André Breton
André Breton; drawing by David Levine

A Legendary Meeting

In 1941, on his way to exile in America, André Breton stopped in Martinique. First he was interned by the Vichy sympathizers then in power, then released a few days later. Walking around Fort-de-France, he went into a haberdasher’s, where he found an issue of a local review, Tropiques (“Tropics”). He was bedazzled. At that dark hour of his life, it seemed to him like a bright ray of poetry and of hope. He soon became acquainted with the editors,young men in their twenties led by Aimé Césaire, and spent all his time with them. Heartening pleasure for Breton. Aesthetic inspiration and unforgettable fascination for the Martiniquais.

A few years later, in 1945, Breton made a brief visit to Port-au-Prince, in Haiti, to give a lecture. All the island’s intellectuals attended, including two very young writers, Jacques Stephen Alexis and René Depestre. They listened with rapt attention, as the Martiniquais had done years before. Their review, La Ruche (“The Beehive”)—another review! for it was a great age of small reviews, an age that is no more—published a special issue on Breton. The issue was impounded, and La Ruche was banned.

For the Haitians, the meeting was as brief as it was unforgettable. I said: meeting. Not acquaintance, nor friendship, nor even alliance. A meeting: a spark; a flash; a happenstance. Alexis was then twenty-three, Depestre nineteen. They had only a superficial knowledge of surrealism, and knew nothing, for instance, of its political position (of the schism inside the movement). Their eagerness to learn was equaled only by their ignorance; they fell under Breton’s spell, under the spell of his revolt, and of his aesthetics, which set the imagination free.

In 1946, Alexis and Depestre founded the Haitian Communist Party and began writing works along revolutionary lines. It was being done all over the world in those days, and all over the world such writing was necessarily influenced by Russia and by its doctrine of socialist realism. But the Haitians’ master was not Gorky, but André Breton. They didn’t talk of socialist realism; their recipe was literature “of the marvelous.” Alexis and Depestre were soon forced to leave the country. Then Alexis returned to Haiti in 1961, intending to carry on the fight. He was arrested, tortured, killed. He was thirty-nine.

A Many-handed Meeting

A work of art is a crossroads; the number of paths that meet in it seems to me to be closely related to the work’s artistic value. I would like to say the same about people. I have Aimé Césaire in mind: he is the great founder: the founder of Martiniquais politics, which did not exist before him. But he was also, simultaneously, the founder of Martiniquais literature; his Cahier d’un retour au pays natal (an utterly original poem which is like nothing else that I know; according to Breton, “the greatest lyrical monument of our age”) is as fundamental for Martinique (and no doubt for the whole of the Caribbean) as Mickiewicz’s Pan Tadeusz is for the Poles, or the poetry of Petöfi for the Hungarians. In other words, Césaire is a founder twice over: two foundations (political and literary) meet in him.

But unlike Mickiewicz and Petöfi, Césaire is not just a founder-poet, he is also a modern poet, an heir of Rimbaud and Breton. The period of the founders is in the past, it is they who set in train the evolution which reached its high point in modernism. If Césaire is both a foundation-poet and a modern one, then that means that two different periods, the beginning and the end, meet in his work.

Tropiques, which brought out nine issues between 1941 and 1945, deals systematically with three main topics; put beside each other, these three subjects make a singular meeting, which takes place in no other avant-garde review in the world:

1) The political and cultural emancipation of Martinique: articles exploring roots in slavery; exploring African culture; polemics against the Church, against Vichy; reviews of the political and cultural scene in Martinique; first steps in thinking about “negritude” (it was Césaire who first launched the word, as a provocation, seeking to remove the pejorative connotation from the word négre, “Negro”);

2) Lessons in modern art and poetry: articles in praise of the heroes of modern poetry—Rimbaud, Lautréamont, Mallarmé, Breton; from issue 3, it becomes an explicitly surrealist review (we should note that these young men, though highly political, did not sacrifice poetry to politics: for them, surrealism was in the first place an artistic movement); their identification with surrealism is boyishly intense, and affects even their style, with sentences modeled on the syntax of Breton’s “beauty will be a convulsion or will not be.” Under Breton’s influence (“the marvelous is always beautiful, any kind of marvelous is beautiful, in fact, only the marvelous is beautiful”), the word “marvelous” became the password; Lautréamont’s formula, “as beautiful as when a sewing machine meets an umbrella” (which the surrealists made famous) is often imitated:Césaire: “Lautréamont’s poetry, as beautiful as an eviction order…” Breton: “The language of Aimé Césaire, as beautiful as precipitating oxygen…”;

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3) The foundation of Martiniquais patriotism: the wish to grasp the island as a national home, as a homeland which must be known through and through: a long article on the animals of Martinique; another on the island’s flora and on the origins of local plant-names; above all, popular forms of art, with reproductions and explanations of stories told in Creole.

