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Left Bank: Art, Passion, and the Rebirth of…
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Left Bank: Art, Passion, and the Rebirth of Paris, 1940-50 (edição: 2019)

de Agnès Poirier (Autor)

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1188181,685 (4.31)14
An incandescent group portrait of the midcentury artists and thinkers whose lives, loves, collaborations, and passions were forged against the wartime destruction and postwar rebirth of Paris In this fascinating tour of a celebrated city during one of its most trying, significant, and ultimately triumphant eras, Agnes Poirier unspools the stories of the poets, writers, painters, and philosophers whose lives collided to extraordinary effect between 1940 and 1950. She gives us the human drama behind some of the most celebrated works of the 20th century, from Richard Wright'sNative Son, Simone de Beauvoir'sThe Second Sex, and James Baldwin'sGiovanni's Room to Samuel Beckett'sWaiting for Godotand Saul Bellow'sAugie March, along with the origin stories of now legendary movements, from Existentialism to the Theatre of the Absurd, New Journalism, bebop, and French feminism. We follow Arthur Koestler and Norman Mailer as young men, peek inside Picasso's studio, and trail the twists of Camus's Sartre's, and Beauvoir's epic love stories. We witness the births and deaths of newspapers and literary journals and peer through keyholes to see the first kisses and last nights of many ill-advised bedfellows. At every turn, Poirier deftly hones in on the most compelling and colorful history, without undermining the crucial significance of the era. She brings to life the flawed, visionary Parisians who fell in love and out of it, who infuriated and inspired one another, all while reconfiguring the world's political, intellectual, and creative landscapes. With its balance of clear-eyed historical narrative and irresistible anecdotal charm,Left Bank transports readers to a Paris teeming with passion, drama, and life.… (mais)
Membro:nwchap
Título:Left Bank: Art, Passion, and the Rebirth of Paris, 1940-50
Autores:Agnès Poirier (Autor)
Informação:Picador (2019), Edition: Reprint, 368 pages
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Left Bank: Art, Passion, and the Rebirth of Paris, 1940-50 de Agnès Catherine Poirier

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This book could be seen as a complement to Sarah Bakewell's seminal [b:At the Existentialist Café: Freedom, Being, and Apricot Cocktails|25658482|At the Existentialist Café Freedom, Being, and Apricot Cocktails|Sarah Bakewell|https://images.gr-assets.com/books/1456742264s/25658482.jpg|45480464], where Poiriér has collected a lot of background and information on what some truly exciting persons thought of, did, and how they performed both during and after the Second World War.

Together, in Paris, our band of brothers and sisters created new codes. They founded the New Journalism, which got its official name a decade later but was born then, in the smoky hotel rooms of the Left Bank, and forever blurred the lines between literature and reportage. Poets and playwrights slowly buried Surrealism and invented the Theater of the Absurd; budding painters transcended Socialist Realism, pushed Geometric Abstraction to its limits, and fostered Action Painting. Philosophers founded new schools of thought such as Existentialism while setting up political parties. Aspiring writers found their voices in Paris’s gutters and the decrepit student rooms of Saint-Germain-des-Prés, while others invented the nouveau roman. Photographers reclaimed their authorship through photojournalism agencies such as Magnum; censored American writers such as Henry Miller published their work first in French; black jazz musicians, fleeing segregation at home, found consecration in the concert halls and jazz clubs of Paris, where New Orleans jazz received its long-overdue appreciation while bebop was bubbling up. Some in the Catholic Church experimented with Marxism, while a colorist and former art gallery owner turned couturier named Christian Dior intoxicated the world with the New Look in fashion design.

Even though it's interesting to hear anecdotes and tidbits, e.g. this one:

La nausée was dedicated to “The Beaver,” a word play in English on the name of his best friend, sparring partner, and lover, Simone de Beauvoir. “Beauvoir” sounds like “beaver” in English pronunciation, which is castor in French. In other words, Simone de Beauvoir became for her close friends “Le Castor” by way of English. Le Castor was, just like Sartre, a brilliant thirty-year-old philosophy teacher, though rather more beautiful. They lived together—that is, they lived in the same shabby hotel, the Hôtel Mistral, 24 rue de Cels, just behind Montparnasse Cemetery, though not in the same room.

