O m’a dit: Régine Deforges’ interview of Pauline Réage (cont’d) #literature

I am posting here, on several pages, the end of my translation of Régine Deforges’ s interview of Pauline Réage (1975) . The beginning is here.

Death of DidoRD – What seduces you in  a woman, what draws you to her?

PR – Her beauty, and her courage.

RD – Her beauty?

PR – In essence, yes. I am full of admiration. I so easily find beauty in a woman, I am so moved by women’s beauty, without the slightest temptation to even touch a beautiful hair, but I always have the same emotion, admiration.

RD – But what is it that moves you so much? Fragility?

PR – But it is not at all fragile, a woman’s beauty, it is not always fragile the beauty of eyes, skin, the beauty of the body, so beautiful. Men also are beautiful, and they have started showing it, fortunately.

RD – And are you a conquering individual when you are interested in a woman?

PR – It’s going too far. I have been, a little. It seemed evident then.

RD – And you could share this love with another woman or another man?

PR – It never was the case, as those were unique relationships, unequivocal. But it felt natural, the one not preventing the other.

RD – Through the ordeals, the tortures you have your heroines subjected to, one senses a contempt for that body that you say , elsewhere, to be an instrument, and as an instrument to be maintained in good order.

PR – Of course, it used for procreation, for pleasure, it’s an instrument. It is horrible not to be master of one’s own body, but it is also wonderful. If you cannot be master of your body, let someone else be, whether by your consent or by your wish. In all cases the body is something to be subdued, mastered, possessed.

RD – It is used, as you say, but why that taste for destroying that body?

PR – Because all things are made to be destroyed, thrown away, not to last. It’s books, or paintings, that last, or stone statues. A bit more than us in any case. When you give birth to a child, you give him death at the same time as life. When you write a book, it may not die.

RD – What strikes me too in Histoire d’O, is that women are treated, and ill-treated, in the most erotic manner, but never men. Why not?

PR – Ah! It’s like that. It’s a world of men who love women, not of men who love men. One of the most interesting letters I received when the book was published, was written by a man who told me that what I was writing about did exist, but to his knowledge for men with “garçons”. For, he said, it was much easier and pleasurable to subdue boys than girls. Strange observation.

RD – But wouldn’t it have been very erotic to place some men in the same situations as O and her colleagues?

PR – I did not even think of it. It meant nothing to me.

RD – So it is really as if eroticism can only be lived through a female body?

PR – For me, yes.

RD – Ah! I, sometimes, would love to see the object changed… There is something that recurs often, that is O’s exposure.

PR – Ah! Yes!

RD – There, you’re going too far.

PR – Yes. In “la Condition Humaine” Malraux makes a short comment about a female character, where he says that for many women “eroticism means being naked in front of the chosen man.” And then it stops there, besides, she’s not that keen on giving herself to him, to sleep with him. Well, I think that exposure is that, I did not think of it, but I realised what it was once, later, it was finished.

RD – Yes, but (in your book) there, O is more than naked, the girls are opened, offered, they are placed in obscene positions.

PR – Atrocious, grotesque.

RD – And why that desire for grotesque? They could be exposed without it.

PR – It’s a form of nastiness, of anger…

RD – Towards?

PR – I don’t know. Oneself? Yes, towards oneself. This need to go all the way, that furore, it’s a form of destruction, the need to break something, to desecrate something.

RD – Furore towards that body?

PR – Towards that body. But that body is something atrocious.

RD – Something that betrays you, that deserts you?

PR – Something that drops you on the way, that cannot be trusted.

RD – One feels that, at times, you are not so sure what to think of the female body?

PR – But I don’t know what to think of any kind of body! A body is the locus of happiness and unhappiness, of triumph and sacrifice, and finally and always, of disaster. What better use for it than to prove to whom we love that one belongs to him, and thus that one no longer belongs to oneself? Do you want a sacrilege quote? What O says to her lover, without saying it, is what believers repeat endlessly: in manus tuas, Domine (in your hands, Lord). It is just that, for her, and her companions, the proof which is requested from them ceaselessly, they are ready to provide, ceaselessly. The fate they meet is the demonstration of their will to achieve a total abandon, to submit themselves totally. They want to be possessed, utterly possessed, to death. What they seek is to be killed. What does the believer seek, if not lose himself into God? To be killed by someone one loves seems to me the ultimate rapture. I can’t think otherwise. And I am not alone. The famed Japanese suicide contracts are but examples in reality of a phantasm which is wide-spread.

RD – What do you exactly mean by “abandon”? Listening to you, one would think that is what you are seeking most, but also, that being abandoned by the one you love, is what you fear most?

