Read Autoportrait Online

Authors: Edouard Levé

Autoportrait (3 page)

alone. I have a feeling children of my own would bore me less than other people’s. I do not sleep on satin sheets. I wonder how I can just suddenly come out with: “Oh la la!” The problem with amusement parks is the crowds: empty I find them beautiful. I have smoked so much I felt sick. I am able to admire people who admire me. I do not embellish things or make them ugly either. I like serial music until the moment when, suddenly, I can’t stand it. Listening to music in the car is a way of passing the time, thus shortening my life. My cars have always drifted to the right. Bad news makes me unhappy but satisfies my paranoia. I can see a lot of my body. My mother saved my life by giving me life. When I have finished with a thing I don’t throw it down, I put it down. A Louis-Philippe tart makes me hungrier than a bouillabaisse which costs more than a quartz watch which is more use than a book of jokes which makes me laugh less than my cousin Cyrille. I do not love the accordion, but I love the bandoneón. I prefer the cello to the violin. I am a meticulous packer. I go months without reading the paper. I make regular trips to galleries. I can’t handle too much art at once. I do not enjoy contemporary art fairs. I leave an art fair the way I leave a book fair: disabused. I have too great a sense of the absurd to do the accent when I speak a foreign language. To make it through the afternoon I turn it into a cold night: blinds closed, curtains drawn. I write in bed. In a pool by the side of the road, I have turned the sound of the cars into waves. It seems I do not snore. Having goose bumps reminds me that I was an animal, generations ago. I will not lose my eyesight, I will not lose my hearing, I will not wet myself, I will not forget who I am, I will die first. I wipe the table before and after eating. I do not remember having been punished by my parents. I taught myself to type. I taught myself everything I know about computers. I enjoy playing anything on the piano as long as no one is listening. I do not say “Double or nothing,” “I dare you,” or “A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.” For several years I wore Pour Monsieur by Chanel, then White by Comme des Garcons, then Philosykos by Diptyque. I am against stucco. I do not like exposed stone any better than exposed beams. In company, I am less guilty when I transgress. I have not predicted that Mick Jagger will die of prostate cancer. I have a weakness for negative formulations, counter-formulations, reformulations, and deformations. When I expect to achieve nothing, ideas come. When I hear the English word “god,” I think both of God and of a dildo (
). When I want to make a friend laugh, I say apropos of nothing: “How immoral.” During a comic movie, the anticipatory laughter of the other viewers leaves me unable to laugh. At a dinner party, a girlfriend kissed me, took off her clothes, and ruined everything for half the guests, including three old lovers of mine. Playing ping-pong, the sound of the ball helps me more than its color. I like living in a house that is freighted with the pasts of other people, I also like sleeping in anonymous hotels. I have left a woman because I didn’t love her anymore and didn’t like the way I was around her. I feel apprehensive before conversations that have a fixed duration: lunches, dinners, interviews. With more than six people at the table, I get lost in all the conversation. I prefer conversations for two. I would rather have dinner with one person than with several. Swimming is like a kind of sleep: I go easily from a bed to a lake. If I swim for half an hour in the morning, I feel good all day. When I relax completely in a pool, I always end up in the same position, back to the sky, body bent at forty-five degrees, head underwater, arms stretched out in front as if to grab the void. I have never gone to a strip club. I have gone to bed with roughly fifteen prostitutes, of various extractions: French, Indian, African, Romanian, Arab, Italian, Albanian. Louis de Funès depresses me. I have a collection of about twenty pairs of blue jeans. I have a collection of pairs of black leather oxfords. I have a collection of black shirts. I have a collection of black leather jackets. I have a collection of black socks. I have a collection of black underpants. I have a collection of jean jackets. People who don’t know me well think I am always wearing the same shirt and jeans. I have never considered sleeping with a nun. When a machine stops humming is when I notice it’s been getting on my nerves. I am not planning to take revenge. I always keep a tissue in one pocket and keys in the other. I’m not sure I can be psychoanalyzed. Buying clothes is a trial, wearing them a pleasure. I am in favor of same-sex marriage. I like doing things twice but the third time makes me sad. I sniff the book I’m reading. I sneeze three times in a row. I do not take out my dick in public. I look at the real estate ads in windows without any intention of buying. When I look out a window, I also look at the reflections. I would rather look at objects behind glass than on a shelf. I would rather look at a piece of clothing folded on a shelf than hanging on a rack. I press my finger against soft putty. Bruno Gibert and Cyril Casmèze are the people who make me laugh the most. I do not chew chewing gum. I am as taken with new clothes as with a new identity. I regret not having been a radical in my youth. I could become politically engaged in the cause of an environmentalist party. When I was young, Nazism seemed to belong to another era, but the older I get the closer this era seems to be. I have trouble explaining why we have five digits. After too long in the bath my fingers wrinkle up. I perceive only my bones that ache. My favorite composers are Bach and