The Arty Semite

Mon Semblable, Mon Père: Likenesses Found on the Lindon Tree

By Benjamin Ivry

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The French Jewish publisher Jérôme Lindon, who died in 2001 at age 75, introduced such authors as his friend Samuel Beckett and the 1950s Nouveau Roman (new novel) school, including Nathalie Sarraute and Claude Simon through his Les Éditions de Minuit.

Growing up as Lindon’s son is the subject of an elegant new memoir by Mathieu Lindon, a novelist and critic. “What Loving Means” (Ce qu’aimer veut dire), out in January from Les Éditions P. O. L., describes the early twenties of Mathieu, now 55. The wild oats he sowed during those younger years included promiscuous sex and LSD. Mahler’s first two symphonies are appropriate acid trip listening, Offenbach’s “Orpheus in the Underworld” is not, Mathieu claims.

Drugs were an escape from family rivalry. Describing himself reciting Kaddish over his father’s grave in a phonetic transcription, Mathieu notes that his grasp of bar mitzvah Hebrew had long ago evaporated, while Jérôme Lindon was an avid and erudite student of Hebrew:

My father [would read the Kaddish] sometimes at Jewish funerals, even when he was not the designated person to do so liturgically, because he knew the prayer by heart, which was often not the case of the deceased’s son.

Unable to rival his father in Jewish understanding, Mathieu explains in “What Loving Means,” he also abnegated an unyielding family righteousness represented not just by Jérôme, but by Jérôme’s father Raymond Lindon, a lawyer and prosecutor. One of Raymond’s brothers took his family’s tendency to umbrage so far that in a restaurant, he dropped dead in “fury, exasperated by the poor service.”

Eschewing such high dudgeon, Mathieu focused on his friendship with Michel Foucault. If Mathieu phoned his father at the office of Les Éditions de Minuit, “I almost systematically had the feeling that I was wasting his time, and not just his, as if I were interrupting him in the middle of decisions concerning the world’s future, or at least the literary world.” By contrast, Foucault, the philosopher “never postponed or shortened the [phone] conversation.” Indeed, Foucault would ask Mathieu to apartment-sit his flat on the rue de Vaugirard, a duty for which he proved unreliable.

Lindon père et fils turn out to share more in common than not, both being exceedingly cautious (“prudent”) by temperament, and after reading one of Mathieu’s novels, Jérôme tells his son: “It’s clear you are a good person,” although Mathieu wryly wonders why it took reading his novel for his father “to arrive at that conclusion.”

Watch a shell-shocked Jérôme Lindon interviewed in 1969, soon after the news that his friend and author Samuel Beckett won the Nobel Prize.

Watch Lindon discussing another one of his Nobel Prizewinning authors, novelist Claude Simon in 1958, and 1985.

Watch Mathieu Lindon discussing his new book, “What Loving Means,” in January.


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