...the book is a bit more ephemeral than Bakewell's book for just that reason. The book does, however, weave different kinds of resistance against the Nazis together in a very satisfying and informative way, e.g. how people did all they could to hide art from the Nazis:

Every museum in the country used the plan of evacuation Jaujard had used for the Louvre, each work being treated in order of artistic and historical importance. By autumn 1939, every single artwork of significance had been put in safekeeping. The news, quite inevitably, filtered out. Raymond Lécuyer, in Le Figaro, wrote of “the exodus of paintings,” praised the dedication of the national museums’ keepers, many of them retired veterans from the Great War, and apologized to his readers for being elusive about the whole operation. He could not be specific, nor could he give names, dates, or places, but he wrote: “May [it] be, however, a comfort for you to know that the world’s art heritage is safe from the scientific enterprises of German barbarism.” Having fulfilled his duty to history, Jaujard retreated to his office in the Louvre overlooking the Tuileries Gardens. He was now bracing himself for the inevitable. It might take months, but the Germans would soon be in Paris, he was certain of that. Jaujard may have been ready but, unfortunately, the French army was not.

It was also exciting to hear of how writers joined to resist:

One evening at the end of March 1941, Simone de Beauvoir found a note slipped under the door of her hotel room, in Sartre’s handwriting: “I’m at the Café des Trois Mousquetaires.” Beauvoir ran into the street toward the café. Sartre had tricked the camp’s authorities and had been released under a fake identity. He was changed, he could not stop talking. It was not the kind of romantic reunion she had dreamed of. On learning that Simone had signed an affidavit declaring she was not a Jew, he gave her a stern look. And how could she buy food on the black market? Action was the only word he now cared for. Their friend the philosopher Maurice Merleau-Ponty was also back in Paris. Together, they organized themselves and federated other writers into a resistance group, Socialisme et Liberté. Simone was surprised at Sartre’s vehemence. During the summer of 1941, they cycled together into Vichy France to establish contacts with potential members south of the Occupation line. However, it seemed that the sticking point was the nature of the resistance action the group would carry out. Sartre favored words over bombs.

Not that the end of the war meant that wars were over. Communists and existentialists were fighting, the US disliked Richard Wright so he went to France, and...things were generally a lot more do or die then:

That week, Gallimard’s house fascist, Drieu La Rochelle, bumping into a friend on the avenue de Breteuil, near the Invalides, said: “I’ve made my decision, I’m leaving.” A few hours later he was attempting suicide. Gerhard Heller leaped on his bicycle, arrived at his bedside, and whispered in Drieu’s ear: “I’m slipping a passport for you under your pillow.” The passport had a visa for Spain and Switzerland. But Drieu was fixed on a one-way journey to hell. That night, Gerhard Heller packed his Paris diaries of the last four years, together with a manuscript entrusted to him by Ernst Jünger titled “Peace.” He put the documents in a small tin suitcase and set off toward the Invalides, a small shovel in his hand. The air was muggy; Heller could feel the sweat pearling down his brow. He spotted a tree on the esplanade, looked at the distance and angle between the rue de Constantine, rue Saint-Dominique, and rue de Talleyrand, made a mental note, counted his steps, and started digging discreetly. He felt the urge to—literally—bury his Paris life in order to save himself.

I dig how the philosophers mostly practiced what they preached:

Sartre was known for spending his money freely. Insisting on being paid cash for his work, he liked carrying huge wads of banknotes and always paid at restaurants and cafés, never letting anyone else foot the bill, and left huge tips for the waiters. His generosity was astounding and attracted many friends in temporary or chronic financial difficulty. Sartre would discreetly pay for former students’ abortions, cover the rent of his past and present lovers, make loans to impoverished writers—the people indebted to him were legion. In fact, Sartre had no desire to own anything and, true to his word, never would. Cau quickly realized that his main activity would be to free Sartre from his increasingly busy social life and from all the profiteurs so that he could have long stretches of time during the day to concentrate on his writing.

Also:

However, for her American tour, and to avoid the humiliation of being taken to a tailor as soon as she stepped off the plane at LaGuardia, as had happened to Sartre, whose threadbare clothes had horrified his American hosts, she needed at least one new dress. She bought one in a little maison de couture, a finely knitted black dress, for the exorbitant price of 25,000 francs (the equivalent of about $1,650 today). She walked back to Sartre’s flat and told him, pointing to her shopping bag: “This is my first concession,” and burst into tears.

One of the main strengths of this book is how it contrasts the mundane—if anything was indeed mundane—with the extraordinary. For example, de Beauvoir's endeavour to write what was initially thought to become a neat text:

This was not going to be a short and quick essay. She had started researching The Second Sex, a book that would shake the world. Simone had so far lived her life as she pleased by breaking social conventions, so researching this subject was also a journey of self-discovery. She would understand in the process why she fascinated younger women. Her life was a model of emancipation, one that the younger generation aspired to and one that she was going to analyze in great detail, not shying away from sexually explicit content.

