Tony Duvert - a truly scandalous work, but first and foremost a work of great depth and freedom.... A book that reinvents the seduction of literature

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Tony Duvert, Odd JobsTrans. by S. C. Delaney and Agnès Potier, with an introduction, by S. C. Delaney. Wakefield Press, 2017.

This series of twenty-three satirically scabrous short texts introduces the reader to an imaginary French suburb via the strange, grotesque small-town occupations that defined a once reliable, now presumably vanished way of life. A catalog of job descriptions that range from the disgusting functions of “The Snot-Remover” and “The Wiper” to the shockingly cruel dramas enacted by “The Skinner” and “The Snowman,” Odd Jobs offers an outrageous, uncomfortable, and savage sense of humor. Through these narratives somewhere between parody and prose poem, Tony Duvert assaults parenthood, priesthood, and neighborhood in this mock handbook to suburban living: a Sadean Leave it to Beaver as written by William Burroughs.


“A satirical, caustic, and yet delightfully light collection of fables, the book comprises twenty-three narratives from an imaginary village where denizens perform the strangest—and dirtiest—traditions and professions.” The Paris Review

Odd Jobs is exactly what the title promises: a collection of unusual jobs held by a variety of local villagers. Each of the twenty-three very short pieces focuses on one such profession; almost none are of the traditional labor-force kind, but rather specific to this locale and its unusual ways (though several sound like they could be useful ...).
       So, for example, the collection begins with 'The Snot-Remover' and 'The Wiper', who take care of bodily functions. The snot-remover sets up outside school, and employs a small pump -- not like in the good old days, when practitioners still relied on a small reed pipe to suck out the snot ..... The wiper -- yes, that sort of wiper -- does his daily rounds, but isn't allowed in homes: "When wanting his service, one poked out one's ass across the threshold".
       Several of the positions are considerably more extreme, and suggest a society that is in many ways medieval. There's a variation on the (original) whipping-boy concept, the village council deciding:
parents could no longer punish their own boys; they were, rather, only to assault those that were designated as service children, who'd wait on the promenade, in plain view.
       There's also a variation on the traditional idea of jus primæ noctis, with a 'screwer' charged, on wedding nights, with deflowering: "the husband while the husband deflowered his wife" (with the wealthy bribing the screwer to get out of it ...). Even more outrageous, there's the 'skinner' -- who handles the traditional skinning of a child when a woman gives birth to her thirteenth, part of the preparation for that occasion, when: "one of her other children would be sacrificed, serving as the banquet's main course".
       Though comic, the edge to these tales is obviously sharp and hard; there's much here that is amusing, even funny, but it's a cruel, dark humor, too.
       Good -- but often quite shocking -- fun, artfully presented. - M.A.Orthofer

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Tony Duvert, District, Trans. by S. C. Delaney and Agnès Potier, with an introduction, by S. C. Delaney, Wakefield Press, 2017.

District describes, in ten vignettes, the sad, sordid, and sinister aspects to a section of an unnamed French city, and the manners in which the ghost-like human entities that inhabit, live, and wither within it are molded, moved, and absorbed by its spaces. A noisy metro station, old tenements, buildings going up, along with the fixtures of French communal life: the open-air market, the public garden; the little shops and bars, the lively town square—the ugly and mundane, the coarse and unmentionable sit side by side with the occasionally burgeoning beauty. With a sense of voyeuristic tension and queasy complicity, the reader is taken on an outcast’s tour of city life—from construction site to metro, from bar to brothel—an analysis of communal living in the past tense from the perspective of the absolute exile. One of Duvert’s last books, it is also one of his shortest: an unexpected return to the roving, fractured eye of the Nouveau Roman that had informed his earliest work.


