Salah Stétié, a feather between East and West

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Has anyone been? And in profile did he knock on the doors? / One day in the light there was us and the trees./ There was in the light a flight of grasses. / One day, under the foliage, it was.

These lines of the poem ” Fluidity of death “, Put on paper in 2006 by Salah Stétié in memory of the poet Claude Esteban, today flutters around the absence of their author. The Lebanese writer and poet died on Tuesday May 19, 2020, at the age of 90. His work, written in French, composed of poetry but also essays and translations of Arab poets (the Sufi poet Râbi’a al-Adawiyya (713-801), Khalil Gibran…) will remain as a link between the ‘East and West.

→ READ. Lebanon, land of books

Born in Beirut to a family of the Sunni bourgeoisie, in 1929, during the French mandate for Lebanon, Salah Stétié received a solid education at the Jesuit college Saint-Joseph in Beirut. “ Why did my father want me to do such good studies in French?, he wonders in his memories (Extravagance, Robert Laffont, 2014). Because he himself, besides Arabic, had studied the Turkish language to perfection hoping to access a career in the Ottoman administration and that, after obtaining his diplomas, France had come to settle in the Levant, reducing it to nothing his dreams of social advancement. This is how I will one day become a French-language writer: because Mahmoud Stétié, my father, had, in a way, missed his life!

After brilliant studies, Salah Stétié left to teach in Aleppo (Syria) and gradually discovered his vocation to defend an enlightened Islam. In 1950, he obtained a scholarship which enabled him to continue his studies in Paris.

A Muslim in the Paris of Letters

In the French capital, the young man discovers the world of letters, frequents theaters, museums … He meets Paul Léautaud, Paul Éluard, Jules Supervielle, Cioran, Pierre Jean Jouve, Pierre Emmanuel and Yves Bonnefoy. He participates in the adventure of the magazine New Letters, founded by Maurice Nadeau. He became familiar with painting, got to know artists like the sculptor César or the painter Ferdinand Desnos.

It is also in Paris that he receives “Mystical and strongly committed teaching” by Louis Massignon (1883-1962), who made him rediscover the great mystics of Islam. Returning to Beirut in 1955, he devoted himself to teaching and foundedThe literary and cultural Orient, weekly supplement to the French-language daily newspaper The East.

About him, Salah Stétié spoke of a double ” originality “, A word he had invented to designate the secret of a origin radical: a rich Muslim and oriental culture on the one hand, the linguistic and cultural heritage of France, on the other hand, two sap which he strove to mix. ” To poetry I entrusted my spiritual destiny “He wrote in From the singular to the universal (2004), referring to poetry as ” alert “,” withdrawal work “,” opening on the world “,” exile experience »…

“Ambassador of a fire”

From 1961, Salah Stétié began a career in cultural diplomacy. He was first appointed cultural adviser to Lebanon in Western Europe, then became Lebanese ambassador to Unesco, then ambassador to the Netherlands and Morocco. ” A diplomat for about forty years and a missionary from a Lebanon devoured by the flames of the civil war, itself mixed with other wars (these outside), it was not easy for me, he notes in his memoirs. I would have been the ambassador for a fire. “

In 1992, when he retired, he moved to Tremblay-sur-Mauldre (Yvelines), France, and could devote all his time to writing. ” After the long interruption of my work as a writer, I had to start all over again. He remembers in his memories. Poems, essays, fine books, biographies, translations follow one another.

A movement close to the arabesque design

Salah Stétié’s poetry is both sensual by the pleasure it experiences in making the words ring, matching them, savoring them in all the fullness of their meaning, and at the same time ceremonial, knowing how to flow step by step, poem after poem, in the order of speech that guides and breathes it, analyzes the writer Gilles Quinsat in theEncyclopedia universalis. In this, the movement of these books is close to the infinite drawing of the arabesque, each element never existing separately, but integrating into the great rhythm which alone gives it its truth.

In 1995, Salah Stétié received the Grand Prix de la Francophonie awarded by the French Academy for all of his work. Celebrated, however, he looked worriedly at the evolution of culture in France and Europe. ” What is missing is not water, it is dew “He breathes, delicately, in his Meditator’s notebook (2003)…

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