The Extreme In-Between
Jean Paulhan’s Place in the Twentieth Century
Legenda: Oxford, 2006
Frequently referred to as the éminence grise of French literature in the inter-war years, Jean Paulhan (1884-1968) was not just the editor responsible for giving writers as varied as Francis Ponge and Jean-Paul Sartre their first start in the pages of the renowned Nouvelle Revue Française. He also produced a substantial body of work of astonishing eclecticism. From dense, quasi-scientific texts on poetic language, where his critical expertise in contemporary linguistics and psychology is abundantly apparent, to enigmatic récits, which often seem closer to prose poems than anything else, he explored and exploited a vast range of discourses and artistic practices, from the Marquis de Sade’s early works to Picasso’s still lives. Yet all his explorations were governed by an overwhelming concern to understand what literature has to pay back to society. Anna-Louise Milne reveals the space Jean Paulhan sought to carve out, between art for art’s sake and art for political ends, thereby establishing more clearly his place in the twentieth century.
Anna-Louise Milne is Lecturer in French and Comparative Studies at the University of London Institute in Paris.