Tony Duvert, Le Monde, August 23, 2008
Jean-Noël Pancrazi, Translated by David Thorstad
The writer Tony Duvert, 63, was discovered dead on Wednesday, August 20, at home, in the small village of Thoré-la-Rochelle (Loir-et-Cher). He had been dead for about a month. An investigation has been opened, but it is probably a question of death from natural causes. Tony Duvert had not published any books since 1989. He had been almost forgotten, and yet, he left a mark on his epoch—the 1970s—by the extreme freedom that he demonstrated in both his writings and his life, by his unique tone of coarseness and grace, by the rhythm of his sentence, often lacking in punctuation, carried along by only the movement of desire, capable, as it was then imagined, of changing the world.
Born in 1945, Tony Duvert was an outlaw, he felt himself an ex-convict banned from certain areas—the title of one of his first books, published in 1969 by Minuit, which would always remain his publisher. But the music, at once rough and refined, of his prose lent all the nocturnal strolls and excursions of a man who loved men the look of a funereal odyssey, of an almost mythical promenade by the sheer strangeness and solitude of the darkest city neighborhoods.
In Le Voyageur [The Traveler] (1970), with a feeling of free fall and absence of himself, Tony Duvert lets old images encircle him. In the countryside drowned by winter and rain, the ghosts of Karim (killed by his mother), Daniel (the adolescent the narrator teaches to write), André, Pierre, and Patrick, unprovided for, lost, search in the fog for a gentleness and a justice that the world denies them.
It is perhaps in order to welcome them that Tony Duvert composes this Paysage de fantaisie, awarded the Prix Médicis in 1973 (published by Grove in 1975 as Strange Landscape). In a passing orphanage-house, the boarders can abandon themselves to all the whims of the moment, without ever any taboo, look, or reproach. In this book there is a kind of amoral jubilation and ferocious joy. And, in the jostling of grammar, gestures, and scenes, in the transport of the unique sentence, a defiance of all literary and ethical conventions. In his almost childlike joy, this is how Duvert forgot that he was an adult, perhaps even that he was a writer.
But it is in Journal d’un innocent [Journal of an Innocent, translation by Bruce Benderson Forthcoming by Semiotext(e) in 2009] (1976) that this pagan innocence is expressed most clearly. In a universe without either fault or suffering, somewhere in the South, couplings follow one another with a total, absolute naturalness. There is only skin and sun, the simple worship of desire: and one could say that Tony Duvert breaks free from the very need for eroticism, from the obligations of pornography—this pornography that he has been so readily accused of in order to mask it with a cloud of sulphur and make one forget that he was a great writer about the happiness of the flesh. Two works—Le Bon Sexe illustré [Good Sex Illustrated] (1974) and L’Enfant au masculin [The Child in the Masculine] (1980)—will attempt to give a more thought-out form to his vision of the world and of love.
Tony Duvert had a genuine fervor: for nature, at the heart especially of Quand mourut Jonathan [When Jonathan Died] (1978), which recalls the love of a man and a child. This relationship takes on the appearance and the rhythm of a biological association, as if, by dint of understanding and harmony, they both became plants mutually emitting harmful poisons to each other to the point where they are destroyed and separated by society. This society that Tony Duvert seems to rejoin in order better to denigrate it, in L’Île Atlantique [The Atlantic Island] (1979), his most classical, almost naturalist, novel. It is a kind of comedy à la Marcel Aymé that Gérard Mordillat will adapt for television in 2005. Afterwards, Tony Duvert will not write any more novels. Un anneau d’argent à l’oreille [A Silver Ring in the Ear] (1982) is only a distant reflection, the echo of a farewell to this literary form.
In 1989, he will still publish an Abécédaire malveillant [A Spiteful Primer], a series of aphorisms that express all the things he detests—priests, philosophers, parents. But one felt that he had lost the joy of provocation. As if he had understood that the times would be increasingly hostile to him, that he could no longer open up landscapes of fantasy with his sentence alone, with his almost barbarous music. He isolated himself in this small Loir-et-Clair village, very alone, unprovided for, not even searching for the aid of words and sometimes hearing in the distance only the laughing of his pagan angels.