Read Autoportrait Online

Authors: Edouard Levé

Autoportrait (7 page)

Très Chasse
, I have the impression that the hunters feel no guilt after the orgasm of the shot. I thank people easily. Ever since I saw
Jaws
, I have been unable to swim in the sea without thinking about the sharks that may be on their way to get me. One hot dry summer, my mother read to me from the book
Alive
every night after dinner, it was an account of a plane crash in the Cordillera, in the Andes, the survivors ate the bodies of the others in order to stay alive, I was eleven, I don’t know why my mother read me this story. I have seen several of the
Friday the Thirteenth
movies, after the one called
Friday the Thirteenth: The Final Chapter
, in which Jason dies, I thought that was the end of it, but a new episode came out,
Friday the Thirteenth: A New Beginning
. I try to write prose that will be changed neither by translation nor by the passage of time. I like to finish a task on time, that is, when the big hand of the clock is on the twelve. I do not think I have inspired pity. In Vieux-Boucau I tried to surf one afternoon, without success, I had no intuitive sense of how it ought to be done, or of the pleasure I’d feel if I did it right. One July I passed someone who had a face like the Elephant Man’s, I was on my bike, I was going fast, I thought I had hallucinated it, I turned around to catch up with him, I hadn’t been wrong, but when I see something exceptional, I think for the first few moments that it’s an illusion. A woman’s breasts may hold my attention to the point that I can’t hear what she’s saying. I wish I were the singer in a rock band. I do not wish I were an anchorman. Out of curiosity I accept the first invitation to dinner with people who I already know are going to bore me, but the subsequent ones I decline. When something wonderful takes me by surprise, I try to reproduce the circumstances under which it occurred, in order to make it happen again, but that is confusing the thing with the grace of accident. A friend of a friend claimed that she could return to an interrupted dream, once she had woken up, by going back to sleep, she also claimed that she could intervene consciously, while she was sleeping, in the contents of her dreams and return to her favorite moments. I do not always choose the best moment for saying good-bye in a public place to someone who is busy with something else, sometimes the person doesn’t hear me, so I try again, hoping no one else has overheard. I was speaking with a friend, who was very beautiful but distant, when some snot lodged itself on the edge of her nostril, ever since this anodyne event I have found her less distant, although her behavior hasn’t changed. I have sometimes looked under the bed before I got into it. I regret not having been born in 1945, I would have been twenty-three in 1968, I would have lived through the sexual revolution and believed in various utopias during the 1970s, I would have made a lot of money in the 1980s, which I would have happily spent in the 1990s, and then I would have enjoyed a comfortable retirement full of happy memories in the 2000s, unfortunately I was born in 1965 and I was twenty during the 1980s, indisputably the ugliest years since the end of the Second World War. When I walk down the street, the words on signs and in shop windows get mixed up in my head and turn into absurd slogans. I would forgive a woman for cheating on me if the other man was better than I am. I like the smell of my hair, even dirty. It amazes me that I can lift my arm without understanding how my brain transmits the order. I am always telling myself that I ought to write positive things, and I do, but it’s harder than writing negative things. In a sandwich, I don’t see what I am eating, I imagine it. When I am in front of the TV I don’t enjoy what I eat because I don’t look at it. Even when I’m very tired, I can watch TV for several hours. I had an idea for a bad video: to humiliate a turkey by having it walk around in public in a T-shirt bearing the face of Jacques Chirac. When I’m in a foreign country, I do things that I would never dare to do in my own country, because everything seems like fiction. Since I started writing on a computer, I have saved everything I write by hand. I do not dream of flying. In the middle of summer, a rainy day makes me as happy as a sunny day in the middle of winter. When I’m in a foreign country, I pay more attention to the norm than to the exceptions, I would rather spend time in small cities that have nothing remarkable about them than in capitals full of curiosities. I have not put on rubber boots in at least three years. I suppress the superfluous. I am handsomer with a cane. I don’t need to talk much. I need to not talk much. I do not shout. I eat three times a day. I do not eat between meals. I drink two liters of tea a day. I need to leave the house at least once a day. Once when I was six I was running up the boulevard Saint-Michel, I was racing my cousin back to school, each of us on his own sidewalk, I crossed without looking, a car hit me, I flew two meters and landed on my head, nose broken, face bloody, the car drove off, someone got the license number, the driver was a nursing student, my father went to see her, he had decided not to lodge a complaint because he didn’t want to ruin her future career, she wouldn’t see him, she lived with her mother who opened the door a crack and said: “If you’ve come to blackmail us, get lost,” and slammed it shut. When I was fourteen I had my ears pinned back, at the suggestion of my