Work Of Art As Escape From And Confrontation With Life As A Bad Eternity Preceding Physical DeathJacques Prevert (1900 – 1977)
Jacques Prevert (1900 – 1977)

Family Piece

The mother does her knitting, the son goes to war. The mother finds that quite natural. And the father, what does the father do? He does business. His wife does her knitting, his son goes to the war, and he does business. The father finds that quite normal. And the son, and the son, what does the son think? The son thinks nothing, absolutely nothing. The son’s mother does her knitting, his father business, he goes to the war. When he has finished the war, he will do business with his father. The war goes on, the mother goes on – she knits – the father goes on – he does business – the son is killed – he does not go on anymore. The father and mother go to the cemetery. The father and mother find that quite natural. Life goes on, life with knitting, war, business. Business, war, knitting. Business, business and business. Life with the cemetery.

by Jacques Prevert

From the first glance what Prevert is talking about in his “Family Piece” is a kind of common knowledge, a puristic truism. But cliché quickly transforms into tragedy, a painful self-reflection, if we will allow ourselves to feel Prevert’s description as our common ordinary everyday life that has swallowed us like a giant fish, as whale swallows plankton .

Eternity before physical death, eternity of everyday conformism and inertia is a dead life. And it’s more real in its unreality than the eternity we expect after our death. By depicting this muting monotony with images of a flattened reality, Prevert shows how rotten the very “social physiology” of our life is. What following our steps from the door of our homes to places of our work our dull gazes are sliding over, is, Prevert remind us, the very essence of our perception of the world. We are not able to put markings/signs of our presence in the world on anything except our pillows – we are creatures of the surfaces, of dust. We are dust mites with ambition of dragons. We’ll accept everything. Prevert shows that “survival”, “stability” and “inertia” are deadly… for our children.

What can we do? We cannot change the world; we are only able to accept the death of our children sent to war, in order to continue with our knitting/our business routine forever. We vote – those whom we voted in, will make the decisions. We will rise up in mutiny if they will take away our business and our knitting. And what can we do about all the wars which are our destiny from ancient times? It’s easier to produce more children than stop wars.

Conformist consciousness is universal because it’s dead. To be dead inside life is much more comfortable than to be alive amidst deadliness around. When we cannot awaken to life because we sleep so deeply, it’s a form of universal existential illness. Prevert’s stylistic repetition of conformist gestures of everyday life sleep creates a suffocating effect of the unbearable – deadly vegetating. What can be worse than that? Oh, yes, to be compensated for this life by money. Salary is solace, profit is perfume, pocket is a bouquet, and routine is satin to your fingers. Of course, to lose a son in war means to feel the pain of grieving, but this pain is a part of everyday life, and therefore is combined with money as a compensation for daily suffering.

In our culture based on sacrificial theological paradigm, sacrifice, perversely, is considered as redeeming and, therefore, ultimately positive. Young people are programmed in their unconscious to have self-sacrificial feelings as self-aggrandized ones connected with the readiness to go to the Paradise of the eternal reward.

Compassion for people who are swallowed by status quo as by a giant fish, is not allowing Prevert to use the strategies of distancing from the protagonists of his poem (mockery, sarcasm, grotesque, irony, humor or indifference. He is left with stylized use of constatives and stylistic imitation of social psychology of our life, with a hope (almost as somnambular as our condition is), to awaken us.

Jacques Prevert, who, besides being a poet, was a prolific screenwriter, in a screening room with Simone Signoret and Michel Piccoli.
Jacques Prevert, who, besides being a poet, was a prolific screenwriter, in a screening room with Simone Signoret and Michel Piccoli.