Plutôt la Vie: Choose Life Instead

I heard from Courtney, one of my wonderful students. She is studying in France the 2018-19 academic year, and we promised we’d write to each other months ago!  According to her note, she sent two postcards at the same time–the one below was actually number two, written four months after the first. (I haven’t laid eyes on the first one yet). I’m so excited to hear from her and know that she is well.

Here’s the image that evokes many words:

Édouard Boubat (1923-1999), Paris, May 1968

This postcard was the last one of its kind on the rack and the “perfect reminder” to Courtney of me. If she were here, we’d have a long, long conversation about the postcard–the photography, the words, the poem written by French Surrealist poet/novelist/theorist André Breton that inspired the street art turned fine art by French photographer Édouard Boubat.

I asked Louise, my French blogging/penfriend, about the meaning of the phrase, Plutôt la vie. I was suspicious of the “rough” translation, “rather life.” Louise translated the phrase, “Choose life instead.” As with translation, typically, I’m pretty sure there’s still some nuance (in meaning)  that can’t be transferred with the substitution of one word for another. We can get pretty close, but we don’t always hit the mark.

It seems almost unfair to share the art without the poem, so here it is:

Plutôt la Vie: Choose Life Instead
André Breton

Choose life instead of those prisms with no depth even if their colors are purer
Instead of this hour always hidden instead of these terrible vehicles of cold flame
Instead of these overripe stones
Choose this heart with its safety catch
Instead of that murmuring pool
And that white fabric singing in the air and the earth at the same time
Instead of that marriage blessing joining my forehead to total vanity’s
Choose life

Choose life with its conspiratorial sheets
Its scars from escapes
Choose life choose that rose window on my tomb
The life of being here nothing but being here
Where one voice says Are you there where another answers Are you there
I’m hardly here at all alas
And even when we might be making fun of what we kill
Choose life

Choose life choose life venerable Childhood
The ribbon coming out of a fakir
Resembles the playground slide of the world
Though the sun is only a shipwreck
Insofar as a woman’s body resembles it
You dream contemplating the whole length of its trajectory
Or only while closing your eyes on the adorable storm named your hand
Choose life

Choose life with its waiting rooms
When you know you’ll never be shown in
Choose life instead of those health spas
Where you’re served by drudges
Choose life unfavorable and long
When the books close again here on less gentle shelves
And when over there the weather would be better than better it would be free yes
Choose life

Choose life as the pit of scorn
With that head beautiful enough
Like the antidote to that perfection it summons and it fears
Life the makeup on God’s face
Life like a virgin passport
A little town like Pont-á-Mousson
And since everything’s already been said
Choose life instead

Of course, the poem deserves a more in-depth reading, but on first glance, Breton seems to call on us to see “life” and beauty in the commonplace, in the mundane, and the unexpected, to live a life beyond the dictates and definitions of society, and accept pain as a beautiful inevitability.

Boubat’s photograph masterfully captures the intention of the poem.

Plutôt la vie

4 thoughts on “Plutôt la Vie: Choose Life Instead

  1. louise237 says:

    Hello Chandra… perfect interpretation of those 3 words which as per each one feelings can have various meanings, all that depending on the circumstances. Boubat’s photo is a masterpiece and I wonder what was the cat thinking about behind that window…
    Imagination… imagination… Big hugs my friend and, thanking you for mentioning my name, nice of you!

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