Chapter I. In which we see that the emperor Othon, dead at 22, took no pleasure in death, but on the contrary would come to participate in the composition of my book
Translated from the French by Christophe Brunski (United States).
Hello. I know nothing. I will die of desire.
Yesterday I cut my hair short. Today I awoke desiring the Book.
One fine morning, I will get up, my hair will have grown back without my knowing it; I will stand there before the mirror asking myself where this face has come from, and exactly what this hair is all about. I’ll be at a loss for words.
I woke up and felt like writing. I often have an irrepressible desire to. I get myself into it without having prepared anything. I improvise everything. I construct as many phrases as possible, I open up possibilities, close chapters, direct paragraphs. Instinctively, I have power; I’ve been elected by a revolutionary committee of phantoms; I can order without fear. Certain phrases obey me, others stay at rest. About this which is in my skin, I invent as much as I can. I no longer stay in place. I want women and cities. I have to kill wild beasts. To save lost pet dogs. I have to understand as well. I want to be careful and advance way too fast. Not to die but to take risks. I want to resolve problems. I would have liked to impose them more. Then I feel like changing problems and writing of something else. To eat Chinese and die like the inheritor of Othon while swimming in a Turkish river. I want to be able to place every conjunction between searching and finding oneself, searching to find oneself, finding oneself to search, find oneself after searching, find oneself searching, search and find oneself elsewhere, search to avoid oneself. Deep down I hope to be myself. I would have preferred to be Othon. There was a time when I had thousands of villages in Germany, I had my own serfs and ministerials, we drank a lot with the lords—I was said to be the last to roll under the table. I myself know why—Othon watched himself. Othon would look at the other lords to see if he was drinking more than they were, without getting any drunker than they were. He would pretend to laugh but in fact he was keeping an eye out. He loved to drink. Then Othon would drink more than reason and in the middle of the night, when the lords were rolling about on the ground or going to their horses to doze against their hot bellies, he would tiptoe behind a wall all alone, and with all his humanity restored, he would write my complicated book.
Then he falls asleep and upon waking, his head is spinning less, he gets up to his feet and goes off back to his own century with everything that goes along with it, with his barons and dames who talk to him and give him inspiration. I wake up. You wake up and you notice that I am the killer. You advance one step and take care not to seem distrustful of me. You are near me and ask: are you the killer? I am going to tell you. I am going to answer. I will explain everything of one part of a fragment that wishes to be everything. So yes, in effect, I am the killer. I don’t understand why and you will figure it out in detail. I will develop everything and my central nervous system will welcome you as though in a cinema. The cognitive apparatus that allows me to: 1. recognize the door 2. go towards it 3. open it and finally 4. go out to enact the human individual in my city—you will live inside this cognitive apparatus. I am not saying that you are going to like it. We are not here to like it, nor for you to be warmed up or well treated or anything like that. There will be rain, problems. I will have a profession and the North Chinese will indulge in sex with their heads turned to the face of the green dragon of the east. A caliph will send emissary rabbits to ask me to espouse his wife or his cause. A chair will fall and an urban culture will rise again after a terrible siege. This strange plant, the silver birch, will invade Germany from Norway. At your feet a vessel full of Greek Mercenaries fleeing their poor cities and going to fight for the sake of the Persian king will sail, if all goes well. They will measure the difference between the form of the wave produced by the howl of a barking dog and that of a bullet fired into the head and piercing the skull. A whole documentation will be made on you and analyzed, beyond you. Computers will function and a woman will fall quiet for several days. The over-intelligent book by a contemporary French philosopher will scare us and make us feel bad and like idiots. A barbarous aristocracy of plague-resistant O-type blood will take power and smile while reclining in the bed of ancient masters, still warm. Several tongues will be spoken and evolve right before your eyes—and consonants will be dropped as phonemes. A soft perfume will please you before you fall asleep. You will taste spoiled foods. You will lose a sum of 10,000 pounds all at once, and for the friend who will have accidentally brought you to this, you will hesitate, and then you will want to kill him. Time will pass and God will clandestinely change countries under an assumed Name. An apparition will take place at the edge of the woods. A malady spread throughout the body will be healed bit by bit but not without leaving behind a few benign after-effects. Everything having to do with hands, eyes, lips, stomachs will be seen. Now you know the danger in all that. You know who I am. I am the killer who kills himself, arrests himself for homicide, jails himself and then calls attention to himself to get away with a brown-haired carriage driver who is himself, on board a fast private jet that he is himself, part of a fragment of a world that he is himself.
I aim to please you and, this said, I don’t like your mouth. What annoys me the most about it is its movement. A lot of people, myself included, imitate laughter and the movements of the lips in everyday life, or if you prefer, in the afterlife of Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, the everyday non-life of the weekend, and I don’t like that you can live like that. As a pianist, the hope of a new generation, I would like to tell you one night of an Indian family that would provoke in you some sostenuto smile, permanent, without flats, deprived of every time signature and variation of intensity. I would like for you to be in pain at the time when the father returns from the field. I would need the guarantee that you would not be able to get out of the pleasure brought on by the recital of their first banal verbal exchanges. I would kill myself if I knew that you were not going to see your heart bleeding and your eyes about to pour tears from every metaphoric perspective when the wife will carry the third mouthful of rice to her mouth. I don’t accept these metaphors. I suffer when you stop reading, and those moments that bring me step by step closer to death each find their source in all of you and you alone. Your meals weaken me and your parties wipe me out, not to mention your driving off in the car. If you wanted to make some room for me I would climb into the trunk to tell you about friends I have made in the future. I left Europe and I live in New York. My hair dyed black and attending a free jazz concert, I met Beth, who has short violet boots. We walked around in Manhattan and on the stroke of midnight we drank an Irish beer in a bar. But that, that was the future, then; you left and did not want to follow me. It’s 3:15 in the morning and, without you in the vacant room, I turn to the window and continue dying.
