Le Livre blanc

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Jean Maurice Eugène Clément Cocteau (5 July 1889 – 11 October 1963) was a French poet, novelist, dramatist, designer, boxing manager, playwright and filmmaker. Along with other Surrealists of his generation (Jean Anouilh and René Char for example) Cocteau grappled with the "algebra" of verbal codes old and new, mise en scène language and technologies of modernism to create a paradox: a classical a

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  • Paperback
  • 87 pages
  • Le Livre blanc
  • Jean Cocteau
  • Italian
  • 14 January 2018
  • 9788877463487

10 thoughts on “Le Livre blanc

  1. says:

    Man, it's a good thing that there aren't homosexual males today who are shamed by society and emotionally battered by jocko, bible-beating dads, preachers, politicians, and education systems into disingenuous heterosexual marriages with women they could never truly love, often driving them to live self-hatred-inducing double-lives rather than face their true selves because they are afraid of being rejected by the culture at large and/or disowned by their families, friends, and/or spiritual communities, while those who do decide to embrace their inner worlds outwardly live in constant danger of bigotry manifested as violence and government/church interference in their bedrooms, hearts, and homes, and it all too often ends tragically for all concerned because a simple fact of nature couldn't be embraced by the inbred, Christ-juicin' minds of the masses, or this book may have been really depressing and insightful, even nearly a hundred years later. Hashtag sarcasm.

    Tragic, lovely, and puzzlingly tasteful in its vulgarity. Also, still sadly relevant. Incidentally, there's a whole lotta sex innit.

  2. says:

    Actually, 2.5 stars...

    Jean Cocteau (1889-1963), the fabulously multi-talented writer, artist and film maker, never officially recognized Le livre blanc as his work (he said he didn't want to upset his mother), but to anyone familiar with his poetics it is clearly his. He was concerned about his mother's humor because the topic of this book is growing up and living as a homosexual man. At the time, the nicest word used to describe homosexuals was invertis ( inverts ); homosexuality was not illegal in France (though inverts were strongly discriminated against), whereas it was still actively prosecuted in the lovely anglo-saxon world.

    The first person narrator begins with his childhood, recounting a few unmistakable signs of his tendencies to "inversion". When puberty arrives, the jig is well and truly up: I'm not sure if French classrooms were quite so wild, but according to the narrator, "The classroom smelt of gas, chalk and sperm."(*) He falls in love with a more physically mature boy named Dargelos (a name readers of Cocteau will recognize, and whose description will also be recognized by those familiar with Cocteau's drawings). However, in this book Dargelos dies in consequence of a foolish swim in an icy Seine.(**)

    In a sensitive, flexible prose Cocteau takes us through the life of a boy who cannot understand himself because he is unspeakable - he is presented with gargoylish images of himself, if the matter is even permitted to be brought up. (Though this side of the matter is largely passed over in this book.) How many such stories do we already know? Speaking for myself, probably hundreds.

    But the narrator's story is just a bit more complicated than the standard gay coming-of-age story. For example, he tries a mistress, Jeanne, who was simultaneously being kept by a wealthy Armenian (who knew about the narrator's relationship with Jeanne) and whom the narrator caught in bed with another woman... Also, he frequents another prostitute "for appearances" but is being shagged by her pimp... It gets even more complicated.

    After the boy became a young man, there was apparently no limit to the opportunities for gay sex, particularly for a young man with money; the problem was finding love. Whether due to fate or bad luck, the narrator was doomed. But in one encounter he met a Dargelos-like sailor by whom he was absolutely smitten, and evidently so was the sailor by him. After a passionate night, the narrator walks away mumbling some nonsense to himself and never returns to his sobbing sailor. At this point at the latest, it became clear to me that this story is less of a tale about a gay human being and more of an anthropological study of all the ways a young, rich, gay stereotype can get into trouble.

    The story told in this book is melodramatic, since it is told quickly and is full of what would appear to me as rather extreme situations, but it is entertaining. However, it seems to suggest that inverts must move from sexual encounter to sexual encounter and remain unhappy and unfulfilled.

    And then he turns to God... Ah, but the Abbé he turns to for spiritual guidance, and with whom he exchanges elevated words, brings his thoughts to less spiritual matters. After a treacherous lover dies from a drug addiction and the brother of his new fiancée (the narrator is having an affair with the brother) shoots himself after a confrontation, the narrator considers withdrawing to a life of meditation in a monastery. Except that the young monk who takes him to the abbott reminds him of Dargelos. So the narrator "departs" and "withdraws from this society". Where to? No idea. The narrator concludes with noble words which ring very hollow in my ears.

    So, Cocteau's "gay man" is, in the end, a pretentious aesthete who is constantly in heat. Still, that is much better than Proust's horrible, manipulative pervert Charlus. The story is entertaining, but it isn't much of a white paper. Don't worry, Cocteau wrote much better books than this!

