Chapter 5 Nino Frank and the modernist French journal Bifur
Perhaps it was the success of his articles in the Nouvelles littéraires which encouraged Nino, in the autumn of 1928, to make the direct attack on Italy and Italian literature which would sever his connections irrevocably with his native country (see previous chapter).
Evidently these articles were well appreciated, since the established writer Alexandre Arnoux, also an occasional contributor to the Nouvelles littéraires and a friend of Georges Charensol, asked him to join the new cinema journal he was proposing to start, to be called Pour Vous. This weekly magazine, to be launched by the important newspaper L'Intransigeant, would be original in aiming between the existing specialist highbrow publications and the trashy fanzines, at a discerning mass audience interested in serious reviews and thoughtful articles about the young art form. For the next twelve years, Frank would write articles and reviews almost every week for the magazine, eventually becoming its last editor-in-chief before its closure by the government, along with its parent newspaper, in 1940. Subsequent chapters will discuss in detail this period of his life and work. But at the end of 1928 he was just a freelance recruit, and when Georges Ribemont-Dessaignes approached him to become his assistant on a project for a new literary journal, there was no doubt about which of these two directions would exert the stronger pull on him.
Ribemont-Dessaignes had been one of the earliest Dada-ists, and had joined the Surrealists after the effective breakdown of Dada. But by the beginning of 1929 André Breton was becoming too dogmatic and exclusive for a number of his followers, and trying to force too close an alignment with communism; and many loyal members, including Ribemont-Dessaignes, abandoned the project in disgust. This serious rift in the surrealist group is fully documented elsewhere, setting out the points-of-view of both sides in the dispute.When he approached Frank, he already had a sponsor for a literary revue, namely Pierre-Gaspard Lévy, wealthy owner of the Carrefour publishing house, who was ambitious to found a journal which could compete with the highly respected Commerce. By the time the first volume of the journal was in preparation, Ribemont-Dessaignes was determined to compete with Breton's publication, La Révolution surréaliste, as well as with Commerce.
The most personal account of the life of their journal, Bifur, is that written by Frank, in his book of memoirs, Le Bruit parmi le vent, entitled 'Le heurtoir de l'impasse'. From his description, it is clear that none of the three principals acted from the purest of motives. Lévy was "a backer, a rich amateur, enticed by the honours heaped on Commerce". Ribemont-Dessaignes "had a score to settle with orthodox surrealism, or more precisely with Breton". He himself, "a novice poet prevented from progressing in the land of my birth, I thought only of taking my revenge, at the great literary banquet of the France of my dreams." |
Whatever their motives, the editors did not lack conviction or enthusiasm. The basic design, put forward by Frank, was a journal which would follow in the path of "900" but with a wider remit. As he wrote to Valéry Larbaud in advance of the first issue:
What I am passionate about is being able, for the first time, to treat literature as it should be treated: as something great, altogether human, absolutely worldwide. |
In the course of its relatively short life, it did indeed succeed in publishing significant and often lengthy contributions by an international cast of writers who were already, or would go on to be, among the most important writers of their time, and in 1976 the publisher Jean-Michel Place considered it worthwhile to publish a bound facsimile edition of all the issues. In her Preface to this edition, Jacqueline Leiner saw the aim of the journal as nothing less than an exploration of every facet of human life and thought:
Relentlessly, its writers ask themselves: what is man? what can a man do? They seek a reply, in history, poetry, political thought, sociology, literature, music, film, painting, folklore, philosophy, sport, items of news....Thanks to the courage and daring of Jean-Michel Place, these marvellous jugglers from the 1930s, these astonishing conjurers of life, have finally been given back to us. |
The first issue
The first step was to recruit contributors and an Editorial Board, which was to be similar to that of "900", in including representatives from a range of countries. Two of the key foreign members of the Board were the same - James Joyce and Ramon Gomez de la Serna - and they were joined by the the Italian Bruno Barilli, the Russian Boris Pilniak, the German Gottfried Benn and the American William Carlos Williams.
The original preference for the name of the journal was 'Carrefour', the name of the publisher. Unfortunately, this title had already been registered elsewhere and could not be used, and the railway signal BIFUR, used to flag up separating tracks, came to mind and was considered to convey the overarching idea of diversity. Lévy asked his friend the artist Jean Lurçat to create the cover design.
As all the editorial, administrative and publishing functions were based together in Paris, the delays in publication suffered by "900" did not arise, and the first issue came out at the end of May, 1929. On 1st June, Les Nouvelles littéraires - supportive again, as previously for "900" - ran a prominent advertisement on page 4:
comme on lisait
The bullish, deliberately provocative tone of this advertisement was bound to cause raised eyebrows among the literary establishment, and to annoy André Breton; but it had the desired effect of placing the new journal firmly on the map, and was followed in the next issue by the invitation to subscribe: 'Abonnez-vous à BIFUR'.
There had been no difficulty in finding contributors for the first issue, since the editors had a large circle of friends and contacts, several of them now at odds with André Breton, who were happy to appear in a modernist journal. In accordance with its stated principles, the journal should publish writers from across the western world. For a French-language publication this was not a great problem, since Ribemont-Dessaignes especially had many links to Switzerland, through Dada and later Surrealism; and Frank had experience of obtaining translators for other languages.
It is worth looking at the make-up of the contributors to the first issue, who included Ribemont himself.
The core of French, or Belgian-French writers, were well-known to both editors - André Salmon, Philippe Soupault, Léon Pierre-Quint, Henry Michaux, Georges Limbour, Fernand Divoire - with a skein of connections to Dada, Surrealism or the publisher Kra (Editions du Sagittaire). There were several French-language writers who were either Swiss in origin or had connections to early Dada in Zurich: Blaise Cendrars, Charles-Albert Cingria, Paul-Marius Rosset, Tristan Tzara. Jean Lurçat was a friend of Lévy, as was the German Gottfried Benn. The Italian Bruno Barilli and the Russians Isaac Babel and Ilya Ehrenbourg were already well known to Frank - Ehrenbourg's anti-fascist story in "900" had been the trigger for his expulsion from Italy - and the American Jean Toomer was recruited by William Carlos Williams.
As the Contents list indicates, a wide variety in the topics and approaches of contributions, as proposed in the original blueprint for the journal, was already evident in this first issue.It contained short stories, travel articles, philosophical ponderings, political diatribes, social comment, poetry, lighthearted maxims - in no particular order. While serious in intent, there was an underlying vein of irony in most of the contributions, and a recognisable anti-establishment tone.
