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Pierre Klossowski

The Pantomime of Spirits


Hervé Castanet

This book examines the many facets of the work of Pierre Klossowski (1905–2001). Klossowski first established himself as a writer and was known and admired by peers such as Bataille, Blanchot, Gide, Foucault, Deleuze and Lacan. But in 1972 he gave up writing to devote himself to his ‘mutism’: painting made up of large coloured drawings. In time he became as famous a painter as he had been a writer and theorist. Klossowski now has two separate groups of commentators: those concerned with his writings and those with his painting, with little overlap between the two.
Here, this separation is explicitly removed. Klossowski’s entire œuvre revolved around the concept of the gaze. Rarely has the gaze been so radically interpreted – as an active, mobile, evanescent object that breaks down the connections between representation and the visible. How is one to see the invisible divinity? This question plagued Klossowski, and he displaced it onto pornographic rituals. The pantomime of spirits is the scene, fixed in silence, where bodies meet – a knotting of desiring body and dogmatic theology. A creator of simulacra, Klossowski attempted to exorcise the ‘obsessive constraint of the phantasm’ that subjugated him in all these scenes.
Translated from the French by Adrian Price in collaboration with Pamela King.
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Klossowski as Reader


In the 1930s, when he was twenty-five years old, Pierre Klossowski began translating German (Hölderlin, Kafka, Benjamin, Scheler, etc.).1 It was during those years that he first came across Sade. In 1934 he began reading Nietzsche, whom he would also go on to translate. Klossowski became a prestigious commentator on these two authors, each of whom overshadowed their respective centuries, and his works on them are by no means marginal in his oeuvre. They are recognised and cited by specialists. Above all, they are not to be separated from his fictional works. For Klossowski, activities are never separate, nor held at a distance from one another. He insisted on this:

The presence of these works of imagination (Diana at her Bath, The Roberte trilogy, The Baphomet) necessarily reacts on the notional plane, allowing for the conception of The Philosopher Villain and The Vicious Circle. This completely changes the perspective of what is thought, felt and said, taking away, even annulling, the false perspective of a complete bibliography.2

Even the most cursory reading of Klossowski’s work on Sade, Nietzsche or utopia (Charles Fourier), from 1933 to today, reveals an instantly recognisable style that will take on its full extent in the fictional narratives. Style, however, is not to be understood solely in its literary aspect, but also in its theoretical questioning. What unfolds here is initially worded in theological terms: the content of being is not exchangeable. The subject is an enigma to...

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