On folk art, there is this observation to make: in Europe, it was discovered by the Romantics (Brentano, Achim von Arnim, the Brothers Grimm; Liszt, Chopin, Brahms, etc., in music), which is why modern artists view an interest in the popular as old hat, with two major exceptions all the same: Bartók and Janácek, to which you could add Stravinsky for a short part of his career. They did not take from folk music what the Romantics had, but forgotten tonalities, unheard rhythms, strengths, and directness that “serious” music had lost long before: learning about folk art confirmed them in their artistic nonconformity. The Martiniquais had an identical attitude. The fantastic aspects of folk tales were for them consubstantial with the freedom of the imagination proclaimed by the Surrealists.

Meeting of a Perpetually Erect Umbrella and a Sewing Machine Making

Uniforms and Shrouds
René Depestre. I am reading his collection of short stories entitled, symptomatically, Alléluia pour une femmejardin (“Hallelujah for a garden-woman”). Depestre’s eroticism: all his women gush with sexuality to such a degree that the street signs turn around to leer at them. And the men are so lascivious that they’ll make love during a lecture, an operation, in a space rocket, on a trapeze. All for pleasure unadorned; no moral, existential, or psychological problems are involved, we are in a world where vice and innocence are one and the same thing. Intoxicated Iyricism of that kind usually bores me; if I had been told about Depestre’s books in advance, I would not have opened them.

Fortunately, I read Depestre without knowing what I was going to find, and the best thing that can befall a reader happened to me: I liked what I should not have liked on principle, or by my nature. If anyone only slightly less talented than he tried to express the same things, the result would be caricature; but Depestre is a real poet, or, to say it in French-Caribbean style, a true master of the marvelous. His achievement is to have put on the map of human existence the previously unexplored reaches of innocent and joyful eroticism, the near-impossible paradise of unbridled sex.

I go on to other stories from the collection entitled Eros dans un train chinois (“Eros on a Chinese Train”), and I pause over stories set in communist countries, which, at the height of the Stalinist period, opened their arms to Depestre. With fond astonishment I think of the black poet with his head full of crazy sex-dreams crossing the great communist desert, puritanical beyond belief, where the smallest erotic license had a terrible price.

Depestre and the communist world: the meeting of a perpetually erect umbrella and a sewing machine making uniforms and shrouds. He tells love stories: of an affair with a Chinese woman who for one night of love is banished for nine years to a leprosarium in Turkestan; with a Yugoslav who barely escapes having her head shaved, the standard punishment at that time for all Yugoslavs caught sleeping with a foreigner. As I read these few stories, our whole age suddenly seems to me strange and unreal, as implausible as the mere nightmare of a poet.

Friendship

The Communist Party’s hatred of Andre Breton, “the traitor,” is well known, as is the animosity between those Surrealists who stuck by Breton in the 1930s and those who remained attached to the Communist Party. Césaire stayed in the Party until 1956; but that made no difference to his friendship for Breton. I have just learned that the emblem of the party that Césaire founded in 1958, the Progress Party of Martinique, is a canna flower. Canna? But of course, it was Breton’s favorite flower! In his 1942 essay on Césaire (“Le grand poète noir“), Breton mentions the “great puzzle-flower of the canna plant, a triple heart gasping on a spike,” and calls it “as beautiful as the circulation of blood between the lowest and highest of the species.” He would like to “carry it off”with him as a symbol.

Césaire retains the same fidelity to Léopold Sédar Senghor, who was a student in Paris with him and introduced him to Africa and African culture. I recall a time, not so long past, when even the grandest bourgeois of the grande bourgeoisie thought it fashionable to call Senghor a reactionary. But Césaire, the revolutionary, never expressed the slightest reservation about his old friend.

