Read Autoportrait Online

Authors: Edouard Levé

Autoportrait (8 page)

Madama Butterfly
at the Verona amphitheater, answering only: “I do not like opera.” I can’t read big books lying down: it tires my arms and crushes my stomach. At night I eat too much. I feel that I’ve eaten too much more often than not enough. I never regret not having had dinner. In a car I prefer entering a tunnel to leaving one, on a motorcycle the opposite. I spent a long time trying to like plastic furniture. I do not like being the center of attention. I do not monopolize the conversation. I sigh inwardly when someone begins to tell a joke. It never occurs to me to go to the movies and see a comedy. I do not see action movies. I do not see Westerns. I like the idea of science fiction, but not its literary or cinematic productions. I would be curious to see a pornographic science fiction movie. I would be curious to see a Shakespeare play performed by figure skaters. I would be curious to see a tragic movie performed by comic actors. I would be curious to see a dance piece performed by people who don’t have dancers’ bodies. I would be curious to see a show of paintings curated by celebrities who think they know about painting. I was passing a gallery that I did not know had gone out of business, from the sidewalk I saw an installation that instantly made me want to go inside, a mannequin crudely costumed as an apostle was spreading the gospel to other mannequins gathered around him in supposedly period clothes, there were, for some reason, a plough, a cuckoo clock, and a poster of Jamaica, it wasn’t until I went inside that I realized the gallery had been replaced by a Mormon temple, and that the “installation” was not a parody. Fortunately, I do not know what I expect from life. I am afraid of the gaze of hypnotists, even in photos. I sometimes meet people who I think have hypnotic powers, then I have to perform a ritual to escape from their sorcery: blink and draw my head back. French words pronounced by Americans make me laugh. Poor people do not frighten me. My parents do not stifle me. Potatoes put me to sleep. An American friend has an LP entitled
Music to Help You Stop Smoking
, among the pieces is a Chopin-Tchaikovsky medley. I had the idea of doing a
Self-Portrait with Candy,
in which my upper lip would bulge from the hard candy tucked inside it. If, lying on my back, I look at a woman’s face upside down, her chin becomes a monstrous nose, and her mouth looks like a deformed person’s, when she speaks, the inverse motion of her lips distracts me from what she is saying. I don’t get the same odor from an English lawn as from a French one. In a landscape, things in the distance tell me no stories. When I was young I was obsessed with a series of photographs by a photographer whose name I never knew, you saw Jesus come back in the form of a hippie and get beaten to death, years later I discovered the photographs of Duane Michals, which I loved, but it was a long time before I found out that he was also the author of the series entitled
Christ in New York
. In foreign countries the street is an exhibition. The lists of things I have to do are too long. When I lie down in a public place, park or beach, I stretch out, arms crossed, legs slightly apart, I look like a corpse or a Christ fallen out of the sky, eventually someone comes over and asks whether I’m all right. Everything I write is true, but so what? At the supermarket in a foreign country I always think of the Clash song “Lost in the Supermarket.” It’s harder for me to eat bad food than to look at a bad painting. I used to play pool. I used to play knucklebones, I remember the big bridge, the little bridge, the death’s head, and many other throws whose names I have forgotten. Playing Monopoly, I used to lose to my brother, I thought it was because he was older, I found out years later that he was cheating as the banker. I used to play Parcheesi, Gooses Wild, Mille Bornes, checkers, chess, gin, liars’ poker, strip poker, war, Monopoly, Clue. Board games start off by boring me and end up getting on my nerves. I cannot remember a single game of Monopoly that didn’t end with all the players sick of it. I took a trip that lasted three months, during which I slept a lot and worked, which got me out of a depression that lasted a year, during which I slept badly and worked very little. In the space of one Sunday in Syracuse I met an unusual number of strangers who talked too much to me. In a crowd I am more alone than I am by myself. In a small town I can’t go for a long aimless walk. I do not go walking in crowds to find models for my photographs, for despite the increased abundance of choice, the faces pass too quickly for me to desire them. I find the old, the fat, the poor, and the deformed more photogenic than the young, the thin, the rich, and the good-looking, but I am wary of their distinguishing features: I prefer to take pictures of average people, on whom