As the title implies, District is about a locale -- a specific- more than every-place, but also anonymous and similar to any number of others. Ten chapters or pieces focus on different parts of it, such as a bar, a brothel, a market. The descriptions and scenes are both detailed and loosely sketched, and shift easily from the realistic to extremes of the imagination, beginning in the opening 'Construction Site':
There were mounds of sand that looked like giant anthills. For the cement; for the children. Most of the daycare center was built, but it hadn't been completed. It didn't have flooring, the children could fall, no cellar, no ground, no earth: the children could go into hell.
       The abyss is all around: in 'The Bar' the drinker reports on the recurring rumbling that's heard there -- and spins it out into a helicopter overhead, bombs dropping, complete devastation .....
       In 'A Billboard', a billboard, showing a couch with a naked figure on it, is described very precisely. Yet there's nothing to it beyond the picture, no text or logos that would indicate what is being advertised or announced:
Thus the various passersby circulating at the level of the massive billboard simply ignore it, and none try to guess at its possible message.
       So also, Duvert seems to be suggesting, so much else around us -- depths of meaning we choose to overlook, or remain blind to.
       Meanwhile, the explicit, written, is presented also as something with an entirely different use:
A book -- cheap; in the train station they're bought to use as toilet paper, on the can you tear off five, ten pages, then slip the book back in your pocket. After several trips it's down to its cover.
       A short, tight collection with stark and vivid imagery ("Near the threshold, a pool of vomit stretches out in the shape of a tongue"), District is an impressive, if small (a mere forty page-), collection of place-defining vignettes. - M.A.Orthofer
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Tony Duvert, Atlantic Island, Trans. by Purdey Lord Kreiden and Michael Thomas Taren, Semiotext(e), 2017.

A forgotten gem of French literature, Duvert's version of The Lord of the Flies: an indictment against the violence embedded in a middle-class community.Tony Duvert's novel Atlantic Island (originally published in French in 1979) takes place in the soul-crushing suburbs of a remote island off the coast of France. It is told through the shifting perspectives of a group of pubescent and prepubescent boys, ages seven to fourteen, who gather together at night in secret to carry out a series of burglaries throughout their neighborhood. The boys vandalize living rooms and kitchens and make off with, for the most part, petty objects of no value. Their exploits leave the adult community perplexed and outraged, especially when a death occurs and the stakes grow more serious.
Duvert's portrayal of adult life on this Atlantic Island is savage to the point of satire, but the boys and their thieving and sexuality are explored with sympathy. A novel on the loneliness of childhood and the solitude induced by geographical space, it is also an empathetic and generous homage to youth, a crime novel without suspense, and an unsettling fairytale for adults.
Atlantic Island today is a forgotten gem of French literature: Duvert's own version of The Lord of the Flies, it is attentive to details and precise in its depiction of French mores and language. An indictment against the violence embedded in a middle-class community, it is also a love letter to childhood, incorporating the heroic vistas in which a child needs only a fertile imagination to become the secret hero of his or her own life.

Spotlight on … Tony Duvert Atlantic Island (1979) (on Dennis Cooper Blog)

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Tony Duvert, Diary of an Innocent, Trans. by Bruce Benderson, Semiotext(e), 2010.

Now in English, Duvert's shocking novel about a sexual adventurer among a tribe of adolescent boys in Northern Africa.
"I'd find it amusing if, in a few centuries, the only thing that our descendents condescend to retain of our artistic production, the only thing in which they'll see worlds to admire, to penetrate, the only thing that they'll show off as precious in immense museums after having flushed down the toilet all our acknowledged masterpieces, the only thing that will give them nostalgia and love for us will be our porn." -- from Diary of an Innocent
Exiled from the prestigious French literary circles that had adored him in the 1970s, novelist Tony Duvert's life ended in anonymity. In 2008, nineteen years after his last book was published, Duvert's lifeless body was discovered in the small village of Thoré-la-Rochette, where he had been living a life of total seclusion.
Now for the first time, Duvert's most highly crafted novel is available in English. Poetic, brutally frank, and outright shocking, Diary of an Innocent recounts the risky experiences of a sexual adventurer among a tribe of adolescent boys in an imaginary setting that suggests North Africa. More reverie than narrative, Duvert's Diary presents a cascading series of portraits of the narrator's adolescent sexual partners and their culture, and ends with a fanciful yet rigorous construction of a reverse world in which marginal sexualities have become the norm.
Written with gusto and infused with a luminous bitterness, this novel is more unsettling to readers today than it was to its first audience when published in French in 1976. In his openly declared war on society, Duvert presents a worldview that offers no easy moral code and no false narrative solution of redemption. And yet no reader will remain untouched by the book's dazzling language, stinging wit, devotion to matters of the heart, and terse condemnation of today's society.

