Jean Paulhan and the Nouvelle Revue francaise: modernist editor, modernist review?
Jason Harding, in the opening pages of his book on T.S. Eliot's The Criterion, the review created by the poet in 1922, writes: "in common with Nouvelle Revue francaise, whom it resembled in appearance, experimental modernism was set inside the case of a great European review." (1) This provides a clear example of the ready assumption that the French monthly review La Nouvelle Revue francaise constituted a clear and unambiguous model for Eliot to emulate in his quest to propagate his own brand of "experimental modernism." The fact that the NRF had been founded in Paris by writers around Andre Gide, in late 1908 and into 1909, a pivotal moment in the history of European modernism, was sufficient for an Anglo-American writer and critic such as Eliot to recognize the NRF as a beacon of European modernism. Moreover, the Columbia University professor Justin O'Brien, in his introduction to a book of translated extracts celebrating the 50th anniversary of the review's foundation, wrote that no other periodical symbolized the modern European twentieth century better than the NRF. (2) Eliot, celebrated since as a paragon of European modernism, paid tribute to the NRF by basing his own periodical on the French review, to which he himself submitted three "Lettres d'Angleterre" in May and December 1922, and again in November 1923. One may--and should--challenge Harding's assertion, because the words "experimental modernism" beg many questions. Modernism is a word charged with different emphases, nuances or meanings. But let us continue for a moment. In the words of the critic Michael Levenson,
If we look for a mark of modernism's coming of age, the founding of the Criterion in 1922 may prove a better instance than The Waste Land, better even than Ulysses, because it exemplifies the institutionalization of the movement, the accession to cultural legitimacy. (3)
Once again, as Harding himself asserts, much of this sentence is problematic.
Apart from the chronological assumptions, the terms "institutionalization" and "cultural legitimacy" invite debate.
It is true that cultural relativism represents an underlying problem here, which may be exemplified by a point raised by Michel Beaujour at the conference in New York and reported in Le Monde. Why should the history of the NRF be conceived according to American critical canons, especially that of "modernism," asked Beaujour. It is precisely because the "Anglo-Saxon world" [sic] looked specifically to Paris and at some of the reviews published there, to keep abreast of "modernist" cultural trends. (4) In spite of the problematic nature of this cultural relativism, differences which have led some French commentators to avoid the word "modernisme" altogether and to prefer the word modernite, let us consider it within the context of European cultural modernism, as does Walter Gobbers in his bilingual introduction to a voluminous collection of work on the question. (5) Here Gobbers draws a distinction between the "avant-garde" and "modernism" which is helpful for our discussion of the NRF:
Cette opposition entre modernite/modernisme et avant-garde permet evidemment d'accentuer davantage les nuances, voire les differences entre les deux : l'avant-garde se distinguerait alors par son extremisme et son nihilisme radical, par le caractere absolu de son experimentalisme et surtout par le progressisme de son engagement et de sa contestation socio-politique ; la litterature moderniste, par contre, serait plus intellectualiste, plus rationnelle et plus psychologisante que celle de l'avant-garde. (6)
So if, by 1922, the NRF is recognized by Eliot as a significant arbiter and mediator of the modern, or of modernism, as we shall see it also retained conservative, traditional, even anti-modernist elements (one example of this is the space given to Julien Benda (7)).
The validity of asserting the modernism of the NRF is reinforced precisely by the review's location in Paris. Within modernism's broader historical parameters between 1890-1940, the NRF was created in the French capital in 1908-9 when modernism was in the ascendant prior to the war. As Maaike Koffeman has shown, the first NRF (1909-1914) managed to establish itself in the cultural domain by drawing on, or exploiting, two apparently conflicting trends within the French literary-cultural tradition, locating itself "between classicism and modernity." (8) The tension between these two terms never really disappeared from the review after its reappearance in 1919, when cultural life in Paris exploded again. What made the post-1918 period so exciting in Paris was that reflexes to Paul Valery's diagnosis of the post-war intellectual crisis--the "Crise de l'esprit" (9)--were experienced particularly acutely in the French capital. In addition, the NRF was open not only to the influence of foreign literatures, it also actively promoted them. Jacques Riviere--the editor until his death in 1925--printed Valeu Larbaud's important lecture on Joyce's Ulysses in the issue for April 1922. (10) In 1925, the critic Ramon Fernandez paid tribute to the NRF's admirer, Eliot. (11) In 1928, Jean Paulhan--who took over as editor-in-chief in April 1925--introduced Kafka into France with Alexandre Vialatte's translation of Metamorphosis. Many other examples of texts by key modernist authors could be given.
As for monthly or periodical reviews, they played a central role not only in the history of European modernism, but also in the cultural history of France during the inter-war period. Malcolm Bradbury and James McFarlane have written that after the Great War,
there came a more solemn form of Modernist publishing: the Modernist review, like the Criterion, the Dial, Die Neue Rundschau or the Nouvelle Revue francaise, where, with various degrees of hospitality, the movements and experiments acquired a format of respectability and inevitably stimulated fresh counter-assertion from a newer wave of experimenters. (12)
Did the NRF ever constitute a modernist movement? It certainly was a review that had a publishing house attached to it soon after the appearance of the first issue in 1909. Did the NRF display the characteristics of an organized, proselytizing movement? In the early 1920s, there were indeed propaganda efforts and NRF lecture tours across France: thus it did proselytize, it went out to defend a cause, its own cause. And much more certainly, if we follow Michel Trebitsch and Gisele Sapiro, the NRF became one of the prime cultural institutions of the radical Third Republic, if not the most important. (13) We shall return to this point shortly.
