Cioran les avait, les insomnies des longues nuits où Lévinas implorait que “son garde” le laisse tranquille…
Cioran had them, the long nights of insomnia when Lévinas would beg “his guard” to let him sleep…
ENGLISH TRANSLATIONS FURTHER DOWN ON THIS PAGE
Trente morsures de fourmis rouges et une semaine de pénétration d’acide formique me rappellent un de mes poètes préférés, et de deux de mes poèmes préférés de lui.
Le premier, Mon Roi pourra rappeler, mais avec beaucoup plus d’humour, la longue lutte nocturne de Jacob avec l’ange – quand Jacob devint “Yisra-El,” celui qui s’est débattu avec l’ange.
Dans ma nuit, j’assiège mon Roi, je me lève progressivement et je lui tords le cou.
Il reprend des forces, je reviens sur lui, et lui tords le cou une fois de plus.
Je le secoue, et le secoue comme un vieux prunier, et sa couronne tremble sur sa tête.
Et pourtant, c’est mon Roi, je le sais et il le sait, et c’est bien sûr que je suis à son service.
Cependant dan sla nuit, la passion de mes mains l’étrangle sans répit. Point de lâcheté pourtant, j’arrive les mains nues et je serre son cou de Roi.
Et c’est mon Roi, que j’étrangle vainement depuis si longtemps dans les secret de ma petite chambre ; sa face d’abord bleuie, après peu de temps redevient naturelle, et sa tête se relève, chaque nuit, chaque nuit.
Dans le secret de ma petite chambre, je pète à la figure de mon Roi. Ensuite j’éclate de rire. Il essaie de montrer un front serein, et lavé de toute injure. Mais je lui pète sans discontinuer à la figure, sauf pour me retourner vers lui et éclater de rire à sa noble face, qui essaie de garder de la majesté.
C’est ainsi que je me conduis avec lui ; commencement sans fin de ma vie obscure.
Et maintenant je le renverse par terre, et m’assied sur sa figure. Son auguste figure disparaît ; mon pantalon rude aux tâches d’huile, et mon derrière -puisque enfin c’est son nom- se tiennent sans embarras sur cette face faite pour régner.
Et je ne me gêne pas, ah non, pour me tourner à gauche et à droite, quand il me plaît et plus même, sans m’occuper de ses yeux ou de son nez qui pourrait être dans le chemin. Je ne m’en vais qu’une fois lassé d’être assis.
Et si je me retourne, sa face imperturbable règne, toujours.
Je le gifle, je le gifle, je le mouche ensuite par dérision comme un enfant.
Cependant il est bien évident que c’est lui le Roi, et moi son sujet, son unique sujet.
A coup de pied dans le cul, je le chasse de ma chambre. je le couvre de déchets de cuisine et d’ordures. Je lui casse la vaisselle dans les jambes. Je lui bourre les oreille de basses et pertinentes injures, pour bien l’atteindre à la fois profondément et honteusement, de calomnies à la Napolitaine particulièrement crasseuses et circonstanciées, et dont le seul énoncé est une souillure dont on ne peut plus se défaire, habit ignoble fait sur mesure : le purin vraiment de l’existence.
Eh bien il me faut recommencer le lendemain.
Il est revenu ; il est là. Il est toujours là. Il ne peut pas déguerpir pour de bon. Il doit m’imposer sa maudite présence royale dans ma chambre déjà si petite…
[je n’ai pas la fin sous la main – un de ces jours je me procurerai un ou deux des beaux volumes de la Pléiade rassemblés par mon ami Raymond Bellour – en attendant vous avez le reste ci-dessous en anglais]
Thirty fire ant bites and a week of formic acid in one’s body… I am reminded of Henri Michaux, one of my favorite poets, and of two of my favorite poems by him.
The first one, My King, with much more humor, recalls my of Jacob’s fight with the angel, when after a long night of wrestling Jacob’s name became “Yisra-El” – the one who had wrestled with the angel.
In my night, I besiege my King, I get up little by little and I wring his neck.
He regains his strength, I come back at him and wring his neck again.
I shake him again and again like an old plum tree, and his crown wobbles on his head.
And yet, he is my King, I know it and he knows it, and of course I’m at his service.
Still, in the night, the passion of my hands strangles him relentlessly. No cowardice though, I come in with my bare hands and I squeeze his Kingly neck.
And he’s my King, the one I’ve been vainly strangling for so long in the privacy of my little room; his
face, bluish at first, becomes normal after a little while, and his head pops up again, every night, every
In the privacy of my little room, I fart in my King’s face. Then, I burst out laughing. He tries to present a calm countenance, clean of all insult. But I fart in his face without stopping, except to turn around to him and burst out laughing in his noble face, which tries to maintain its majesty.
