophy of sorts. He had 10 commandments that included such rules as, « I’d rather be stupid than phony, » Kramer recalled.

Dylan wanted to fly their teacher and the whole class to California when he had to go there — Kramer assumed it was for an album — but Raeben, who was elderly at the time, declined.

« He loved Norman a lot, » she said of the singer, whom she remembered as having a big heart.

« My teacher was a Svengali type. He was like a guru, » said Kramer, who began her nine-year study with Raeben in 1967.  « Norman would hold reading classes. He thought you should have another frame of reference. »

They read Colette and Proust. One of Dylan’s paintings reminded Kramer of a short story they read by Tolstoy about a workhorse. In one painting, she thought she saw Raeben’s face.

As Kramer looked at Dylan’s paintings, she was amazed and impressed by his technique and saw the impact of their former teacher everywhere. « He taught you light and texture, » she said.

« He taught you from the shadows up. »

In her letter to Dylan, Kramer wrote, « You have retained your heart and feelings without being burdened by all the ‘isms that are spewing forth these days. … So happy to see this very ambitious work. »

Kramer hasn’t seen Dylan in 36 years, and she wasn’t sure she’d hear from him, but she left her email on the letter, just in case.

Bob Dylan: The Asia Series is on view at the Gagosian Gallery, 980 Madison Ave., fourth floor, through Oct. 22.

Bob Dylan vs. His Art Sources
09.29.11

How six of the singer’s paintings compare with the photographs that inspired them. By Blake Gopnik.
Left: Gagosian; Right: Dmitri Kessel, Time Life Pictures / Getty Images

Over the last few days, it has become clear that The Asian Series, a show of paintings by Bob Dylan at Gagosian Gallery in New York, has its roots in photographs taken by others. Blake Gopnik pairs six Dylan paintings and their sources.
Left: Gagosian; Right: Dmitri Kessel, Time Life Pictures / Getty Images

Bob Dylan’s painting called The Game, next to the black-and-white photo it’s based on. Oil paints turn a document into “art”—which could help us give it a more critical viewing.
Left: Gagosian; Right: Musée Albert Kahn

Dylan’s painting, Opium, and the 100-year-old photo it is based on, by Leon Busy, taken in Vietnam. Could it be that the painting, made so recently—and pretending to be a real observation—gives a sense that old clichés are alive and well? It’s not that such opium dens still exist, but that we still have them in our minds.
Left: Gagosian; Right: Okinawa Soba / Flickr

Monk, executed in oils by Dylan, and the hand-colored photo it was based on. Purely on the two pieces’ own terms, the photo actually may be the more striking image.
Left: Gagosian Right: Bruce Gilden / Magnum

Dylan’s Big Brother, and a quite recent photo by Bruce Gilden that is its source. It seems obvious that Dylan’s image has a very photographic composition. It is hard to imagine simply viewing the world at this angle.
Left: Gagosian; Right: Henri Cartier-Bresson / Magnum

Dylan’s Trade and the photograph that gave birth to it, by Henri Cartier-Bresson. When artists borrow from such a famous source, they are normally flagging their work as a deliberate appropriation.
Left: Gagosian Right: Okinawa Soba / Flickr

Dylan’s Emperor and a photograph from circa 1900 of Manchu newlyweds. By mixing such a vintage scene with much more recent imagery, the series gives viewers a sense that it is aggregating clichés—deliberately?

Dylan Paintings Draw Scrutiny
Dave Itzkoff
The New York times

September 26, 2011
The freewheeling artistic style of Bob Dylan, who has drawn on a variety of sources in creating his music and has previously raised questions of attribution in his work, is once again stirring debate — this time over an exhibition of his paintings at the Gagosian Gallery on the Upper East Side.

When the gallery announced the exhibition, called “The Asia Series,” this month, it said the collection of paintings and other artwork would provide “a visual journal” of Mr. Dylan’s travels “in Japan, China, Vietnam and Korea,” with “firsthand depictions of people, street scenes, architecture and landscape.”

But since the exhibition opened on Sept. 20, some fans and Dylanologists have raised questions about whether some of these paintings are based on Mr. Dylan’s own experiences and observations, or on photographs that are widely available and that he did not take.

A wide-ranging discussion at the Bob Dylan fan Web site Expecting Rain has pointed out similarities between several works in “The Asia Series” and existing or even well-known photographs — for example, between a painting by Mr. Dylan depicting two men and a Henri Cartier-Bresson photograph of two men, one a eunuch who served in the court of the Dowager Empress Tzu Hsi.
Observers have pointed out that a painting by Mr. Dylan called “Opium,” which is used to illustrate a Web page for the “Asia Series” exhibition on the Gagosian site, appears to be closely modeled on a picture by Léon Busy, an early-20th-century photographer.

Separately, Michael Gray, in a post on his blog, Bob Dylan Encyclopedia, points out that a painting by Mr. Dylan depicting three young men playing a sidewalk board game is nearly identical to a photograph taken by Dmitri Kessel.

Mr. Gray, an author who has written extensively about Mr. Dylan’s work and its artistic influences, writes on his blog:

“The most striking thing is that Dylan has not merely used a photograph to inspire a painting: he has taken the photographer’s shot composition and copied it exactly. He hasn’t painted the group from any kind of different angle, or changed what he puts along the top edge, or either side edge, or the bottom edge of the picture. He’s replicated everything as closely as possible. That may be a (very self-enriching) game he’s playing with his followers, but it’s not a very imaginative approach to painting. It may not be plagiarism but it’s surely copying rather a lot.”

Others commenting at Expecting Rain were less concerned, like one using the screen name restless, who wrote: “ ‘quotation’ and ‘borrowing’ are as old as the hills in poetry, traditional songs, and visual art.”

“There’s no need to be an apologist for that,” the post continued. “It’s often a part of making art, that’s all. Good grief, y’all.”

On Monday a press representative for the Gagosian Gallery said in a statement: “While the composition of some of Bob Dylan’s paintings is based on a variety of sources, including archival, historic images, the paintings’ vibrancy and freshness come from the colors and textures found in everyday scenes he observed during his travels.”

The gallery also pointed to an interview with Mr. Dylan in its exhibition catalog, in which he is asked whether he paints from sketches or photographs. He responds:

“I paint mostly from real life. It has to start with that. Real people, real street scenes, behind the curtain scenes, live models, paintings, photographs, staged setups, architecture, grids, graphic design. Whatever it takes to make it work. What I’m trying to bring out in complex scenes, landscapes, or personality clashes, I do it in a lot of different ways. I have the cause and effect in mind from the beginning to the end. But it has to start with something tangible.”

Mr. Dylan has previously proved elusive to critics and observers who have tried to pin him down on source material. In 2006 it was shown that lyrics on Mr. Dylan’s No. 1 album “Modern Times” bore a strong resemblance to the poems of Henry Timrod, who composed verses about the Civil War and died in 1867. Lyrics from a previous album, “Love and Theft,” were similar to passages from the gangster novel “Confessions of a Yakuza,” by the Japanese writer Junichi Saga.

In a 2008 essay for The New Haven Review, Scott Warmuth, a radio disc jockey and music director who has closely studied Mr. Dylan’s work, said that Mr. Dylan’s 2004 memoir, “Chronicles: Volume One,” had adapted many phrases and sentences from works by other writers, including the novelist Jack London, the poet Archibald MacLeish and the author Robert Greene.

Mr. Dylan did not comment on those similarities then, and a representative for him declined to comment on the Gagosian exhibition.

Entertainment

Did Bob Dylan plagiarize his paintings from famous photos?

The art world is in an uproar over accusations Dylan used photographs without attribution as inspiration for his art.
Trish Crawford

Music
Sept. 29, 2011

The art world is crying foul over Bob Dylan’s paintings at the Gagosian Gallery in New York. Since Dylan’s Asia Series show opened on Sept. 20, allegations have surfaced that at least three of his paintings look exactly like photographs by Henri Cartier-Bresson, Léon Busy and Dmitri Kessel.

The New York Times printed an article questioning the originality of Dylan’s canvases Wednesday, showing both the photos and the paintings (which they photographed in the gallery) for comparison. The gallery refused to supply photos of the Dylan paintings.

“While the composition of some of Bob Dylan’s paintings are based on a variety of sources, including archival, historic images, the paintings’ vibrancy and freshness come from the colours and textures found in everyday scenes he observed during his travels,” the gallery said in a statement.

Jennifer Rudder, an experienced curator who teaches art criticism at Toronto’s OCAD University, says the paintings’ sources should have been acknowledged.

“A lot of people paint from photographs as Sunday painters, but Bob Dylan is not a Sunday painter,” said Rudder, adding she’s surprised that the gallery wouldn’t have known about the original photographs, as they were easily accessible by the public.

“Artists have been doing variations on widely available photos for many decades,” said Elizabeth Legge, chair of the University of Toronto’s Department of Art. “Warhol would be a big well-known example.”

It’s all right, she said, “provided the artist does something original with the material. Even just changing the context it is seen in, it is usually a non-issue.”

She acknowledged the art world is tied in knots over the subject, with some, such as Jeff Koons and Damien Hirst, facing frequent challenges of copyright violations. “It is a grey area, complicated by the big money that comes into play, especially with big-ticket artists,” Legge said.

Musicologist Rob Bowman says the sheer celebrity of Dylan has made him a target for criticism (just as it pulls people into the show, which runs to Oct. 22).

Bowman, a professor at York University, Bowman said, “The art of Bob Dylan creates business for the gallery, whether it is good or not. We are talking fame and celebrity here. You will get people taking shots at him.”

Bowman says he thinks the gallery blew it by not acknowledging the sources and that the exhibit would have benefited from posting the photos beside the paintings as added information.

But art writer Jim Linderman wrote a supportive post on the Dylan fan website Expecting Rain.

Admitting, “I’ve been a fan all my life,” Linderman wrote an article titled “Bob Dylan paints just like a painter” to point out that painting photographs is a time-honoured practice.

The early marketing of the show as a record of Dylan’s travels is the source of the problem, he said, adding that the controversy is nothing new.

“The art world is full of scandal. It is as corrupt as a circus,” he said.

Voir par ailleurs:

Gabrielle Calvocoressi : «Ce Nobel ouvre la porte aux paroliers»

Tolly Taylor Journaliste américain en poste à «Libération» pour l’élection présidentielle@TollyTaylo
Libération
3 octobre 2016 

Pour Gabrielle Calvocoressi, poétesse américaine, le prix de Dylan, poète au sens le plus antique, permettra à des genres comme le hip-hop d’être acceptés dans le champ littéraire.

