O m’a dit/3 #WritersWednesday

Avant propos

O m’a dit/1

O m’a dit/2

Aristide Bruant RD – Were you, as an adolescent, a young girl, at all sensitive to those popular songs around the “légionnaire”? [foreign légion soldier] Do you remember?

PR – Yes I recall. No, not at all.

RD – What do you think was the reason at that time for that liking for the légionnaire, and also the girl, the whore?

PR – Ah, but I was brought up, I daresay, with the songs of Aristide Bruant. And I, who cannot sing, I still sing, out of tune of course, some of his songs:

A la place Maub’, l’avez vous vue

ou bien dans la court du dépôt?

Ma gigolette est est perdue!

A s’est fait poisser dans la rue…

[On the square Maubert , have you seen her

or in the courtyard of the jail?

My girl she’s lost!

She got picked up in the street…]

I don’t know if you recall, there is a very beautiful text about this, a whole section of Colette’s “Les égarements de Minne”. Minne, absolutely seduced by those stories and who goes on the “fortifs” [the ancient surrounding walls of Paris, the unsavoury belt of the capital] to look for the real Casque d’Or. And she finds an old drunk hag who asks her: “What are you doing here?” That was dreadful. She comes home in the morning, she’s found passed out at her mother’s hotel, they think she’s been raped. It’s very pretty Les égarements de Minne.

RD – You mentioned Casque d’Or, right, which is one of the most beautiful, most poetic films ever made, one of the most false at the same time, on that milieu, with that character of the donneur [Judas] which is so important in that literature. The traitor, what is it for you, is it something very important?

PR – No, and yet, I have always been struck by one of the essential themes of the one of the greatest writers I know, [Joseph] Conrad. [One of] His last novel[s], The Rescue, one of his last short stories collection, Tales of Unrest, almost always tell the story of two men, one of whom is the brother or the best friend of the other one, and all of a sudden he squeals against him, sells him, betrays him. It is very, very strange.

RD – And why do they betray?

PR – For a woman I believe.

RD – In general for a woman? OK, so for you the traitor is not important?

PR – No, Jago, looks to me absurd, it seems to me without interest.

RD – But what do you do then about jealousy?

PR – It seems to be that, in love, that is the greatest crime. I find that, when one loves someone, what is unbearable, is that he leaves you, that he quits; the fact that he may have an interest in someone else, is not that serious providing that he stays, that he does not leave you, providing that he comes back, that he still loves you, that he does not abandon you.

RD – You don’t feel as abandonment that the man you love be interested in someone else?

PR – No, I have always been under the impression that one can love several persons at the same time. I was perfectly capable to love two men at the same time. Not in the same way, but love both of them, yes.

RD – Ah! This is strange; since I know what it is to love, the universe is split in two: on one side the person who is loved, on the other side all the men, with whom one can do anything, since they are just part of the landscape, the background, and sometimes, besides, curiously, one has for that reason even more tenderness for them. But you gave to the feeling you had for either of them the name “love”?

PR – Ah yes, without a doubt.

RD – Did they know that you loved both of them?

PR – No, one had to lie.

RD – Ah, since they were jealous?

PR – Certainly. I have, alas!, only known jealous men. I ask myself why, and to what extent I did not intend that.

RD – And what does that do to you when one is jealous of you?

PR – This concerns me, saddens me, I find this unpleasant, stupid, unfair. Ah yes, I have about this a very peculiar concept. Noone is ever of my view, so I must be abnormal.

RD – When, in front of O, her lover touches the breast of another girl, she slides against the wall, passing out, she is jealous then.

PR – I was then exact, without realising it, it’s possible.

RD – Here is the text: “What pleasure did she give him, herself, that this one, or another would not give him too?” So, the fact that someone else gives the beloved being the same pleasures as you does not make you jealous? Being replaced like this does not make you shriek?

PR – One is not replaced, if the one who loves you does not go away, or comes back. And on what ground, because you love him, would you deprive him of what he likes?

RD – This is very strange, one cannot make you speak of jealousy, you don’t know what it is.

PR – I don’t know what it is.

