He was born in 1940 into a prosperous bourgeois family at Condom (Gers), in Gascony, a region traditionally celebrated for its tellers of tall tales and its romantic braggadocio. In the first of two volumes of his own semi-fictionalised Biographie (1981), Navarre states: 'I never decided to be a writer, I was writing even before I knew how to write. Writing begins at the first glance exchanged with another.' But he did start writing at a very early age, while still a student at the Lycee Pasteur in Neuilly-sur-Seine, and later at the Ecole des Hautes Etudes Commerciales du Nord in the University of Lille.
Navarre kept his hand in as a writer at 'that other school of composition', copywriting, and for many years worked as editor and creative writer in publicity companies. Some of his fictional characters bear witness to this professional training: Sarah in Kurwenal (1977) or Barbara in Une vie de chat (1986). Yet it was not until 1971 that he was finally able to publish what he described as his 'umpteenth novel', Lady Black. It had a moderate succes d'estime and was followed almost every year by a new novel.
Evolene (1972) was more highly praised, and led to his first big success, Les Loukoums (1973), which was later translated into English. It is still a best-seller in the paperback edition, with its charming drawing of the author by David Hockney (1975), showing a great perceptive sympathy for a character both wary and defiant, tender and - as befits a true Gascon - choleric.
Les Loukoums may truly be described as a prophetic novel, for it describes the mortal illness of an older man, Rasky, in New York. When he telegraphs his former, much younger lover, Luc, a Frenchman who is unmistakably a semi- autobiographical portrait of Navarre himself, to fly to his bedside from Paris, Luc finds his old friend in a hospital room like a mortuary, too weak to move, his body covered with scars supposed to be symptoms of syphilis, but which we recognise today as the type of skin cancer called Kaposi's Sarcoma. They joke that no one dies of 'Dame Syphy'. But the disease Rasky is dying from is certainly Aids, though it was not until the early 1980s that it was discovered and so named in New York.
Les Loukoums, like most of Navarre's other novels, is partly autobiographical. They nearly all contain explicit references to his homosexuality, or to characters who struggle to comes to terms with the gay way of life by creating what might be described as 'homosociality' in their relationships with others. The charming Une Vie de chat (1986) contains several scenes in which the very observant cat, Tiffauges, watches his master, Abel, coming home in the middle of the night and having sex with young pickups from the parks. This amusing but disturbing book is surely partly inspired by Natsume Soseki's I am a Cat, the French translation of which had appeared in 1976. This knowing pet can also be regarded as a portrait of the author, who in Biographie 1 tells us he prefers to compose straight on his typewriter, as that gives him a sense of distancing from himself impossible when he writes by hand: 'Cats can write,' he says, 'because they are quiet, observe, listen and give the best of themselves.' His master, like Navarre, seems always to be writing the same novel, with the same characters, including himself, under different names.
Though outwardly successful and famous, Navarre was full of conflicts with himself, his family, his friends, his lovers, and especially with his various publishers. There are a number of references to humiliating dinners with publishers and editors in which his latest novel is rejected as 'not what we expected': one editor goes so far as to say that if the boy lover in one had been changed to a girl, it might have been acceptable. There are also passages of great bitterness about real or imagined slights from the intellectual, literary and gay communities of Paris.
In an issue of Globe magazine devoted to homosexuality in 1989 Navarre published an outspoken defence of his gay life, describing how it had moved from militantism to disillusion and finally indifference. This last word is one he picks up when he declares that homosexuals should not fight for their 'right to difference' but to their 'right to indifference' on the part of the general public. He quotes Barthes and Lacan, saying that he has finally discovered how to be at peace with himself and his sexuality - what Barthes called 'la quietude insexuelle' - while Lacan's aphorism 'Il n'y a pas de rapport sexuel' is a favourite of Navarre's and serves as an epigraph to Biographie 1 which he again insists is not autobiography but fiction.