Below are brief summaries of two very different pieces - a fragmentary story by Blaise Cendrars, and an article on contemporary America by Jean Toomer. In their own ways, each of these - like many of the other contributions - exposed the underlying anxiety of the time, about a world which seemed to be moving too fast, becoming too materialistic, and losing more intangible human values and ideals.
'Pompon', by Blaise Cendrars
Blaise Cendrars was one of the earliest literary heroes of Nino Frank, who had written in Il Mondo four years previously about the novel Sutter's Gold [L'Or: La Merveilleuse Histoire du général Johan August Suter]. His enthusiasm knew no bounds, for Cendrars and his dry ironic presentation of the catastrophic Californian gold rush:
simple, without embellishment, always like a "chronicle". The fabulous is born anew on every page, through the magical alchemy of the gold: Cendrars has understood - with exactly the right language, terse and brief - how to recite to perfection this epic of the new God. Line by line, below the surface of his words, we sense the throbbing of this mysticism which has made America great and given a new soul to the universe of today: it is an awe-inspiring book. |
By 1929 he had published Cendrars' work in "900" and in his Anthologie de la nouvelle prose française (in each case, fragments from a project on the English sea captain John Paul Jones), as well as helping him with historical research, and "I was at the height of my passion for Blaise Cendrars, in whom I saw the poet whose work encompassed the whole world". | He wanted Blaise to be named as the director of Bifur, to allay suspicions among leftwing contributors and readers faced with a luxury publication from a rich bourgeois editor. Blaise had only to be presented with Pierre-Gaspard Lévy and his wife in their smart apartment in the 16th arrondissement to refuse to be used in this way; but he did agree to contribute something to the first issue, providing a short story entitled 'Pompon'. Later in 1929, this would become the central section of the novella, Une Nuit dans la forêt, but for the moment it was to be read as a freestanding text.
Told in the first person, it opened on a scene of filming in Rome, drawn from Cendrars' experiences of making a film in Rome in 1921. The narrative jumped straight into a philosophical discourse on the meaning and effects of cinema, on what it could be if it were not diminished by its potential to make money for its practitioners:
There is no reason why, from this moment on, we should not unravel on the screen the complex web of a human character, just as we now show in slow motion the germination, growth, flourishing and flowering, and the death of plants....In future, the rôle of cinema will be to allow us to rediscover men, ourselves, to show us in a new light, show us anew to ourselves, make us see ourselves, make us accept ourselves, without rancour and without disgust, just as we are. |
In his eyes, the only justification for cinema was to show "Man. Just as he is. The only reality", in a pêle-mêle age where:
everything is mystery and idiotic rhubarb-rhubarb-rhubarb, gramophones, science, telescopes shooting at ivory towers, negro dances, Mr. Henry Ford, the metro, the aeroplane, life insurances, life annuities, English in 24 lessons, trips, holidays, daily sales in the newspapers, books coming out, political crimes, assassinations, discoveries, explorations, inventions, cubism, Mexican art, Genesis in Babylon, the unpublished story of Atlantis. |
In an abrupt shift, the story moved to a personalised discourse: how the writer would have loved to film Pompon, a mysterious young French girl, apparently in the depths of despair, whom he could have portrayed truthfully, as he would have wished, and in so doing could have released her from her suffering:
I would have known so well how to bring to the surface, to externalise the despair of Pompon. And that would have done her good, cut out the poison; she would have been able to live again, to enjoy life. |
But the young girl wanted none of it, so - forced to seek a solution in the mundane - to cheer her up he bought her a hat shop in the Via Veneto, which seemed to make her happy.
Then the cruel, shocking ending: on the day of the fascist March on Rome, a blackshirt parading down the Via Veneto smashed the window of the little shop, and Pompon's scalp was split open by the falling glass. After this:
Pompon was disfigured. A shard of glass had gone straight down her face, slicing through her forehead, her nose, her lips, her chin. She had the face of a bulldog. |
During the 1920s, readers of literary magazines were accustomed to being treated to early drafts or fragments of longer stories. They were also familiar with the backgrounds of contemporary writers, so were able to infer a great deal more of the writer's underlying concerns and intentions than we can readily do today. It is thus of interest to include a few details of Blaise Cendrars' history. He was born in Switzerland in 1887, but came to live in Paris in 1912 and quickly joined the circle of avant-garde poets around Apollinaire, achieving early success as a poet himself. He chose to join the French army in 1914, losing his right arm in battle in 1915, a loss which would inform his writing and his beliefs for the rest of his life. In 1921 he had the opportunity to go to Rome to film La Vénus Noire with the Hindu star Dourga, but he found that he hated Rome, with its venality and concupiscence, and the all-too-evident availability of the women hanging round the filmmakers. This is made overt in the full-length story, Une Nuit dans la forêt, and his proposal to film Pompon relates to his desire to show truth, not artifice:
Bang-flash! with magnesium stars in their eyes, I mentally undressed them. But if women are always ready to be undressed, where is the one who would consent to film morally naked? All these women were posing.
They had all worn their prettiest dress to come and see me...but I was not recording these charms, these seductions, these fancy clothes, these affectations: it was their personality that I was going to take by surprise, as the camera lens can do. |
While the film episode relates to Cendrars' actual experience, the story of Pompon is more complex, recapitulated with variations in other stories, and intimately connected with his sense of being personally damaged by the loss of his right arm and writing hand. By transposing his own disfigurement and suffering on to his female characters, he was able to achieve a kind of catharsis, as readers familiar with the postwar traumas of writers and painters of the 1920s understood.
'Lettre d'Amérique', by Jean Toomer
Toomer was an American of mixed race, born in 1894, and brought up in Washington and New York. He was determined not to be categorised as a "black" writer, wishing to be identified first and foremost as an American. It is thus not surprising that in the Letter from America which he sent to Bifur, it was as a member of the postwar American intelligentsia that he summed up the election of Herbert Hoover to the Presidency, with no mention of a racial divide.
