- » Jacques Cloarec, A SHORT BIOGRAPHY
- » Essay, Adrián Navigante. JACQUES CLOAREC: at the heart of the Labyrinth
- » Testimonials: Ajit Singh / Sophie Bassouls
- » Interview: Adrián Navigante in conversation with Jacques Cloarec
- » Special tributes: Alain Danielou: The magic universe of JACQUES CLOAREC. Alberto Sorbelli: Title, Act 1, Entr’acte, Act2. Sylvano Bussotti, Impromptus Cloarec
- » Documents: Jacques Cloarec, Wisdom and Passion Impressions of the Labyrinth
Jacques Cloarec in conversation with Adrián Navigante
Photo: Giorgio Pace
“Who thanks the gods, the creator or nature today for being able to admire a smile, caress a body, bring a human being to a state of delight and reach the point where the senses are annihilated by the moment of extreme joy in which we forget everything? I have always considered myself as serving this function and I have practiced such acts thousands of times”
Q | Jacques, on hearing the story of your life with Alain Daniélou, one wonders how you managed to keep such a close and instructive relationship with a man who was at the same time a colleague…
A | Not really. I was his technical assistant.
Q | A friend?
A | Yes.
Q | A lover?
A | Only for a short time. Both of us were “hunters”.
Q | Your boss and your mentor?
A | Absolutely.
Q | Tell me about the distribution of roles or, perhaps, the secret of covering those areas while avoiding the risk of overlapping roles and general confusion?
A | It was not easy! The first years in Berlin were the toughest in my whole life. But the great advantage was that my ego was practically non-existent, I didn’t want to show off, and I was watching myself the whole time. So I became an éminence grise, an adviser. My lack of ambition and my education (far away from any ideology) contributed to make our shared path quite harmonious. I took pleasure in being this “eminence grise”, this sage adviser, and I always told Daniélou that I should have been the older and he younger partner. I didn’t need to be thanked for what I did, since I was happy enough when I saw the results.
Q | “Éminence grise”, could you explain that, please?
A | The role of a wise adviser is to act without appearing, remaining in the background. I was very shy and always aware of my meagre knowledge in comparison with the great figures surrounding Daniélou.
Q | I am surprised by your “lack of ambition”. This is something we find in almost no one. However, there are also “positive ambitions”, aren’t there? For example, ideas that can take us beyond our limitations and give us true motivations for our actions. Didn’t you have any of these ideas when you became acquainted with Alain Daniélou?
A | When I met him for the first time, I remember that I was extremely free, vacant. This surprises me even today. Since I had abandoned my youthful passion for dancing, I didn’t have any precise goal in life and I accepted Daniélou’s proposal of going to Berlin and becoming an employee of the Institute of Comparative Musicology. I never had any notion of becoming a couple. If Alain Daniélou had a brief “passion” for me, the reverse was not the case. In fact, this “passion” of his was probably the result of his efforts to set up the Institute and deal with the problems he had to face with Raymond Burnier. I didn’t know anything about Raymond’s fortune or about his discontent at my presence there. Of course, I would never speak of “love” between Daniélou and myself, since the notion seems to me vulgar and petty-bourgeois. It was rather a relationship of affection and trust.
Q | Many times you refer to your experience with Alain Daniélou, but seldom do you speak of the personalities you met during your long association with him. Were there any figures close to Daniélou who influenced you, or from whom you might have received lessons in life?
A | Of course, some of them made a lasting impression on me, but none of them had the freedom and the philosophical tenor of Alain Daniélou. Despite the difference in age, education and class, he and I were very close to each other in our tastes, our aversion towards showbiz people and some other points in common.
Without going too far back into the past, Mac Avoy, Maurice Béjart and Angelo Frontoni were artists who were close to us. When I launched out in photography, they helped me a lot and gave me good suggestions. The essential difference between these artists and Alain Daniélou was that all of them were entangled in ideologies, even if they violently opposed them. The foremost of these ideologies were monotheistic religions, which, for an atheist like me, seemed incomprehensible.
The King of Afghanistan was friendly with me. An extraordinary figure who, despite family misfortunes and the problems of his country, was always very balanced and responsible in his judgements and political opinions. The lady who most fascinated me was Baroness Pauline de Rothschild, whose elegance and astonishing style as well as the way in which she kept the Chateau Mouton in the village of Paulliac made a lasting impression on me. She was the epitome of perfection and beauty.
