Four Texts

Michel Vachey

Illustration by Emily S. Franklin

Craven came up past the Achilles statue in the thin summer rain. It was only just after lighting-up time, but already the cars were lined up all the way to the Marble Arch, and the sharp acquisitive faces peered out ready for a good time with anything possible which came along. Craven went bitterly by with the collar of his mackintosh tight round his throat: it was one of his bad days.

—Graham Greene, “A Little Place Off the Edgware Road”

Perfect opening, impossible to improve. One would like to linger there, forever in the beginning. Likely influence of film, the eternity of the moment captured by technique, with art, the illusion and reality of everyday life, the flowing account of the fatal. Everything is there, everything there will be. A kind of menacing exhilaration that leaves off the background of a professional storyteller, who leads you among cars to the Marble Arch. Not the slightest nausea, only bitterness. Certainly everything is crafted, arranged, shown more than implied. So we like or not, we enter or not, we accept or not this ordinary but very able descriptive and psychological equivalence; we enjoy the spell or we stanch it. It all depends on the personal talent for play, literary judgments, social choices, one’s own fear and frivolousness, etc. The mackintosh, all the same, a lost era. But dating dates also; and besides, what clothing isn’t custom? Not only did I turn up my collar but I fastened it (round my throat, to be exact). It’s one of my bad days. Someday I’ll have to read The Odyssey, maybe first The Trojan War, for starters, to see Achilles in action. A dictionary entry is soon forgotten. What the heck’s this statue doing here? I like seeing it, as I do the cars lined up along the way, thinking of nothing except that one day the people driving will be, sans statue, as little recognized as mythological heroes but available to look up in records (films, magazines, etc.), or rather digitally preserved.
My name is Craven, I do not really understand why I wander along this street (avenue?) but this very non-understanding is exciting; I’m only my own prey and that of a “shadow” peered out of by sharp acquisitive faces, not that of the sociologist and the historian who have ABSOLUTELY NOTHING TO SAY regarding the variety of openings. Of course we don’t encounter any individual without type and vice versa, which is to say Craven is wedged into at least two scenarios (historical, literary . . . ), but the sociologist, let’s say, is also an individual, and maybe a character, and someone who knows one more than the other.
I imagine Craven is aware he’s in the crosshairs and that he fully appreciates, say, the anxiety of the sociologist on the lookout for someone—anyone—halfway decent. How to transform an awful time into a good one? Obviously, the answers differ, as many as there are people; we’re also entitled to shrug at this sort of question. Craven possessed vague notions of the human sciences vaguely updated by his reading of newspapers, but his thoughts were on something quite different, or rather on nothing more precise than the appearance of women, an undetermined promise beyond his former bitterness. No one would know how this ray of sunshine felt to him, although now everyone can read the preceding statement, each also reading it in their own way, without evading the use of a super-stereotype of a super type no doubt, proof there’s no escaping it, not in this way, since this way or that there’s always at least one. Still, the artist has employed certain details and not others; without him Craven would never have come up past the statue of Achilles; in Achilles’ day there would have been no author of like genre, no opening, no Craven. But another genre, etc. So I prefer to think I’m going out in the thin summer rain hardly aware of the streetlights, because for me it’s afternoon. This thin summer rain—in a minute I’ll put the matter to Craven.

