Authors: Yasmina Reza
So on top of all this, my love, must I also adapt myself to the inanity of my descendants? Under the pretext that these are my genes, must I forgive someone whose views of the world make me sick to my stomach? In a word, must I accept—the very thought makes me shiver—that the final person in my life is a worm whose ideal is not to get in a fight with anyone? In my philosophy, Nancy, I would have said to her, a father wants his son not to be like the rest of humanity. In my philosophy, what is good for everyone else is not good for my son. I couldn’t give a fuck, I would have said to Nancy, though she wouldn’t have allowed me to go that far, I don’t give a fuck, please understand, that this boy spends his time flocking from Java to Bermuda and back again, and if I keep coming back to this more than is necessary, it’s because every mention of this ludicrous geography feeds my sense of mockery. But I don’t give a fuck how he lives his life, I don’t give a fuck if he’s in this place or that, whether he’s doing this or that is a matter of total indifference to me, I don’t give a fuck if his mediocrity is, in society’s view, more or less acceptable. Whatever he does and wherever he goes, whether he elbowed his way in or trumpeted his lack of ambition, my son has
to the modern world. I have sired a
(read: adapted to everyone except his father). I have given life to someone who, like a mutating fly—I read in
and the Future
that a breed of flies that got trapped in the London Underground while it was being built mutated a hundred times faster than normal in order to survive—ends up bowing to the exigencies of the world, sees what’s reasonable and makes himself at home there, finds a comfortable little niche or two and settles in to wait for his own extinction. When you were a teenager, my boy, you had a sort of attack of nerves, an obsession with revenge, something set fire to you. I approved of that son. He was hostile to me, but I recognized him. You defied me with that ridiculous thirst for the absolute that everyone has at that age and I said to myself, The boy is as obstreperous as one could hope for, he’s going to manage to break out. But you didn’t break out of anything. Once the upheavals of youth were over, you went back to your place in the ranks of the average. No more trace of rebellion. No more trace of revenge. No more trace of passion. Everything that nourishes a man and fortifies him and lifts him out of the conditions of his existence, you consigned to oblivion. You traded fever for restraint. And you did it before you’d even set foot in inhospitable territory, before even daring to take a few steps into the kingdoms of uncertainty. You were so quick to fear for your own skin, my poor child. Like the rest of the troop of your wormlike friends, you know that every act has its price, and so from the beginning you chose never to stand out again. Avoiding suffering, that’s your whole horizon. Avoiding suffering is your substitute for the heroic epic. Ladies and gentlemen, allow me to present my son, a cut flower from the gang of cut flowers. I would have liked you better as a criminal or a terrorist than as a militant in the cause of happiness.
I would have liked him better as a criminal than as a militant for happiness, I’d have said to Nancy if the solitude of marriage hadn’t rendered any exchange pointless. “What dramatics!” she would have said and smiled as she stroked my face, if the collapse of our marriage hadn’t rendered any caress impossible. My ideal man—let us admit right away he’s not exactly common—my ideal man, Nancy, I would have gone on in the flush of tenderness, is the man who has chosen ferocity. He doesn’t
he doesn’t deny the hatred that sustains and shapes him, he’s not concerned with survival if it means he has to renounce himself like the English fly. He doesn’t say yes to the world. He doesn’t cower in his pathetic little hole like your mentor André Petit-Pautre, my love. Petit-Pautre comes home with an article about his book, his wife swallows his cock, and he believes that humanity is a great success. That’s how people live. My son also believes that humanity is a great success. You only have to witness his little air of superiority when he comes home from visiting one of his small tribes. My ideal man doesn’t give a fuck about being accepted by the Bambaras or the Talking Heads either. He doesn’t want to be loved, he wants to conquer. He doesn’t want to heal himself, he wants to win. My ideal man has the power to summon the dawn, would have been the climax of my peroration as I watched for the tears to spring to Nancy’s eyes. But Nancy, who cries ten times a day over nothing, is immune to this flight of ideas.
