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To lay a hand on the shoulder of ­future victims…

Donatien Grau, Pierre Guyotat

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Translated by Pedro Rodriguez

Donatien Grau: I have a sense that, in your recent work, the question of humanity has become more and more explicit. There has been a series of titles—Humains par hasard [Humans by chance, 2016], Joyeux animaux de la misère [Joyous Animals of Misery, 2014], Par la main dans les Enfers [By the Hand into the Hades, 2016]—that echo one another and call our humanity into question. Where do you stand these days on this question?


Pierre Guyotat: I’ve always dealt with that question. It’s nothing new, and it necessarily lies at the core of every work of art. To begin with, we have to decide what we mean by humanity. Do we mean humanity in the sense of humane sentiment? Do we mean the current mass of humanity, or evolution, or humanity with respect to a divinity? Or, especially, humanity versus inhumanity?

For years during my youth, when I was about thirty, I did indeed wittingly focus on humanity’s material aspect, its organic aspect—my psychoanalytic period. I was wary of all metaphysics, all psychology. For me at that time humanity was reduced so specifically to its bodily expression that things always came to a sort of burst. Every body bursting, every body exploding, as at the end of Eden, Eden, Eden, in 1970… Now is when I’m realizing this. When I do a reading of that book, especially of the end, I realize that it wasn’t just bodies exploding into scattering body parts out of sexual need. It was also that particular notion of exclusive corporeity, of corporality, coming into play.

For a long, long time I was “the body writer,” and I still am, alas. There’s still some body left. There’s still a bit of body, so there’s already an explosion from that. Philippe Sollers’s preface to Eden, Eden, Eden hints at the explosive side. Later it was language that exploded. It was absolute writing [l’écriture absolue], the horizontal act, what in the early 1970s I called the basic text, that exploded into voices. It was voices—in Prostitution, in 1975—that very quickly came to convey the explosion, that came to speak in lieu of the exploded body, of the exploded material body, or materialist body. It was, I think, the impossibility of going any further… In the end it’s the voice that conveys the description, the story, the statement, even if the voice is dispersed, or itself...

In the recent work of Pierre Guyotat, the question of humanity has become more and more explicit. There has been a series of titles—Humains par hasard [Humans by chance, 2016], Joyeux animaux de la misère [Joyous Animals of Misery, 2014], Par la main dans les Enfers [By the Hand into the Hades, 2016]—that echo one another and call our humanity into question. Donatien Grau is asking Pierre Guyotat where he stands these days on this question.

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Donatien Grau

is the author of various books. He realized the exhibition Pierre Guyotat, la matière de nos oeuvre in collaboration with the Azzedine Alaïa Gallery in April–June 2016. A book of conversations between him and Pierre Guyotat appeared in October 2016: Humains par Hasard.
Pierre Guyotat

Pierre Guyotat

For almost fifty years now Guyotat has been considered one of the most significant avant-gardists and innovators in the French language. Writing, painting, drawing in close touch with music and literature since his early youth, he published his first book in 1961, Sur un cheval. In the same year, called up to the war in Algeria, he was imprisoned for incitement to desertion and the distribution of forbidden literature. With Tombeau pour cinq cent mille soldats (1967) and Eden, Eden, Eden (1970) he gained wide attention and provoked a sharp controversy including censorship. His radical writing was interrupted when his increasingly severe physical and mental exhaustion culminated, in late 1981, in a coma. In 2006 he published Coma, which reflects his psychiatric crisis and reached a wide audience. His numerous publications show Guyotat's stylistic diversity as well as his permanent altercation with literature.


Other texts by Pierre Guyotat for DIAPHANES