Les Routes initiatiques de Germain Nouveau (review)
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Nineteenth Century French Studies 32.3 & 4 (2004) 390-392

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Proïa, François. Les Routes initiatiques de Germain Nouveau. Préface par Louis Forestier. Roma, Napoli: Edizioni Scientifiche Italiane, 2001. Pp. 200. ISBN 88-495-0260-5

The present volume is the most recent and one of the best book-length studies on Germain Nouveau. It contains a professional index (still not obvious with European books) and certainly includes useful and up to date information as exemplified by the appendix "Germain nouveau sur l'internet" (183-85).

François Proïa is one of the last genuine Renaissance men. His range covers the history of Louisiana, the theory of translation, multimedia, and the Avant-garde. He is one of a number of scholars who, after André Breton, Paul Eluard, and Louis Aragon, see Germain Nouveau as a forerunner of Surrealism. True to its title, this book presents Nouveau as an artist who is not afraid to leave the beaten path: no fear of contradiction, no horror of extremism here. This volume constitutes brilliant and generous work.

Alas, Les Routes initiatiques de Germain Nouveau, as a cultural object, has properties that reveal the problems associated with studying "minor authors." For his references to the works and correspondence of Germain Nouveau, François Proïa, [End Page 390] through no fault of his own, uses the 1970 Pléiade edition. There is a 1980 edition that contains 26 extra pages. There is also an edition of Nouveau's poetry in the Poésie collection by Louis Forestier that was published in 1981. But the problem is that many libraries and colleagues can easily be fooled by book publishers and distributors who will do their best to sell their stock of the 1970 edition instead of the 1980 one and hope that no one will check. We can therefore assume that it was not easy for François Proïa to access the above-mentioned more recent publications. Also regrettable is the obvious absence of Germain Nouveau: Pages complémentaires (1983) by Michael Pakenham, a volume that will be indispensable to the next editor of the complete works of Germain Nouveau.

A more important illustration of this condition can be found in the fact that François Proïa emphasizes the importance of Germain Nouveau as a painter and an art critic, especially in his fifth chapter entitled "L'art d'écrire et l'art de dessiner" (73-96). In it, Proïa refers to the fact that in 1908 Nouveau was planning to put together "une grosse brochure sur la peinture italienne" (84). Had the critic been able to consult unpublished documents that surfaced at an auction sale in Paris in January 2002, he could have further developed this crucial intuition. Among these newly-found manuscripts there are pages of notes on the "art de peindre," Caravaggio, Giorgione, Rubens, and Giotto. These manuscripts contain technical notes on an impressive number of other artists as well. Some new writings about architecture were also recently found. In short, even without access to these documents, François Proïa opened a new road into Nouveau scholarship and confirmed that we have underestimated the cross-fertilization of poetry and visual arts in his creative work. Access to the primary sources of some "stellas minores" continues to be particularly difficult.

The general articulation of this book follows a number of thematic structures. The first chapter "Une enfance difficile" (13-24), stresses two improtant aspects of Nouveau's childhood: his emotional orphan-state and virtual incest with respect to his sister Laurence. With the second chapter "Trouver un sens ailleurs" (25-40), we are presented with Nouveau's arrival in Paris and with the third "Les débuts poétiques (41-90), we discover his dislike of the Parnissian movement. Like Baudelaire, Germain Nouveau has reservations about schools that preach any form of "l'art pour l'art" because he believes that a form of genuine "vécu" must sustain the creative process.

With the fourth chapter "Les signes d'un destin astral" (51-71), we enter...