All this reminds me of a recent conversation I had with Lionel. Lionel phones up, scandalized, because he’s just discovered that in Jewish tradition life is accorded supreme value.
“You must choose life,”
he intones disgustedly, “Deuteronomy, last Book of Moses. What’s all this stuff about you must choose life? Explain this humiliation!” As I’m stumbling my way through a commentary on the nonliteralness of the commandment (I’m always equipped with some driveling half-assed positive explanation for every Jewish saying), Lionel bellows down the receiver, “Long live the Greeks!”
Making any such speech to Nancy would have undone me. He who reviles his fellowmen is soon undone, because what he wishes to make understood is quite simply
We are alone. My child. Our solitude is immense. Total. And there is virtually no link between one solitude and another. Solitude is long. The joys that connect us leave almost no trace.
Every day the world shrivels me and today, it is the world inside me that has shriveled. That is how things are. In the end, I will have been vanquished by life. As it vanquished Leopold Fench. As it vanquishes all who desire it intensely. Nothing can reach the peak of our desires, my child. Except solitude. My entire life has slipped past between these two words. These words draw the arc of my little interval in time. God has withdrawn, it seems, in order to create a space that was not His before. God, who was All, to whom lack was foreign, had the catastrophic idea of withdrawing so that others (another concept that was foreign to Him) could experiment with this curse. On the question of life’s inadequacy, Arthur (astonishing how everything about him is coming back to me all of a sudden) once accused me of lacking humility. Look, he argued, look at the Einsteins, the Lubitsches, the Bruno Walters, etc. And on went the list of names, some familiar, some not, of people who were more or less exiles, more or less storm-tossed by history or life, whose joie de vivre, optimism, and lack of self-pity were supposed to teach me a lesson. To which I would have liked to present my own opposing list, forged in the same adversity but a little less frisky, but my unfamiliarity with the cultural world meant that no names leapt to mind (nowadays I have a list that gets added to every day, and would floor him).
Lack of humility. It’s possible. But why should I be humble? Humble before what, before whom?
Accept whatever life offers us that is good, said the idiot. And what has it offered me, you cretin, that I didn’t seize for myself? The only reality, Arthur, lies wrapped in my desires. The world doesn’t make offerings.
Lionel told me yesterday morning that he’d finally hit bottom. Task for the day, I had told him: fight despair. “Oh, you’re still stuck back there,” he sighs: “you plan and you fight. I, finally, thank God, have reached bottom.”
Note the peculiarity. Lionel, my friend and the most passionate of men, is on a relentless search for the absence of passion. What causes my suffering, my boy, is what I see in your look. A look that alternates between pity and boredom. And maybe also irritation. You listen to me, you force yourself to be here and nothing you hear gets inside you, nothing speaks to you, nothing touches you. Do you know that another person’s empty presence is the greatest lack of all? Have you ever felt that? Even when you think you’re being heard and being loved, the other person persists in being absent. And yours, my child, is extreme. I can take your hand, and yet you couldn’t be farther away. We are incapable of taking the smallest step together. In your eyes I read your utter incomprehension and my own old age. I read my abandonment. I read a confirmation of my solitude.
Making any such speech to Nancy would have undone me.
Why so excessive, why so ungentle and unforbearing? —Yes, Nancy, I’m so sorry. —So why? —I have to be in balance with myself. —In balance with yourself, that means really working to be sarcastic and showing that you’re inhuman? —Apparently. —What self-satisfaction! —My love, to start posing as well balanced, I’d need rather more of a future than I’ve got. I’m no longer driven by the longing to build up any particular product of my own vanity, including my own persona. I am too close to my own disintegration to get involved with nuances. Before I end up on a public bench with my friends the zombies, allow me, my generous friend, to sing the praises of intolerance, the elect, and general injustice. Grant me immoderation, the only way to save what we can of what we’re given. The hell with equity. Your friend Dacimiento wrecked the cooktop on the Aga in less than a year. Ask her what on earth she used to plane down the controls. No justice. The problem with this woman is that you could park a dead donkey on a shelf in front of her and she wouldn’t see it. I put in a kitchen for her that cost $2,700, and instead of lighting up with joy every morning when she sees it again and running around waving her arms, she puts on the kind of martyred look that explains every single summary execution in history. All of it just because on the thirtieth of November at eight in the morning, the light doesn’t come sparkling down on her in the rue Ampère the way she’d like. No justice.