PR – Thank goodness my unhappiness is behind all my hopes. I don’t see the contradiction, or rather the ambiguity, other than the use of the same term. Active in one case, passive in the other. But this is clear: to give oneself to one, is to depend on him. You are no longer your own, you rely on him, you are carried by the noise and fire you have given yourself to. But if the one you love ceases loving you, looking at you, living at least in part for you, as you live for him, if he abandons you, then you fall back in the outer darkness, the obscurity that is hell. Hell is every day life when no-one loves you, when you are alone. But, at the same time, that has not such importance. One gets used to it,  and that is for the best. One learns modesty. One should not take one too seriously, and use big words. It’s the common fate from which, from time to time, one is freed by the love of someone one loves. I don’t know if you have noticed them, sometime in the tube, on a bus, in the street, women, girls, men, with a sort of radiating face, who say nothing, walk as if on a cloud, those are in love, probably. It is that kind of blessing that means that all a sudden, one feels preserved, protected, for a while, for sure, one knows it’s precarious, that it won’t last. But while it is there, one is alive, one is in a sort of paradise.

RD – Why does it not last? It should last forever.

PR – It’s a fact, it never lasts, there is always something, one of the two gets tired, leaves, or dies. “Two doves loved each other tenderly, one of them was bored at home.” It happens: one of the two gets bored.

RD – Ah, this is so unbearable.

PR – What can I do? I think so too!

RD – Ah, I can’t stand it, one would rather die.

PR – Particularly if it is always the other who’s bored, but let’s be honest, it’s sometimes us.

RD – That’s what (Françoise) Sagan was telling me last night, love, passion, never lasts more than two years.

PR – She’s right, only, for some people it’s two years, for others it’s twenty years.

RD – You think so?

PR – Naturally.

RD – I am not completely utopian then, if I pray for it to last?

PR – Or, it’s me who is. But one cannot receive one thing without also its opposite. Love is a garden which is open to you, whose fruits you can enjoy for a while. Then, as in Arabic tales, the garden disappears, and you find yourself in the desert. But don’t complain: you had the garden (for a while), you were lucky.

RD – Why does one find peace in torment?

PR – Because one is taken out of oneself, I think. But torment is always the same: it is purely in the mind. I have no taste for tortures, which I feared dreadfully. But I had that obsession from childhood, perhaps from pious books. There is nothing better than pious books to give one a good idea of tortures. For example the Golden Legend of Jacques de Voragine, with pictures. I was given a nice copy, a strange idea, with pictures of wood prints from the fifteenth century. There I could look at all the tortures of martyrs and saints.

RD – And was it voluptuous for you that reading?

PR – I can’t say, but I was greatly impressed.

RD – Did you not think that by describing complacently erotic tortures in Histoire d’O you would inspire a following?

PR – No, absolutely not. Tortures and violence in Histoire d’O are entirely of the same order as fights in crime novels. Heroes get butchered on page ten, then pop out on page fifteen, fresh and healthy, it’s phantasmagoric and unreal. It belongs to the domain of dreams. It’s the same thing for Histoire d’O. This is, if you will, a sort of convention of the genre, not that I wanted to follow a genre, it is just that the genre imposes itself spontaneously, innocently I dare say. One over-does this in order to give the idea of what it is about, one puts in more of it to say very little. The excess is a symbol, not a reality. I can assure you that the tortures of erotic novels, and the fights, injuries and violence of crime novels, are the same thing. This arises from the same principle, the same genre.

RD – Okay, and as Jean-Jacques Pauvert [publisher of Sade’s work, and of Histoire d’O]  has often said, Sadism existed before Sade, and even before Gutenberg [Johannes Gutenberg, the German blacksmith credited with the western re-invention of the print press], but it would appear that, as soon as one enters the erotic genre, one touches more than a simple description of tortures or fights. Those scenes are not merely spectacular fighting.

PR – But the clashes in crime novels are not only spectacular fighting. They are enlarged images of the courage, of the strength of the story’s hero. They are proof of his invulnerability. For O, the accepted torments are proof of her abandon. They are there to signify, and make closer, the impossible, the inconceivable, the absolute.

RD – I’d love to know what remains now of O for you. Do you feel tenderness for her now?

PR – Tenderness goes too far, I see her with a little pity, and sympathy. She was very courageous.

RD – But when you say “pity”, you are saying that she always had a choice.

PR – Yes, but it’s very cruel all the same, even when one has a choice; she was not free, since she loved, one is not free when one is in love.

RD – Why not? Why can’t we be free and in love?

