The literary landscape of Paris shifted considerably with the arrival of The Paris Review and merlin. POINTS had been a “no frills” endeavor by Sindbad Vail, gathering short stories submissions that he liked and taking them to the printer when he had enough to fill out the designated pages of each issue. Elements of design were left to the printer, which is to say, there were none.
merlin had a designer who selected the type fonts and conceived the layout of each issue, engaged an artist to provide drawings to break up the text and add design elements and lastly, but most importantly, merlinhad an advisory editor who elevated the literary quality of the journal to rank it alongside the finest being published. Richard Seaver was preparing for his doctorate degree at the Sorbonne. He was fluent in French, wrote and spoke French with ease, the perfect choice to shepherd merlin as it emerged on the Paris literary scene. Seaver would remain in the publishing world when he returned to America, most notably as editor at Grove Press where he was instrumental in bringing his Paris writers to the American public, Samuel Beckett, Jean Genet, Eugene Ionesco among others.
The remaining four issues of POINTS to be published over the next two years would see a change in front cover design and a slight upgrade in paper stock. The retail price in Paris would remain the same, 150 francs per issue. The new arrival on the block. merlin, was priced at 250 francs.
Commentary © James A. Harrod, COPYRIGHT PROTECTED; ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
merlin people and others at a reception, December 1953
Back row left to right: George Plimpton, Corneille, Richard Seaver, Mary Smith (Gaïte Frogé’s assistant in the English Bookshop), Patrick Bowles, Gaïte Frogé, Jane Lougee.
Front row left to right: Christopher Logue, Austryn Wainhouse, Christopher Middleton.
Front row left to right: Christopher Logue, Austryn Wainhouse, Christopher Middleton.
Edited by Alexander Trocchi
Paul Eluard – TO MY EXIGENT FRIENDS
Alexander Trocchi – EDITORIAL
Jean-Paul Sartre – A NOTE ON JEAN GENET
Jean Genet – JOURNAL DU VOLEUR
Christopher Logue – WAND AND QUADRANT
H. M. Phillips – THREE QUIET LIVES
Jane Lougee – ERNEST FUCHS
Ernest Fuchs – HEAD OF CHRIST
Alexander Trocchi – PORTRAIT
WIND FROM THE BOSPHOROS
William Sansom – LIFE, DEATH
Alan Riddell – ACHONACHER
Henry Miller – FRAGMENT FROM PLEXUS
DR. MIKLOS NYISZLI – S. S. OBERSTURMFÜHRER DOKTOR MENGELE
Line drawings by CORNEILLE
Design and typography by WALTER G. COLEMAN
Advisory Editor and Director
Alice Jane Lougee (Publisher), Limerick, Maine
BECAUSE of the slight change in format of this (the fourth) number of MERLIN, and as subsequent numbers will preserve the dimensions of the present one, it has been decided to number it :Volume 2, Number 1, instead of Volume 1, Number 4.
MERLIN is an expatriot magazine. While we wish to translate and to publishforeign writing, it was part of our original intention to be a clearing house for that Anglo-American writing which for one reason or another and in one sense or another is expatriot. That term must be understood broadly; so understood, the tradition of that writing is an important one. It did not, as popular journalism sometimes implies, begin and end with Scott Fitzgerald. It is as old as Xenephon. The cock–sparrow provincialism of temperament implicit in many of the contributions to the recent symposium in the Partisan Review—Norman Mailer’s was an honourable exception— was a disquieting symptom of a national culture neither old nor young enough to be quite honest with itself.
Expatriot writing is not necessarily wild, indeed, it has often been more classical than the home product. Nevertheless, the rebel is often a very young man, and if he cannot get published at home he is naturally enough tempted to identify himself with the professional abroad; but the truth is that his so-called “experimentation” is often a mask for his incompetence. Experimental writing—it is an imprecise term—is not an easy way out for a man who has nothing to say. It is questionable whether further experimentation has any meaning in the present-day context. Consolidation is necessary. The great experimenters of the first half of the century are by no means generally accepted, far less digested; that being so, it is not only a question of whether it is advisable to “proceed farther” but of whether it is possible. The word “ originality” is a dangerous one; it is often the instrument of a fool’s own suicide. Below the level of competent writing no one is going to look for originality.