The question of the NRF as "movement" and the dangers that this might represent for French culture, also depends on the critic's point-of-view: inside the "circuit-NRF," it was easy enough to proclaim openness to ali comers so long as certain principles and exclusions were respected or practiced. Whereas in the eyes of implacable bien-pensant outsiders, the NRF was considered as a repair for subversive "dilettantes." Henriette Charasson, the conservative literary critic of the newly founded Revue de France, wrote haughtily of the NRF in 1921:
[il y a des] publications qui veulent connaitre surtout la litterature ou l'art, meme lorsqu'elles groupent des hommes qui ne sont rien moins que des dilettantes, des esprits qui ont une doctrine philosophique, morale et sociale. Les plus importantes d'entre elles, tant par le volume, que par ses collaborateurs, est la NRF, qui n'est pas toujours homogene, dont le gout n'est plus sur et qui, par crainte d'etre taxee d'esprit retrograde, trebuche quelques fois un peu trop en avant. (14)
And Mme Charasson's husband, the (then well-known) nationalist writer Rene Johannet, also implicitly targeted the NRF in a stinging polemical essay published in 1928 in the conservative academic journal La Revue des deux mondes. Identifying "three crises in contemporary literature," Johannet perceived that literature was far too narrowly defined when considered within the broader tradition that he traced back to the Enlightenment. The novel had become debased, lamented Johannet, and contemporary practitioners of the genre now chose to explore "unworldly vices, unmentionable adventures and meditations on the invisible." His second target was what he termed the "charabia de la litterature dite d'avant-garde" in which violence or "craziness" (le saugrenu is Johannet's word) dominated. Who were responsible for all this literary "debauchery"? Rimbaud and Mallarme are named as the culprits. Both were deeply revered by NRF writers as diverse and as prominent as Claudel and Valery; their influence, "based on no serious merit, had been prodigious." Their work had "contaminated" at least a third of French literature over the last fifty years, and had given rise to such loathsome perversities as Lautreamont's "interminable and obscene Maldoror." As we shall see, the new generation of writers attracted to the NRF in 1920 did so partly through their discovery of this work, and sometimes following the guidance of Jean Paulhan. The third and final symptom of crisis, and the most perilous according to Johannet, was the trend he observed of writers conceiving of themselves as priests. Going on all the evidence he believed he had marshaled, French culture was in mortal danger. (15)
Andre Suares too--not a complete outsider but certainly a maverick--also characterized the NRF as a cenacle, (16) whilst Henri Beraud and Henri Massis saw it as a "chapelle," heavily under the influence of Andre Gide, who was considered to be the physical incarnation of the "esprit NRE" (17)
If the NRF was a chapelle, however, it constituted a bigger, broader and more influential cecumenical church than these critiques suggest. Writing in December 1921 in the Revue des deux mondes, the veteran academic critic Gustave Lanson lavished praise on the NRF, both review and publishing house, saying that they "represented the best tendencies of the contemporary literary movement." (18) Apart from the dominant aesthetic concerns underlying the NRF, to which we shall return below in the second part, there were other imperatives which attenuated its modernism.
As a monthly review operating on a commercial basis, the NRF was constrained by a number of external factors. To begin with, it formed part of the Gallimard publishing empire. Although Paulhan strenuously objected to any suggestion that the review merely provided "bait" for the publishing house, (19) and that incomplete serials or fragmentary publication in the review might be used as ploys to oblige readers to buy the books as well (e.g. Les Faux-Monnayeurs (20)), there can be little doubt--certainly when reading through the advertising material published in each monthly issue--that both review and publishing house catered for commercial interests as well as aesthetic ones. This aspect of the NRF tends to be forgotten because the advertising brochures are very rarely bound into library volumes. Publication in review form in France was part of the everyday culture, and was subject to seasonal rhythms, particularly regarding the rentree--the start of the new academic year in September--and the etrennes, or Christmas and New Year, market. In the November and December issues, advertisements promised books and discounts for renewing subscribers or for those taking out gift subscriptions.
Readership is another factor in any consideration as to judging the modernism of the NRF. As Jean Grenier noted in 1935, two texts--by and on Raymond Roussel--had "epate tous les bourgeois" ("scandalized all the bourgeois") who read the NRF. (21) How was the audience of the NRF constituted? Subscription lists are a jealously guarded secret, but in Paulhan's correspondence there are a number of indicators to suggest that the readership was surprisingly broad. The review's stance on political questions in particular could lead to cancellation by (especially upper-class) subscribers, for example after the publication of politically inflammatory statements made by Ramon Fernandez in 1934. (22) Paulhan's appeals in 1933 for a "Tableau de la poesie en France" brought in some 10,000 poems, only a hundred of which could be printed, yet many of them were submitted by ordinary working people, including a gardener, a butcher's wife, a worker, a cobbler, and so on. Laurence Brisset comments: "all the professions were represented." (23) And yet again, the permanent features--the monthly essays ("chroniques") by Alain, Albert Thibaudet and Julien Benda--reflect the fact that a large part of the readership was spread across the educational sector, and that these readers harbored certain expectations. Jean Grenier was fond of reminding Paulhan that "La NRF peut continuer a s'appuyer sur les professeurs et instituteurs avec la trinite Alain-Benda-Thibaudet." (24) Beyond the subscribers were the countless casual readers of the review who would pick up issues and browse through them whilst waiting for a train, on board a liner, or in a hotel lobby, as the advertisements in the publicity catalogues again make clear. Therefore, if ir is the case that the NRF had modernist inclinations, they were tempered by commercial imperatives.