PR – Because one depends entirely on the feelings of the person one loves. One depends on him, on his happiness, on his unhappiness, on his breathing. One of the most admirable sentences I have heard, that was just before the war [WWII] with a man I loved [probably Thierry Maulnier]. I could not be with him in public – another clandestine life – and we had booked a private box, to be private, to watch Ondine, Giraudoux’ play. At one point, you might remember, Ondine realises the knight  no longer loves her, and she says: “The grass has turned black.” It’s like that. When one loves, and one believes, fears, that one is no longer loved, the grass turns black.

RD – But isn’t your freedom returned to you then?

PR – No, your freedom is not returned. I have never forgotten the grass turned black. Many years later, one of my friends was left by a boy he was very much in love with. There was over Paris a splendid sky, with grey and pink clouds. “Ah,” he said, “one cannot be entirely unhappy, for as along as there are clouds like that.” And I replied: “But, Pierre, this shows you are not really unhappy, when one is really unhappy, one cannot see the clouds.”

RD – There is no longer any beauty, when we are really unhappy?

PR – No, all is gone. It comes back later, love gives, love takes away. Love is something really cruel. You remember Virgil? One of very few quotes I have retained from my classical studies, there is nothing more pedantic than quote the Aeneid.

RD – It’s a very beautiful story. I read it three times when I was fifteen to seventeen.

PR – But who now reads it, or re-reads it? Not me, evidently. The only episode I remember is Aeneas in Hell, who sees Dido through the shadows, as the moon through clouds, Sicut per nubile lunam, and explains:

Hic quod durus amor crudely tabe per edit

Secreti celant calles, et myrtea circum sylva tegit.”

“Where, those whom pitiless love has wounded of its cruel pestilence, secret paths hide them, and the forest of myrtle surrounds them in its shelter.” Those woods of myrtle ands asphodel’s, inhabited by white and sad ghosts have always stayed with me, mysterious and familiar. Those stances I translated and learnt by heart when I was fifteen or sixteen, and never forgot them,  for I read and learned them at the time I was reading and learning Racine [Jean Racine, French dramatist], and as I fell in love for the first time in my life. With one of my school girl friends as it was; classical, perfectly innocent love. Every day that summer I was waiting for the postman. I learned a lot that year. I learned all this together; and it was learnt once and for all. Today I feel that I have followed those secret paths all my life. I really believe that the joy of living, the possibility of living I was given, were given through love, so that when love goes away, all goes away. It is not true, of course, since nothing stops, and there comes a time when pain gets diluted, one sees the clouds again, when grass no longer is black. But at the time, it’s really black grass, gone clouds, dead light.

RD – When all beauty, all life disappears.

PR – All life. One lives for the other, and if he goes, what remains?

Thus my life, thus my body

My spirit being joint to yours

The union of our fires

Makes one soul of our souls

You live in me, I live in you

I am more you than not me…

RD – Who said this?

PR – (Jean) Bertaut, a writer of the sixteenth century who wrote a poem about the legendary Hermaphrodite, named Fantasie. 

RD – Fantaisie!

PR – Fantasie – as in the English fantasy – in sixteenth century French, meant imagination, phantasm. It’s a beautiful baroque poem. I copied it, kept it, I still have it, on the right in my desk, in the folder where I keep phone numbers.

RD – You spoke earlier of clandestinity, we come back to that often.

PR – Ah, yes with the theatre box. It was at the Edward VII theatre, with Madeleine Ozeray and Jouvet, and I recall being moved by Ondine’s despair. Everything then was for me so precarious, so threatened. Threatened. Vigny: “Her quiet and always threatened love.” You see I am full of literature, as others of religion. But literature helps to live too. My country is books.

RD – It’s weird, we have had quite different lives, but we have this in common: we belong to the world of books. I have been librarian, publisher, book binder: with passion. Literary prestige is the one I am really sensitive to. My lover told me once, after ten years: I know what we have deeply in common: literature. What books do you reread most often?

PR – Proust, whom I discovered at the NRF [La Nouvelle Revue Françcaise, the literary magazine of Gaston Gallimard. Pauline – Dominique Aury, was literary secretary of the NRF until Jean Paulhan’s death in 1968], as he was published. Shakespear, Villon, Beaudelaire, the Bible. I have four versions. The one I prefer is King James’.

[to continue on next page]

Against Evil

“And the hard part is that she knows better, knows that beneath the high-cap scumscapes created by the corporate order and celebrated in the media, there are depths where petty fraud becomes grave and often deadly sin.”

~ Thomas Pynchon, Bleeding Edge

Silicon Alley For the past twenty years, that’s the time we have been sheltering in this little corner of damp suburbia, I have owned and used a wonderful little petrol-engine lawnmower. It does, in all seasons, a jolly good job of keeping our patch of grass tidy, even, at times, depending on the vagaries of this island’s weather, delightful.

