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Cocteau, Jean (1889-1963)  
 
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In 1937, Jean Marais, a young actor, joined Cocteau, who spurred him to become a matinee idol of French cinema. Marais, who allowed himself to be molded in Cocteau's image, inspired the writer to become a filmmaker and scriptwriter. Cocteau later wrote a study of the actor whose own autobiography included Cocteau's poems for him.

Raymond Radiguet wrote, "Jean Cocteau will always be eighteen years old." In his sixties, Cocteau himself wrote, "everyone, one way or another, still treats me as if I were nineteen."

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He knew Freud through Marie Bonaparte, a first-generation psychoanalyst, but rejected the Freudian notions of sexual retardation and maturity. Cocteau offered an independent account of infantile sexuality, the Oedipus myth, homosexuality, dreams and the unconscious.

His White Paper celebrated "the love I have always had for boys," and concluded by rejecting Rimbaud's "Lo, we are come unto the age of assassins" for his own motto, "Love is to be reinvented." Oedipus could be supplanted by Orpheus the poet, and the word poet taken to its Greek root: poienin, "to create."

Greece provided Cocteau a magical realm of transcendence. In his youthful poems collected in Sophocles' Dance (1912), in his great dramas Antigone (1922), Oedipus Rex (1925), The Infernal Machine (1932), and Bacchus (1951), and in his extraordinary films Orpheus (1950) and Testament of Orpheus (1960), Cocteau reinterpreted the Greek myths in his own libidinal and liberating way.

Like Freud, Cocteau drew on Frederick Nietzsche's Birth of Tragedy; however, unlike the Germans, he was more playful. He rejected the Freudian superego and even the ego and privileged the id. He constantly returned to the memories, fears, and experiences of childhood.

In Cocteau's great novel The Holy Terrors (1929), later a film (1950), he declared, "Whatever the cost, the most important thing was to return to this reality of childhood: a grave, heroic, mysterious reality, implemented by humble details and the magic of which is most brutally disturbed by the queries of adults."

In his attempt to return to the magical realm, Cocteau smoked opium and wrote a classic of drug literature, Opium. He explained why he smoked: "All children possess the magic power of being able to change themselves into what they wish. Poets, in whom childhood is prolonged, suffer a great deal when they lose this power. This is undoubtedly one of the reasons which drives the poet to use opium." Perhaps he stopped smoking because the drug also put his sexuality to sleep.

In his drug recovery, Cocteau turned to Catholicism and received communion but fled the church after falling for a handsome monk. The poet was offended not only by the hypocrisy of the church's suppressed sexuality but also by its claims regarding art. In Letter to Jacques Maritain (1926), he wrote, "I shall learn that art is religion and will show the danger of religious art." Maritain responded that this was heresy.

During the German occupation of Paris, Cocteau was neither a collaborator nor a liberator. German censors prohibited performance of some of his works, and young Nazis assaulted him. Admiring neither the French nor German governments, Cocteau (like his mentor Eduoard de Max) was an anarchist.

In 1951, he wrote in his journal: "Many kings of France were assassinated. All were assassins." In a 1923 lecture, "Order Considered as Anarchy," he declared, "The conventions of scandal (Rimbaud would call it that 'old itch') still prevent people from admitting that, in the age in which we live, anarchy may reveal itself in the form of a dove."

He earlier claimed that France's secret weapon "is her tradition of anarchy" found in her "underground elites--a vast hidden force with a spirit of contradiction that is the very basis of the spirit of creation."

Some of Cocteau's most famous dictums grew out of his anarchism. "One is either a judge or a defendant. The judge sits, the defendant stands," he declared and strove himself to live standing.

Religious, political, and literary judges whether Roman Catholic, Communist, or academic repelled him because of their pretensions to absolute knowledge. To them, he proclaimed, "I am a lie that always tells the truth." He later explained, "I meant that every man is a lie because social life and the obligation to make contact burden him with masks. But every second I try to contradict this lie and through it to proclaim my truth."

Cocteau confronted the lies of heterosexuality and closetedness. He admired such lesbian and gay writers as Paul Verlaine, Arthur Rimbaud, Oscar Wilde, Marcel Proust, Colette, André Gide, Gertrude Stein, Raymond Roussell, Jean Genet and others.

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