The institutionalization of the NRF constitutes a further crucial question. In the early 1920s, the NRF had embarked on the process whereby it would flourish into a major cultural institution in France. In a 1945 interview, Paulhan explained the Germans' appropriation of the review in 1940 in terms that have now become familiar: Hitler's ambassador in Paris, Otto Abetz, was not interested in the venerable Revue des deux mondes, recognizing that the three "powers" in France were the communists, the NRF and the banks. (25) And just prior to the launch of the Nouvelle NRF in 1953, Paulhan reiterated his point: "Elle etait ce qu'elle n'avait jamais voulu etre, et precisement parce qu'elle ne l'avait pas cherche: une anti-institution nationale, une academie, la vraie ... un monument." (26) Let us note that Paulhan calls the NRF an "anti-institution," the "real" or the "true" academy as opposed to the Academie francaise. And incidentally it would be difficult to overstate the role played by Gide as the embodiment of this counter-culture, difficult to overestimate what he represented for younger generations of writers emerging after 1918. Gisele Sapiro has studied the standing and position of the NRF in relation to other cultural institutions, (27) bur it is significant--certainly for our purposes--to remind ourselves that as early as 1920, the review received the official seal of approval of the University in the shape of the conservative academic Fortunat Strowski:
Ce serait donc La NRF qui exercerait la plus grosse influence sur les jeunes gens. Il n'y a pas a s'en plaindre: l'esprit de La NRF est purement universitaire, j'entends dans le sens noble du mot. Son humanisme lui fait concevoir tout sous l'angle du lettre. C'est un veritable mouvement de Renaissance. (28)
It may even be argued that Gustave Lanson contributed to the institutionalization of the NRF, as he firmly believed it brought together all that was best in the new literary movements:
Tout s'y retrouve assurement; et le romantisme impenitent, le realisme opiniatre, le symbolisme non encore desillusionne, y figurent par leur meilleure production; mais ce qui me parait donner la note de la maison, c'est justement la recherche d'une combinaison originale et moderne, expressive de l'intelligence et de la sensibilite d'aujourd'hui, ou se fondent toutes les heredites et toutes les traditions litteraires. (29)
Finally, at the beginning of the 1930s, these academic endorsements of Strowski and Lanson dating from the early 1920s were recycled in a publicity effort mounted by Paulhan's secretary. Jean Grenier could not suppress his playful sense of irony in this regard:
L'activite de la nrf se multiplie. J'ai recu de ton secretaire [...] une lettre de propagande. J'ai beaucoup aime l'opinion de MM. Fortunat Strowski et Gustave Lanson. Mais crois-tu que la clientele universitaire--pet de loup--Lanson-Strowski soit celle de la nrf[?]. J'aime trop la nrf pour le croire. (30)
When Paul Valery was elected to the Academie francaise in 1925, the institutionalization process of the NRF seemed to be well under way. (31)
Finally, as though to underline these points, the venerable Tresor de la Langue francaise quotes from Albert Thibaudet's September 1924 essay in the NRF in order to illustrate the history and usage of the word "modernisme." (32) The quotation is taken from an essay entitled "Le Tournoi du latin," which considers whether the classical humanities suffice alone to form the leadership elite of a modern country:
Ce qui se passe dans le monde de la litterature et de l'art nous ouvre un jour sur ce qui se passera dans l'ordre de la formation generale des elites. Il y a une litterature qui s'inspire surtout de la tradition dans le temps, et dont Anatole France nous donne aujourd'hui le type le plus complet. Il y a une litterature qui s'inspire seulement de l'actuel et du vivant dans l'espace, et elle porte un nora depuis les Goncourt: c'est le modernisme. (33)
Thibaudet, the NRF's most prolific critic--who, as Antoine Compagnon has shown, had a mania for binary categories and comparisons (34)--proceeded both to flame and answer his own question: that is, which strand should he prefer? "Both," he replied, "Elles sont l'une et l'autre necessaires." And in a passage that could easily apply to the NRF, he wrote:
Elles contribuent a la fois a assurer dans le prestige litteraire les puissances de conservation et de renouvellement. Elles ne viennent pas des memes auteurs. Elles ne s'adressent pas au meme public ... (35)
Let us now consider the policy of the review as it was implemented by Paulhan to build on its early success and established reputation.
Jean Paulhan: a "Modernist" Editor at the NRF?
Whence did Jean Paulhan arrive at the NRF? A common place for beginning discussions of Paulhan's background at the time of his joining the NRF is his appearance in Max Ernst's painting Au Rendez-vous des amis, dating from late 1922. (36) There are a number of points to be made about this, some of them admittedly speculative. The first is that Paulhan is placed close to center of the canvas as though to underline his role as a pathfinder, or scout, or even guru, for the avant-garde. Second, it seems to me that the picture incorporates a (perhaps ironic) nod towards paintings such as Henri Fantin-Latour's Hommage a Delacroix, Un atelier aux Batignolles and Un Coin de table, celebrating as they do their creator's implied familiarity with his recognizably "modernist" sitters. Third, one gets the distinct impression that Max Ernst's sitters may be seen as members of a sort of secret or subversive society, because Paulhan, Dostoevsky and Benjamin Peret are all shown by the artist making the same mysterious hand signal. Paulhan is placed right next to Dostoevsky, on whose lap the artist Max Ernst is sitting. Finally, perhaps it is all part of an unexplained in-joke for initiates, for Paulhan's friend Paul Eluard published a short text, under the "Palets" rubric of the Dadaist (or proto-surrealist) review Litterature, entitled "Jean Paulhan le souterrain." (37) At this stage in his career as an editor Paulhan was recognized as a sort of "underground" figure--an eminence grise--working behind the scenes. So just how did Paulhan come to play such a central role for the Parisian avant-garde? (38)
During the summer of 1918 Paulhan began corresponding with Andre Breton, the future "pope" of surrealism, for both were admirers of Paul Valery. Later that year Paulhan met Louis Aragon. All of them were habitues of Adrienne Monnier's bookshop in the rue de l'Odeon. So important was Paulhan's guidance to Andre Breton that the latter copied his letters to send to Aragon, who, during the summer of 1918, was on active service near Verdun; Paulhan was even writing a Semantique du proverbe for Breton. Aragon, correcting Breton's version of events, further relates that at the premiere of Apollinaire's play Couleur du temps on 24 November 1918 (at the Theatre de la Renaissance), a certain Eugene Grindel introduced himself--rather spectacularly--to Breton and Paulhan. (39) This was Paul Eluard. During the same period Paulhan became acquainted with Amedee Ozenfant, the moving spirit behind L'Esprit nouveau, who, in his memoirs, underlines how Eluard and Paulhan had similar views on Purism and language. (40)
By early 1919, Paulhan was closely associated with the review Litterature, and had an extract from La Guerison severe published in its first issue. Finally, in late 1919, again accompanied by Aragon, he met Gide, who, shortly after, introduced him to the NRF on a modest salary to organize the propaganda effort of the review; by this time Paulhan had also met Jacques Riviere ...