The small engine was designed and built by a US engineering outfit in Milwaukee, and I guess “they” have long sold off, or been declared bankrupt. Their product is clean, does not leak oil, is wonderfully sober. Through the year I probably use a mere three or four litres of unleaded, sometimes much less. I love the sound of the engine, a low purr that does remind me of old American cars, with big, friendly, low revving eight cylinders disposed in V. Yet, it is a small engine.

When I cut the grass I think of the people, in Milwaukee, who built the engine, and I praise them, and their skills, wherever they now are. The same feeling overcomes me when I read a Thomas Pynchon novel: I know that this voice is more powerful that the thousands of followers of the “pensée unique” that clogs up the web, those writers and journalists who have long given up thinking for themselves, and respecting their public.

In a Pynchon novel there are several co-centric stories, and like Johann Sebastian Bach’s Art de la Fugue, it takes several readings, indeed a lifetime of reading, to discover them. The central character is on a journey, or, better, a quest. Along his or her progress, often halted by external events of great, if hidden, significance, or smaller anecdotes whose meaning may remain obscure, evil lurks. In “Against the Day”, and now, in “Bleeding Edge”, this evil has a clear profile: the late capitalistic neo-liberal conundrum, responsible for atrocities and destructions perpetrated world-wide, in the face of God and Mankind.

One of the book’s theses is that evil well precedes its latest avatars. The story follows Maxine Tarnow’s gumshoe and sexed-up mother of two, who’s investigating that rarity, in early 2001, out of the ruins of Silicon Alley, a technology company – hashlingrz – that is successful and growing, but also engaged in obscure, and well protected, big money transactions with the Middle-East. For the technology sector has crashed, in the so-called dot com collapse of 2000. This is a pivotal moment in US history: the cranked up Y2K fallacy, the Nasdaq equity dive, and now those rumours about all things Arabic, and the rise of Bush Jnr. Maxine’s work is part funded by Igor, an ex-Spetnatz soldier-turned-entrepreneur, whose soul found its road of Damascus, when his umbrella failed to open over Chechnya.

Soon, the boss of hashlingrz, Gabriel Ice, comes into sharp focus: double or triple agent, engaged in a series of capital manipulations for the benefit of shadowy Gulf’s secret armies, and protected by equally shadowy US agencies. This is September 8, 2001 and “the market” is playing with airlines shares, fact that Maxine’s found again ex-husband and commodity trader, Horst, does not fail to notice and explain to their kids, while masked men play with Stinger missiles and sniper rifles on the roofs of New-York.

Maxine, above all caring for her two boys, Ziggy and Otis, proceeds to meet one operative, Nick Windust, mercenary in the pay of evil, assassin, presumed torturer, and well-hung enough to attract more than Maxine’s fraud examiners’ professional interest. Indeed our hero gets seduced by Mr I-don’t-do-foreplay-Windust, one evening, in the sinister flat the said Windust occupies, in an equally sinister part of the City. For this is New-York City, just before the fall.

When the outrage comes, to no-one’s real surprise, Maxine is momentarily lost, in fear for her boys. She has discovered DeepArcher, a piece of code constructed by survivors of the crash, and finds for a short while some solace in its depth, before it goes “open-source”. This virtual world is not without reminding us of that proto-metaverse: Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash (1992). So we have, at least, three stories: Maxine’s quest to uncover the truth about Mr Ice and his corporation, her infatuation for Windust – who will end up murdered by , presumably, his employers, and half eaten by wild dogs, and her reflections on 9/11 as viewed through the eyes of a true New-Yorker, who longs for the City of her childhood. Those reflections are enhanced by her travels through DeepArcher, the memories of her father, who is clear about what the Internet is, where it comes from, and where it is going: a tool – a toy? – of the Cold War, first designed to survive a nuclear blast, now magisterially transformed into instrument of manipulation and slavery, and a “chance” meeting with Windust’s once South-American wife, now strutting her stuff in US Academia.

Despite all, Maxine, who lost at some point her license of fraud examiner, manages to stay “on the honourable side of the ledger”.

As one of her friends says to her: “Guess I’m just a Yahoo! type of girl. Click in, click back out, nothing too far afield, nothing too… deep.”

One way to stay safe.

Talking about Maxine

Takahiro Shimatsu I haven’t finished reading Thomas Pynchon’s Bleeding Edge, and I will later adorn my Goodreads page with my conclusion. Suffice to say that Thomas Pynchon is, for this reader, one of the four vortices of the magic square, that which is at the heart of my love for contemporary American letters: Pynchon – Stephen King – Neal Stephenson – Bret Easton Ellis. Those guys are, to my mind,  America, through and through.