Gabrielle Calvocoressi, poétesse américaine, est rédactrice en chef au Los Angeles Review of Books.

Que vous inspire le prix Nobel 2016 de littérature ?

Anglomanie: Proust était bien plus qu’un neuroscientifique (Great books are written in a kind of foreign language: Proust was also a first-rate linguist and sociologist)

22 mars, 2016
ProustNeuroscientistProust2Le passé est un pays étranger. Ils font les choses différemment là-bas. Lesley Poles Hartley (« Le Messager »)
Aucune théorie, aucune formule, aucune recette ne saurait prendre la place de l’expérience pratique. Auguste Escoffier
Les beaux livres sont écrits dans une sorte de langue étrangère. Proust
Chaque écrivain est obligé de se faire sa langue, comme chaque violoniste est obligé de se faire son “son”. Proust
Je me lève un jour sur quatre et descends ce jour-là dicter quelques pages à une dactylographe. Comme elle ne sait pas le français et moi pas l’anglais mon roman se trouve écrit dans une langue intermédiaire à laquelle je compte que vous trouverez de la saveur quand vous recevrez le volume. Proust
Le trait d’esprit était ce qu’on appelait un « à peu près », mais qui avait changé de forme, car il y a une évolution pour les calembours comme pour les genres littéraires, les épidémies qui disparaissent remplacées par d’autres, etc… Jadis la forme de l’ « ‘à peu près » était le « comble ». Mais elle était surannée, personne ne l’employait plus, il n’y avait plus que Cottard pour dire encore parfois, au milieu d’une partie de « piquet »: « Savez-vous quel est le comble de la distraction ? C’est de prendre l’édit de Nantes pour une Anglaise ». Proust (Sodome et Gomorrhe)
Je trouve ce genre de milieux cléricaux exaspérants. Ce sont des milieux, on fait tribu, on fait congrégation et chapelle. Tu ne me diras pas que ce n’est pas une petite secte ; on est tout miel pour les gens qui en sont, on n’a pas assez de dédain pour les gens qui n’en sont pas. La question n’est pas, comme pour Hamlet, d’être ou de ne pas être, mais d’en être ou de ne pas en être. Tu en es, mon oncle Charlus en est. Que veuxtu ? moi je n’ai jamais aimé ça, ce n’est pas ma fauteSaint-Loup, Proust, Sodome et Gomorrhe)
Puisqu’en France on donne à toute chose plus ou moins britannique le nom qu’elle ne porte pas en Angleterre. Proust
Mais à l’instant même où la gorgée mêlée des miettes du gâteau toucha mon palais, je tressaillis, attentif à ce qui se passait d’extraordinaire en moi. Un plaisir délicieux m’avait envahi, isolé, sans la notion de sa cause. Il m’avait aussitôt rendu les vicissitudes de la vie indifférentes, ses désastres inoffensifs, sa brièveté illusoire, de la même façon qu’opère l’amour, en me remplissant d’une essence précieuse : ou plutôt cette essence n’était pas en moi, elle était moi. J’avais cessé de me sentir médiocre, contingent, mortel. D’où avait pu me venir cette puissante joie ? Je sentais qu’elle était liée au goût du thé et du gâteau, mais qu’elle le dépassait infiniment, ne devait pas être de même nature. D’où venait-elle ? Que signifiait-elle ? Où l’appréhender ? Je bois une seconde gorgée où je ne trouve rien de plus que dans la première, une troisième qui m’apporte un peu moins que la seconde. Il est temps que je m’arrête, la vertu du breuvage semble diminuer. Il est clair que la vérité que je cherche n’est pas en lui, mais en moi. (…) Quand d’un passé ancien, rien ne subsiste, après la mort des êtres, après la destruction des choses, seules, plus frêles mais plus vivaces, plus immatérielles, plus persistantes, plus fidèles, l’odeur et la saveur restent encore longtemps, comme des âmes, à se rappeler, à attendre, à espérer, sur la ruine de tout le reste, à porter sans fléchir, sur leur gouttelette presque impalpable, l’édifice immense du souvenir. Proust
Proust fut l’un des premiers artistes à intégrer la philosophie de Bergson. Son œuvre littéraire devint une célébration de l’intuition, de toutes les vérités que nous pouvons découvrir simplement en étant allongé sur le lit à réfléchir tranquillement. (…) En fait, l’assimilation approfondie de la philosophie de Bergson amena Proust à conclure que le roman du xixe siècle, qui privilégiait les choses par rapport aux idées, n’avait absolument rien compris. « Le type de littérature qui se satisfait de “décrire les choses”, écrivit Proust, de leur consacrer un maigre résumé en termes de lignes et de surfaces, a beau se prétendre réaliste, est en fait le plus éloigné de la réalité. » Comme le soutenait Bergson, la meilleure manière de comprendre la réalité est subjective. Et intuitive pour avoir accès à ses vérités. Mais comment une œuvre de fiction pouvait-elle démontrer le pouvoir de l’intuition ? Comment un roman pouvait-il prouver que la réalité était, selon la formule de Bergson, « en dernier lieu spirituelle, et non physique » ? La réponse de Proust prit une forme inattendue, celle d’un petit gâteau sec au beurre parfumé au zeste de citron et en forme de coquillage. C’était là un peu de matière qui révélait « la structure de son esprit », un dessert qui pouvait « se réduire à ses éléments psychologiques ». C’est ainsi que débute la Recherche, avec la célèbre madeleine, à partir de laquelle se dévoile tout un esprit. (…) Ce magnifique paragraphe résume toute l’essence de l’art de Proust, la vérité s’élevant comme de la buée d’une tasse de thé limpide. Alors que la madeleine était le déclencheur de la révélation de Proust, ce passage ne porte pas sur la madeleine. Le gâteau sec est simplement pour Proust un prétexte pratique pour explorer son sujet favori : lui-même. Qu’ont appris à Proust ces miettes prophétiques de sucre, farine et beurre ? Il a en réalité fait preuve d’une immense intuition au sujet de la structure du cerveau humain. En 1911, l’année de la madeleine, les physiologistes n’avaient pas la moindre idée du mode de connexion des sens à l’intérieur du crâne. C’est là que Proust eut l’une de ses intuitions les plus pénétrantes : notre odorat et notre goût portent ensemble le poids de la mémoire. (…) Les neurosciences ont maintenant pu prouver que Proust avait vu juste. Rachel Herz, psychologue à l’université Brown, a montré – dans un article scientifique intitulé avec beaucoup d’esprit « Tester l’hypothèse proustienne » – que notre odorat et notre goût sont exceptionnellement sentimentaux, car ce sont les seuls sens directement connectés à l’hippocampe, centre de la mémoire à long terme du cerveau. Leur marque est indélébile. Tous nos autres sens (vue, toucher et ouïe) sont au départ traités par le thalamus, source du langage et porte d’entrée de la conscience. Ils sont donc beaucoup moins efficaces pour évoquer notre passé. Proust a eu l’intuition de cette anatomie. Il s’est servi, pour faire remonter à la surface de la mémoire son enfance, du goût de la madeleine et de l’odeur du thé car la vue seule du gâteau sec en forme de coquille n’a pas suffi. Proust est d’ailleurs même allé jusqu’à accuser son sens de la vue de brouiller ses souvenirs d’enfance. « Peut-être parce que, en ayant souvent aperçu depuis, sans en manger, écrit Proust, leur image s’était dissociée de ces jours à Combray »[6]. Fort heureusement pour la littérature, Proust décida de porter à sa bouche le gâteau sec. Jonah Lehrer
One day, I found myself engrossed in Swann’s Way. As I read this epic novel about one man’s memory, I had an epiphany. I realized that Proust and modern neuroscience shared a vision of how our memory works. If you listened closely, they were actually saying the same thing. (…) After I realized that Proust had anticipated these scientific theories, I suddenly started re-reading all my favorite novelists, poets and artists. What did Virginia Woolf intuit about consciousness? Why was Walt Whitman so obsessed with his “body electric”? Why did Cezanne paint in such an abstract style? Once I started asking these strange questions, I saw all sorts of connections. I realized that there was a whole group of artists that had discovered truths about the human mind—real, tangible truths—that science is only now re-discovering. (…) Proust would be thrilled. But he wouldn’t be surprised. Proust was confident that every reader, once they read his novel, would “recognize in his own self what the book says…This will be the proof of its veracity.” And Proust wasn’t the only artist who was convinced that his art was full of truth. George Eliot famously said that her art was “simply a set of experiments in life.” Virginia Woolf, before she wrote Mrs. Dalloway, said that in her new novel the “psychology should be done very realistically.” Whitman thought he was expressing deep “truths about the body and soul” that the science of his time had yet to understand. In other words, all of these artists believed that their art was capable of being literally true, just like science. (…) Each artist had his or her own peculiar method. (And some of them, like Proust, were very peculiar.) But one thing these artists all shared was an obsession with our experience. They wanted their art to express what it was like to be alive, to be conscious, to feel, to remember, to taste, to see. They turned themselves into empiricists of ordinary life. That’s where their wisdom came from. (…) Escoffier defined cooking as “equal parts art and science,” and I tend to agree with him. (I also tend to agree with Brillat-Savarin, who declared that “The discovery of a new dish does more for the happiness of the human race than the discovery of a new star.”) Furthermore, I think that Escoffier demonstrates one of the larger themes of the book, which is that we can discover truths about ourselves just by paying attention to our subjective experience. After all, it’s not like Escoffier understood the molecular mechanisms behind our taste receptors. He just wanted his food to taste good, and that led him to invent recipes that accurately reflected the anatomy of our tongue. This chapter also grew out of my own experience as a line cook. I’ve been lucky enough to work in the kitchens of some nice restaurants (Le Cirque 2000, Melisse, Le Bernardin), and I was always struck by how much chefs know about the sensation of taste, even if they aren’t familiar with the underlying cellular mechanisms. Watching a chef concoct a new dish is a lot like watching a science experiment: they put some stuff together, then taste it, then add some more stuff, then taste again, and so on. But the whole process is really empirical. A good chef is constantly testing. (…) They were extremely engaged with their contemporary science. While the artists I discuss often disagreed with the science of their time, they always used it as a springboard. Long before C.P. Snow mourned the separation of our two cultures, Whitman was busy studying brain anatomy textbooks and watching gruesome surgeries, George Eliot was reading Darwin and James Clerk Maxwell, Stein was conducting psychology experiments in William James’ lab, and Woolf was learning about the biology of mental illness. It is impossible to understand their art without taking into account its relationship to science. (…) First of all, I hope this book compels people to look at art in a new way. I think that we’ve diminished the importance of art. We think of art as just a collection of entertaining stories and pretty paintings. But Proust and Whitman and Woolf saw themselves as truthtellers. I hope this book compels people to think about the potential of art, to reimagine what the imagination is capable of. Of course, in order for a novel or poem to be “true” we need to redefine what the “truth” is. Our current culture subscribes to a very narrow definition of truth. If something can’t be quantified or calculated, then it can’t be true. Because this strict scientific approach has explained so much, we assume that it can explain everything. But every method, even the experimental method, has limits. Take the human mind. Scientists describe our brain in terms of its physical details; they say we are nothing but a loom of electrical cells and synaptic spaces. What science forgets is that this isn’t how we experience the world. (We feel like the ghost, not like the machine.) It is ironic, but true: the one reality science cannot reduce is the only reality we will ever know. This is why we need art. Jonah Lehrer
Proust anticipated important truths about memory: the sense of taste and smell are uniquely sentimental, memories are dishonest and do not faithfully reproduce the past, and memories are able to persist – even if we never think about them. (…) Contradicting the science of his time, Whitman believed that the body and mind were profoundly connected, and that the flesh was the source of feelings. (“Behold the body includes and is the meaning, the main/Concern, and includes and is the soul,” he wrote.) Modern neuroscience now concurs, and has discovered that emotions often have a bodily source. (…) In her time, scientists believed that people were prisoners of their genes. But Eliot’s art consistently argued that our mind was “not cut in marble.” She believed that the most essential element of human nature was its malleability, the way we can “will ourselves to change.” She anticipated the discovery of neural plasticity. (…) Escoffier’s kitchen articulated biological truths of the tongue and his seminal recipes anticipated basic truths about the sensation of taste. He also realized that the taste of most flavors is actually a smell. (…) Though criticized as overly abstract, Cézanne wasn’t interested in pure abstraction, and always made sure that his surreal brushstrokes could be translated into real objects. With just enough information, the brain can decipher his paintings. If he left some details out, and canvas blank, it was to show what the visual cortex puts in. (…) Stravinsky knew that a symphony was nothing but a collection of acoustic patterns that the brain had learned how to hear. Further, what makes music pleasurable is the tension between the melodic patterns expected and the patterns actually heard. He forced the audience to learn an entirely new set of patterns, and though this newness caused a riot at the time, he knew that the brain would adapt. He was right: he’s now considered by many to be the most influential composer of 20th-century music. (…) Stein exposed the “deep structure” of language, and observed “Everybody said the same thing over and over again with infinite variations but over and over again.” Stein, in anticipation of Noam Chomsky, saw the source of this sameness, to cut our words until their structure showed through. (…) Virginia Woolf realized that the stream of consciousness “was very erratic, very undependable.” At any given moment, her mind seemed to be scattered in a million little pieces. And yet, something bound those fleeting sensations together. Woolf’s revelation was that we emerge from our own subjective interpretations. When we sense something, we naturally invent a subject for our sensation. The self is simply this subject; it is the story we tell ourselves about our own experience. As Woolf wrote in her unfinished memoir, “We are the words; we are the music; we are the thing itself.”Jonah Lehrer
Le langage intermédiaire du roman de Proust véhicule les oscillations de l’entre-deux sexuel, social et temporel. Le texte de La Recherche qui navigue entre le temps perdu et le temps retrouvé est jonché de mots anglais qui participent à la représentation de la société mondaine d’avant la guerre tout en frayant un chemin du côté de Sodome et Gomorrhe. La question de comment traduire les mots anglais enchâssés dans le texte français se pose donc lors de sa traduction en anglais. Faut-il garder le jeu entre les deux langues en préservant la touche de l’étrangeté ou peut-on l’aplanir en laissant les mots anglais de la version originale se fondre dans la traduction  (…) Perdu et retrouvé : ces deux termes constituant la trame du texte de La Recherche se rapportent aussi bien à la traduction des mots anglais de Proust. Ce qui est perdu dans la traduction d’un mot peut être retrouvé dans la traduction d’un autre, par un jeu de compensation ou de déplacement. Cependant les cas étudiés ici montrent que les mots anglais de Proust-tels que « lady-like » ou « smoking » ? sont rebelles à la traduction. Ils font trébucher la langue, et le traducteur qui bute contre eux doit déployer toutes sortes de stratégies pour rendre leur effet d’intrusion intempestive, de perte d’équilibre, de vacillement sémantique. Ces mots anglais ont beau être des pierres d’achoppement pour le traducteur, ce sont des pierres précieuses incrustées dans la poétique de l’étranger proustien. Emily Eells

