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Joaquim Vital. Adieu a quelques personnages.

Joaquim Vital. Adieu a quelques personnages. Paris. La Difference. 2004 (released 2005). 350 pages. 20 [euro]. ISBN 2-7291-1522-6

FROM SALAZAR'S JAILS to Parisian glitterati, from the modest dwellings of Mayou Iserentant and Frantysek Foltyn to Leonor Fini's "court," Joaquim Vital has been a full participant in the European intellectual odyssey during the last quarter of the twentieth century. Born a Lisbon poet and publisher, Vital emigrated to Brussels in 1967 and founded the publishing house La Taupe, which reprinted important works by socialist thinkers, then settled in Paris where he founded the Editions Paule Nemours, devoted to art monographs, in 1972. His meeting with surrealist guru Patrick Waldberg would be decisive. Waldberg introduced him to "this temple of French literature and thought," the Gallimard circle of Georges Lambrichs, whose niece Colette would become Vital's lifelong companion and publishing partner. Under Waldberg's influence, Vital decided that books should celebrate contemporary French and foreign literature, poetry, and modern art, "then poorly represented in France ... and almost absent from the bookstore circuit." In 1976 Vital launched Editions de La Difference, christened by Waldberg with a logo designed by Andre Masson. After a first French monograph about Giorgio de Chirico and a much-acclaimed volume by Gilles Deleuze entitled Francis Bacon, la logique de la sensation (Francis Bacon or the logic of sensation), Vital surrounded himself with artists and authors for whom literature and painting were inseparable: Andre Masson, Julio Pomar, Pierre Klossowski, Isabelle Waldberg, Marcel Broodthaers, Michel Journiac, and Michel Butor, to cite only a few. Through the years, he also published such important Portuguese writers as Sophia de Mello Breyner and Fernando Pessoa. In the 1980s he developed new collections, including the very successful Orphee poetry series.

Adieu a quelques personnages is more than a series of portraits of departed artists and authors whom La Difference published over a period of forty years. It is the map of a tellurian personality. Vital invites us to sift through a pocketful of memories and bares a life lived to the fullest in exciting unpredictability. He lists in one breath his favorite Parisian landmarks, the first books he published, Patrick Waldberg's favorite dishes, or Alain Bosquet's favorite books. He remembers his authors' favorite spaces, restaurants, bars, churches, flats, cities, and mansions. His memory is phenomenal and factual, his accounts unembellished. He conducts business in cafes and restaurants, building his vision, his contacts, and his books one meal at a time. He who unabashedly proclaims the right to be subjective appreciates people who are on opposite sides. He who so valued modern art is rather blase about postmodernism: "For one Buren, one du Colombier, one Raffray, how many busy idiots who deface the landscape ..."

Working as an editeur de fonds can be lonely. Vital reminisces about a Masson-Miro retrospective that was never completed and about unsuccessful attempts to meet with such artists as Max Ernst. As a noncommercial publishing house, almost a philanthropic endeavor, La Difference had narrow escapes from financial difficulties. Joaquim Vital's resiliency, however, allowed him to persevere and to become not only a discoverer of talent but a central figure of the Parisian publishing world that he helped rejuvenate. His recipe for success? Instinct, encyclopedic memory, unquenchable intellectual curiosity, willingness to listen to advice, and talented staff. Adieu a quelques personages reveals the artist and the creator in the publisher as well as the impossibility of seizing the magnitude of one's work until it is all done, until the scene has quieted down enough to reveal its true shape.

Alice-Catherine Carls

University of Tennessee, Martin
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Author:Carls, Alice-Catherine
Publication:World Literature Today
Article Type:Book review
Date:May 1, 2006
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