the marks of life are more subtle, so in this sense, I am more interested in photographing the secretary in an insurance office than someone obese with one eye and tattoos. In the United States, with a few simple formalities I could change my name in an hour or two, and soon I’d have accomplished a project impossible in France: to become Anne Onymous. I wouldn’t want to die of drunkenness in a wine vat. In one of my recurring nightmares, gravity is so heavy that the chubby pseudo-humans who wander the empty surface of the earth move in slow motion through an endless moonlit night. When I think it’s going to rain I take along a hat to shield my glasses. I end a trip abroad when I stop seeing ordinary objects as curiosities. I think Sunday is an old day. I do not count calories. I do not pay attention to the nutritional properties of what I eat, all I pay attention to is my taste and my appetite. I am not on a diet. I am wary of any driver who keeps his hat on behind the wheel. When I was a child, I was afraid of being kidnapped. Purées frustrate me because they have no crunch. I do not know what prudence means. Intense sensations tire me out more quickly than subtle ones. The lives of celebrities interest me less than the lives of the unknown. I do not believe anyone has ever cast a spell on me. When I drive on the highway, I spend too much time looking at the cracks. I recollect more than I collect. I have not suffered from a skin rash. I am wary of benches. I do not “splash water on my face,” I wash. I don’t say “automobile,” I say “car.” I do not need to make third parties acknowledge a romantic connection. I do not imagine my own wedding. I prefer dogs to cats. I do not have a maid. I do not say, “How exquisite.” I don’t like it when people just drop in. In the morning I do sixty pushups and one hundred leg lifts. I eat the flesh of a grape, I spit out some of the seeds. Peach fuzz makes my teeth grate. I do not count the number of cherries I eat. Parties are sometimes an ordeal. The word “machination” triggers my paranoia. I do not hate. I am entranced by the indiscretions of strangers. I admire the ingenuity of traps. Drugstores didn’t lose their sinister allure when I learned that they are not where you buy drugs. Low necklines excite me. My all-time favorite title is
Death Threat with Orchestra
, by Xavier Boussiron. I feel handsomer after I go to the beach than before. After a shampoo, I make cranial music by running my fingers through my wet hair. Lying on the ground, I see the house upside down. The quest for prestige makes me feel pity. I appreciate silent parlor magicians. I stick with my first impression. My unconscious is quicker and more often correct than my conscious. I do not use adjectives as nouns. I have never broken my leg. To me, “too late an hour” means in the morning. Hearing a compulsive liar gives me a secret pleasure. I am not depressed when I travel. If I spend a long time bent over, and stand up, I see stars. I do not use the word “cardigan.” I do not have breakfast in bed. Peanut butter and shrimp puffs give me dry mouth. I avoid abbreviations. I lean over a balcony railing to watch people from above, but I don’t know where I could lean to see them from below. I have never petted a panther. I used to have a Mexican costume. I pay homage to Suzanne Salmet. I cook with basil, tarragon, coriander. I am thin. I don’t sweat much. The more I know about an author, the less I mythologize him. The palm of my hand ages less quickly than my face. I penetrate a woman faster than I pull out. If I kiss for a long time, it hurts the muscle under my tongue. I have never been sodomized. A woman slapped me. I have never been punched. I sleep on my side. I sometimes wake up in the same position as when I went to sleep. I wonder where I will die. On the edge of a precipice, I get a rush from the space and I tremble at the void. When I have vertigo, I fall in my mind. My registered letters contain bad news. I do not see omens. I do not mutilate myself. I do not like show tunes. It wouldn’t occur to me to tap-dance. I would be perfectly happy to live the same life a second time, but not a third. The first day of snow is a holiday. Lakes attract me, the sea repels me, ponds leave me cold. I do not wear more than two colors at a time. Cumin reminds me of armpits. If not for the smell, I wouldn’t mind throwing up. I’m talkative for the first fifteen minutes. I do not know the name of the color I see behind my eyelids. I would believe more in God if it were a Goddess. I have nothing to say about cisterns. I find winks unsettling. I love the sound of the wind and the noise of the rain. My voice carries less in the snow. I know how much I’m seen, but not how much I’m understood. Apart from maybe ten countries, I don’t know anything about national literatures, I know nothing, for example, about the literature of Honduras, Angola, Pakistan, or the Philippines. I look at the sky in a puddle. I fantasize about skateboards, trampolines, surfing, and paragliding. Soccer, running, tennis and golf bore me. When I was a child I did not choose what I ate. Pink flamingos look unreal to me. Some friends consider me obsessive. I do not trust untranslatable texts. Bad weather makes me glad. I do not try to be first. If I write in ink and my notebook falls in the water, everything blurs. I still laugh over the phrasing of that advertisement “Mammouth is flattening its prices.” I am in favor of banning four-by-fours in cities. Sore throats and colds help me write. For me