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In our times it has been easy to betray friends in the name of what are called convictions. And to do so with moral righteousness. A degree of wisdom is indeed required in order to understand that the positions we adopt are but imperfect and probably temporary hypotheses, which can be made to seem like truths and certainties only by the blinkered. Unlike pretentious fidelity to convictions, fidelity to a friend is a virtue, perhaps the only virtue, perhaps the only one left.

The Night World

“In the slave plantations of the Caribbean Africans existed in two worlds. There was the world of the day; that was the white world. There was the world of the night; that was the African world, of spirits and magic and the true gods. And in that world ragged men, humiliated by day, were transformed—in their own eyes, and the eyes of their fellows—into kings, sorcerers, herbalists, men in touch with the true forces of the earth and possessed of complete power…. To the outsider, to the slave owner, the African night world might appear a mimic world, a child’s world, a carnival. But to the African…it was the true world: it turned white men to phantoms and plantation life to an illusion.”*

It was when I read this passage by another Caribbean, V.S.Naipaul, that I suddenly grasped that the paintings of the Martinique artist Ernest Breleur are all pictures of the night. Night is their only setting, the only setting which can make visible the “real world” which lies behind deceptive day. And I can see that these paintings could only have been born here, in the Caribbean, where the slave past remains painfully inscribed in what used to be called the collective unconscious.

Yet Ernest Breleur is a cosmopolitan for whom Caribbean self-contemplation is entirely alien. The first period of his work is programmatically anchored in African culture: the influence of Wifredo Lam is visible, as are the motifs taken from African folk art. Breleur doesn’t like these paintings any more; there is something forced, something artificial about them, he thinks; as he talks, he is carried away by the force of his argument and accuses himself of having “cheated”—cheated by pretending that a rationally pondered group program could also be the spontaneous creation of an artist.

“You cannot reconstitute a black art from the memory of a lost Africa, because there are no memories left,” he said to me. “Africa is not our world anymore.” Breleur’s later periods are very personal, unfettered by any program or commitment; which gives rise to the paradox that it is in these absolutely individual paintings that Martiniquais identity, black identity, Caribbean “negritude,” are most obviously present, most strikingly obvious. They are paintings, first, of night’s realm; secondly, of a world where everything is transformed into myth (everything, every tiny familiar object, including Breleur’s little dog [see page 48], which turns up in paintings as a supernatural, mythological beast), and since myths only materialize in a narrative, of a world transformed into narration without end; thirdly, they depict a world of cruelty, as if the ineradicable slave past had returned as a bodily obsession; the suffering body, the tortured and wounded body, the body vulnerable to wounding, and to torture.

The Marvelous

I hear someone compare Breleur and the French-Yugoslav artist Vladimir Velickovic for the cruelty of their painting. I don’t like the comparison and I hear Breleur reply quietly: “Painting has to be about beauty, after all.” I take that to mean: art should always refrain from provoking nonaesthetic emotions—excitement, terror, revulsion, shock. A photograph of a woman pissing may give you an erection, but I don’t think you could get the same use from Picasso’s Women Urinating, even though it is a proudly erotic painting. You turn your eyes away from a film of war, whereas Picasso’s Guernica, which tells the same story, gives pleasure to the eye. The last cycle of Breleur’s paintings is full of headless bodies suspended in space. The first canvases in the cycle are frankly horrifying: bodies don’t glide theway they do in Chagall’s fairyland, but are thrown into space, not to rise upward, but as in an unending fall. I feel that I am witnessing the fate of the human body ripped from the security of this earth, following the diseased mind of man making empty, fruitless conquests of infinite space.

Another day, Breleur tells me that he has always suffered from vertigo; that is why he lives in a bungalow; he can only live on the ground floor; the few trips he has made by plane remain unspeakable nightmares for him. I grasp the inner spring of his obsession with the voice. Then, gazing at his pictures, I grasp something else: as his work as a painter has progressed, the theme of the body in space has become less marked by its originating trauma. Bodies gradually cease to be pieces of wounded flesh cast into the void, and, from one canvas to the next, begin to resemble wounded angels lost among the stars, then magnificently ambiguous invitations from the far distance, then carnal temptations, even playful acrobats. The primary theme moves, through innumerable variations, from the realm of cruelty to the realm of (that password again) the marvelous.