Shock value aside, the book is intelligent to its core. Duvert's style is consummate, his devices elegant, his methods seductive; Bruce Benderson's translation is clear and stately. - Review of Contemporary Fiction

'I always write completely nude, and I don't wash before,' writes Tony Duvert, whose explosive Diary of an Innocent is part tract, part porn, part theory, part fiction, and (I presume) part fact. Certain pages of Gide, Genet, Hocquenghem and certain scenes from Bresson or Pasolini suggest themselves as mild precursors, but Duvert goes further, filthier, faster. Only the Marquis de Sade outpaces him. Must we burn Duvert? I pray not. This book, troubling and memorable, interrogates with delicate strokes the damaged state of contemporary sexual relations. - Wayne Koestenbaum

Diary of an Innocent by Tony Duvert is a truly scandalous work, but first and foremost a work of great depth and freedom.... A book that reinvents the seduction of literature. - Abdellah Taïa

Originally published in France in 1976, Duvert's novel is a stomach-churning, pornographically-minded trip through the back alleys of an unnamed city narrated by a man with a penchant for young boys. Structured as a loose series of graphic sexual encounters with boys as young as seven and as old as 17, the story meanders through the narrator's days seducing street kids—and their families—with his modest wealth. These children are both the "innocents" of the ironic title and, some of them, hustlers themselves, a few of them offering their younger siblings in exchange for money, while others willingly engage in sex with the older man. The longest relationship he has is with the sulky Francesco, who mopes when other boys come knocking but eventually breaks things off. Society at large is the narrator's primary foe and he spends half of the book imagining a new world where homosexuality is the norm, heterosexuals are shunned and "the high point of human perfection is located in childhood." In the end, the descriptions of the narrator's unapologetic pleasure derived from sex with young boys remains shocking but nothing more.  - Publishers Weekly

‘I’d find it amusing if, in a few centuries, the only thing that our descendants condescend to retain of our artistic production, the only thing in which they’ll see worlds to admire, to penetrate, the only thing that they’ll show off as precious in immense museums after having flushed down the toilet all our acknowledged masterpieces, the only thing that will give them nostalgia and love for us will be our porn.’ Striking a similarly truculent tone throughout, French author and libidinal polemicist Tony Duvert’s recently translated Diary of an Innocent presents a parodic memoir of bedroom philosophy interspersed with a collection of quixotic observations and sexual inventories-in-miniature that are almost Swiftian in ambition. Written in 1973 – the same year as the author’s anarchic ‘how-to manual’, Good Sex Illustrated – the novel represents Duvert at his most literary and pornographic.
Assuming the role of a poète maudit in exile, Diary of an Innocentis set in an unnamed city – perhaps in Morocco or Algeria – where the narrator discovers a cornucopia of pubescent desire. The resulting documentation of his pederastic transgressions mines much of the same territory described in William Burroughs’ Naked Lunch (1959), The Thief’s Journal (1949) by Jean Genet, and Deleuze and Guattari’s Anti-Oedipus (1972): part epistemology, part personal mythology. ‘It would be better to think of a name for certain boys,’ explains the narrator of the fictional christening process of his anonymous lovers. ‘I’ll take them from a novel by Quevedo [The Life of the Adventurer Don Pablos de Segovia, Ideal Tramp and Image of the Swindler, 1626]; I have hardly any books here, and that will do. I just need to follow the order of the first chapter [but] choosing accurate or attractive ones isn’t important; it’s enough for chance to decide.’

