Amy Fine Collins: What about your background most defined who you are? My idea of bliss is being with the one I love, petting my dogs in my library and listening to Bach.
Robert Couturier: So difficult to say… First comes to mind the fact that I have been raised to love all things French by grand parents whose culture by choice was profoundly French. I read Corneille and Racine, listened to Lully, Faure, Saint Saens and Rameau, read Proust, Mauriac, Pascal, La Fontaine and Claudel as well as Gide, La Rochefoucauld and Saint Simon. I was convinced of the superiority and the deep value of French culture and French style over all others. Therefore I had a profound reverence for all things cultural, intellectual and beautiful. Second, a deep-seated love for all things luxurious or elegant, whether custom made shoes and cloths, or perfumes and stylish interiors. This is a realization that came when it was too late for me to be reformed. I knew that there was something other than the front of the plane when I was 18… Third, and probably as a consequence of the above, a great fear of poverty, not so much in a material way much but as a dispossessed wa,y if that makes sense… Also having had parents and grand parents who traveled constantly and, even though I have been raised in this very French way, I have never developed any great loyalty to any particular national idea. I guess I have become loyal to a system of moral and cultural beliefs that are more historical than clearly factual or contemporary.
My idea of bliss is being with the one I love, petting my dogs in my library and listening to Bach.
Why did you leave Paris for New York?
For all the reasons I explained above! The Paris I knew and had come to profoundly love had disappeared in the Second World War. New York is free, contemporary, international and not bound by strict national ties. And it is so diverse. One can be oneself here irrespective of what the dominant taste is. One is free to become whatever one is meant to be.
What books, films, and works of art have changed your life?
“A La Recherche du temps perdu” is probably the single most life altering book I have ever read, closely followed by “La Condition Humaine” of Balzac, “De L’Amour” by Stendhal and “Reflexion sur la question juive” by Jean-Paul Sartre. For movies, “The Leopard” by Visconti, “Mort a Venise” by the same, as well as “Les Damnes” and “Ludwig.” And then “The Women”, “Auntie Mame,” as well as “Barry Lyndon”, “A Clockwork Orange” and “Romeo and Juliet”. For Artwork, maybe Picasso’s Guernica, and very early Gothic paintings. Honestly, there are so many that it is difficult to single out a few… And, of course, there is music, the huge universe of music, a music for each and every second of life. I love first and foremost Baroque Music, and I could live with Bach all the time.
What historical personage would you most like to meet, and what would you say to him or her?
I suppose Marcel Proust as much as Jean Sebastian Bach. An artist makes a mark on his time more than a politician does. Do we remember more Praxiteles, and Phidias or Alexander the Great and Themistocles? Maybe we remember them equally. I would not be able to ask them, Marcel Proust or Jean Sebastian Bach, a rhetorical question about anything. I know them for the volume of their works. They do not know themselves that way. If they did, they would be dead looking at the sum total of their work. Not conceivable, right??…
Is cruelty ever justified for the sake of beauty?
No, most definitely no. No amount of cruelty can be justified for anything. There is something so profoundly unfair about cruelty that nothing can justify it. In my eyes at least…
What are a few of your favorite literary quotes?
This world is the only reality available to us, and if we do not love it in all its terrors, we are sure to end up loving the “imaginary, our own dreams and self deceits, the utopias of politicians, or the futile promises of future reward and consolation which the misled blasphemously call “religion”, Simone Veil.
What about your life do you regret?
All the mean things I said, all the mean things I did and maybe a few affairs that I did not go through with because of personal fears. Anything we choose purely for comfort we end up regretting.
If you were forced into solitary confinement, what room would you want to spend the rest of your life in?
Well, the Hall of Mirrors at the Palace of Versailles. At least it is large…
What is the function of religion in your life?
A very loaded question… I never thought it would have any place or any function in my life until I realized that one did not need to believe in god to believe in religion. The importance is in the question at least as much—if not more—than it is in the answer. Religion is the invisible skeleton that holds who I am together. It is what has made those who preceded and made me withstand very great difficulties with a courage and a pride that I hope I have somewhere in me. The morals of religion, deeply private as they may be, function as the guiding boundaries of most of my actions.