Read Autoportrait Online

Authors: Edouard Levé

Autoportrait (5 page)

Armageddon
, made up of millions of flies stuck to a canvas several meters square. I drink more beer abroad than in France. My torso is longer than average. I have powerful legs. My fingers are thin but strong. I can snap my fingers, but also my toes. Since the age of fifteen I have been the same height but not the same weight. I have blue eyes, reddish-blond hair, my whiskers, body hair, and pubes are red. In summer my freckles spread, overlap, and give the illusion of a tan. I do not bite my nails, I cut them once a week. I do not wear pink shirts. I do not drink whiskey. I have sometimes drunk vodka, not with pleasure. I drink calvados. I drink a mixture of calvados and cassis, a recipe passed down from my grandfather whom I never knew. I have not taken the following courses, described in an American brochure for The Learning Annex: Succeed in Hollywood, Become the personal assistant to a celebrity while making good money and traveling the world with the rich and powerful, Speak about anything to anyone, Make money in special events and weddings, Open your own dry-cleaner’s, Use hypnosis to raise sales, Become a superstar corporate “rainmaker,” Draw with the right side of your brain, Make fifteen low-calorie and economical meals in just one evening, Learn to read music in one evening, Reverse the aging process through acupressure, Talk to your cat, Get a photographic memory in one evening, Get past procrastination now, Receive messages from the Beyond. I sometimes tell myself that if I lied things would be simpler, and not only for me. I hardly ever use matches, even for lighting the stove, I prefer electric lighters. I could not have worked in finance, accounting, I.T., scientific research, but I could have worked for an ecological party, in a humanitarian organization, a publishing house, or an arts institution. I look at geographical maps for pleasure, but I can do without a road map for planning a trip. On a geographical map, I begin by looking at the sea coasts, where the names are easiest to read, then I bury myself in the landmasses, without following any precise route, guided only by the capricious movement of my eyes. I wear sweaters with a zipper that I can zip up and down depending on the temperature. As a child I was convinced that I had a double on this earth, he and I were the same age, he had the same body, the same feelings I did, but not the same parents or the same background, for he lived on the other side of the planet, I knew that there was very little chance I would meet him, but still I believed that this miracle would occur. I fell out with a very close friend because for a few days he refused to come help me set up the computer that he’d sold me. I do not judge a country by the quality of its TV. A vacation in New York has tired me more than working in San Francisco. The first paintings I showed consisted of big canvases on which I’d dripped paint from top to bottom, and of simple geometrical forms made from a mixture of paint and sand the colors of earth or oxidized metals, this show took place in my uncle’s gallery over three days in July 1993, I bought most of what was shown, I destroyed the others for lack of space. I painted from 1991 to 1996. I made five hundred paintings, I sold maybe sixty of them, roughly one hundred are stored in a maid’s room in la Creuse, I burned the rest. Whether it’s because I was tired of looking at them, or for lack of space, I felt a great relief when I burned my paintings. The pleasure principle guides my life more than the reality principle, although I am confronted more often by reality than by pleasure. As an artist and writer I could go crazy without noticing: I am indulged in all my eccentricities, since I work alone no one verifies what I do, it would take a while for people around me to notice that I’d gone around the bend, and, occasionally, to let me know. I sometimes wonder whether what I do is art or art therapy. When I was about fifteen, I bought two volumes from the “Que Sais-je?” series, one on art, the other on madness, these are still the subjects that trouble me the most. I have started
The Interpretation of Dreams
six times, I don’t know why I’ve stopped. As a child, I liked to scare myself by fantasizing that someone (but who?) was making me scrape my fingernails down the length of my father’s car. The prospect of a long walk in the mountains on a sunny day makes me euphoric. I forgive, and can even forget, wrongs done to me, but I have trouble forgiving a refusal to forgive. I understand punishment better than revenge. I am concerned with moral questions. I don’t understand it when people avoid moral questions out of dandyism or what they consider broad-mindedness, and yet moralists strike me as either sad or reactionary. I have been to twenty-two countries: France, England, Switzerland, Germany, Spain, Italy, the United States, Portugal, Thailand, China, Russia, Finland, Holland, Greece, Luxembourg, Belgium, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Hong Kong, Macao, India. The countries that made the biggest impression on me are India, where I traveled through the unreal, and the United States, where I traveled through movies. I have not set foot on the continents of Australia or Africa. At dinner I am not a performer, I can’t be counted on to take the lead in conversation, but I make a good spectator, I laugh, I get surprised, I ask questions. At lunch I can be the performer if I am with one or two people, that is my maximum audience. At breakfast I’m alone even if I’m with someone else. In the morning it