Beneath the scandalous accounts of ‘boy love’ that run through these fractured recollections, the mission of Diary of an Innocentis more ambitious in scale. Duvert is not only determined to take every mother and father to task for the sexual manipulation of their children, but to evidence how the oedipalized family is a molecular extension of the West and its regulation of libido for profit. ‘In middle-class families, manners have barely changed since the time when they had bachelors to admire the watercolours of their daughter,’ he writes, ‘[but] today, they invariably show you the little ones’ drawings and psychoanalyze them. They make aghast commentary if the images the brat produced are conformist; his duty is primitive art, not imitating big people. I dodge the requests for Freudian drivel.’ So Duvert’s salacious trysts with itinerants and juveniles, which fill the bulk of the 250-plus pages, invoke as much of the libidinal-economic as they do an Olympia Press ‘porno book’, transforming these playful, tanned bodies into the prelapsarian antithesis of western capitalism, French culture and secular humanism.
For his part, Duvert is rarely apologetic about his transgressions and, rarer still, does he cloak them in the circumlocutions of a fashionable, academic rhetoric. ‘To become straight,’ he explains matter-of-factly, ‘you have to transform your cock into a phallus, that well-washed instrument of power. The asshole can remain dirty, but you’ve got to sew it up, forget the half of the penis that joins it, favor the external part and confine orgasm to that part.’ Such ‘non-discourse’ discourse might be shocking to some and downright offensive to others (the overly squeamish need not inquire on the narrator’s erotic musings on farm animals, stray dogs and worms). But the importance of Duvert’s controversial labour cannot be overstated, not only because of its unrepentant advocacy of a so-called aberrant sexuality, but for the larger task of building a radical, narrative cosmology – polymorphous, heterotopic and dedicated to a politics of pleasure. As French scholar Bruce Benderson explains in the novel’s preface: ‘The fact that many passages of Diary of an Innocent were repulsive to me and that I identified that repulsion as much more than a matter of taste is merely proof of the efficacy of Duvert’s purpose […] One could say he has chosen to lie down with the Devil in order to escape the narrow boundaries of social experience – and thus achieve an unusual kind of transcendence. As I have tried to show, such a stance probably could not be more foreign and more distasteful to the American mind.’ So while Diary of an Innocentcontains a fascinating and essential reminder of a particular past dedicated to unspoken desires, Duvert’s pornographic transfiguration likely has no greater foe than the American reader of the new millennium. -

I first heard the name Tony Duvert on Dennis Cooper's great (and on going) blog, and was intrigued that he was a French writer (my obsession) and wrote about sexuality that many will feel questionable. "Diary of an Innocent" reads like a sex diary, rant, social theory, and a feverish dream all at once. The back cover liner notes says 'novel' but I wonder if it is - but that's not the issue of the book. What the book is about is a man who enjoys gay sex with various young boys in what may be somewhere in North Africa. It is also a social critique on the nature of passion and how it plays itself out in the 'mainstream' world.
Towards the end of the book he writes about heterosexuality as an outlaw fringe group lurking in the shadows of homosexual world that is both funny and quite insightful in how structure rules the world. In another one of his books (which I haven't read) "Good Sex Illustrated" he attacks the fact that a child's sex is conditioned and controlled by the structure of family and state - and are taught not to for fulfil their sexuality or desires. So through the eyes of Duvert, Western sexuality is part of a system that these kids are pooped out to fill out a role that family, state, and whoever wants to control.
"Diary of an Innocent" is a complex and very frank book about sexuality and how that plays out in a very constructed culture and society. - Tosh Berman

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Tony Duvert, Good Sex Illustrated, Trans. by Bruce Benderson, Semiotext(e), 2007.

A scathing view of sex manuals for children and society's hypocrisy of over sex that argues for the rights of children to their own bodies and their own sexuality.
Why is pleasure "doubled" when it's "shared"?... Do you really have to cut pleasure in two so that it'll exist? I mean, if it's doubled when there are two of you, then it must be tripled when there are three, quadrupled when there are four, centupled when there are a hundred, right? Is it O.K. for a hundred to share? And if I get used to trying it all alone, why is it that I'll never love anyone again? Is it that good alone and that awful with others? ; from Good Sex Illustrated First published in France in 1973, Good Sex Illustrated gleefully deciphers the subtext of a popular sex education manual for children produced during that period. In so doing, Duvert mounts a scabrous and scathing critique of how deftly the "sex-positive" ethos was harnessed to promote the ideal of the nuclear family. Like Michel Houllebecq, Duvert is highly attuned to all the hypocrisies of late twentieth century western "sexual liberation" mass movements. As Bruce Benderson notes in his introduction, Good Sex Illustrated shows that, "in our sexual order, orgasm follows the patterns of any other kind of capital... 'good sex' is a voracious profit machine." But unlike Houllebecq, Duvert writes from a passionate belief in the integrity of unpoliced sex and of pleasure. Even more controversially now than when the book was first published, Duvert asserts the child's right to his or her own playful, unproductive sexuality. Bruce Benderson's translation will belatedly introduce English-speaking audiences to the most infamous gay French writer since Jean Gênet.

A writer criminally undertranslated and consequently barely known in the primarily English-speaking areas of the world.... Duvert is one of the more significant and idiosyncratic contemporary French fiction writers. He's also one of the most mysterious. - Dennis Cooper

The family, in Tony Duvert's iconography, is the mainspring of oppression, "breeder of meat and whittler-down of men. As a 'producer' unit, it is ... capable only of destroying the children that it turns out."

