Jean Cau discusses his book "La pitié de Dieu" ; part 1
BROADCAST: Nov. 1, 1962 | DURATION: 00:31:44
Through an interpreter, Jean Cau discusses his book "La pitié de Dieu", or translated, "The Mercy of God". Cau's book is about four prisoners and their interactions with one another. Cau explained, in one way or another, with a reference to Kafka, we are all condemned and it will be a great surprise to all to learn what we are guilty of.
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Studs Terkel We are seated in the apartment of Jean Cau. This is on. Let me see if I have my French is right it's [French]. No not seize, trieze 13 13 [French] in fifth floor and now I know why the French are able to keep slim even though cal-the di the diet is highly caloric as good exercise. But Jean Cau is perhaps one of the most knowing of all Parisian journalists. He knows this city forwards backwards upside down. Knows the color of it. But this year Mr. Cau has been signally honored. He's won the Prix Goncourt for his new novel and this is the equivalent of the Pulitzer Prize in America. I know the rough translation is the "Compassion of God" in French Jean Cau whom we've met before on two different occasions. Your book in French the title is
Studs Terkel Before I ask you about yourself as a journalist for The L'Express. Read by I know countless numbers of Parisians, the novel itself God's pity. Would you mind telling us about the work itself. What you had in mind in the writing. What's the nature of it, of this novel? Where is the locale?
Jean Cau [French]
Studs Terkel I think we should point out that third voice you hear is that of Tim, Louis Mitelberg known as Tim who is, I think one of the most celebrated of political cartoonists in all France. We've seen reproductions of his work in America. He too is of the Paris of L'Express. So Tim now and then will interject so Jean Cau can be free. This deals with four prisoners who are guilty.
Tim The four prisoners are in prison by they have been condemned for a crime they have been found guilty. But somehow, what Cau just said, is that they have the impression that they are imprisoned for a guilt. They have been-
Tim Yes please help me. When they have been condemned by the society. [Jean Cau speaking French] For a, for a actual crime for a visible crime. They have still the impression when they found found themselves before the judges [Jean Cau speaking French] that they that they are innocent. That they pay for guilt, for for crimes or for being guilty for different things before.
Jean Cau Yes.
Jean Cau Yes.
Studs Terkel Aha. So he was not, I follow of course. He was not he was not condemned for that which was legal with which he considered more brutal, the killing of a friend, something that is legal. He was condemned for a killing that society looks down upon as horrible but not nearly as horrible to him as killing his friend in the ring.
Jean Cau Yes.
Jean Cau Yes
Jean Cau Yes.
Studs Terkel Culpability.
Studs Terkel Guilty.
Studs Terkel Yes. So now we're following this pattern. We're following a pattern here now from the boxer to the intellectual there is an obvious crime that society condemns but a much deeper crime society condones does not-
Jean Cau Right.
Tim The day he married he had the impression he had the feeling that he betrayed his youth and himself. [Jean Cau speaking French] He says his crime which he considers his crime is the marriage. It's his desertion of a situation of his condition [Jean Cau speaking French] A man who-
Studs Terkel Yes.
Studs Terkel He feels then he betrayed each of these three cases so far man feels he betrayed himself. [Tim and Jean Cau speaking French] Not that I'm crazy about doctors but what about the doctor? [Jean Cau and Tim laugh] What about the doctor?
Tim And his feeling of guilt is that he saw his brother being dead. So near himself and he had the impression that he should be dead himself instead of his brother and that. That's that's where started his feeling of guilt. [Jean Cau speaking French] For all times he made that man a guilty man [Jean Cau speaking French]
Jean Cau Yes.
Studs Terkel A living death. Now I must ask you one question before I come to another one a larger question about these four men and society. Everything is clear to me so far with the working man, the intellectual, and the boxer. The doctor, why did he feel guilty because of his brother's death? Why the guilt? [Tim and Jean Cau speaking French]
Tim He noticed that since the death of his brother his mother didn't love him anymore. Maybe because she preferred the other son. Maybe since the death of this other son she preferred that son. But since the death of this of his brother he he he felt he noticed his guilt through the, through the.
Studs Terkel So then if I follow this Jean perhaps unconsciously he felt because of his mother's favoring the brother he may have felt a will to kill unconsciously of his brother. When his brother died he felt he actually killed him.
Jean Cau Yes
Studs Terkel So now we follow four different members of the society in which we live guilty for a crime they consider less than the one they feel they committed but went unpunished for. Now then, what are you trying to say Jean Cau? Over and beyond this we know you are thinking beyond these four men and beyond the jail. What led you to write this book? This theme?
