Sunday, September 27, 2020

Lebanese poet and diplomat Salah Stétié is dead

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Salah Stétié, in New York, in May 2013. Caroline Fourgeaud-Laville / CC

Grand Prix de la Francophonie de l'Académie française in 1995, he was one of the important voices of French-language literature. The poet, diplomat, thinker, esthete, translator and literary critic Salah Stétié died on May 19 at Tremblay-sur-Mauldre (Yvelines) where he rests according to his wishes, a few steps from the tomb of Blaise Cendrars. He was 90 years old.

From his birth, in Beirut on September 28, 1929, in a Lebanon under French protectorate, the influence of France as much as that of his native land, presiding over his destiny as a future diplomat and man of letters. It is to his father, teacher and poet of Arabic language, that he owes this double belonging. Sunni, Mahmoud Stétié strives to provide his son with a solid rooting in Arab-Muslim culture, but chooses French for his education.

The young Salah was enrolled at the French Protestant College in Beirut, then with the Jesuits at Saint Joseph University. He said that this school had been the place of his "Mental baptism", that he had found there the ferment of his writing, namely reading, poetry, spirituality. He also discovers the benefits of camaraderie, which will predispose him to long and fervent friendships as well, he said, as to his profession as a diplomat.

"Journey to Aleppo"

It was a little later, at the Higher School of Letters in Beirut, that his path crossed that of the writer Gabriel Bounoure who became his mentor and encouraged his literary vocation – just as he had done for Edmond Jabès or Georges Schehadé with whom Salah Stétié will form a long friendship. In 1949, still at the instigation of Gabriel Bounoure, he became a professor at the college of the Mekhitarist Fathers of Aleppo, in Syria, and two years later obtained a scholarship in Paris. At the École Pratique des Hautes Etudes, Louis Massignon’s teaching allowed him to deepen his knowledge of Arab literature and mystics, Sufism in particular.

Also read: "In a place of burning. Works ”, by Salah Stétié: Salah Stétié, gateway weaver

During the five years of his stay in Paris, he met Pierre Jean Jouve, René Char, Emil Cioran, Yves Bonnefoy … He joined the review team The New Letters, co-founded by Maurice Nadeau, and publishes at the Mercure de France the first version of the Trip to Aleppo. Bruised by the martyrdom of Syria, he wrote on August 11, 2017: I cry now by re-reading these few pages that I wrote in the joy of living the East and Aleppo in particular in their splendor. Splendor is nothing, nothing, if it does not signify within it the beautiful and possible radiance of man. "

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