all evoke a single universe. I have not been spanked. I am easily hurt by a tongue-lashing. As I grow older, I get brief. To see the back of things, I don’t always need to have seen the front. I sew by hand and machine. I do not knit. My parents decided to choose my name from among those of three children who appear in little lockets passed down in our family: Armand died crazy in Charenton, Adrien became a painter, thanks to some premonition and hoping to prevent me from going crazy or becoming a painter, they chose Edouard, so I have punctured at least one of their superstitions. I do not work much with a flash because I don’t like interruptions. I admire the intelligence of ecological solutions. I do not dream of going on a cruise. I do not use the following expressions: “That rings a bell,” “Laters,” “Works for me,” “That’s hot.” I do not say to someone I haven’t seen in a long time, “What’s the word?” When someone talks to me about his or her “energy,” I can feel the conversation grinding to a halt. I am afraid of ending up a bum. I am afraid of having my computer and negatives stolen. I cannot tell what, in me, is innate. I do not have a head for business. I do not vary what I serve at dinner parties. I have stepped on a rake and had the handle hit me in the face. I do not follow the advice in guide books, I trust in chance, my intuition, and the advice of the natives. The motto of the collège Stanislas, where I spent fifteen years, is “French without fear, Christian beyond reproach.” I have gone to four psychiatrists, one psychologist, one psychotherapist, and five psychoanalysts. I have spent fifteen days in a psychiatric hospital and every week, for months, I checked into another psychiatric hospital. I look for the simple things I no longer see. I do not go to confession. Legs slightly open excite me more than legs wide open. I have trouble forbidding. I am not mature. Australia attracts me no more and no less than Canada. I used to love shells, pocket knives, truncheons, and other army surplus. Sunstroke makes me hot on the outside and cold on the inside. I am leery of movies adapted from novels, and of novels adapted from movies. I don’t get off on possession. I don’t remember what I saw when I emerged from the womb. Sergeant Garcia made all sergeants seem comical to me. I spent a year languishing because I didn’t travel. I appreciate the simplicity of Biblical language. I vote. I live better in two houses than in one. I appreciate swingers’ clubs, which take the logic of the nightclub to its natural conclusion. I was five years old when a clown said, “And now I’m going to ask a little boy to come up on stage,” there was a drumroll and the spotlight fell on me, when the clown came toward me, I cried so fiercely that he turned to another child. I have had the measles, the mumps, and chicken pox. I have seen an eagle. I have seen starfish. I learned to draw by copying pornographic photographs. I have a foggy sense of history, and of stories in general, chronology bores me. I do not suffer from the absence of those I love. I prefer desire to pleasure. My death will change nothing. I would like to write in a language not my own. I consent to feeling moved by sunsets. Abundance leaves me bewildered. There is no age I admire. I can do without the interludes, but I appreciate the preliminaries. I find tips humiliating for the giver and the receiver. After I get a haircut, my hair’s too short. The speed of a cheetah still amazes me. I like to have habits, then suddenly change them. I don’t show up early because I don’t like to wait. Waiting doesn’t bother me if I expected it, but that’s not really waiting. I don’t like to order or be ordered around. I editorialize. I move on. When I was a child, I didn’t ask riddles. I don’t know how many animals I could recognize by scent. To survive an ordeal, I break it up into sections. I cannot remember having spoken to a New Zealander. I improvise only at the piano. Despite myself, I look away when I pass a dwarf. I hear the word “marvelous” and I marvel. I do not use the word “gamine.” As far as I know, only one woman has gotten pregnant by me. Borrowing is an ordeal. They took out four wisdom teeth, unless maybe it was two. Because of their names, certain acts strike me as outdated, for example, “laying down a deposit.” Tonsils (

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