In his article he looked forward with foreboding to what he was confident would be an eight-year reign. He would prove wrong, as in 1933 Hoover was defeated by Franklin D. Roosevelt, whose policies seemed to voters more likely to lift the country out of the Great Depression. But in March 1929 the Wall Street Crash was many months away, and the runaway prosperity of the era was at the heart of Toomer's despair. In essence he felt that everything was now sacrificed to materialism, with no place for more intangible or spiritual human values - a picture of America which chimed with that of many of his French readers - and he explained the secret of Hoover's success in the election in these terms:
Herbert Hoover is a symbol. He is the symbol of Business, of 'Efficiency', of Prohibition, of Protestantism. He represents the practical type, competent, stripped of sensibility and imagination. He confirms to us that we have moved on once and for all beyond the phase of social idealism, that we are literally ready now to submit to a life of hard toil. We no longer need to trouble ourselves with dreams, feelings, aspirations - which sound tempting but have no material advantage. He promises us the continuation of Prosperity....In Alfred Smith [the Democrat candidate] the old idealism, the old habit of appealing to the emotions, could still be found. He spoke to us, as it were, of a nicer, a better society...We didn't want him, he was behind the times. |
He went on to describe all the ills of this attitude to life, pointing out that for many thousands of people it was a necessary evil, to make enough money to enable them to escape from the treadmill of business; and yet, they continued to support the principle. Business had infiltrated all aspects of life - literature, art, medicine, science, religion, philosophy: "in short, all the liberal professions and all forms of culture end up being nothing more than offshoots of Big Business." |
He spoke of the American need to build, to create, to add; but then to discard what had been made, or grown:
This is our vice: we have no commitment to the things we build. We build them. We knock them down. We buy and we sell. We don't value things....We throw more and more into the rubbish bin. Soon we won't feel any attachment to anything. We respect less and less. Soon we will no longer respect anything. |
But the most chilling paragraph of his article was the expression of his fear that the obsession of America with production, and finding new markets for her excess production, was liable to lead to the country sleepwalking into another war:
It seems too that most of us want a new war. In any event, we are not inclined to risk losing five dollars to help to prevent a new war. We know perfectly well that we produce too much. We know too that overproduction, accompanied by overcapitalization, leads inevitably to the search for markets abroad; and that competition for these markets leads nations to war. But it seems that overproduction forms an integral part of our Prosperity. And whatever the price, we must have Prosperity. |
As it turned out, the overheating of the economy led to the bursting of the American bubble and poverty across the whole Western world, thus the path to war was a more indirect but clearly related one. But reading the article today, it might be thought to be describing the American society of the last thirty years, its materialism and the predatory attitude of its businesses to other markets. Whatever may have been the immediate causes of the 1939-45 war, expansionism and empire-building have played a considerable part in subsequent, as yet more localised, wars.
In 1929 in France, a further war was still only a vague anxiety, talked up mainly by leftwing writers in L'Humanité. But what was already very evident was the predatory commercial and political stance of America across consumer product fields, and particularly in the film industry. Cinema was a passion of French intellectuals, many of whom wrote in film magazines and tried their hand at filmmaking. Ever since 1926, across western Europe there had been attempts, through the negotiating of quota systems, to prevent American films flooding national markets. This excerpt from an internal memo written in 1928 by an executive of the Motion Picture Producers and Distributors of America (MPPDA) shows that Europeans were right to believe that their markets needed defending:
Motion pictures were not arbitrarily selected to be particularly discriminated against. They faced a general condition in Europe that affected the import to that Continent of a long and varied list of products....They [motion pictures] are all-persuasive. They color the minds of those who see them. They are demonstrably the greatest single factors in the Americanization of the world and as such fairly may be called the most important and significant of America's exported products.
Toomer's article must have been of considerable interest to the readers of Bifur, who would undoubtedly have been encouraged to find expressed their own concerns about American society. In fact, it was followed up in the next issue by an even more trenchant article by the highly respected author William Carlos Williams, even more relevant to the present day, against the increasing authoritarianism and secrecy of the United States Government, and the crushing of all disagreement:
We are all in the hands of a mysterious power which betrays us. All: doctors, lawyers, priests, businessmen, farmworkers, whatever we may be. We are all suspects until we can prove our innocence. Above all, the Government considers us all evildoers, and spies on us through its agents. |
Other features of the journal
In addition to the articles, the first issue carried photographs which still appear impressively avant-garde today, by Germaine Krull, André Kertesz, Eli Lotar, László Moholy-Nagy and Maurice Tabard, and - uncredited on the Contents page, so probably provided at the last minute - photographs of two sculptures by Jacques Lipchitz, a 1928 painting by Massimo Campigli, influenced by the Etruscan Art exhibition in Rome that year, and a photographed excerpt from a Work in Progress by James Joyce - not Ulysses this time (as in "900", the French translation), but Finnegan's Wake, in the original English. It was Nino Frank's task to source the illustrations, and here the value can be seen both of the articles he had written for Lucien Vogel's journal Vu, for which most of these photographers had also worked, and of his closeness to Pierre Mac Orlan, who also had good contacts in the photography world. In the following issues, Frank would succeed in the impressive feat of obtaining reproductions of works by Man Ray, André Masson, Paul Klee, Max Ernst, Fernand Léger, André Derain, and many other artists. Indeed, the illustrations remained one of the strongest aspects of the journal, throughout its life.
The two final features of each issue were also both devised by Frank. Fitted in between articles were short descriptions taken from newspapers, of 'Evénements', more or less serious but all somewhat fantastical and sometimes downright bizarre, designed to illustrate the surreal undercurrents in everyday life. Here is one of these 'events', from the first issue:
Five condemned prisoners in Sing-Sing have been informed that their execution will be postponed until after Christmas. This measure has been taken because these prisoners are members of the prison choir, and the Christmas concert performance will not be possible without their participation. |
A 'Glossaire' at the end of the issue included a short description of each contributor. This gave Frank the opportunity to continue - even more briefly this time - the word-portraits he had begun in "900" and continued in Les Nouvelles littéraires. Here is his description of his editor, Georges Ribemont-Dessaignes:
Anarchy at the heart of the revolution is what he demands. While he waits, his books seek out the weak point of the world, to dig down and drill tunnels of madness, poetry and death. |
The progress of the journal
The first issue was received with interest, and sold well. The gauntlet thrown down to the Nouvelle Revue Française in the first advertisement was picked up in July in that journal by Jean Guérin, who criticised what he clearly thought was something of a rush to publication, but nonetheless gave Bifur a guarded welcome:
a too obvious wish to appear lavish, a lack of rigour in the choice of contributors...But the journal, with its photos, its chronicles and its poems, exists now. It is alive; it contains some perfect pages, and we can count on Ribemont-Dessaignes, as its editor, to give it before long the underlying purpose and sense of direction which as yet it lacks. |
The Nouvelles littéraires continued to carry sizeable advertisements recommending subscription, one on 8th June and a new one for the second issue on 3rd August, which advised readers that the first issue had sold out very quickly:
High points of the first year
The following issues continued with the verve, the high quality, and the international range demonstrated in the first. As well as the expected established and upcoming French-language writers, there was a wealth of names from other countries and continents, listed here for the record:
Italy: Massimo Bontempelli, Giorgio De Chirico, Emilio Cecchi, Alberto Savinio
Spain and Latin America: Ramón Gómez de la Serna, Martin-Luis Guzman, Alejo Carpentier,
Vincent Huidobro, Miguel Anguel Asturias
Russia: Boris Pilniak, Nathan Altman, Victor Chklovski, Vsevolod Ivanov, Vladimir Pozner
USA: Ernest Hemingway, Eugene O'Neill, Harold Salemson, Buster Keaton
Great Britain and Ireland: Hamish Miles, Caradoc Evans, James Joyce
Scandinavia and Baltics: M. Andersen-Nexö, Victor Vinde, Johannes Barbarus
Germany: Rudolf Kayser, Alfred Döblin
Greece: Lilika Nacos
India: Dhan Gopal Mukerj
Australia: P. R. Stephensen
Some of the contributions - like that of Cendrars in the first issue - were excerpts from as yet unpublished books: Hemingway's Green Hills of Africa, De Chirico's Hebdomeros, Döblin's Alexanderplatz; and from André Malraux a fragment from Les Conquérants.
