The Mausoleum of Lovers

Hervé Guibert

Artwork by June Glasson

I'm not worried about losing eyelashes.

The radio reading of Kafka's letters to Felice by Valère Novarina was more than a good reading, because it was a voice from beyond that was heard, and Kafka's voice came back from beyond not to read his text, but to write it anew; this voice was identified, completely, with the work of writing.

Last night when leaving A.'s, I see a dozen police officers running and bustling along the Seine. They throw a long rope to the water. Two of the police officers undress. People are already watching from atop a bridge. A bateau-mouche surfaces, fully lit, and at a signal from the police officers, changes course and brakes. The boat suddenly catches in the beams of its spotlights a bound body that is dragged to the surface of the water, along one of the banks, to the next stairway, then as if out of discretion, the whole boat goes dark. I am leaning on the bridge, and I am looking at the drowned man. To my right a young boy with thick leather gloves is leaned over, sitting on a motorbike. We are looking at the same thing and this common spectacle creates a sort of electric current between us, which immediately turns to discomfort: the shame of being on the side of life and of catching oneself having an erection while looking toward death.

This morning, as I'm about to leave, around six thirty, I realize that my Agneau-dou only has one eye. I'm late to catch my train, but I'm panicking, I look for the glass eye which must have fallen off, I palpate the interstice between the bed and the wall, finally I find it and I begin to let glue drip into the gouged eye of my Agneau-dou, because the glass eye, despite being equipped with a small point, doesn't stay in the stuffed animal on its own.

(Never written so "badly," never so little pleasure in writing.)

Munich. Last night, I get home earlier than T., and I begin to read in the hotel room (Madame Bovary) but I fall asleep, I left the bathroom light on, I wake with a start, and I see a silhouette entering the room, I hear myself whisper "Daddy," but it's T. that I see, and I'm troubled by this, not for associating T. with my father, but quite because sleep puts me back, catches me in this state of childhood...

Craving for the irreparable (but is it not like a sugar craving: quite futile?)

It isn't T. that I want to expel, it's my jealousy.

Last night on my way home a young girl, a bit drunk, accosts me and propositions me: I want to push her hard off the slope along which she is following me so that she will hurt herself, but all I say to her is: "I feel like being alone."

Given that my first erotic image, the woman with the pull-knob, was a drawing, since then, as phantasmatic material, I have always preferred the pornographic drawing (Kake) to the pornographic photo: it leaves me even more freedom, and it is even more malleable, it cannot cause pity, it can be tortured without remorse, it is almost abstract, it is pure fantasy, unreal, it lends itself without harm to every immoderation.

One could say that photography, a certain photography is a very erotic practice: this way of almost fondling the subject, encircling it, modifying its attitudes, but more than anything maintaining a distance from the idea that the camera is magic and infernal, that the disposition of the lenses and the machinery make of it an object of extreme power, like the Bibi Fricotin mind-reading glasses, or the glasses that undresses salacious advertisements: this face, this body that I have before me, in the duration of the pose, the focus, the shutter release, I am with it as though I were probing it, it is a second of truth or lie which will produce itself, but something will appear, something will reveal itself, something will betray itself. I will know something more, I will imprison it, and it will be like evidence. The secret of the other shall be my secret. And this face which stares at me can very well decompose: it is already dead.

The man was unshowable, and yet he was slipping through the crowd. His face was ravaged by fire, formless and pink, studded with several long tufts of dry white hair. And another man is speaking to him. The unshowable man says to him: "Hey, it's the first time you speak to me. In three years that we've been meeting." The man says to him: "But how is one to speak to you? It's barely possible to look at you." The unshowable man says to him: "Do you want to know what happened? An explosion. And my body is even worse. Do you want to see?" And before the other could answer, he began to open his shirt, and pull his pants down, in a corner of the beer tent, to show his burnt flesh, dripping, grazed, absolutely raw.