    (*) I recall the wonderful film "Zéro de conduite", by Jean Vigo, set at a time not much later than this book, so perhaps they really were that wild. No, that film was liberationist fantasy; of course, the Vichy government banned the movie. If you haven't seen it, try to find it. I love it. And "La guerre des boutons", too.

    (**) This is the only book of Cocteau in which Dargelos dies.

  3. says:

    I will say that this is not a perfect book, but a book which I am glad and changed because I have read it. While it is perhaps overly simplistic, melodramatic, and perhaps not comprehensive enough in it's characters, it is a book which speaks from a true and wounding personal honesty which I believe it rare in many novels, even ones which are my favorites. It relates the experience of a man, in agony and confusion over his sexuality, stripped of artistry and moral-overbearing (albeit somewhat rife with stereotyping). In Proust we find homosexuality painted over, we find Proust's male lovers turned into mannish women, we find the grotesque pervert of Charlus, the sadistic lesbianism of Vinteuil's daughter, etc. While I still believe the truest account of the homosexual love experience is Proust's narrator's love for Albertine, it is impossible to consider it without also acknowledging the gender-bending, and artistic dishonesty of that portrayal. While Proust out-achieves in philosophic truth, in artistic mastery, and aesthetic jouissance, it is Cocteau's slim Le Livre Blanc ("The White Book") which bares his own soul and experience with no masks of garrish making-up.

    The story is simple: the narrator falls in and out of infatuation with a series of men, all of his homosexual adventures end in disaster and usually death, leaving the narrator feeling lost and alone. He ultimately retreats from a society which hates and misunderstands him. His primary struggle, as an aesthete, is reconciling his homosexual longings with the aesthetic image of heterosexual love: the two are not compatible. His desires are obtusely unfitting with his ideas about love, as he has learned them from a society largely heterosexual, and only containing secret veins of homosexuality. In Kierkegaard's Seducer's Diary, he explains: A perfect kiss requires that the agents be a girl and a man. A man-to-man kiss is in bad taste, or, worse yet, it tastes bad. Love between men is not a normal thing in the narrator's society (nor is it even today, though it is tolerated and largely accepted as a marginal faction), it is "in bad taste - it tastes bad" - there is something unnatural about it, because nature as society has constructed love is between man and woman. Their parts fit. It is natural.

    A gay man can read and love and empathize with Jane Eyre, or Wuthering Heights, Madame Bovary or any other novel, which is decidedly written by and for the hetero-normative majority. Why is this? "Because love is love" people say. But I think it is hard for straight people to read, love, and empathize with gay literature. Not because it is not love, but because it is love translated into a language which they do not understand. It is reading a novel in translation, there are bits of the personal artistry, some of the colloquial truth, which is lost in the mechanic process of translation. "Love" has attracted to itself and engendered centuries of discourse, vertiginous heights of poetry and art, which have built it into something nearly incomprehensible. It is accepted and absorbed as abstract, as inevitable, as true. But that is not the case for homosexuality, which remains nascent in the collective mind and culture, remains fringe and marginal.

    Being a gay man is a unique social Odyssey. It is unlike being a woman, and unlike being of non-white ethnic color, unlike being physically or diagnostically mentally handicap. Like the Biblical Esther, whose Jewness is not seen and must be vocalized by her, gayness is neither seen nor strictly detectable. It is a true Odyssey - a journey of self-discovery and of regaining your own Ithaka which you have been cast away from by society, on the waters of what is "normal." Even growing up in New England, it is a singular experience to know that there are people in the world who would hate you if they knew - and that you have a perverse and subversive power to reveal the truth: to be or not to be? There is a sovereignty of the mind which gives you the power to determine who you are to whom: a choice which many people need not worry about. You cannot "come out" as black, nor as a woman - it is in the open, it is known. While the struggles of those other oppressed peoples are real, and perhaps in many ways externally worse, it is a unique dilemma of homosexual people (and I can only speak to the male experience) to struggle with the internal demons of who you are, of rationalizing and categorizing, despairing and accepting your emotional, physical, and romantic desires.

    Cocteau's narrator notes: “I suppose the artists invented the firm breasts they put on women, and that in reality all women had flabby ones.” It is the collective history of art and society which tells us what love is or is not supposed to be. And by the atavistic definitions we mold and imagine our loves to fit those immortal constructs. But what is a gay man to do in the face of such narrow and incompatible definitions? He must redefine love, or he must settle for the image of love rather than the reality. If Tolstoy is right, that there are as many kinds of loves as there are hearts, then how many people are settling for history's and art's image of love, rather than discovering their own reality of love? Le Livre Blanc is not the story of a gay man finding love, but rather the discovery of a man that his love is not the same love that he has been taught, that love is manifold. That love is a universal truth, but one which has engendered infinite manifestations and varieties. This is not a feel-good novel with trite moralizing, but rather the pained and impassioned struggle and persistent (even at the end) confusion of a man beset against what he has absorbed from society as "normal" and as "real" - he does not find true love, he finds failure and struggle, he finds fleeting images, throbs of physical and emotional stirring, but ultimately he is yet to manifest his own definitions.