The list is impressive, and the articles can be read in full in the facsimile edition in good academic libraries. From so many, it is difficult to select a few for further comment, so I will mention just three, all undoubtedly sourced by Nino Frank, and following on from the earlier revue "900".
Massimo Bontempelli, 'Voyage sur l'arc-en-ciel'
Bontempelli was powerless to help Frank to return to Italy, but he was happy to contribute to the new French journal, which he saw as a successor to his own revue "900". He sent a short story, 'Voyage sur l'arc-en-ciel', which appeared in the third issue of Bifur.
This story is a fine example of Bontempelli's signature 'magic realism', in both style and content, and is worth examining in some detail. In introducing his earlier magazine, "900", he had explained that his purpose was to draw on imagination to see the ordinary everyday world in a marvellous, 'magical' light. Thus: "The imaginary world will constantly enrich and fertilize the real world," and "we thirst for adventure; for life, even the most everyday and the most banal, to be viewed as a miraculous adventure, as a perpetual risk." |
This ideal translated, in his writing, to the deadpan presentation of events impossible in the real world, but with an underlying psychological truth, generally to do with the relationship between a man and a woman. In this particular story the man and the woman, out walking after a shower, come to an olive-tree which has a romantic significance for them, and find a rainbow which begins at its trunk. The man cannot resist walking up the rainbow, but insists that the woman must stay behind. Matter-of-factly, he begins to climb as if up a staircase, and the colours appear in turn, each more dramatic than the last. He has entered totally, and with no thought of danger, into this new, exciting world, so stimulating and vivid and real:
To the left, through the yellow, I saw foaming waves of orange and red; to the right, through the blue, one after the other, vapours and veils of indigo and violet...Tacking towards the left, suddenly I found myself enveloped in orange-coloured clouds which blurred my sight as if I were drunk. When my foot landed on the red, it seemed to me to tread among flames, as happened to the poet Dante after he greeted Arnauld Daniel; but these flames did not burn, on the contrary they wrapped me round in a tender caress. |
Then, just as he feels he is reaching the summit of the arc, the ground begins to shift beneath his feet. In a panic, he tries to scramble down, but the colours are dissolving, and with them the solid paths they had provided. But the woman saves him; with her scarf she ties the foot of the rainbow to the trunk of the olive-tree, and a thick rope rises from this point towards the sky, remaining solid just long enough for him to grasp it and slide down to the ground:
The firm surface began to soften under my feet; soon it had gone beyond softness, it was giving way and becoming unsafe. I pulled up short, in terror. I threw myself on to hands and knees, but even my hands could no longer find a grip. I crawled towards the left, and then the right; the yellow too, and the blue were breaking up, attacked perhaps by the spreading green vegetation. I raised my eyes towards the sky which I no longer hoped to reach. But the whole upper part of the rainbow was dissolving, was fraying away into net trails at once absorbed in the pale air. My heart froze in despair...
I saw Lucienne. I saw that she had made a kind of rope from her scarf, and was trying to use it to attach the bottom of the rainbow to the trunk of the olive tree. The whole of the rest of the rainbow was disintegrating and melting into the rays of the sun, but from that point, the point where she had attached it, a narrow strip, no thicker than a thick rope, remained solid and reached me, reached my hands which grabbed hold of it, then continued upwards towards the sky where for a moment more it remained invisibly anchored. |
It will be seen that this is not seen as a "Looking-Glass" world, peopled by mad people and upside-down happenings. The physical rainbow is fully realistic, starting with sharp, clearly differentiated colours in wide, predictable bands. Many others must have looked at such a rainbow, and been tempted by the idea of walking on it. The dissolving and finally fading away, as the shower dies away and the sun takes over, is also thoroughly realistic. What Bontempelli has done is to imagine the possibility of actually walking up it, and to describe the experience as though it were every bit as possible as a mountain hike.
But the story has a clear moral in human terms. The arrogant male figure has determined to conquer the rainbow, but considers such an activity inappropriate for the woman:
"I want to climb it, I'll go right to the top", I declared.
"Yes, yes," Lucienne replied gaily, "let's go up."
"No, not you," I said, reprimanding her with my gaze. "A woman can't climb up a rainbow."
She looked at me and her eyes filled with tears. In her tears, the seven colours were reflected. But I was not swayed. |
But in the end, he is only saved by the woman's fidelity and resourcefulness.
This story shows a sharp change of direction for Bontempelli. Previously, as for instance in his 'Femme au soleil' in "900" (see Chapter 2), an ephemeral meeting with a fascinating woman ends in disillusionment and dejection. But in 1927 he had met Paola Masino, the young woman with whom he would spend the rest of his life, and who would then devote the last years of her life to ensuring continuing recognition of his works. This story is a tribute to her, and to the change she has brought about in his feelings towards women.
Pierre Mac Orlan, 'La Faim'
It was part of the deliberate policy of Bifur - unlike many literary magazines - to encourage essays on social and political questions as well as literary contributions. When Pierre Mac Orlan arrived in Montmartre as a very young man, he lived in one filthy lodging-house after another, drawing sketches or writing popular songs to sell for a few coins, to buy a loaf of bread or a simple meal. As soon as he succeeded as a writer, he escaped from this environment, but it never ceased to echo through his writing.