RD – Well, I know what it is, now, jealousy, and I could talk to you about it a long time, for hours. Jealousy is a passion and as all passions, it is dominant, it crushes whoever is subjected to it. Jealousy is the feeling of love pushed to the extreme; it’s the desire to melt oneself in the other, to be the other, to own the other. When, inadvertently, that other, that other we love, looks at another person with, it looks to you, interest, or, horror, attraction, it seems to you, pleasure, or, depth of despair, if you surprise, or believe you surprise, a kiss. Then, the reversal, the collapse, transform body and soul into a mass of sufferings. Jealousy is the dry throat, the clenched hands, the heart stopping and restarting abruptly; it’s the body sliced through by a blade, bent on the pain, the weak knees, the shrieks smothered by pillows, fists and forehead bruised by the wall; it’s the desire to destroy the other to smithrens, pull his eyes out, his sex, his heart, to make him feel in his body the pain that takes me apart. As for the one who was looked at, or caressed, or kissed by the lover, there aren’t tortures I could not invent for her. I am rather soft and hardly mean, but when I feel jealous, I only see tears, cries and blood. I am pushed by a desire for revenge. Revenge for what you may ask? Revenge because I feel less loved, since he looked at another woman, he took an interest in her. I feel betrayed. I feel as if I was stripped of what gave me strength: his love. I know that all that is idiotic, I tell myself time and again, I try to control this madness rising inside me, and I sometime succeed at the price of sufferings I won’t describe to you. While this crisis lasts, this excess, this excess of passion, I live in a reddish mist. Once it’s over, I am without strength for hours, my body broken, as if I had been beaten up (this is what maybe I need), with my heart beating very fast or very slowly. I feel I could kill, or kill myself. You will tell me that jealousy is a lack of self confidence, a sign of pride, the greatest crime in love, an abomination, a disease, and it’s all that and worse still. Oh, this is dreadful!

PR – It is indeed dreadful, really, what you are telling me. I feel I luckily escaped. I had a lover who betrayed me often and I recall he used to leave letters around the place. I used to pick up the letters from the table and tell him: “You could have told me.” And his reply was: “Well, I left the letter.” And me: “Yes, so that I understood, but why not telling me?” Him: “Oh, but this is embarrassing.” I recall one day he told me something really funny. He asked me to come to the theater to see I don’t know what play, and I could not, I had a clandestine life. I replied: “Why not inviting that girl?” – “Oh, I can’t, he said, I don’t know her enough to invite her to the theater.” Eh yes, I understood very well, he knew her well enough to sleep with her, but not to invite her! It is so, one can sleep with someone and not know him, or nearly not. It’s the whole difference between pleasure and love, and even between pleasure and friendship. One gets closer to the horrid 18th century definition: the exchange of two fantasies and the contact of two skins – or the famous glass of water against which Lenin complained (was it Lenin?), even though a glass of water when one is thirsty is blessed.

RD – There one touches something, the fact of being attentive to the other. Finally one realises that very few people pay attention, either to the ones they love, or those who surround them, being concerned, really looking at them. On eis very seldom looked at really, and one looks very little. But why?

PR – It depends. I have always looked much at people I loved or those I lived with.

RD – Is it out of consideration or why according to you?

PR – Because people interest me. A writer I admire once said to me: “You don’t like literature.” I replied: “What do you mean, I don’t like literature?” – “No, you like people.” He was perfectly right. What I like in literature is people. The people one sees through literature. That’s why I so much love reading. God knows I sometime read books without much interest and I find something interesting in them because there is someone behind, even when they are very poorly written. Even when they have no literary value, they may have some humanly speaking.

RD – Isn’t it exhausting, sometime, for you, that interest in others?

PR – I find not, not until now. Ah no, I don’t find it exhausting. It’s the opposite, it’s others who make me feel good. You will tell me that that too, is an alibi, it’s a way to get out of oneself, to be freed from oneself, to immerse oneself in others.

RD – Why are you trying so much to be freed from yourself?

PR – One gets tired of oneself, don’t you think? It makes me tired to be me. Am I of such good company? I am often melancholic, which is not pleasing, so just as well to think of something else, do something else, just as well to get interested in others.

RD – And then it forces you not to be sad? After all, those others help you?

PR – Much so. The mere fact they exist.

RD – But you know very well that from the time you look attentively, they really start to exist. The look one aims at peopleis a very important thing.

PR – I don’t know, I am not aware of it.

RD – It is very important. The fact that you take an interest in people, that you really look at them, you give them a new existence., which is not only theirs, but which is also the one you want to give them. They are in front of you almost as you wish them to be, or as you imagine them.

PR – Do you believe we transmit something? I doubt it.

RD – I am convinced of it. You may be in the street, or at the terrace of a café, the crowd flows like this, and all of a sudden, you look at someone, but look really at someone walking towards you, and that someone is about to catch your gaze and after a while there will be a different attitude from the person who’s being looked at. He feels alive because he is seen. I have often observed this, something happens in the body, he stands up.

PR – Yet it is sometime unsufferable to be looked at.

RD – Ah, that is different. It’s the perpetual agression, effectively, from the street or from others, being looked at in a certain way.

