Jean-Paul Clébert at The Literary Review

April 23rd, 2015 § 0 comments


The latest issue of The Literary Review, dedicated to John le Carré, features a naughty bit of local color from ’50s Paris: an excerpt from Jean-Paul Clébert’s recently reprinted underground classic Paris insolite [Curious Paris], a memoir of homeless life in Paris said to have influenced Henry Miller and the Situationist principle of the dérive. Published in 1952 with a dedication to Robert Doisneau and photographs by Patrice Molinard, it was, in the author’s own words, “not a story in the journalistic sense, but a personal investigation.” It’s a freewheeling book, like On the Road. The excerpt is entitled “The Bawdyhouse for Beggars.” Here’s the opening:

BEFORE THE WAR there was, I think, in the Saint-Paul neighborhood on rue de Fourcy, a most astonishing public space, a whorehouse for hobos. This bedlam, now vanished from the earth if not its clients’ memories, whose sorely missed atmosphere can be readily imagined, consisted of two rooms-the Senate, where the rate was ten francs across the board, and the House of Representatives, where it hovered, according to mood and quality, around fifteen.

Jean-Paul Clébert (1926-2011) is the author of more than forty works of fiction and nonfiction. He left Jesuit school at 16, to join the French Resistance, and afterward, traveled Asia. In the 1950s, he frequented two related movements—dwindling Surrealism and burgeoning Situationism—as well as reporting from Asia for Paris Match and France Soir. The 1996 Dictionnaire du surréalisme, for which he single-handedly composed every entry, is widely considered a classic, as is his first book. Among other prominent works are The Blockhouse (1958), his only translated novel, and 1962’s Les Tziganes, a pioneering sociological study of Gypsies also based on personal experience, translated into English by Charles Duff (Dutton, 1963). His later works were dedicated to the history, nature, and culture of Provence, where he spent his final years.


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