In the decades since the publication of his first combative statements of aesthetic principle in Prospectus aux amateurs de tous genres (1946), Jean Dubuffet’s extensive writings about art and his voluminous correspondence have consistently figured prominently in the criticism. By contrast, little attention has been paid to the small but significant body of ‘pièces littéraires’ which the painter composed over the course of his career and which comprise a heterogeneous group of prose texts and verse and a range of sole-authored artist’s books. The texts of several of the artist’s books have been written in an idiosyncratic quasi-phonetic and colloquial ‘jargon’ which mangles the syntax and spelling of standard French, disregards the conventional markers of sentence and word boundaries, incorporates a range of wordplay, and requires of the reader/viewer painstaking deciphering. Focusing on a corpus of four closely related texts (Ler dla campane, Anvouaiaje, Oukiva trèné sèbot, and Bonpiet beau neuille), the production of which spanned his career, this talk offers a detailed thematic, formal, and linguistic analysis which identifies the principal characteristics of Dubuffet’s rendition of the spoken language, analyses the narrative-dramatic-poetic structure of these texts, examines their treatment of narrative voice and their word-image dynamic, demonstrates the ways in which they dialogue thematically with Dubuffet’s paintings from the 1940s to the 1980s, and explores their self-referential and intertextual/interpictorial practices. In particular, it will be seen that each of these texts is underpinned to varying degrees by a nexus of related tensions—common to Dubuffet’s creative writings, to his aesthetic writings, and to his painting and sculpture—between preoccupation and disponibilité, between goal-oriented travel and wayfaring, between a need for control and an openness to the pleasures of errance and improvisation and the serendipitous discoveries that they bring.
Jean Duffy is Emeritus Professor of French at the University of Edinburgh. She has published extensively on modern fiction, on the relationship between literature and art, and on ritual, image, and artefact in contemporary French narrative. Her publications include Reading Between the Lines: Claude Simon and the Visual Arts (1998), Signs and Designs: Art and Architecture in the Work of Michel Butor (2003), Thresholds of Meaning: Ritual, Passage and Liminality in Contemporary French Narrative (2011) and Perceiving Dubuffet: Art Embodiment and the Viewer (2021). She is currently preparing a second monograph on Dubuffet which will focus on his creative writings.
This event is organised by Dr Caroline Levitt (The Courtauld)