To my exigent friends
If I say to you that the sun in the forest
Is like a belly surrendering in a bed
You believe me you sanction all my desires
If I tell you that the crystal of a rainy day
Tinkles continually in the indolence of love
You believe me you spin out the time for loving
If I say to you that on the branches of my bed
A bird has built his nest who never says yes
You believe me you share my anxiety
If I tell you that inserted in the hollow of a spring
Half-opening the greenness a river’s key is turning
You believe me what is more you understand my words
But if straightforwardly I sing my entire street
And my entire country like an endless street
You cease to believe me you go away to the desert
For you walk without goal without knowing that men
Need to be united to hope to struggle
To explain the world and to transform it
At a single stride of my heart I will lead you on
I have no strength I have lived I am still living
But why should I seek to dazzle you with words
When all I really desire is to free you and to fuse you
As well with the sea-weed and the river-reed of dawn
As with your brothers engaged in building their light.
[Translated from the French by Christopher Hancock
Copyright Libiairie Gallimard]
NOT all who would be are Narcissus. Many who lean over the water see in it only a vague human figure. Genet sees himself everywhere; the dullest surfaces reflect his image; even in others he perceives himself, thereby bringing to light their deepest secrets. The disturbing theme of the double, the image, the counterpart, the enemy brother, is found in all his works.
Each of them has the strange property of being both itself and the reflection of itself. Genet brings before us a dense and teeming throng which intrigues us, transports us and changes into Genet beneath Genet’s gaze. Hitler appears, talks, lives; he removes his mask : it was Genet. But the little servant-girl with the swollen feet who meanwhile was burying her child—that was Genet too. In The Thief’s Journal the myth of the double has assumed its most reassuring, most common, most natural form. Here Genet speaks of Genet without intermediary; he talks of his life, of his wretchedness and glory, of his loves;he tells the story of his thoughts. One might think that, like Montaigne, he is going to draw a good-humored and familiar self-portrait. But Genet is never familiar, even with himself. He does, to be sure, tell us everything. The whole truth, nothing but the truth, but it is the sacred truth. He opens up one of his myths; he tells us, “You’re going to see what stuff it’s made of, “ and we find another myth. He reassures us only to disturb us further. His autobiography is not an autobiography; it merely seems like one; it is a sacred cosmogony. His stories are not stories; they excite you and fascinate you. But you thought he was relating facts and suddenly you realize he is describing rites. If he talks of the wretched beggars of the Barrio Chino, it is only to debate, in lordly style, questions of precedence and etiquette; he is the Saint-Simon of this Court of Miracles. His memories are not memories; they are exact but sacred; he speaks about his life like an evangelist, as a wonder-struck witness. When Edouard, the novelist in Gide’s The Counterfeiters, writes the journal of his novel,he is no longer fictitious. But Genet the novelist, speaking of Genet the thief, is more of a thief than the thief, the thief and his double are alike sacred. Thus, there comes into being that new object: a mythology of the myth (like the blues song that was called The Birth of the Blues); behind the first-degree myths—The Thief, Murder, the Beggar, the Homosexual—one discovers the reflective myths, the Poet,the Saint, the Double, Art. Nothing but myths, then, a Genet with a Genet stuffing, like the prunes of Tours. If, however, you are able to see at the seam the thin line separating the enveloping myth from the enveloped myth, you will discover the truth, which is terrifying. That is why I do not fear to call this book, the most beautiful that Genet has written, the Dichtung und Wahrheit of homosexuality.
journal duvoleur (extracts)
Thus, by means of a very crude subterfuge here I am again talking about beggars and their sorrows. Behind a real or sham physical ailment which draws attention to itself and is thereby forgotten is hidden a more secret malady of the soul. I shall list the secret wounds :
a hand cut off,
a gouged eye,
a peg-leg, etc.
We are fallen during the time that we bear the marks of the fall, and to watch within us the knowledge of the imposture is of little avail. Using only the pride imposed by our poverty, we provoked pity by cultivating the most repulsive wounds. We became a reproach to your happiness.
Meanwhile Stilitano and I lived miserably. When, thanks to a few fairies, I had brought in a little money, he showed such pride that I have sometimes wondered whether in my memory he is not great because of the bragging of which I was the pretext and chief confidant. The quality of my love required of him that he prove his virility. If he was the splendid beast gleaming in the darkness of his ferocity, let him devote himself to a sport worthy of it. I incited him to theft.
We decided to rob a store together. In order to cut the telephone wire which, most imprudently,was near the door, a pair of pliers was needed. We entered one of the numerous Barcelona bazaars where there were hardware departments.
