“For me, surrealism never figured as a church; it was, above all, a new opening onto poetry.”
In 1941, Julien Gracq, newly released from a German prisoner-of-war camp, put a projected second novel on hold, and instead wrote a series of prose poems that would come to represent the only properly surrealist writings in his oeuvre. Surrealism provided Gracq with a means of counteracting his disturbing wartime experiences; his newfound freedom inspired a new freedom of personal expression, and he gave the collection an appropriate title, Great Liberty: “In the occult dictionary of surrealism, the true name of poetry is liberation.”
Gracq the poet rather than the novelist is at work here, but the results exceed the classification of prose poetry. His manipulation of imaginative and metamorphic imagery generates bizarre, phantasmagorical, and lyrical wonders. Surrealist fireworks lace through bewitching modernist romance, fantasy, black humor, and deadpan absurdism. A later, postwar section entitled “The Habitable Earth” presents Gracq as visionary traveler, exploring the terrains of the Andes and Flanders, and returning to the narrative impulse of his better-known fiction.
Great Liberty is a liminal work that exists on an unmapped borderline, and is a distinctive and cornerstone to the writer’s oeuvre.
Julien Gracq (1910–2007), born Louis Poirier, was a history and geography teacher by day, and a French writer by night, known for such dreamlike novels as The Castle of Argol, A Dark Stranger, The Opposing Shore (for which he refused the Prix Goncourt), and Balcony in the Forest. He was close to the surrealist movement, and André Breton in particular, to whom he devoted a critical study.