father, who had his ears pinned back when he was eighteen. When I was twelve I had warts on my left heel, several treatments failed to get rid of them, my mother decided to have them burned off, a very painful operation that my brother was supposed to have undergone a few years earlier, but the day before the operation, his terror had literally made the warts disappear, I hoped the same thing would happen to me, but it didn’t, the dermatologist worked away at my foot for an hour, when we left his office my mother said, “I think I suffered worse than you did,” two months later the warts came back, one year later another dermatologist, whom I trusted the moment I saw him because of his gentle face, made them disappear in four sessions by applying a brown odorless cream that he had concocted himself, I learned ten years later that he died of AIDS. I have Asian friends. I do not eat ice cream. I do not fill my house with “finds.” In nearly empty restaurants I count the number of people and pity the fate of the restaurateurs. I cannot stand to read vernacular English translated into French, the expressions, often misplaced, are dredged up from the translator’s youth or from what he believes to be the language of the street. I enjoy the simple décor of Protestant temples. I admire American religious ceremonies where the preachers launch into sermons that come close to song and trance, as if they might revive that morbid, desireless event: the Mass. In my periods of depression, I visualize the funeral after I kill myself, there are lots of friends there, lots of sadness and beauty, the event is so moving that it makes me want to live through it, so it makes me want to live. I don’t know how to leave naturally. I want to laugh with common people, tattooed, fat, bare-chested in a campground, making lots of noise and off-color remarks. I shave with an electric razor, it’s quicker and less painful than a blade. I often wonder what people say about me right after I leave: maybe nothing. I have had four motorcycles: a Kawasaki Zephyr 750, a Yamaha SR 125, a Honda CB 500, a Kawasaki ER 500. I do not write memoirs. I do not write novels. I do not write short stories. I do not write plays. I do not write poems. I do not write mysteries. I do not write science fiction. I write fragments. I do not tell stories from things I’ve read or movies I’ve seen, I describe impressions, I make judgments. It is no use asking me to repeat a news story, even one a few weeks old. I don’t learn the names of cabinet ministers by heart. I learned what little I know about agropolitics in prep school. I visit numerous buildings though I have no technical knowledge of architecture, it amazes me that they can construct a vault, a ceiling twenty meters high, a tunnel, a skyscraper, I don’t want to know any more about it because I’m afraid I will be disenchanted. I know nothing about the mechanics of automobiles, but I am not amazed that cars go. I would like to accept the idea of love without passion. Sports on TV bore me. Concerts on TV bore me. I find the musicians badly dressed, with bad haircuts. I do not go to concerts. I have a recurring nightmare: in an apartment where I’ve been living for several years I find a hole in a room that I rarely use, the hole is accessible from outside, so all that time anyone could have come i
n without my knowing it, and maybe they have. I prefer lamps with lampshades to halogen lamps. Someone playing the saw depresses me more than the accordion, but less than clowns. The traditional circus revolts me more than figure skating. I can manage to snicker at synchronized swimming, but not at figure skating. In curling, the sweeper makes me laugh. I feel sorry for actors who have reinvented themselves as Renaissance jesters in sound and light shows, especially if they take their job seriously. I have witnessed an air guitar competition. I find mimics reactionary. I would rather watch bad mimics, who think they are doing impressions of celebrities but only mimic other mimics. In disused factories and abandoned barns I feel emotions that are aesthetic (beauty defined by function), nostalgic (sites of production where nothing now is produced), erotic (memories of children’s games), beneficent vacuity, calm, all mixed up, in a tingling way, with feelings of death, fear (perfect scene for a crime), and the forbidden (no one gave me permission to enter this private property). I always regret taking a shower at night, the hot water keys me up and keeps me from sleeping. I feel irritable and sticky if I don’t wash in the morning. My oldest memory is of a creek in Spain with a high, steep bank, I am wearing a white hat and I don’t know how to swim, according to my mother this happened when I was less than two years old. The ticking of the alarm clock and the dripping of radiators keep me from sleeping. I sleep better in absolute darkness. I have dry skin. As a hypochondriac, I rejoice in my ignorance of most diseases. I drink water. I do not drink lemonade. I drink Coca-Cola. I do not drink beer. I drink red wine when I eat, and sweet whites by themselves. I often remember that there is something I’m forgetting, but what? I prefer beginnings to endings. I do not scorn the teachings of my mother. I have not managed to describe the pain of a powerful electric shock. I am surprised that some people worship Satan, the name makes you think more of profanation than of cults. I have taken Prozac, Lysanxia, Athymil, Lexomil, and Temesta without success. I have stolen things from shops, but not from people’s homes. I have never swindled anyone. I