This is the way I act with him, endlessly beginning my shadowy life.
And now I throw him down on the ground and I sit on his face—his august face disappears—my rough oil-spotted pants, and my behind (because after all that’s what it’s called) remain, without embarrassment, on that face made to rule.
And I don’t hesitate, not me! to turn left and right, whenever I feel like it and even more often than that, without worrying about his eyes or his nose being in the way. I only leave when I’m tired of sitting.
And if I turn around, his imperturbable face reigns, still.
I slap him, I slap him, then I wipe his nose mockingly like a child’s.
However, it is quite obvious that he is the King, and I his subject, his only subject.
I boot him out of the room with kicks in the ass. I cover him with kitchen scraps and garbage. I break dishes on his legs. I cram low, well-aimed insults into his ears, hitting him deeply and shamefully with calumnies you might hear on the streets of Naples, particularly
dirty and detailed, so that just to hear them is a stain you can’t get rid of, a revolting suit made to measure: the very dung of existence.
Well, I have to begin all over again the next day.
He has come back; he is there. He is always there. He can’t clear off for good. He absolutely has to impose his accursed royal presence on me, in my room—which is small enough already.
All too often I become involved in lawsuits. I run up debts, I get into knife fights, I abuse children, I can’t help it, I just can’t really manage to get the spirit of the Laws into my head.
When the Other Side has made its complaint to the tribunal, my King hardly listens to my reasons and takes up the Other Side’s case, which becomes an indictment in his august mouth, a terrible preliminary that’s really going to do me in.
Only at the end does he bring in a few trifling restrictions.
The Other Side, feeling that it’s a small matter indeed, prefers to withdraw those few subsidiary complaints, and the bench strikes them. It’s enough for the Other Side just to be sure of the rest.
At this point, my King takes up the argument from the start, always as if it were his own, but cutting it down slightly a bit more. Once this has been done, and an agreement reached on these details, he takes up the argument again from the beginning, and, weakening it little by little in this way, from step to step, from fresh start to fresh start, he reduces it to such nonsense, that the shamefaced bench and all the magistrates wonder who dared to convoke them for trifles of this sort, and a negative verdict is delivered amid the hilarity and jeers of the public.
Then, my King, paying no more attention to me than if I were not involved at all, rises and goes away, impenetrable.
One may wonder if this is really a job for a King; yet here’s where he shows what he is—that tyrant, who can let nothing, nothing, happen without showing off his powers of enchantment, crushing, with no appeal possible.
What an idiot I was to try to throw him out! Why didn’t I leave him in that room, calmly, calmly, without paying any attention to him.
But no. Idiot that I was—and as for him, seeing how easy it is to reign, he’ll soon tyrannize over a whole country.
Wherever he goes, he makes himself at home.
And no one is surprised, it’s as if he has belonged there forever.
They wait, they don’t say a word, they wait for Him to decide.
In my little room animals come and go. Not at the same time. Not intact. But they go by—a petty, ludicrous procession of the forms of nature. The lion comes in with his lowered head bruised and dented like an old ball of rags. His poor paws flapping. It’s hard to see how he can move forward—wretchedly, in any case.
The elephant comes in all deflated and less solid than a fawn.
And so it goes for the rest of the animals.
No appliances. No machines. The automobile comes in thoroughly laminated and might make a parquet floor at a pinch.
Such is my little room where my inflexible King wants nothing, nothing that he has not knocked around, mangled, reduced to nothing, a room where I, on the other hand, have asked so many to be my companions.
Even the rhinoceros, that brute who can’t stand man, who charges at everything (and so solid, carved in rock), the rhinoceros himself one day came in as an almost impalpable fog, evasive and without resistance . . . and floated.
The little curtain over the skylight was a hundred times stronger than he was, a hundred times stronger than he—the strong, impetuous rhinoceros who stops at nothing.
But my King does not want rhinoceroses to enter in any fashion other than weak and trickling.
Another time, maybe he’ll let him get around on crutches . . . and, to hold him in, a semblance of skin, a thin child’s skin that could be torn by a grain of sand.
This is how my King authorizes the animals to parade before us. Only like this.
He reigns; he has got me; he does not care for distractions.
This tiny little rigid hand in my pocket, that’s all that’s left of my fiancée.
A tiny hand, dry and mummified (could it really have been hers?). That’s all he left me of Her.
He took her away from me. He lost her for me. He reduced her to nothing for me!
In my little room, the palace ceremonies are as wretched as can be.
Even snakes are not low enough, don’t grovel enough for him, even a motionless pine would offend
Also, what appears at his Court (in our poor little room!) is so incredibly disappointing that the lowest
worker would not envy him.