Attention: un scientifique peut en cacher un autre !

A l’heure où l’on escrime en France …

Pour les derniers vestiges de l’état le plus ancien de notre langue …

Que seule a jusqu’ici cru bon de conserver la langue de notre ennemi héréditaire lui-même …

Avec, comme le disait Clémenceau, le « français mal prononcé » d’une « colonie française qui a mal tourné » …

Qui se souvient que le plus grand et le plus snob, au moins de réputation, de nos écrivains  …

Etait non seulement en fait comme le rappelle une étude sur les problèmes de traduction anglaise (fascinant « jeu de compensation ou de déplacement ») de ses nombreux emprunts à la langue de Shakespeare …

Le plus anglophile voire le plus anglomane

Mais qu’en véritable spécialiste de neuroscience qu’il était, en avait fait une véritable « langue intermédiaire », lui qui ne la pratiquait d’ailleurs pas mais faisait taper ses manuscrits par une secrétaire anglaise non-francophone …

Tout comme une remarquable instrument pour débusquer ces innombrables jeux sociaux …

Où, entre « calembours surannés, » « passeport pour la haute société »,  » carte d’identité homosexuelle », source de ridicule basculant d’un moment à l’autre en objet admiration ou « palais clos » de mise à distance de l’être aimé voire d’ échappatoire (à l’instar de la très significative et seule phrase entière en langue anglaise de La Recherche : « I do not speak french ») …

Et à l’instar de la seule phrase entière en langue anglaise de La recherche et sans compter ces non moins innombrables néologismes puisqu’en France, comme le rappelle très justement Proust lui-même, on donne à toute chose plus ou moins britannique le nom qu’elle ne porte pas en Angleterre …

La question n’était pas, comme le faisait remarquer l’un de ses personnages, d’être ou de ne pas être, comme pour Hamlet, mais « d’en être ou de ne pas en être » ?

Les belles rebelles : comment traduire les mots anglais de Proust ?

Emily Eells
Books Open edition

« Les beaux livres sont écrits dans une sorte de langue étrangère », note Proust dans ses brouillons1. Gilles Deleuze a repris cette formule pour définir le style littéraire qui distingue l’écrivain taillant « dans sa langue une langue étrangère et qui ne préexiste pas2 ». L’écrivain se forge son propre langage, ou pour citer la métaphore musicale que Proust utilise dans sa correspondance : « Chaque écrivain est obligé de se faire sa langue, comme chaque violoniste est obligé de se faire son “son3. »

Les mots anglais qui figurent dans le texte de Proust, tels des ornements musicaux qui le modulent-feront l’objet de cette étude sur la traduction. Cet aspect du style proustien a été étudié avec brio par Daniel Karlin dans Proust’s English4, où il recense et analyse l’emploi de 225 termes ou expressions anglais dans À la recherche du temps perdu. La présence de ces mots anglais dans le texte de Proust reflète l’anglomanie qui envahissait la société parisienne de la belle époque. Le mot étranger traduit une volonté de suivre la mode ou de faire partie d’une certaine coterie sociale. Il participe à la dynamique du texte dans lequel les personnages se déplacent en « buggy » ou en « victoria5 ». Les mots anglais ajoutent une note de modernité et de snobisme au texte de Proust, qui semble écrit dans ce qu’il appelle une « langue intermédiaire », lorsqu’il explique dans une lettre à un de ses amis qu’il résulte d’une collaboration franco-anglaise au stade de la dactylographie. En effet, la dactylographe anglaise au Grand-Hôtel de Cabourg, employée pour faire la saisie de son texte lorsque Proust y séjournait, ne comprenait pas ce qu’elle tapait:

Je me lève un jour sur quatre et descends ce jour-là dicter quelques pages à une dactylographe. Comme elle ne sait pas le français et moi pas l’anglais mon roman se trouve écrit dans une langue intermédiaire à laquelle je compte que vous trouverez de la saveur quand vous recevrez le volume6.

Bien que cette « langue intermédiaire » ait une valeur anecdotique, elle participe pleinement au projet esthétique de Proust. Notons en passant qu’il s’en sert aussi de façon humoristique pour formuler un calembour fondé sur la ressemblance entre un mot français et un mot anglais : « Savez-vous quel est le comble de la distraction ? », demande l’un de ses personnages. « C’est de prendre l’édit de Nantes pour une Anglaise7 ». Ce jeu de mots bilingue, où « l’édit » et « lady » se confondent, pose problème aux différents traducteurs de Proust, dont le premier insère le mot français entre crochets dans la conclusion de sa traduction : « It’s to think that the Edict of [l’edit de] Nantes was an Englishwoman8. » Les mots de la langue intermédiaire constituent des difficultés pour le traducteur, que je qualifie de « belles rebelles », pour faire écho au concept de la traduction comme une « belle infidèle9 ».

