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Roditi, Edouard (1910-1992)  
 
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Regrouping for the Future

Roditi established Paris as his home base in 1954 and lived in the city of his birth as a non-resident alien until the end of his life. If Surrealism provided him a model for artistic exploration and innovation as a young man, psychotherapy provided a means of self-exploration in his middle age.

Roditi spoke candidly with Winston Leyland in 1975 about the importance of psychotherapy in examining and coming to terms with his life and choices. Over the course of his therapy, Roditi determined that his series of difficult and destructive relationships (among them, one lasting eight years with a tortured and gifted poet in denial about his gayness, and another lasting four years with a man who ultimately tried to murder him) stemmed from his "fear of loneliness and the drive to seek partners rather at random, without being too wise in one's choices."

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In addition, Roditi questioned through therapy whether there was any connection between what he characterized as the passivity of being a victim of epileptic spells and the self-described masochistic passivity of his sexuality. The unblinking analysis of his central psychological issues and concerns brought him, he related to Leyland, to a place where he could "live perfectly happily without a partner, without any fear of loneliness."

Roditi was proud to see his relationships with some old lovers grow and deepen because of the hard-won new attitude he achieved through therapy. He also found that he could ultimately say, ". . . every day I thank God for having made me a Jew and a homosexual."

Literary Legacy

Roditi was the author or editor of over 25 volumes of poetry, fiction, and criticism, with close to 2,000 individual publications of poetry, fiction, translation, art criticism, and reviews. He wrote in both French and English, spoke seven languages fluently and translated from more than ten. His English translations of French, German, Spanish, Danish, and Turkish poetry and prose are especially prized.

Roditi's early poetry grew out of the same literary traditions that nurtured Stéphane Mallarmé, Paul Valéry, and Charles Baudelaire. With dream-like shifts of focus between lush imagery and virtuoso use of language, he explored the yearnings of young love or the symbolic power of re-imagined mythic figures such as Samson in poems that captured the attention of the avant-garde.

The early work seduces and dazzles readers to this day for the same reasons, to be sure, but Roditi's thematic interests deepened as he investigated intellectual traditions from the Old Testament and confronted the anti-Semitism he had seen in Germany. In particular, "Three Hebrew Elegies" (1941)--sad, fierce, and compassionate--shows the shift in Roditi's thinking that age and experience brought. From that point on, Roditi's work concentrated primarily on Jewish devotional themes and the universal desire to find ideal love.

His poetry was always experimental, yet Roditi wrote with intelligibility foremost in mind. More than anything, he wanted his work to be understood, not misinterpreted, even if intellectual fashions of the time favored opaqueness over clarity. Obscurity for obscurity's sake ran counter to everything he held sacred in art and poetry. Roditi's late poetry and prose poems testify to his faithfulness to the principle of clarity.

Roditi served as art critic for the French journal L'Arche for over 30 years; during his time in Berlin from 1947 to 1950, he founded the literary journal Das Lot with German poet Alexander Koval and French poet Alain Bosquet.

His astonishingly varied output included Oscar Wilde (1947), a critical study that placed Wilde in the tradition of experimental visionary dandies such as Baudelaire, Mallarmé, and Arthur Rimbaud. The study, which rescued Wilde from easy dismissal as a joke and a scandal, helped resuscitate the writer's reputation.

Other volumes include Poems: 1928-1948 (1949), a collection of early visionary and Surrealist poetry; Dialogues on Art (1960), More Dialogues on Art (1984), and Dialogues: Conversations with European Artists at Mid-Century (1990), a series of meditations and conversations on the work of such visual artists as Max Ernst, Joan Miro, Tchelitchew, Léonor Fini, and Giorgio Morandi that explore the origins of the artists' visions, problems, aims, and beliefs; Magellan of the Pacific (1972), a biography of the Portuguese explorer who was the first to circumnavigate the globe; The Delights of Turkey: Twenty Tales (1974), a collection of retold or reinvented folk tales, some of which first appeared in Playboy magazine; and two volumes reflecting his Jewish heritage: Thrice Chosen: Poems on Jewish Themes (1974) and The Journal of an Apprentice Cabbalist (1991).

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