With us in the studio are my wife and the philosopher Alexandre Alaric, whom we have to thank for introducing us to Ernest Breleur and his art. There’s punch, as is customary before a meal. Then Ernest makes lunch. Six places are laid at table. Why six? At the last minute, a Venezuelan painter, Ismaël Mandaray, comes in, and we sit down to eat. Strangely, the sixth setting remains unused throughout lunch. Much later, Ernest’s wife—a woman of beauty and, as we can see straight away, a woman who is loved—comes back from her work. We leave in Alexandre’s car; Ernest and his wife stand on the doorstep and watch us go; they strike me as a couple closely bound together in anxiety, in the midst of an inexplicable aura of loneliness. “You’ve understood the mystery of the sixth place at table,” Alexandre says when we are out of their sight. “It gave Ernest the illusion that his wife was with us.”

Country, Context, World

“I say we are suffocating. The basis of healthy Caribbean politics: open the windows. Give us air, Give us air.” Césaire, in Tropiques, 1944.

On which side should the windows be opened?

First, on the French side, says Césaire; for France is the Revolution, France is Schoelcher, and also Rimbaud, and Lautréamont, and Breton; France has a culture and a literature worthy of the highest love. Secondly, on the side of the amputated, confiscated African past, which conceals the buried essence of the Martiniquais identity.

Following generations have often disputed CÌ©saire’s directions, and emphasized instead the Americanness of Martinique, its place in the Caribbean, its Creole identity, and the links between the Caribbean, Latin America, and America in general.

This is a discussion of what I call the mediating context. There is always an intermediate step between a nation and the outside world. For Chileans, this context is Latin America; for Swedes, it is Scandinavia, and so on. A people in search of itself also seeks to know what its precise place is among other nations, and this place is determined by the mediating context. Take Austria, for example. Throughout its history Austria has wondered what world she belonged to—to the German-speaking world? Or to a multinational Central Europe? The very essence of Austria depended on the answer given. After 1918, and even more radically, after 1945, when Austria was removed from the Central European context and turned in on itself, or on its Germanness, we no longer had the flourishing Austria of Freud and Mahler, but a quite different Austria, with far less cultural energy than before.

The mediating context is also a dilemma for Greece, which is simultaneously part of the Eastern European sphere (Byzantium, Orthodox Christianity, Russophilia) and of the Western European world (Greco-Latin, strong links with the Renaissance, modernity). The Austrians and the Greeks may set one context against the other in raging polemics, but if we stand back a little we can say: there are some peoples whose identities are defined by the duality, or rather by the duplicity, of their mediating contexts, and it is from this duplicity that they draw their exceptional cultural strengths.

The debate in Martinique brought out three possible mediating contexts: the French, or French-speaking context; the contexts of African and worldwide negritude; andthe Caribbean, Latin American, and American contexts. I’ll not take issue with the arguments on one side or the other, or intervene in a debate which belongs to the Martiniquais alone, but I will say this: the strength and richness of Martinique culture seem to me to be owing precisely to the multiplicity of the mediating contexts in which it moves. Martinique: plural intersection; crossroads of the continents.

Martinique is indeed France meeting Africa meeting America. Well, that would be fine, save that France, Africa, and America don’t give a damn. In the modern world, shrunk to a handful of megalopolises, small places can hardly make themselves heard at all. There is no major publishing house, no major review, no major paper, no major media outlet that will let the world hear the voice of the world’s crossroad.

Martinique: the meeting of a marvelously complex culture and of immense solitude.

Language

The French Caribbean is bilingual. There is Creole, the everyday language born in the age of slavery, and there is French, taught in school (in Martinique, Guadeloupe, French Guyana, and Haiti) and mastered by the intelligentsia to an almost vengeful degree of perfection. (Césaire “handles French the way no white man still can,” dixit Breton.)

When Césaire was asked in 1978 why Tropiques wasn’t written in Creole, he replied: “It is a question that makes no sense, because a review of that kind is not conceivable in Creole…. I don’t even know if what we had to say can be expressed in Creole…. Creole cannot express abstract ideas, [it is] an exclusively spoken language.”

That doesn’t alter the fact that it is very awkward to talk about the lives of people in a language representing only one half of their speech, to write a novel of Martinique while leaving the linguistic reality of the place unspoken. This has given rise to many different solutions, all of which are quite legitimate: novels in Creole; novels in highly polished French; novels in French enriched with Creole words explained in a glossary printed at the back; and then there is the solution of the Martinique novelist Patrick Chamoiseau.

