Home Page > Chez André Breton, par Julien Gracq

André Breton's studio

« Their levels separated by a short stairway, the two rooms have always seemed dark to me, despite the tall windows of the studio and even on a sunny day. The overall tonality-dark green and chocolate brown-is that of very old museums in the provinces, where one finds not so much a collector's treasures but a jumble of bits and pieces from which it is impossible to completely remove the dust. Objects with angular contours, almost all of them in lightweight materials: masks, tikis, native dolls where feathers, cork and straw wisps dominate, managing to suggest at first view (as do the glass-fronted cabinets in the shadows which protect a collection of tropical birds) both the office of a naturalist and the storeroom-disordered-of an ethnographic museum. The profusion of objects of art crowded against the walls everywhere has little by little reduced the space available; one circulates only along precise itineraries created by use, avoiding as one progresses the branches, vines and thorns of a forest trail. Only certain Museum rooms, or the ageless premises which formerly housed the Geography department at the university in Caen, have ever given me the same impression of unvarying, rainy light, as if contact with the dateless ancientness of all the objects from the wilds crammed into the space had caused the light itself to grow old.

« Nothing has changed here since his death: ten years ago already! When I used to come to see him, I would enter by the door on the other landing, which gave directly into the upper room. He would sit down, pipe in his mouth, behind the heavy table like a counter overflowing with a clutter of objects-on his right, so on the wall, was the Cerveau de l'Enfant by Chirico--not very lively himself, not very mobile, almost ligneous, with large eyes, heavy and dull like those of a tired lion, in light which was brownish, as if obscured by winter branches. An ancient, almost ageless figure, who as he sat before a table which was that of a goldsmith and money changer, seemed to call out for those heavy pelisses which populate the half-light of Rembrandt's paintings, or the robes of Doctor Faust: a Doctor Faust always passionately attuned to the rumblings of youth, but-in keeping with his pact-excluded from it. So each evening after the café, he would make his retreat to paintings, books and pipe, in the densely populated confusion of the necromancer which was his true vestment, amidst the accumulated, immobile sediment of his whole life. For everything in the interior-and a single visit suggested that the word should be understood in all its force-of this fanatic of the new, spoke of immobility, of accumulation, of dust weighted down by habit, of the maniacal and unvarying order which any servant would be loath to disturb. My curiosity sometimes caused me to try to imagine (but Elisa Breton, who is the only one who could, will not describe them) the evenings, the mornings of Breton at home, Breton alone-the lamp lighted, the door closed, the curtain brought down on the theatre of Mes amis et moi. Many reasons (most recently, a small notebook containing drawings, self-portraits, whimsical addresses, phrases he jotted down when he awoke) lead me to believe that those hours he spent alone supposedly working were the ones he preferred for gleaning charming nothings from life, for sketching, musing, and feeding on the nectar from the thickets of his museum, always ready to use his sovereign power to put off that slightly unappetizing moment of writing. This taste which he had for the immediacy of life, down to its most slender gifts, its crumbs-a taste always new and renewed, always bedazzled, even in old age-nothing made me feel closer to him. Nothing was more characteristic of him than this inexhaustible attention given to life's everyday joys, which when shared could make friendship flower at any moment. I think of the inflexible and arid enthusiasts who came after him, ridiculously occupied by remaking a world according to concepts-like buying something in the blueprint stage. This is a world emptied of its life force, begun when they let vegetation dry up, subjecting themselves to Nietzsche's condemnation: "The desert is growing. Woe be unto anyone who carries deserts within himself." It is when life's lushness begins to decline that-emboldened-the plan-makers, the technicians working on their blueprints, put in their appearance; after this comes the moment when the only course left is to impoverish life still further, clearing the way for still more planning. Here there was a refuge against all that was mechanical in the world. »

© Julien Gracq, En lisant en écrivant, Librairie José Corti, 1980 (p. 249-251), thanks to him