I am suspicious of collections. As soon as I own a photograph, I don't like it anymore. I mean, I don't desire it. It's the same thing. I don't desire it any more, I don't love it any more. The photograph must not belong to me. This afternoon I go to a photography gallery to pick up a photo I bought over a month ago, and I am confronted with another collector, and who is buying, who buys one, two, four photos, who pulls out wads of bills, and for whom the sole fact of choosing, carelessly, from among several photos, seems to grant him a kind of talent, of importance, in his eyes alone, of course, because in my eyes he is only ridiculous, and his passion is trivial.

T. suddenly ill: I want to bring him flowers, and his favorite flowers, peonies, but I know that the feeling driving me to this act would be disaffection, and I hold back, for fear he'll notice.

The impressive bribery my body, my glands, are proposing to me: if you don't come, if you prevent yourself, if you hold back your sperm, you will keep your hair. But if you let it flow for pleasure, you'll lose it all, one hair at a time. Either you will be a bald man who comes, or else you will be a hairy man without orgasm, who will even end up forgetting pleasure. It's up to you to choose. But take heed: get rid of your pornographic magazines, and only let yourself come in your dreams, without control, by dint of retention...

T. sick, and suddenly as though dead from my life. And that strange kiss, last night at the restaurant, the embrace of a woman who, for the first time, gives my body a sort of basis, of vague joy, of comfort, conformism. How many woman have I kissed in my life? I could count them, there are four: Thérèse in Germany, Agathe, Dominique, and now this other Agathe.

The old woman at the grocery, who proclaims suffering, who enumerates all the places, and all the circumstances, on which roads she inflicted herself: Nazi Germany, Cambodia, etc. and she leaves whispering: "All that suffering!" and follows, very amicably, with a "good-bye ladies and gentlemen". This woman was paying homage to suffering, and I tell myself: she would do well not to go to mass, and to spread this word in places such as this, grocery stores.

Last night from between my cheeks I collect blood on a virgin handkerchief. Fantasy of defloration: I take a photograph of my orgasm (similarly the candle which will have pierced me will not be cleaned) and I hang this shroud.

The supposition of a transfer after B.'s death: I wouldn't be the only recipient, but a transient recipient, among others: this afternoon I'm working on that book on photography, and there are moments when I feel as though I'm being carried away, doubled, inhabited by something other than myself.

Strange that I have not written about this death (I mean my own) when I felt it coming from so far. But there are several things in defense of this man: this man is horribly alone, and then this man sensed in me a suicidal man, who must, without meaning to, have been appealing to death, who was making the moves, and who may well have ended up commanding it, when it was frightening him terribly (but at the moment at which he is writing this, he knows he will do everything to defy that death, he will fight, he will kill if necessary). His body will be opened, his blood will be read, his tongue extracted, and one will say: "He was a condemned man, he was courting it", but this will be nothing but silliness... The only error was the scrap of paper on which I inscribed my first name, and my address: "293 rue de Vaugirard-Hervé," and T. will have sensed it by calling me thus from time to time: "Hervé Guibert 293-295 rue de Vaugirard," and he will also have sensed it by setting about hating that man during his stay at the hospital. Extralucidita: my assassin was not very handsome, but he could have been worse. Let his throat be cut. I will end with this: it is nonetheless a bit cold at the morgue, it was nonetheless a bit cold at the morgue, think of me. I will have dressed for death: I will have bought myself a beautiful pair of polished black shoes with laces. I will have cavaliered a lot. But I will never have moved. I will never have hung a wooden airplane over my bed, and a stuffed crocodile over my table.

The first pages of Proust: monstrosity.

On the Piazza del Campo, the group of old English sisters, all dressed in white, accompanied by several simpletons: they are wearing badges on which "Eros travel" is written. The mother superior no doubt, wearing white woolen unmatched socks in leather sandals, is very tall, thin and elegant, she is wearing a small white hat under which her black habit is visible, from her long white dress a black wooden rosary and a small metal camera hang, an ancient, rudimentary model. She is also holding in her hand a folded flag which she uses to hit people who, like me, are looking at her, with stupefaction, and to make grand gestures of irritation in the direction of laggards: several little idiotic nuns, with pale faces almost the yellow of antiquated undergarments, or on the contrary flushed by blood and the sun (one of them has the buckle of her sandals undone, and has folded over her habit an inexplicable rag, very bright yellow and dotted with white spots); but despite her irritation, the mother superior doesn't move: I think it would be impossible for her to slip into the current crowd of the Campo, she would be like a lost diplodocus.

