The great literary critic swiss Jean Starobinski has just passed away at the age of 98 years. He “was buried in the family intimacy Wednesday, march 6,” said the statement written by his family, his widow Jacqueline and his three sons, who say they wish to “reflect on the forms that will take the tributes to him will be made” after a “period of quiet”. This specialist of the great authors of the Eighteenth century had agreed in 2012 to receive Le Figaro in his refuge in switzerland. This man of immense erudition had given that day, reading the century of the Enlightenment. Extracts.

” READ ALSO – the Death of Jean Starobinski, the great intellectual and literary critic

The apartment is simple but charming, located in the university area of Plainpalais, Geneva. From the terrace closing the office, behind the foliage light, to profile the crest of the swiss Jura. A landscape alla Rousseau. “It is the green minimum I need ; the kind of silent landscape that I cherish,” according to Jean Starobinski. A few notes insistent piano: the tuner does a final check. On the walls, it is recognized Braque, two lithographs of Goya, Klee, Iranian Ostovani and an ink of the painter crazy Louis Soutter. We are in the universe of the great critic, the one by which one has read and reread differently Montaigne, Diderot, Rousseau, Montesquieu, Laclos, and Baudelaire ; the one by which we listened to with one ear more fine operas of Mozart and Richard Strauss ; one that is focused on the social role and the place of the artist.

History of melancholy

today, at ninety-two years, he returned, with a collection of articles and previously unpublished essays in a volume on the melancholy, increased his doctorate of medicine, passed in 1960: History of the treatment of melancholy . A way to remind us that the ex-intern Starobinski has taught “with an equal happiness the history of medicine and the history of ideas”, by editing a text that had been circulating since under the coat. Of Hippocrates to the Nineteenth century, the century of the “speculations of the romantic, passing by Hildegard von Bingen, he describes what Diderot called “the sense usual in our imperfection”. Later, we will speak of melancholy and then depression. Why, therefore, a return on this theme nagging and stubborn? “Because this desolation where there is a mixture of sorrow, the stupor and the isolation that marks our civilization, from the garden of Eden and the hero of the Iliad , Bellerophon.”

Montesquieu immortality with modesty

let us beware of bibliographies: officially, Jean Starobinski, the son of Polish physicians, active in the career with his Montesquieu , in 1953, he was then thirty-three years. It is to forget that a few short years previously he had concocted an anthology of Stendhal and translated (in 1945), The penal Colony of Kafka. Meanwhile, he made the acquaintance critical of Pierre-Jean Jouve, whom he never ceased to praise the sublimity, of his teacher, Marcel Raymond and one of his students, a certain Nicolas Bouvier… not to mention the chance meeting at Geneva, during the war, with Felice Bauer, the ex-fiancée of Kafka.

His Montesquieu opens thus: “The glory of Montesquieu is too fast to be stuck in the marble busts and the metal of the medals, substances that are polished, hard, incorruptible. The seed is seen in profile, smiling all the folds of his toga and his face, a smile chiseled in the mineral (…). He lives in immortality with modesty.” While Work is already here in nuce: clarity, accuracy, sense of the formula, temptation poetic. With, five years later, the publication of The Transparency and the Obstacle , devoted to Rousseau, he joined the very closed club of the great literary critics, whose members are called Albert Thibaudet, Gaëtan Picon, and, later, George Steiner…

A music lover to absolute pitch

“Analyze a text, it is first to suggest, and beat a path to its deep action on us”

The critical thinking of Starobinski works by antagonistic pairs: action/reaction, transparent/barrier, mask/truth, accuse/to seduce her. Hence his interest in the figures clown (expressed in Portrait of the artist as clown , published in 1970): “Flight and fall, triumph and downfall, agility, and ataxia, glory and self-immolation.” He says: “It is necessary to listen to the works in their self-fruitful.” Is this the influence of music? Music lover, good pianist (he excels in the small sonatas of Scarlatti), a former backup singer (he sang Missa solemnis of Beethoven), close to the great pianist Clara Haskil, who has the gift of absolute pitch, Jean Starobinski argued in his preface to the Foundations of music by Ernest Ansermet, the conductor of the Ballets russes and founder of the Orchestra of the Suisse romande: Analyse a text, first, it is the to give to hear, and fight your way to its deep action on us.” He says today: “I am attached to this idea of awakening a perception of the differences, and this, in all dimensions of time: the time of words, time of discourse, time of life, collective and individual.”

Yves Bonnefoy, in his afterword to Poem for invitation , lavishes praise on his friend for a quarter of a century: “Jean Starobinski is a writer, he is an example of this subjectivity is conscious of the truth that the writer is true.” In his Lessons american , Italo Calvino, for its part, had paid tribute to the critical geneva, highlighting its visibility, its lightness, its maddening exactness, its versatility radiant. He defined ‘imagination’ as a repertoire of potentialities, of assumptions, of things which are not, nor have been, nor perhaps will be, but that could have been”. This fits like a glove to Jean Starobinski, who has also pointed to the side charming, that could be the melancholy, especially on the side of the prince Line.