takes me two hours after I wake up for my brain to function normally. I go to bed around one in the morning, I fall asleep around two. I get up between eight and nine. I feel well, which means ready to work, between eleven-thirty and one-thirty, then from five o’clock in the afternoon until the moment I go to bed. I was born at three-ten in the afternoon, a time I hate, every day I am useless until five. The North makes me sad, the East frightens me, the West intimidates me, the South gladdens my heart. To play with the sun’s reflection in a pocket mirror gives me a feeling of power. I love a Canadian accent, although I don’t find it sexy in women. I always wonder whether the phone numbers on sex ads in the men’s room are real, it would be easy to find out by trying them, I never have. I don’t feel guilty for drinking too much wine, since it’s an aristocratic thing to drink, but the opposite is true for beer, although it has fewer side effects. I complain, and complain about complaining. I laugh, and laugh because I’m laughing. I weep, and I do not weep from weeping, on the contrary, just knowing that I am weeping is enough to make me stop. I eat very little soup, and even less stew. Squash soup is the only soup that I ever want to prepare and eat. In Paris I never ride my bicycle anywhere just for pleasure, there has to be some practical reason. I am uneasy with new technologies, but in the end I adopt them. An astrologist friend told me that, according to my star chart, my weak spots were in my back and ears. I can’t say I believe in astrology, but I can’t say I don’t. I would like to believe in ghosts. I would like to hum in the street as if I were alone. Nightclubs are sites of spectacle, I do not perform, I observe. Noisy restaurants make it impossible to have a conversation with my friends, and for me the point of dinner is to talk. I have sometimes had an idea for a book and discovered that it was a black and narrow room I could not escape, and conversely, I have sometimes discovered that it was a luminous house with an infinite number of wings where I could roam freely and at ease. It surprises me that my handwriting should have been fixed at a certain age, sixteen I think, and has never evolved since then. I invented a signature for myself at the age of thirteen, little knowing that I’d have the same one all my life. I wonder how Russians manage to be so Russian. In a café, I am more likely to sit at a table than stand at the bar. I do not go to a café in order to have conversations with others at the bar unless I am in a foreign country, I speak the language, and they have a bar in the back, only in Spain are all three conditions satisfied at once. A TV on in a café makes me turn around and leave. I wonder whether the landscape is shaped by the road, or the road by the landscape. I bought my first Levi’s 501s at the age of fourteen at the Bon Fermier in Vernon, I was fascinated by the blue-gray cardboardy cotton and the button fly, putting them on I was leaping into time. I have not made love to a man. When I walk down the street, I do not look at my feet, I do not look at the surface they tread, I look at the facades as I pass them by, the upper stories rising above me, the road that lies before me. If I’m in a hurry, when I walk down the street, I don’t see what I look at, the places, the people, and the objects are masses, abstract and colored, that I pass with indifference. Two politicians won my trust, Michel Rocard and François Bayrou, but they did not belong to the party I wanted to vote for. I vote for the Green party even though they rarely put forward a candidate I like. I have only a vague idea of the Green party’s platform, I’m not sure they have clearer ideas than mine. I do not foresee making love with an animal. The eve of a long trip is filled with both exaltation and anxiety, but the day itself is a pure euphoria of action, and anxiety returns in the middle of the trip, at an empty moment, when the exoticism of the setting out has not yet given way to that of going home. On Dictaphone cassettes recorded a few moments before, I cannot listen to the content of the words, only the sound of my voice: I am less troubled by the doubling than by the disappearance of meaning. My voice recorded one minute ago on a Dictaphone sounds older than my voice recorded digitally five years before. My face filmed fifteen days ago on Super 8 looks older than my face filmed ten years before on a digital camera. I have on several occasions made love to two women at once. I have gone to swingers’ clubs and I have joined in. When it comes to interior decoration, I do not like the colors orange, yellow, green, purple, and blue, only white, gray, brown, and red appeal to me. When I travel in a country where my cell phone doesn’t work, it takes me two days to get used to its absence. When I travel in a country where my cell phone doesn’t work, I have to wear a watch to know what time it is, it takes me two days to get used to it because I haven’t worn a watch since I got a cell phone. When I come back from a long trip in a country where my cell phone didn’t work, it takes me just a few minutes to get used to it again. I rarely know about the domestic policies of the countries where I travel. The only country whose domestic policies I know about is my own. I know nothing about the foreign policies of most countries, exceptions being the United States, Great Britain, and France. I know the name of five or six current presidents or prime ministers of other countries. If I drew the world from memory, I wonder how many countries I would leave out. I don’t like the one they imposed