For Bifur he wrote a serious article, entitled 'La Faim', in which he described the terrifying effects of hunger on its victims:
For a man suffering from hunger, you could well say that other men do not exist...The man suffering from hunger does not seek out others who, like him, have an indescribable need to eat. He plods onwards, swaying like a drunkard, to right, to left, he runs away from beautiful women, falls on his knees before the dark monsters of despair. |
He claimed that hunger was nonetheless an important apprenticeship for the writer, since it stripped away the trivialities of a comfortable life and made him more receptive to a wider view of life. A young man who had not known hunger was, he said, like "un récipient d'eau non potable qui ne possède pas de filtre". Hunger was the filter which would trap irrelevancies and distractions and leave him with the necessary "pureté devant chaque idée, devant chaque spectacle offert par la vie."
But this experience could not be counterfeited: he was scathing about writers who try to jump on the hunger bandwagon:
Those who have not had the chance to know hunger during their youth come to prowl round the miserable meeting-places of the underworld to mingle, at least, with the hungry, to try to rob them and catch some infection from their glorious sickness. |
This whole premise, of the writer's need to know the hunger of the gutter, gave him the opportunity to expand on the expression which he had made his own: the "fantastique social", the phenomenon created by the presence of harsh electric lighting in the mean alleyways of poor quarters of cities, throwing strange and frightening shadows on the high walls and creating a breeding-ground for crime and terror. Here, he believed, in the haunts of the marginalised, the out-of-work, pimps, prostitutes, petty thieves - what disapproving bourgeois called "la pègre" [the underworld] - were the richest sources of the writer's inspiration:
The "fantastique social" of an era is the phenomenon which beams the artificial lights of a city on to long centuries of hunger, and provides the true key to unlock the dreams of this city. |
This was the Mac Orlan who had so impressed the young writers of the 1920s by moving away from respectable bourgeois themes, to concentrate on the marginalised, in the poorest quarters of large towns. The essay is a justification of the choice of this kind of subject-matter, written by a man who had turned his back on poverty and hunger as soon as he was able, but was never able to get them out of his mind, and was passionately determined that - through stories of adventure, not through sermons - his readers should be reminded of them too.
Robert Desnos, 'Les mercenaires de l'opinion'
Early in the twentieth century, the celebrated English journalist Hannen Swaffer wrote: "Freedom of the press...is freedom to print such of the proprietor's prejudices as the advertisers don't object to."
In the summer 1929 issue of Bifur, the outspoken young poet and surrealist, Robert Desnos, made virtually the same point, as the title of his article, 'Les mercenaires de l'opinion', suggests. Both these writers were concerned to draw attention to the manipulation and censorship practised by commercial interests, not by Government: a few years later, Desnos would have had very serious concerns about political censorship. In this article he asserted that the content and opinion of newspapers and magazines were dictated by a combination of two interests: the important companies who bought advertising for their products, and were concerned to ensure that nothing in the editorial or feature articles appeared critical of these products; and the views of the proprietor, who might well have founded the paper as a way of disseminating his own views, or might be dependent on backers, whose views he must also represent. Thus the journalist could not express his own views, if these departed from those of the owner or the people who supported him financially.
For a political journalist, this might well appear self-evident: a conservative would not be likely to work at L'Humanité, nor a communist at Le Figaro. But what was concerning cultural critics was that it also applied to their writing: to the point that Alexandre Arnoux, founder of the recently-launched cinema magazine Pour Vous, had declared that this publication would not accept any cinema advertising, so that his reviewers would be free to give their honest opinion of the quality of a film. (This policy was honoured throughout the magazine's life.) Desnos wrote for film magazines, and was well aware of this decision. As well as being a condemnation of the press generally, his article was intended to cause senior journalists and, especially, editors, to think hard about their trade.
The text was designed to disabuse his readers of any idea that what they normally read in the press was the "free" statement by a journalist of his own views. Desnos began by stating the powerful influence of the products sold by the companies advertising in a newspaper, on the editorial policy of that paper:
Turning to Larousse, we learn that Girardin founded modern journalism on the day he conceived and executed the idea of a cheap weekly whose costs were partly covered by "Advertising"....Is a newspaper written with ink? Perhaps, but it is written above all with petrol, margarine, paint, coal, cotton, rubber, whatever you like - when it is not written with blood! |
He went on to draw a - no doubt exaggerated, but in essence valid - picture of journalists' articles being cut and changed by editorial staff to give a very different impression from the one intended by the writer, but nonetheless published over his name:
The journalist is obliged to sign, on pain of being prevented from advancing in his career (and what a career!), articles which are idiotic, absurd and sometimes scurrilous, which most of the time he has not written in this form, but have become so through the power of the sub-editor's scissors - who is obliged to obey a director, himself dependent on backers or advertising agencies. |
The article was not simply a condemnation. The second half was devoted to debating the contribution made by the journalists' union (by this time quite powerful). He conceded that a great deal had been done to improve the material condition of members of the union. But the insoluble problem was that journalism sold opinions and ways of thinking - even in the reporting of news items - and there was no way of creating union-type agreement around different views of life:
A journalist in the pay of a paper is supposed to espouse its interests. Imagine trying to co-ordinate closely the efforts of royalist and socialist journalists! The journalists' union has made enormous progress from the point of view of the material situation of its members: its usefulness is indisputable, its absence would be detrimental. But on matters of morality the union is shackled. |
The writer ended on a note of despair, there seemed to be no solution: perhaps not surprisingly, the whole question is still being debated, without satisfactory answers, today.
Ironically Bifur, which included no advertising in the first three issues, evidently found it worthwhile to do so from the fourth issue on. But all the advertisers were print publications, all in sympathy with its aims. Several advertisements were for books also published by the Carrefour press, some of which had been previewed in brief excerpts in Bifur. The remaining advertisements were for a fascinating collection of avant-garde magazines, which are worth listing here:
|Variétés||Brussels||Paul-Gustave van Hecke|
|Tambour||Paris||Harold J. Salemson|
|La Revue du Cinéma||Paris||Jean George Auriol|
|Nosostros||Buenos Aires||Alfredo Bianchi|
|Amauta||Lima, Peru||José Carlos Mariátegui|
|Neue Schweizer Rundschau||Zurich||Max Rychner|
The second year, and the end of Bifur
The sixth issue carried an upbeat summing-up of the achievements of the first year, and a full list of contributions so far. But the new financial director who arrived in the summer of 1930 was horrified at the state of the accounts. A huge amount of stock remained unsold and bills unpaid. The crucial flaw had been there from the beginning: the journal was intended to speak to progressive, mainly left-leaning intellectuals, among whom Lévy counted himself, but he also wished to impress his bourgeois friends and persuade them to become regular subscribers. He envisaged a de luxe format, which it was necessary to sell at double the normal price of a literary journal. Later, in his memoirs, Ribemont-Dessaignes wrote:
Bifur cost Pierre Lévy too much for him to be able to continue his effort for long. He had given his journal too luxurious a character, too much of a burden for the public to whom it was addressed, a public of the left without much money. |
Ribemont and his assistant Frank had always feared this outcome, but had been too eager to launch the magazine to challenge Lévy's choice; and here perhaps was the root of the problem. They were overawed by his position as publisher and his apparent wealth, but at the same time jealous of their own status as editors. They shared a small office close to his large one, but the three rarely met to discuss the situation and progress of the magazine. In truth, they probably had little in common. All ended up disappointed: Ribemont because he believed that the magazine was beginning to make its mark and could have had prolonged success; Frank because he was effectively eased out by Paul Nizan, who had persuaded Lévy to move his magazine closer to the French Communist Party (PCF); Lévy because the publication was costing him vastly more than he could afford, and in the end he was obliged to close it after eight issues. No hard feelings were expressed by any of the three principals, and the partings were amicable.