The Russian composer and writer Nicolas Nabokov and his wife Dominique were close friends with whom we went out almost every night in Berlin to shows and concerts. They came to visit us in Venice or Zagarolo and we also saw each other in New York and Brussels. Through Nicolas Nabokov we met the renowned Russian cellist Rostropovich, the American composer Leonard Berstein, and the Italian actress Anna Magnani.
However, all these names are only a small part of the 32 years I shared with Alain Daniélou. He knew the whole world, and from the very beginning he trained me to remain always close to him – in spite of my shyness and my bad English. Because of him I met figures of the intelligentsia of last century, as also of the underworld. What most fascinated me about some of these figures was their nobility, but I mean a nobility of the heart, not aristocrats.
Paganism is a philosophy of respect for the other, whatever it is, and for creation, whoever happens to be responsible for it
Q | I assume that your interest in European paganism dates back well before your acquaintance with Alain Daniélou, who actually delved into Dionysian and Mithraic religion in the last part of his life. How did you discover that type of religious phenomenon?
A | Actually, I had no interest in any religion. I was brought up in an atheist family, quite anti-Catholic and a defender of secular education. From very early I became aware of the French colonization of Brittany. Indeed, during the first part of the XX Century, Bretons were exactly what North Africans or other foreign immigrants became later on in Paris. I experienced the imposition of French language at school as something quite violent. Some Bretons really came to a bad end in Paris, like beggars. When Breton immigrants came to Montparnasse, they asked in Breton for “bara” (bread) and “guine” (wine), since these were the only two things they could afford. “Baraguiner” (that is, “speak bad French”) is a Breton word that bears witness to that experience. That is why I threw myself with passion into the preservation of the Celtic sense of identity in Brittany.
Q | Do you mean that there is a relationship between paganism and the preservation of a sense of identity? Would you say that the end of paganism and the triumph of monotheism brought about a pernicious homogenization process?
A | In the Western world, without any doubt. Being a pagan means for me accepting the reality of the world, its violence and the fact of being prey and predator, to be an animist to the extent of being sorry for having to cut down a tree, to celebrate solstices and equinoxes – the only dates that have nothing to do with human whim…
Q | What does it mean for you to be pagan in our world of today? Is paganism a religious experience like that of the ancients, or is it rather a question of life-values? Does it imply a different perspective on the world and life?
A | Paganism is a philosophy of respect for the other, whatever it is, and for creation, whoever happens to be responsible for it. This philosophy is based on a realistic attitude to life, for example in accepting the inherently violent character of this world and the recognition that the (human, almost too human) idea of peace, as agreeable as it may seem, is a utopia that comes into existence only at the moment of our death.
Q | There is no doubt that a great part of the philosophical oeuvre of Alain Daniélou is visible at the Labyrinth. This place has been defined by almost all friends and guests as “magical”. I would like to know what the Labyrinth is for you.
A | I do believe that the place has some sort of magical and soothing effect, something that sensitive guests perceive instinctively. Rare are those guests who don’t, and generally they cannot put up with the special energy of the place, which rejects them.
But we’re anything but a proselytic sect! Two residents once offered me a majestic lingam sculpture and I hid it in the woods on the estate. Alain Daniélou, for his part, never carried out a pūjā for the public. There are no religious emblems, no incense sticks. Only a Saint Anthony at the entrance, beside Ganesha, and some icons of Thanjavur portraying the god Krishna, but they are presented rather as works of art than as religious images. Clearly religious elements are very few: only the necklaces Alain Daniélou and I wear, that is, Rudrakshas with 108 beads and a miniature reproduction of a phallus, a symbol of our form of paganism, copied from a talisman found at Pompei.
Q | Many times you refer to the Labyrinth as having its own life. You have said that the houses on the estate accept or reject certain people, that the place protects itself from undesirables… Now I would like to go into a subject that might surprise some readers, but which for those living at the Labyrinth is inevitable. Do you think that we may attribute a genius loci (protective spirit) to this place in the classical (Roman) sense of the term? In other words: do you think that there are energies concentrated on and revolving around the Labyrinth, energies that have their own life and act according to different needs?
