Louis Scutenaire: 'Does the slave who loves his life have the life of a slave?'
Louis Scutenaire (Jean Émile Louis Scutenaire) was born on 29 June 1905 in Ollignies (Hainaut), Belgium, near Lessines. He began writing his first poems in 1916. In 1918, he began attending different educational institutions from which he was regularly expelled. In 1919, an episode of pleurisy kept him confined to his sickbed for a long time. He enrolled in legal studies in 1924.
Having a Doctorate in law from the Université Libre de Bruxelles (1924), he registered with The Bar and served as a criminal lawyer (1931-1944). He mostly defended offenders. After the war, he started as a civil servant in the Ministry of Internal Affairs where he remained until retirement, succeeding in 'not wasting his life for profit'. In fact, Scutenaire only truly cared about writing, especially since his discovery of surrealism, and specifically Paul Nougé, in 1926.
At that time, Scutenaire and his spouse Irène Hamoir often went to Paris, where they frequently met with André Breton, Paul Éluard, Benjamin Péret, René Char, Marcel Duchamp, Picasso, Brauner, Ernst, Miro, Oscar Dominguez, etc.
In 1934, Scutenaire participated in 'Documents 34'. He thus wrote, 'Les jours dangereux - Les nuits noires' [Dangerous days, dark nights], one of the few surrealistic novels, announced by the Abridged Dictionary of Surrealsim and which did not appear until 1972. He signed the 'Le Couteau dans la plaie' [Knife in the wound] leaflet in 1935, published in the International Surrealist Bulletin No. 3, which for the first time united surrealists from Brussels and Hainaut, but refused to sign the 'Le domestique zélé' [The zealous servant] leaflet in 1936 against André Souris, who was banned from the group. The brochure 'Les Haches de la vie' [Life's hatchets] appeared in 1937 in GLM (Guy Lévis Mano) with a drawing by Magritte. During the summer, Scutenaire had a short stay with Irène Hamoir at René Char's home in Céreste in Provence and in December prefaced the exhibition catalogue 'Trois peintres surréalistes' [Three surrealist painters] (Magritte, Man Ray, Tanguy) organised by Mesens at the Brussels Palais des Beaux-Arts. In 1938 and 1939, he published three brochures and collaborated with 'London bulletin'.
It was in May 1943 that he began recording his writings, the first volume of which was published in 1945 on a proposal from Éluard with the support of Paulhan and Queneau. In 1947, Gallimard agreed to publish 'Les Vacances d'un enfant' [A Child's holidays]. From 1950, Louis Scutenaire, 'Scut' for those who knew him, collaborated with numerous magazines. 'Mes inscriptions' [My writings], the first volume of which appeared in 1945, earned the writer recognition.
Starting in 1976, Scutenaire's literary fantasies were again brought together under the title 'Mes Inscriptions'. Altogether, five volumes appeared between 1945 and 1990, dividing Scut's often concise annotations, reflections and quotations into chronological sections. The special Grand Prix of Dark Humour would come to crown the antiliterary oeuvre of this language anarchist in 1985.
Following the example of Paul Nougé and Marcel Mariën, Louis Scutenaire persisted in the 'expérience continue' [continuous experience] of surrealism to the end. He died in Brussels on 15 August 1987.
Photo: © Wikipedia / Michel-georges bernard