The death of Thomas Bishop, professor of literature at New York University

“Ocean ferryman”, such was the profession that Thomas Bishop had chosen for himself, says Tom, professor of literature at New York University, who like no other has brought literary exchanges between the two shores of the Atlantic to life. In a New York that has become the great cultural metropolis of the world, he has set up Saint-Germain-des-Prés there. Tom Bishop died at his home in New York on January 2 at the age of 92. He was one of the last great figures of a generation of American intellectuals who reshaped the transatlantic world after the war, such as Robert Silvers and Barbara Epstein, of the New York Review of Books, historian Tony Judt and essayist Susan Sontag.

Tom Bishop was born in 1929, in a Jewish family of the Viennese bourgeoisie. Nine years later, at the time of the Anschluss, his family fled, first to Hungary, then to Paris. He learns French in three months, it was for him “A new birth”, as he confided to the philologist Donatien Grau, in an interview book, Literature is a journey of discovery (Diaphanes, 2021). Then, faced with the collapse of France, a hasty departure for New York was organized in the spring of 1940. He later discovered that the literary critic George Steiner had made the trip on the same boat.

A new way of approaching knowledge

In America he keeps talking French, forges a new identity there against the German of his childhood. Student, he deepened his taste for French literature at New York University, before completing with a doctorate at Berkeley on Luigi Pirandello, a rare Italian infidelity. Tom Bishop then joined New York University (NYU), which he never left. At the age of 30, he took over the management of the French House, created in 1957. Throughout his career, he remained attached to this institution and participated in making it one of the most brilliant centers of French culture in the United States. United.

Tom Bishop is imbued with the quest for modernity of the literary avant-garde and, in the years 1950-1960, is particularly interested in the New Roman. He befriends Alain Robbe-Grillet, and invites him for twenty years to teach at his university. He is also close to Nathalie Sarraute, but also to the great figures of the theater of the absurd, Eugène Ionesco and, in particular, Samuel Beckett. Encounters are at the heart of his practice as a researcher and he cultivates a thousand friendships to better feel the evolutions of the intellectual world.

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