The voluptuousness of entering into this room, somewhat heated under the roofs, but whose light is pleasantly dispensed through the shutter lattes, to expose oneself, to await the return of T., to write a bit while waiting for him...

But when he returns, T. breaks this ambient voluptuousness by dint of small assaults (which return me to that state of childhood in which I suffered the sadism of others): he wants me to try on the bra of a bathing suit which he just bought for C., he says to me: "I brought something back for you" and he extracts from a pack of cigarettes a small dead bat which he wants to put in my hand, on my belly he squeezes a small blackhead and with two fingers he wants to spread my urethra, he seems utterly surprised by the lassitude of desire, but he is also feeding the journal, which was singularly empty of him of late, thus singularly empty.

Hundredth pages of Proust, having passed the impassable myth: he exhausts his memory, which unwinds in a spiral, a maze, from which an infinite succession of drawers that dislocate one from the other escape. But what is amusing, is to go from this concentrated reading, which almost forces one to religiosity, to gossip, to the rumors retranscribed by Proust, the writing of which is common, but which one reads, in the rush of it, with the same reverence.

Back in Porquerolles, after a three-year absence: I am surprised to be recognized, by merchants for example, inasmuch as I'm surprised by the ageing of others: I'm very attentive to the grocer's new wrinkles, to the swimming instructor's glabrity. When I arrive to collect the keys from the letter, I see that old man again whom I used to see every night playing boules on the square, but he is immobilized in a big armchair, in front of a floor mirror, through the half-open door I seem to make out a sort of headband around his forehead, and he is shaving himself interminably with a small electric razor the round blades of which run infinitely over his cheeks where hair doesn't grow anymore; hearing me speak to his wife, he turns around and throws a look of forgetting, of misrecognition at me. His wife wants to excuse him: "You know, he's a bit deaf..."

But I am here in a state of suffering different from the previous one, which was the suffering of absence: I am now suffering from T.'s presence (the inverse of the previous suffering), and it is perhaps even worse. It isn't a great melancholy anymore, it is the suffering of hatred, to the point, when he comes home late to bed, of wanting to break his rib cage with scissor jabs, so I put the scissors away in the drawer. And from the crime, mentally, I imagine my conduct, my flight, the words telephoned to my parents, or to Mathieu: "I killed T.", and this imagination seems natural to me.

I am now eating my hair, I cut my lips with it.

T.'s letters. Yvonne's return.

The thought that for Louise I must be a "virgin boy": the certainty, the intuition she must have that I have never slept with women (nor even with "pornographic women," whores, as C.'s grandmother calls them) and for her, who can one sleep with, if not with women, when one is a man?

I lacked utterly in warmth, even familial politeness, today, by not letting my sister in when she was ringing the interphone and I knew it was her, and by letting my mother go alone to the train station, with a giant suitcase, without dropping her off: and I am almost ashamed of this lack of elementary decorum...

In the morning, when I wake up, I feel as though my body is a machine that fabricates odors: my mouth exudes, my cock exudes, and I wrap myself in these two conjugated odors, I knot them into the sheets.

My cousin P. says: "For me, in fact, it's not photography that interests me, it's the image. Images. When I see you for example, I see an image, I see the image of your grandfather, Lucien Guibert, even his hairline, it's crazy," and she lifts the strand of hair that covers my forehead to verify what she is saying.

A beautiful story: the head of the newspaper who is in love. The pretext for letters of insult, for a potential raise. He summons him repeatedly into his office, under the pretext of work, just for the pleasure of seeing him. The targeted journalist is overcome with much sympathy for this infatuation.