Thus the stage was set for his arrival at the center of the review, and, owing to Riviere's chronically poor health, Paulhan immediately took on greater responsibilities. From the inside, throughout 1920 he observed at close quarters the exchanges following the publication of essays on Dada by Gide, Riviere, and Breton, debates he himself--as Paulhan le souterrain--had helped provoke. (41) More forensic detail could be provided; but suffice it to say here that Paulhan played such an indispensable part in helping avant-garde writers to confront the problematic relationship between literature and language that he acted as a vital relay between the generations. Breton paid the following tribute:
Les grands survivants du symbolisme: Gide, Valery, Fargue ouvrent la marche, suivis des poetes qui ont gravite autour d'Apollinaire: Salmon, Max Jacob, Reverdy, Cendrars. Les rejoindront un peu plus tard Morand et Giraudoux, puis Drieu la Rochelle. La transition entre eux et nous est marquee par Jean Paulhan. (42)
In the end, however, both editors would keep the review at a critical distance from the avant-garde. Paulhan's exchanges with Eluard show clearly that once the Dadas began making disparaging comments about the NRF, he would not for long be able to maintain a foot in both camps. In a letter to Paulhan, Eluard confessed that he "hated the NRF and literature and ali its subtleties," and that "if we [i.e. the Dadas] still like you it is because we see you as such a distance from it!" (43) From 1920 onwards, therefore, Paulhan distanced himself from these writers. Not long after, Riviere, despite having allowed Paulhan to enter into negotiations, withdrew the NRF from the "modernist" Congres de Paris in 1922. (44) It is well documented that the NRF was especially wary of the surrealists. (45) Once he took over as editor in April 1925, Paulhan continued in the same direction, breaking spectacularly with Breton in 1927, an episode involving a threatened duel recounted in many of the editions of Paulhan's correspondence. Consistently, space was offered to dissident Dadaists and surrealists, including Georges Ribemont-Dessaignes, for instance. If Paulhan disliked heresies, be went out of his way to protect heretics. (46) As Antoine Compagnon has argued, with the publication of its Manifeste in 1924, "le surrealisme se presenta des lors comme un dirigisme; il crut detenir la verite esthetique et entendit la promouvoir avec des methodes politiques." (47) Nothing could be more antithetical to Paulhan's conception of the raison d'etre of the NRF, for, continues Compagnon, "le surrealisme est une ideologie a priori, un programme qui masque les problemes esthetiques plutot qu'il ne permet de les poser."
Finally Paulhan, having grown in authority, in a radio presentation broadcast in 1937 laid stress on his policy of openness, because for him the NRF only reflected the rich variety of literature, with all its strengths, and including ali the "reproaches" one might accuse it of:
Ce sont ceux [i.e. "reproaches"] que l'on adresse volontiers--et particulierement a l'etranger--a la litterature francaise. On lui reproche d'etre une litterature d'exces et de demesure. Et de vrai, il est aise de montrer qu'elle est trop libertine (avec Diderot) et trop moralisante (avec Corneille); trop folle (avec Rimbaud) et trop raisonnee (avec Boileau); trop sensuelle (avec Baudelaire), et trop austere (avec Jules Renard); trop normale (avec La Bruyere) et trop monstrueuse (avec le marquis de Sade).
For Paulhan, this encapsulated the genius of the NRF: "if Voltaire was writing today," he remarked, the NRF "would publish Candide" because "the Revue de Paris would find it too immoral and too dangerous." (48)
There used to be a tendency among commentators and critics to separate Paulhan's productiou as a writer from his role as editor of the NRF. Robert Kanters, in his obituary notice, writes: "La tres forte presence de Jean Paulhan dans la litterature de son epoque tient certainement plus a son action qu'a son oeuvre propre." Bur in his next sentence, he seems to contradict himself: "Son oeuvre, au sens large c'est la collection des quarante enormes recueils de La NRF depuis 1925, anthologie in vivo d'a peu pres tout ce qui compte et a compte." (49)
Contemporary scholars of Paulhan--most recently Julien Dieudonne and Laurence Brisset--point to how his editorship of the NRF worked in parallel with the gradual elaboration of Les Fleurs de Tarbes, his essay on the language of literature, on the relationship between Terror and Rhetoric. Explaining his love of reviews, Brisset writes: "... si Paulhan a une predilection pour la revue, c'est qu'elle est ambivalente: elle releve a la fois de la Terreur et de la Rhetorique." (50)
Now, to pursue further the analogy hinted at by Kanters, in a way similar to the director of a botanical garden, Paulhan encouraged experiments with texts, juxtaposing them, allowing them to cross-fertilize, and to grow or whither alongside others. In a memorable phrase, Auguste Angles once suggested that Paulhan resembled an accomplished practitioner of ike bana, or Japanese flower arranging:
La composition du sommaire de chaque numero, cet arrangement de fleurs, cette "ike-bana" a la japonaise, sans regles, mais non sans rigueur, etait a elle seule un tour de force critique, renouvele chaque mois. (51)
After all, Paulhan himself alludes to the engaging and sometimes amusing effects that this could produce. Looking back on the 1930s, he mused to Jouhandeau: "tu comprends, je pouvais faire, avant 40, une reconciliation continuelle (hors de quoi, je ne vois pas de raison d'etre a une revue): Sartre pres de toi, et Gide sur les (gros) genoux de Claudel" (52).
With these words, Paulhan sums up the risks he was prepared to run in composing the review and in keeping it alive. Sometimes these risks cost Paulhan dear: Claudel broke with him in 1928 over texts by Leautaud and Montherlant, and he did again in 1939 (53); others complained about the "ageing" ('vieillissement') of the NRF (54), whilst others still resented the too-frequent inclusion of what was considered to be unorthodox literature, or "le saugrenu." This is where we should turn, finally, to examine Paulhan's defence of his editorial approach.