do not feel joy doing evil. I saw a madman walking up the boulevard Beaumarchais in his socks, in the middle of the street, creating a traffic jam that moved as slowly as he did, he wore white and gazed up at the sky, trailed by the furious honking cortege of cars, it wasn’t until he got to place de la République that he deigned to step up onto the sidewalk. When I lived in the rue Legendre I often saw a woman in her sixties who was a mass of nervous tics, I wondered how she managed to smoke without burning herself. Three things make pools unpleasant: the locker rooms, the fluorescent lights, the smell of chlorine. I have no financial woes. I wait to sort my mail. My life is nothing like a hammer. I wish there were one-liter bottles of wine. In an abandoned factory, I smelled a mixture of dust, grease, old floorboards, and fossilized sweat. I think the rich are wickeder than the poor. “I love you” can be a form of blackmail. I do not force myself to be enthusiastic, even with people who are. I have spoken with several American Indians. I have spoken with several Indian Indians. I have spoken with at least a thousand Americans. I have no obese friends. I have no anorexic friends. I cannot integrate myself into a group of friends who already know each other, I will always be the latecomer, I like groups of friends formed all together at the same moment. I do not know what I expect from love. Passionate declarations make me think of hysteria. A friend of mine swears that people behave more aggressively toward him when he wears his red suit. Here is how I tell the story of Jesus: an adulteress got her husband to believe that she was impregnated by God, she drove her son crazy with this story, which he believed, he set off to announce the good news and it got him killed. I have sometimes thought that everything I know is stored in my brain, so I think intensely about this flimsy piece of flesh, but I feel a void, the organ evokes nothing in me: I am unable to think about the organ of my thinking. I do not iron my shirts. I do not think my house is tilting to its death. Too much light doesn’t bother me during the day, but it gives me neuralgia at night. I have no spiritual father. I do not know what debts I owe to which artists. I do not feel myself under the influence of any writer. I am more guest than host. I do not wear tight pants, they prevent me from writing. I will never have finished reading the Bible. I will never be done with
In Search of Lost Time
, when I get to the end, I’ve forgotten the beginning, starting again doesn’t change that. I admire Douglas Huebler and Edward Ruscha. I admire Walker Evans, Diane Arbus, Stephen Shore, and Joel Sternfeld. If I have an idea in mind for a piece and it turns out already to exist, I don’t abandon it, the piece is not the idea. I can’t read a stolen book. I like the flat style of police reports. I feel Manichean. A friend of mine attributes his suicide attempts to his having been a battered child. I have utterly lost touch with friends who were dear to me, without knowing why, I believe they don’t know why themselves. In a Chinese pharmacy I thought I read on one of the bottles “octopus wigs.” At the cocktail hour I drink tea. I drink Lapsang Souchong, Yunnan, Keemun, Hojicha. In the morning I drink a glass of orange juice, I eat yoghurt, I drink half a liter of tea. I prefer the name to the taste of Darjeeling. I notice the length of a journey less if I already know the way. I have lived through 14,370 days. I have lived through 384,875 hours. I have lived through 20,640,000 minutes. I am one meter and eighty-six centimeters tall. My eye is not sated with seeing, nor my ear with hearing. Déjà vu gives me more pleasure than a great wine. Suburban on- and off-ramps stress me out, though I rarely lose my way. I am proud to go to a rock concert, and a little bit ashamed of going to a concert of classical music. The polished audiences at jazz concerts bore me. The old white California jazz musicians are antithetical to the idea I have of jazz. I have a fantasy involving female art students. I was not an art student. Everything I know about art I learned on my own. I do not get tired of taking pictures. I do not listen to opera. I prefer chamber music to symphonies. My favorite instrument is the cello, I deplore the dearth of solo pieces for cello. I play the piano. I may get up on a trampoline some day. I have made one parachute jump, it took longer to talk about than to do. The smoke of a blond cigarette coughed out by a woman sitting near me on a lawn in summer has left me enchanted. I photograph more old men than children, which violates the norms of family albums. I have had several cars without ever worrying about their technical performance. I have bought only used cars. Love does not distinguish me. I do not like the smell of vinyl car seats when it rains. Only once did I buy a new vehicle: a motorcycle, Kawasaki ER 500. I have not written fewer postcards since the appearance of the Web. I am writing this book on a computer, there will never be a manuscript. I seem too nice for mean girls to like me. I have sometimes taken pictures knowing in advance that they would be bad. I listen to music better through headphones than at a concert. I see a movie better at the movie theater than on TV. I am more attentive to the script of a play when I read it than when I see it performed. I’ve been to the opera only once, it was one time too many, after that I refused the invitation of generous friends to come see a production of

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