He was a singular man in the publishing world. The former boss of Editions du Seuil, Michel Chodkiewicz, a specialist in Sufism to which he had converted, died Thursday, April 2 at the age of 90, said the publishing house. He was its director between 1979 and 1989.
The man had climbed all levels of the company, while conducting academic research on Sufi Islam. ” He started in the 1950s as a courier, then was given readings. He was so brilliant that he became an editor “Recalls Jean-Louis Schlegel, sociologist, who was hired at Seuil by Michel Chodkiewicz in 1986.
Appointed director general of Seuil in 1977, Michel Chodkiewicz had become its CEO in 1979, succeeding the founders Jean Bardet and Paul Flamand. ” The Threshold had grown significantly since 1965, both in the humanities and in literature, and Michel Chodkiewicz has very well built on the legacy. After the “builders, he was the” consolidator “”, continues Jean-Louis Schlegel.
Le Seuil, part of leftist Catholicism, had partly secularized and radicalized by the end of the 1960s. But during the 1970s, the publishing house had suffered the shock of Soljenitsyne’s revelations and his denunciation of the totalitarian sham. Under the direction of Michel Chodkiewicz, this “second left” or “center left” sensitivity will triumph, also linked to the commercial need to reach a large audience.
The new boss will bring his rigor in business management, at a time of great difficulty for the publishing house. “ Michel Chodkiewicz had learned, three months after his appointment as CEO, that Le Seuil had a gigantic deficit. He accepted the mission to straighten the house, remembers Jean-Claude Guillebaud, who worked as literary director by his side. Nothing compelled him to. It was very brave. Almost chivalrous. “
” He was someone brutal, who didn’t take precautions, continues Jean-Claude Guillebaud, but he was also very frank. When we left his office, we knew that there were no unsaid. He accepted the contradiction. It was very stimulating to work with him “
Converted to Sufi Islam
Michel Chodkiewicz came from a Polish Catholic family and converted to Islam with his wife at the age of 20. He remained modest about his conversion, without hiding his faith. In an interview given to New Observer (1), he explained that she was ” the culmination of personal research started in adolescence. There was the combination of intellectual interest in the richness of the Islamic tradition with the meeting of exceptional people ”.
To Jean-Claude Guillebaud who questioned him on the reason why he had not remained Catholic, he replied: “ Catholics are interested in many things but less and less in God. I’m interested in God. “
“ He was doing Ramadan, but it was without having him carry to others “, Evokes Jean-Louis Schlegel. He was praying in his office, simply closing his door for the time to meditate.
A taste for spiritual texts
At Le Seuil, his presidential years were marked by the publication of numerous bestsellers which enabled the company to quickly overcome its financial difficulties. They were crowned with two Goncourt prizes for The Sacred Night by Tahar Ben Jelloun (1987) and The Colonial Exhibition by Erik Orsenna (1988).
As for religious publications, he maintained the tradition of the publishing house of publishing great spiritual texts. “ Those were years when we were imbued with all the possible and imaginable critical glances on the religious, recalls Jean-Louis Schlegel. Michel Chodkiewicz fully accepted the view of the humanities on religions, but he also wanted to publish spiritual books on Judaism, Christianity, Islam. He was always careful not to reduce the religious to his scientific analysis “
At the end of a ten-year mandate as chairman of the Seuil, a mandate he had set himself to the day, Michel Chodkiewicz left the Seuil to become director of studies at the Ecole de Hautes Etudes en Sciences social (EHESS). On retirement, he continued his research on Sufi mysticism, publishing his latest book on Ibn’Arabî, A shoreless ocean, in 1992.