Preface to the first collection of his critical poetry texts.
This preface will be published at the head of the collection Le Rappel à l'ordre (Stock, 1926), regrouping seven essays, some of which had been previously published in booklets, from 1918 to 1923: Le Coq et l'Arlequin, Carte blanche, Visite à Maurice Barrès, Le Secret professionnel, D'un ordre considéré comme une anarchie, Autour de Thomas l'imposteur et Picasso.
Cocteau had fun completing the cover of the schoolbook by hand, decorated with a frame in the form of a monument with columns: under SCHOOL, he added "d'équilibre", under CAHIER "de Devoir", after "appartenant à", he wrote his name "Jean Cocteau", then inscribed in capital letters the title: "PRÉFACE A LE RAPPEL A L'ORDRE". The manuscript presents numerous erasures and corrections; it was used for the printing, as the typographical indications show.
In this brief Preface, Cocteau retraces his entire poetic journey: "At seventeen, charged with electricity, I mean with shapeless poetry, unable to make a transmission device, baffled by suspicious praise and bad books, I was turning over on the spot like a sick man trying to fall asleep. He alludes to the worldly success that welcomed his first collections ("suspicious praise"), and evokes two figures who, each in their own way, helped him to become a true poet: Anna de Noailles and André Gide. Thus, "little by little I fell into a sleepwalking sleep. It became my normal state and I will sleep it, without doubt, until the end". This metaphor of the poet as a sleepwalker, living in a parallel world, Cocteau would spin it until his last breath. But this abandonment to the forces of the night is in no way a call for relaxation. The poet is certainly comparable to the tightrope walker, but it is precisely the exercise that requires the most discipline: "At least my example proves that a rigorous equilibrium is indispensable if one pushes back the conventional balance. What I was looking for in the circus, in the music hall, was not, as has been claimed, the mystery of clowns or negroes but a lesson in balance.
A school of work, of discreet strength, of useful grace, a high school that alienated me from many inattentive minds. Even I suppose that the gestures of a man who walks on death must seem quite funny"...
Provenance : Carole WEISWEILLER.