Chamoiseau (born 1953) takes liberties with French which not one of his French contemporaries could even imagine ever taking. It’s like the license of a Brazilian using Portuguese, of a Latin American writer using Spanish—or, if you prefer, the freedom of a bilingual who refuses absolute authority to either of his languages and who has the courage to disobey them both. Chamoiseau does not compromise between French and Creole by mixing them up. His language is French, but French transformed—not creolized French (no Martiniquais speaks as he writes), but Chamoisifed French: he endows his style with the casual charm of the rhythms and melody of speech (but not, please note, with its syntax or limited vocabulary); he grafts many Creole turns of phrase onto it: not for the sake of “naturalism” (to bring in “local color”), but for aesthetic reasons (for humor, quaintness, or for semantic precision). Above all, however, he takes the freedom to bring into French unaccustomed, unconventional, “impossible” expressions and neologisms (freedoms which French is less able to enjoy than many other languages). Chamoiseau effortlessly turns adjectives into nouns, nouns into adjectives, adjectives into adverbs, verbs into nouns, nouns into verbs, and so on. Yet none of these infringements leads to a reduction of the lexical and grammatical richness of French: there is no shortage of learned and rare words, and even that most academical of French verb-forms, the past subjunctive, holds its own.

Where Two Times Meet

At first glance, Solibo Magnifique may seem to be only an exotic novel of place, centered on a folktale-teller, a character that can only be imagined here. But it is not. Chamoiseau’s latest novel deals with one of the major events in the history of culture: the meeting of oral literature in decline and of written literature in the making. In Europe, the place of this meeting is Boccaccio’s Decameron. The first great work of European prose could not have come into being had there been no storytellers skilled at oral entertainment. From that time until the late eighteenth century—from Rabelais to Sterne—the story-teller’s voice went on echoing through fiction. Writers, when they wrote, still talked to their readers, addressed them, insulted them, flattered them; the reader, in turn, as he read, heard the author of the work. Everything changes with the nineteenth century, and with it began what I call the secondround in the history of the novel: the writer’s talk disappears in writing.

“Hector Biancotti, this talk is for you,” runs the dedication at the head of Solibo Magnifique. Chamoiseau underlines that it is talk, not writing. He sees himself as the direct descendant of the oral storytellers, and describes himself not as a writer, but as a “word-maker,” On the supranational map of cultural history, he would place himself at the point where the spoken voice hands on the baton to written literature. In this novel, the fictional storyteller called Solibo tells him: “I was a talker, but what you do is to write and to say that you come from talk.” Chamoiseau is a writer come from talking.

But just as Césaire is not Mickiewicz, Chamoiseau is not Boccaccio. He is a writer who has the sophistication of the modern novelists and it is from that position (as an heir of Joyce and of Kafka) that he holds out his hand to Solibo and to the oral prehistory of literature. Solibo Magnifique is thus a place where two times meet. “You give me your hand over a great distance,” Solibo says to Chamoiseau.

The story: in a square called Savane, in Fort-de-France, Solibo is talking to a few chance listeners, among them Chamoiseau. In the middle of talking, he drops dead. The aged Congo knows: he died of word-strangulation. The explanation hardly convinces the police, who seize upon the incident and labor hard to find the culprit. Interrogations of nightmarish cruelty ensue, during which the deceased storyteller’s character is drawn and two suspects die under torture. In the end, the autopsy rules out murder. Solibo died inexplicably; maybe he really was strangled by a word.

The last pages of the book consist of what Solibo was saying when he dropped dead. This truly poetic, imaginary speech is an introduction to the aesthetics of orality: what Solibo tells is not a tale, but spoken words, fantasies, puns, jokes, it is freewheeling automatic talking (like automatic writing). And since it is talking, “language before writing,” the rules of written language have no purchase here, so there is no punctuation: Solibo’s talk is a flow without commas, periods, or paragraphs, like the poetry of Robert Desnos or Molly Bloom’s monologue at the end of Ulysses, like Philippe Sollers’s Paradis. (Another example to show how at a particular point in history, popular and modern art can meet on the same path.)

Implausibility

What I like most about Chamoiseau is the way his imagination swings from the plausible to the implausible and back again, and I wonder where it comes from, what its roots are.

Surrealism? The surrealist imagination had its outlets in poetry and painting, not in the novel. And Chamoiseau is a novelist, a novelist through and through.