I think we can call ourselves satisfied with such a fruitful millennial relation. Our strange friendship has passed the test with elegance and brio. Certainly you recall all those moments where everything was threatened all at once and almost on the verge of being wiped out; if it held together through anger or when you were in danger and I was comfortable in bed, or when we had nothing to say to each other and we no longer knew why we went on talking and getting up in the morning and going to bed at night, that’s because this is solid. Physically, you are blond with curly hair and light brown eyes, skin a bit dark; you have on your cheeks an apple-red glow, two long red ears like a spaniel’s; you are missing a few teeth but this gap does not take anything away from your natural charm which is present at least several hours throughout the day; you are the daughter of a nine-year-old mother known as “my uncle;” mentally you pass for someone who is a bit posed and subject to frequent crisis; if your gestures might sometimes take a turn that evades you, you know nonetheless how to hold them in a certain efficiency, for example in holding a bowl of burning sake; in the city you’re just like the urban owl who lives alone in his high tree surrounded by huge metropoles like huge chestnuts. There are a lot of different things you do in life; you speak another language or at least sign language fairly fluently; at the age of ten you held a grudge against yourself for smashing a butterfly at the age of six; in general you have a means of rapid and motorized transportation; you’ve been in prison for industrial espionage and got out sooner than expected thanks to an onerous lawyer who was able to bring a procedural error to light; you married the imbecile son of the last of the Ottoman Empire; you have never known how to count; Li-Po made fun of you sitting on the bank of a softly slanting hill; you are one of those who would die for Ceasar; studying abroad, your Sanskrit is just about correct; your rupestrian paintings win the admiration of every western archaeologist; you don’t like music said to be classical and distrust it; you have seven children but only 19 grandchildren; you died four years ago this very day and no one thinks of you anymore; you have more than preserved the paternal inheritance—you have increased it, strengthened it; you have made the bed of the future for your little Marcello. You let a carved baton dry for a year to make a new axe handle; an erased tattoo from your left shoulder blade mentions an anthroponomy, signifying someone that you have known and loved; and since the accident you no longer see except with one eye and the other, full of pus, causes you pain; you carry yourself more than softly; you have never liked sex and don’t think about it, you have used corncakes as plates; what Hugo called triumphant mornings please you after long having been a burden; you owe two dinars to the family from Jamila who thinks that you only owe them one; you will pay them two all the same; you will sleep better now that everything is over. You are happy with the strength of this friendship that we have been able to knot and maintain. From the air where you are burned, from the earth, from salt marshes, from the river where you bathe, from nirvana, from Novgorod, you have great, wide-open eyes and you are reading me.
One day I will be in the plane and will still have Europe wide on my left. I will come back from a voyage in Iran and will re-renter France via Greece. My limbs, numb from too many hours of immobility in the sufficiently uncomfortable plane of a sufficiently uncapitalistic company for poor travelers (since in effect I will have chosen the worst and cheapest solution again), the uncomfortable position and shifting of the old person sitting next to me will bother me. I’ll get my revenge by listening to my headphones as loud as possible, and if need be, I’ll kick her softly as though I were not doing it on purpose.
Once on the ground in Strasbourg, I’ll mill around the airport for a bit, looking for the time and place, with a feeling of impotence which will join that of liberation; on this point I will not have changed at all. After several hours on a night train, I will at last find myself amidst a more familiar universe; Poitiers, my ephemeral city, and I will take on a fairly important position in the technical documents department of a middle-sized company. Someone will have come to find me and I will see her there waiting for me. She will be wearing the beautiful dress that I love to see her wear, black, bringing out her waist and leaving the shoulders bare, not exposing anything else. We’ll leave together after kissing each other at the corner of the mouth, half-way between the frank kiss and greeting of two sexually distinct people undertaking between themselves relations judged to be sufficiently intimate. We’ll take off in the rolling nighttime traffic of Poitiers and bit by bit we’ll leave the city center behind, we’ll go through more and more red lights, slowing down, looking carefully, but not getting too nervous about it in any case. Finally we’ll come to the intersections that we have crossed a thousand times in our neighborhood, and then on to our house itself. I think at this point we’ll be in 2005 or -6. I’ll be around 28. She’ll shut off the motor and we’ll get out. While in reality we take our time getting to the door, in our minds we rush to it. The keys will emerge from our bags at the same time, getting there first, hers will open the door, and then the lights will be switched on by my fingers letting go of hers and creeping along the walls, then quickly turned off. I will pull her into the hallway, press my crotch against hers, we’ll make love first quickly then softly, although I already know this speed, I do not know the place yet. No matter. Afterward I will have a bite to eat and drink a bit of white wine that I will not like. Two years later I will be on a bench somewhere and get to thinking, without too much attention, that at this time I still had a house to come home to at night and live in during the day. I’ll get up and go along the canal whose stirring waters will create a yellow and calm surface, surrounded by the sounds of cars and trains and dark gray wild birds.
The English translation stops here, in the first third of this introductory chapter. You can read the whole text in French.