Je propose de développer une réflexion sur la traduction des mots anglais dans le texte de Proust en commençant par une analyse des caractéristiques de cette langue intermédiaire et de ses fonctions dans La Recherche, avant d’étudier les stratégies adoptées par les différents traducteurs pour en préserver la « saveur ». Je ferai appel aux trois versions du texte marquant l’his- toire de sa traduction en anglais, qui débute du vivant de Proust, avec la publication des volumes traduits par Charles Kenneth Scott Moncrieff entre 1922-1931. S’ensuivent deux révisions de ce travail monumental, d’abord par Terence Kilmartin au début des années 1980, puis par le poète D. J. une dizaine d’années plus tard. Ce dernier a fait un changement de taille, en abandonnant la citation du sonnet de Shakespeare adoptée comme titre par Moncrieff – Remembrance of Things Past – en faveur d’un titre fondé sur une traduction plus littérale : In Search of Lost Time. La nouvelle traduction coordonnée et éditée par Christopher Prendergast, publiée en 2002, a pour spécificité que chaque volume du roman est traduit par quelqu’un d’autre. Il s’agit d’une traduction polyphonique, composée de voix des différentes nationalités anglophones (australienne, américaine, anglaise et irlandaise). Après avoir examiné comment ces différentes traductions négocient la présence des mots anglais dans la version originale, je terminerai en étudiant de près la traduction du passage dans lequel Proust inscrit la seule phrase complète en anglais.

LA « LANGUE INTERMÉDIAIRE » DE PROUST

La langue intermédiaire de Proust participe d’une affectation anglophile : elle est parlée exclusivement par des francophones, que ce soit le narrateur ou les personnages de La Recherche. Ils s’en servent le plus souvent dans un « entre-deux », c’est-à-dire aux abords d’un autre espace, que ce soit au seuil d’une porte, dans une cour d’entrée d’un hôtel particulier, ou dans un vestibule. Par exemple, le narrateur ajoute un mot anglais à la description de son entrée dans un restaurant :

[…] une fois engagé dans la porte tournante dont je n’avais pas l’habitude, je crus que je ne pourrais pas arriver à en sortir. (Disons en passant, pour les amateurs d’un vocabulaire plus précis, que cette porte tambour, malgré ses apparences pacifiques, s’appelle porte révolver, de l’anglais revolving door) 1010.

Le terme « porte révolver » tourne en rond entre les deux langues, en ce sens qu’il n’est ni tout à fait anglais, ni nécessaire en français, où il sert simplement de synonyme à « porte tambour ». Un autre exemple de la façon dont le français adopte un synonyme de l’anglais alors qu’il possède déjà un terme pour désigner le même objet se trouve dans le passage suivant, où le mot anglais « snow-boots » vient remplacer l’expression française « les caoutchoucs américains ». Le narrateur se trouve de nouveau dans un espace intermédiaire car il quitte une soirée mondaine pour se préparer au retour à la maison :

Dans le vestibule où je demandai à un valet de pied mes snow-boots que j’avais pris par précaution contre la neige, dont il était tombé quelques flocons vite changés en boue, ne me rendant pas compte que c’était peu élégant, j’éprouvai, du sourire dédaigneux de tous, une honte qui atteignit son plus haut degré quand je vis que M me de Parme n’était pas partie et me voyait chaussant mes caoutchoucs américains. La princesse revint vers moi « Oh ! quelle bonne idée, s’écria-t-elle, comme c’est pratique ! voilà un homme intelligent. Madame, il faudra que nous achetions cela », dit-elle à sa dame d’honneur tandis que l’ironie des valets se changeait en respect et que les invités s’empressaient autour de moi pour s’enquérir où j’avais pu trouver ces merveilles11.

Le mot « snowboots » est entré dans la langue française en 1888, mais son emploi est critiqué par Rémy de Gourmont dans son Esthétique de la langue française, qui considère cet emprunt superflu. Il fait figurer le mot « snowboot » dans sa liste des mots étrangers comme « garden-party » et « rocking-chair » (qu’on trouve aussi dans La Recherche) qui contaminent la langue française de façon inutile12. Ce mot anglais fait vaciller la langue, car bien que de sonorité anglaise, il s’agit d’un néologisme créé par la langue française pour désigner un objet que l’anglais appelle plutôt « galoshes » ou « rubber overshoes ». Le mot anglais inventé par le français est donc associé à un contexte de snobisme où le narrateur se sent ridicule avant que la Princesse de Parme ne tourne la dérision en admiration, en louant « ces merveilles » de snowboots.

Odette Swann se sert couramment d’anglicismes qui sont pour elle comme un passeport pour la haute société. Demi-mondaine d’origine, elle réussit à améliorer son rang social grâce à son anglomanie et en parlant une sorte de franglais qui la distingue. Elle reçoit pour le five o’clock, loue le fair play13 des anglais pendant la guerre et s’entretient en anglais avec sa fille Gilberte. Le jeune narrateur qui en est amoureux se sent alors mis à distance, car il est exclu par son manque de compréhension :

« […] Odette […] se mit à parler anglais à sa fille. Aussitôt ce fut comme si un mur m’avait caché une partie de la vie de Gilberte, comme si un génie malfaisant avait emmené loin de moi mon amie. Dans une langue que nous savons, nous avons substitué à l’opacité des sons la transparence des idées. Mais une langue que nous ne savons pas est un palais clos dans lequel celle que nous aimons peut nous tromper, sans que, restés au-dehors et désespérément crispés dans notre impuissance, nous parvenions à rien voir, à rien empêcher14. »

La langue étrangère est comparée à « un palais clos » dont sont exclus ceux qui ne le comprennent pas. Il réduit le narrateur à l’impuissance. Devant un mur d’ostracisme, d’incompréhension et de silence, il ressent la violence d’un enlèvement.

Au moment de la Grande Guerre, par contre, la langue étrangère mène à l’inclusion et Odette continue à parler le langage des alliés :

Son langage à elle était pourtant, plus encore qu’autrefois, la trace de son admiration pour les Anglais, qu’elle n’était plus obligée de se contenter d’appeler comme autrefois « nos voisins d’outre-Manche », ou tout au plus « nos amis les Anglais », mais « nos loyaux alliés. » Inutile de dire qu’elle ne se faisait pas faute de citer à tout propos l’expression de fair play pour montrer les Anglais trouvant les Allemands des joueurs incorrects, et « ce qu’il faut c’est gagner la guerre, comme disent nos braves alliés ». Tout au plus associait-elle assez maladroitement le nom de son gendre à tout ce qui touchait les soldats anglais et au plaisir qu’il trouvait à vivre dans l’intimité des Australiens aussi bien que des Ecossais, des Néo-Zélandais et des Canadiens. « Mon gendre Saint-Loup connaît maintenant l’argot de tous les braves tommies, il sait se faire entendre de ceux des plus lointains dominions et, aussi bien qu’avec le général commandant la base, fraternise avec le plus humble private 15. »

Ainsi, Odette bat en brèche la hiérarchie des classes sociales, mais étant donné le penchant sexuel de Saint-Loup, on pourrait aussi décoder dans cet emploi de l’anglais une allusion à ses rapports intimes avec les alliés. Selon l’argumentaire de mon livre Proust’s Cup of Tea : Homoeroticism and Victorian Culture16, Proust associe l’homosexualité à la langue et la culture anglaises. À commencer par le mot « fast » utilisé dans le premier portrait que le narrateur campe d’Albertine17. Proust joue avec l’ambigüité de la langue, lorsqu’il met une citation de Shakespeare dans la bouche de Saint-Loup : « la question n’est pas comme pour Hamlet d’être ou de ne pas être, mais d’en être ou de ne pas en être18. » Cette citation se réfère à l’inclusion à une certaine coterie sociale (le clan des Verdurin) mais, dans le contexte plus général de Sodome et Gomorrhe, la phrase revêt la valeur d’une carte d’identité homosexuelle.

Le langage intermédiaire du roman de Proust véhicule les oscillations de l’entre-deux sexuel, social et temporel. Le texte de La Recherche qui navigue entre le temps perdu et le temps retrouvé est jonché de mots anglais qui participent à la représentation de la société mondaine d’avant la guerre tout en frayant un chemin du côté de Sodome et Gomorrhe. La question de comment traduire les mots anglais enchâssés dans le texte français se pose donc lors de sa traduction en anglais. Faut-il garder le jeu entre les deux langues en préservant la touche de l’étrangeté ou peut-on l’aplanir en laissant les mots anglais de la version originale se fondre dans la traduction ?

COMMENT TRADUIRE L’ANGLAIS DU TEXTE-SOURCE FRANÇAIS AU TEXTE-CIBLE ANGLAIS

Le traducteur du texte de Proust bute contre les mots anglais dans la version originale et s’efforce de maintenir leur saveur dans la version anglaise. Un simple transfert du mot anglais dans le texte-source français au texte-cible anglais gommerait son caractère étranger et atténuerait la façon dont il fait irruption dans le texte de Proust. Une telle opération correspondrait à la dernière pratique de déformation définie par Antoine Berman dans son analytique de la traduction, à savoir l’effacement de la superposition des langues dans un texte19. Ne pas traduire les rapports de tension et d’intégration des mots étrangers dans le texte d’origine voudrait dire rendre homogène un texte qui était à l’origine hétérogène, et aurait pour effet d’annuler ce que Berman appelle « l’épreuve de l’étranger ».

Le traducteur a souvent recours à la typographie pour faire ressortir l’étrangeté du mot anglais dans le texte d’origine, étrangeté qui peut se doubler, comme nous l’avons vu, d’un emploi approximatif du terme anglais. L’adoption du mot « smoking » par le français ? que Proust explique par « une anglomanie mal informée20 » ? montre comment le passage d’une langue à une autre change le sens du mot. Le français a en effet intégré le mot « smoking jacket » dans son lexique en 1888, en l’abrégeant à « smoking » et en l’utilisant pour désigner non pas une veste en velours avec une ceinture à noeud, mais ce que les anglais appellent « a dinner jacket » et les américains un « tuxedo ». L’emploi de « smoking » (dont on trouve une vingtaine d’occurrences dans le texte de Proust) relève non seulement de son statut de mot étranger, mais aussi d’un usage particulier de ce mot qui marque la différence, ou un léger décalage avec son usage normal. Le narrateur de La Recherche compare le Duc de Guermantes à un « Hercule en “ smoking ” », avant de commenter cet anglicisme : « puisqu’en France on donne à toute chose plus ou moins britannique le nom qu’elle ne porte pas en Angleterre21. » Le traducteur peut se permettre de garder le terme « smoking » sans le modifier, car la façon dont il détonne légèrement dans un contexte anglais reproduit l’effet de l’original : « this Hercules in his “ smoking ” (for in France anything that is the least bit British gets given the name it happens not to have in England)22. » La typographie met l’étrangeté du mot en relief, en doublant d’italiques les guillemets de la version originale. L’emploi d’un terme impropre est chargé de sens ici, car il indique que le Duc n’est pas à sa place dans ce café-concert populaire, et qu’il essaie de se faire passer pour le mari fidèle alors que nous le savons un véritable Don Juan.

