Éditions Gallimard is introducing “Tracts/Gallimard”, a new collection of brief topical essays bringing back the editorial slant that steeped the “Tracts de la NRF” (Nouvelle Revue Française) in the 1930s – which included André Gide’s Return from the USSR, Thomas Mann’s Warning Europe and Jean Giono’s Refusal to Obey. These (among other) writers were their day’s eyewitnesses, scruples and, to an extent, smiths. They deliberately and publicly challenged the diktats that curtailed their contemporaries’ freedom.
At a time when public messages are eyed askance, and when authoritative arguments and demands often pull rank over adversarial debate and critical thinking, “Tracts/Gallimard” will bring back the views of literary women and men. They will shed their own light on unfolding social and political changes because they are keen to grasp the issues and take a stand on them.
We hope these affordable, numbered booklets circulate and enrich public debate.
The first Tract, by Régis Debray, is about Europe.
Why Tracts/Gallimard ?
Tracts have quite a story.
The term is apparently an abbreviation of tractatus (Latin for “treatise”) and made its way to France from England in the 1830s, when the Second French Revolution had ushered Louis Philippe I onto the throne and the ensuing battle of ideas was raging. There was a void to fill with texts taunting the monarch’s censorship and the ruling outfit’s political correctness. Tracts carried banned, underhand or disturbing news, their unfussy language spoke to the man and woman on the street, and the vehicles were pamphlets or flyers.
The Nouvelle Revue Française adopted the term in the 1930s, during the Popular Front’s days, when several of the magazine’s most outstanding writers joined the debate without reneging their literary calling.
The late 1960s brought Jean-Luc Godard’s and Chris Marker’s 3-minute-long, 50-franc cinétracts.
And now tracts are back, and back on paper – and Gallimard’s doing it again.
Traditional reading habits, we hear, are dwindling. It’s true that people are reading fewer books and magazines. But they are no less keen on thinking and talking than before. Does that mean we should swing the other way, settle for cherry-picking and snapshots, and embrace volatile, patchwork communication? We’d rather land somewhere in the middle: between lengthy written books and on-screen news flashes, between the solemn and the inconsequential. That’s where we hope our Tracts continue to inform the country’s conversation.
This channel has its own set of requirements. For authors, those requirements have to do with style, thought and tone. For readers, they involve 30-minute rather than 30-second attention spans. These tracts are shorter than books and longer than editorials or columns. Controversy is welcome, ad-hominem spite isn’t.
Every dominant culture has elicited its very own counterculture. Screens need counterpoints, places where we can slow down and catch our breath. We hope these Tracts (32 or 48 pages, €3.90 & 3.49 in ebook) provide a few of those places.
Publication director: Antoine Gallimard
Editorial director: Alban Cerisier