When Paulhan took over the editorship in April 1925, it seems that it was agreed that his progress should be monitored, for he began writing regularly to Jean Schlumberger. Paulhan wrote 62 letters to his mentor between April 1925 and the end of 1927, by which rime his new committee structure was in place; after 1927, until the end of 1939, be wrote only 48. The significance of this is paramount: apart from Gide, Schlumberger was the sole remaining founder of the NRF who represented its internal tradition; he had written the opening text, he had had much experience of composing the early issues of the review, and he was very close to Gide.
Paulhan was fully aware of the NRF aesthetic. In the first review Schlumberger had set down the direction to be followed in February 1909. Fifty years later he summarized this text--"Considerations"--as a "mixture of common sense and non-conformism," in line with the review's purpose as a repository of "modern classicism" for "la defense et l'illustration de la langue francaise" ... Similarly, Riviere relaunched the NRF in 1919 with a text emphasizing that it should remain a "space conducive to creativity" and nourished by "intelligent criticism," an aesthetic summed up thus by Jean Lacouture: "Celle qu'implique des l'origine l'histoire de La NRF, mais qu'il faut sans cesse reinventer: un classicisme ouvert a toutes les formes de la modernite." (55)
Not long after Paulhan was nominally appointed "directeur" of the NRF in 1935, he engaged in a dialogue with Schlumberger over the orientation of the review which echoes thereafter in their exchanges. Countering Schlumberger's charge that the review was printing too much difficult or "crazy" or unorthodox material--the word is "le saugrenu," Paulhan insists that "le saugrenu" had always been a feature of the NRF. We shall return to the significance of the word "saugrenu" in a moment. Paulhan argued that subscribers had cancelled in 1911 for Saint Leger-Leger--better known as Saint-John Perse--in 1912 for Fargue and in 1921 for Breton. But the review had been right to take the risk, for Leger, Fargue and Breton had succeeded, whereas the safer authors he mentioned had disappeared into obscurity. The crucial point was this: "il y a eu des l'origine une orthodoxie de La NRF qui n'allait pas sans une pointe de saugrenu (songez que le saugrenu a ete longtemps ce que l'opinion publique reprochait a Claudel)." (56)
So for Paulhan, the trick of the "NRF orthodoxy" was that it had always productively embedded "une pointe de saugrenu," and that from time to time this flourished to produce new talents. Precisely because of the "saugrenu" and what he called "literary experimentation" ("l'experience litteraire"), during the inter-war period the NRF preserved an openness towards young writers and a "gift for continuous renewal." This belief in risk-taking distinguished the NRF from the rest. If some of "the bourgeois who read the NRF" were shocked, to use Grenier's words (and one thinks too of the shocked bourgeois critic Rene Johannet quoted above), then so be it: other, more adventurous, subscribers would replace them.
Why did Paulhan use the term "saugrenu"? He did so because he knew that he stood a better chance of persuading Schlumberger that he was right. The term derives from reference to Gide's 1895 text, Paludes. Today this work is regarded as a ground-breaking modernist text because of its self-reflexivity, use of mise en abyme, and so on. (57) From countless conversations, Paulhan no doubt remembered that in Si le Grain ne meurt, published in part in the NRF in 1920-21, and then in definitive book form in 1924, Gide looked back on the origin of Paludes and wrote: "Un certain sens du saugrenu, qui deja s'etait fait jour dans la seconde partie de mon Voyage d'Urien, me dicta les premieres phrases, et le livre, comme malgre moi, se forma tout entier autour de celle-ci ..." (58) Gide even claimed that he had invented the "gente" of the "saugrenu." (59)
If further proof were needed of the success of his approach, Paulhan asked his mentor to look at latest issues of the reviews La Bete Noire and Le Minotaure: the authors solicited by these new reviews were mainly from the NRF. (60) In reply, Schlumberger admitted that it was difficult to imagine Gide's influence without a "considerable dose of the peculiar and the odd," as be put it. Yet be persisted in his belief that, more than any other publication, its public prestige derived from the fact that it represented "the interests of literary technique." If, since the war, literary technique had strayed towards the "saugrenu," Schlumberger conceded that nothing could be done about it. Yet he insisted that without the NRF, without the blessing of Valery and Gide, the surrealist movement would have aborted; but then Paulhan would no doubt have replied that this would have been a great shame. (61)
Continuing the dialogue, Paulhan objected, saying that the "interest in literary technique"--as Schlumberger had put it--was not solely a post-war concern. Developing his point, be now identified not one, but three, strands of the "saugrenu." The first was the type of "saugrenu" that existed in the world (as in Paludes). The second included some of the work of Baudelaire and Nerval; and finally, there was a "saugrenu fecond." In a way that is reminiscent of Thibaudet, Paulhan paired important figures together in order to demonstrate that the NRF had encouraged writers who had been inspired by their little-understood predecessors to go on and produce their own original works: "Rimbaud--Claudel, Mallarme--Valery, Fargue--Morand (avec perte) ..." (62)
When, in 1940, Schlumberger disagreed with policy over various issues having political overtones--that is, the preponderance of Julien Benda, but especially the reintroduction into the NRF of the communist Louis Aragon--Paulhan argued back in the same terms: "Cher Jean, ne boudez pas contre votre plaisir. C'est, par Aragon, tout une part (non la plus negligeable) d'Apollinaire qui parvient a la pleine lumiere. Comine Mallarme par Valery, et Rimbaud par Claudel." (63) By this time, Paulhan had almost absolute authority over the review, so much so that be was prepared to criticize the founders of the first review for not giving sufficient recognition to some of the major contemporary French-language "modernist" authors:
Sur Cingria-Audiberti: oui, je comprends bien en quoi leur presence peut assez souvent agacer nos plus vieux (nos plus surs) amis, les amis de la plus vieille NRF. Tout de meme: le tort de cette premiere NRF (si l'on veut a tout prix lui en trouver un) n'a-t-il pas ete de refuser toute place au baroque (et par la d'avoir rendu son expiosion tardive bien plus dangereuse): d'ignorer Apollinaire (ou peu s'en faut) et Jarry; de meconnaitre Lautreamont? (64)
These sustained differences between Paulhan and his mentor illustrate a "Quarrel of the Ancients and Moderns" at the heart of the review in which the more conservative Schlumberger defended an aesthetic conception of the review which is more formally, or more narrowly "classicist." A long time afterwards, in the 1950s Schlumberger would recall that he had not liked this "passion for the saugrenu." (65) As for Paulhan, his own researches into the language of literature, as well as his penchant for aspects of new writing, led him to take risks, such that the equilibrium of the NRF--its "orthodoxy"--was sometimes challenged, or disturbed, or refocused. So, in addition to the suppleness of Paulhan's efforts in balancing the review, the success of his years at the NRF is largely attributable to the risks he took in testing, and in juxtaposing, the Classical with the Modern, Terror with Rhetoric. Ir Paulhan's review does in the end constitute a "modernist" project, then it is because it could challenge its own "orthodoxy" from within, if not in search of the "new," then at least of "renewal."