PR – There is a really interesting thing in Jean D’Ormesson’s last novel [perhaps Au Plaisir de Dieu?], when he speaks of the way one was brought up in a large family. It was: “Stand up, you are being looked at.” And I believe, as a form of education, that that is extremely important, the feeling that one must stand up straight because one is being looked at. It’s very salutary as well. People must stand up. To go and get shot or to be applauded. It’s the same thing after all.

RD – Yes, but that is a question of moral standing, but there, aren’t we a little old-fashioned both of us?

PR – I don’t see what morality has to do with it. It’s rather a way to be in control, to guard oneself. What the Chinese call not to lose face. And if this means being a fossile, perfect, I don’t ask for more. One is always, in some way, out of one’s time.

RD – Are you feeling besides your time, I mean, besides the epoch?

PR – For certain things yes.

RD – For example, what do you think of all those feminine movements? Of all that happens in the world by women?

PR – I am well embarrassed to think anything about it, because, firstly, they [women] vegetate under a contempt and a mysogyny which is till widespread. And it is evident that French laws have been iniquitous, thanks to Napoléon, who was unlucky enough to have stupid and badly behaved sisters, and so said: one cannot leave a family in the hands of such [turkeys]. He was right as far as his sisters were concerned.  On the other hand I don’t believe the M.L.F. [Mouvement de Libération de la Femme: fairly agressive French women liberation movement of the 70’s] be a solution.

RD – Don’t you think that it is precisely through the excess of some women, with what may be unpleasant, even schocking or unwelcome, that awareness may arise from both men and women?

PR – I am not aware of it. I am very puzzled by this. I have never been a member of a feminist movement, but I have always been a feminist. To be truthful, I’d say, what is serious, in my case, is that I have towards men in general, neither in the slightest inferiority feeling, nor much admiration, I mean for their character, the way they lead their lives, of taking or not taking their responsibilities. There is a type of man I admire, entirely out of fashion, today ridiculed, for whom what is imperative is courage, the promise given, courtesy, and not taking oneself too seriously. I have known some of them, they were always fairly rare, but when it was fashionable there were some good imitations. In daily life I find very few men are adult. They may be so in their jobs, not always at home. How many women know that with their husband they have one more child. Men are irresponsable like children, unbearable, often, like children. Women are more reasonable, reasonable people are women. Note that it is, for them, the obverse of a fundamental quality; it is those who aren’t reasonable who change the world, who make life move. Maybe women are already too busy giving life, to work towards changing it. And once I have said that, it does not take me anywhere, if I am on my own with this view.

RD – It’s not that you are on your own. I do not know whether women are reasonable and men unbearable. Children, often it is obvious, but if it is women who are adult, why is it that they let themselves be manipulated so much.

PR – I do not undertsand it and it may be that my ideas are all wrong.

RD – Because, the masters of the situation, if one can talk in this way, the strong beings, are women, I am deeply convinced of it. But they play the men’s game by making them believe the opposite.

PR – They cope with what’s most urgent, the easiest. It is easiest to make them believe. It’s not honorable but it is practical.

RD – Yes, we agree, but in the meantime, all the problems of the world, of life in general, they largely come from men who make the laws and lead the world. I don’t know if it would be better if women were to take over, I don’t know. But I mean that find more and more unsufferable that state of infantilism where women are still kept, those beings who poison mushrooms on certain days of the month, or spoil the mayonnaise. At the same time maybe it’s true, I don’t know.

PR – But note that what we are accused of then is not infantilism but sorcery. Less humiliating – but worse.

RD – There are excesses committed by members of the M.L.F., or in the old days by suffragettes, but aren’t those excesses necessary?

PR – The suffragettes’ excesses were nothing compared with those of the M.L.F.

RD – I don’t know if you are familiar with the feminist movements that developed from 1830 to 1848. There was a feminist, not feminine, press, considerable developed by early in the 19th century. There were three or four issues at a time, then [those publications] disappeared.

PR – Wihtout much result, it seems to me.

RD – Not always. But what is your concept of feminism, a new feminism that would be effective and interesting for everyone?

PR – I don’t know, look for example, at the first women to be ministers, that was in England, and there is an extraordinary mysogyny in the Englishman, and yet the first women rights were recognised in England. It’s not easy. In America it’s the same: women have the right to vote in America, and for a long time. One has managed to explain to them that if they want to look pretty and have husband and children, they should keep out of politics. One has managed to prevent them from working. Besides, you won’t tell me that having a husband and children, keep the house, cook, look after the children on top of an office job is ideal? It is not true. It’s to add to one curse, child bearing, another which is work. We are told: work is a right, it’s a gain; but it is not that simple. It’s a gain of freedom, since one has a bit of money one can spend without referring to one’s husband, period. For the rest, it’s supplementary slavery.

