Juste une fable n° 23
i’ll have to pull hard on the string, but i can feel it. the string is still there.
over and over again, there was the idea that i had three chances. the mantra - let me think about that - was to be repeated three times and this gave rise to the preparation of a conference, where two of the main speakers were jean-baptiste and virginia. my job was to warm the crowd up for virginia, and i was given a little research project on a fin-de-siècle character named josquin. this was a ridiculous, sub-oscar wilde-like clown figure, who just because he lived in the last quarter of the nineteenth century was supposed to be somehow connected to me and to mallarmé. the conference was to take place in the context of a costume ball. and for this, all kinds of unsavory figures gathered in a gigantic hall after i did my research, which was slopped together wildly and without any inspiration on the very same day.
i’d printed out rather large poster-size sheets, maybe three of them, with text and images, and thought i would leave it at that. i’m really no longer interested in research, or in scholarship at all. i had imagined that i would simply put these sheets up on an easel, and in that way warm the crowd up for virginia, not be obtrusive, but still get the job done.
well, things didn’t work out as i had planned. much more had been called for from me in terms of preparation and organization for this event than i had been willing to invest. first, during the opening speech by jean-baptiste, quotation was made of mallarmé, a number of times, and the words were not correct. everyone looked at me, but i could no longer correct them. i had closed the book on mallarmé weeks ago and the words were no longer mine. secondly, virginia had dressed to the point she was beautiful. she was in dark blue, with yellow butterfly wings, and her talk was going to be fantastic. the clock was ticking, it would be time for me to introduce her very soon. thirdly, i no longer knew where the easel was on which i could at least prop up my printouts and read with a smile to the crowd. they would forgive me for saying boring things, if i could at least be gracious. but nothing would be forgiven if i couldn’t find the easel and somehow go on with the show.
at the last moment i did. the easel was lying along the side of this gigantic room, face down, with some paintings and cartons slapped over it. i grabbed it, propped it up, and began speaking just in time for the bell. but the fact is that what i had printed out was really not cogent, and i could barely read it. in sum, i didn’t know what i was talking about, and there was nowhere to hide. i just had to keep on mouthing these words until the bell rang once again and i was through. that happened finally, and i made my way back to the center of the ballroom as virginia began to speak.
i was sitting around sort of sheepish, hoping for congratulations even though i knew i did not deserve them, when a tall, sharply dressed woman - yes, a stunning woman, of course - came and whispered into my ear: ça, c’était de la mauvaise énergie. i could hardly believe she had taken the trouble to insult me, and this left me waiting, almost craving, for some false compliments as well. at last, i got these from three men. but i was so sickened by the results of my performance that i thought i ought to slip out of this world, and go somewhere else on my own.
i did, i opened the door, and it turned out i landed on sand that led to the sea, the water around japan. now, i have never been to the orient, and i was fascinated to see beautiful japan, standing there in the mist and encircled by gently lapping waters. at first, i couldn’t see the cities, which was a good thing (i think), only the island of post-war japan. i couldn’t see any of the devastation brought there. i could only see the landscapes. and all that was really odd was that the bands of water and sand all around this island, which divided me from it, were rather narrow. that was the only thing that made japan, this wonder of nature, look like today’s world and fake. still, i let myself go, let the bands of sand and water, the gentle waves, i suppose, take me closer and closer to japan.
but as the waves brought me in to shore, things began to look a lot less natural. a metal box began to talk to me in english, a metal box that was just floating there gave me all the tourist information, and communicated with me as though i were parked at some sort of drive-in hamburger joint. and it was through that box that i arranged for sex, for the bathroom, and for my first night in the hotel. not surprisingly, all three of these, when i finally made my way onto the island, were waiting for me, quite impersonal, in another metal box. i was disappointed, of course, but i was also impressed because everything worked without human contact, the technology here had become self-sufficient, quite to the point, good.
Mary Shaw est professeure de littérature française des dix-neuvième et vingtième siècles à l'Université de Rutgers (New Jersey). Outre ses travaux universitaires, elle a publié deux livres pour enfants ainsi qu'un recueil de poésie intitulé Album Without Pictures (2008).