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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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The Violence of the Gaze


The resources for broaching the art oeuvre1 of Pierre Klossowski, who was both a theoretician of pictorial creation and a draughtsman, are limited. For him there was a radical difference between his reflections on art and his coloured drawings, and the works he proposed to his readers or viewers can be understood only by examining the context in which he placed them. This context, however, breaks with the way we are currently used to thinking and seeing: it is based on a theological orientation. To ignore this orientation, which is maintained throughout all of Klossowski’s commentaries and artwork, would deprive his texts and pictures of their cutting edge, of their pertinence. As ever, our author’s theological references are multiple and not necessarily homogenous. Klossowski plays with theology, making it say things it never really did.

Two remarks, dating from 1982, shall guide us:

– ‘Every work of art is thus of the order of the revelation of an essence and its contemplation’,

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