It's not a startlingly original assertion. But that's mainly because this petulant little book was first published in 1973 in the wake of cult writers like David Cooper with his optimistic prediction of The Death of the Family and R. D. Laing who diagnosed families as the cause of schizophrenia. Both were strongly influenced by the psychoanalyst Wilhelm Reich and his elevation of the orgasm as a force for liberation.
It's not clear why the publishers have seen fit to revive what can only be seen as a curiosity of its time, except perhaps to test how well it has survived. Duvert sets out to demonstrate the commodification of sexuality through examination of a five-volume sex education manual, published by Hachette. Each volume is directed at a different age group, and each features an idealised nuclear family in order, according to Duvert, to reinforce capitalism's tyranny. But in the light of subsequent work, especially Foucault's majestic history of sexuality, his conclusions seem crude and unformed.
Even more naive is Duvert's interpretation of why sex is seen purely as a means to procreation. The family, he argues, is a microcosm of an industrial machine where fathers are the owners, mothers producers and children the product. Nowhere does he acknowledge that this analysis was first made, more cogently, a century earlier by Freidrich Engels.
Duvert's castigation of the family and his railing against the reduction of sex to market forces spring from a passionate advocacy of unfettered sexuality. Children, he says, are taught to be ashamed of erotic desires and to repress sexual instincts. Little girls should be able to regard their burgeoning breasts as playthings; little boys should revel in their hanging testicles and hardening penises.
And clearly it's those little boys who interest him. Each chapter begins with a blurred photograph of a small boy's pencil-like erection, ostensibly to show how sexuality is dehumanised in commercial society. But the repetition of the picture merely serves to highlight what appear to be the author's own preferences. An unsettling amount of his diatribe is a paean to the act of masturbation, leading to a more sinister subtext: a child's right to sexual exploration with adults.
Fathers, apparently, deliberately exaggerate the evil intents of strangers. "The paedophile," Duvert claims, "goes beyond being simply a pervert, a squanderer: he's the father's rival."
He even argues that the pederast is preferable to the parent: "To buy his protection, the children or adolescents will have to give in to him, submit their sex to him, as they do for the father; but instead of being castrated, they'll only be harnessed."
But it's not any old child abuser Duvert is defending. It's specifically middle-class, wealthy homosexual preyers upon children. "The homosexual protector offers, outside the family, what that family can't give." You can't help wondering why he protests quite so much.
Throughout his polemic, Duvert continually generalises about children: their sexual make-up, their need for physical and erotic expression and their repression by market forces and the family. You need to know children quite intimately to be able to make such claims. Since Duvert had none of his own, how did he manage it? -

