Philippe Sollers  

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

Philippe Sollers (born Philippe Joyaux 28 November 1936, Bordeaux, Gironde) is a French writer and critic. In 1960 he founded the avant garde journal Tel Quel (along with the writer and art critic Marcelin Pleynet), published by Seuil, which ran until 1982. In 1982 Sollers then created the journal L'Infini published by Denoel which was later published under the same title by Gallimard for whom Sollers also directs the series.

Sollers was at the heart of the intense period of intellectual unrest in the Paris of the 1960s and 1970s. Among others, he was a friend of Jacques Lacan, Louis Althusser and Roland Barthes. These three characters are described in his novel, Femmes (1983) alongside a number of other figures of the French intellectual movement before and after May 1968. From A Strange Solitude, The Park and Event, through "Logiques", Lois and Paradis, down to Watteau in Venice, Une vie divine and "La Guerre du goût", the writings of Sollers have often provided contestation, provocation and challenge.

In his book Writer Sollers, Roland Barthes discusses the work of Phillippe Sollers and the meaning of language.

Sollers married Julia Kristeva in 1967.



After his first novel A Strange Solitude (1958), hailed by François Mauriac and Louis Aragon, Sollers began, with The Park (1961) the experiments in narrative form that would lead to Event (Drame, 1965) and Nombres (1968). Jacques Derrida analyzes these novels in his book Dissemination. Sollers then appears to have attempted to counter the high seriousness of Nombres by producing in Lois (1972) a greater linguistic vitality through, for instance, the use of wordplay and a less formal style. The direction taken by Lois was developed through the heightened rhythmic intensity of the unpunctuated texts such as Paradis (1981). Sollers's other novels include Women (1983), Portrait du joueur (1984), Le coeur absolu (1986), Watteau in Venice (1991), Studio (1997), Passion fixe (2000), L'étoile des amants (2002), which have all introduced a degree of realism to his fiction to the extent that they make more recognizable use of plot, character and thematic development. They offer the reader a clear fictional study of the society in which he or she lives by reinterpreting among other things the role of politics, media, sex, religion, and the arts. In all these novels Sollers's interest in Chinese civilization plays an important part. From the late 1960s until then, he studied Chinese and employed ideograms increasingly in his writings. He especially exemplifies this view in the subtitle of Lois, a Chinese ideogram representing both "France" and "Law"

There is a musical quality to his writing even more striking than the references to the other arts. Vocalisation or his preference for the spoken word has always been a priority for Sollers in his writing. The combination of music, voice and theater is especially found in opera. The kind of opera associated with Sollers should properly be called opera bouffe because of that sense of humour and love of irony: opera bouffe is a comical farcial type of opera from which the genius of Mozart sprang. In many ways Sollers is doing the work of the opera bouffe or drama giocoso with his novels since Women (1983). Since Lois, the writing is music: the references to the latter are innumerable. In Women already: "Whoever understands nothing about music, understands nothing about metaphysics."

The focus on the spoken language is one which also draws Sollers toward James Joyce. Sollers is so fascinated by Joyce's style that he and Stephen Heath have collaborated to translate Joyce's Finnegans Wake into French. In January 1975, Sollers gave a lecture to an international symposium on Joyce claiming Finnegans Wake as "the most formidable anti-fascist book produced between the two wars". However, Joyce is much more than poetry for Sollers. Both educated by Jesuits, Joyce and Sollers have strong ties to Catholicism. As Sollers indicated in Paradis, Joycean Christianity like Sollers' Catholicism participates in the comic and the pathetic.

The novel Paradis has a particular flavour because the narrator is similar to a troubadour singing the story of postmodern times. The self appears to disappear as word games, puns, neologisms and misspellings create a text that is hallucinatory and humorous in its juxtaposition of seemingly incongruous words and phrases. There are constant references to orchestration and symphony, thus suggesting that there is an innate structure to what appears, at first glance to be a chaotic text.

The text's life is much like the sexuality of the writer. There is a rhythm, very much like radar or sonar, according to which the text responds to its need to enjoy itself and also to reproduce itself. The physical drives and desires of the humain body lead it toward variations of paradise.