A | Alain Daniélou was convinced of that, as in the case of Vārāṇasī, where the Ganges intersects with a mysterious underground pathway and the Milky Way. In any case, throughout all these years (now 56), what has happened in neighbouring houses seems to show a special kind of protection related to this place. There are two stories that confirm this: the first one concerns a farmer who caught a fox at San Cesareo (a small town close to Zagarolo) and tormented it in a cage. An Italian friend, Manuela, said that they should bring the animal to the Labyrinth and set it free, since the place has great harmony. The second story is that of Raymond Burnier’s house, which is not protected like the houses of the Labyrinth. It was occupied by liberating forces from Senegal at the end of the war (1944–1945), and events took place there that imbued it with very bad energy: the Senegalese soldiers raped the women of Zagarolo, and were killed in revenge by the Zagarolians. After that, nobody could really stay in it for very long.
Q | We know that after the death of Raymond Burnier, Alain Daniélou wanted to leave the Labyrinth, and that it was you who changed his mind. Now, after the death of Alain Daniélou, how have you dealt with the challenge of staying here? Did you feel that he accompanied you (as a presence and even “spiritus rector” of the place) in your tasks and duties or did you go through a period of utter solitude?
Photo: Giorgio Pace
A | 23 years after his death, I feel the constant presence of Alain Daniélou beside me. Immediately after his death, I remained cloistered for six months in the smallest room in the house: it has a rustic fireplace and is the only chamber that has not been restored. It was there that I ate, worked and slept. Often, even today, I stay alone in that room, but the word “solitude” never comes to my mind. Physical separation is one thing, spiritual solitude is something else. How can I feel lonely when four dogs keep you company in the moonlight and hundreds of birds wake you up with their songs every morning? Shaivism is also a philosophy of self-recognition in nature.
Q | In your essay Sagesse et Passion (Wisdom and Passion), you say something amazing: you realized that Alain Daniélou was your guru only after his death. What life-lesson have you learned from him and what kind of message would you like to transmit to future generations which, in some way or another, will be involved in a new reading of Daniélou’s writings and in the activities of the Foundation?
A | Alain Daniélou’s philosophy of life can be summarized in some phrases that I have always kept in mind. In the first place, something he always said to me, “Do not have, do not be: realize!” Next, a sentence from the Epic of Gilgamesh: “Do we seal a contract to hold for all time? Alas! In this world there is no permanence”. Then a sentence by Aristotle that Alain Daniélou used as an epigraph in his autobiography, The Way to the Labyrinth: “The rightness of the path you have chosen will be measured by your happiness”. Finally, a sentence (that is very touching for me) that closes Daniélou’s own autobiography: “Life has brought me so much joy, so much sweetness, pleasure, friendship, happiness and knowledge that the only fear I have is that I shall not have given all there was for me to give before I sleep”.
The relationship between Alain Daniélou and myself was based on two values that only death can tear apart: absolute trust and true affection. That is why I don’t like the hypocritical uses of the word “love” that are so widespread today…
Q | But if you feel that Alain Daniélou accompanies you in your tasks, we could say that the trust and the affection you speak about were not dissolved by his death. There is still an affection of the spirit and a kind of supernatural trust which makes your own path reliable through the presence of Daniélou beside you, am I right?
A | Yes, you are right. Alain Daniélou used to say that, after our death, we continue to exist so long as someone thinks of us. And in a certain sense my whole effort to preserve his work stems from that motivation. Will he remain in the mind of future generations, like Gilgamesh? You are somebody who is contributing to that.
Q | Alain Daniélou had an extremely critical spirit and was also very curious. There is no doubt that he also cultivated a spirit of dissidence and non-conformity, and I assume he left room for disagreement and objections of any type during your discussions with him. What are the points that you don’t quite share with Daniélou concerning his thought, his work, his way of living and his way of seeing the world – especially the world of today?
Alain Daniélou used to say that, after our death, we continue to exist so long as someone thinks of us. And in a certain sense my whole effort to preserve his work stems from that motivation
A | Alain Daniélou had a great merit: whatever he was doing, you could disturb him anytime and he always received you politely. When he wrote, he didn’t care much about style, but rather about content. I disturbed him very often with questions of style when I typed texts out for him. But of course he was much more knowledgeable than I, and sometimes I felt it was better to spare myself such interventions …
There was an aspect in which I did have a certain influence on him – though rather late in his life: his violent feelings towards his mother. I found it rather appalling that long after her death, his rancour towards her was still fierce. He managed to put an end to that when he realized that his father (who he thought had been totally absent in his education) had triggered his liberation in placing him at the College of Annapolis in the United States and, later on, (in 1926) had obtained a scholarship for him to study the music of Algeria.