Navarre won the Prix Goncourt in 1980 for Le Jardin d'Acclimatation which is not really one of his best works. Then he was made a Chevalier de l'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres - a distinction he would refer to with amused indifference. He also enjoyed some success as a playwright, and his collected plays are published in three volumes (1973, 1976, 1979). He published two books for children. Several of his works have been published in English by Quartet Books: The Little Rogue in Our Flesh (Ce Petit galopin de nos corps); Our Share of Time (Le Temps voulu); and A Cat's Life (Une Vie de chat)
In the end Navarre could no longer bear literary life in France, and left Paris to live in Montreal, where he had gone to recover from a stroke in 1983, and from which he made a brave recovery. It is this city which forms the background to his novel Ce Sont amis que vent emporte (1991) which brings us full circle from Les Loukoums. It is the story of two men in their forties, who have long been lovers, and who are both dying of Aids. One is the ballet dancer David, the other a sculptor named Roch. They are both in the terminal stages of the disease, though David is more advanced in his sickness than Roch, who still manages to take care of him. Like Les Loukoums, it is the story of the sex and love lives of two devoted friends, seeking to establish among the trash and terror of contemporary gay existence a responsible way of living, a 'homosociality' that keeps being swept away by fits of gay irresponsibility.
After three years in exile in Montreal, Navarre returned to Paris in 1992, to a small apartment in the Marais, where he lived alone, without even a favourite cat. The Academie Francaise awarded him a sort of consolation prize 'in support of further literary creation and as a reward for his work as a whole', and he made the embittered comment, in the words of Vicky, a character in his play Les Dernieres clientes (1977), set in a sauna: 'All despair is not yet lost'. He was seen occasionally at rendezvous like Le Duplex, Domboulette and Le Coffee Shop before the crush started, at the gay bookshop Les Mots a la Bouche and at the celebrated bar Piano Zinc where he would sip a double decaffeinated coffee before retiring to his solitary couch.
'I rarely go anywhere else. I no longer travel,' he said in an interview in the magazine Gai Pied Hebdo. 'I should like to take my leave of life in a clean and decent manner.' Police reported that Navarre took his own life at his apartment in Paris on Monday.
Navarre's last two novels were La Vie dans l'ame (1992) and Poudre d'or (1993). His was a noble career that came full circle in more senses than one. The first book to be defined as a novel about Aids was La Chute de Babylon (1986), by Valery Luria (pseudonym of the pianist Valery Afanassyev). But Navarre can justly be said to have written the first one long before that with Les Loukoums, and deserves to be remembered for that fact alone.
After his return to France, he developed depression and committed suicide with barbiturates on January 24, 1994.
Sweet Tooth (French Literature) by Yves Navarre
Paperback: 220 pages
Publisher: Dalkey Archive Pr; Tra edition (May 30, 2006)
Amazon: Sweet Tooth (French Literature)
This is a brilliant, uncompromising novel by one of the early innovators of gay literature. Anonymous sexual encounters and unbridled lust slowly merge into love in this stunning work from a legend of quality gay literature. Hubert Selby Jr.'s Brooklyn. Charles Bukowski's Los Angeles. Henry Miller's Paris. Gritty, brutal and uncompromising - and all drawn from the same lines as Yves Navarre's New York, a city of muggings, cockroach-infested apartments, dank hospitals and casual murder. Strip-lights flickering in subterranean parking lots; overcrowded subways sweaty with the possibility of violence; averted faces, dark alleys, the pale green skin of a junkie in his last cold turkey. Scrawny backstreet cats fighting amongst overflowing garbage cans, the hard sounds of sex and rage rattling off fire escapes, smeared windows, stained and crowded walls. This is New York way before zero tolerance, way before 9/11, when Broadway was still dangerous and the city was crammed with fear and beauty. Into its sooty mouth walks Luc, a French visitor whose life collides with those of Rasky and Lucy in a series of raw encounters as sensual and sensory as the tastes of the city itself. From his disconcerting arrival at Customs to Navarre's incredible, macabre ending, every step of Luc's odyssey is recounted with shocking candour and spectacular detail. The unheralded precursor of a mainstream canon and one of the most influential gay novels ever written, "Sweet Tooth" is an awesome work from a writer of incomparable talent.
