Planète: Let’s Read a Crazy Old French Magazine

Planète magazine and its little brother, Le Nouveau Planète, were French periodicals published between 1961 and 1971 by Louis Pauwels and Jacques Bergier. Those two were the authors of a book called Le Matin des Magiciens (The Dawn of Magic in English), which advertised itself as a manifesto for le réalisme fantastique, fantastic realism. Now you’re asking what the hell that is. Well, pretty much everything, and probably the ancestor of many a conspiracy theory. According to the book, a huge amount of technological and scientific advances, some brought by aliens, were kept hidden for centuries. Mankind is to rediscover them and accomplish  its potential, which is that every human should become a superman (but not in a n@zi way, it should be noted that Pauwels started in journalism with a clandestine periodical during the war). The book is supposed to be an invitation to go beyond intellectual laziness and prejudices to see the impossible as natural law. That book was a huge success, this being the 60s and all, and Pauwels and Bergier decided to publish a periodical reflecting their ideas. It was quite successful, and the result is a baffling mix of pseudo-science, anthropological nonsense, and amazing sci-fi literature: the magazine published such authors as Isaac Asimov or Arthur C. Clarke, relatively unknown to Francophones then. It sparked passion for Borges, who might otherwise have remained obscure here. It also introduced to fame a number of artists such as Roland Topor, wrote about Emmanuel Mounier, Antonin Arthaud or Martin Luther King. Its motto was “We’re no stranger to anything strange!” Its success sparked the interest of people like Mircea Eliade or Umberto Eco who wrote about it. Anyway, I’ve been fascinated by this vaguely horrifying journalistic chimera ever since, at about 14, I found four issues of it at the bottom of the sci-fi closet my parents had. I thought it might be fun to have a closer look at one of those issues. I chose issue 19, from November-December 1970, because the headlines on the cover are the most ludicrous. To wit: “The Russians Claim the Moon is a Spaceship”.

The issue starts with a commercial for a special issue about Carl Jung. Among the promised subjects one can find Dreams, myths, Jung and Alchemy.

Then comes the Table of Contents. All the issues were organized pretty much the same way, with different sections, but the articles weren’t in that order in the magazine. Here, for practical reasons, I’ll follow the table of contents.

First, “Understanding what’s going on” about the world and current events.

In this issue, we have:

  • Pirates of three eras, a rather well researched articles about piracy in Antiquity, in the 17th c., and its resurgence in modern times, most notably with the highjacking of planes. Very serious statistics tables are here to inform the reader. It is accompanied with a text by Gilles Lapouge, who writes about the pirate ethos. Here’s an excerpt (sorry for the clumsy translation): “The pirate appears more radical to our eyes, and his revolt more desperate. It is the rebellion of a desolate heart that does not expect anything anymore. The pirate does not have the vanity to give meaning even to his death”.
  • A brief article called “Red Power” (in English), about Native Americans struggles for equality and the taking of Alcatraz. It is more than a bit heavy on the pathos in its descriptions of the reservations, but it has the courtesy of quoting in extenso the leaders of the movement and use those quotes as a conclusion to the article.
  • Something called “the Mysteries of Israel”, especially written for the magazine by a deputy mayor of Jerusalem at the time, who happened to be André Chouraqui, a very well known author who was later to translate the Bible.
  • “About Osaka”, a series of photographs by Peter Knapp and Bruno Suter (Again, very famous names), who are also interviewed.
  • A quick look at current events and some book reviews.

 

Second, “Personnage hors série” (literally special issue character), often about an author. here, it’s William Beckford (1760-1844), an English writer of gothic novels, which I kind of want to check out now. The conclusion: “his work is a curiosity more than a masterpiece. But it’s the reflection of a bizarre soul that search for the absolute and only found scandal”. Here’s the accompanying illustration.

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Then “Great Spiritual Texts”. In this issue you have a compendium of translations forming what the author calls “The Japanese Genesis”

Then “The virtues of imagination”, in which were published both sci-fi writers and artists. This one has two short stories by Rita Kraus, which she wrote especially for this issue, and that are accompanied by a nifty illustration. Not entirely sure what’s going on in here. A hippie is shooting soldiers and there’s a car, and also an orgy.

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It’s followed by a chapter devoted to engravings series of engravings called “Mythologies” by Pierre-Yves Trémois. Here’s an example. I’m keeping the nsfw ones out. Let us just say that hentai’s fascination with tentacles is apparently shared.

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Then “Fantastic realism”, in which one can find the crazier aspects of the paper.

  • “The Sands Pompei”, about the city of Awdagost found in the Sahara. The article is surprisingly informative and scientific. It’s short but a good summary of the archaeological work done there.
  • Ha, the article that enticed me to read in the first place: “The Moon is an Artificial Satellite” by Mikhaïl Vassine and Alex Chtcherbakov, introduced here as “Russian researchers”. Something something moon density feeble conductivity, let’s throw some figures here to look serious, and add the fact that sociologically mankind will soon need its own artificial satellite to live on. Apparently meteor craters on the moon aren’t too deep because the meteors after a while are stopped by the indestructible hull of the spaceship. Yeah…
  • “When plants love each other”. About the recent scientific works on plant hormones. It’s followed by a short story, in keeping with the editorial line: “because imagination goes hand in hand with research”.

 

Finally, “Inventing the Future”

  • “The United States of Asia”, about a Vietnamese books that’s proposing just that. It’s amazing how this magazine went outside a small Western intellectual sphere, all nonsense apart.
  • “You die through prophecy” by René Nelli. Byline: “if you want to understand prophecies you have to understand the rules that gave birth to them”. Not very informative, that. The author is a self proclaimed Cathare. I’ll just translate the conclusion: “Lactantius was at a point of perspective where the Future, obviously, could be grasped only in the Future, but where the progression of the Future was predicted, as a image, as a reflection of Things to Come on the way to their incarnation in the Present“. Ok, still no idea what this is about.
  • And finally, “A World without Money”, by the “Planète Research Group”. It’s what the magazine calls a “futurible”, one of its staples actually, i.e. an attempt to extrapolate the future from present data. Here’s how they introduce it: “Our economic research groups are quite a mixed company: sociologists rub elbows with chemists and zootechnicians. They all have one thing in common: those analysts, those researchers live in advance the tomorrows they predict or prepare. Together, they compare their research, imagine its applications, arriving sometimes to horrifying results”.

 

Aaaaand we’re done. Sorry for the length everyone, as the whole magazine is in French, I couldn’t give you pictures of the pages! For the one person who read to the end, thanks!