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diacritics 35.1 (2005) 3-6

Whispers of the Flesh Essays in Memory of Pierre Klossowski
Ian James
Russell Ford

Pierre Klossowski—novelist, essayist, painter, and translator—was one of the most startling, original, and influential figures in twentieth-century French intellectual culture. The older brother of the well-known painter Balthus and a close associate of Georges Bataille, Klossowski's diverse oeuvre includes novels, philosophical essays, and translations, as well as paintings and films. Confined thus far to an undeserved but somehow fitting shadow existence in the margins and notes of theorists who have become mainstays of Anglo-American criticism, Klossowski's own work has increasingly become a focus of critical interest for its decisive contribution to the development of thought and aesthetics in France from the 1950s onward.

Born in 1905, the eldest son of Polish émigrés, Klossowski spent his first ten years in Paris in an artistic milieu, heavily influenced by the neoimpressionism of figures such as Bonnard and Derain. His father, Erich Klossowski de Rola, was a painter and art historian, the author of an important monograph on Daumier. His mother, Baladine, was also a painter and trained under Bonnard. While still a teenager Klossowski was introduced to the German poet Rainer Maria Rilke, with whom he became close and who in turn introduced him to the novelist André Gide. At eighteen he became Gide's secretary and assisted him with the drafts of his famous novel Les faux-monnayeurs.

Not until 1930, however, did Klossowski's own career properly begin, when he translated with Jean-Pierre Jouve a collection of poems by Friedrich Hölderlin. Throughout his life Klossowski was a prolific and influential translator from both German and Latin into French, translating amongst others Nietzsche, Kafka, Heidegger, and Wittgenstein from the German, and Suetonius, Virgil, Augustine, and Tertullian from the Latin. While working for the prominent Parisian psychoanalyst René Laforgue, Klossowski published his first philosophical essay on the Marquis de Sade in 1933 in the Revue française de la psychanalyse. Scandalized by Klossowski's Nietzschean-inflected psychoanalytic interpretation of Sade's writing, Laforgue dismissed Klossowski immediately. Throughout the 1930s Klossowski made a number of key friendships and acquaintances, most importantly with Georges Bataille, but also many others, including Walter Benjamin, André Masson, Jean Wahl, and Maurice Heine. During this period he published several articles and collaborated with Bataille on the review Acéphale and in the avant-garde experiment of the Collège de Sociologie (where, it is said, he would attend meetings dressed in a soutane). During the war years Klossowski trained in a number of Catholic seminaries, a vocation which ultimately failed and led to the writing of his first novel, La vocation suspendue. In the postwar period he married [End Page 3] a war widow, Denise Morin Sinclair, who had been interned in Ravensbrück for her activities in the Resistance and who became the model for Roberte, a key figure in much of Klossowski's fiction and painting. After the war Klossowski began to publish the influential works for which he will chiefly be remembered: literary-philosophical essays on Sade and Nietzsche (among others), as well as six important novels written between 1950 and 1965, La vocation suspendue (1950), the three works, originally published separately, which went on to form the Lois de l'hospitalité trilogy—Roberte ce soir (1954), La révocation de l'Édit de Nantes (1959) and Le souffleur ou le théâtre de société (1960)‚—and, finally, Le Baphomet (1965).

Klossowski's seminal 1947 work, Sade mon prochain, was one of the first full-length literary and philosophical studies of Sade's work to be published in France and marked a decisive break from earlier accounts. Whereas earlier treatments of Sade had focused either on biographical detail or on the medical and psychosexual import of his life and writing, Klossowski's reading was concerned with the intertwined figures of law and transgression in Sade's work. After Sade mon prochain French intellectuals and writers...


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