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Charles Dantzig was born into a family of professors of medicine. He obtained the baccalauréat at the age of seventeen, but rather than following the family tradition or taking up his place to prepare the entrance exams for the Ecole Normale Supérieure, he decided to study Law. Having completed a doctorate in Law from the university of Toulouse, he moved to Paris.
A few years later, at the age of twenty-eight, he published an essay on Remy de Gourmont entitled Remy de Gourmont, Cher Vieux Daim ! (Le Rocher, 1990), soon followed by his first collection of poems, Le chauffeur est toujours seul'', to critical acclaim.
Charles Dantzig joined the publishing company Les Belles Lettres, launching three new collections: "Brique", specialising in contemporary literature, "Eux & nous", in which French writers discuss the authors of classical Antiquity, and "Trésors de la nouvelle", which, as its name suggests, specialises in short stories. He published the first French translation of a collection of poetry by F. Scott Fitzgerald, Thousand-and-First Ship (Mille et un navires), and himself translated the play The Vegetable (Un legume). He also translated the first French edition of a collection of Oscar Wilde’s journalism, Aristotle at an Afternoon Tea (Aristote à l'heure du thé). Charles Dantzig also oversaw the publication of Marcel Schwob’s complete works (Œuvres, Les Belles Lettres).
Les Belles Lettres published his early essays, including Il n'y a pas d'Indochine (1995) and La Guerre du cliché (1998), and his poetry collections Que le siècle commence (1996, awarded the prix Paul Verlaine), Ce qui se passe vraiment dans les toiles de Jouy (1999), and À quoi servent les avions ? (2001), which foreshadowed the events of 9/11. He later wrote, “A few people have said to me that the mysterious power of poetry is such that it foresees events. I’m not so sure. […] Poetry reasons rather than foresees. The result – as in all literature, and even in all works of art – is thought. Except that rather than obtaining it by sparking speculations, it does so by sparking images, within the demands of rhythm, and in some cases, prosody” (J'ai interrompu très tôt une carrière de poète). A selection of his poems was published in 2003 with the title En souvenir des long-courriers. 2003 also saw the publication of the Bestiaire, a collection of animal poetry.
He then moved to Grasset, where he oversees the "Cahiers Rouges" series, breathing fresh life into the list by publishing cult classics such as Jean de La Ville de Mirmont’s L'Horizon chimérique and Jean Desbordes’s J'adore, as well as major twentieth-century diarists and authors of memoirs, such as Harold Nicolson, George Moore, and Robert de Saint Jean. He wrote the preface to a hitherto unpublished novel for young readers by Truman Capote, Summer Crossing (La Traversée de l'été), and was also responsible for the first publication of Samuel Beckett’s lessons, based on notes by one of his students (Brigitte Le Juez, Beckett avant la lettre). Other works he has published include a collection of famous critic Bernard Frank’s articles for Le Monde from 1985 to 1989 (5, rue des Italiens) and Barack Obama’s famous Philadelphia speech on race in America.
Between 2006 and 2008, Charles Dantzig penned the epilogue for the special reports in the monthly Magazine Littéraire, offering his faithful readership his reliably iconoclastic literary views on everything from the French-speaking world to authors and psychoanalysis.
Since september 2011, Charles Dantzig writes the literary chronicle in the Magazine Littéraire, and is a producer on the cultural public radio France Culture, where he created "Secret professionnel", on the artistic creation.
In 2011 he re-created the famous Stendhal Club, which he presides. It has only 12 members in the world (American member: Daniel Mendelsohn; English member: Patrick McGuinness, Oxford). The Stendhal Club has published two issues of his "possibly annual review"..
He was awarded the Grand Prix Jean Giono for his body of work.
Charles Dantzig’s first novel, Confitures de crimes (the title refers to a line from a poem by H.J.-M. Levet: “Le soleil se couche en des confitures de crimes”), was published by Les Belles Lettres in 1993. It recounted the life of a poet elected president of France, who went on to start a war. This work of fiction was the first indication of Charles Dantzig’s passion for literature and his ironic handling of posturing and comedy. His second novel, Nos vies hâtives (Grasset, 2001), was awarded the Prix Jean Freustié and the Prix Roger Nimier. The third, Un film d'amour, was published in 2003. It was a choral novel with a scholarly structure that supposedly drew on a TV documentary on the death of a young film-maker by the name of Birbillaz. “At first, the reader takes this book – intelligent from the first line to the last – for a formalist whimsy, before grasping that it aims for a kind of totality, like all great books. It leaves behind its ostensible subject, the portrait of the absent figure, Birbillaz, to focus on his brother – his double, his mirror image – like something out of Robert Louis Stevenson: a failure in life, bitter, rotten to the core, who says no to everything, to the point of obstinacy and pain. No to love, to talent, to creativity, to goodness, to beauty. A “no!” that he shouts in people’s faces, to the very gates of Hell – and no doubt beyond.” (Jacques Drillon, Le Nouvel Observateur, October 16, 2003). Grasset published Charles Dantzig’s fourth novel, Je m'appelle François, in 2007. It was inspired by the real-life crimes of Christophe Rocancourt, which the author transformed and transfigured into a new fictional destiny. In august 2011 appears "Dans un avion pour Caracas", a novel entirely happening in a plane flight between Paris and Caracas.
