A tribute to Tony Duvert
Le monde, August 23, 2008
Jean-Noël Pancrazi;Translated by David Thorstad for Semiotext(e).
The writer Tony Duvert, 63, was discovered dead on Wednesday, August 20, at home, in the small village of Thoré-la-Rochelle (Loir-et-Cher). He had been dead for about a month. An investigation has been started, but he appears to have died of natural causes. Tony Duvert had not published any books since 1989. He had been almost forgotten, and yet, he left a mark on his time – the 1970s – by the extreme freedom that he demonstrated in both his writings and his life, by his unique tone of coarseness and grace, by the rhythm of his sentences, often without punctuation, carried along by only the movement of desire – capable, as people believed then, of changing the world.
Born in 1945, Tony Duvert was an outlaw, he felt himself banned – the title of one of his first books, published in 1969 by Minuit, which will remain his publisher. But the music, at once rough and refined, of his prose lent all the nocturnal strolls and excursions of a man who loved men the look of a funereal odyssey, of an almost mythical promenade by the sheer strangeness and solitude of the darkest city neighborhoods.
In Le voyageur (The traveler, 1970), with a feeling of free fall and absence to himself, Tony Duvert lets old images encircle him. In the countryside drowned by winter and rain, the ghosts of Karim (killed by his mother), Daniel (the adolescent whom the narrator teaches to write), André, Pierre, and Patrick, deprived, lost, went searching in the fog for a gentleness and a justice that the world denies them.
It is perhaps in order to welcome them that Tony Duvert wrote this Paysage de fantaisie, awarded the Prix Médicis in 1973 (tr. 1976 by Sam Flores as Strange landscape). In a whorehouse-orphanage, the boarders embrace all the whims of the moment, without taboo, look, or reproach. In this book there is a kind of amoral jubilation and ferocious joy. And, in the jostling of grammar, gestures, and scenes, in the transport of the unique sentence, a challenge to every literary and ethical convention. In his almost childlike joy, this was how Duvert forgot that he was an adult, perhaps even that he was a writer.
But it is in Journal d’un innocent (1976, tr. 2010 by Bruce Benderson as Journal of an innocent) that this pagan innocence is expressed most clearly. In a universe without either fault or suffering, somewhere in the South, embraces follow one another with a total, absolute naturalness.
There is only skin and sun, the simple worship of desire: and one could say that Tony Duvert breaks free from the very need for eroticism, from the obligations of pornography – this pornography that he has been so readily accused of in order to mask it with a sulfurous cloud and make one forget that he was a great writer celebrating the flesh. Two works
- Le bon sexe illustré (1974, tr. 2007 by Bruce Benderson as Good sex illustrated) and
- L’enfant au masculin (The child in the masculine, 1980) – attempted to give a more thought-out form to his vision of the world and of love.
Tony Duvert had a genuine fervor: for nature, central especially to Quand mourut Jonathan (1978, tr. 1991 by D. R. Roberts as When Jonathan died), which recalls the love of a man and a child. This relationship takes on the appearance and the rhythm of a biological association, as if, by dint of understanding and harmony, they both had become plants mutually emitting harmful poisons to each other until they were destroyed and separated by society.
This society, Tony Duvert seemed to get closer to it the better to denigrate t in L’île atlantique (The Atlantic island, 1979), his most classical, almost naturalist, novel. It is a kind of comedy à la Marcel Aymé that Gérard Mordillat adapted for television in 2005. Afterwards, Tony Duvert stopped writing novels. Un anneau d’argent à l’oreille (A silver ring in the ear, 1982) is only a distant reflection, the echo of a farewell to this literary form.
In 1989, he still published an Abécédaire malveillant (A spiteful Primer), a series of aphorisms that express all the things he detests – priests, philosophers, parents. But one felt that he had lost the joy of provocation. As if he had understood that the times were increasingly hostile to him, that he could no longer open up landscapes of fantasy with his sentence alone, with his almost barbarous music. He isolated himself in this small Loir-et-Clair village, very alone, deprived, renouncing even the use of words, and sometimes only hearing in the distance the laughing of his pagan angels.