Good Sex Illustrated was originally published by Les Éditions de Minuit in 1974 as Le bon sexe illustré; it has now been translated for the first time by Bruce Benderson and published by Semiotext(e), an imprint of MIT Press.  Its author Tony Duvert was born in 1945 and has written several novels and monographs.  His novel Quand mourut Jonathan (1978) depicts the loving and sexual relationship between a man in his thirties and an eight year old boy.  It has been translated and published by the Gay Men's Press with the title When Jonathan Died; the translation out of print and is available at online sellers only in used form at considerable cost.  His novel Paysage de fantaisie (1973) is described by the publisher as having themes of childhood sexuality was translated as Strange Landscape and was published by Random House in 1976.
In Good Sex Illustrated, Duvert argues against conventional morality with an attack on a child's book on sex, Encyclopédie de la vie sexuelle, published by Hachette, in two volumes. The book is available today in a modern edition, now with its two volumes separated into separate books, the first being for children between 7 and 9, and the second for children between 10 and 13. Duvert ridicules the book for being so conventional, medical, and for completely denying the pleasure children can get from their sexuality.  It emphasizes the reproductive function of sex, and since children can't reproduce, implies that it is inappropriate for children to be enjoying their sexuality.  Duvert quotes extensively from the book, casting scorn on both its imagery and its text.  He points out that sex isn't just for reproduction, and so the implication of the book that children can't enjoy sexuality is mistaken.  He ends this monograph with a call for the sexual freedom of minors.  Along the way, he also largely dismisses the problem of sexual assault and sexual abuse of children by adults by pointing out that conventional families can be dangerous to children.  He cites statistics of children being beaten and murdered by their parents, and also points out that children and teens have a high suicide rate.  It seems that he does acknowledge that children can be sexually abused by adults, as adults can be sexually abused by other adults.  He does not believe that it follows that all children's sexual interactions with adults should be prohibited, but rather, damaging sexual relationships with children should be condemned. 
Of course, Duvert's views are shocking to most people, and were presumably shocking in the 1970s.  Even if he is right that children should be able to enjoy their sexuality in some way, his assumption that there can be non-damaging sexual relationships between adults and children is naïve and maybe even self-serving.  His mode of argument, with its focus on the book for children, is a bizarre piece of cultural interpretation.  Presumably this book was somewhat progressive in its day, in taking a non-judgmental view of children's sexual questions.  It seems that Duvert would only approve of it if it contained many pictures celebrating children's sexual organs and the pleasure they could experience.  He is probably right that the book does serve as a gauge of parents' expectations: it would not sell otherwise.  His interpretation of the awkwardness of the book is that it is a sign of the parents' desire to control their children and deny them pleasure.  It's a very unsubtle take on the difficulty that parents have with accepting the sexuality of their children.  Most parents feel awkward about talking to their children about sexuality, masturbation and experimentation, and most parents will discourage their children from sexual exploration.  It's reductionist and unwarranted to conclude the reasons must be a desire for control and deprivation. 
Maybe if he had been able to read Michel Foucault's important work from 1976, The History of Sexuality (Volume 1), Duvert would be the resources for a more subtle analysis.  As gay intellectuals active in the 1970s, it is likely that they knew each other, and they both shared a strong suspicion of the pleasantries of bourgeois life and a preference for radicalism.  Duvert's particular bête noir was the family, while Foucault focused more on institutions such psychiatry and the law.  While Foucault's work is still profoundly influential, Duvert is largely unknown, at least in the USA.  It is unlikely that Good Sex Illustrated will do anything to improve his reputation.  The problems with his argument are not just his pressing on the taboo subject of childhood sexuality and his idealistic view of a future without sexual repression.  More fundamental is his failure to do the work in linking his analysis of the children's book to his understanding of the rest of society.  It's as if he thinks that through a criticism of one book, he has successfully shown the problems of all society.  But he almost entirely lacks any theoretical structure to understand society, the nature of families, the role of children, or the place of sexuality.  In short, all he has is polemic, with no supporting theory.  It's not enough to show that contemporary society has some contradictions and tensions.  If one is going to be a radical, sexual or otherwise, one has to have some model of the fundamental nature of the problem, and if one is going hope for a change, one has to have a model for how people could be liberated from their oppression.  Foucault was famously pessimistic about the possibility of revolution or even improvement.  From our perspective, more than thirty years after this book's publication, Duvert's calls for the sexual liberation of children seem utterly out of place.  Childhood sexuality is just as difficult a topic as it was in 1974, if not more so, and while Duvert does highlight the tensions in our attitudes towards it, it doesn't help us think about it more clearly.  - Christian Perring


Tony Duvert, The Undiscoverable Reading, Trans. by Bruce Benderson, Semiotext(e), 2014.

…the subversive novel is art consumed by the class that benefits materially, socially and sexually from the order of the realm it attacks. It is a hyper culture that is often above the intellectual resources of the bour- geoisie, and that is shared particularly by a professional elite dedicated to the “cultural” and to rebellion. Liberated speech, whether or not it can actually initiate liberty, is feed for a henhouse with solid wire fencing.

Tony Duvert is a very hard sale. Due to the fact that he has an interest in pedophilia and criticized modern child-rearing. In the 70s, due to the sexual moral times of that era, he could get his work published, but since the 1980s he was pretty much ignored by the mainstream press and even from the Underground.  Which is a shame, because Duvert is a very interesting writer and thinker.  Semiotext[e] the brilliant press are the only one's that are publishing his work, and the booklet I have just read, "The Undisoverable Reading" is hard-to-find.  It's a 40 page chapbook, with no bind, but I read it twice, because I found it to be difficult and enticing at the same time.   In this essay, Duvert writes about the nature of literature and how reader's perceive literature - both as someone who may write books, as well as its readers.  The reader in a sense, meets the author.  He starts off writing about an ad selling classic literature to a normal family, and gives a funny picture of that type of ad- and then he goes into the advertisement of a company selling a service in 'how to write,' and gives a picture there of a young girl about to start her novel or some sort of creative writing.  From there, he digs into the deeper world of why people read, but also the nature of avant-garde literature when it mixes with the mainstream world of books.   The writing is very dense and one has to concentrate - but as I said, I was compelled to read it twice in a row - and each read was enjoyable experience.   This work was part of the Semiotext[e] box set that was sold at the Whitney.  I think the whole collection is sold out, but I think for sure, worth the trouble to locate this box of chapbooks.   As a brand, you can pretty much trust the Semiotext[e] publishing house to always, or at the very least, put out interesting titles.  - Tosh Berman

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Tony Duvert, When Jonathan Died, Trans. by D. R. Roberts, GMP Publishers, 1991.