“Manage not to move if you see me swiping something.”
“What’ll I do?”
“Nothing. Just look.”
Stilitano was wearing white sneakers. He was dressed in his blue pants and a khaki shirt. At first Inoticed nothing, but when we left I was amazed to see, at the flap of his shirt pocket, a kind of small lizard, both restless and quiet, hanging by the teeth. It was the steel pliers that we needed and that Stilitano had just stolen.
“That he charms monkeys, men and women,” I said to myself “is comprehensible, but what can be the nature of the magnetism which comes from his glib muscles and his curls, from that blond amber, that can enthral objects ?”
However, there was no question about it‘: objects were obedient to him. Which amounts to saying that he understood them. So well did he know the nature of steel, and the nature of this particular fragment of polished steel that is called pliers, that it remained, to the point of fatigue, docile, loving, clinging to his shirt to which he had known with precision how to hook it, biting desperately, so as not to fall, into the cloth with its thin jaws. It would sometimes happen, however, that these objects, which are irritated by a clumsy movement, would hurt him. Stilitano used to cut himself, his fingertips were finely gashed, his nail was black and crushed, but this merely heightened his beauty. (The purple of sunsets, according to physicists, is the result of a greater thickness of air which is crossed only by short waves. At midday when nothing is happening in the sky, an apparition of this kind would trouble us less, the wonder is that it occurs in the evening, when the sun sets, when it disappears to pursue a mysterious destiny, when perhaps it dies. In order to fill the sky with such pomp, a certain physical phenomenon is possible only at the moment that most exalts the imagination, at the setting of the most brilliant of the heavenly bodies.) Ordinary objects, those used every day,will adorn Stilitano. His very acts of cowardice melt my rigor. I liked his taste for laziness. He was leaky, as one says of a vessel. When we had the pliers, he made as if to leave.
“There may be a dog around.”
We thought of putting it out of the way with a piece of poisoned meat.
“Rich people’s dogs don’t eat just any old thing.”
Suddenly Stilitano thought of the legendary trick of the gypsies : the thief, so they say, wears a pair of pants smeared with lion’s fat. Stilitano knew that this was unobtainable, but the idea excited him. He stopped speaking. He was probably imagining himself in a thicket, at night, stalking his prey, wearing a pair of pants stiff with fat. He was strong with the lion‘s strength, wild with readiness for war, the stake, the pit and the grave. In his armor of grease and imagination he was resplendent. I do not know whether he was aware of the beauty of adorning himself with the strength and the boldness of a gypsy, nor whether he delighted in the idea of thus penetrating the secrets of the tribe.
“Would you like being a gypsy?” I once asked him.
“I wouldn’t mind it. Only I wouldn’t want to stay in a caravan.”
Thus, he did dream sometimes. I thought I had discovered the flaw in his petrified shell through which a bit of my tenderness might slip in. Stilitano was too little excited by nocturnal adventures for me to feel any real intoxication in his company when we slunk along walls, lanes and gardens, when we scaled fences, when we robbed. I have no substantial memory of any such excitement. It was with Guy, in France, that I was to have the profound revelation of what burglary was.
(When we were locked into the little lumber-room waiting for night and the moment to enter the empty offices of the Municipal Pawnshop in B., Guy suddenly seemed to me inscrutable, secret. He was no longer the ordinary chap you come across somewhere or other, he was a kind of destroying angel. He tried to smile, he even broke out into a silent laugh, but his eyebrows were knitted together.From within this little fairy where a hoodlum was locked, there sprang forth a determined and terrifying fellow, ready for anything, and for murder first, if anyone made so bold as to hinder his action. He was laughing, and in his eyes I thought I could read a will to murder which might be practised on me. The more he stared at me, the more I had the feeling that he read in me the same determined will to be used against him. What if someone had entered at such a moment, uncertain as we were of one another—so it seemed to me—each half dead with fear that one of us might resist the other’s terrible decision?)
I continued doing other jobs with Stilitano. We knew a nightwatchman who tipped us off. Yhanks to him, we lived off our burglaries for a long time. The boldness of a thief’s life—and its light—would have meant nothing if Stilitano at my side had not been proof of it. My life became magnificent by men’s standards since I had a friend whose beauty derived from the idea of luxury. I was the valet whose job was to take care of, to dust, to polish, and wax, an object of great value which, however, through the miracle of friendship, belonged to me.
