Defying Gravity

Jean Paulhan's Interventions in Twentieth-Century French Intellectual History

By Michael Syrotinski

Subjects: Intellectual History
Series: SUNY series, The Margins of Literature
Paperback : 9780791436400, 208 pages, April 1998
Hardcover : 9780791436394, 208 pages, April 1998

Alternative formats available from:

Table of contents


Figures of Duplicity Paulhan and Contemporary Literary Theory

1. Allegories of Ethnography


i. Malagasy Proverbs
ii. Sacred Language


2. Underwriting the Personal: Modesty and the récits


i. Jean Paulhan and Jacques Maast
ii. Modesty, Mania and Other Wor(l)ds
iii. Coda: Progress in Love?


3. Blanchot reading Paulhan


i. Who Said Anything About Terror?
ii. Poetic Justice


4. Resistance, Collaboration, and the Postwar Literary Purge in France

5. Domestic Spaces, Aesthetic Traces


i. Cubes, Cubes, and More Cubes
ii. Painting by Letters






A major reassessment of the work of Jean Paulhan within the context of his own times as well as in the light of contemporary debates in literary theory.


Defying Gravity is a major reassessment of the work of Jean Paulhan within the context of his own times, as well as in the light of contemporary debates in literary theory. Best known for his long-serving editorship of the influential Parisian literary review, La Nouvelle Revue Française, Paulhan is now widely acknowledged as one of the most central yet least understood figures of twentieth-century French intellectual and literary history. Syrotinski's study admirably performs the dual purpose of introducing a genuinely innovative and distinctive writer to a general anglophone readership, while engaging critically with his texts and their reception. Syrotinski's readings of Paulhan are both original and provocative, and firmly establish him as an unavoidable point of reference for twentieth-century French literary history and theory.

Michael Syrotinski is Assistant Professor in French at the University of Aberdeen, Scotland. He has published a translation of The Necessity of the Mind (La Nécessité d'esprit) by Roger Caillois, and has co-translated (with Christine Laennec) Progress in Love on the Slow Side: Récits by Jean Paulhan, with an essay by Maurice Blanchot.


"This book constitutes the first English-language book devoted to the work and influence of Jean Paulhan, and is written by someone who is remarkably familiar with his work. But, more importantly, it is the first one, no matter what language, to do full justice to the historical and intellectual implications of Paulhan's work and to do it in light of contemporary Anglo-Saxon academic debates. One has been waiting for a major reassessment of the work of Paulhan. In this informative and intellectually challenging work, Syrotinski manages to promote this elusive, multifaceted, but central French literary figure as a key reference for deconstructionist and postcolonial debates." — Denis Hollier, Yale University

"This book is important as a study of one figure, Paulhan, whose texts have never been so brilliantly explored, and who was a central figure in French letters during an extremely interesting period of French history. It is also significant as a polemical contribution to current debates about the nature of literary studies: their relation to the study of history, to the encounter with non-Western cultures, to political and ethical issues, to gender questions." — Ann Smock, University of California, Berkeley