Kafka? Yes, Kafka brought the implausible into the art of the novel (to be more precise: into the art of the novel of the second round). But Chamoiseau’s imagination is really not very Kafkaesque.

The best key for this imagination is to be found in Solibo’s monologue: the unbridled improvisation of a storyteller who is swept along by his own talking and who oversteps the frontier of the plausible when he wants to—joyfully, and with quite stunning ease.

“Ladies and gentlemen here assembled” is how Chamoiseau begins his Chronique des sept misères (“Chronicle of the Seven Miseries”). “O Friends,” he says again to the readers of Solibo Magnifique, just as Rabelais apostrophises the reader of Gargantua as “Most eminent quaffers, and you too, my dear syphilitic friends….” He who thus speaks aloud to his readers and puts his wit, his humor, his personality, jokes, caprices, inventions, and revelations into every sentence can easily exaggerate, mystify, move from the true to the impossible, for that was allowed by the contract made between novelist and reader in the first round, when the storyteller’s voice had not yet quite been snuffed out by the printed page.

Kafka belongs to a different age. His implausibilities are grounded in descriptions which, although strictly impersonal, are so haunting as to draw the reader into an imaginary world, as if he were watching a film. Nothing in Kafka is like what we know, but his power of description makes it all credible. In an aesthetic of that kind, a talking, joking, commentating, self-revealing storyteller’s voice would shatter the illusion and break the spell. You cannot imagine Kafka beginning The Castle with a jolly word for the “Ladies and Gentlemen hereassembled…”

On the other hand, Rabelais’s implausibility comes exclusively from his casual, storyteller style. Ever since my teens I have always loved the passage in Gargantua where Panurge, lusting madly after a young woman who has refused him, takes his revenge during Mass by sprinkling onto her clothes the diced sexual organs of a bitch in heat. All the dogs in the church overwhelm her and piss on her dress, her shoes, her back, her head; she runs out, pursued across the town by six hundred thousand and fourteen dogs, and when she finally reaches home, the dogs “so bepiddle the front door of her house” that their pee forms a stream through the streets, on which ducks swim.

Solibo’s corpse is laid out on the ground, and the police want to take it to the morgue. But no one can manage to lift it. “Solibo had begun to weigh a ton, like the corpses of blacks who envied life.” Reinforcements are summoned, Solibo now weighs two tons, five tons, more… They fetch a crane. As soon as it comes, Solibo starts to lose weight. The police inspector lifts him up “with his little finger. Finally, he engaged in slow and macabre manipulations which fascinated all and sundry. Simply by twisting his wrist, he could move the corpse from his ringfinger to his thumb, from his thumb to his pointer, from his pointer to his middle finger….”

Ladies and Gentlemen here assembled, eminent quaffers and you too, dear syphilitic friends, Chamoiseau takes you much closer to Rabelais than to Kafka.

As Lonely as the Moon

In all the paintings of Ernest Breleur, the crescent moon is shown horizontally, with both tips pointing upward, like a gondola floating on a nocturnal sea. It’s not a painter’s dream, that really is how the moon appears in Martinique. The European crescent is upright, in fighting position, like a fierce little beast ready to pounce, or if you prefer, like a sickle, a perfectly honed sickle; the European moon is a moon of war. In Martinique the moon is at peace. Which is perhaps why Breleur gives it a warm, golden color; in his myth paintings, it is a figure of inaccessible happiness.

It’s very odd, but when I talk to some Martiniquais I realize that they do not know how the moon appears in the night sky. I ask some Europeans: Do you remember the European moon? What shape is it when waxing, what shape is it on the wane? They don’t know. The same day, I hear a woman speaking on the radio about the twenty-first century, space travel, trips to distant galaxies, blahblahblah. I’m sure she doesn’t know the moon either, at least not the one above her head. People have stopped looking at the sky, that obsolete ornament that will surely soon be replaced by something more entertaining, and more practical.

The neglected moon has come down to visit Breleur’s paintings. But people who can’t see it in the sky won’t see it on the canvas either. For all who lose the sense of reality also lose the sense of art. Ernest, you are on your own. As alone as the island of Martinique in the sea. As alone as Depestre’s desires in a communist desert. As alone as a painting by Van Gogh in the idiotic glare of tourists’ eyes. As alone as art lost in a future ruled over by philistines and “misomusists.” As alone as the unlooked-at moon.

Translated from the French by David Bellos

This Issue

December 19, 1991