Coming attractions: “René Girard: All Desire Is a Desire for Being” will be out with Penguin Modern Classics next spring!


Proud to show off my new anthology: René Girard: All Desire Is a Desire for Being, published by Penguin Modern Classics in London. The cover illustration below features Pablo Picasso‘s 1933 etching, “Sculpteur Avec Son Modele, Sa Sculpture Et Un Bol D’Anemones” (Sculptor with His Model, His Sculpture, and a Bowl of Anemones).

René Girard would have loved the cover, I think. He knew Picasso during that magical summer of 1947, when René and his friends launched the Avignon Festival. (The actor Jean Vilar joined later, and the festival became known for its theater, not the art exhibition that started it.) René shared many fond memories of Picasso with me. A few of them are in remembered in Evolution of Desire: A Life of René Girard:

It was all heady stuff for the two footloose young men. “My friend and I were in a state of continuous mimetic drunkenness at the thought of being involved in such important cultural events. I remember going to [Pablo] Picasso’s painting studio in Paris, on the Quai des Grands Augustins, and picking out twelve paintings with my friend and others, which we then took down to Avignon in a little truck,” said Girard. “I also remember mishandling the Blouses roumaines, which was quickly repaired”—fortunately, because the festival offered no insurance for the masterpieces loaded onto trucks. It took a month for the duo to gather the twelve paintings from Picasso, Henri Matisse, Georges Braque, and also works by Marc Chagall, Paul Klee, Max Ernst, Wassily Kandinsky, and others for the exhibition.

In Palo Alto, Girard looked around his comfortably large living room, and waved his arm to indicate the space—the art impresario Zervos, he said, had “three times that full of famous paintings of the twentieth century.” He and his friend Jacques, he added, “were quite seduced by that.”

Into this war-torn and threadbare country, the superstars arrived: “Picasso came to Avignon during the summer, in his chauffeur-driven car. He complained humorously but loudly that there was no advertising for the exhibition along the road between Paris and Avignon.”

He had a hidden motive, according to Girard: he wanted to make sure that Matisse and Braque had given the same number of paintings, and ones of equal importance and value. For Girard, watching the painters jostle for supremacy, or at least parity, was another early lesson in mimetic rivalry.

Picasso spent two months among them, and pulled out his easel and paints while in Avignon. “My impression was that he was a very clever man—and because of that, he was a lot of fun,” he said. “Picasso was kidding all the time.” In keeping with the spirit of rivalry, Georges Braque came to spend a month among the Avignonnais, too.

Who started the Avignon Festival? Girard whimsically credits neither Zervos nor Vilar, but rather the poor, little-known Spaniard, on his way to Paris before either of the world wars: “It is possible that the original idea for the exhibition came from Picasso himself, who enjoyed talking about his first visit to Avignon. It was on his way from Spain, when he first came to Paris.

He stopped at the Castle of the Popes to see it and, being very poor, he had offered to paint the concierge’s portrait for five francs. The offer was rejected. It was Picasso’s desire at the end of his life to have his last exhibition in the Castle of the Popes, and that is what happened.”

It’s especially an honor for me to publish with Penguin Modern Classics. I became aware of the series in my early days at the University of Michigan, when I picked up the Selected Poems of my professor, the late Nobel poet Joseph Brodsky, with its startling purple-and-green cover (see it here).

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2 Responses to “Coming attractions: “René Girard: All Desire Is a Desire for Being” will be out with Penguin Modern Classics next spring!”

  1. Fin Says:

    Look forward to reading this, Cynthia. The title seems to link to your Milosz book. I see Pengion book though listed as forthcoming at the UK store: … Congratulations!

  2. Cynthia Haven Says:

    Correction made! Many thanks!