It's also interesting to read some of de Beauvoir's initial thoughts of Northern America, which subsequently changed, especially with her falling in love with Nelson Algren, which happened later:

Talking, drinking, smoking cannabis in Greenwich Village with Wright’s friends, Beauvoir was amazed to discover the chauvinism of the New York intellectuals she met. “Their chauvinism reminded me of my father’s. As for their anti-Communism, it verges on neurosis.” She could not resist taking notes on all the details, the differences, the feelings she experienced. On January 31, 1947, she wrote: “Americans’ politeness and good humor make life so much easier and nicer.” However, she could not help looking beyond the façade: “Yet, I’m starting to find annoying all those imperious invitations to ‘take life on the bright side.’ On every poster, everyone shows their white teeth in a grin that seems to me like tetanus. On the subway, in the streets, in every magazine, those obsessive smiles are chasing me. It is a system. Optimism is necessary to social peace and economic prosperity based on consumption and credit.”

The book is like a cut into a decade of a time when many generational and revolutionary ideas and changes occurred within a very short space of time, not least the sexual; bar the feministic movements that were (and are) ongoing at the time, sexuality was not a very locked-down and conservative concept.

All in all, this book is a welcome one if you want to have a good glance into a decade of changes. Still, I cannot help but think of Bakewell's excellent book. They complement each other in a way. ( )
  pivic | Mar 23, 2020 |
As I have grown older I have found myself re-reading a lot of books, although it is rare for me to revisit one, especially a work of non-fiction quite as quickly as was the case with this one. However, I have seldom enjoyed a book as heartily as I did this account of the extraordinary explosion of intellectual and artistic creativity that occurred, despite circumstances that could scarcely have been less convivial, during the 1940s around the Left Bank in Paris.

Put most simply, this is a marvellous book: informative, enlightening, well researched and also highly entertaining. (Less importantly, perhaps, but certainly worthy of mention, it also has the most delightful cover, featuring lovely line drawings of several of the leading characters in the intellectual and literary café-based society that thrived around Paris’s fabled left bank throughout the 1940s, both during and after the German occupation.)

Around this time last year, I took a punt on buying Sarah Bakewell’s At the Existentialist Café: Freedom, Being and Apricot Cocktails. That was a serendipitous purchase that pitched me into the lives of the Existentialists, a field of which I had been lamentably ignorant. It was the unbridled joy that I derived from that chance purchase that prompted me to buy Agnès Poirier’s book, which proved to be equally felicitous.

I was intrigued by the dates cited in the subtitle. Knowing that Paris had been occupied by the Germans for the few years of that decade I had assumed that there had been very little intellectual, cultural or political activity or progress. Nothing could be further from the truth. Certainly, the intellectual class was depleted, with members either having fled to Britain or America, or signed up to fight the Germans. Jean Paul Sartre, for example, had been drafted into the French army in 1939 and had served as a meteorologist before being taken prisoner. He escaped and returned to Paris where he resumed his former role teaching at the Lycée Pasteur. Back in Paris, and reunited with his life partner Simone de Beauvoir, he found a large circle of his former associates still living and writing, with the help of some judiciously turned blind eyes from various benign individuals within the Nazi administration. Their activity flourished around the cafes of the Left bank of the River Seine. Food and money were in short supply, but somehow, they always managed to find the means to visit a café, where in addition to holding lengthy tobacco- and alcohol-fuelled debates, most of their writing was undertaken. That is not to say that their synthesis and expression of ideas was always safe. Many of their circle were arrested, or simply vanished, but it still proved a period of immense fruitfulness.

That literary, philosophical and political fertility exploded after the Liberation, augmented by returning French writers and thinkers such as Albert Camus, and the influx of foreign artists and writers, and in particular a host of Americans such as Irwin Shaw, Saul Bellow, Richard Wright and James Baldwin. Alongside them were Arthur Koestler and Samuel Beckett who had been based in Paris throughout.

Such a concentration of intellectual and artistic talent could not fail to yield durable riches. Not only did this group spawn existentialism as a philosophical concept, but it would facilitate the development of a brand of socialism wholly opposed to communism, and, in Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex, yield one of the first and most enduring feminist manifestos.

The proximity of oppression and relentless distillation of ideas proved a heady aphrodisiac, and one of the most telling aspects of the book was the interlaced relationships between the leading protagonists. Simone de Beauvoir and Jean Paul Sartre enjoyed a long term off and on relationship, though that in no way inhibited them from taking on other lovers in between times. Similarly, Arthur Koestler seemed intent on sleeping with as many of his female associates as possible, while still wishing to retain almost proprietorial rights over Mamaine Paget, his long-time partner and eventually (if only briefly) his wife. Meanwhile Saul Bellow was openly dismissive, almost disgusted, by the constant round of infidelity among his French writing colleagues, although that did not prevent him from embarking on his own affairs while his wife and son were kept out of the way. As Agnes Poirier points out, life on the Left bank cam to resemble Arthur Schnitzler’s play La Ronde.