In the bus, I sit down beside a young man, with straight black hair, that he doesn't stop combing, interminably, with a small comb of imitation tortoise shell, the yellow plastic case for which he is holding, as well as the file that completes the set, with his left hand. First I try to determine whether the moments when the man leaves his hair and lets his hand fall into the air, while still clutching the comb, bear any relation to the bus stopping, at red lights for example. Then I tell myself: it would take next to nothing for this man's gesture to start exasperating me, and for me to change places, but I am quite calm this morning, and that won't happen. Still, I cannot detach myself from this gesture, and be attentive in my field of vision to the repetitive movements of the comb in his hair. I watch him furtively, and he ends up catching my eye, he smiles at me, he asks me: "You okay?" and I answer: "Yes, I'm okay," and I smile in turn, blushing. I then develop a sentence that would say: "You have beautiful hair, but don't you think you'll end up tiring it, by always combing it thus?", this sentence which is developed and perfected (I remove for example, the "very" from "beautiful hair" so as not to give it a flattering turn) remains in my head and plagues me, during the whole trip it becomes a necessity, yet I prevent myself from speaking it, by simple prudence, I tell myself: it might cause the comb's teeth, instantly, to pierce my face with so many little red points. It would take very little for this ceaselessly manipulated comb, passed through his hair over and over, to become an object of aggression. Finally he gets up, and I watch him get off the bus with relief, but instead of losing itself, of dismounting with him, my sentence remains embedded, and that is why I am writing this.

The mother remembers the twenty-five roses sent to her by her son, with a telegram, at the ablation of one of her genital parts, she tells him with emotion that she has even kept the telegram, and one of the twenty-five roses, dried, but he doesn't even remember this, and his mother's emotion suddenly embarrasses him, he doesn't dare turn to look at her, and he remains immobile, his mulish gaze lost in the void, he contracts his jaws: today those twenty-five roses seem like an extravagance, as it is customary to say when one receives flowers, today he would only send ten, if that, and this number, twenty-five, this number of roses sent to his mother fills him with shame now, in retrospect, like an exaggeration of affection.

In the correspondence to the father one would only find stories about money, brief expressions of gratitude, thus: "Thank you for your check for five hundred francs which enabled me to buy three pairs of variegated American boxer shorts, an eau de toilette, and a train ticket for the Isle of Elba."

Dream that I meet the actress I.H.: initially I'm not surprised when I see her, but little by little as I watch her, her face, despite her young age, appears horribly crumpled to me, her whole skin scorched as though beneath the excessively long exposure of the spotlights, she has bags under her eyes. She says to me defensively: "Why are you looking at me like that?", and I say to her: "No, nothing, I just had a vision of you, but don't worry, it isn't quite you yet." Then I want to touch her arm to reassure her, but she pulls it away sharply: "Don't touch me. Or if you touch me, then you will come see me at the cemetery."

Hans-Georg's grandmother's story: the occupation by the Americans then the French at Germany's defeat. This woman is a member of the high bourgeoisie, she has to abandon her apartment, and live in her cellar with her husband, who is very old and sick. First the Americans: they allow her to visit her apartment once a week; she locks herself in, alone, among the big paintings she fears being dispossessed of. Then the French: she fears the outcome, for the sake of humiliation only black officers are sent. She has never seen a black man. She hides behind the blind of a neighboring building to observe them, and she sees, in her husband's room, two big black men open the wardrobe and try on tailcoats, tuxedos and top hats. The horror. Her husband is dying in the unlit cellar. On the street she runs into one of the two black officers she observed behind the window: he asks after her husband's health, his mannerisms are delicate, his German is perfect. She tells him that her husband is dying in the cellar. In the evening, Mr. Soaf returns the apartment so that she can settle back in with her husband. He dies the next day. Mr. Soaf is at the funeral. He becomes a friend of the family.