Jonathan is a 27-year-old artist living in Paris who befriends a single mother and her six-year-old son, Serge. When Serge is eight, his mother asks Jonathan to look after him for a week, which they spend together at Jonathan's country house in southern France.
Jonathan and Serge become close friends. Jonathan, smitten with the boy, is distraught when Serge returns to Paris. They meet each other again when Serge is age 10, and their sexual relationship continues. While Jonathan and Serge are separated, the sexual side of Jonathan's desires begins to dominate his behaviour. He eventually seeks out other young boys; he is rejected by some and finds no real satisfaction in sex with the others.
Serge, fatherless and miserable at home with his aloof and demeaning mother, decides to run away to be with Jonathan. He sets off to find him, but becomes overwhelmed by hopelessness, and when confronted with a busy road to cross at night, commits suicide by throwing himself under a fast-moving car. - wikipedia

Mothers and/as Monsters in Tony Duvert's Quand mourut Jonathan (pdf)

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Tony Duvert, Strange Landscape, Trans. by Sam Flores, Random House, 1976. 

 An indecency, Strange Landscape is a kind of mucous finger-painting about the auto-and-homoerotic activities of a group of boys taken to a strange house (loosely identified as a ""chateau"" here in ""possibly Brittany"") where they spend the hours sodomizing and being sodomized, cheek to cheek. Their names (Claude, Lulu, etc.) are as interchangeable as their flexible parts be they aperture or appendage. Among the clean words which reappear with engorging tedium are pus, piss, and putrid. The dirty words--and Duvert is given to lallocropia--are unrepeatable. The book was awarded one of those indistinguishably meaningless prizes--the Medicis--in 1973 but there are more French literary prizes than in any resort hotel Bingo game. Except for the lack of punctuation (sauf the question mark) and the three or four empty spaces which serve no useful purpose (did not these devices date from the '50's?) it is hard to justify Le Monde's claim that Duvert ""transforms our notion of novelistic time."" He just ""shoots his load"" in the first chapter which leaves you nothing to look forward, or in the interest of geographical accuracy, bum-backward to. - Kirkus Reviews

 Just finished Duvert's terribly out of print novel Strange Landscape. The story more or less covers a group (or many groups) of pre-adolescent children and their lives at what alternates between a pedophilic/hebephilic bordello and an orphanage/boarding house located in a decadent chateau. The children (and other children from the surrounding town) are the primary characters in the novel (any adult figures rarely pop up for more than a sentence or two), and the action is mostly dedicated to pre-adolescent & adolescent agression, demonstrated by either violence, sex, or sexual violence. But what makes the novel experimental isn't so much the subject matter, but rather Duvert's decision to eschew the use of punctuation and, to some extent (excluding the pronoun "I") capitalization.
At times the narrative, in it's "formless" construction (recalling, to some extent, the narrative of Guyotat's Eden Eden Eden), reads like high modernist stream of consciousness. However, it is not the psychological internal that Duvert is concerned with (written in 1976, Duvert was obviously well versed in Robbe-Grillet and co.'s nouveau roman & it's resistance to psychological depictions), but rather, it's a materialist stream of concious, constantly switching both tense and voice, characters going in and out of focus, chronology forgotten in favor of what could no doubtedly be described as a sort of contained "all-overness."
There are no main characters driving the narrative (though children named Claude, Lulu, Simon, and Yann are humanized to a largest extent [which isn't that large of an extent]), rather Duvert depicts seemingly EVERYTHING that happens to the children (different children) all at least tangentially in relation to the chateau. Which, I suppose, posits the chateau as the main character of the novel. It is not hyper present, but it is a loci to structure all of the narrative's events around.
Duvert's "all-overness" (and yeah, I'm ostensibly stealing from Clement Greenberg here, but I would argue that my misappropriation is more pertinent) is a fascinating experiment, and the sexual violence assures a level of spectacle that often shoves the form out of the foreground. The core idea in the book seems to be that the physicality of human nature and desire itself will often overreach any sort of desire for a traditional "love" available between two people, regardless of gender or age. A fascinating read overall. -


