Available just in time to erase all the romantic mistakes you’ve made since Valentine’s Day, Casanova the Irresistible offers a tour of its subject’s 3,700-page memoir by French reconteur/gadfly/writer/critic Philippe Sollers. Thanks to the vivid translation of Armine Kotin Mortimer, we speakers of the vulgar Anglo-Saxon tongue can now delight in Sollers’ exploration of the glorious Venetian whose name is synonymous with the pursuit and acquisition of pleasure.
We all know how Casanova hobnobbed with European royalty and cardinals, and buddied around with the likes of Mozart and Goethe. But it was his all-consuming quest for knowledge and experience that truly sets Casanova apart as, to use Sollers’ phrase, “a philosopher in action.”
To portray this combination of the heroic and human, Sollers explodes our notions of Casanova, a man recast “as a circus animal” by myth and fancy, and robbed of the truths he told by interpreters too jealous, fearful, and prudish to let Casanova be. “Very few people know that [the memoir] was written in French before being published in German,” Sollers tell us, “then retranslated into French in a more ‘proper’ version than the original.”
Sollers and Mortimer thankfully return us to the real memoir and the real Casanova:
There’s enough here to upset or forever scandalize all societies, whatever they may be. The question is then the following: how could a society have let this confession pass? We oughtn’t to read this sort of discourse (and today no doubt less than ever, given the return to power of the moral order). That is often the impression one has in traversing the eighteenth century: we find there human beings as if cut off, detached from humanity, so to speak. Such is the concentration of their freedom that it appears perpetually ahead of ours. Listen to Mozart—you will hear it right away. Same fresh air effect when we read Casanova. If he is right, and if he has proven it, nine-tenths of the ruminations of humanity collapse. People have therefore decided that he was boasting. But nothing could be less certain.
“My mind and my matter form a single substance.” Casanova’s adventures and the polarity they give off no doubt stem from this “substance” that constitutes him, and which no metaphysics can take into account. Because of this substance and the hatred of servitude and death that follow from it, doors open, walls pull apart, enemies disappear, lucky chances multiply, getting out of prison is possible, games of chance turn out well, suicide is suspended, madness is utilized and conquered, reason (or at least a certain superior reason) triumphs.