A Trap
Whoever endeavors to write seeks to dismantle a trap. A trap can be inadvertent—this haze-sketch of real things and events that have happened to him so far. The everyman (we’ll call thus one for whom an imperative passion, absurd or time-marked, does not impel him to blacken paper as if his life’s at stake) will end up instinctively knowing the beautiful people, the pleasant streets, the best gestures and the opportune times; he will smile to avoid the insolvable question, will link the spirit of the stairway to the water of his mill, for personal reasons change sidewalks, sidestep some predicaments, futilely manifest stratagems, learn callousness and laughter, give to his middling shames the convivial or fateful name that erases all suspicion. The everyman, loser or fighter, takes life as it comes; even if he doesn’t conceive any kind of project he believes in those of others, in their tying of loose ends. To him there exist positions good or bad, states of the world, climates, policies, systems, etc.—all this is plain. The mention of traps evokes an ambush, or a rat; no doubt he appreciates the image, its realism giving weight to the
Naturally, anyone writing also acts like a regular person, but it’s no longer enough for him to change sidewalks, and he knows that it will not be enough to change cities, or even continents, although a continent can help, simultaneously as land and as image. Whoever writes walks and no longer walks in the street where you see him walking. He walks at the same time in the street and in the image of the street; between this street and yours, he creates himself a land and a mind, he invents this street within this street, next to this street, or in front of this street, a street that perhaps later you will be forced to walk down “in your turn” without suspecting it was he who laid it for his own use, to escape from you. Whoever writes doesn’t deem himself an architect, even less a town planner, he flees, he has no wish to destroy, he means to slide the loose earth in others’ heads. Whoever writes flees from writers, won’t stop at himself anymore; the one who writes grows tireless because he’s thrown himself out. Whoever writes ceases to wish to reform and to fear, he moves the surface landmarks of his lungs. Without hate, whoever writes sees you in the night of clear days, can no longer tell day from night and yet continues to see night in broad daylight, like you enjoys the nighttime, but his own comings and goings are no longer close, he roams somewhere else here in his streets, in the absolute-relative of his streets, which have incidentally become yours. Never again will he borrow the same cars—so obsolete, so real because obsolete, and yet neither more nor less . . . interesting than what, as a matter of urgency, he writes. Whoever writes has no pressing matters, all your own matters having become so much his; whoever writes only writes for you that’s watching him write, because he does not write, any more than you who unwittingly make his life hopeless—you everyday fate, you the Trap you do not even lay. You who without knowing it have condemned him to write. Whoever writes knows he’s an accidental victim, unassigned. His writing not murder’s ventriloquist anymore. Whoever writes no longer weighs on the terror and the timesheet. No longer measures up to pathetic, mathematical limits, to ruined big names in delight and fiascos. Whoever writes turns invisible yet doesn’t vanish, turns everyman to make human your deaf spider legs.

Please Insert

The Error, on its padded tires or at Mach I, laden with stray lyricism, throws into a fit the one who doesn’t like being given, at his own expense, the wrong change. Error is peculiar to man. Needless to say. Like canned beer. When you don’t know math, you can always distinguish yourself in error metaphysics. Actually, it’s hard for me to see what Error is (eRROR?). Because I see poorly, more and more poorly, what Being is, or History, or—it doesn’t matter. Useless words. Cultural redundancy. Announcements of allegories. Certainly, the mistake . . . There’s no doubt, we make mistakes . . . The mistake . . . the truth . . . Lucky error versus pseudo-truth . . . Which perhaps means the error in question wasn’t an error (as for pseudo-truths, they aren’t necessarily errors!). Poetry . . . error . . . Poetry plays the role of a signal error (in the cybernetic sense) but it’s also a signal of truth (in the highest sense . . . and the most banal). The poet, who understands nothing, who will never understand anything (which, indeed, is why he writes), in his heroic idiot’s questioning provides a personal answer, that is to say erroneous (neither practical truth nor mystical truth, etc.—yet a link to the political exceedingly hard to parse) . . . and absolutely true. Poetry then appears to be a SECOND-DEGREE ERROR.

The error (the E....?) . . . By making a little effort, it’s possible to say smart things. But everyone is smart. You’ve read (or haven’t read) as well (as badly) as I Hegel,,,.,.,.,.,.,.,Derrida, or—we can have fun combining their sentences (paraphrased or not) in different ways, or replacing one word with another (with its antonym for instance—guaranteed effect). Not to mention analogy’s potential. And you progress into a sort of Rousselian device in which breaches, malapropisms, erasures, contrasts, shouts and shots, silences—are dully anticipated.
ASAP please make a mistake.

“We’ll walk afoot awhile, and ease our legs” —Shakespeare


          As I approached the earthen mound, its contours grew sharper. At first glance, the inordinately dramatic image of large bird torn out from the mud; suggestion—silhouette of reddish acre. Then I observed leaden volutes pounding cymbals, a green-pink candy wrapper, fragments of a loudspeaker, a sheet of kraft paper (vague clayey guts digesting a pattern that seemed familiar). Three feet from the pile, a purple piece of candy had rolled away sans wrapper. Then, I had the absurd feeling, very stupid and absurd I know, that candy and earthen mound faced off. The bare candy, ready to dodge, able to leap. While the mass watched its comical prey m-o-u-t-h w-a-t-e-r-i-n-g. As this sort of impression isn’t sustainable for long, I continued my walk. Nevertheless, I returned to the candy. I crushed it. Making a sugary sound I never did much like.

translated from the French by S. C. Delaney and Agnès Potier