We may make more sense of this if we return, finally, to Walter Gobbers's apprehension that ir "is an almost hopeless task to try and work out a plausible definition, particularly of modernism." (66) One thing is clear about the period following the First World War, and the crisis referred to above identified by Paul Valery as the "crise de l'esprit." As Gobbers notes, "the spiritual climate surrounding the modernist artist is ambivalent," leading to a
dualistic view of the world [that] continually alternates optimista and pessimista, reckless confidence and gloomy feelings of doom, and these moods may even manifest themselves simultaneously. In fact, it is the paradox which dominates the whole of the modernist period from the fin de siecle to the avant-garde.
This offers one interpretation of how and why, in the case of the NRF, one may trace, across the contents pages of the review between 1919 and 1940, a whole complex of opposing, or juxtaposed, trends, moods, styles. Its pages certainly contain
romantic impulses side by side with positivistic ones, irrationality side by side with intellectualism, the dionysian principle and the apollonian, avant-garde trends and more classical ones, nihilism and constructivism, chaos and order, revolutionary tenets side by side with more conservative ones. (67)
As we have attempted to show, Paulhan was fully and self-consciously aware of this situation and the possibilities it afforded. In the same way as the director of our botanical garden, Jean Paulhan remained ever on the lookout for new varieties of textual flowers, planting standard varieties beside rhetorical flourishes of exotic blooms, alongside ali the others.
University of Birmingham
My thanks go to Jacqueline and Claire Paulhan for their continuing support for my researches on Jean Paulhan. In the following footnotes, Jean Paulhan is abbreviated to JP.
(1.) J. Harding, The Criterion. Cultural Politics and Periodical Networks in Inter-War Britain (Oxford: OUP, 2002), p. 10.
(2.) J. O'Brien, "Introduction", The Most Significant Writings from the NRF 1919-1940 (London: Eyre & Spottiswoode, 1958), p. xi.
(3.) M. Levenson, A Genealogy of Modernism (Cambridge, CUP, 1984), p. 213, quoted in Harding, The Criterion, p. 1.
(4.) For Beaujour's comment see the report by P. Kechichian, "La NRF fut-elle toujours une revue moderne?", Le Monde (25 April 2003).
(5.) W. Gobbers, "Modernism, Modernity, Avant-Garde: A Bilingual Introduction," in C. Berg, E Durieux and G. Lernout (eds.), The Turn of the Century/Le tournant du siecle. Modernism and Modernity in Literature and the Arts (Berlin, New York: Walter de Gruyter, 1995), pp. 3-16.
(6.) Ibid., p. 15.
(7.) See A. Compagnon, "Les Antimodernes" (Paris: Gallimard, 2005), pp. 290-371.
(8.) M. Koffeman, Entre classicisme et modernite. La Nouvelle Revue francaise dans le champ litteraire de la Belle Epoque (Atlanta and New York: Rodopi, 2003).
(9.) P. Valery, "La Crise de l'esprit," NRF (August 1919), pp. 321-337.
(10.) V. Larbaud, "James Joyce," NRF (April 1922), pp. 385-409.
(11.) R. Fernandez, "Le classicisme de T. S. Eliot," NRF (February 1925), pp. 246-251.
(12.) M. Bradbury and J. McFarlane, Modernism (Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1976), p. 208.
(13.) See the essay by the late M. Trebitsch, "les Intellectuels," in V. Duclert and C. Prochasson, Dictionnaire critique de la Republique (Paris: Flammarion, 2002), p. 735, and G. Sapiro, La Guerre des ecrivains (Paris: Fayard, 1999).
(14.) Henriette Charasson, "Lettres francaises," La Revue de France, vol. 1, no. 2 (1 April 1921), pp. 419-20.
(15.) Rene Johannet, "Les trois crises de la litterature contemporaine," Revue des deux mondes (15 January 1928), pp. 401-415.
(16.) Andre Suares, who was marginalized by the NRF prior to Paulhan's editorship, accused the review of being "un pitoyable cenacle [...] dirige avec une incroyable etroitesse d'esprit par ce Goethe des mouches, ce pasteur de Sodome qu'est Andre Gide, oligarchie dont les dirigeants mettent leur puissance pecuniere au service de leurs petites idees"; Les Marges (April 1933), p. 221.
(17.) E.g.H. Beraud, La Croisade des longues figures (Paris: Editions du siecle, 1924).
(18.) G. Lanson, 'Reflexions d'un vieux critique sur la jeune litterature,' Revue des deux mondes (1 December 1921), pp. 561-579 (quote p. 571).
(19.) "Il me semble que la revue ne devrait, sous aucun pretexte, servir d'appat pour la maison d'edition: elle est un tout, comme la maison d'edition elle-meme, et l'aide qui l'une peut apporter a l'autre ne sera efficace qui si elle evite de se fonder sur des ruses"; JP to Schlumberger, unpublished letter dated 20 June 1925, Fonds Schlumberger, Bibliotheque litteraire Jacques Doucet, Paris.
(20.) "Cette publication fragmentaire m'a valu un tel courrier de reproches et d'injures (du type: 'Ah, vous voulez nous obliger a acheter le volume', etc.), que je me suis bien promis de ne pas recommencer ..."; JP to Schlumberger, unpublished letter dated 11 April 1938, Fonds Schlumberger.