“When I walk along the street,” I wondered, “am I being envied by the wealthiest and loveliest senorita ?” What mischievous prince, what ragged infanta can walk about and have so fair a lover?”
I speak of this period with emotion, and I magnify it, but if glamorous words, I mean words charged in my mind with glamor more than with meaning, occur to me, it is perhaps because the wretchedness they express, which was mine too, is also a source of wonder. I want to rehabilitate this period by writing of it with the names of things most noble. My victory is verbal and I owe it to the richness of the terms, but may the wretchedness that counsels such choices be blessed. In Stilitano’s company, during the period when I had to live it, I stopped desiring moral abjection and I hated that which must be its sign : my lice, my rags and my filth. Perhaps his power alone was enough for Stilitario to inspire respect without having to perform a bold deed; nevertheless,I would have liked to live with him more brilliantly,though it was sweet for me to encounter his shadow (his shadow, dark as a negro’s must be, was my seraglio), the looks of admiration of the whores and their men when I knew that we were both poor thieves. I kept inciting him to ever more perilous adventures.
“We need a revolver,” I said to him.
“Would you know what to do with it?”
“With you around I wouldn’t be scared to bump a guy off.”
Since I was his right arm, I would have been the one to execute. But the more I obeyed serious orders, the greater was my intimacy with him who issued them. He, however, smiled. In a gang (an association of evil-doers) the young boys and inverts are the ones who show boldness. They are the instigators of dangerous jobs. They play the role of the fecundating sting. The potency of the males, the age, authority and presence of the elders, fortify and reassure them. The males are dependent only upon themselves. They are their own heaven, and, knowing their weakness, they hesitate. Applied to my particular case, it seemed to me that the men, the tough guys, were made of a kind of feminine fog in which I would still like to lose myself so that I might feel more intensely that I was a solid block.
A certain distinction of manners, a more assured step, proved to me my success, my ascension in the secular domain. In Stilitano’s presence, I walked in the wake of a duke. I was his faithful but jealous dog. My bearing was proud. Along the Ramblas, towards evening, we passed a woman and her son. The boy was good looking. He was about fifteen years old. My eye lingered on his blond hair. We walked by them and I turned round. It was at that moment that the mother, when both Stilitano’s eye and mine were staring after her son, drew him to her, or drew herself to him, as if to protect him from the danger of our two gazes, of which, however, she was unaware. I was jealous of Stilitano whose mere movement of the head had, so it seemed to me, just been perceived as a danger by the mother’s back.
One day while I was waiting in a bar on the Parallelo (the bar was at the time, the meeting-place of all the hardened French criminals : pimps, crooks, racketeers, escaped convicts. Argot, sung with somewhat of a Marseilles accent, and a few years behind Montmartre argot, was its official tongue. Twenty-one and poker were played there rather than ronda.) Stilitabo blew in. He was welcomed by the Parisian pimps with their customary, slightly ceremonious politeness. Severely, but with smiling eyes, he solemnly placed his solemn behind on the strawbottomed chair whose wood groaned with the shamelessness of a beast of burden. This wailing of the seat expressed perfectly my respect for the sober posterior of Stilitano whose charm was neither all nor always contained there, but there, in that spot—or rather on it—would assemble, accumulate and depute its most caressing waves—and masses of lead!—to give the rump a reverberating undulation and weight.
I refuse to be a prisoner of verbal automatism, but this time I must have recourse to a religious image :this posterior was a Station, Stilitano sat down. Still with his elegant lassitude”! palmed them,” he would say on each and every occasion—he dealt the cards for the poker game, from which I was excluded. None of these gentlemen would have required me to leave the game, but of my own accord, out of courtesy, I went to sit down behind Stilitano. As I was about to take my seat, I saw a louse on the collar of Stilitano’s jacket. Stilitano was handsome and strong, and welcome at a gathering of similar males whose authority likewise lay in their muscles and their awareness of their revolvers. The louse on Stilitano’s collar, still invisible to the other men, was not a small stray spot,it was moving, it shifted about with disturbing velocity, as if crossing and measuring its domain—its space rather. But it was not only at home; on Stilitano’s collar it was the sign that he belonged most definitely to a verminous world, despite the eau de Cologne and the silk shirt. I examined him with closer attention : his hair near the neck was too long, dirty and irregularly cut.