Our Share of Time by Yves Navarre
Paperback: 237 pages
Publisher: Dalkey Archive Pr (April 1988)
Amazon: Our Share of Time
"When it happens you don't expect it. You don't expect anything anymore. You lose your head for just a second and someone walks into your life, turns it upside down, tenderly, brutally, making a place for himself. Even before anything has happened it's already too late. You can't tell who is choosing whom, when, how, why. You only know these things later when everything is over and each person holds the other accountable for what has gone on."
These opening lines from Our Share of Time begin a story concerned with the impossibility of sustaining love, or even understanding how and why it started.
In this diary-like reminiscence, Pierre Forgue, a Parisian school teacher, offers us an apologia for his past and present life as well as a bleak picture of his future. Moving between his Paris apartment and his summer cottage in Peyroc, he vacillates between love and indifference, between Duck (the young man who casually enters his life and who callously departs) and the rest of the world, between lost youth and approaching middle age.
His is the universal midlife crisis accentuated by the presence of Duck, the now-you-see-him-now-you-don't young and handsome intruder who brings both happiness and misery. This novel, about the difficulty of maintaining lasting relationships, succeeds by the painstaking honesty with which Yves Navarre records events whose "ending is happy, painful, and sweet."
Une vie de chat: Roman (French Edition) by Yves Navarre
Paperback: 222 pages
Publisher: A. Michel (1986)
Amazon: Une vie de chat: Roman (French Edition)
Living in Arcadia: Homosexuality, Politics, and Morality in France from the Liberation to AIDS by Julian Jackson
Hardcover: 336 pages
Publisher: University Of Chicago Press (December 15, 2009)
Amazon: Living in Arcadia: Homosexuality, Politics, and Morality in France from the Liberation to AIDS
In Paris in 1954, a young man named André Baudry founded Arcadie, an organization for “homophiles” that would become the largest of its kind that has ever existed in France, lasting nearly thirty years. In addition to acting as the only public voice for French gays prior to the explosion of radicalism of 1968, Arcadie—with its club and review—was a social and intellectual hub, attracting support from individuals as diverse as Jean Cocteau and Michel Foucault and offering support and solidarity to thousands of isolated individuals. Yet despite its huge importance, Arcadie has largely disappeared from the historical record.
The main cause of this neglect, Julian Jackson explains in Living in Arcadia, is that during the post-Stonewall era of queer activism, Baudry’s organization fell into disfavor, dismissed as conservative, conformist, and closeted. Through extensive archival research and numerous interviews with the reclusive Baudry, Jackson challenges this reductive view, uncovering Arcadie’s pioneering efforts to educate the European public about homosexuality in an era of renewed repression. In the course of relating this absorbing history, Jackson offers a startlingly original account of the history of homosexuality in modern France.
The Inverted Gaze: Queering the French Literary Classics in America by FranCois Cusset
Paperback: 160 pages
Publisher: Arsenal Pulp Press; Tra edition (October 25, 2011)
Amazon: The Inverted Gaze: Queering the French Literary Classics in America
François Cusset, author of the acclaimed book French Theory, investigates the queering of the French literary canon by American writers and scholars in this thought-provoking and free-minded journey across six centuries of literary classics and sexual polemics.
Cusset presents the foundations and rationale for American queer theory, the field of study established in the 1990s and promulgated by writers and scholars such as Judith Butler, Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, and Michael Warner (in the wake of Michel Foucault), which challenges a supposed "heteronormative" ideology in our culture. He provides an overview of their reinterpretation of the French literary canon from a queer perspective, then deliberately goes further, confronting that same canon with a lively form of general suspicion—seeking gender trouble and sexual ambiguities in the most unexpected corners of French literary classics, in which macho heroes turn out to be homosocial melancholics and the most seemingly submissive housewives are great vanguards of lesbian liberation.
Cusset's survey includes medieval and Renaissance literature, works from the Age of Enlightenment, nineteenth-century avant-gardists such as Charles Baudelaire and Honoré de Balzac, and twentieth-century modernists such as Marcel Proust and Jean Genet.
Bold in its themes and propositions, The Inverted Gaze (a translation of the book Queer Critics) is an extraordinary work about French literature and American queer politics by one of France's biggest intellectual stars.
More LGBT History at my website: www.elisarolle.com/, My Ramblings/Gay Classics
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