Travels, adventures… I must claim from the outset the intimacy which binds the works included in this catalogue. For, here, there is more than a chronological order, of names, of places or of ranks. Each work is the expression of a personal quest, a journey of encounters and discoveries, of questioning and of doubts. The English have an apt word they attribute to a souvenir: recollection. That is exactly what this is about: an intimate recollection which is embodied, indeed, engraved, in the documents assembled here.
Of fire and flames! In this selection, I perceive incandescent, fragmented evidence of political battles and political passions — as much the passion of words as of deeds — an antidote to the tepidly rational, even-handed readings of history. The textbooks and images of Epinal sort out the winners and the losers but often mask the reality of death, the blood in the trenches. They soften the blows of the furious punches of parliamentarians and the shrieks in the halls of justice, as well as of the scandals favoring, rather, never-ending chronologies, affected here and there by cataracts… This is not my perception of history and, above all, it is far from my personal political experience. Only the fire in their bellies allowed individuals to overcome inertia and injustice, to inhibit the nature of things. History was wrested away from reality just as Prometheus had snatched the fire from the Gods.
A political journey thrives on ideas which cast doubts and disconcert, thus, reinforcing convictions and commitment. To avoid the pitfalls and to face the challenges as one chisels one’s path, fellow travelers are vital for their perspectives, for their wisdom and, also, sometimes, even for their errors. In fact, it is in the most difficult of times, when one is up against slander, clashes with the powers of interest groups and of the courts, that the last sacrament of these looming testimonies becomes vital.
Yet, the passions go on living in these shrines of paper. For books, just as autographs or photographs, are living beings: they are verbs, they act. I wanted to create a rookery of emotions, not a collection. Rather, an inventory of still-smoking guns, not a cemetery of ordained values. Costly or not, I only sought works which touched a chord in me and stirred me, again and again, in new ways, when I held them.
Collectors are often asked to choose one piece of their collection they would rescue from catastrophe. I would be very hard-put to reply, so authentic is the aura of each, its power to defy! Pieces such as the fiery missive of the sans-culotte, Brisetout or the letter from the herdsman of the small community of Jablines -en-Seine addressed to Léon Gambetta whilst the Prussian cavalrymen were within sight. The letters of simple folk which hold back nothing of the realities of war, letters full of life! Or, the overwhelming testimony of Jan Karski on the holocaust put in motion in occupied Poland, which came up against the disbelief of Western leaders. And let’s not say that we didn’t know; my copy was registered with the Library of Congress in Washington, the library of American power, as early as 1943! But, if I truly had to save but one piece, I would choose the notes of Camille Desmoulins “sur le rapport de Saint-Just” (“on the report of Saint-Just”), his final speech before the gallows; the diatribe of a convict tempted to give up on life and liberty, but, who manages to muster the strength to plead with all of his vocal might, the force of his entire anatomy, even through all of his tears, the traces of which are still visible on the paper. In the body of this text, one can instantly replay, at will, that dramatic moment.
25th January 2014, The Huffington Post