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This report is taken from PN Review 44, Volume 11 Number 6, July - August 1985.

A French Anniversary Robert Julian

France is in a commemorative mood: Corneille, Bachelard, Diderot, and Jean Paulhan. All four-the playwright, the philosopher of science, and the men of letters-have lately appeared on postage stamps and been the subject of colloquia and of publications. For the Mitterand government (and such events rarely occur without an official decision somewhere), these commemorations are a favourite gesture, almost a tic. A legitimation of the role of culture in the nation's political life, they are also intended to recall a distracted general public to the great national talents which have been among us-and remind us that there is less need than some suggest to be for ever gazing off towards Anglo-Saxon or other cultures. The national borders enclose master spirits and established roads.

The centenary of Jean Paulhan's birth is perhaps the most interesting (and strictly French) of these events. Everyone knows the name and many can recognize the owlish face, but this man of letters, novelist, critic, and long-time editor of the Nouvelle Revue Fran&#ccedil;aise is easily one of the most neglected major figures of our time. The commemoration, which was the occasion for new editions and fresh publications, has had an uphill battle.

Even in France, where the venerable tradition of the man of letters (alternately called the 'philosophe' or the 'writer') lives on, Paulhan raises problems. Unlike Caillois, Leiris, and that other editor-writer Bataille, he belonged to no school and had few doctrines. Unlike Blanchot, he was not interested in leading literature ...


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