La façon dont Odette emprunte une expression anglaise pour la faire sienne a pour résultat la fabrication d’un idiome à elle. Elle modifie le sens de « meeting » que l’anglais utilise le plus souvent pour désigner une réunion politique lorsqu’elle invite le narrateur à « une réunion mondaine chez des amis des Swann (ce que celle-ci appelait “ un petit meeting ”)23 ». La dernière traduction de Proust précise que dans son emploi erroné du terme, Odette se forge un anglais à elle : « a social gathering at the house of one of the Swanns’own friends (what M me Swann called in her English a little “meeting”)24 ».

Les anglicismes d’Odette caractérisent son salon, où le protocole diffère de celui que connaît le jeune narrateur proustien. Y aller équivaut à un voyage à l’étranger, et à la traversée d’un fuseau horaire. Le « lunch » auquel Odette invite le narrateur est en décalage horaire par rapport au déjeuner servi chez lui, à 11 h 30. Il se trouve donc suspendu dans le temps, avec une heure à perdre dans un entre-deux temporel et géographique entre chez lui et chez les Swann. Son entrée chez eux a quelque chose de féerique et d’irréel, comme s’il était transporté dans un autre monde :

À midi et demi, je me décidais enfin à entrer dans cette maison qui, comme un gros soulier de Noël, me semblait devoir m’apporter de surnaturels plaisirs. (Le nom de Noël était du reste inconnu à M me Swann et à Gilberte qui l’avaient remplacé par celui de Christmas, et ne parlaient que du pudding de Christmas, et de ce qu’on leur avait donné pour leur Christmas, de s’absenter-ce qui me rendait fou de douleur-pour Christmas. Même à la maison, je me serais cru déshonoré en parlant de Noël, et je ne disais plus que Christmas, ce que mon père trouvait extrêmement ridicule.)25

Le traducteur le plus récent de ce volume de La Recherche, James Grieve, a reproduit le relief de l’interaction des deux langues à l’aide d’italiques et en gardant quelques mots français dans sa traduction, introduisant aussi un anglicisme en appelant les cadeaux « des présents » :

By half-past twelve, I would have plucked up the courage to enter the house which, like a great Christmas stocking, seemed to promise supernatural delights. The French word Noël, by the way, was never heard from the lips of M me Swann or Gilberte. They had replaced it by the English word and spoke of le pudding de Christmas, of the présents de Christmas which they had been given, of going away (which gave me an unbearable pang) pour Christmas. At home, it would have been beneath my dignity to speak of Noël ; and I went about talking of le Christmas, in the teeth of my father’s ridicule26.

Cette traduction met en pratique la stratégie de la compensation dont parle Peter Newmark dans About Translation : « puns, alliterations, rhyme, slang, metaphor, pregnant words-all these can be compensated, if the game is worth the candle […]27. » On peut aussi noter que la traduction opère une transposition culturelle en traduisant « le soulier », qui selon la coutume française se met devant la cheminée à Noël, par le « stocking », qu’on suspend au manteau de cheminée en Angleterre. Ce passage saturé de la répétition du mot « Christmas » illustre comment le narrateur proustien savoure le mot étranger qui pimente le familier et le commun.

Il fait ainsi écho à l’exemple cité par Deleuze et Guattari de la façon dont Kafka enfant répétait un mot qu’il venait d’entendre et « dont le sens n’est que vaguement pressenti, pour le faire vibrer sur lui-même28 », pour le plaisir du mot dans la bouche.

La traduction met en pratique différentes stratégies de compensation et d’équivalence pour garder l’hétérogénéité linguistique du texte source. Proust se sert de la langue intermédiaire représentant l’entre-deux pour rendre compte d’une expérience de la mémoire involontaire qui a lieu dans la cour de l’hôtel des Guermantes. Il fait trébucher la langue lorsqu’il décrit comment le narrateur trébuche sur les pavés inégaux en employant un mot à résonance anglaise-wattman ? mais qui n’existe pas en anglais :

J’étais entré dans la cour de l’hôtel de Guermantes et dans ma distraction je n’avais pas vu une voiture qui s’avançait ; au cri du wattman je n’eus que le temps de me ranger vivement de côté, et je reculai assez pour buter malgré moi contre les pavés assez mal équarris derrière lesquels était une remise. Mais au moment où, me remettant d’aplomb, je posai mon pied sur un pavé qui était un peu moins élevé que le précédent, tout mon découragement s’évanouit devant la même félicité [que m’avait donnée] […] la saveur d’une madeleine trempée dans une infusion29.

Le français a créé l’antonomase « wattman » (à partir du nom propre de l’ingénieur écossais James Watt) pour désigner le mécanicien chargé de la conduite d’une automobile électrique ou d’un tramway, alors qu’il s’agit d’un emprunt erroné de l’anglais. La traduction de Terence Kilmartin garde une touche de langue étrangère en remplaçant le « wattman » de la version originale par le mot français « chauffeur », adopté par l’anglais aussi récemment que 189930.

Proust fait aussi appel à l’anglais dans le contexte de l’homosexualité, par exemple, pour décrire la démarche du baron de Charlus, qui franchit le seuil du salon des Verdurin :

Bien qu’il eût demandé à son corps de rendre manifeste (au moment où il entrait chez les Verdurin) toute la courtoisie d’un grand seigneur, ce corps […] déploya, au point que le baron eût mérité l’épithète de lady-like, toutes les séductions d’une grande dame31.

La traduction préserve la saveur du texte original, en laissant l’expression française « grande dame » dans le texte anglais, et met en valeur l’adjectif « lady-like » en le positionnant en fin de phrase et en le rehaussant de guillemets :

Although he had demanded of his body that it manifest (at the moment of entering the Verdurins’house) all the courtesy of a great nobleman, that body […] deployed all the seductiveness of a grande dame, to the point that the Baron might have merited the epithet of “ lady-like ”32.

La traduction opère donc ce que Basil Hatim et Ian Mason appellent une compensation par déplacement : « It matters less where exactly the impression is conveyed than that it is conveyed to an equivalent extent33. »

LA PHRASE « I DON’T SPEAK FRENCH » DANS SON CONTEXTE

L’association de la langue anglaise et de l’homosexualité est inscrite dans la seule phrase entière en langue anglaise du roman de Proust. De façon significative, elle se trouve dans Sodome et Gomorrhe, que Proust consacre explicitement à l’homosexualité. Elle fait partie du récit de la soirée chez la Princesse de Guermantes où l’arrivée des invités est annoncée par un « huissier ». Or l’huissier de la Princesse en est, et avait quelques jours auparavant partagé des plaisirs sexuels avec un des cousins de la Princesse, le Duc de Châtellerault, tout en ignorant son identité. La phrase en anglais s’insère dans le passage suivant :

Il y avait quelqu’un qui, ce soir-là comme les précédents, pensait beaucoup au duc de Châtellerault, sans soupçonner du reste qui il était : c’était l’huissier (qu’on appelait dans ce temps-là « l’aboyeur ») de M me de Guermantes. M. de Châtellerault, bien loin d’être un des intimes – comme il était l’un des cousins – de la princesse, était reçu dans son salon pour la première fois. Ses parents, brouillés avec elle depuis dix ans, s’étaient réconciliés depuis quinze jours, et forcés d’être ce soir absents de Paris, avaient chargé leur fils de les représenter. Or, quelques jours auparavant, l’huissier de la princesse avait rencontré dans les Champs-Elysées un jeune homme qu’il avait trouvé charmant mais dont il n’avait pu arriver à établir l’identité. Non que le jeune homme ne se fût montré aussi aimable que généreux. Toutes les faveurs que l’huissier s’était figuré avoir à accorder à un monsieur si jeune, il les avait au contraire reçues. Mais M. de Châtellerault était aussi froussard qu’imprudent ; il était d’autant plus décidé à ne pas dévoiler son incognito qu’il ignorait à qui il avait à faire ; il aurait eu une peur bien plus grande-quoique mal fondée-s’il l’avait su. Il s’était borné à se faire passer pour un Anglais, et à toutes les questions passionnées de l’huissier désireux de retrouver quelqu’un à qui il devait tant de plaisir et de largesses, le duc s’était borné à répondre, tout le long de l’avenue Gabriel : “ I do not speak french34. ”

Charles K. Scott Moncrieff traduit :

There was one person who, on that evening as on the previous evenings, had been thinking a great deal about the Duc de Châtellerault, without however suspecting who he was : this was the usher (styled at that time the aboyeur) of M me de Guermantes. M. de Châtellerault, so far from being one of the Princess’s intimate friends, albeit he was one of her cousins, had been invited to her house for the first time. His parents, who had not been on speaking terms with her for the last ten years, had been reconciled to her within the last fortnight, and, obliged to be out of Paris that evening, had requested their son to fill their place. Now, a few days earlier, the Princess’s usher had met in the Champs-Elysées a young man whom he had found charming but whose identity he had been unable to establish. Not that the young man had not shewn himself as obliging as he had been generous. All the favours that the usher had supposed that he would have to bestow upon so young a gentleman, he had on the contrary received. But M. de Châtellerault was as reticent as he was rash ; he was all the more determined not to disclose his incognito since he did not know with what sort of person he was dealing ; his fear would have been far greater, although quite unfounded, if he had known. He had confined himself to posing as an Englishman, and to all the passionate questions with which he was plied by the usher, desirous to meet again a person to whom he was indebted for so much pleasure and so ample a gratuity, the Duke had merely replied, from one end of the Avenue Gabriel to the other : “ I do not speak French35. ”

Voici la révision proposée par Terence Kilmartin et revue par D. J. Enright :

There was one person who, on that evening as on the previous evenings, had been thinking a great deal about the Duc de Châtellerault, without however suspecting who he was : this was the Princesse de Guermantes’s usher (styled at that time the “ barker ”). M. de Châtellerault, so far from being one of the Princess’s intimate friends, although he was one of her cousins, had been invited to her house for the first time. […] He had confined himself to posing as an Englishman, and to all the passionate questions with which he was plied by the usher, desirous to meet again a person to whom he was indebted for so much pleasure and largesse, the Duke had merely replied, from one end of the Avenue Gabriel to the other : “ I do not speak French36. ”

Voici enfin la traduction la plus récente, signée John Sturrock :

