Tony Duvert (July 2, 1945 – August 2008) was a French writer and philosopher. In the 1970s he achieved some renown, winning the Prix Médicis in 1973 for his novel Paysage de Fantaisie (Strange Landscape). Duvert's writings are notable both for their style and core themes: the celebration and defence of pedophilia, and criticism of modern child-rearing. In the 1970s attitudes to sexual liberation and child sexuality allowed Duvert to express himself publicly. However, when attitudes altered markedly in the 1980s, he was left feeling frustrated and oppressed.
Many of Duvert's writings are now archived online, including his award winning novel Strange Landscape, and notable works such as Good Sex Illustrated and Diary of an Innocent. We list Duvert's English-language publications at the end of this page.
Duvert was a Left-wing sexual radical influenced by the liberationist ethos of the May 1968 French revolution, and was a literary figure and open MAP during the 1st wave of the MAP Movement. He was awarded the prestigious Prix Médicis for his novel Strange Landscape due to the influence of renown French literary critic Roland Barthes, one of the signatories to France's 1977 petition against age of consent law alongside prominent academics including Michel Foucault, Gilles Deleuze, Félix Guattari, Jacques Derrida, Simone de Beauvoir, Jean-Paul Sartre, René Schérer, Jacques Rancière and Jean-François Lyotard.
In a 1974 foreword to Guy Hocquenghem's Gay Liberation After May '68, Gilles Deleuze name-drops famous French writers Andre Gide, Marcel Proust, and Roger Peyrefitte before comparing what Hocquenghem and Duvert offer: "Another style, another politics: like Tony Duvert’s importance today, a new tone." Duvert's most elaborate philosophical work in English is the non-fiction "Good Sex Illustrated" (1974), a tract against a French sex education text. Duvert's book resembles most closely Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari's highly influential "Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia" (1972), and Jean-François Lyotard's "Libidinal Economy" (1974) - authors who, like Duvert, use psychoanalytic language and see desire as an omnipresent system or network, conceptualized as a ubiquitous force at the base of human society (see Wikipedia article). Duvert criticizes what he sees as capitalism's regulation of libido for profit, with the child surrounded by manipulative forces in the institutions of childhood - the disciplinary regimes of the nuclear family structure, school and sex education - coercing children towards accepting their subordinate status as economically productive workers (i.e. wage-slaves) and upholding heteronormative (reproductive) sex as the norm, contrasted with the non-reproductive sexuality of pedophilia which does not (except in rare cases) produce offspring and therefore reproduce the worker. Duvert's emphasis on how bodies are disciplined and regulated, represents similar thinking to Michel Foucault's concept of "Docile Bodies" and Gilles Deleuze's "Societies of Control", but he departs from these thinkers in his focus on "childhood", with his concerns closely resembling René Schérer's philosophy.
The following sections of the article are based around a lightly modified version of a 2022/23 Wikipedia copy. Further contributions from the Newgon editorial can be found below the section title "Rediscovering Tony Duvert" where we emphasize English publications, linking to recent scholarship about Duvert and English translations of his writings, many of which were extremely rare and difficult to find until the 2010's.
Youth and early writings
Tony Duvert was born on 2 July 1945 in Villeneuve-le-Roi, Val-de-Marne. As a child, he was shy and withdrawn, but later wrote that his sex life began when he was eight. Expelled from school at twelve for carrying out sexual acts with other boys, he was sent by his parents to a psychiatrist for treatment: the methods used he described as brutal and humiliating. He ran away from home and attempted suicide. In 1961, Duvert joined the high school Jean-Baptiste Corot in Savigny-sur-Orge, where he was a brilliant student, but with few friends. After high school, he moved to Paris to begin an arts degree but preferred to devote himself to writing.
Thanks to Roland Barthes, Duvert achieved public recognition in 1973 with his novel Paysage de fantaisie (Strange Landscape), which won the Prix Médicis, and was greeted warmly by critics. For Claude Mauriac the book revealed "gifts and art that the word talent is not enough to express".
In 1974, Duvert expounded his ideology at length in Le Bon Sexe Illustré (Good Sex Illustrated) in which he sharply criticised sex education and the modern western family. Critics praised its humor and his ability to observe the pretenses of bourgeois society.