(21.) "L'article de et sur Roussel a epate tous les bourgeois qui lisent La NRF (et c'est l'immense majorite)"; unpublished letter dated 9 April 1935 from Jean Grenier to JP, Fonds Paulhan, IMEC, Paris.
(22.) JP to Ande Gide, letter dated 19 April 1934, in JP, Choix de lettres, I. 1917-1936 (Gallimard, 1986), p. 319.
(23.) L. Brisset, La NRF de Paulhan (Gallimard, 2003), pp. 259-60. See also the analysis of this anthology by C.-P. Perez, "Politique poetique," in C.-P. Perez (ed.), Jean Paulhan et les poetes (Aix-en-Provence: Publications de l'Universite de Provence, 2004), pp. 185-198.
(24.) Unpublished letter from Grenier to JP dated 24 September 1933, Fonds Paulhan, IMEC. Earlier, in January 1931, Jean Grenier had told Paulhan: "J'ai fait abonner la bibliotheque du Lycee [d'Albi] a la NRF. C'est une victoire extraordinaire" ... And again in October 1935 he would note: "Alain, n'en parlons pas--c'est Cuistre et Cie comme toujours, mais tu as besoin de lui pour ta clientele des EN et EPS"; Paulhan-Grenier, Correspondance 1925-1968 (Quimper: Calligrammes, 1984), p. 66.
(25.) Interview with Dominique Aury, Gavroche (8 February 1945), quoted in M. Cornick, "Jean Paulhan et la resurrection de La NRF en 1953", La Revue des revues, no. 29 (2001), pp. 30-53, p. 38.
(26.) Interview in Samedi-Soir (24 December 1952), quoted in ibid., p. 45.
(27.) G. Sapiro, La Guerre des ecrivains (Paris: Seuil, 1999).
(28.) F. Strowski in L'Opinion (21 August 1920), quoted in M. Cornick, Intellectuals in History. The NRF under Jean Paulhan, 1925-1940 (Amsterdam and New York: Rodopi, 1995), p. 71. On the standing of Strowski at the Sorbonne, see C. Charle, La Republique des universitaires 1870-1940 (Paris: Seuil, 1994), pp. 209-210.
(29.) Lanson, "Reflexions," p. 571.
(30.) Grenier to JP, letter dated 11 January 1931, in Correspondance 1925-1968, p. 35.
(31.) See P. Valery, "Litterature," NRF (June 1926), pp. 671-6.
(32.) Tresor de la Langue francaise (Paris: CNRS, 1980), p. 932.
(33.) A. Thibaudet, "Le tournoi du latin," NRF, September 1924, quoted from Reflexions sur la litterature I (Gallimard, 1938), p. 247-253, p. 251.
(34.) A. Compagnon, "Thibaudet, le dernier critique heureux," Le Debat, no. 120 (May-August 2002), pp. 33-54.
(35.) Thibaudet, "Le tournoi du latin," p. 252.
(36.) Today this painting is in the Museum Ludwig in Cologne, Germany.
(37.) "P.E.," "Jean Paulhan le souterrain," Litterature, no. 9 (November 1919), p. 31. This text is reproduced in Paul Eluard & JP, Correspondance 1919-1944, edition etablie et annotee par O. Felgine et C.-P. Perez (Paris: Editions Claire Paulhan, 2003), p. 194.
(38.) The information in these paragraphs is based on Claire Paulhan and Bernard Baillaud, Chronologie bio-bibliographique de Jean Paulhan 1884-1968, Fonds Jean Paulhan, IMEC, Paris; two texts by Aragon, Lautreamont et nous (Sables, 1992) [first published in Les Lettres francaises on 1st and 8 June 1967], and "Le temps traverse" [first published after Paulhan's death in Les Lettres francaises, 16 October 1968], in Aragon-Paulhan-Triolet, Correspondance (Paris: Gallimard, 1994), pp. 207-28; A. Breton, Entretiens 1913-1952, in OEuvres completes, III (Paris: Gallimard, 1999); Julien Dieudonne, Les Recits de Jean Paulhan (Paris: Champion, 2001), pp. 32-35, and Paul Eluard et Jean Paulhan, Correspondance 1919-1944, edition etablie et annotee par O. Felgine et C.-P. Perez (Paris: Editions Claire Paulhan, 2003).
(39.) "C'est a la premiere de Couleur du temps et non des Mamelles Ide Tiresias] que Breton, le 24 novembre 1918 (quinze jours apres la mort de Guillaume [Apollinaire]), assiste avec Jean Paulhan, au premier rang du balcon de la Renaissance. A l'entracte, un jeune officier d'administration, se precipite vers eux, bousculant tous les gens encore assis, de l'autre bout du rang. C'est Eugene Grindel [Paul Eluard] que connait Paulhan, il prend en effet Breton pour un ami perdu de vue, l'appelle de son nora, et devant l'etonnement de Paulhan et de Breton, bat en retraite, confus"; Lautreamont et nous, p. 82.
(40.) "C'est le moment ou je mis en rapport Paul Eluard avec Jean Paulhan. Tous deux s'adonnaient a une sorte de purisme litteraire: sans s'y rallier ils sympathisaient en gros avec nos tendances. Si j'avais voulu organiser les amis du Purisme en bande--comme les Dadaistes et plus tard les Surrealistes--j'aurais certainement fait signe d'abord a Eluard et a Paulhan"; A. Ozenfant, Memoires 1886-1962 (Paris: Seghers, 1968), p. 108.
(41.) A. Gide, "Dada," NRF (April 1920), 477-81; A. Breton, "Pour Dada," NRF (August 1920), 208-15, and J. Riviere, "Reconnaissance a Dada", ibid., 216-37. These essays sparked a debate within the review which caused Jean Schlumberger, one of the founder members of the NRF, to consider resigning his position.
(42.) Breton, Entretiens, p. 454.
