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  • Giacometti et les écrivains: l'atelier sans fin par Thomas Augais
  • Emma Wagstaff
Giacometti et les écrivains: l'atelier sans fin. Par Thomas Augais. (Études de littérature des xxe et xxie siècles, 59.) Paris: Classiques Garnier, 2017. 973 pp., ill.

Alberto Giacometti, famed for his solitary figures and strange Surrealist objects, was a great reader—of Balzac and the German Romantics, among others—and wrote his own poetic and reflective texts in French. He is also closely associated with writer contemporaries, and Thomas Augais brings them together in this remarkable book, which quotes extensively from writers' texts and Giacometti's own, and analyses their interactions. The attention and rigour with which Augais approaches his subject takes his book far beyond a portrait of the artist through the eyes of writers. He nuances our [End Page 314] understanding of Giacometti, while illuminating the writers' wider œuvres as well as their texts on the artist. Emphasizing the importance for Giacometti of copying banal reality he considers writers according to the ways in which they grasp that fascination or have similar aims. The book begins and ends, in an unobtrusive fashion that reflects Giacometti's own preoccupations, with a chair. Yet Augais sheds new light on the discussions and imperatives that motivated French writing and thought from the 1920s to the end of the twentieth century, and his book will be of interest to scholars across multiple fields. The author takes a chronological approach and revises the common division of Giacometti's work into a Surrealist phase and a return to figuration, proposing instead three broad associations: with Surrealism, with phenomenology, and with the post-war poets of L'Éphémère. He examines Giacometti's connections with Georges Bataille and Documents on the one hand, and André Breton on the other; Giacometti found himself at odds with the political positions of both Breton and Louis Aragon. Giacometti rejected concepts in favour of copying, but retained an interest in the informe. Augais is particularly good at showing the depth of writers' engagement with Giacometti while acknowledging where they misunderstand him. He criticizes Francis Ponge, for example, for retaining a sense of the concept in his reading of Giacometti's post-war figures as representing 'l'Homme'. Similarly, his rich analysis of Jacques Dupin's Albert Giacometti: textes pour une approche (Paris: Maeght, 1962) argues that the fragmentation those texts display and propose is different from Giacometti's attempts to capture the whole of what is in front of him. Following discussion of writers including Jean-Paul Sartre (deemed by Yves Bonnefoy to have misrepresented Giacometti as emphasizing quiddity rather than haec-ceity) and Simone de Beauvoir, Augais devotes a central section to texts by Bonnefoy and André Du Bouchet. He suggests, however, that the closest personal ties between Giacometti and writers are visible in three joint projects: the illustrations for Michel Leiris's Vivantes Cendres, innommées (Paris: Jean Hugues, 1961), for which Giacometti drew Leiris and his bedroom following the writer's suicide attempt; the extended sessions during which Jean Genet sat for portraits; and Giacometti's unusual colour 'illuminations' for René Char's Le Visage nuptial'in 1963. In the closing sections of the book, Augais traces a shared preoccupation with the presence of death in life. He devotes particular attention to Du Bouchet's volume Qui n'est pas tourné vers nous (Paris: Mercure de France, 1972), presenting him as the writer whose project was most closely in line with Giacometti's own: a process of destruction that affirms reality.

Emma Wagstaff
University of Birmingham


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pp. 314-315
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