The garden—all me.
I’ve done it all according to my own whims. Every which way. I didn’t start with flowers right away, I did the trees first, then the vegetables, then one day I put in the lawn, with my left hand, so to speak. The moment I left, the lawn turned into a prairie. Lawns take maintenance, they take mowing, they take watering. Who knew? Finally, what do you want, I bought some books. Too much money out the window, too many mistakes. Today you’ve seen the azaleas, the rhododendrons, the roses (four varieties). The Fortunys came two weeks ago. René and his wife Jeanne. Dazzled. I showed them my collection of clippers, if you want I’ll show them to you too. Do you? I’ve got about twenty. I keep thinking I’m going to find a better pair. An even finer blade, that will cut even more cleanly. Sometimes I go back to the old ones. I have my favorites. Even when they’re worn out, I keep them. I’m attached to every one of them. The Fortunys were interested in my tools, in the spades, in the sprayers—I’m nuts about sprayers—they were interested in my problems with amending the soil, and watering systems, and making new borders. It was cold and gray that day, and they walked around the garden, stopping in front of the flowerbeds, the trees, the walls, I watched them from the summerhouse and I thought what are you complaining about, this is what friends are.
At a certain point, René gestured—I can’t talk about it without feeling a pang—he bent down, picked up an armful of dead leaves, and threw them over Jeanne. She laughed and protested and chased him round the oak tree to give him a smack. There was one leaf that stayed stuck to her woolen cap, like a pom-pom. She was running around the tree, all awkward in her little boots, they were both running around in circles, laughing, René started clowning back around in the opposite direction, she stopped to catch her breath against the tree trunk and he caught her gloved hand and kissed it.
Arthur has never understood how I could say, René has no taste. He has never understood how I can say, Have you seen that hideous living room? I couldn’t remain friends with someone who cannot grasp that talking about the hideousness of René’s living room like that is an act of tenderness, that recognizing the hideousness of the Fortunys’ living room to be exceptional, definitive, grandiose even, is the mark of real affection.
This little race around the oak tree under a gray sky (finally I love low, gray skies most of all), this little kiss on her gloved fingers, redoubled my affection for Jeanne and René Fortuny.
For forty years from his window Lionel has been watching the metamorphoses of a tree. Every day, season by season. The bare branches, the first leaves, summer, fall. Everything that’s still green, still beautiful, normal-sized, he says, is down underneath, away from the light. Up at the ends, patches of faded ocher, brittleness, ragged remains.
I spend half my life amongst trees and greenery, I don’t see what Lionel sees. An object has to be unique, alone, to be visible. The nest has disappeared this year, he said.
Capriccio sopra la lontananza del suo fratello dilettissimo.
A little work by Bach (little as regards length) discovered thanks to Serkin, via Lionel. The two of us sang the
on the phone this morning, the “Friends’ Lamento”:
Fa mi mi re’ re’ do sigh tee do tee tee
La la soh fa fa mi mi sigh
Lionel told me that after he woke up and listened to this song, he felt it would be idiotic to plan any other experiences for the day. The repeated notes, the silences, the interruptions cut through him and justified his paralysis.
According to Bach specialists, it’s a pleasant little youthful composition—with a hint of irony in it. Experts flatten the world.
Marisa Botton is sixty today.
One day I stuck a Toblerone in her vagina and we ate it afterward. A Toblerone she’d bought for her son. At the beginning, she wouldn’t even drink a glass of anything with me. “In Rouen, one doesn’t drink with a stranger.”
“I’m not a stranger.”
“You’re worse, you’re one of my husband’s suppliers.”
“All right, then, I have no chance of seeing you anywhere except this corridor.”