The story of Gérard's childhood: he is a young child at the collège. Little boys aren't allowed to go into the older boys' dormitory, but the older boys frequently walk through the young boys' dormitory. Gérard falls in love with one of those big boys who must be eleven or twelve years old whereas he is only seven or eight. Every day a snack is distributed to the children. The big boy says to Gérard: "if you give me your snack every day, for two months, before the Chandeleur holidays I will give you a wolf's mask." Every day Gérard resists eating his snack and takes it to the big boy. Two months later he demands his wolf's mask. The big boy says: "I'll put it under your pillow." The big boys' classes leave the collège for the holidays before the little ones. Before leaving, Gérard goes up into the dormitory to fetch the wolf's mask from under his pillow, but of course, since this story is being told today, it isn't there.

The translation of Hans-Georg's short texts: a torture, the final sense that this text belongs to me just as it is my enemy.

No, the previous idea of the enemy text was seductive, but false. I had in relation to that work the attitude that I have with my own work, which is to say that at the moment at which I was doing it I felt as though I was failing at what I could have done, the positive result only appears once the work is complete. It was especially necessary to translate the archaism of that text, the restitute words in their strength and in their obviousness while stripping them of any uselessness... But this sort of notation, this search for precision here is of no interest to me.

At the moment of sleep, the presence of the other in the same space becomes intolerable (not even disgust for the air passing from his lungs to mine) and if I fuck him, if I decide to fuck him, it's first to annihilate him, and to pass over that feeling of intolerability.

While looking at the arms of an unknown young man uncovered by his short-sleeved shirt, I think: those are men's arms, when I don't feel as though I have, as though I carry men's arms beneath my shoulders and in the extension of my hands, I feel as though my arms are not a man's arms, but a child's arms, that they never developed, while my arms must no doubt resemble those which seem to me so different.

The sound of our breathing, in the dark, settles me into an animal reality. Our breaths collide against each other, as though to surmount the other, annihilate him first in the auditory suspension of sleep (and in the certainty of the loss of desire: I don't want to remain alone with this unconscious body, this body nonetheless so close, but altogether elsewhere.)

I tried to revise T.'s letters again to detach and copy fragments with the idea of incorporating them into this journal, and close the first part. But very quickly (even before I began in fact, the letters scarcely reread) this work bores me, seems absurd to me: because these letters are very much letters, and they have a texture other than that of the journal, more free, more dispersed, more futile, more real as well.

I say to Hans-Georg: I am more and more afraid, afraid of losing life. I no longer take the airplane, and now I'm just as afraid in a car, and I'm afraid at night on the train, lying down, when it careens in the rain, on the slippery rails. I am more and more afraid of losing life, and I feel that my field of displacement is receding, that I will limit it endlessly, that I will measure the risks of that loss.

These days spent with T., sharing practically everything of the unfolding of days and nights, meals, walks and sleep, never have I felt so smothered by the lack of tenderness, as by the fact of a relation that is morbid, moribund.

Avidity of reading, but dreadful isolation of reading.

Pleasure of this word, small, clumsily repeated perhaps in the slightest text, like a nostalgia for smallness, for childhood...

In letters, I wrote to T.:

"... I'm trying to explain to myself why I use you so seldom, when I have trouble coming, to jerk off, and I tell myself it's so as not to tire you, or exhaust you, or burn you out as an image, to preserve you I forget you. In my refusal to put you in a position of obscenity, I forget you as a lover, and in that remoteness I keep only the friend. Each time I see you again the living image unfurls and astonishes me, calls me back, attracts me violently: the image is dead, and I don't want you dead, your body for me, your presence is a miracle that drives away the image. Now you visit me in my dreams, our sexes mess around together."

"You are my sole correspondent. I'm trying to know everything that might lie behind this word, correspondent: you are my sole correspondent, in other words: you correspond to me..."

"...In the first letter I wrote you that the absence of desire returned me incessantly to my desire for you, but in the end I only write you my desire for others, and it doesn't cut into my desire for you, it passes through it, it celebrates it and you could perhaps see in it this complicity of desire which you have always dreamed of with me, but which I have hitherto been incapable of other than in absence (because your presence reintegrates me ill-fatedly in my violent and jealous desire...)"

