Robert Antelme

1917 (Sartène, Corsica) - 1990 (Paris)


"Unimaginable: that is a word that does not allow itself to be shared, that does not impose restrictions. It is the most comfortable word. If one walks around with this word as a shield, with this empty word, one becomes more sure-footed, landing on solid ground, and one’s conscience catches itself."

Robert Antelme was born in Sartène, Corsica on 5 January 1917. In 1936, he studied law in Paris, from 1937 to 1939 he served in the military, followed by active duty. In 1939, he married Marguerite Duras, with whom he lived in a ménage à trois with Dionys Mascolo. Under the Vichy government, Antelme worked as an editor in the French Home Office. He wrote poems in preparation for a book of poetry. In 1943 he joined the resistance group led by François Mitterand.

On 1 June 1944, Antelme was arrested by the Gestapo and taken, via Fresnes and Compiègne, to Buchenwald Concentration Camp as a "political inmate". From there he was sent to the Gandersheim subcamp. With an evacuation march, Antelme, exhausted and sick, came to Dachau Concentration Camp, where he was liberated on 29 April 1945: friends from the resistance discovered him in a pile of dead inmates.

After he returned to France, he began to write an account of human behaviour in the fight for "bare survival", what he had experienced in the previous eight months. The account was published in 1947 with the title L´Espèce humaine ("The Human Species"), and in 1957 a revised edition was published by Gallimard.

Antelme divorced Marguerite Duras in 1946. He joined the Communist Party, working for it in the Federation of Deported and Interned Resistance Fighters and Patriots. In 1953 he was banned from the party due to "disloyalty to the party line". From 1951 to 1981, Antelme was an editor at Gallimard, publishing the Encyclopédie de la Pléiade. Beginning in the mid 1950s, he became politically involved in the fight against the pursuit of war in North Africa by France. In 1968, he participated in the student protests and was a member of the action committee Étudiants-Écrivains.

Robert Antelme died in Paris on 26 October 1990.