RD – You’re quite right. But I have to say it’s something which is becoming clearer now. Women realise they have been had in this business. Because having two jobs, as you said, at home and then at the office or the factory, is not that exciting.

PR – One comes home, and it’s time to prepare dinner. One washes the children clothes, at least put them in the washing machine, if there is one, one has to clean the dishes, even with a dishwasher, in any case, one must do something more, as the husband sits down at the table. Sometime he is kind and helps do the dishes, but it’s not that frequent.

RD – That explains how difficult it is to exchange, the simple exchange of two persons after a day’s work, if one is twice exhausted, it’s not possible. People can’t do it.

PR – And there are many women who have a small income, and in oredr to pay for a house helper, go to work eight hours a day, to earn wages that are exactly what they are going to have to pay the house helper.

RD – Why?

PR – Because they are bored at home, I assume. They are lonely women. I have had friends whose husbands earned lots of money, who stayed at home, doing nothing. They looked after the children, and once the children had grown up, after the grand children, their family, their house, and they were at a loss, and envied me, who at the time was working hard, who was very tired. When I came home I only wanted to go to bed. They thought it was perfect. Moreover they were probably right.

RD – But why do people find it so hard to be free?

PR – People struggle to live, be free, have a life they like. Living, just living, is difficult. One must be free and at the same time not be. One must be both free and constrained. A psychiatry doctor, of the old school, said: “One needs two ot three hours each day, something obligatory to do, even it it’s boring and no fun.”

RD – Why this advice?

PR – Because it helps one to stand up, to live. One needs something obligatory to do every day. One must not be in a void.

RD – One mustn’t be totally available.

PR – One mustn’t be in a void, needing only a phone call to get one’s fur coat, or one’s apartment cleaned, or whatever. That anything be resolved on one’s order. Which means simply, in good French, that very rich people are also fatally very unhappy. So, there we come to something which is revolting, since one seems to reiterate the old say that money does not make happiness, when it is true that some money makes people happy, and its lack makes them unhappy. I have known three women, no longer young, one is now dead, all three billionaire, and I know they lead, or led, a life that does not fulfill them. One of them is generosity itself, kindness and delicacy, and let herself often be exploited with infinite patience, without ever being duped. I am not sure she’s happy, but who is?

RD – But what would you do, yourself, if you had so much money?

PR – Mad things of course. Reforest half of France… The third one, once, asked me: “If you were in my shoes, what would you do?” I was beginning to tell her, and she threw up her hands. She too gives away her money. God knows but what I was suggesting did not amuse her.

RD – But what would you do?

PR – Oh! I was saying that I’d buy apartments for my friends who are not well housed, I’d furnish them and give them away. “Ah, she said, they would call you to sort out the toilets.” I replied: “There are plumbers…” But it is clear that giving, without limits, must be wearing too. And yet you know the Provence fisherman’s prayer: Virgin Mary, let it be one catches enough fish to eat, to give and to be stolen. It’s the only money philosophy I find defensible.

RD – I think that money is an erotic element.

PR – Of that I am entirely convinced.

RD – And why?

PR – Because it gives value, that’s all. If a girl makes herself very expensive, it must prove she is worth it to her own eyes as well as others’. If someone marries you and spends a lot of money for you, it’s because he considers you worth a lot. It’s also a form of power, and power is seductive.

RD – Surely, but I think there is also something else. It’s that by being payed, however expensive one is, one becomes nothing more than a mean of exchange, a merchandise, an object. And for a woman, from time to time, it is not unpleasant to be a merchandise, an object of barter. Besides, to be transformed, changed into something else, is an erotic element. Hence the tattoes, the hot iron branding. Without going that far, ear piercing to wear the gifted jewlery, already… But in a love affair, if a man had payed you, what would it have started for you?

PR – That never happened to me, and thus the problem. I imagine it would have given me the greatest pleasure.

RD – Yes, I think I’d like that very much. But isn’t there for us, for you, some thing we learned, a prudishness which means…

PR – That we don’t accept?

RD – But would this have troubled you?

PR – An additional pleasure wouldn’t it?

RD – Ah! Yes, my view too. But why do people say that’s what is most schocking with prostitution, but that exchange is for me normal.

PR – Body for money, I have never found that schocking, personally, unfortunately.

RD – But you know full well that society finds it schocking.

PR – Yes, I must be an anarchist.