"Just before sleep, the imagination of our obscenity remains for me the supreme obscenity, your balls gagging my mouth..."

"I wanted to speak to you of something which is much stronger than inhibition: it is perhaps a bit of a haughty idea of the body, but it is mine, and I feel as though I have engaged it in a very profound adventure with you, and this body isn't only my secret, but yours as well, and to deliver it aside, elsewhere, seems to me, at the extreme, irreversible, moment of temptations, a derisory betrayal and I detach myself immediately from these temptations, I become serene, the certainty of this adventure in which I've engaged my body with you evacuates all regret, I want only for my body to exist with you alone, without you my body is mutilated, without you my body doesn't exist, and if you were to die, I wonder what would become of it, whether I would inter it with yours in your grave, or whether I would seek it out, untiringly, enveloping other bones and animated by other spirits..."

"My letters commit a fault: that of outrage, exaggeration; as I write you, no doubt, I am not only writing you, but the general character of the novel (T.), I am developing something, at such times, readers of my letters intervene between you and me, and we are already buried... To avenge yourself, you would have only to tear them up... These letters, it seems to me that if they were presented to me already written, even before I had written them, to be signed, initialed, I would reject them, I would discard them as non-compliant, unpremeditated..."

"Last night at the Palace, Wednesday night, boy's night, bodies were moving and your desire was disseminated among them, and my sadness came from that imaginary, telepathic dissemination."

"T., I thought earlier that the general novel I told you about, Le récit de la mesquinerie, would end with this letter: beginning with an attempted novel, then continuing in the form of a journal, then arriving at the letter, which is the true form of this narrative, its sincere form. The movement, a game of arrows, like masks removed one after another: he → I → you. The model of the love letter."

"At night, as I am about to go to bed, in the morning when I wake up, I turn over onto my stomach, with my feet at the foot of the bed, hanging in the air, and I pronounce your name, I wait for you to come, it's a bit like a prayer..."

"P.S.: more than anything please don't believe that it's your absence I love, or rather my own love of your absence..."

As I am writing, I am lying, I hope.

On the laced up notebook that Hans-Georg gave me, beginning development of a novel, of a classical form of a novel, Les rivaux, but instant boredom of the linearity and the construction, boredom of finding a name for the character. Two different beginnings, immediately rejected, read to T. The thought of writing more freely, and without boredom, letting the flow of memories go. The thought of making an outline.

translated from the French by Nathanaël


Click here to read the translator's essay on Hervé Guibert, also in the October 2012 issue.



Hervé Guibert (1955-1991) was a French writer and photographer. A critic for Le Monde, he was the author of some thirty books, most notably To the Friend Who Did Not Save My Life, which presents an intimate portrait of Michel Foucault, and played a significant role in changing public attitudes in France toward AIDS. Hervé Guibert also produced an important body of photographs, which was exhibited in 2011 as a retrospective by the Maison européenne de la photographie. In Ghost Image, a book whose subject is photography and in which no photographs appear, Guibert proposes a textual mise-en-scène of photography. La pudeur ou l'impudeur, Guibert's only film, follows the last months of his life in plenary detail. Hervé Guibert died in Paris at the age of 36 following a failed suicide attempt on the isle of Elba. His posthumously published journals, The Mausoleum of Lovers, are among his most esteemed works.

Nathanaël is the author of a score of books written in English or French, including Sisyphus, Outdone., Carnet de somme, We Press Ourselves Plainly, and L'injure. Je Nathanaël exists in self-translation, as does the essay of correspondence, Absence Where As (Claude Cahun and the Unopened Book), first published in French as L'absence au lieu. Some texts exist in Basque, Slovene, and Spanish (Mexico), with book-length translations in Bulgarian and Portuguese (Brazil). Nathanaël's translations include works by Édouard Glissant, Danielle Collobert, Catherine Mavrikakis and Hilda Hilst, the latter in collaboration with Rachel Gontijo Araújo. Her translation of The Mausoleum of Lovers by Hervé Guibert will be published by Nightboat Books in 2014. Nathanaël lives in Chicago.



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