There is something of Judoka in Paul Claudel.
Diplomat and fighter, the Catholic poet Paul Claudel had many lives. His latest biographer, Professor Claude Pérez, introduces us to “the least hexagonal of French writers. In a biography entitled Paul Claudel, “I am the contradictory,” nourished with unpublished archives, the literary critic and writer Claude Pérez deciphers the legend surrounding Paul Claudel. He looks back on his journey as a demanding believer, a poet, a man of the theater, and a diplomat.
How do you explain that Claudel is so poorly known? Did he contribute himself?
Claude Pérez: I quote in the preface to my book a text by Chateaubriand, Essay on English Literature. The writer says of Byron: “Any character who is to live does not go to future generations as he was. At some distance from him, his epic begins. We idealize this character, transfigure him, attribute to his power, vices, virtues that he never had, arrange the hazards of his life, violate them, and coordinate them to a system. Biographers repeat these lies, painters fix their inventions on the canvas, and posterity adopts the phantom.
Claudel fits that description perfectly. Today we have the image of a prestigious but challenging writer (he wanted to be popular) and also that of an arrogant Catholic, sure of himself, sometimes brutal. There is some truth to this image, but it is simplistic. Paul Claudel was fully involved in the violent controversies of his time. He campaigned energetically in favor of the Church, against the separation of Church and State, against secularization.
A Perfect Man
It comes from the fact that Claudel is a whole man and also that he was a fighter with many enemies. So, He was fully engaged in the violent controversies of his time. He campaigned energetically in favor of the Church, against the separation of Church and State, against secularization. He then had violent clashes with Action Française. Charles Maurras is one of his great enemies.
He is also because he is Catholic, violently hostile to racism and Nazism. In 1941, he, who had written a poem to Pétain a year earlier, wrote to the Chief Rabbi of France to protest against anti-Semitic measures: “A Catholic cannot forget that Israel is still the eldest son of the promise, as he is. today the eldest son of pain. »During the Cold War, he enlisted for a moment with De Gaulle, who attracted him to the RPF because of his prestige as a diplomat and writer, and he advocated for the creation of the State of Israel. His whole life is a life of fighting. There is something about him about the judoka who takes his energy by capturing the opponent’s power.
Why did you choose the title “I am the contradictory”? Is it related to religion?
It’s a quote. Claudel said this to a Canadian journalist during the interwar period. In a time which is dechristianizing itself, which apostasy, he says, maintains for him, against all odds, that God exists, that, contrary to the belief of the majority of his contemporaries, he is not dead. As a teenager, he had no faith. His conversion, at 18, in 1886, went against the grain of the times. It is also enigmatic.
We only know what he told years later, with certainly a part of the reconstruction. We know that his parents were not believers: his father had been brought up by the Jesuits, but he was anticlerical; his mother was indifferent in matters of religion. His sister Camille, the famous sculptor, was also skeptical. When he was converted, he reconnected with the previous generation, his grandfather, and his great-uncle, parish priest. There would also have been, according to family legend, ancestors who would have protected priests threatened with death during the French Revolution.
What was decisive in his conversion?
I think that what is determining in the conversion of Claudel is the horror of death. This believing grandfather, whom I mentioned, died in excruciating suffering from stomach cancer. Young Claudel, who was 12, witnessed his death throes. He was terrified. Claudel, like Saint Augustine, sees in Christ “the death of death.” In his second play, La Ville, he puts this line three times in the mouth of one of his characters: “Nothing is.
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We can say that his relationship to religion is a sort of Paschal bet: either faith or nihilism (“nothing is worth nothing”) and the despair that goes with it. In 1900, he tried to complete his conversion by becoming a monk. He went to a Benedictine monastery three times, but he came out all three times. What he never gave up, however, was religious practice and reading the Bible, on which he commented immensely in the latter part of his life.
In addition to his spiritual life, Claudel’s life is marked by a large number of experiences.
A friend of his used to say about him: “It’s an always smoking locomotive.” Claudel is constantly under pressure; he has a substantial “energy capital” to use one of his expressions. They opened up very diverse paths for him. He had several lives: a believer’s life, a writer’s life in very different genres, verse and prose, life as a father of a large family, a love life too, with a married woman whom he had a life of. Girl, a still life of a man of spectacles.
A Great Diplomat
He was not content to write some of the most significant pieces of the XX century ( Partage de Midi, Le Soulier de Satin …), but he worked closely with his directors. He was passionate about the set, a little too much even to the taste of Jean-Louis Barrault, to whom he was, however, very close. And then he was also a great diplomat. He ended his career as Ambassador to Washington, the most prestigious diplomatic post of all. When he retired in 1935, he declared that he wanted to devote himself solely to spiritual life. But he continues to have diplomatic activity. He remains in contact with President Roosevelt. To prevent the war he sees coming, and he pleads to favor a political and economic alliance between England, France. And the United States against the totalitarian powers.
Paul Claudel, because of these diplomatic activities, was also a great traveler. What did his many stays abroad bring him?
He is the least hexagonal of French writers, the most “Catholic,” as he said when giving this word the etymological meaning of “universal.” they began his career in the United States. Paul Claudel stayed in China for thirteen years, in Prague, in Germany where he failed to be lynched by the mob in August 1914, in Italy, in Brazil. Where defused in 1917 a risk of financial catastrophe comparable to the scandal in Panama, in Denmark. Wherein 1920 he centralized information on the Russian Revolution and the unrest in Germany. He was then sent to Japan for six years, then to the United States during the 1929 crisis. All of this played an essential role in his formation and contributed significantly to the richness of his work. His experience of Asia, in particular, is long (twenty years!
He was a great admirer of artists from the Far East, of Japanese theater in particular, and also in contact with several spiritual traditions. Even if he was sometimes brutal in his judgments about Buddhism. He read several Buddhist books (like those of other religions). They were sensitive to certain similarities between Buddhism and Christianity. And more than once, he identified himself with those Buddhist monks that he could observe in China or Japan, in their hermitages: they were what he had failed to be. They led a life similar to that that he would have liked to live.
He read several Buddhist books, he was sensitive to certain similarities between Buddhism and Christianity. And more than once, he identified himself with those Buddhist monks that he could observe in China or Japan, in their hermitages: they were what they had failed to be. They led a life similar to that that he would have liked to live. He read several Buddhist books he was sensitive to certain similarities between Buddhism and Christianity. And more than once, he identified himself with those Buddhist monks that he could observe in China or Japan, in their hermitages: they were what they had failed to be; they led a life similar to that that he would have liked to live.