Another point that I never managed to really understand was the dichotomy between his Shaivite initiation and his attitude towards Brahmanism, his desire to be cremated (he said that Shaivites are buried, not cremated) and his lack of interest in reincarnation (much closer to early Vedic religion than to Shaivism). He was never very precise on those matters but he didn’t find any contradiction between these two aspects.
Q | When we read Alain Daniélou’s work, we learn that his conception of the divine is closely related to erotic experience, and that this conviction (beyond his research on different philosophical and religious aspects of sexuality in India and the West) had its roots in his own perception of the sexual act. This is something we can read in The Way to the Labyrinth, where the biological fact of orgasm finds its analogy in spiritual ecstasy and mystical experience. Do you have the same attitude towards sexuality?
A | Alain Daniélou and I were lovers for a very short time, after which we became partners in frequenting teenagers and heterosexual men – which is quite widespread both in Italy and India. The conception of homosexuality, as also of marriage, is very different in India compared to the West.
Q | What does sexual freedom consist of precisely? Is it a question of quantity, variety, excess, the right proportion or sufficient intensity?
A | I have fully adopted Daniélou’s view of this matter: for me the sexual act is a religious act, perhaps the most religious of all acts regardless of the practices that it entails. Who thanks the gods, the creator or nature today for being able to admire a smile, caress a body, bring a human being to a state of delight and reach the point where the five senses are annihilated by the moment of extreme joy in which we forget everything? I have always considered myself as serving this function and I have practiced such acts thousands of times. This has enabled me to reach an advanced age among lively young people, who have always shown great friendship and pleasure by visiting me regularly.
Q | You mention many times that Alain Daniélou was situated far beyond the capacities of those who normally surrounded him. Who could really discuss with him in an Indian way, as he mentions in The Way to the Labyrinth in speaking about the Pundits of Benares? Who could speak with Alain Daniélou today?
A | The only Western author who, according to him, helped him in his approach to Indian philosophy when he was young, was René Guénon, but soon afterwards Daniélou detached himself from him. When he was in India, his point of reference was Swami Karpatri, of course, whom he admired a lot. Western culture, dominated by monotheism, did not interest him in the least. However, after he returned from India, he liked meeting people who were researching the pre-Christian influences of our culture.
Q | Without any doubt, your life is characterized by moving from one place to another (something that is closely related to Daniélou’s principle of “doing” above all), but life also consists of rhythms, and rhythms change with the passage of time. Have you thought of your own retirement? Can you imagine a place where you could stay permanently or does the idea of retiring– including a fixed place – seem alien to you at the age of “four-score”?
A | I have a great fear of illness and decline. Suffering and making my circle of friends and acquaintances suffer seems horrible to me. At the same time, I think of my death with the utmost peace of mind, even if I know that it won’t be that way when I am close to it. Suicide seems to me a meritorious act, as in the case of Henry de Montherlant, for example. In my residence in Switzerland, I have a book called Suicide mode d’emploi [Suicide: user’s manual]. When Burnier died in 1968, I found phenobarbitone which I kept, and when my father died in 2002 I took all his cardiac medication. My main reason for living in Switzerland is the existence of Exit, an association for assisted suicide that is restricted to those who are resident in the country.
I live between Paris, Zagarolo and Lausanne. For practical reasons and questions of tranquillity, I think that if I have to reduce my activities to any great extent, Lausanne would be the place I would choose to stay.
Q | I am convinced that the idea of “transmission” that Alain Daniélou learned in India is very important for you too. You have continued an invaluable work initiated by Alain Daniélou, a work including a new conception of the world based on multiple gestures of creative life, and you have pursued this goal with admirable tenacity, strength and wisdom. Now you face the biological limits of your own contribution and I assume that you have reflected a lot on the best way of continuing this work. How do you imagine (or perhaps I should say how would you like to imagine) the presence of Alain Daniélou and Jacques Cloarec after your existence on this earth?
A | My presence has no importance, since I don’t believe in paradise or reincarnation and I don’t think I have anything to transmit to posterity. But for my part, I consider that the ideas of Alain Daniélou – ideas that are not precisely ‘politically correct’ – remain essential during this period of cultural decadence. I do not say this out of any wish for recognition for myself. Making this work available and accessible has been the purpose of my life, not at all by seeking to make Daniélou a well-known author, but rather because in doing so I felt that I was contributing to an improvement of our role on this earth.