Re-reading Christian Lorentzen’s review of Bleeding Edge in the 26 September 2013 issue of the LRB, I found myself, a rare event, in some disagreement with the respected editor of the said LRB. Bleeding Edge is not, in my reading, “a period novel” about New-York City’s Silicon Alley, that is merely the backdrop. Bleeding Edge is, literary speaking, about the atrocity, about 9/11, in the same way as Gravity’s Rainbow is about the nazi weapons of reprisal, and their aftermath.

Pynchon’s genius, once again (as, in Gravity’s Rainbow, the surreal connection between Peenemünde and West Africa), is to link the Saudi-perpetrated-and-funded outrage with the preceding, less bloody, but no less potent, disaster: the collapse of the first corporate attempt to subjugate the Internet, known as the “*.com” bubble. The link – shadow of Stephenson’s Snow Crash – is DeepArcher, a “piece of code” that turns out to be a deep metaverse, malevolently seductive to the hero of the tale, Maxine Tarnow, fraud investigator by profession, and to survivors of the outrage. The book mentions a number of fraudulent plots, real or supposed, the main one being the subject of Maxine’s own quest for truth, about Gabriel Ice, corporate predator, pervert, double or triple agent, and purveyor of funds to shadowy Gulf’s paramilitaries.

Thus the novel skirts around the trinity: late capitalism – “War on Terror” and, finally – the Terrorists among us, bankrolled by successive US administrations (the “ben Ladin’s network” and its successors) and the Saudi’s evil empire. In the meantime we get the “period piece” about 2001, which could be described as the last year of innocence of the 21st century. Worse was to come.

Maxine, a hero for our time, is left, bemused, abused – on her own volition – but still kicking, incredibly.

I am taking my time to finish the book, and will write again. Incidentally, my definition of the atrocity, is my own, not Thomas Pynchon’s.

Related articles:

The Crying of September 11

The New American Way of War

The Edge ~ a call from Kyoto

Silver dress Message from Charles to Céline Jeurève, dated February 10, 2048, from Kyoto

C: I am glad we could link up this weekend – and sorry again I had to rush out to Japan at such short notice. I did not expect Azymuth to send me here, rather than one their usual custodian hacks for such events. But the Pan-Pacific conference is a moving event, with the recent invitation to the BRICS Federation! I think they want me to do a touch of forecasting on what will come next between them and the Pacific Alliance around key people interviews. The word on the street is that Japan is keen on a “rapprochement”…

Have you heard from Monica? Her last call before I flew out here was a bit desperate, she said to be just fed up with the pressure on her from her present contract with the South-African Fashion Consortium: big money comes with tall expectations she said. Can you give her a call, or a swift mail, and reassure her? Of course she will be welcome week after next if she wants a break and a change from J’burg! She’s still in Milan for a few days.

Kisses & more ;-P

Transcript of video call between Charles and Céline (February 10, 2048, 10pm Tokyo time)

– Charles you’re a charmer… So you went to the Manga museum!…

– Yep a bit of relaxation before the interviews – by the way did you know that the likely commander of the Mars mission is rumoured to be Sandra N’gebî, of the SA Air Force?

– Saw her pic in today’s news, she’s the youngest Air Force general in the federation apparently. Doctorate from Pretoria Technology Institute, studied space navigation in Shanghai and Mumbai, flies her own reconstructed F 15, for fun!

– Have to rush my love – the conference press room is at the Gosho – got my pack yesterday…

– Take care Don Juan, my special – consider yourself well…

– Aw… now… my turn… nice lil’ number you wearing…

– Steady now!

Email from Monica to Céline Jeurève, dated February 10, 2048, from Milan

Taking five secs to write, week was hectic. I love the SA people but they are tough masters, or I should say Mistresses given that both my bosses are female! The SAFC is on the up and up – have great expansion plans through the BRICS and North America. Am missing you and Charles very much, want to have time again with you two. Am off to SA before back in London week later. I hope you loved the pics. I liked the silver dress, thought of you… ❤

PS is Azymuth the same mag that published Charles’ short story last year?

Message from Céline Jeurève to her husband Charles, dated February 10, 2048, marked “late before bed”

Got word from M. Yes she’s keen. Is she keen on “us”, “you”, or “me” – or all at the same time?! She’s lovely. You saw the movie of the catwalk, they went nuts… Reminded me of that moment in Glamorama when Chloe and Victor go on stage… ‘Xcept there is no Victor as far as I can see: do you know?

