Michel Butor, a novelist, poet, critic, experimental writer and founding member of the Raymond Roussel Society died last Wednesday at a hospital in Contamine-sur-Arve, in Western France, near the Swiss border, at age 89.
Despite not being an author known by the general public, Butor was in fact a deeply respected figure in intellectual and academic circles. He was equally well regarded in France as in the US, Japan, China and Australia.
His novels – including “Modification,” the most widely known – made him the symbol of nouveau roman. What most people do not know is that Butor was especially well known for his constant search for new forms of writing and an interest in collaborating with artists. For example, he collaborated with Max Ernst in 1945 in Hommage partiel a Max Ernst, with Jasper Johns in 2007 in How to Write for Jasper Johns, and with Miquel Barceló in 2012 with Une nuit sur le mont Chauve and in 2013 on the film La Hie.
It was in this last year that I met Butor. Miquel Barceló recommended that I reach out to him to get first-hand information about French writer Raymond Roussel, on whom I had been making a documentary film since 2010. From the outset, Butor fell in love with the project and provided the maximum amount of help. So much so that he ended up appearing on screen and playing a key role in the documentary. I will forever be thankful for the great enthusiasm he showed by immersing himself, at almost 90 years of age, in the work of someone he had just met.
Later, I asked Butor to take part in the creation of The Raymond Roussel Society, a non-profit dedicated to the dissemination of the work of Roussel, as well as to the promotion of culture and art in the Rousselian spirit. Butor accepted my invitation without hesitation and with youthful enthusiasm, thus joining other well respected figures, such as poet John Ashbery, Miquel Barcelo, Thor Halvorssen and Hermes Salceda, as members of the society.
The last time I spoke to him, a few weeks ago, I had called to let him know we would be soon launching The Raymond Roussel Society with an event in New York. Butor‘s literal reply was: “I’ll be happy to travel to New York but bear in mind that I will turn 90 soon and age is unforgiving.” Unfortunately, so it was. I will never forget Butor‘s selflessness and generosity in helping with any project I brought to his consideration. And I hope we are able to maintain his spirit in all future projects.