Besides, who but my King—and I, because I’m used to it—could find some respectful being in those advances and retreats of dark matter, those little flurries of dead leaves, those few drops that fall, grave and desolate, in the silence.
A vain homage, moreover!
Imperceptible are the movements of His face, imperceptible.
Dans la nuit
Dans la nuit
Dans la nuit
Je me suis uni à la nuit
A la nuit sans limites
A la nuit.
Mienne, belle, mienne.
Nuit de naissance
Qui m’emplit de mon cri
De mes épis.
Toi qui m’envahis
Qui fais houle houle
Qui fais houle tout autour
Et fumes, es fort dense
Es la nuit.
Nuit qui gît, nuit implacable.
Et sa fanfare, et sa plage
Sa plage en haut, sa plage partout,
Sa plage boit, son poids est roi, et tout ploie sous lui
Sous lui, sous plus ténu qu’un fil
Sous la nuit
In the night
In the night
In the night
I joined myself in the night
To the endless night
To the night.
Mine, beautiful, mine.
Night of birth
Which fill me with my cry
With my sheaves.
You who invade me
Who sing with a roar, roar
Who surges with a roar around
Who smoke, and are very thick
Are the night.
Night that lies, implacable night.
And its fanfare, and its beach above, its beach all over,
Its beach drinks, its weight is king, and everything bends under him
Under him, are something thinner than a thread
Under the night,
Le Grand Combat (1927)
Il l’emparouille et l’endosque contre terre ;
Il le rague et le roupète jusqu’à son drâle ;
Il le pratèle et le libucque et lui barufle les ouillais ;
Il le tocarde et le marmine,
Le manage rape à ri et ripe à ra.
Enfin il l’écorcobalisse.
L’autre hésite, s’espudrine, se défaisse, se torse et se ruine.
C’en sera bientôt fini de lui ;
Il se reprise et s’emmargine…mais en vain.
Le cerceau tombe qui a tant roulé.
Abrah ! Abrah ! Abrah !
Le pied a failli !
Le bras a cassé !
Le sang a coulé !
Fouille, fouille, fouille,
Dans la marmite de son ventre est un grand secret
Mégères alentour qui pleurez dans vos mouchoirs ;
On s’étonne, on s’étonne, on s’étonne
Et on vous regarde
On cherche aussi, nous autres, le Grand Secret.
From Darkness Moves (U. of California Press) – a great compendium in English
The Big Fight
He grabowerates him and grabacks him to the ground;
He rads him and rabarts him to his drat;
He braddles him and lippucks him and prooks his bawdles;
He tackreds him and marmeens him
Mandles him rasp by rip and risp by rap.
And he deskinnibilizes him at the end.
The other hesitates; he is bittucked, unapsed, torsed and ruined.
He’ll be done for soon.
He mendles and marginates himself . . . but in vain,
The far-rolling hoop falls down.
Abrah! Abrah! Abrah!
The foot has failed!
The arm has broke!
The blood has flowed!
Gouge, gouge, gouge,
In the big pot of his belly there’s a great secret
You hags all around us crying into your handkerchiefs,
We’re amazed, amazed, amazed
We’re watching you
We’re looking for the Great Secret, too.
La Grande Lotta
Lo imparoglia e lo indosca giù per terra;
Lo raga e lo ropetta fino al dragolo;
Lo pratella lo libucca gli sbaruffla le uoglie;
Lo stoccarda e lo smarmina,
Lo managgia a straparì e a straparà.
Infine, lo scorcobaliscia.
L’altro esita, s’espalverina, si disfassa, si torsola e rovina.
Fra poco sarà finito;
Si ripresa e s’immargina ma invano
Il cerchio che ha girato tanto cade.
Abrah! Abrah! Abrah!
Il piede è sprofondato!
Il braccio è spezzato!
Il sangue è colato!
Fruga, fruga, fruga
Nella marmitta del suo ventre c’è un grande segreto
Megere intorno che piangete nei vostri fazzoletti;
Ci stupiamo, ci stupiamo, ci stupiamo
E vi guardiamo
Anche noi cerchiamo, noialtri, il Grande Segreto.
A Michaux bio
Henri Michaux 1899-1984
Henri Michaux was born in Namur, Belgium in 1899 to a middle-class family. From early childhood, Michaux demonstrated some of the tendencies which were to define his entire life: food disgusted him, and he shunned games, amusements, and other children. He also suffered from anemia. Also in those early years, as throughout his life, he became interested and terrified by his dreams, particularly his dreams without images or words, what he called “motionless” dreams.
At age 12 he moved to Brussels, attending a Jesuit school. But here he felt more at home, and discovered the pleasures of the dictionary. With his father’s prodding, he became interested in Latin and in music. The five years of German Occupation in World War I, however, continued to isolate him, and he retreated into a world of reading: bizarre writers, the lives of saints and mystics such as Ernest Hello and Ruysbroek.