Btw she remembered your story in Azymuth! When are you back, feel already itchy…? Forensic sucks. Strange how a science can attain its apogee when its use is near rock bottom!

Saw another portrait of Sandra-F15-N to nite on the newsreel. She’s stunning, currently in Moscow. Another video from the Gosho tomorrow? Please… Surprise for you if we do…

Narrator’s historical note

The reference to the Pacific Alliance in Charles’ message is interesting. Following the World Peace Conferences in the early ’30s, after the disastrous decade that preceded, and in response to the formation of the BRICS Federation, the (other) Pacific nations attempted to develop a similar structure, with Japan, the Philippines and the Australia-New Zealand Confederation at its core. The result is still evolving, slowly, due in part to anxiety on the part of the North-American Union.  The invite to Charles to attend the Pan Pacific conference, from the Azymuth magazine (a spin-off from the European Federation’s Press Academy think-tank) may be due to his early articles and short stories on the “origins of the East Asian consensus”.

#WritersBlog ~ Feeling guilty, me?

“Les tenants de l’apparence restent fidèles à l’imitation. Ceux qui recherchent une réalité cachée derrière l’apparence définissent une doctrine de l’invention, de la création.”

Jean-Yves Tadié, Marcel Proust, L’artiste selon Ruskin

(The advocates of appearance stay loyal to imitation. Those who look for some reality behind appearances define a doctrine of invention, of creation.)

Jeunes filles, Marie LaurencinI have heard some dreadful accusations lately, and I wish to affirm that some people, yes people, are rather cheeky. They say, us, narrators, are voyeurs, that we spy on, and even abuse the characters in a novel: how’s that for defamation? What have we done, and specifically, what I have done, to deserve such treatment?

I do not, ever, prey on those characters, however vulnerable, or emotionally unstable, or, as my friend Jo-Anne (herself a delicious narratrice) says, exotic. Rather I try to convey their tragedy, sometimes the ironic side of their lives, as a good narrator should. Sometimes, I admit to a degree of curiosity. Let us read again this observation of Jean-Yves Tadié, the biographer of Marcel Proust, à propos La Prisonnière, perhaps the most poignant chapter of La Recherche:

“Le narrateur prend enfin congé d’Odette: ‘J’aurais voulu la serrer dans mes bras: j’aurais voulu lui dire que je l’aimais… Les larmes m’étranglaient. Je parcourus ce long vestibule, ce jardin délicieux dont le gravier des allées ne devait, hélas! plus jamais grincer sous mes pas.’

Que signifient cette jeune fille à jamais punie par le destin, la maladie incurable, cette distance entre elle et le narrateur, ce sentiment du temps qui a presque tout détruit? Marcel projette-t-il un amour impossible?”

(The narrator finally says farewell to Odette: ‘I would have held her in my arms: I would have told her I loved her… Tears were choking me. I walked down the long corridor, through the delicious garden and paths whose pebbles I would never again tread on.’ What is the meaning of this young woman for ever punished by fate, of the incurable illness, of the distance between her and the narrator, of that feeling of time destroying almost everything? Does Marcel evoke an impossible love?)

Distance indeed. Monsieur Tadié reveals the true position of the narrator in La Recherche: he is Marcel, the young man whose love for Odette is impossible (for reasons I would not comment on in this post). And yet this narrator, a full participant in the story, keeps his distance. You may argue that they are reasons for Marcel, and hence, the narrateur, not to get closer to Odette.

So do I. I admit a feeble sentiment for Melissa (and indeed for Odette too): I think she’s sinned against more than a sinner, and possibly innocent, but I don’t say anything: this is not what her author intends – as far as I can tell… In one word I try and keep away from the plot, from the lives of the characters, I just… well… narrate.

The role of narrator is at time painful: think about it, events unravel, according to the author’s fancy, characters love, suffer, fall ill, maybe even die. And what are we to do? Unless the author decides to get one of his creatures – will they forgive me for saying “creatures”? I somehow doubt it – to tell the tale herself, we have to present the facts to the reader, in the most interesting and honest way. Yes, I know, the case of a narrator also participant, from Marcel to the creations of Monsieur Murakami, is even more complicated. So is life.

Image: courtesy Maries Laurencin at http://films7.com/art/arts/marie-laurencin-jeunes-filles-proust-beaute-desir

#WritersWednesday: Helga holds the #Pen

Temptation My name is Helga, sometimes spelt “Elga”, for reasons that I leave to the Reader to discover. I am a medical doctor, exactly a specialist in mental health, and one of the most ambiguous characters in this strange piece of writing titled “The Page”.