On that, as on the preceding evenings, there was someone who had the Duc de Châtellerault very much on his mind, without, however, suspecting who he was : this was Mme de Guermantes’s doorman (known in those days as the’barker’). M. de Châtellerault, very far from being an intimate – as he was of the cousins – of the Princesse, was being received in her drawing-room for the first time. […] He had merely passed himself off as an Englishman, and to all the doorman’s impassioned questions, who was eager to see someone to whom he was indebted for so much pleasure and largesse again, the Duc had merely answered in English, all the way along the Avenue Gabriel, “ I do not speak French37. ”

29Constatons tout d’abord que Proust propose une traduction d’ordre « intralinguistique », pour utiliser le terme de Roman Jakobson, c’est-dire un mot français est traduit par un mot français38, car le terme désuet d’« aboyeur » est actualisé par l’emploi du mot « huissier ». Les deux phrases suivantes ont été source d’erreurs pour les premiers traducteurs de Proust qui ont mal compris le français : le Duc de Châtellerault et sa famille étaient en froid avec les Guermantes suite à une querelle, et donc l’incise « comme il était l’un des cousins » veut dire « puisque » ou « parce que ». La traduction de John Sturrock est bonne (« as he was one of the cousins »), mais ni Scott-Moncrieff ni Kilmartin n’en traduisent le sens. Celui-là traduit « albeit » ; celui-ci pense corriger l’erreur alors qu’il en commet une autre : « although ». La traduction de la phrase « M. de Châtellerault était reçu dans son salon » pose problème dans toutes les versions. La Princesse de Guermantes a un « salon » dans le sens qu’elle organise des réunions mondaines, celle dont il est question ici ayant lieu principalement dans les jardins de son hôtel particulier et non pas à l’intérieur. Il faut donc entendre « salon » dans le sens d’une réception mondaine et non pas la désignation d’un lieu comme le font les traducteurs de Proust (« her house », « her drawing room »). Une traduction anglaise qui garde le mot français en italiques aurait pu servir de référence à ce phénomène culturel.

La phrase avant la conclusion du passage a également donné lieu à des traductions qui méritent commentaire. Dans le contexte, la nature du plaisir et des largesses accordées si généreusement est claire, même si elle n’est pas explicite. L’huissier n’est pas un jeune prostitué, et le duc ne lui donne pas d’argent. Pour garder le non-dit de l’original, la traduction pourrait laisser « largesse » sans préciser de quelle largesse il s’agit.

Enfin, de peur de compromettre sa réputation comme membre de l’aristocratie, le Duc se cache derrière la langue étrangère en formulant une phrase en anglais qui essaie de nier son identité française. Le paragraphe que nous sommes en train d’étudier était ajouté aux épreuves de la première version publiée de cette partie du roman, qui est parue en 1921 sous forme d’un long extrait dans la revue Les Oeuvres libres39. Proust souligne la phrase qu’il inscrit sur les épreuves comme indication qu’il faut la mettre en italiques. Le premier mot est biffé et difficile à déchiffrer : Proust a peut-être écrit « And do not speak French », auquel cas la conjonction suggère la continuation d’un dialogue en anglais, ou bien Proust a voulu écrire au départ « A do not », où le « A » servirait de transcription phonétique d’une mauvaise prononciation de « I ». Le « f » minuscule dans « french » respecte les règles de typographie française, car l’anglais exige la lettre majuscule en ce cas. Ce signe typographique fonctionne comme une transcription de l’accent français du duc lorsqu’il prononce la phrase en anglais. La graphie de Proust est révélatrice, car on relève une faute d’orthographe sur « speack » qui semble transcrire la prononciation du mot par un étranger.

Perdu et retrouvé : ces deux termes constituant la trame du texte de La Recherche se rapportent aussi bien à la traduction des mots anglais de Proust. Ce qui est perdu dans la traduction d’un mot peut être retrouvé dans la traduction d’un autre, par un jeu de compensation ou de déplacement. Cependant les cas étudiés ici montrent que les mots anglais de Proust-tels que « lady-like » ou « smoking » ? sont rebelles à la traduction. Ils font trébucher la langue, et le traducteur qui bute contre eux doit déployer toutes sortes de stratégies pour rendre leur effet d’intrusion intempestive, de perte d’équilibre, de vacillement sémantique. Ces mots anglais ont beau être des pierres d’achoppement pour le traducteur, ce sont des pierres précieuses incrustées dans la poétique de l’étranger proustien.

Bibliographie

BIBLIOGRAPHIE COMPLÉMENTAIRE

Eells Emily, Proust’s Cup of Tea : Homoeroticism and Victorian Culture, Aldershot, G. B., Ashgate, 2002.

Traductions anglaises d’À la recherche du temps perdu

Remembrance of Things Past, Scott Moncrieff Charles Kenneth (trad.), Londres, Chatto&Windus, 1922-1931.

Remembrance of Things Past, Kilmartin Terence (trad.), Londres, Penguin Books, 1983.

In Search of Lost Time, Enright D. J. (trad.), Londres, Chatto&Windus, 1992.

In Search of Lost Time, Prendergast Christopher (dir.), Londres, Allen Lane Publishing, 2002.

Notes

1 Proust Marcel, Contre Sainte-Beuve, Clarac Pierre et Sandre Yves (éd.), Paris, Gallimard, « de la Pléiade », 1971, p. 305.

2 Deleuze Gilles, « Bégaya-t-il», in Critique et Clinique, Paris, Les Éditions de Minuit, 1993, p. 138

3 Proust Marcel, Correspondance, Kolb Philip (éd.), vol. 8, Paris, Plon, 1981, p. 276.

4 Karlin Daniel, Proust’s English, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2005.

5 Voir à ce propos Boyer-Weinmann Martine, « et Outre-langue : Fonctions de la citation (à peu près) anglaise dans À la recherche du temps perdu », in Citer la langue de l’autre. Mots étrangers dans le roman, de Proust à W. G. Sebald, Perrot-Corpet Danielle et Queffelec Christine (dir.), Lyon, Presses universitaires de Lyon, 2007, p. 25.

6 Proust Marcel, Correspondance, Kolb Philip (éd.), vol. 10, Paris, Plon, 1983, p. 320-321.

7 Proust Marcel, À la recherche du temps perdu, Tadié Jean-Yves (dir.), Paris, Gallimard, « de la Pléiade », en quatre volumes (1987-1989) ; vol. 3, p. 328. Les références suivantes utilisent l’abréviation RTP, le numéro du volume en chiffres romains et le numéro de la page en chiffres arabes.

8 Proust Marcel, Cities of the Plain, Scott Moncrieff Charles Kenneth (trad.), New York, A & C Boni, 1927, p. 115.

9 Mounin Georges, Les Belles Infidèles. Essai sur la traduction, Paris, Cahiers du Sud, 1955.

10 RTP II 695.

11 RTP II 835.

12 Gourmont Rémy de, Esthétique de la langue française, Paris, Mercure de France, 1899, p. 87

13 RTP IV 368.

14 RTP I 572-3.

15 RTP IV 368.

16 Publié en 2002 à Aldershot, G. B., par les Éditions Ashgate.

17 RTP I 503.

18 RTP IV 410.

19 Berman Antoine, « traduction comme épreuve de l’étranger », in Texte. Revue de critique et de théorie littéraire (4), 1985, p. 71.

20 RTP I 483.

21 RTP II 771.

22 Proust Marcel, The Guermantes Way, Treharne Mark (trad.), Londres, Allen Lane Publishing, 2002, p. 479.

23 RTP I 516.

24 Proust Marcel, In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower, Grieve James (trad.), Londres, Allen Lane Publishing, 2002, p. 101.

25 RTP I 517.

26 Proust Marcel, In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower, Grieve James (trad.), Londres, Allen Lane Publishing, 2002, p. 102.

27 Newmark Peter, About Translation, Londres, Clevedon Press, « Matters », 1991, p. 144.

28 Deleuze Gilles et Guattari Félix, Kafka. Pour une littérature mineure, Paris, Les Éditions de Minuit, 1975, p. 38.

29 RTP IV 445.

30 Proust Marcel, Remembrance of Things Past, Kilmartin, Terence (trad.), Londres, Penguin Books, 1983, vol. 3, p. 898.

31 RTP III 300.

32 Proust Marcel, Sodom and Gomorrah, Sturrock John (trad.), Londres, Allen Lane Publishing, 2002, p. 306.

33 Hatim Basil et Mason Ian, Discourse and the Translator, Londres, Longman, 1990, p. 210.

34 RTP III 35. Ici et dans les citations suivantes j’ai mis en gras les phrases qui sont en rapport avec les questions de traduction soulevées.

35 Remembrance of Things Past. Cities of the Plain, Scott Moncrieff C. K. (trad. 1927), New York, Alfred A Knopf, 1929, p. 48-9.

36 Remembrance of Things Past. Cities of the Plain, Scott Moncrieff C. K. (trad. 1927), revue par Terence Kilmartin (1981), deuxième révision par D. J. Enright (1992). Cité ici de In Search of Lost Time, Londres, Chatto & Windus, 1992, vol. 4, p. 40.

37 In Search of Lost Time. Sodom and Gomorrah, Sturrock John (trans.), London, Allen Lane Publishing, 2002, p. 40.

38 Jakobson Roman, « Linguistic Aspects of Translation », in On Translation, Brower Reuben A. (dir.), Cambridge (Mass.), Harvard University Press, 1959, p. 233.

39 Les épreuves corrigées de cette prépublication se trouvent à la Bibliothèque nationale de France, Cabinet des Manuscrits. Je cite ici N. A. Fr 16728 f° 31.

Voir aussi:

PROUST ÉTAIT UN NEUROSCIENTIFIQUE
Ces artistes qui ont devancé les hommes de sciences
Jonah LEHRER

Traduit par
Hayet DHIFALLAH
La science a besoin de l’art pour exprimer la dimension du mystère, mais l’art a besoin de la science pour que tout ne demeure pas mystère.