“If the louse continues, it’s going to fall onto his sleeve or into his glass. The pimps’ll see it…”
As if out of tenderness, I leaned on Stilitano’s shoulder and gradually worked my hand up to his collar, but I was unable to complete my movement, with a shrug, Stilitano disengaged himself and the insect continued its meanderings. It was a Pigalle pimp, tied up, so they said, with an international band of white-slavers, who made the following remark:
“There’s a nice one climbing up you.”
All eyes turned—with out, however, losing sight of the game—to the collar of Stilitano, who, twisting his neck, managed to see the insect.
“You’re the one who’s been picking them up,” he said to me as he crushed it.
“I’m telling you it’s you.”
The tone of his voice was unanswerably arrogant, but his eyes were smiling. The men continued their card game.
It was the same day that Stilitano informed me that Pepe had just been arrested. He was in the Montjuich jail.
“How did you know?”
“How long can they give him?”
We made no other comment.
Those whom one of their number called the Carolinas paraded to the site of a demolished street urinal. During the 1933 riots, the insurgents tore out one of the dirtiest, but most beloved pissoirs. It was near the port and the barracks, and its iron had been corroded by the hot urine of thousands of soldiers. When its ultimate death was certified, the Carolinas—not all, but a solemnly chosen delegation—in shawls, mantillas, silk dresses and fitted jackets, went to the site to place a bunch of red roses tied together with a crepe veil. The procession started from the Parallelo, crossed the Callo Sao Paolo and went down the Rambias de los Flores until it reached the statue Columbus. The fairies were perhaps thirty in number, at eight o’clock, sunrise. I saw them going by. I accompanied them from a distance. I knew that my place in their midst, not because I was one of them, but because their shrill voices,their cries, their extravagant gestures had, it seemed to me, no other aim but to want to pierce the shell of the world’s contempt. The
Carolinas were great. They were the Daughters of Shame.
When they reached the port, they turned right, toward the barracks, and upon the rusty and stinking sheet-iron of the pissotiere that lay battered on the heap of dead scrap-iron they placed the flowers.
I was not in the procession. I belonged to the ironic and indulgent crowd that was entertained by it. Pedro airily admitted to his false lashes, the Carolinas to their wild larks.
However, Stilitano, by denying himself to my pleasure, became the symbol of chastity, of frigidity itself. If he did screw the whores often, I was unaware of it. When he lay down to sleep in our bed, he had the modesty to arrange his shirt-tail so artfully that I saw nothing of his sex. The purity of his features corrected even the eroticism of his walk. He became representative of a glacier. I would have liked to offer myself to the most bestial of negroes, to the most flat-nosed and most powerful face, so that within me, having no room for anything but sexuality, my love for Stilitano might be further stylized. I could therefore venture in his presence the most absurd and humiliating postures.
We often went to the Criolla together. Hitherto, it had never occurred to him to exploit me. When I brought back to him the pesetas I had earned in the pissotieres, Stilitano decided that I would work in the Criolla.
“Would you like me to dress up as a woman?” I murmured.
Would I have dared,supported by his powerful shoulder, to walk the streets in a spangled skirt between the Calle Carmen and the Calle Mediodia? Except for foreign sailors, no one would have been surprised, but neither Stilitano nor I would have known how to choose the dress or the coiffure, for taste is required. That was what probably held us back. I still remember the sighs of Pedro,with whom I was friendly, when he went to get dressed.
“When I see those old rags hanging there, I get the blues! I get the impression I’m going into a vestry and getting ready to conduct a funeral. They’ve got a priestish smell. Like incense. Like urine. Look at them hanging! I wonder how I manage to get into those damned bladders.”
“Will I have to have things like that? Maybe I’ll even have to sew and cut with my man’s help. And wear a bow, or maybe several,in my hair.”
With horror I saw myself decked out in enormous cabbage-bows, not of ribbons, but of rubber in phallic form.
“ It’ll be a drooping, dangling bow,” added a mocking inner voice. An old man’s droopy ding-dong. A bow limp, or impish! And in what hair? In an artificial wig or in my own dirty curly hair?
As for my dress, I knew that it would be sober and that Iwould wear it with modesty, whereas what was needed to carry the thing off was a kind of mad extravagance. Nevertheless,I cherished the dream of sewing on a cloth rose. It would emboss the dress and would be the feminine counterpart of Stilitano’s bunch of grapes.
(Long afterward, when I met him again in Antwerp, I spoke to Stilitano about the fake bunch hidden in his fly. He then told me that a Spanish whore used to wear a muslin rose pinned on below the belt.