In 2004, Catherine Lawton-Lévy, the daughter of Pierre Gaspard-Lévy, wrote a biography of her father, who she felt had been treated badly by history (in part because his entire archive disappeared during the 1939-45 war). This biography contains a particularly bitter chapter on Bifur, going so far as to accuse its editors of anti-semitism:
It was as if in the normal way of things it was up to him, the Swiss, son of a Jewish tinker, to open the way for these prodigal sons of French families who, because he was smiling and generous, took him for an idiot or, because he bought his clothes in London, treated him as 'nouveau riche'....It was like The Merchant of Venice in Paris, a whiff of the Alsatian anti-Jewish riots [Judenkrawalle] his great-grandparents had known. |
There are a number of strange elements in this paragraph. Nino Frank was a Swiss citizen, like Lévy. He had been subjected to taunts in the Italian press about his name, which sounded Jewish to some hostile writers. Many of his friends were Jewish, and he was certainly not anti-semitic. There is also no reason to attribute such a prejudice to Ribemont-Dessaignes. In their circle, having a London tailor was not at all frowned upon: Philippe Soupault was well-known for this preference (though it was a source of dispute between him and André Breton).
What Lawton-Lévy had evidently not fully appreciated was the tension which existed between the broader French intelligentsia and the rich bourgeois who Lévy hoped would underpin his magazine with annual subscriptions. Leftwing intellectuals put constant pressure on the editors to demonstrate that they had not 'sold out' to commercial interests (just as they had done with "900", challenging it to prove that it was not fascist-inspired). At the end of the day, it was simply not possible to satisfy both constituencies.
Frank's next move
Now after the failure of a second journal, Nino's disappointment with the world of letters was acute, and:
I went off to bury myself in a sort of anti-literature [film criticism], which would occupy my time for almost three decades, leaving me only a constant love-hate relationship with writing and its disciples. |
His adventures in the world of cinema form the subjects of the next chapters.
All translations from European texts are my own.
1See for example: Maurice Nadeau, Histoire du Surréalisme (Paris: Eds du Seuil, 1945); André Breton, Œuvres complètes (Paris: Gallimard, 1988-2008); Georges Ribemont-Dessaignes, Déjà jadis (Paris: Lettres nouvelles, 1958).
2Nino Frank, Le Bruit parmi le vent (Paris: Calmann-Lévy, 1968), pp.162-167.
3 Nino Frank, Valéry Larbaud-Nino Frank, Correspondance inédite (1926-1936) (Clermont-Ferrand, Presses Universitaires Blaise-Pascal, 2011), Letter 18, 12.5.29, p.52.
4Jacqueline Leiner, Préface, Facsimile edition of Bifur (Paris: Jean-Michel Place, 1976), pp.vii, xiv.
5Both Benn and Williams were viewed with suspicion later in their own countries, because their connections to Bifur were thought to suggest Communist sympathies.
6Les Nouvelles littéraires, 1.6.29 and 8.6.29, both on p.4.
7In this respect Bifur was more similar to the successful German journal Querschnitt than to "900".
8Blaise Cendrars, 'Pompon', Bifur, no.1, May 1929, pp.16-22.
9Nino Frank, 'Scrittori svizzeri: Blaise Cendrars', Il Mondo, 12.5.25, p.3.
10Nino Frank, Le Bruit parmi le vent, p.166.
11In fact, any reader who had also read the first issue of Jacques-Henry Lévesque's new literary journal Orbes, in 1928, would have had an advantage, since it carried - also under the title 'Pompon' - the first section of the novella, describing the earlier misfortunes of the young girl, and more of the author's experiences while filming in Rome. See Orbes, Spring 1928, pp.2-28.
12Blaise Cendrars, 'Pompon', pp.16-17.
16Blaise Cendrars, Une Nuit dans la forêt (Paris: Eds. Denoël, 1964), p.38.
17There are many French writings on Cendrars which deal extensively with this topic. See especially the two series edited by Claude Leroy, Tout autour d'aujourd'hui (Paris: Denoël, 2001) and Blaise Cendrars: Œuvres autobiographiques complètes (Paris: Gallimard, 2013).
18Jean Toomer, 'Lettre d'Amérique', translated by Victor Llona, Bifur, no.1, May 1929, pp.105-119.
23MPPDA Archive, 'Certain Factors and Conditions Affecting the European Market', 20.11.28, quoted in: Ruth Vasey, The World According to Hollywood, 1918-1939 (Exeter: University of Exeter Press, 1997), pp.43-44.
24William Carlos Williams, 'L'illégalité aux Etats-Unis', translated by Georgette Camille, Bifur, no.2, July 1929, pp.95-103.
25Bifur, no.1, May 1929, p.142.
27Jean Guérin, 'Bifur', Nouvelle Revue Française, Tome 33, July 1929, pp.146-7.
28Les Nouvelles littéraires, 8.6.29, p.7, and 3.8.29, p.6.
29'Justification', "900", no.1, pp.8, 9. (See Chapter 2 for greater detail)
30Massimo Bontempelli, 'Voyage sur l'arc-en-ciel', Bifur, no.3, September 1929, p.185. Arnauld Daniel was one of the characters in Dante's Divina Commedia, Canto XXVI, who was in Purgatory for lust, and was purified by fire.
33Pierre Mac Orlan, 'La Faim', Bifur, no.2, July 1929, p.112.