There, I appear in turn as an alien creature, leading a sinister plot to conquer the world, or at least, this world, or, as a shadowy member of a military clique, involved in the setting up of a world government, possibly to the service of the aliens, and then, again, as myself. The story line has confused me more than once, I admit, being, just as much as my friend Sarah, a rational being. Unsurprisingly the two lost characters in the story are… the author and his hero, old Julian Dutoît, married to Sarah, poor soul (Sarah, not Julian, who deserves some good kicks up his a**e).

Of course I should not talk like this about one of my clients. For my sins, professionally, I look after Julian, more for love of his beautiful wife than for any particular sympathy for Julian himself, whom I find an insufferable fool. I have long wondered if Julian is not the writer’s perfect twin, as paranoid and obsessed the one as the other. Those typical male characters have been lucky to find good women to look after their sorry little minds. And yet they speculate, occasionally flirt with ghosts, get drunk, misbehave in ways another age would have found odious to men and gods.

We have to put up with them because their fertile imaginations are, from time to time, entertaining, to a point. I admire Sarah’s patience with her husband, and her ability to forgive his worse infidelities. Mind you, Sarah’s a free spirit, and from my point of view a marvellous friend, and more. I have toyed with the idea to suggest to the writer, as I occasionally do, to kill his hero. I have decided against it, not for fear of failure, but to spare Sarah, as I do not want to hurt someone I adore.

Now you know.

Image: “Temptation”, Alte Gallerie, Berlin (photo: Honoré Dupuis)

#FiveSentenceFiction: Moon

1Q84 Aomame lifted her sight to the skies above: the crescent Moon started appearing behind the clouds, a silver ghost emerging from another world.

Tengo thought his lover had turned into a hopeless romantic, but he also felt the pull.

Soon the second Moon would appear, to confirm they had crossed the frontier between reality and their dreams.

A surge of memories invaded their souls, and slowly the smaller Moon appeared, shrouded with silver mist.

“You see, my love,” said Aomame in a whisper, “Anytime we are about to die, she appears, she’s our destiny…”

Inspired by Haruki Murakami’s immortal novel: 1Q84.

#WritersWednesday ~ Melissa on Readers and Shadows

It seems befitting, on Writers’ Wednesday, to make space for one of our beloved characters, one of the “little ones”, to express herself. Today, we welcome Melissa.

Simple Portrait I am grateful to the author for making me alive, again. Maybe I sense that, for him, it is a way to give justice to his own memories, or maybe, I am just that: a character out of his magic box ? Who knows?  I don’t mind either way, since he gives me a chance to get closer to the one I love, will always love.

 If you read his stories – he writes about us quite often, turning our lives into a sad novel – you will know that my childhood friend, sweetheart, protégé, my beloved Julian, had some difficulties in believing I was me, I mean the Melissa he knew, had known long ago. Of course none of us remembers exactly when that was, and I have to say, I don’t think the writer is too sure about it either. Nonetheless, this is a neat little trick: having the main character, the hero, doubting the reality of the one he loves, or loved, so much.

 So, I started my new life as a ghost, or a shadow. I even frightened the dear sister, young Jane. I read – yes, I can read –  that Jane complained a bit about her treatment under our author’s pen. I don’t understand why; she has a nice, undemanding role, and he, the author, portrays her always in the most admiring terms. But then, Jane is a bit of a “prima-donna”, someone used to have her own ways. Once strutted the catwalk etc…

For me, being cast in this work is an honour. Otherwise who would bother to get me out of the deepest obscurity, of the endless night I would otherwise be confined to? For this is the simple truth: authors get us, shadows, out in the open, they let us breath, they make us almost real, in the sense that you, readers, are real. For Melissa to exist, other than perhaps as a flutter in Julian’s mind, she must be there, in front of you, reader, not naked (necessarily), but warm enough to be credible, acceptable, adopted by you.

Someone said once that writers start a book, but readers finish it. I think it applies even more to characters like me: the author sets out the main traits, the prototype, of the person who may later come to existence, but readers are the ones to turn that shape, that promise, into a “real” being. I exist, for you are reading about me, and only if. So, the author’s pen only opens possibilities, and the author’s work is never completed, it always has to wait for the reader to become more than lines on the screen, or the page. And for each reader, Melissa exists with subtle differences from another.

Thinking about this could make one dizzy: there isn’t a single Melissa, but as many as there are readers who are patient, or deluded, enough to read about her. In one recent chapter of the book, my dear Julian is walking in a park. Suddenly he sees me, walking toward him, but apparently not seeing him. He looks at me, and despairs for not being visible to me. Yet I smile looking at him. Then I disappear, and Julian finds himself elsewhere. For him I have become that elusive ghost, again, that I was at the beginning. Is Julian ill, mentally disturbed, or merely confused at the reality of Melissa? Or, is the Melissa he sees, yet another creation of imagination, perhaps incompatible with yours?