2005 saw the publication of Charles Dantzig’s Dictionnaire égoïste de la littérature française, which was awarded a number of prizes, including the Prix Décembre, The Prix de l’Essai de l'Académie française and the Grand prix des lectrices de Elle. The Dictionnaire gave him free rein to develop his aesthetic vision of literature, illustrated with numerous comments on style. The work enjoyed considerable critical and popular esteem, not only in France but also abroad, and was hailed as the major literary event of the year.
"A bestseller in the francophone world, Dantzig's Dictionnaire égoïste de la littérature française is en extraordinary undertaking, and anyone who buys it is expecting a fact-filled reference book will be either disappointed or, more likely, happily surprised. Biased, mischievous, provocative, Dantzig is also massively well read, funny and instructive. He is an elegant writer, and is clearly passionate about books." Patrick McGuinness, Times Literary Supplement, jul, 14. 2006
In January 2009, Grasset published a new major work by Charles Dantzig. The Encyclopédie capricieuse du tout et du rien, written as a compilation of lists, enjoyed considerable success. It met with wide critical acclaim and made the front cover of Le Monde in a cartoon by Plantu. It won the Prix Duménil in May 2009 following a unanimous vote.
Charles Dantzig published his essay on reading, Pourquoi Lire ?, in October 2010. It again met with immediate critical acclaim and popular success and was awarded the Grand Prix Giono. "Divided into over seventy short chapters, the book is an impassioned, wide-ranging and occasionally humorous meditation, buttressed by well-chosen quotations, on reading in all its aspects from "Learning to read", in which he says that he has never understood the pejorative tag attached to the word "bookish", through "Reading aloud" to "How to read".", Adrian Tahourdin,
In 2012, he published a page in the French newspaper Le Monde (march, 17) called "Du populisme en littérature" (On populism in literature) where he expresses his concern on a dangerous trend in modern literature. Wouldn't more and more "realist" writers be in fact serving some obscure reactionary forces? It has raised a huge controversy all over the world (Canada, Italy - translation in the Corriere della sera)…
In January 2013, he publishes a new essay on masterpieces in literature, the first one in French language, "A propos des chefs-d'oeuvre." The book is already translated in many foreign countries, Italy, Germany, China.
Faithful to his fondness for Anglo-Saxon literature, Charles Dantzig publishes in May 2013 a new French translation of Oscar Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest, with a long foreword, "La première Gay Pride" ("The First Gay Pride"). He stresses the too often forgotten gay subtext of Wilde's play. This foreword echoes a tribune he published in Le Monde, "Non à la collusion de la haine" (nov., 17, 2012), against the wave of homophobic hatred in France during the gay wedding quarrel. This tribune was signed by dozens of French writers, intellectuals and artists, gay and not gay.
In January 2010, Charles Dantzig published two books of poetry simultaneously: a collection of his own new poems in Grasset’s Collection Bleue, Les nageurs, and an anthology of his poetry with new writing and critical essays, La Diva aux longs cils. The poems were selected by Patrick McGuinness of St Anne's College, Oxford. At the same time, Charles Dantzig’s novel Je m'appelle François was published in paperback and his translations of Oscar Wilde and F. Scott Fitzgerald were republished in the Cahiers Rouges collection. Les nageurs and La Diva aux longs cils were presented at the Maison Française in Oxford in 2010.
Charles Dantzig’s cultural interests are not limited to books. He is also a connoisseur of art, regularly contributing to arts and aesthetics reviews, working alongside artists such as Philippe Cognée and Antonio Segui. He inaugurated the Petit pan de mur jaune series at the Musée du Louvre in 2007, giving a presentation in front of Van Dyck’s painting Les princes Charles-Louis et Rupert du Palatinat. He was an associate curator of the inaugural exhibition of the new Centre Pompidou museum in Metz, Chefs-d’œuvre?, where the Charles Dantzig Room explored the notion of the masterpiece in literature.
Charles Dantzig contributes to musée d'Orsay's 2013-2014 "Masculin Masculin" exhibition on male nude with an essay on male nude in literature, "Le Grand Absent".