In 1919 he attended medical school, but did not show up for the final exams, and abandoned a medical career. The following year, Michaux shipped out as a sailor on a schooner, beginning the travels which would continue throughout his life. Throughout 1920 and into 1921, he traveled throughout the world, visiting the ports of Bremen, Savannah, Norfolk, Newport News, Rio de Janeiro, Buenos Aires, New York. His return to Brussels in 1922 brought on a new sense of despair and disgust, and at the end of that year he moved to Paris, where he began writing.
Michaux’s writings and art are all set against literary and artistic stereotypes, as he sought in his work a visionary focus which followed the inner movements of the unconscious and, at times, hallucinatory world. His first book, Qui je fus (Who I Was) is just such a work in which Michaux explored enigmas and apparent contradictions in his own life. Mes propriétés of 1929 is, in many ways, a precursor of Beckett in its presentation of alienated man, its absurd humor and its struggle with the pyschologies of its characters (presented in both poetry and prose).
In the same year, Michaux traveled to Ecuador, recounting in his book of that title, his journey from the Andes to the Amazon. The result was an often-times abrasive and unillusioned presentation of what romantics and exoticists had expressed before him. Un Barbare en Asie (A Barbarian in Asia), is, on the other hand, a joyful and rhapsodic recounting of his encounters with the various Indians, Malays, Chinese, Indonesians, and Japanese of his voyage.
In 1938 Gallimard published his Plume, précédé de Lointain intérieur, continuing the adventures of his comic, absurdist hero, Plume, who awakens in a room without walls, dines on food not on the menu, and travels?despite being thrown off a train and into the ship’s hold?feeling fortunate for his ability to do so.
During World War II, he and his wife suffered from the shortages of food, which he had once found so disgusting. His wife contracted tuberculosis, and throughout the next couple of years, they traveled to Egypt and elsewhere in hopes of a cure. Then, in 1948, his wife died suddenly “as a result of atrocious burns.”
Perhaps his masterwork is Ailleurs (1948), written the same year. It is a work described by the author as “buffer-states” situated between external observation and interest obsession. This trilogy is reminiscent of the works of Swift, Huxley, and other dystopian works.
In the early 1950s, Michaux withdrew for a while from writing, spending more time on his painting. But in 1954, he published one of his major works, Face aux verrous (Facing the Locks), which contained a long prose poem on the death of his wife and several works that, in their hallucinatory quality, foretell of his later experimentation with drugs. Michaux’s book of aphorisms and other texts, Poteaux d’angle (1981), was published in English as Tent Posts by Green Integer.
He died at the age of 85.
BOOKS OF POETRY
Qui je fus (Paris: Gallimard, 1927); Mes propriétés (Paris: Fourcade, 1929); Un Certain Plume (Paris: Carrefour, 1930); La Nuit remue (Paris: Gallimard, 1935; revised, 1967); Plume, précédé de Lointain intérieur (Paris: Gallimard, 1938; revised, 1967); Au pays de la magie (Paris: Gallimard, 1938; revised, 1967); Épreuves, exorcismes 1940-44 (Paris: Gallimard, 1945); Liberté d’Action (Paris: Fontaine, 1945); Apparitions (Paris: Point du Jour, 1946); Ici Poddema (Lausanne: Mermod, 1946); Ailleurs (Paris: Gallimard, 1948; revised, 1967); La Vie dan les plis (Paris: Gallimard, 1949); Poésie pour pouvoir (Paris: Drouin, 1949); Passages 1937-1950 (Paris: Gallimard, 1950; revised, 1963); Mouvements (Paris: Gallimard, 1952); Face aux verrous (Paris: Gallimard, 1954; revised, 1967); Paix dans les brisements (Paris: Flinker, 1959); Vers la complétude (Saisie et dessaisies) (Paris: GLM, 1967); Moments: Traversées du temps (Paris: Gallimard, 1973); Choix de poèmes (Paris: Gallimard, 1976); Chemins cherchés, Chemains perdus, Transgressions (Paris: Gallimard, 1981); Déplacements dégagements (Paris: Gallimard, 1985).ENGLISH LANGUAGE TRANSLATIONS
The Space Within: Selected Writings, 1927-1959 (New York: New Directions, 1951); Henri Michaux: Selections, trans. by Teo Savory (Santa Barbara, California: Unicorn Press, 1967); The Selected Writings of Henri Michaux, trans. by Richard Ellmann (New York: New Directions, 1968); Darkness Moves: An Henri Michaux Anthology, 1927-1984, trans. by David Ball (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1994).
Et ses lignes, ses couleurs… And his lines, his colors…