Related Articles

Jane, on Respect #writing

Tiny Stories As many writers before me, I have noticed how restless some of my characters can be, from time to time. Then, they seem to resent the narrow jacket of the story, they want more from life, or, maybe, they just want to assert themselves, as independent beings, as their own persons, freed for a while from the authority of their creator.

Take Jane, for instance, Julian’s young sister. She can be very critical of the way she’s being portrayed, how her personality is stifled by “the plot”. And, of course, who am I to judge? Like parents, authors can create, but their creation is not always in agreement with their parents’ vision and aspiration. There may be rumbles in the jungle of the little people.

So, I thought I would at least attempt to give them a forum, outside of my own imagination, a place where they can express themselves the way they want, as opposed to be dictated a “role”. Whether this can be successful, for them as well as for me, will be up to their ultimate judgement.

Today, it is Jane’s turn.

“Little people”, this says it all: this is the way Honoré sees us, his creations, not as beings worthy of his respect and care, but as puppets at his disposal to move around the checkerboard of his silly stories.

Take me, for example. I am supposed to be a glamorous fashion model. What a joke! My role in his novel is one of support to his main character, my brother, the illustrious Julian. I am supposed to admire my brother, worse, to worship him, perhaps even lust for him in secret. Of course H makes me also a sometime lover of the wife, gorgeous Sarah. I am really H’s “bonne à tout faire”, literally. About my feelings, about the person I want to become, I have become, he says nothing at all.

What I am really doing in life, and why I am doing it, his readers cannot have a clue. They hear that I jet set around the place, strut my stuff on catwalks, and generally be admired, when I am not bedded by a variety of vague characters such as Julian’s ghost girlfriend, Melissa. Readers don’t know who I am really, how could they? For H, I am part of the background, popping in when he is short of ideas for the next scene. 

Can you imagine how uncomfortable it is for me to be “owned”, as it were, by such a tyrant? H is someone who can do with me what he wants, apparently. He sends me to funny places on errands for Julian. He has me participating to threesomes with some aliens from another galaxy. What is a girl to do? But there is worse.

What he writes about me is bad enough, but you should see (read?) but he does not say. Those fantasies are not all healthy, and I wish he would take some distance from his subjects, once in a while, allow us some privacy. He can explore my mind at will, or at least, he gives himself that privilege. Suddenly I feel different, distorted, as if my inner self has been modified, tampered with. Of course I resist, I want to be myself, not someone else’s puppet. A girl has her dignity, private corners of her own mind, her own thoughts and dreams. H trampled on all this, like the proverbial thugs crushing the porcelain of the Winter Palace.

I am not really “glamorous”, but unsure of myself. To tell the truth I am still searching for the real Jane, the one inside. My brother is a younger version of you-know-who, just as brutish at times. Yes I used to have something of a tender feeling for him, isn’t this usual, towards an older handsome brother? But I have my own life, not linked to his. As for Sarah, she’s a good friend, nothing more. I am not of that sort. I love men, and they love me. Thinking about it it, may be that is what makes H not so confident about me. He can be of a jealous type, the sort that would deny a woman her freedom of mind: the sort who think they know best…

Do you think I am complaining too much? Do you think characters have to allow their genitor some rights to manipulate their lives? Of course, this is creative license, up to a point. But what I ask for is some respect, for me, as a person, through his words, in his attitude toward me, and toward the others. Respect in the way I am being cast, or placed in situations that, myself, given a choice, I would not tolerate. In one word: I am no toy of his, and I want him to know.

Weekly Writing Challenge: Characters that Haunt You

When you possess a creative brain, says Coady, everyday experiences are used as ingredients for the work you hope one day to make.

Haunting I know her names: I’ve have known her since a child, she’s always been there, not far, even if inaccessible.

Imagination, or muse, she’s influential, and, very, very pretty. The more inaccessible the prettier: it is well known…

So, I know, the day she goes, the day she disappears from my life, will be the day I die. She will go and find another host, another malleable soul.

Today I am not ready: I want to live longer, and write, and keep admiring her, the long legs, the heavy breasts, the smile of a young goddess, the lips of Aphrodite…

You will tell me I’m a fool: just write her off in your novel, and you will be free, it is that simple: write and free yourself.

Melissa, Joan, Nina, Elsa: how could I forget you, my heroines, the ones I worship, in the midst of darkness…

When I face my Maker, I will say: I have lived happy, under her gaze, blame me if You wish, she is the one for me.