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Chantal Akerman, “Dis Moi.” Courtesy Marian Goodman Gallery.
By Paul Ben-Itzak
Text copyright 2018 Paul Ben-Itzak
As an American who has always looked upon France as the Valhalla of Intellect and Reason, of Art and Culture, it’s been painful to hear the clarion call of Camus and Godard, of Dutronc and Brassens, of Pissarro and Cocteau, of Toulouse-Lautrec and Jane Avril, of Claude Cahun and Man Ray, of Renoir and Renoir, of Voltaire and Misia Sert almost entirely drowned out by the obsession with terrorism, Islam, and immigration which has dominated the public airwaves since the criminal massacre of 130 innocents on the café terraces and in the concert halls and stadiums of Paris and Saint-Denis of November 13, 2015. It’s as if, like their New York colleagues (Susan Sontag was a brave exception) after September 11, 2001 — witness the New York Times’s supine readiness to enable the Bush-Cheney chicaneries whenever the pendulum of “national security” was dangled before its eyes — French radio journalists have been infected with a kind of survivor’s syndrome which prevents them from analyzing events, be they cultural or civic, political or societal, outside of these paradigms. (Living in the East of Paris when and where the terrorists struck on November 13, I haven’t been immune to this syndrome, since that day often interpreting events through the prism of my own fears.) On Radio France’s putatively high-brow chain, France Culture, it’s gotten to the point where one is cumulatively more likely to hear the words Islam, immigration, terrorism, jihad, and their various derivatives than the words France and Culture, particularly on the news programs. The exceptions have been the world affairs program Culture Monde and Arnaud Laporte’s panel discussion “La Dispute,” which considers a different art form every evening. (Theater and dance Monday, music Tuesday, the plastic arts Wednesday, literature including comics Thursday, and film and t.v. series Friday, should you want to check it out, at 1 p.m. EST. Link below.) If all the knights and ladies of renaissance man Laporte’s critical round-table are informed, literate, engaged, and engaging — the best curating may be Laporte’s in choosing his team, over whose language he presides with the vigilance of a high school French teacher, making for a minimum of “voila”s — the intellectually exhilarating rhetorical perambulations, pirouettes, and sautées I look forward to following the most are Corinne Rondeau’s.
Droll, colorful, imaginative, incisive, complex without being complicated, erudite without being aloof, humble before the oeuvre and authoritative in the aesthetic background she applies to analyzing it, curious, exuding panache — in effect, the art professor of your dreams, and who confirms, in the best tradition of Clement Greenberg, Edwin Denby, Michel Ragon, Jean-Luc Godard, and Phillip Larkin, that criticism can be its own art form — Rondeau not only knows her material but knows how to sell her arguments. So when I heard that Editions de l’éclat had just published a 125-page essay by my critical chou-chou (whose previous book took on Sontag) on one of my cinematic cheries, the late Chantal Akerman, I couldn’t wait to turn off my radio and sink my mandibles into something that instead of feeding my anxieties promised to stimulate my intellect and my appetite for art.
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Among the precious books and manuscripts sold off last week at Artcurial Paris were, above, one of a limited edition of 22 vellum copies of Max Jacob’s 1917 Surrealist classic “The Dice Cup” (Le Cornet à dés) with color gouaches by Jean Hugo (1894-1984; Victor’s great-grandson), in wood engravings by Jules Germain, Robert Armanelli, and André Marliat, published in 1948 by the Nouvelle Revue Française. Estimated pre-sale by France’s largest auction house at between 200 and 300 Euros, the book and its case sold for 227 Euros. Jacob (b. 1876), an intimate of Picasso, Cocteau (he is said to have introduced them), and Apollinaire who converted to Christianity before the first World War and actively proselytized, was arrested as Jewish in 1944 and died in the Drancy transfer prison outside Paris before he could be deported. Click here to read an example from the book. Image courtesy and copyright Artcurial.
By Max Jacob
Copyright Editions Pierre Seghers 1946
Translated by Paul Ben-Itzak
If you think John Cage and Merce Cunningham were the first to toss a dice cup to create surrealist art, think again. First featured in “The Dice Cup” or “Le Cornet à dés,” published by Jacob himself in 1917. Selected by Andre Billy for inclusion in the album dedicated to the colleague of Cocteau and Picasso as part of the “Poetes d’aujourd’hui” series and published by Pierre Seghers in 1946, two years after Jacob died in the Drancy camp as he was being deported from France.
During a performance of “For the Crown” in the Paris Opera House, at the precise moment that Desdemona was singing out “My father is in Goritz and my heart is in Paris,” a shot rang out in a fifth floor lodge, then a second in the orchestra seats and instantly rope ladders were unfurled and a man began descending from the rafters; a bullet stopped him at the balcony level. Everyone in the audience was packing, and the house was full of … and of …. Neighbors were gunned down, jets of petrol ignited. The lodges were attacked, the stage was attacked, the standing room only section was attacked, and this battle lasted 18 days. It’s possible that the two sides were provisioned, I don’t know, but what I do know for certain is that the journalists converged on this gruesome spectacle, and that one of them, being under the weather, sent his mother, who was fascinated by the sangfroid of a young French gentleman who held his ground on the lip of the stage for 18 days sustained by nothing but a little bouillon. This episode of the War of the Balconies worked wonders for voluntary enlistment in the provinces. On the banks of my river alone, under my trees, I know three brothers in spanking new uniforms who embraced each other dry-eyed while their families were in the attic looking for their woolies.