With his literary prize money, Duvert moved to Morocco, an experience which resulted in his next novel Journal D’un Innocent, (Journal of an Innocent) published in 1976. Disillusioned by its society, he moved to Thore la Rochette, before settling in Tours. His next novel Quand Mourut Jonathan (When Jonathan Died), published in 1978, was inspired by an earlier vacation with a neglected boy.
Despite his productivity and critical success, Duvert had not achieved the public success he hoped for. To reach a wider audience and raise awareness of his ideas, he decided to write a novel that would incorporate his favorite themes while being less sexually explicit and written in a classic form. The result was L'Île Atlantique (1979, published in English as Atlantic Island in 2017), which received critical raves, and sold somewhat better than his previous works.
Withdrawal from the world and death
In the 1980s, Duvert published L’enfant au masculin (1980), in which he further expounded his sexual philosophy; a novel Un Anneau d’Argent à l’Oreille; and a book of aphorisms Abécédaire Malveillant: unlike his earlier writings, their critical reception was mostly indifferent or poor. By the late 1980s, Duvert was unable to pay the rent on his apartment. With the social mood towards pedophilia hardening in the wake of several abuse scandals, he felt the world had turned against him. He withdrew to his mother's house in Loir-et-Cher, and became a total recluse. Duvert published nothing further, and was largely forgotten. However, in 2005, his novel L'Île Atlantique, which had first appeared in 1979, was adapted for television by Gerard Mordillat.
Duvert's body was discovered at his home in August 2008, several weeks after his death, in a state of decomposition. His death briefly raised his media profile in France again; obituaries noted the quality of his writing, but also reflected upon the change in official attitudes to child sexuality.
Gilles Sebhan has published two French-language biographical works on Duvert, Tony Duvert: L'Enfant Silencieux (Éditions Denoël 2010) and Retour à Duvert (le dilettante 2015). To date, neither book has been translated into English.
Rediscovering Tony Duvert
Through the 2000's and 2010's, scholarship on Duvert's fiction appeared in English, and MAP-sympathetic Sylvère Lotringer's influential publishing outlet Semiotext(e), began publishing English translations of his books.
Duvert's Translator (Bruce Benderson) on Duvert's philosophy
Bruce Benderson (born August 6, 1946) has translated and offered his original interpretations of Duvert's politics and philosophy. He is an American author, including a book-length essay Toward the New Degeneracy (1997), which explores the mingling of classes in New York’s Times Square in a lively atmosphere of drugs, sex, and commerce. In a youtube video Benderson laments what he sees as the gentrification of the City Square which had once been a "libidinal world" that occurred outside the family; an "intergenerational," "interacial," and "interclass space" which has been destroyed by the impact of neoliberal capitalism, the rise of the internet/digital experiences, and what he sees as middle-class, assimilationist gay liberation. For Benderson, Gay Liberation is "the story of gentrification - the story of the more economically powerful, more educated people siezing control of a burgeoning identity movement," putting their own (exclusionary) stamp on gay identity by aping heteronormative ideals such as marriage and financial/social status over pleasure. Perhaps explaining his interest in Duvert, for Benderson "pleasure is a radical value," because it is Bohemians and the ultra-poor, he claims - those who once congregated in the City Square - who value pleasure over security and social acceptability.
- Benderson. (2007). "Introduction: The Family on Trial." Good Sex Illustrated. By Tony Duvert. Trans. Bruce Benderson. Los Angeles: Semiotext(e), pp. 7-13.
"LADIES AND GENTLEMEN, the book you are about to read will change your life forever. [...] The subject? The Sexual Order of the entire Western World. [...] Duvert will demonstrate before your very eyes what our sex lives really are: exploited, objectified, imprisoned, profit-driven… and, above all, castrated. [...]
Duvert points a rageful finger at the strangulation of pleasure by capitalist shackles. He demonstrates that, in our sexual order, orgasm follows the patterns of any other kind of capital: it is commandeered by the State, which ensures that its consumption will always be tied to another’s profit, and that any free, or pointless, expenditure of sexual energy will be forbidden. [...]
And what is the investment into which our poor, abused capacity for orgasms will inevitably be put? Babymaking. That the cycle continue! [...]
Duvert’s analysis of the sexual order is in contradiction to most of today’s sex and gender “liberations,” all of which are careful to respect motherhood and the crucial social importance of nuclear family values. But it is the nuclear family itself that, after being exploited, exploits in turn, first through motherhood, and later through the authority of the father: it commandeers, castrates and twists the child’s sex instinct into a sullen instrument of power in the name of protection and education. It isolates him from the outside world and portrays it as fraught with danger. This is, Duvert makes clear, the same system that has manufactured the idea of the stranger as the molester of children, just to keep the child from any outside influence or contact with a non-family adult who might have a chance of removing the veil of family enchantment."