Ce livre s’intéresse à des artistes qui ont découvert, avant les neurosciences, des vérités sur l’esprit humain – réelles, tangibles –, que la science commence à peine à redécouvrir. Alors que la connaissance scientifique et objective de l’univers progresse grâce aux expériences menées par les spécialistes, le neuroscientifique Jonah Lehrer a constaté une chose très surprenante – du moins pour les esprits trop rationnels qui ne croient qu’à la mesure et à la quantification : certains écrivains ou artistes, supposés n’inventer que de belles histoires (récits, tableaux, symphonies, etc.) ont fait des découvertes majeures sur notre cerveau. C’est après la lecture de Marcel Proust et sa gigantesque oeuvre construite sur la mémoire que le scientifique a acquis cette conviction : il a été possible, par des voies autres que celles de la science, d’anticiper des découvertes contemporaines.

Jonah Lehrer s’est alors attelé à la tâche de découvrir plusieurs autres  » précurseurs  » inattendus, et de cette recherche personnelle est né cet ouvrage. C’est ainsi que l’on retrouve trois chapitres consacrés à trois Français célèbres (sur les huit personnages que compte le livre) : Proust, bien sûr, et sa méthode de la mémoire ; mais aussi un grand cuisinier comme Auguste Escoffier, et « l’essence du goût » ; ou encore ce maître de la peinture que fut Paul Cézanne, et son « processus de la vision ». Les amateurs de littérature et de poésie retrouveront aussi Virginia Woolf ou Walt Whitman ; les amateurs de musique Igor Stravinsky…

Il n’est pas inutile de préciser, comme le fait remarquer Jonah Lehrer, que l’extrême précision de leurs découvertes coïncide avec l’intérêt profond que ces artistes eurent pour la science de leur époque, que ce soit en biologie, psychologie, chimie, etc. « Un jour, pensons-nous, la science élucidera tout », rappelle l’auteur. Or, l’imagination des artistes « a prédit les faits à venir ». Une proposition étonnante que tout lecteur de l’ouvrage peut vérifier par lui-même. Preuve que, pour décrire le cerveau, il y a « nécessité de faire appel aux deux cultures, art et science ». Autrement dit, « d’allier les méthodes réductionnistes de la science à une investigation artistique de notre expérience ».

Voir également:

Proust Was a Neuroscientist
by Jonah Lehrer

About the Book

While an undergraduate at Columbia University, 25-year-old Rhodes scholar Jonah Lehrer worked in a neuroscience lab, trying to figure out how the mind remembers. At the same time, he happened to be taking a course in twentieth-century French Literature, and began reading Proust. He would often bring his copy of Swann’s Way to the lab, and read a few pages while waiting for an experiment to finish.

All he expected from Proust was a little entertainment, but he began to see a surprising convergence. Proust’s narrator recovers his childhood memories when he bites into the madeleine, revealing crucial things about memory that neuroscientists didn’t uncover until 2001: first, that memory is uniquely tied to taste and smell. And, second, as Proust so thoroughly examines, memory is fallible.

This led Lehrer to start thinking about other artists who anticipated modern neuroscience, and he realized that there was a whole group of artists that had discovered truths about the human mind – real, tangible truths – that science is only now re-discovering.

In PROUST WAS A NEUROSCIENTIST (Houghton Mifflin, November 2007) Lehrer argues that science is not the only path to knowledge. In fact, where the brain is concerned, art got there first. Taking a group of artists – a painter, a poet, a chef, a composer, and a handful of novelists – Lehrer shows how each one discovered essential truths about the human mind.

We learn how Proust first revealed the fallibility of memory; how George Eliot discovered brain plasticity; how the French chef Escoffier discovered umami (the fifth taste); how Cezanne worked out the subtleties of vision; and how Gertrude Stein exposed the deep structure of language – a full half-century before Chomsky. Lehrer reveals that the newfangled facts of science provide a whole new way to appreciate our fictions. He helps us revisit the classics and see them through a new and fascinating prism.

Also, Lehrer notes, scientists describe our brain in terms of its physical details; they say we are nothing but a loom of electrical cells and synaptic spaces. But, what science forgets is that this isn’t how we experience the world. (We feel like the ghost in the machine, not like the machine itself.) It is ironic, but true: the one reality science cannot reduce is the only reality we will ever know. This is why we need art.

About the Author
Author Jonah Lehrer, 25, is editor at large for SEED magazine. A graduate of Columbia University and a Rhodes scholar, Lehrer has worked in the lab of Nobel Prizewinning neuroscientist Eric Kandel and studied with Hermione Lee at Oxford. He’s also written for Nature, NPR and NOVA ScienceNow. He even worked as a line cook for three years in Los Angeles and NYC at Le Cirque 2000 and Le Bernardin, which inspired his chapter on Escoffier. Lehrer writes a well-trafficked blog, ‘The Frontal Cortex’: http://scienceblogs.com/cortex/. This is his first book.

A Conversation with Jonah Lehrer

Q: Where did you get the idea for Proust Was A Neuroscientist?

A: It was pure serendipity. At the time, I was working in the lab of Nobel Prize laureate Eric Kandel, investigating the molecular basis of memory. I was also studying French Literature. (I double-majored in English and Neuroscience as an undergraduate.) There was a lot of down time in the lab, so I would often read novels while waiting for an experiment to finish. One day, I found myself engrossed in Swann’s Way. As I read this epic novel about one man’s memory, I had an epiphany. I realized that Proust and modern neuroscience shared a vision of how our memory works. If you listened closely, they were actually saying the same thing.

Q: How did you select the other artists in the book?

A: It was a fun process. After I realized that Proust had anticipated these scientific theories, I suddenly started re-reading all my favorite novelists, poets and artists. What did Virginia Woolf intuit about consciousness? Why was Walt Whitman so obsessed with his “body electric”? Why did Cezanne paint in such an abstract style? Once I started asking these strange questions, I saw all sorts of connections. I realized that there was a whole group of artists that had discovered truths about the human mind—real, tangible truths—that science is only now re-discovering. Of course, I don’t intend my list to be exhaustive. These aren’t the only artists who were interested in the mind, or anticipated important facts about the mind. I hope that this book inspires other people to look at their favorite artists through the prism of neuroscience. The newfangled facts of science provide us with a whole new way to appreciate our fictions.

Q: How do you think these artists would feel about your book? Would Proust be happy that he intuited some scientific truths?

A: Proust would be thrilled. But he wouldn’t be surprised. Proust was confident that every reader, once they read his novel, would “recognize in his own self what the book says…This will be the proof of its veracity.” And Proust wasn’t the only artist who was convinced that his art was full of truth. George Eliot famously said that her art was “simply a set of experiments in life.” Virginia Woolf, before she wrote Mrs. Dalloway, said that in her new novel the “psychology should be done very realistically.” Whitman thought he was expressing deep “truths about the body and soul” that the science of his time had yet to understand. In other words, all of these artists believed that their art was capable of being literally true, just like science.

Q: How did these artists come up with so much truth?

A: Each artist had his or her own peculiar method. (And some of them, like Proust, were very peculiar.) But one thing these artists all shared was an obsession with our experience. They wanted their art to express what it was like to be alive, to be conscious, to feel, to remember, to taste, to see. They turned themselves into empiricists of ordinary life. That’s where their wisdom came from.

Q: Escoffier seems like the odd man out. After all, he’s not generally seen as an artist. Why did you decide to include a chef?

A: Escoffier defined cooking as “equal parts art and science,” and I tend to agree with him. (I also tend to agree with Brillat-Savarin, who declared that “The discovery of a new dish does more for the happiness of the human race than the discovery of a new star.”) Furthermore, I think that Escoffier demonstrates one of the larger themes of the book, which is that we can discover truths about ourselves just by paying attention to our subjective experience. After all, it’s not like Escoffier understood the molecular mechanisms behind our taste receptors. He just wanted his food to taste good, and that led him to invent recipes that accurately reflected the anatomy of our tongue.

This chapter also grew out of my own experience as a line cook. I’ve been lucky enough to work in the kitchens of some nice restaurants (Le Cirque 2000, Melisse, Le Bernardin), and I was always struck by how much chefs know about the sensation of taste, even if they aren’t familiar with the underlying cellular mechanisms. Watching a chef concoct a new dish is a lot like watching a science experiment: they put some stuff together, then taste it, then add some more stuff, then taste again, and so on. But the whole process is really empirical. A good chef is constantly testing

Q: How did these artists interact with the science of their time?

A: They were extremely engaged with their contemporary science. While the artists I discuss often disagreed with the science of their time, they always used it as a springboard. Long before C.P. Snow mourned the separation of our two cultures, Whitman was busy studying brain anatomy textbooks and watching gruesome surgeries, George Eliot was reading Darwin and James Clerk Maxwell, Stein was conducting psychology experiments in William James’ lab, and Woolf was learning about the biology of mental illness. It is impossible to understand their art without taking into account its relationship to science.

Q: Why don’t you include any modern artists?

A: I end the book by discussing Ian McEwan’s Saturday, a novel about a neurosurgeon that embodies many of the themes I discuss throughout Proust Was A Neuroscientist. And there are many modern artists who I could have easily written about. (For example, I think Richard Powers’ recent novel The Echo Maker is a particularly eloquent meditation on the limits of neuroscience. And I could have used McEwan’s Atonement to make many of the same points about memory that I discuss in my chapter on Proust.) But I decided that the best way to demonstrate the connections between art and neuroscience was to focus on cases where artists had anticipated scientific discoveries. Perhaps in a few decades I’ll get to write a sequel to Proust Was A Neuroscientist, in which I describe how artists like McEwan and Powers anticipated the neuroscience of the 21st century.

Q: What do you want people to take away from Proust Was A Neuroscientist?

A: First of all, I hope this book compels people to look at art in a new way. I think that we’ve diminished the importance of art. We think of art as just a collection of entertaining stories and pretty paintings. But Proust and Whitman and Woolf saw themselves as truthtellers. I hope this book compels people to think about the potential of art, to reimagine what the imagination is capable of.

Of course, in order for a novel or poem to be “true” we need to redefine what the “truth” is. Our current culture subscribes to a very narrow definition of truth. If something can’t be quantified or calculated, then it can’t be true. Because this strict scientific approach has explained so much, we assume that it can explain everything. But every method, even the experimental method, has limits. Take the human mind. Scientists describe our brain in terms of its physical details; they say we are nothing but a loom of electrical cells and synaptic spaces. What science forgets is that this isn’t how we experience the world. (We feel like the ghost, not like the machine.) It is ironic, but true: the one reality science cannot reduce is the only reality we will ever know. This is why we need art.
The Five Painters, a Composer, and a Chef Who Discovered the Truth About the Mind

Marcel Proust, on memory: Proust anticipated important truths about memory: the sense of taste and smell are uniquely sentimental, memories are dishonest and do not faithfully reproduce the past, and memories are able to persist – even if we never think about them.