RD – That’s right. But the fact that a woman, a girl gets payed is considered a bad thing. Don’t you think that now, money is given, I was about to say, a bad role?

PR – There has to be some modesty somewhere, so it’s given to money.

RD – It’s given to money. For me, what I have been accused of in court: “But, madame, you are making money with those books.” Upon which, scared to death, I replied: “ When one works, has a job, it is to earn money, to earn a living.” Selling guns is not considered a bad thing, but selling obscene books that may arouse people, that is entirely schocking.

PR  – So it seems.

RD – It’s acceptable to sell guns, but not one’s body, or someone else’s. Where does that come from?

PR – Soliciting is illegal, not prostitution.

Rd – But why can’t we solicit? Someone who sells tomatoes says:  come and look at my nice tomatoes. A girl could say: come and see my beautiful breasts or my lovely eyes. Is it anything more? But no, I am wrong, its much more, obviously. There is something in amourous relationships that is so much more than just coupling.

PR – It’s a strange and mysterious thing. Sleeping with someone is never entirely simple, I mean by that, even when it is entirely venal, if you want, when the two don’t know each other, when it does not last, the fact that there is desire and pleasure, at least for one of them, establishes a kind of communication that is magic and incomprehensible, and I am not far from thinking sacred, if there is anything sacred on this world, which is not certain. If anything is sacred on earth, well, it is love, the pleasure and happiness one can draw from it. And tenderness which is never mentioned? That unexplainable trust that is asummed by the fact of giving access to one’s body to someone else, that closeness of men and women to each other, that one does not avoid, when one loves, even for an instant? Tenderness that remains when desire, when lust have passed, isn’t it the most extraordinary gift of life? This gift is so miraculous that even if one is not aware, one feels it, one seeks without knowing. Even the pretence of love can be a gift. One then makes love to look good, to be prettier, to be smiling and feel free, for the joy of disposing of oneself. It is the last consolation left to human beings, in a difficult life, a meaningless life, that one does not understand. And in fact it is the only thing that links us to the rest of the universe, it is the only thing that makes us similar to animals and plants, by which we participate in the creation, and which is given to all beings.

RD – Yes, yet this pleasure one starts recognising as a goal, you are saying that it is something very mysterious, but that is rarely – but it does happen – shared. When it is shared, it’s out of this world, always.

PR – Of course, but it does not matter, if one of the two gets it, it’s already something. But the goal, it seems to me, is as much the encounter as the pleasure.

RD – Ah yes, but there, one sees you are woman. There is that great tenderness of women who have given pleasure to their man. Even though, some men have that tenderness too. But it is so weird, pleasure, so variable.

PR – But it can be what one wants, variable, elusive, as much as you want, unpredictible, uncontrollable, OK, and then? It is a gift from heaven. There ain’t two, just one. That, by which you touch, with all meanings of the word, someone else.

RD – Do you believe it is one of the things people, consciously or not, try to recreate in their relationships?

PR – It looks that way.

RD – You think that one can experience a great pleasure with someone one does not love?

PR – It depends on people. The classic story of the girl who experiences such great pleasure with a boy she does not love, when she feels nothing with a husband she adores, but I don’t know. I imagine that boy she does not love, she loves him a little.

RD – But I feel something fishy behind this. It does not please me at all. I mean heart and body cannot be wrong to that extent. It’s like a game when one card is missing: something is falsified.

PR – There is always a missing card. There is always a cheat. One is betrayed by one’s principles, one’s heart, one’s body. A body is a dirty frame upon which one cannot rely – or not for long, the heart makes mistakes, that burns and suffers for him who’s not worth it, and principles, ah! principles, as many chimera that reality destroys! But the miracle of the instant exists. Isn’t it enough for you? Bless the sky for those moments when someone faints in your arms, and you in his. Then you touch the clouds, the flowing stream, you are one breath in the wind – the rest, it’s the incomprehensible life, given to us and made by us, only to be endured.

RD – Yes. No. I don’t know.Oh! I don’t like to endure… But since we are talking about pleasure, I am lessand less in agreement with that kind of philosophie that is popularised by cinema, books, porn magazines: pleasure is the same, everywhere, with anybody, there is only quantity that counts, the only question is: how often. It’s not rue, one has to say it. Pleasure is that sacred feast Sagan [x] talks about in Réponses. It’s not hygiene. It’s not the hitch one srapes and forgets… It’s OK to leave the guilt, to forget the 19th century when women’s pleasure was considered inconvenient, when masturbation led to a prompt death, etc. But the trouble is… I, the erotic books I published were not to reassure people, they were to disturb them. Well…

to be continued…

Jan Mankes:  Rozen in Vaas

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