Tim The the idea was to show that men are men feel guilty. They have a guilty com, a guilt complex for which [Jean Cau speaking French] and the society is wrong when the society brings up the crimes [Jean Cau speaking French] brings out. Brings up or brings out I don't know. Brings up the crimes for which they have to be condemned.
Studs Terkel Damned.
Studs Terkel A light, thank you. In the working of this novel [match striking] which came about as a result as a result of reading the Kafka quote. This quotation this was the seed but it was more than that was your own feeling too. Do you feel this? Are you talking now about [Tim speaking French] are you talking now about France to some
Jean Cau No no no absolutely no but. [French] without to know that. Maybe have [unintelligible] because we have lived four years occupied by by the German army and we were in jail too. And after the war and my youth was very [French]
Tim Maybe maybe the occupation of the four years by the Germans of France. Created in him without unconsciously this the feeling of being four years in prison closed. Maybe this created this feeling of guilt.
Studs Terkel A purge. I was about to ask about Algiers because as you say this is very dramatic. Here were the French in jail socially in jail by the Germans and yet came the other side of the coin when to a large extent people. Are you saying this was standing by and watching them do the same thing to some extent?
Jean Cau Exactly.
Studs Terkel But it it seems then the book obviously came out of Jean Cau's deep thoughts and feelings that perhaps he expresses best in this allegorical manner. Do you see? It had to come out of your life this book you feel this book had to come out of this time.
Tim If you want to know why and why if he the the the writer, the artist wants himself to know why he did he he write such a book or this book. He doesn't really know but he tries to find out maybe he should be psychoanalyzed.
Jean Cau Yes, I am obliged to ask to myself why I wrote this book because this book is is like my baby. And why this baby and why this face, why this nose, why this color of the eyes? I don't know. Because you are helping me to to to to know
Studs Terkel And yet, as Jean Cau is talking. I am not a Frenchman but this book that you are describing though it, you thought of France as you wrote this book may have universal applications dealing with double levels of guilt all over the world.
Studs Terkel As an American, as you are talking now it is not too difficult for me to feel as for reasons that are quite easy to determine in the matter of one people as against another. I imagine this could apply probably to every man who tries to be thoughtful anywhere in the world. So then you view the world then, the world, the society of the world is your locale.
Tim Kafka was speaking for example when he spoke about this being damned and he fin-find out by surprise. Maybe some other reasons. Probably he was speaking about his condition of being a Jew. [Jean Cau speaking French] Which he found himself daily in his condition and is living and he couldn't give a name for this culpability for this guilt. Do you understand?
Studs Terkel Pity.
Studs Terkel Pitie
Jean Cau La
Studs Terkel La
Tim Because I think that you take God as a faith. [Jean Cau speaking French] Or as a metaphysical hypothesis [Jean Cau speaking French] In front in in in in the view of metaphysical hypothesis in face of faith religious faith in. In face of [Jean Cau speaking French] We are all equal and [Jean Cau speaking French] All our existences are innocent in front of death. [Jean Cau speaking French] Because God may have also this name of that. You understand is abstract-
Studs Terkel Well, I I fol-roughly I follow but I think it is no accident that you chose this concept, you know, for the title in view of the allegory you've written. It's I know it's won the Prix Goncourt is the top-
Studs Terkel Oh-
Studs Terkel -the guiltlessness I think. Guilt I wonder where guiltlessness is at the moment in view of the world as it is today. This is a question. Is there commitment in mind? I'm going to ask you this Jean Cau. About yourself. I know that you were interested in existentialism the idea of it.
Jean Cau Yes.
Studs Terkel Commitment man's. Where does man fit in the picture? You spoke of God and the pity. What about man? Of the individual in all this? What can he what can the individual do about all this? [Tim and Jean Cau speaking French]
Studs Terkel No, but is there, as you write the book. You are merely stating the condition you are stating the condition [Jean Cau speaking French] He is stating it. And that's it he doesn't [Tim and Jean Cau speaking French] In short he does not say what should be. He says what is.
Jean Cau Yes.
Studs Terkel Well just perhaps I suppose this is that the job of any true novelist to state things as they are and let it have it's own effect on the reader. It's own impact on each individual reader.
Studs Terkel We must ask Jean Cau then, now that you are a Prix Goncourt winner. You are still a journalist for, now, this is the book we must look for. The rough translation the compassion, God's compassion, or God's pity. You have another novel you're still working as a journalist?