“To replace her lost flower.” he said.)
In Pedro’s room, I looked at the skirts with melancoly. He gave me a few addresses of women’s outfitters,where I would find dresses to fit me.
“You’ll have a toilette,Juan.” *
Iwas sickened by this butcher’s word (I thought that the toilette was also the greasy tissue enveloping the guts in animals’ bellies). It was then that Stilitano perhaps hurt by the idea of his friend in fancy-dress,refused.
“There’s no need for it,“he said. “You’ll manage well enough to make pick-ups.” Atlas, the boss of the Criolla demanded that I appear as a young lady.
As a young lady!
“Myself a young lady
I alight on my hip…”
Ithen realized how hard it is to reach the light by puncturing the abscess of shame. I managed once to appear in woman’s dress with Pedro, to exhibit myself with him. I went one evening, and we were invited by a group of French officers. At their table was a lady of about fifty. She smiled at me sweetly, with indulgence, and unable to contain herself any longer she asked me :
“Do you like men?”
“Yes, madame, I do.”
“And…when did it start?”
I did not slap anyone, but my voice was so shaken that I realized how angry and ashamed I was. In order to pull myself together, that same night I robbed one of the officers.
“At least,” I said to myself, “if my shame is real, it hides a sharper more dangerous element, a kind of sting that will always threaten anyone who provokes it. It might not have been laid over me like a trap, might not have been intentional, but since it is what it is, I want it to conceal me so that I can lie in wait beneath it.”
At Carnival time, it was easy to go about in woman’s dress, and I stole an Andalusian petticoat with a bodice from a hotel room. Disguised by the mantilla and fan, one evening I crossed the city quickly in order to get to the Criolla. So that my break with your world would be more brutal, I kept my pants on under the skirt. Hardly had I reached the bar than someone ripped the train of my dress. I turned around in a fury.
“I beg your pardon. Excuse me.”
The foot of a blond young man had got caught in the lace. I hardly had strength enough to mumble,“Watch what you’re doing.” The face of the clumsy young man who was both smiling and excusing himself was so pale that I blushed. Someone next to me said to me in a low voice, “Excuse him, senora, he limps.”
“I won’t have people limping on my dresses!” screamed the tragedienne smouldering in me. But the people around us were laughing. “I won’t have people limping on my toilette!” I screamed to myself. Formulated within me, in my stomach, as it seemed to me, or in the intestines, which are enveloped by the “toilette”, this phrase must have been uttered with a terrible look. Furious and humiliated, I left under the laughter of the man and the Carolinas. I went straight to the sea and drowned the skirt, the bodice, the mantilla and the fan. The whole city was joyous, drunk with the Carnival cut from the earth and alone in the middle of the Ocean. I was poor and sad.
(“Taste is required…” I was already refusing to have any. I forbade myself. Of course I would have shown a great deal. I knew that cultivating it would have—not sharpened me but—softened me. Stilitano himself was amazed that I was so uncouth. I wanted my fingers to be numb : I kept myself from learning to sew.)
Stilitano and I left for Cadiz. Changing from one freight train to another, we got to a place near San Fernando and decided to continue our journey on foot. Stilitano disappeared. He arranged to meet me at the station. He didn’t show up. I waited for a long time; I returned the following day and the day after, two days in succession, though I was sure that he had deserted me. I was alone and without money. When I realized this, I again became aware of the presence of lice, of their distressing and sweet company in the hems of my shirt and pants. Stilitano and I had never ceased to be nuns of the Upper Thebaid who never wash their feet and whose shifts rot away.
San Fernando is on the sea. I decided to get to Cadiz, which is built right in the water, though connected to the mainland by a very long jetty. It was evening when I started, before me were the high salt pyramids of the San Fernando marshes, and farther off, in the sea, silhouetted by the setting sun, a city of domes and minarets. At the outermost point of occidental soil I suddenly had before me the synthesis of the Orient. For the first time in my life I neglected a human being for a thing. I forgot Stilitano.