His novels Femmes (1983) and Portrait de joueur (1984) have achieved a certain popularity. The first was translated into English as Women by Barbara Bray and published by Columbia University Press (1990). Philip Roth's comment on the cover of Women says that Sollers is a "master of good-natured malice, a kind of happy, lively, benign Céline."". One of the reason for the popularity of these books by Sollers is the sense of humour that he exhibits with his narrating voice about the culture in which the voice thrives.

In his writing, Sollers has a place of predilection, a place that unites together the whole of his personal pantheon: Venice, Da Ponte, Vivaldi, Tiepolo, Tintoretto, Tiziano, Veronese, Monteverdi... and then Casanova "the man whose name is synonymous with Venice", Vivant Denon and the Countess Albrizzi... Intimate experiences, expression, erudition, Sollers reveals the splendours of the Serenissima in a very personal Dictionnaire amoureux de Venise (2004).

In 2000, Sollers published Passion fixe, a tender and moving love story, undoubtedly the most intimate written by the author, at once immoral and moral.

In 2006, he published Une vie divine. The narrator, a professor of philosophy, was entrusted with the task of reflecting upon a world philosophy that would not exclude the religious dimension of humanity. Throughout his research and discussions with the two women in his life (one intellectual and the other frivolous) he discovers that only one thinker is strong enough to found a project of world philosophy: Nietzsche. In this novel, Philippe Sollers rises against contemporary nihilism – literature in deadlock, misfortune and melancholy – to which he contrasts promises of life and happiness. A political book and philosophical novel, Une vie divine is serious and humorous writing on the possibility of being happy. Nietzsche versus Schopenhauer. Praises of joy versus sadness and ambient defeatism.

Sollers also sees himself and his novels in an eighteenth-century lineage with philosophes like Diderot and Voltaire; so his break with tradition is not all-encompassing.



  • "Guerres secrètes" - Carnets nord 2007
  • "Fleurs" - Hermann éditions 2006
  • Dictionnaire amoureux de Venise, 2004
  • "Mystérieux Mozart" - Plon 2001
  • "Éloge de l'Infini" - Gallimard, 2001
  • "Francis Ponge" - Seghers éditions, 2001
  • "Francesca Woodman" - Scalo Publishers 1998
  • "Casanova l'admirable" - Plon 1998
  • "La Guerre du Goût" - Gallimard, 1994
    • "Liberté du XVIIIème" (Extract from La Guerre du Goût) - Gallimard, 2002
  • "Picasso, le héros" - Le cercle d'art 1996
  • "Les passions de Francis Bacon" - Gallimard 1996
  • "Sade contre l'Être suprême" - Gallimard 1996
  • "Improvisations" - Gallimard, 1991
  • "De Kooning, vite" - La différence 1988
  • "Théorie des Exceptions" - Gallimard, 1985
  • "Sur le Matérialisme" - Seuil, 1974
  • "L'Écriture et l'Expérience des Limites" - Seuil, 1968
    • Writing and the Experience of Limits - Columbia University Press, 1982
  • "Logiques" - Seuil, 1968
  • "L'Intermédiaire" - Seuil, 1963



  • L'évangile de Nietzsche - Cherche Midi 2006
  • Poker (interviews with Ligne de risque)- Gallimard, 2005
  • Voir écrire (with Christian de Portzamparc - Calmann-Levy, 2003
  • La Divine Comédie - Desclée de Brouwer, 2000
  • Le Rire de Rome - Gallimard, 1992
  • Vision à New York - Grasset, 1981
  • Interviews with Francis Ponge - Seuil 1970

Available in English

  • Writing and Seeing Architecture (with Christian de Portzamparc) - University Of Minnesota Press, 2008
  • Watteau in Venice - Scribner's, 1994
  • Women - Columbia University Press, 1990
  • Event - Red Dust, 1987
  • The Park - Red Dust 1986
  • Writing and the Experience of Limits - Columbia University Press, 1982
  • A Strange Solitude - Grove Press 1959

Further reading and literary criticism

See also

  • His writings inspired the eponymous Japanese rock band Sollers.

External links

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