  4. says:

    I love Cocteau - his movies, his writing and his hot doodles of naked men!

  5. says:

    " The arched bodies are riveted together at the sex; grave profiles cast thoughtful downward glances, turn less quickly than the tripping and now and then plodding feet. Free hands assume the gracious attitudes affected by common folk when they take a cup of tea or piss it out again. A springtime exhilaration transports the bodies. Those bodies bud, push forth shoots, branches, hard members bump, squeeze, sweats commingle, and there's another couple heading for one of the rooms with the globe lights overhead and the eiderdowns on the bed. "

    " The sun is a veteran lover who knows his job. He starts by laying firm hands all over you. He attacks simultaneously from every angle. There's no getting away, he has a potent grip, he pins you and before you know it, you discover, as always happens to me, that your belly is covered with liquid drops similar to mistletoe. "

  6. says:

    The anonymity provokes a tragic honestly. The words dance across every last page, charming the reader the whole way through.

  7. says:

    I do not see any reason for anyone to tolerate someone else. Well, that is just the way I look at things and believe should be. On the other hand, there are reasons why people think or may be confuse the two terms – acceptance and tolerance, and more so when it comes to sexual orientation. I honestly believe that somewhere down the line we make too much of it. It isn’t like it is a novelty you know, and yet it is perceived as one. How does gender matter when two people love or adore each other? How does it even make a difference when two people want to indulge in sex and have a good time? I have never understood it and don’t intend to either. For me it is clear: My happiness comes first and it should.

    With such thoughts I am talking about a book I read a long time ago and now reread it, dealing with sexual orientation and how it impacts people. “Le Livre Blanc” or “The White Book” by Jean Cocteau was first published in 1928 and it so happened that Cocteau decreed that it be published anonymously. It was however later, somewhere in 1953 that the author’s identity came to fore. Why did Cocteau want this work published anonymously? Because it dealt with his coming to terms with his so called homosexual identity. The book is semi-autobiographical in nature and he did not want to be tormented by people when they came to know that he was gay. The book is about his affairs, his school, his desires, his wanting to fight those desires and finally coming to terms with them.

    “Le Livre Blanc” is about coming to terms with who you are and what are its implications. The book is a quick read. It does not mull so much about the topic as I would have liked it to, but that is alright. I guess that was the author’s prerogative. The drawings are beautiful. They almost make you want to fall in love. “Le Livre Blanc” is a raw mediation on desire and about finding one’s identity. It is melancholic and about forbidden love. A book that sure should be read by all. A must read about a topic that is different and needs much thought and contemplation.

  8. says:

    A brilliant little book. Anger, love, violence and longing. A complete contrast to modern romantic gay fiction, and despite it never being formally acknowledged by Cocteau, unmistakeably him.

  9. says:

    Jean Cocteau's Le Livre Blanc is a very interesting book, one which he denied authorship of for quite a while. I know Cocteau for his surreal films, how he could transform the beautiful into the bizarre so easily. His writing in Le Livre Blanc is so well crafted that you forget that this is technically kind of an erotic book. "When fatality appears in disguise it gives us an illusion of freedom and in the end always leads us into the same trap." Or the exquisite: "My heart and instinct combine in such a way that I find it difficult to commit either without the other following. This is what leads me to cross the boundaries of friendship and makes me wary of casual contacts in which I risk catching the malady of love. In the end I envied those who do not suffer vaguely from beauty, know what they want, bring vice to the point of perfection, pay, and satisfy it." If anything, I was sad that I didn't get to read more of Cocteau's voice. But perhaps this will launch me into the rest of his writing endeavors.

    There comes the question of the point of this book though. I find a similarity in Cheryl Dunye's The Watermelon Woman, in that if you can't find anything creative in the world that speaks to you, you have to create it. Here is an authentic experience of someone who is dealing with society's perception of his sexuality and the truth of the matter. Which wasn't entirely common in literature at the time Cocteau wrote Le Livre Blanc, in 1928.

    Cocteau, ever the Renaissance man, was also an artist and his gay erotic artwork is featured in this book as well. I love Cocteau's art style so much that I can look at his erotic artwork and see the beauty in it. I also like the fact that it's right there in your face. But then, I can watch Alejandro Jodorowsky's The Holy Mountain without flinching so perhaps that's just something about my reaction to nudity and eroticism.

    Here's to reading more of Cocteau in 2019.

  10. says:

    Clunky prose, a plethora of grammatical errors with the occasional typo, has made Jean Cocteau’s “Le Livre Blanc” a nightmare to read. Perhaps much of my woes are the translators fault, (which, in my copy is Margaret Crosland,) or is a result of the editor/publisher (Peter Owen Modern Classics.) Nevertheless the book fails to engage readers as it should.

    That said, Cocteau’s ideas and wild, exciting plot details and scenes, lead me to believe that Cocteau may have more worthy work, should the editorial apparatus and translation be suitable.

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