Walt Whitman, on feeling: Contradicting the science of his time, Whitman believed that the body and mind were profoundly connected, and that the flesh was the source of feelings. (“Behold the body includes and is the meaning, the main/Concern, and includes and is the soul,” he wrote.) Modern neuroscience now concurs, and has discovered that emotions often have a bodily source.

George Eliot, on thinking: In her time, scientists believed that people were prisoners of their genes. But, Eliot’s art consistently argued that our mind was “not cut in marble.” She believed that the most essential element of human nature was its malleability, the way we can “will ourselves to change.” She anticipated the discovery of neural plasticity.

Auguste Escoffier, on taste: Escoffier’s kitchen articulated biological truths of the tongue and his seminal recipes anticipated basic truths about the sensation of taste. He also realized that the taste of most flavors is actually a smell.

Paul Cezanne, on seeing: Though criticized as overly abstract, he wasn’t interested in pure abstraction, and always made sure that his surreal brushstrokes could be translated into real objects. With just enough information, the brain can decipher his paintings. If he left some details out, and canvas blank, it was to show what the visual cortex puts in.

Igor Stravinsky, on listening: He knew that a symphony was nothing but a collection of acoustic patterns that the brain had learned how to hear. Further, what makes music pleasurable is the tension between the melodic patterns expected and the patterns actually heard. He forced the audience to learn an entirely new set of patterns, and though this newness caused a riot at the time, he knew that the brain would adapt. He was right: he’s now considered by many to be the most influential composer of 20th-century music.

Gertrude Stein, on language: Stein exposed the “deep structure” of language, and observed “Everybody said the same thing over and over again with infinite variations but over and over again.” Stein, in anticipation of Noam Chomsky, saw the source of this sameness, to cut our words until their structure showed through.

Virginia Woolf, on consciousness: She realized that the stream of consciousness “was very erratic, very undependable.” At any given moment, her mind seemed to be scattered in a million little pieces. And yet, something bound those fleeting sensations together. Woolf’s revelation was that we emerge from our own subjective interpretations. When we sense something, we naturally invent a subject for our sensation. The self is simply this subject; it is the story we tell ourselves about our own experience. As Woolf wrote in her unfinished memoir, “We are the words; we are the music; we are the thing itself.”

Voir encore:

It is the humanities that tell us what it is like to be human, says Simon Ings

In this book, Lehrer asks why, when it comes to understanding the mind, neuroscience has been pipped to the post, not once, but time and time again, by writers, artists, composers and cooks, especially those working in the early part of the 20th century.

In the most powerful, well-argued and carefully condensed of his biographical essays, Lehrer says of the paintings of Paul Cézanne: « Instead of giving us a scene of fully realised forms, Cézanne supplies us with layers of suggestive edges, out of which forms slowly unfurl. Our vision is made of lines, and Cézanne has made the lines distressingly visible. » In other words, Cézanne got the eye right, long before Hubel and Wiesel transformed our understanding of the visual cortex in 1959. Around the time Cézanne was making migranous perceptual puzzles out of the Bibémus quarries, Gertrude Stein was working in William James’s Harvard psychology lab. Her own neuroscientific safari, attempting to abstract grammar from sense, hit a much-lampooned stylistic brick wall – but her failure was far ahead of its time, straightening paths for Noam Chomsky’s hunt (again, in the 50s) for a human’s innate, hard-wired « universal grammar ».

One of the great pleasures of this book is to read intensely felt, cogently argued apologias for people whose towering achievements you might not otherwise be able to stomach. (This card-carrying anti-modernist was persuaded – positively charmed – by Lehrer’s chapter on Virginia Woolf.)

The trouble is, in writing a series of accessible, linked essays, Lehrer deprives himself of the chance to explain why modernism ran so far ahead of contemporary science in its exploration of the working mind.

At the end of the 19th century, surrealism, occultism and psychoanalysis were all born out of a growing awareness that science, narrowly conceived, had no way of studying the mind. After all, the sciences can only study what they have the means to study, and in the first half of the 20th century, the only analytical tool capable of exploring subjectivity was « guided introspection » – a rather overworked form of meditation in which subjects tried to describe what their thinking felt like.

Artistic experimentation, informed by the science of the day, turned out to be a much more robust analytic technique, and over time perceptual-cognitive experiments of the Cézanne/Stein/Stravinsky sort have found their way into the laboratory. They have become precise, repeatable, scientifically respectable – and fodder for a shelf full of pop-science books a lot less interesting than this one. This lends Lehrer’s energetic and passionate prose a stridency he may not have meant. He seems, with his first book, to have burst, gun in hand, through a door that is already open.

He writes several too many « So-and-so was Right and Science was Wrong » passages. To say that Auguste Escoffier was « right » about the fundamental taste umami is like saying Democritus (460-370BC) was right about atoms which (let’s be clear) he jolly well wasn’t. Indeed, nobody discovers anything for ever, and nobody discovers anything first. The truth is always too complicated, the world always too big, for claims of that sort.

But it is impossible to stay grumpy with a writer who calls the three tiny bones that enable us to hear « a skeleton locked inside the ear », while dropping cheerful quips about Proust’s « weak spot for subclauses and patisserie ». Anyway, Lehrer’s central point holds. Science had, has, and always will have a problem with subjective experience.

Scientific accounts of the world offer us a user’s manual – a description of how we interact with the world. They say nothing whatsoever about the way the world really works – what vision scientist Donald Hoffman in 1998 dubbed « the relational realm »: « We might hope that the theories of science will converge to a true theory of the relational realm. This is the hope of scientific realism. But it’s a hope as yet unrealised, and a hope that cannot be proved true. »

Carried away by his own enthusiasm, Lehrer sometimes writes as if he thought scientists were unaware of their bind. Elsewhere he summarises the problem in words so right, they sing: « It is ironic but true, the one reality science cannot reduce is the only reality we will ever know. »

Not everything that is true can be proved. Lehrer’s quotation from Escoffier is well chosen: « No theory, no formula, and no recipe can take the place of experience. »

Simon Ings’s The Weight of Numbers is published by Atlantic.

Voir enfin:

Proust était un neuroscientifique sans le savoir

Jonah Lehrer

EXTRAIT

Marcel Proust

La méthode de la mémoire

Intuitions

Proust ne serait pas surpris par ses pouvoirs prophétiques. Il considérait que l’art et la science traitaient tous deux de faits (« L’impression est pour l’écrivain ce que l’expérimentation est pour le scientifique »), que seul l’artiste pouvait décrire la réalité telle qu’on la vivait réellement. Proust en était certain, tout lecteur de son roman « reconnaîtrait en lui-même ce que le livre racontait… Ceci sera la preuve de sa véracité ».

Proust apprit à croire au pouvoir étrange de l’art grâce au philosophe Henri Bergson[1]. Quand Proust entreprit l’écriture de La Recherche, Bergson était sur la voie de la célébrité. Le métaphysicien remplissait les salles de concert, les touristes intellectuels écoutaient avec une profonde attention ses conférences[2] sur l’élan vital, la comédie et « l’évolution créative ». Dans son essence, la philosophie de Bergson consistait en une résistance acharnée à une vision mécaniste de l’univers. Les lois de la science étaient bonnes pour la matière inerte, disait Bergson, pour discerner les relations entre atomes et cellules, mais qu’en était-il nous concernant ? Nous avions une conscience, une mémoire, un être. Selon Bergson, cette réalité – la réalité de notre conscience de soi – ne pouvait se prêter à une réduction ou une dissection expérimentale. Il pensait que seule l’intuition nous permettait de nous comprendre nous-mêmes, et ce processus demandait beaucoup d’introspection, des journées oisives de contemplation de nos connexions internes. C’était, en substance, une méditation pour les bourgeois.

Proust fut l’un des premiers artistes à intégrer la philosophie de Bergson. Son œuvre littéraire devint une célébration de l’intuition, de toutes les vérités que nous pouvons découvrir simplement en étant allongé sur le lit à réfléchir tranquillement. Et même si l’influence de Bergson n’était pas sans inquiéter Proust – « J’ai assez à faire, écrivit-il dans une lettre, sans essayer de faire de la philosophie de Bergson un roman ! » –, Proust ne pouvait malgré tout pas résister aux thèmes bergsoniens. En fait, l’assimilation approfondie de la philosophie de Bergson amena Proust à conclure que le roman du xixe siècle, qui privilégiait les choses par rapport aux idées, n’avait absolument rien compris. « Le type de littérature qui se satisfait de “décrire les choses”, écrivit Proust, de leur consacrer un maigre résumé en termes de lignes et de surfaces, a beau se prétendre réaliste, est en fait le plus éloigné de la réalité. » Comme le soutenait Bergson, la meilleure manière de comprendre la réalité est subjective. Et intuitive pour avoir accès à ses vérités.

Mais comment une œuvre de fiction pouvait-elle démontrer le pouvoir de l’intuition ? Comment un roman pouvait-il prouver que la réalité était, selon la formule de Bergson, « en dernier lieu spirituelle, et non physique » ? La réponse de Proust prit une forme inattendue, celle d’un petit gâteau sec au beurre parfumé au zeste de citron et en forme de coquillage. C’était là un peu de matière qui révélait « la structure de son esprit », un dessert qui pouvait « se réduire à ses éléments psychologiques ». C’est ainsi que débute la Recherche, avec la célèbre madeleine, à partir de laquelle se dévoile tout un esprit :

« Mais à l’instant même où la gorgée mêlée des miettes du gâteau toucha mon palais, je tressaillis, attentif à ce qui se passait d’extraordinaire en moi. Un plaisir délicieux m’avait envahi, isolé, sans la notion de sa cause. Il m’avait aussitôt rendu les vicissitudes de la vie indifférentes, ses désastres inoffensifs, sa brièveté illusoire, de la même façon qu’opère l’amour, en me remplissant d’une essence précieuse : ou plutôt cette essence n’était pas en moi, elle était moi. J’avais cessé de me sentir médiocre, contingent, mortel. D’où avait pu me venir cette puissante joie ? Je sentais qu’elle était liée au goût du thé et du gâteau, mais qu’elle le dépassait infiniment, ne devait pas être de même nature. D’où venait-elle ? Que signifiait-elle ? Où l’appréhender