on me, and yet I cannot imagine bearing a name besides my own. On a map I have an easier time picking out the American states than the African countries. I have made love to roughly fifty women, I wonder if that’s a few or a lot. I have loved six women, four of them I told. I have cheated on a school exam. One night I went to a gay bar, where I stalked the back room, insatiably curious. I go to the pool in my neighborhood, I do not go to the pool when I am out of town. I have inherited lots of furniture that I didn’t keep, I sold it, I have bought a sofa, I requisitioned some school chairs from the Cité Internationale one night with Yan Toma, I built one table, I bought another, I found a third one in the street, I replaced my bed with a mattress on the floor. I have kept, of the objects given to me by my family, only a few family portraits, some landscapes, a death’s head, some taxidermy, some sculpture, a wooden pillar, a hunting rifle, some china, glasses, silverware, and a few bibelots, I don’t keep the
m in my house, most are in a basement, I wouldn’t miss them if I knew they stopped belonging to me. I can remember so well, years later, the face of someone I met only once that it can be awkward if the person remembers less of me than I do of him. I have sometimes asked the same question of someone several times, if the answer didn’t interest me enough to remember it, it’s only at the moment of hearing the answer that I remember having already asked. On the phone I find silence embarrassing. I want this epitaph engraved on my tombstone: “See you soon.” The last time I learned something by heart was for a movie shoot and, before that, for a video, otherwise I have not learned anything by heart since I was in school. I write less easily at a round table, where my elbows hang in the void, than at a rectangular table, where they can bear my weight. For two years I painted round paintings that I did not show, soon afterward I stopped painting, since then looking at round paintings has made me sad. I do not take family photos, though I enjoy looking at the albums that my mother made when I was a child. I do not buy spiral notebooks because it is hard to write on the left-hand page, especially as your hand approaches the metal. When I was a child I once churned my yoghurt so hard with my spoon that it spattered all over the walls, my grandmother, usually so gentle, gave me a slap that left me stunned. When I was a child my mother sometimes called me Edouard the Stick (
le bâton
) because in the country I went around everywhere with a piece of wood, later, when I became a troublemaker, she called me the Tiresome Stick (
le bâton merdeux
), then, more simply, the Shit (
la merde
). I write more easily at night than in the daytime, until suddenly I realize it’s over, exhaustion overwhelms me, I turn off the computer and go to bed. I connect easily with women, it takes longer with men. My best male friends have something feminine about them. I ride a motorcycle but I don’t have the “biker spirit.” I get bored as soon as a motorcyclist starts talking to me about technical things having to do with the engine, cylinders, speed, or mileage. I am an egoist despite myself, I cannot even conceive of being altruistic. My brother had two childhood friends, they were all about five years old, and he met them again when he was forty-five in Nice, where all three of them now live. I have no friends from my childhood. When I was a child, then a teenager, I had one best friend for two or three years, then another, and so on, I never kept a best friend more than four years, I was almost twenty before I had friends who lasted longer, and almost thirty before I met the friends I have now. I have been more faithful in friendship than in love, which isn’t to say that I cheated on the women I was with, but that my relations with them lasted a shorter time than relations with my friends. In every friend I am looking for a brother. I have not found a friend in my brother, but I have not, alas, made the effort to look. My brother was too old for us to be friends. My brother and I are like night and day, and I may be the night. I have often thought that education had little influence over individuals, since my brother and I had the same education and have pursued divergent paths. I like my brother, this is probably reciprocal, I write “probably” because we have never discussed it. It moves me to see photos of my brother when he was little, I see that we have the same complexion, the same eyes, the same hair, but I know these similar envelopes contain minds that have never come into contact. At night it reassures me to hear a few quiet footfalls on the floor of the apartment above. I do not eat candy, it makes me sick. In a foreign city, I always feel an urge to visit the zoo, even though a foreign zoo is no more exotic than a French one. I start by looking up some precise information in a biographical dictionary, then I spend a much longer time flipping around. I prefer, in order, flipping around in an encyclopedia, a biographical dictionary, a normal dictionary, a French-English dictionary, a French-Spanish dictionary, a French-Latin dictionary. I sometimes flip around in a phone book for no special reason. I read synopses of movies in the paper without any intention of seeing them. I do not read the TV guide, I watch at random and find out what’s on by channel-surfing. I watch movies on TV without planning to, so I rarely see one all the way through. I do not believe in the cinema of fiction, only four movies have made a deep impression on me,

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