Issue 38 |
Winter 1985

The Testimony Of Jacques Rigaut

trans. French Ron Horning

(On May 13, 1921, in an auditorium in Paris, the Dada poets try writer and politician Maurice Barrès for "crimes against the freedom of the spirit." A store mannequin is used as a dummy for Barrès, who in his recent fiction and journalism has spoken out eloquently in behalf of reactionary French nationalism, and who was the author, some thirty years before, of two best-selling books of popular philosophy,
Self-Workship and
A Free Man. André Breton presides over the court. Théodore Fraenkel and Pierre Deval are his assistants; Georges Ribemont-Dessaignes, the prosecutor; Louis Aragon and Philippe Soupault, attorneys for the defense. Besides Rigaut, the witnesses include Tristan Tzara, Pierre Drieu La Rochelle, and Giuseppe Ungaretti. Benjamin Péret plays the part of the German Unknown Soldier.)

Q.-You don't want to be sworn in?


Q.-Do you think the proceedings against Maurice Barrès are warranted?

R.-Yes, because they're unfair. Injustice is always exhilarating.

Q.-Please tell us how you feel about Barrès.

R.-Although I admired the early Barrès and was influenced by him for a long time, I now find his first beliefs as obnoxious as the ones that replaced them.


R.-Because rebelling against absurd conventions makes no more sense than accepting them. Revolutionary optimism is only a little less sickening than the ordinary variety. You still have to believe that life can improve, that an order of being preferable to this one exists and that your energies should be devoted to attaining it. Even anarcism requires an optimistic outlook, inasmuch as one has to believe that change and disorder are satisfying in and of themselves. I don't.

Q.-So Barrès seems particularly optimistic to you?

R.-Yes. Barrès must believe that anything is possible, since he does what he can to make it so.

Q.-Is the earlier Barrès as optimistic as the current Barrès?

R.-He plays with ideas. He teaches the pleasures of analysis. My guess is that one analyzes ideas in order to amuse oneself, and that while amused one tends to confuse the game with the reason for playing it, thereby avoiding the extremities toward which ideas lead.

Q.-What, specifically, about analysis bothers you so much?

R.-I'm amazed at the willingess of people to use the same processes to come to the same conclusions over and over and over again. And even so, the real tendency of ideas prevails over the arrangements imposed upon them, and over the pleasure taken from the arrangements. Thought leads inevitably to doubt, to discouragement, to the impossibility of ever being satisfied with anything.

Q.-According to you, nothing is possible. What keeps you going, why haven't you killed yourself?

R.-Nothing is possible, not even suicide.

Q.-But as soon as you believe nothing's possible, haven't you lost your right to believe in the validity of your own judgment?

R.-Suicide is what you make of it, a desperate act or a noble one. To kill yourself is to admit that life is too horrible, or to take it for what it's worth.

Q.-So committing suicide is a compromise.

R.-Precisely. And not much better than building a career or extracting a moral.

Q.-Do you think it would be easy to kill yourself?

R.-The heroic aspect of suicide is not what makes it so attractive. I've always been horrified by loud decisions, extreme emotions. During the war. . . .

Q.-What did you do during the war?

R.-Second-lieutenant in a motor pool based in Paris.

Q.-You've explained why suicide seems indefensible to you, but you still haven't told us how, repudiating everything, you manage to survive.

R.-By living from day to day. Shoplifting. Leeching off friends.