Address given by Frédéric Mitterrand, Minister of Culture and Communication, on the occasion of the signing of the act of acquisition of the Casanova manuscripts for the National Library of France
Dear Mr BROCKHAUS, first of all you who are at the origin of our meeting
Dear Bruno RACINE, President of the National Library of France,
Dear Philippe Belaval, Director General of Heritage,
Ladies and gentlemen,
«Worthy or unworthy, my life is my matter, my matter is my life»: this declaration of CASANOVA on the threshold of the History of my life is perhaps one of the sources of the misunderstanding that has long weighed on our perception of his work, as a few decades ago on that of its contemporary the Marquis de SADE. For too long, in fact, we have only seen in CASANOVA the adventurer and the purely hedonistic libertine, as, for example, beautifully evoked by FELLINI in his film – whose very precise title, Il Casanova di Federico Fellini, indicates a very subjective portrait, which does not claim to grasp each aspect. Or we have only considered the History of my life as a brilliant chronicle of the Europe of Lights – which of course it is, but to which it cannot be reduced either. In recent years, we have learned to read his writings better and to see in him what he is also and above all: one of the great authors of French literature of the eighteenth century who, like the author of Confessions and, before him, that of Essays, establishes with the reader a pact not diabolical, but autobiographical, a pact of freedom, a freedom of tone and speech that feeds on a true freedom of conduct.
This absolute freedom is meant to be as close as possible to the smallest pulsations and impulses of life, faithful to its blind, indeterminate and always at work, beyond all the shackles, all the elsewhere idealized, all the «back-worlds», as NIETZSCHE says, that theologies and ideologies create. It is this, the Enlightenment of CASANOVA, the instantaneousness of the desire to live and its immediacy, which is the constant camouflage of freedom with "long durations" and "high hopes" imposed by faith. MOZART remembered this in the rhythms, even more than in the adventures perhaps, of his Don Giovanni.
The paradox is that this work full of life was written in the twilight of its existence at the same time as it was written in the twilight of the century, in the midst of this revolutionary turmoil which is perhaps an echo of its life, a bit like the butterfly which, from afar, is said to trigger a tornado. Then, he reworked tirelessly his work, this memory and this viaticum of emancipation for future generations, which has known hundreds of editions, no less than 500 I think, more or less adapted, tampered with, redacted from his Italianism which also make his charm, and especially of its most scandalous «projections» in the eyes of a puritan morality. Each of these editions is interesting because it is like a mirror of the different eras that produced them. But it was not until 1960, just 50 years ago, that a reliable edition, faithful to the manuscript, was finally published, without yet being a critical edition that would identify all the variations of the text and establish its genesis and genealogy. It is probably no coincidence that
it is at the dawn of these years of change, if not of revolution in morals and society that this event, I would almost say this advent could finally take place.
Of this work and of its various editorial avatars, there is a unique source: this manuscript which brings us together today, and whose history is as incredible as the life of the author himself, who moreover often thought of destroying it, as if to keep the freshness of life intact. Bequeathed by CASANOVA to his nephew, bought in 1821 by the German editions BROCKHAUS, in Leipzig, where he crossed the centuries and even, sheltered from a cellar, escaped the bombardments on the city, then transported by American military truck, in 1945 to Wiesbaden, BROCKHAUS’s new address – he has experienced every challenge of the century.
This exceptional manuscript, the BROCKHAUS editions have recently wished to put it back into circulation, and they had the great courtesy to warn the French State, to turn to enable it to acquire it by declaring it «Property of major heritage interest» I would like to thank Mr. Hubertus BROCKHAUS for this gesture of friendship.
Of course, I would also like to thank warmly the generous patron who made this acquisition possible, while wishing to remain anonymous: we can only admire this truly admirable modesty. Perhaps this benefactor of the National Library of France is now incognito among us, like those heroes of medieval novels whose identity remains secret during the tournament where they triumph…
This very romantic situation would probably have seduced CASANOVA.
Besides, it is not only the manuscript of the History of my life that enters the BnF, but also, in the 13th last of these «boxes», that of texts less known and remained for some unpublished I think, but which testify to the depth of the thought of CASANOVA; as of the prodigious variety of his writing: I am thinking of these works with titles reminiscent of the intellectual battles of the time, where we hear the mixed echoes of VOLTAIRE and even ROUSSEAU: the Essay of Criticism on Manners, on Sciences and on Arts, and the Reverie on the average measure of our year according to Gregory and the Reformation, or to the Lucubrations on the wear, without forgetting a number of letters that I imagine exciting.
Thanks to this acquisition, of which I am very pleased, a critical edition will finally be established, which will allow a more informed reading and promote the development of research. Thanks to it, everyone will now have access to this essential text of our literature, especially, I hope, through its digitization on GALLICA. I would add that an exhibition in 2011 will present the various aspects of this protean work, which holds an essential part of our memory and is an inexhaustible source of freedom.