Unless there should occur an event of such gravity that my literary art, in the face of it, would be imbecilic and I would need a new language to master this new misery, this is my last book. I am waiting for heaven to fall across the corner of my face. Saintliness means turning pain to good account. It means forcing the devil to be God. It means obtaining the recognition of evil. For five years I have been writing books : I can say that I have done so with pleasure, but I have finished. Through writing I have got what I was seeking. What will guide me, as something learned, is not what I have lived but the tone in which I tell of it. Not the anecdotes but the work of art. Not my life but the interpretation of it. It is what language offers me to evoke it, to talk about it, render it. To achieve my legend. I know what I want. I know where I’m going. As for the chapters which follow (I have already said that a great number of them have been lost), I am delivering them in bulk.
(By legend I do not mean the more or less decorative notion which the public that knows my name will have of me, but rather the identity of my future life with the most audacious notion which I and others, after this account, may form of it. It remains to specify whether the fulfillment of my legend consists of the boldest possible existence of the criminal order.)
In the street—I am so afraid of being recognized by a policeman—I know how to withdraw into myself. Since my quintessence has taken refuge in the deepest and most secret retreat (a place in the depths of my body where I stay awake, or keep watch in the form of a tiny flame) I no longer fear anything. I am rash enough to think that my body is free of all distinguishing signs, that it looks empty, impossible to identify, since everything about me has quite abandoned my image, my gaze, my fingers, whose twitchings evaporate, and that the inspectors also see that what is walking beside them on the sidewalk is a mere shell, emptied of its man. But if I walk along a quiet street, the flame grows, spreads to my limbs, rises to my image and colors it with my likeness.
I accumulate rash acts : getting into stolen cars, walking in front of stores where I have operated, showing obviously fake papers. I have the feeling that in a very short time everything is bound to break wide open. My rash acts are quite serious and I know that airy-winged catastrophe will emerge from a very, very slight mistake. ** But while I hope for misfortune as an act of grace, it is well for me to plunge fully into the usual ways of the world. I want to fulfill myself in one of the rarest of destinies. I have only a dim notion of what it will be. I want it to have not a graceful curve, slightly bent toward evening, but a hitherto unseen beauty, lovely because of the danger which works away at it, overwhelms it, undermines it. Oh let me be only utter beauty! I shall go quickly or slowly, but I ‘shall dare what must be dared. I shall destroy appearances, the casings will bum away and one evening I shall appear there in the palm of your hand, quiet and pure, like a glass statuette. You will see me. Round about me there will be nothing left.
By the gravity of the means and the splendor of the materials which he has used to draw near to men, I measure the degree to which the poet was remote from them. The depth of my abjection forced him to this convict’s labour. But my abjection was my despair. And despair was strength itself—and at the same time the matter for putting an end to it. But if the work is of utmost beauty, demanding the vigour of the deepest despair, the poet had to love men to undertake such an effort. And he had to succeed. It is right for men to shun a profound work if it is the cry of a man monstrously engulfed within himself.
By the gravity of the means which I require to thrust you from me, measure the tenderness I bring you. Judge to what degree I love you by the barricades I erect in my life and work (since the work of art should be only the proof of my saintliness, not only must this saintliness be real so that it may fecundate the works but also that I may brace myself, on a work already strong with saintliness, for a greater effort toward an unknown destination) so that your breath—I am corruptible to an extreme—may not rot me. My tenderness is of fragile mould. And die breath of men would disturb die methods for seeking a new paradise. I shall impose a candid vision of evil, even though it be necessary, in this quest, that I leave behind my flesh, my honor and my glory.
(translated by Bernard Frechtman)
(® Copyright Librairie Gallimard)
* Translator’s note : The term la toilette also refers to certain kinds of wrappings or casings, for example, a tailor’s or dressmaker’s wrapper for garments, as well as to the caul over mutton.
** But what will prevent my destruction? Speaking of catastrophe, I can not help recalling a dream : a locomotive was pursuing me. I was running along the tracks. I heard the machine puffing at my heels. I left the rails to run into the countryside. The locomotive cruelly pursued me, but gently and politely it stopped in front of a small and fragile wooden gate which I recognized as one of the gates which closed a meadow belonging to my foster-parents and where, as a child, I used to lead the cows to pasture. In telling a friend about this dream, I said, “… the train stopped at the gate of my childhood… “
Readers who have visited this blog and share an interest in the Paris literary scene are encouraged to acquire and read Richard Seaver’s excellent memoir of his years in Paris, The Tender Hour of Twilight, Farrar, Straus, & Giroux.
I urge you to visit your local neighborhood independent bookseller and purchase a copy.
Commentary © James A. Harrod, COPYRIGHT PROTECTED; ALL RIGHTS RESERVED