- Benderson. (2010). "Innocence on Trial: The Politics of Tony Duvert." Diary of an Innocent. By Tony Duvert. Trans. Bruce Benderson. Los Angeles: Semiotext(e), pp. 5-13.
- Tony Duvert. (undated). Other People's Eroticism. translated by Joan Templeton (published on semiotext(e) website).
- Tony Duvert. (2019). A Silver Ring in the Ear. (Published online).
- Tony Duvert. (2017). District. by S C Delaney (Introduction, Translator) and Agnès Potier (Translator), (Cambridge, MA: Wakefield Press).
- Tony Duvert. (2017). Odd Jobs. by S C Delaney (Introduction, Translator) and Agnès Potier (Translator), (Cambridge, MA: Wakefield Press).
- Tony Duvert. (2016). Atlantic Island. translated by Purdey Lord Kreiden, Michael Thomas Taren, and Chris Kraus (Los Angeles: Semiotext(e)/Native Agents).
- Tony Duvert. (2010). Diary of an Innocent (Los Angeles: Semiotext(e)/Native Agents).
- Tony Duvert. (2007). Good Sex Illustrated (Los Angeles: Semiotext(e)/Native Agents).
- Tony Duvert. (1991). When Jonathan Died. Translated by D. R. Roberts (London: GMP Publishers).
- Tony Duvert. (1975). Strange Landscape, translated by Sam Flores (New York: Grove Press).
Tony Duvert in scholarship
- Ezio Puglia and Irene Peano. (2018). Tony Duvert: a political and theoretical overview, in Whatever. A Transdisciplinary Journal of Queer Theories and Studies. Vol. 1, pp. 183-197.
- Brian Gordon Kennelly. (2014). Rape Fantasy Redux? Textual Victimhood In and Between Versions of Tony Duvert's "Portrait d'homme couteau", in Dalhousie French Studies, Vol. 101, pp. 93-103.
- Brian Gordon Kennelly. (2010). Mothers and/as Monsters in Tony Duvert's "Quand mourut Jonathan", in Dalhousie French Studies, Vol. 92, pp. 127-138.
- Brian Gordon Kennelly. (2004). Rewriting, Rereading Recidive, in Dalhousie French Studies, Vol. 67, pp. 135-142.
- John Phillips. (1999). Homotextuality: Tony Duvert’s Récidive. In Forbidden Fictions: Pornography and Censorship in Twentieth-Century French Literature (London: Pluto Press), pp. 149-172.
- Articles on his death (in French): Un ancien prix Médicis retrouvé mort (archived by [wikiwix.com Wikiwix]), La Nouvelle République, 21/08/2008; Tony Duvert (1945-2008) Joannic Arnoi, Mort d’un écrivain à Thoré-la-Rochette Le Monde blog (not available at original source), 23/08/2008.
- Influential gay historian Gert Hekma wrote an obituary for Duvert. See, 'Tony Duvert: The sad ending of a promising writer'. Gay News (Dutch and English magazine), No. 307; March 2017.
- "Tony Duvert" (Original BoyWiki Article)
- Duvert's writings - Bookfrom.net
- Strange Landscape
- Good Sex Illustrated - free download
- Diary of an Innocent
- Gay Liberation After May '68 translated by Scott Branson (Duke University Press, 2022), p. 2.
- Docile Bodies
- Societies of Control
- See 'Loving Boys' Semiotext(e) Special Intervention Series 2, (Summer 1980).
- Benderson. "Introduction: The Family on Trial."
- Further archive of Diary of an Innocent
- Other People's Eroticism
- A Silver Ring in the Ear
- Diary of an Innocent
- Good Sex Illustrated
- When Jonathan Died
- For a review of When Jonathan Died, see Robert Rockwood. (January-February 1993). 'Duvert’s Portrait of the ‘Boy Eternal’, NAMBLA Bulletin (Vol. XIV, No. 1), pp. 42-49.
- Strange Landscape
- Backup of Rape Fantasy Redux? Textual Victimhood In and Between Versions of Tony Duvert's "Portrait d'homme couteau"
- Backup of Mothers and/as Monsters in Tony Duvert's "Quand mourut Jonathan"