Preface to the re-edition of A-t-on lu Rimbaud?

In 1961 Jean-Jacques Pauvert published A-t-on lu Rimbaud ?  (“Has Rimbaud been read?”). In 1971, he republished the work together with the additional text “L’affaire Rimbaud”. Without “driving the whole country mad”, as René Étiemble put it, the book still had some success and caused a bit of brainstorming. In it I showed that, notwithstanding his reputation, Rimbaud was logical. A secondary finding was that, far from mystical, his inspiration was above all erotic, a fact not lacking in savour. Critics had been dwelling on the accessory effect of eroticism, neglecting what was most important: the young Arthur, who had always been presented as a model of the exalted poet, visionary and revolutionary, unveiled himself as a schoolboy keen on logical and grammatical analysis, good at (Latin) translation, something of a Parnassian. He had respected the harsh laws of French prosody and of alexandrine verse just as he had followed the requirements of the dactylic hexameter and Latin prosody. And in fact he did not really hate getting the cane, either from his masters or from his mother.

     Afterwards, I published studies on Lautréamont, on Apollinaire, and on Nerval. There again, I strove to read the texts as closely as possible. It was thus that I discovered  that these authors, who were reputed to be, in varying degrees, illogical, irrational, and in breach of tradition, were logical, rational, and cautious in their manner of wielding thoughts and words. We had been fooled by appearances. Isidore Ducasse, under the name of Lautréamont, had written a brazen clownery in which he took the mickey out of the “good reader”. Gérard Labrunie, under the name of Nerval, had, in the gems which are his poems Les Chimères and Autres Chimères, hidden naive secrets, pure and moving ones, yet also somewhat disturbing in regard to his mental state. Wilhelm-Apollinaris de Kostrowitzky, under the name Guillaume Apollinaire, had also vented his heart in the poems entitled Alcools and, beneath a cloak of mystifying fantasy, he had concealed an astonishing erudition. At the same period I took considerable delight in reading Louis-Ferdinand Destouches, alias Céline, whom I hold to be the greatest of our stylists and the shrewdest connaisseur of our language’s resources.

    In short, I was rather enjoying myself. I found much pleasure and satisfaction in the French language and its literature, in precise expression, in the search for the foremost sense, all far removed from work in biographies and bibliographies. Often, in a park in Vichy, on the banks of the river Allier, I could be found, “the judicious pencil in hand” [Céline], striving to decipher difficult texts so as to explain them to modest and sensible passers-by who, I supposed, had an abhorrence of Parisian or academic pretence.

    Nothing was wanting in this fine life, not always wholly tranquil; however I also led another life, a secret one which, I was sure, would one day lead to disaster.

    Better to have out with it straight away: chance or destiny (but what exactly does that word mean?) had led me, from the early 1960s, to discover almost simultaneously, in  literature, the myth of Rimbaud and, in history, horribile dictu, the myth of the magical gas chamber. Together, literary and historical revisionism had found their way into the life of a 32-year-old professor in the provinces who taught French, Latin, and Greek at a girls’ school: the Lycée des Célestins. Some years later, those two revisionisms were to converge in my study of the all too famous Diary of Anne Frank.

    So it was that, just past the age of thirty, I was induced to carve a particularly active life into four parts: one quarter devoted to the pleasures of living, to my family and to sport; another to my job, a third to literary revisionism, and the last quarter — the accursed part — to historical revisionism.

   A few years afterwards, I left the field of secondary education for the one which is termed (by itself) “higher”: I entered the University. Quite a big word, when one thinks about it.

    My thesis was to be on “The Buffoonery of Lautréamont”, with the “viva” taking place on 17 June 1972 (the day of the Bouttier-Monzon boxing match), in the Richelieu amphitheatre at the Sorbonne. It was a hot, animated happening, and the press carried reports of it. I slipped in an allusion to the “outlandish myths” of the second world war: “some myths are sacred. Even in literature or in history, there is some risk in seeking to demystify things” (A-t-on lu Lautréamont?, Gallimard, Paris 1972, p. 338).

    Two years later, appointed to a teaching post at the University of Lyon-2 after a stint at the Sorbonne, I let, as the English say, the cat out of the bag and revealed, outside of academic confines, that to my mind Paul Rassinier was right: there had never been any mass-execution gas chambers in the concentration camps of the Third Reich.

    One consequence of my daring was that I became, overnight, a most dubious university professor indeed. In 1978, I learned that I was officially considered to be an academic without a single publication to his name, not even a certain book on Rimbaud which might have got him talked about in the 1960s. Attesting to my utter sterility were the president and vice-president of Lyon-2, the minister of universities, and for good measure, the Council of State which, with the list of my published works within arm’s reach, sovereignly declared that there was “nothing materially inaccurate” in holding that, as a university professor, Faurisson was one of a kind: he had never published a thing; and to prove this, there was his own admission.

    In the course of a few years I was to experience an avalanche of lies, malicious gossip, and calumnies, but here I shall tarry only for a moment on the effect which that campaign had on the fortunes of A-t-on lu Rimbaud?

    My book vanished from circulation, and, along with some of my other works, was said to be “out of print” or “impossible to find”, even when it remained accidentally in the publisher’s catalogue. There was indeed no lack of call for A-t-on lu Rimbaud? but J.-J. Pauvert would not hear of a new edition. He was not averse to it but afraid. In 1984 a Parisian publisher at last made bold and decided to bring out a new edition. But he received threats, some of which were written and signed (and of which I have kept copies). Then he received… money. Mr Jack Lang, culture minister, awarded him a grant, renewable from year to year, for “cultural activity”. The publisher then had a flash of inspiration: he grasped that he had come very close to compromising himself with the devil. He shared his sudden realisation with a writer who happened to be doing a book on publishers’ secrets. He let him know that, if in the end he had given up on the idea of publishing my book about Rimbaud, it was because I had written other books – rather contemptible ones – which he did not want to appear to endorse. I shall refrain from naming the book in which this “false confidence” can be read today.

    I understand that people may sometimes be afraid and that, for some, fear will dictate that kind of reaction.

   The present edition was supposed to open with a foreword enabling the reader to review Rimbaud’s image today in academic spheres: an image which, if I have understood correctly, has changed a good deal since the early 1960s. It seems that, now, his poems in verse or in prose are read more closely, with attention given to their foremost sense. The author of the foreword in question was one of the most brilliant pupils or students which it has been my fortune to meet. He has become a well-known linguist, holding an enviable position in the scholarly world, and a post of international responsibility, as the saying goes. But he has notified the publisher that he is retracting his piece; so there. Let us leave it at that.

    For my part, it has been many a year since I last read “Voyelles” (“Vowels”) or the Illuminations. Times have been too hard. But times change, and quickly. Who knows? Perhaps, some day, I shall be allowed to reread Rimbaud.

February 1, 1991

[Preface by Robert Faurisson to A-t-on lu Rimbaud ?, followed by L’Affaire Rimbaud, re-edited (first edition 1962) by La Vieille Taupe, Paris 1991, p. 7-10.]