All this might lead one to expect a sombre and dense tome, but Ms Poirier deploys an elegant and engaging lightness of touch, and scatters the book with lovely pen portraits of these cultural giants.

This remain the most enjoyable non-fiction book I have read for a very long time. ( )
  Eyejaybee | Jul 23, 2019 |
Esta resenha foi escrita no âmbito dos Primeiros Resenhistas do LibraryThing.
Enjoyable, well-researched cultural history of Paris from 1940-1950. The book is smoothly written -- easy to digest and written with a good eye for the telling moments and details of its dozens of characters. The book tells of the doings of a truly rich group of thinkers and artists gathered in Paris -- though it is more a description of how did what when, with whom, than it is any kind of analysis of what the work meant. This is not criticism, it is light cultural history focused on personalities.

De Bouvier and Sartre are at the center of the book, but it ranges widely. Poirier makes a shrewd choice in beginning in 1940, and thus including the occupation in her story. Most histories of this sort I have read either tell the story of the occupation, or of the years that followed. Poirier is convincing that the story of the years that follow depends on the experience of the years before.

The book provides a real sense of what it was to live in Paris in the post-war years if you were of a certain artistic bent with certain ambitions. It won't tell you in any depth what existentialism is, for example, but it will tell you the way of life and the milieu of those thinking about existentialism.
  Capybara_99 | Aug 29, 2018 |
Esta resenha foi escrita no âmbito dos Primeiros Resenhistas do LibraryThing.
Poirier's book is an exhaustive (and exhausting) cultural history of the Left Bank during the 1940s, from the German occupation of World War II through liberation and the birth of existentialism and the Fourth Republic, told chronologically through the eyes of its denizens both famous (Sartre and Beauvoir, Hemingway, Picasso, Beckett, Wright, Mailer) and less well-known (Jacques Jaujard, who arranged to hide French art masterworks throughout the country during the war, deserves to be better known). The second half of the decade was a heady time when the world looked to Paris for cutting edge ideas in art, literature, journalism, cinema, philosophy, and politics, and Poirer vividly captures the spirit and dynamics of the time and place. In short, thanks to Poirier's account, you get what all the fuss was about. Though not a political history, her account of the politics of the time is more cogent than the tales of sex, drugs, and jazz, which (appropriately, perhaps) tend to be more gossipy in tone. If there's a flaw, it's that all the drinking, the bed-hopping, the partner-swapping, the leaving the country and coming back lend an inevitable sameness to the narrative. (Poirier's footnotes are extensive, though, so there's no doubt it all happened as she reports.) As such, this nevertheless fascinating and valuable book is perhaps best read in short bursts.
  boodgieman | Jul 26, 2018 |
I won an Advance Readers Copy in a GOODREADS giveaway sponsored by Henry Holt. ( )
  tenamouse67 | Jul 22, 2018 |
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An incandescent group portrait of the midcentury artists and thinkers whose lives, loves, collaborations, and passions were forged against the wartime destruction and postwar rebirth of Paris In this fascinating tour of a celebrated city during one of its most trying, significant, and ultimately triumphant eras, Agnes Poirier unspools the stories of the poets, writers, painters, and philosophers whose lives collided to extraordinary effect between 1940 and 1950. She gives us the human drama behind some of the most celebrated works of the 20th century, from Richard Wright'sNative Son, Simone de Beauvoir'sThe Second Sex, and James Baldwin'sGiovanni's Room to Samuel Beckett'sWaiting for Godotand Saul Bellow'sAugie March, along with the origin stories of now legendary movements, from Existentialism to the Theatre of the Absurd, New Journalism, bebop, and French feminism. We follow Arthur Koestler and Norman Mailer as young men, peek inside Picasso's studio, and trail the twists of Camus's Sartre's, and Beauvoir's epic love stories. We witness the births and deaths of newspapers and literary journals and peer through keyholes to see the first kisses and last nights of many ill-advised bedfellows. At every turn, Poirier deftly hones in on the most compelling and colorful history, without undermining the crucial significance of the era. She brings to life the flawed, visionary Parisians who fell in love and out of it, who infuriated and inspired one another, all while reconfiguring the world's political, intellectual, and creative landscapes. With its balance of clear-eyed historical narrative and irresistible anecdotal charm,Left Bank transports readers to a Paris teeming with passion, drama, and life.

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