(43.) "Comprenez-vous donc que je hais la NRF et la litterature, et toutes les subtilites et toutes les franchises et que si je vous aime, si nous vous aimons, ce n'est pas parce que vous vous placez parmi tout cela, mais parce que nous vous voyons tellement a part ...!"; letter dated 20 February 1920, Eluard and JP, Correspondance 1919-1944, p. 80.
(44.) For details, see M. Sanouillet, Dada a Paris (Paris: Flammarion, 1993), pp. 331-359.
(45.) See especially P. Mourier-Casile, "La NRF et le surrealisme (1924-1940), ou la neutralisation d'une avant-garde," Revue d'histoire litteraire de la France, no. 5 (1987), pp. 916-33, and J. Chenieux-Gendron, "Les risques du dialogue: Jacques Riviere et les surrealistes," in ibid., pp. 884-900.
(46.) "La NRF [...] a invente et maintenu une place pure [ou], tout en demeurant prete a accueillir les heretiques, elle refusat les heresies"; letter from Paulhan to Bernard Garniez quoted in Cornick, Intellectuals in history, p. 40-41.
(47.) A. Compagnon, Les cinq Paradoxes de la modernite (Paris: Seuil, 1990), pp. 100, 101; my emphasis.
(48.) J. Paulhan, "Presentation de la NRF a Radio 37," in OEuvres completes, IV (Paris: Cercle du livre precieux, 1970), pp. 362-363.
(49.) R. Kanters, "La critique a perdu son gardien," Le Figaro litteraire (21-27 October 1968).
(50.) Brisset, La NRF, p. 272. Also: "La NRF a donc ete bien plus qu'une revue pour Paulhan: elle a ete le lieu d'experimentation de son oeuvre"; ibid., p. 157.
(51.) A. Angles, "NRF,'" Magazine litteraire, no. 192 (fevrier 1983), p. 21.
(52.) JP to Jouhandeau, unpublished letter dated 28 June 1950, Fonds Paulhan, IMEC.
(53.) See the letters in Lettres de Paul Claudel a Jean Paulhan (1925-1954), correspondance presentee et annotee par Catherine Mayaux (Berne: Peter Lang, 2004), esp. pp. 65 and 241.
(54.) See JP to Guillaume de Tarde, Choix I, p. 159.
(55.) Quotes from Schlumberger in "La Nouvelle Revue francaise (1909)," OEuvres, I (Gallimard, 1958), p. 140 (the "modern classicism" of the early NRF is studied by Michel Decaudin, in La Crise des valeurs symbolistes. Vingt ans de poesie francaise 1895-1914 [Toulouse: Privat, 1960], pp. 331-51); J. Lacouture, Une adolescence du siecle. Jacques Riviere et la NRF (Paris: Seuil, 1994), p. 560. The phrase "modern classicism" was used for the first time by Henri Gheon in L'Ermitage in 1904; see M. Decaudin, "La NRF et les debats sur la poesie," Revue d'histoire litteraire de la France, no. 5 (1987), pp. 805-815.
(56.) JP to Schlumberger, unpublished letter dated 1 July 1935, Fonds Schlumberger.
(57.) See M. Sagaert, "Modernite de Paludes," in R. Kopp and P. Schnyder (eds.), Gide et la tentation de la modernite (Paris: Gallimard, 2002), pp. 297-314.
(58.) A. Gide, Si le grain ne meurt, in Journal 1939-1949, Souvenirs (Paris: Gallimard-Pleiade, 1954), p. 576.
(59.) In 1937, Gide teased Schlumberger in their discussions over "le saugrenu": "Puis ils parlent de Paulhan, de son gout exagere parce que quasi exclusif pour le saugrenu, gente particulierement contraire a Jean [Schlumberger], qui annonce l'intention de faire un prochain article sur ce sujet. 'Alors, cela m'excitera peut-etre a faire un article pour le defendre,' dit Gide. Il ajoute: 'J'ai jusqu'a un certain point la pretention de l'avoir reintroduit dans la litterature, mais il etait d'un autre ordre que celui qui sevit en ce moment, beaucoup moins verbal, par exemple, que celui de Max Jacob, que je te cache pas que je goute beaucoup, auquel il a su donner forme d'art et souvent meme un certain pathetique; evidemment, c'est un gente dont on est tres vite saoule et qu'il faut prendre par petites doses.' Nous tombons d'accord que le saugrenu de Malraux, qu'il a baptise farfelu [...], est pour nous completement sans saveur, inexistant ..."; M. van Rysselberghe, Les Cahiers de la Petite Dame, vol. III, 1937-1945, Cahiers Andre Gide 6 (Paris: Gallimard, 1975), pp. 8-9.
Yet Gide was a notoriously contradictory spirit; earlier, in 1921, Gide had promoted himself (in an interview with Emile Henriot) as "the best representative of classicism"; quoted in R. Wellek, A History of Modern Criticism: 1750-1950. Vol. 8. French, Italian, and Spanish Criticism, 1900-1950 (Yale University Press, 1992), pp. 18-19.
(60.) JP to Schlumberger, unpublished letter dated 1 July 1935, Fonds Schlumberger. In the June 1935 issue of Le Minotaure (no. 7), it is true that "half the text" was contributed by NRF authors: Caillois, Michaux, Maurice Heine, Jacques Delamain, Armand Petitjean, and Georges Lafourcade.
(61.) Schlumberger to JP, unpublished letter dated 13 July 1935, Fonds Paulhan, IMEC.
(62.) JP to Schlumberger, unpublished letter dated 27 September 1935 (Fonds Schlumberger).
(63.) Paulhan to Schlumberger, unpublished letter dated 31 July 1940 (Fonds Schlumberger).
(64.) JP to Schlumberger, unpublished letter dating from April-June 1940 (Fonds Schlumberger).
(65.) Schlumberger, OEuvres, I, p. 140.
(66.) Gobbers, "Modernism, Modernity, Avant-Garde: A Bilingual Introduction", p. 8.
(67.) Ibid., p. 9.
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|Publication:||The Romanic Review|
|Article Type:||Critical essay|
|Date:||Jan 1, 2008|
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