Debussy. I do not whistle while I work. When I whistle, I become winded. Hearing someone whistle annoys me, especially with vibrato. I feel uneasy hearing someone sing a capella while looking me in the eyes, which luckily happens only on TV. I don’t know what to say to test an echo so I say “Oooooh.” To me, air conditioned air seems perfumed with dust and microbes. I feel no nostalgia for my childhood, my youth, or what came next. I am tempted to make exhaustive lists, and stop myself in the middle. I am not lyrical. I like to travel in order to stop in another place. Life seems interminable to me like a Sunday afternoon to a child. Thursday is the best night. There is no “best” week. I have no memories of being hurt by women, only by men. When she is bored, one of my friends gets dressed and made up as if she were going out, and doesn’t. When he is in a foreign country, one of my friends follows nice-looking strangers in the street to find a party. I say everything. I have never made much money, but this hasn’t bothered me. I own my apartment. I may prefer one of my parents to the other, but I would rather not think about it. I can do without music, art, architecture, dance, theater, movies, I have trouble doing without photography, I cannot do without literature. Digging a hole makes me feel good. The sound of water bothers me. I have few regrets. I do not seek novelty, but rightness. I wept reading
, by Thierry Fourreau. All of the music by Daniel Darc, The Durutti Column, Portishead, The Doors, and Dominique A agrees with me. I have a fantasy of eavesdropping on what gets said in the office of a notary for a week. I do not have the fantasy of doing the same in an analyst’s office. For the sake of taking a walk, I park my motorcycle at some distance from a rendezvous. When I’m abroad, everything is more or less unreal, which sometimes makes me want to live there, except I would still have to change countries since it would no longer be “abroad.” I regret having spoken but not having kept quiet. I make lots of little works instead of undertaking a big one. I do not wear T-shirts with images or text. I feel good if I work well, but I can work well without feeling good. I can’t get no satisfaction. Walking helps me get ready to work. When I walk I have no ideas, I get ready to have some when I sit down. I made myself laugh out loud with an idea for a book to be entitled:
My Conspiracy Theories
. I think Carine Charaire is right to be so utterly herself. I have sixty pairs of pants, forty shirts, eighteen jackets or sport coats, and twenty-five pairs of socks, which makes one million eighty thousand outfits. I do not like whimsy (
) or the word
. I am hostile to the concept of the aperitif. One of my friends does not like women who like men. I use the word “girls” for women I find attractive regardless of age. When I am tired, I feel physically unwell in my feet, in my lower and upper back, at the back of my neck, and in my temples. I don’t mind the cold. I am unacquainted with hunger. I was never in the army. I have never pulled a knife on anyone. I have never used a machine gun. I have fired a revolver. I have fired a rifle. I have shot an arrow. I have netted butterflies. I have observed rabbits. I have eaten pheasants. I recognize the scent of a tiger. I have touched the dry head of a tortoise and an elephant’s hard skin. I have caught sight of a herd of wild boar in a forest in Normandy. I ride. I do not always find beautiful women exciting, or the women who excite me beautiful. I rest only against my will. I have no guide and am a guide to no one. I help myself at the table until there’s nothing left. At border crossings I feel as good as if I were nowhere. I sleep in the middle of the bed. I think of objects in terms of their edges. I use soft bags more often than hard suitcases. I would rather live in a port town. I do not have fantasies of living on a desert island. Removing a splinter brings a sharp pleasure. When I remove a Band-Aid I get excited at the moment of truth: will the scab come off? The faster I remove a Band-Aid, the less it pulls my hair. I encounter very little opposition. I wish I smiled less. I hope some day my friends might come and sit under my vine and my fig tree. I am pitiless toward the wicked. I am against the death penalty. I am surprised there is no word for a mistaken sense of déjà vu. I have been locked in a cellar. I was not beaten. I was not insulted. No one abused me. I sometimes read things back to front. I will never be done with literature. I do not use idiomatic expressions. I do not do public impressions. I ought to invent calisthenics to do in bed. I hope to be buried in a crypt of my own in Montparnasse. I hope to ask an aide to the Minister of Culture to construct my future crypt as a work of art, bearing my date of birth and a projected date of death, December 31, 2050. I no longer remember the exact number of countries on Earth, I think there are a few more than two hundred. I sharpen knives. I wash the dishes. I clear the table. I vacuum. I do windows. I scrub enameled surfaces. My ideal temperatures are twenty degrees outside, twenty-four inside. When it starts to rain, I smell things better. The hum of machinery puts me to sleep. When a machine stops humming it sometimes wakes me up. I’ve tried to rewrite my will when I wanted to kill myself, but I stopped myself partway through. I am a good listener. I do not think things were better before or will get better later on. One of my male friends has died. None of my female friends has died. Marc-Ernest Fourneau has seen me do what few men have seen me do. I have “sung” under the direction of Arnaud Labelle-Rojoux and Guy Scarpetta. I have designed the set for a runway show by Gaspard Yurkievich. I jump for joy but I do not sink down in sadness. I eschew unusual words. For me going back to a place after twenty years is stranger than smoking hashish. In public places music bothers me. I am drawn to the brevity of English, shorter than French. I had the idea for a book whose chapters would be anagrams of my name:
L’ode au verde
Rêve de l’ado U
Élève au Drod
Rue de Lovade
Ed roule Dave
(The Ode to Verde, Dream of Teen U, Pupil at the Drod, Rue de Lovade, Ed Rolls Dave). With my glasses off, if I stretch out my arms I can’t make out my fingers. At the table, ice or bubbles make water less boring, but I like water boring. I have trouble believing men who say they have never gone to bed with a prostitute. Wine poisons me, cigarettes kill me, drugs bore me. I cannot name one hundredth of the components of my body. My nails grow for no reason. The pressure of the chair in summer on the skin of my back hurts in a nice way. To Joyce, who writes about banal things in extraordinary language, I prefer Raymond Roussel, who writes unrealistic things in everyday words. When I want to see theater, I go to Mass. I love the unpredictability of blue jeans: how, after you wash them, they shrink, age, fade. I am against reverence. When I was a child, I looked at rugs the same way, as a grown-up, I look at an abstract painting. When I was a child, the only group games I liked were ones that took place outdoors, without equipment, and without keeping score: tag and eeny meeny miney mo. I wasted time trying to be good at math. I am in favor of simplified spelling. I taught myself the things that mattered to me most: to write and to take pictures. Reasoning doesn’t convince me, but it reassures me. I hope that at my death no religious ceremony will be observed. In my mouth what’s hard turns soft and what’s soft, liquid. I have fainted three times, during skiing or motorcycle accidents. I feel put off by a man who talks too close, and follows me when I back away. Putting two things together that are unrelated gives me an idea. Close to the ground my memories of childhood come back. I play squash and ping-pong. When I lie down after drinking water, my stomach makes noises like a water bed. I cross certain streets not breathing through my nose to avoid pollution. I am not for or against painting, that would be like being for or against the brush. When I am happy I’m afraid of dying, when I’m unhappy I am afraid of not dying. If I don’t like what I see, I close my eyes, but if what I hear bothers me, I am unable to close my ears. I cannot predict my headaches. I empty my memory. Squeezing a sponge is fun like chewing gum. Sometimes I will spend the day thinking about a phrase that came to me out of nowhere and that I don’t understand, such as: “The last time it was yesterday.” If I think of it as a performance, packing a suitcase becomes a joy. I make modified recordings of Wagner where I keep only the parts that suit me, slow, sad, and without voices. I often have trouble sleeping. I stopped having nightmares during adolescence, or rather: I still dream about terrifying things, without being terrorized. I write less and less with a pen, more and more on a computer. I bought more records at twenty than I buy at forty. I have worn Levi’s 501s since I was fourteen, I got the idea when I was ten at my grandmother’s reading a comic strip about a cowboy, but I had to wait four years to find jeans like that. It was very hard for me to tell my mother that I loved her, it took me until I was thirty-five. My mother told me she loved me when I was thirty-nine, or else she told me before and I forgot. I told my father that I loved him when I was depressed, at thirty-five, I was thinking of killing myself, I thought it would be a shame to die without telling him. I haven’t told my brother that I loved him. I did not tell my grandmother that I loved her. I have told five women that I loved them, which in four cases was true. I have sometimes made love to one woman while thinking of another. I speak French fluently, I speak English well, I speak Spanish badly, I can vaguely understand a little bit of Italian. I learned Latin at school, what I remember is one declension. I see no point in holding on to my old toothbrushes. My favorite months are September and April, September for the resumption of social activity, April for the arrival of spring and the progressive denudification of women. I am not an expert in anything. I have subjects of conversation besides myself. I form very few hard and fast judgments about politics, the economy, and international affairs. I do not like bananas. International news, even dramatic news, leaves me pretty much indifferent, I feel guilty about that. I do not remember the first time I saw a character die in a movie or a book, but I remember the first time I saw a dead man, more precisely, I saw a man’s leg sticking out of the trunk of a black car on the boulevard Berthier, I remember this detail: he was missing a shoe, and his sock was purple. My feet are always hot, sandals would help, but they’re too ugly. I rarely wear hiking socks, they’re too hot and make your feet stink. I would suggest that the authorities replace gun shops with swingers’ clubs. The American accent both fascinates and repels me: the comedy of swallowed syllables, my fear of the dominant mode of speech. I prefer French as spoken by Italians to Italian as spoken by the French. I like to imitate the accent of a German of Vietnamese origins forcing himself to speak English. A Russian accent sends shivers down my spine. A Cantonese accent has less charm for me than an Indian accent. An Anglo-Indian accent inspires immediate sympathy in me. My mother stopped making family photo albums when I became an adolescent. I don’t make photo albums. I take very few pictures of my friends. I have taken more pictures of myself than of my friends. I have almost realized a photo project that I described in

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