The writer Tony Duvert, 63, was discovered dead on Wednesday, August 20, at home, in the small village of Thoré-la-Rochelle (Loir-et-Cher). He had been dead for about a month. An investigation has been started, but he appears to have died of natural causes. Tony Duvert had not published any books since 1989. He had been almost forgotten, and yet, he left a mark on his time – the 1970s – by the extreme freedom that he demonstrated in both his writings and his life, by his unique tone of coarseness and grace, by the rhythm of his sentences, often without punctuation, carried along by only the movement of desire – capable, as people believed then, of changing the world.
Born in 1945, Tony Duvert was an outlaw, he felt himself banned – the title of one of his first books, published in 1969 by Minuit, which will remain his publisher. But the music, at once rough and refined, of his prose lent all the nocturnal strolls and excursions of a man who loved men the look of a funereal odyssey, of an almost mythical promenade by the sheer strangeness and solitude of the darkest city neighborhoods.
In Le voyageur (The traveler, 1970), with a feeling of free fall and absence to himself, Tony Duvert lets old images encircle him. In the countryside drowned by winter and rain, the ghosts of Karim (killed by his mother), Daniel (the adolescent whom the narrator teaches to write), André, Pierre, and Patrick, deprived, lost, went searching in the fog for a gentleness and a justice that the world denies them.
It is perhaps in order to welcome them that Tony Duvert wrote this Paysage de fantaisie, awarded the Prix Médicis in 1973 (tr. 1976 by Sam Flores as Strange landscape). In a whorehouse-orphanage, the boarders embrace all the whims of the moment, without taboo, look, or reproach. In this book there is a kind of amoral jubilation and ferocious joy. And, in the jostling of grammar, gestures, and scenes, in the transport of the unique sentence, a challenge to every literary and ethical convention. In his almost childlike joy, this was how Duvert forgot that he was an adult, perhaps even that he was a writer.
But it is in Journal d’un innocent (1976, tr. 2010 by Bruce Benderson as Journal of an innocent) that this pagan innocence is expressed most clearly. In a universe without either fault or suffering, somewhere in the South, embraces follow one another with a total, absolute naturalness.
There is only skin and sun, the simple worship of desire: and one could say that Tony Duvert breaks free from the very need for eroticism, from the obligations of pornography – this pornography that he has been so readily accused of in order to mask it with a sulfurous cloud and make one forget that he was a great writer celebrating the flesh. Two works
  • Le bon sexe illustré (1974, tr. 2007 by Bruce Benderson as Good sex illustrated) and 
  • L’enfant au masculin (The child in the masculine, 1980) – attempted to give a more thought-out form to his vision of the world and of love.
Tony Duvert had a genuine fervor: for nature, central especially to Quand mourut Jonathan (1978, tr. 1991 by D. R. Roberts as When Jonathan died), which recalls the love of a man and a child. This relationship takes on the appearance and the rhythm of a biological association, as if, by dint of understanding and harmony, they both had become plants mutually emitting harmful poisons to each other until they were destroyed and separated by society.
This society, Tony Duvert seemed to get closer to it the better to denigrate t in L’île atlantique (The Atlantic island, 1979), his most classical, almost naturalist, novel. It is a kind of comedy à la Marcel Aymé that Gérard Mordillat adapted for television in 2005. Afterwards, Tony Duvert stopped writing novels. Un anneau d’argent à l’oreille (A silver ring in the ear, 1982) is only a distant reflection, the echo of a farewell to this literary form.
In 1989, he still published an Abécédaire malveillant (A spiteful Primer), a series of aphorisms that express all the things he detests – priests, philosophers, parents. But one felt that he had lost the joy of provocation. As if he had understood that the times were increasingly hostile to him, that he could no longer open up landscapes of fantasy with his sentence alone, with his almost barbarous music. He isolated himself in this small Loir-et-Clair village, very alone, deprived, renouncing even the use of words, and sometimes only hearing in the distance the laughing of his pagan angels. - Jean-Noël Pancrazi; Translated by David Thorstad for Semiotext(e).