35ibid., p.113. Mac Orlan's idea of the "fantastique social" was the transposition on to the twentieth century urban environment of "fantastic" night-time horrors in the rural scenes of nineteenth century fiction. He saw the harsh electric lighting in narrow slum streets as creating terrifying light effects in ways analogous to the moon in pitch-black landscapes.
36Robert Desnos, 'Les mercenaires de l'opinion', Bifur, no.2, July 1929, pp.160-1.
39Georges Ribemont-Dessaignes, Déjà jadis (Paris: Lettres nouvelles, 1958), p.146.
40Catherine Lawton-Lévy, Du colportage à l'édition (Geneva: Métropolis, 2004).
41Nino Frank, Le bruit parmi le vent, p.192.
Original quotations from which translations taken (numbers match relevant endnotes)
2un commanditaire, un amateur riche, que les lauriers de Commerce affriolaient (p.162)
avait un compte à régler avec le surréalisme orthodoxe, plus exactement avec Breton (p.167)
apprenti expulsé de son atelier natal, je ne songeais qu'à prendre ma revanche, au grand banquet littéraire de la France de mes rêves (p.164)
3Ce qui me passionne, c'est de pouvoir, pour la première fois, traiter la littérature comme elle doit l'être: comme quelque chose de grand, de très humain, d'absolument mondial.
4Sans relâche, ses collaborateurs s'interrogent: qu'est l'homme? que peut un homme? Ils cherchent une réponse, à travers l'histoire, la poésie, la politique, la sociologie, la littérature, la musique, le film, la peinture, le folklore, la philosophie, le sport, les faits divers....Grâce au courage et à l'audace de Jean-Michel Place, ces merveilleux bateleurs des années 1930, ces étonnants prestidigitateurs de la vie nous sont enfin rendus.
9semplice, senza ornamenti, sempre come "documento". Il meraviglioso nasce da ogni pagina, per la magica alchimia dell'oro: Cendrars ha saputo - con eloquio esatto, con laconismo - cantare alla perfezione quest'epopea del Dio nuovo. A tratti, sotto le sue parole, si sente palpitar quel misticismo che ha fatto la grandezza dell'America, che dà un'anima nuova all'universo d'oggi: è un libro tremendo.
10au plus fort, en ce temps-là, de ma passion pour Blaise Cendrars, en qui je voyais le poète proprement dit du monde entier.
12Il n'y a aucune raison pour que l'on ne débrouille pas dès aujourd'hui à l'écran l'écheveau complexe d'un caractère humain comme on tourne au ralenti la germination, la croissance, l'épanouissement, la floraison et la mort des plantes... Le rôle du cinéma dans l'avenir sera de nous redécouvrir des hommes, nous-mêmes, de nous redémontrer, de nous remontrer à nous-mêmes, de nous nous refaire voir, de nous nous faire accepter à nous-mêmes, sans rancœur et sans dégoût, tels que nous sommes.
13Tout est mystère et cul-cul-rhododendron aujourd'hui, les phonos, la science, les télescopes qui canonnent les tours d'ivoire, les danses nègres, M. Henry Ford, le métro, l'avion, les assurances sur la vie, les rentes viagères, l'anglais en 24 leçons, les déplacements, les villégiatures, tout ce qui est journellement à vendre dans les journaux, les livres qui paraissent, les crimes politiques, les assassinats, les découvertes, les explorations, les inventions, le cubisme, l'art toltèque, la Genèse babylonienne, l'histoire inédite de l'Atlantide.
14j'aurais bien su le mettre rapidement au jour, l'extérioriser, le désespoir de Pompon. A elle cela aurait fait du bien comme si on l'eût débarrassée d'un kyste; elle aurait pu se remettre à vivre, à jouir de la vie.
15Pompon était défigurée. Un éclat de verre lui avait fendu perpendiculairement le front, le nez, les lèvres, le menton. Elle avait le facies d'un bouledogue.
16Fling-flash! avec des décharges de magnésium dans les yeux, je les déshabillais instantanément. Or, si les femmes sont toujours prêtes à se laisser déshabiller, quelle est celle qui consentirait à tourner moralement nue? Toutes ces femmes posaient.
Toutes avaient mis leur plus belle robe pour venir me voir...mais je n'enregistrais pas ces charmes, ces séductions, ces attifages, ces afféteries: comme l'objectif, j'allais surprendre leur personnalité.
19Herbert Hoover est un symbole. Il est le symbole des Affaires, de l' "Efficiency", de la Prohibition, du Protestantisme. Il représente le type pratique, compétent, dénué de sensibilité et d'imagination. Il nous confirme que nous sommes définitivement sortis de la phase d'idéalisme social, que, à la lettre, nous sommes prêts à nous mettre à la besogne. Nous n'avons plus à nous laisser troubler par des rêves, des sentiments, des aspirations - sympathiques, mais sans avantage matériel. Il nous promet la continuation de la Prospérité....Chez Alfred Smith le vieil idéalisme, l'ancien procédé de sollicitation aux émotions, s'attardait encore. Il nous parlait, pour ainsi dire, d'une société plus belle et meilleure...Nous ne voulions pas de lui. Il retardait sur l'époque.
20bref, toutes les professions libérales et toutes les formes de culture, en arrivent à n'être que des ramifications des Grandes Affaires.
21Voici notre vice: nous n'avons aucun attachement pour les choses que nous édifions. Nous les édifions. Nous les abattons. Nous achetons et nous vendons. Nous n'avons pas tendance à priser les choses...Nous jetons de plus en plus à la poubelle. Bientôt nous n'aurons d'attachement pour rien. Nous respectons de moins en moins. Bientôt nous ne respecterons plus rien.
22Il semble aussi que la plupart d'entre nous désirent une nouvelle guerre. En tout cas, nous ne sommes pas disposés à risquer de perdre cinq dollars pour contribuer à empêcher une nouvelle guerre. Nous savons parfaitement que nous produisons trop. Nous savons aussi que la surproduction, accompagnée de la surcapitalisation, amène fatalement à chercher des marchés à l'étranger; et que la concurrence autour de ces marchés amène les nations à se faire la guerre. Mais la surproduction fait, semble-t-il, partie intégrante de notre Prospérité. A n'importe quel prix, il nous faut la Prospérité.
24Nous sommes tous sous la puissance d'une mystérieuse force qui nous trahit: docteurs, avocats, pasteurs, hommes d'affaires, agriculteurs ou qui que nous soyons. On nous tient tous pour suspects, jusqu'à ce que nous puissions prouver le contraire. Le gouvernement, avant tout, nous considère comme des malfaiteurs, se sert de ses agents pour nous espionner.
