Art and Faith : Letters Between Jacques Maritain and Jean Cocteau. Translated from the French by John Coleman. (New York: Philosophical Library, 52.75).
IT is easy to see why the artistic
activities of Jean Cocteau were so much to the taste of well-to-do and cosmopolitan Paris in the interval between the wars that his work has been said to mirror the surface of its _epoch. To jaded nerves nothing less than the freakish and odd will bring any
fillip. Cocteatt is the embodiment of coruscating paradox, acrobatic Wit, and ingenious and delicately poised ideas. He is ever unexpected and arresting. He is a oneman circus. He has been playwright, novelist, draughtsman, balletdesigner, and filmwright. As a poet, his verbal adroitness is indisputable. Indeed, he is so versatile that in 1925 he was even converted for a space to the Church.
The event happened in the gap that followed his cure of opiumsmoking, and it offered the opportunity of delirious descriptions. Indeed, Professor Denis Saurate-who has since enlbracecl a Christianity all his own, but was then. as an onlooker of religion, a man of stout stomach—was shocked by Cocteau's intimate avowal of his nuptials with the divine. However, the point now is that the conversion was announced to Jacques Maritain, the. Catholic philosopher, in a long
letter from the new convert. A translation' of the letter, and of Maritain's reply (dated January, 1926) forms the present hook.
Cocteau's letter is a light-hearted parody of Maritain's own manner, complete with elaborate footnotes printed at the end. But Maritain, a man of exceptional sweetness of character — he actually doted on Leon Bloy, who has been called a professional beggar, but who was also a professional grouser—replies in all seriousness. What he says about poetry and religion foreshadows his book, Art et Scolustique, the argument of which I disputed in the Dublin Review in 1930. The article was later included in my book, The Homan Parrot, and Maritain's reply to me, after appearing in the Dublin, still figures, I believe. in his hook As: et Poesie. There would not be any gain in returning to the matter now, eighteen years later.
Enough if I say that I look on Maritain, so far as art and poetry are concerned, as a romantic self disguised as a 1.mo-scholastic. The important thing to understand is that his views on art have nothing to do with the Catholic faith. My opinion, for what it is worth, is that Eric Gill had the root of the matter in him, and he was every whit as good a Catholic as Maritain.
As anyhow Maritain has expounded his views more clearly and at greater length in the books I mention, it is evident that the present production must rank chiefly as a bibliographical curiosity. On page 36, Mr. Coleman, the translator, who is almost as free with footnotes as the writers whom he translates, states that Raymond Radiguet was " a mentor of Cocteau".Actually. Radiquet was a youthful prodigy of a novelist whom Cocteau sheltered as a human being and launched as a literary man.