25Cinq condamnés à mort, actuellement détenus à la prison de Sing-Sing, ont été avisés que leur exécution était retardée jusqu'après les fêtes de Noël. Cette mesure a été prise en considération de ce que ces condamnés font partie de la chorale de la prison et qu'on a besoin de leur concours pour la réalisation du programme des fêtes de Noël.
26l'anarchie au sein de la révolution, voilà ce qu'il exige. En attendant, ses livres cherchent le point faible du monde pour y creuser les chemins de la folie, de la poésie et de la mort.
27un souci trop marqué de "faire riche", un manque de rigueur dans le choix des collaborateurs...Mais la revue, avec ses photos, ses chroniques et ses poèmes, existe. Elle est vivante; elle contient quelques pages parfaites, et l'on peut compter sur Ribemont-Dessaignes, qui la rédige, pour lui donner avant longtemps la raison d'être et le sens qui lui manquent encore.
29Le monde imaginaire viendra sans cesse féconder et enrichir le monde réel. C'est de l'aventure qu'on a soif; de la vie, même la plus quotidienne et la plus banale, vue comme une aventure miraculeuse, comme un risque perpétuel.
30je voyais à gauche, par delà le jaune, bouillonner les flots de l'orange et du rouge; à droite, par delà le bleu, se poursuivre des vapeurs et des voiles indigo et violets...En obliquant ainsi vers la gauche, soudain je me trouvai enveloppé de nuées couleur orange qui me brouillèrent la vue comme si j'étais ivre. Quand mon pied se posa dans le rouge, il me sembla entrer parmi des flammes, ainsi qu'il advint au poète Dante après avoir salué Arnauld Daniel; mais ces flammes ne brûlaient point, au contraire elles m'enveloppaient comme d'une tendre caresse.
31Et ce terrain dur commença de se ramollir sous mes pieds; en peu de temps il avait cessé d'être mou, il cédait et devenait peu sûr. Je m'arrêtai en proie à l'épouvante.
Je me jetai à quatre pattes, mais les mains elles-mêmes ne trouvaient plus de prise. Je rampai vers la gauche, puis vers la droite; le jaune aussi, le bleu de même allaient se défaisant, attaqués peut-être par cette végétation. Je levai les yeux vers le ciel que désormais je n'espérais plus atteindre. Mais toute la partie supérieure de l'arc-en-ciel se dissolvait, s'effilochait en traînes absorbées aussitôt par la pâleur de l'air. Mon cœur se glaça de désespoir...
...je vis Lucienne. Je vis qu'elle avait de son écharpe fait une espèce de corde et qu'elle s'efforçait avec celle-ci de lier le bas de l'arc-en-ciel au tronc de l'olivier. Tout le restant de l'arc se dégradait et fondait aux rayons du soleil, mais à partir de ce point-là, du point où elle l'avait lié, une bande mince, pas plus grosse qu'une grosse corde, restait solide, arrivait ainsi jusqu'à moi, à mes mains qui l'étrignaient, et par delà continuait en haut vers le ciel où pour un moment encore elle demeurait invisiblement fixée.
32 – Je veux y monter, j'irai jusqu'en haut – déclarai-je.
– Oui, oui, – répondit Lucienne avec gaîté – allons là-haut.
– Non, pas toi – lui dis-je en la réprimandant du regard. – Une femme ne peut monter sur un arc-en-ciel.
Ses yeux me regardèrent et se remplirent de larmes. Dans ses larmes se reflétaient les sept couleurs. Mais je n'en fus pas ébranlé.
33Pour un homme qui a faim, on pourrait bien dire qu'il n'y a pas d'autres hommes...L'homme qui a faim ne recherche pas la fréquentation de ceux qui ont, comme lui, un besoin indescriptible de manger. Il va devant lui, à droite, à gauche, il titube comme un ivrogne, fuit la beauté des femmes, s'agenouille devant les bêtes sombres du désespoir.
34Ceux qui n'ont pu connaître la faim au cours de leur jeunesse viennent rôder dans les tristes carrefours de l'ombre pour s'y mêler, tout au moins, à ceux qui ont faim, afin d'essayer de les voler et d'attraper quelques accidents de leur maladie éblouissante.
35Le fantastique social d'une époque permet la confrontation d'anciennes faims avec toutes les lumières artificielles qui donnent à une cité la véritable clef des songes de cette cité.
36En nous rapportant au Larousse nous apprenons que Girardin, du jour où il conçut et exécuta l'idée du journal hebdomadaire à bas prix dont les frais étaient en partie compensés par la "Réclame", fonda le journalisme moderne...Un journal, au surplus, s'écrit-il avec de l'encre? Peut-être, mais il s'écrit surtout avec du pétrole, de la margarine, du ripolin, du charbon, du coton, du caoutchouc, voire ce que vous pensez...quand il ne s'écrit pas avec du sang!
37le journaliste doit signer, sous peine d'être entravé dans la carrière (et quelle carrière!) des papiers idiots, absurdes et parfois immondes, que la plupart du temps il n'a pas écrit tels, mais qui le sont devenus par le pouvoir des ciseaux d'un secrétaire de rédaction obligé lui-même d'obéir à un directeur soumis lui-même à des commanditaires ou un agent de publicité.
38le journaliste au service d'un journal est censé épouser ses intérêts. Imaginez alors le moyen de coordonner étroitement les efforts d'un journaliste royaliste et d'un journaliste socialiste! Le syndicat des journalistes a réalisé d'énormes progrès au point de vue de la situation matérielle de ses adhérents, son utilité est incontestable, son absence serait néfaste. Mais sur le plan moral le syndicat est entravé.
39Bifur coûtait trop cher à Pierre Lévy pour qu'il pût poursuivre longtemps son effort. Il avait imprimé à sa revue un caractère trop luxueux qui la rendait trop onéreuse pour le public auquel elle s'adressait, un public de gauche peu fortuné.
40Comme s'il était dans l'ordre des choses qu'il lui revienne à lui, le Suisse, fils de colporteur juif, d'ouvrir la voie à ces fils de famille français en rupture de ban qui, parce qu'il se montrait souriant et généreux, le prenaient pour un imbécile ou, parce qu'il s'habillait à Londres, le traitaient de nouveau riche...C'était un peu le Marchand de Venise à Paris, un relent de l'antique Judenkrawalle alsacienne qu'avaient connue ses arrière-grands- parents.
41j'allais me noyer dans une espèce d'antilittérature qui m'occupera près de trois décennies, ne me laissant, pour l'écriture et ses fidèles, qu'un amour-haine constant.