Your alarm clock goes off, you do not stir, you remain in your bed, you close your eyes again.
It is not a premeditated action, or rather it’s not an action at all, but an absence of action, an action that you don’t perform, actions that you avoid performing.
You went to bed early, you slept peacefully,
You stay lying on your narrow bench, your hands crossed behind you back, your knees up.
You don’t want to see anyone, or to talk, or to think, nor to go out, or move.
That you discover, without surprise, that something is wrong, that you don’t know how to live and that you never will know.
Something has broken.
You no longer feel, some thing which until then fortified you until then,
The feeling of your existence, the impression of belonging to, or being in the world is starting to slip away from you.
Your past, your present, and your future merge into one:
They are now just
The heaviness of your limbs,
Your nagging migraine,
The bitterness in your Nescafe.
You only go out after nightfall like
The rats, the cats, and the monsters.
You drift around the streets,
You slip into the grubby little, cinemas on the Grand Boulevards.
Sometimes you walk all night, sometimes you sleep all day.
You are an idler, a sleepwalker, a mollusc.
You do not really feel cut our for living, for doing, for making;
You only want to go on,
To go on waiting and forget.
You reject nothing, you refuse nothing.
You have ceased going forward, but that is because you weren’t going forward anyway, you’re not setting off again, you have arrived, you can see no reason to go on any further:
All it took, practically, was the untimely conjunction of a text of which you’d lost the thread,
You have no desire to carry on. Only the night and your room protect you:
The night in which, alone amidst
The crowds on the Grands Boulevards,
You occasionally feel almost happy with the noise and the lights, the bustle and the forgetting.
You are the wave that ebbs and flows, from the Place de la Republique to Place de la Madeleine, from the Madeleine to Place de la Republique.
The dead hours, empty passages, the fleeting and poignant desire to hear no more, to see no more, to remain silent and motionless.
Crazy dreams of solitude.
An amnesiac wandering, through the Land of the Blind:
Wide, empty streets, cold lights, faces without mouths that you would look at without seeing.
It’s as if, beneath the surface of your calm and reassuring history, the good little boy, as if, running beneath the obvious, too obvious, signs of growth and maturity – losing your virginity, the baptism of air, the baptism of fire – the bare backdrop of your abandoned life, veiled images of this revealed truth, of this resignation so long deferred, of this appeal for calm – hazy lifeless images, over-exposed snap shots, almost white, almost dead, almost already fossilized:
You are just a murky shadow,
A hard kernel of indifference,
A neutral gaze avoiding
The gaze of others.
Speechless lips, dead eyes.
Henceforth you will be able to glimpse in the puddles, in the shop windows,
in the gleaming bodywork of cars, the fleeting reflections of your decelerating life.
Water drips from the tap on the landing. Your neighbour is sleeping.
Your memory is slowly penetrated by oblivion.
The cracks in the ceiling, trace an implausible labyrinth.
That alarm clock that did not ring, that does not ring, that will not ring to wake you up.
You stretch out.
You let yourself slip.
You drop into sleep.
Your room is the center of the world with its bed into which you slip alone, the incessant murmur of the city.
The measured succession of car noises, braking, stopping, accelerating, imparts a rhythm to time almost as surely as the tirelessly dripping tap or the bells of Sainte-Roch.
Your alarm clock has been showing 5:15 for a long time now. In the silence of your room time no longer penetrates, it is around a permanent medium, obsessive, warped, a little suspect:
Time passes, but you never know what time it is.
It is ten o’clock, or perhaps eleven, it’s late, it’s early, the sun rises, night falls, the sounds never quite cease altogether, time never stops completely, even if it is now reduced to the merely imperceptible:
A hairline crack in the wall of silence, a slow murmur forgotten, drop by drop, almost indistinguishable from the beats of your heart.
All you really need is your sleep, your own silence, your stillness, the rising and falling of your rib-cage, evidence of your continuing and patient existence.
To want nothing.
Just to wait, until there, is nothing left to wait for. To wander, and to sleep.
To let yourself be carried along by the crowds, and the streets.
To follow the gutters, the fences, the water’s edge.
To walk the length of the embankments, to hug the walls.
To waste your time.
To be without desire, or resentment, or revolt.
In the course of time your life, will be there in front of you, a life without motion. Without crisis, without disorder, day after day, season after season, something is going to start, that will be without end: your vegetal existence, your cancelled life.
Here, you learn how to last. At times, you are the master of time itself, the master of the world, a watchful little spider at the hub of your web, reigning over Paris : You have everything still to learn, everything that cannot be learnt : solitude, indifference, patience, silence.
You are alone and because you are alone you must, never look to see what time it is.
You are letting yourself go and it come almost easily to you.
You allow passing time to, erase the memory of the faces, the addresses, the telephone numbers, the smiles and the voices.
You forget that you learnt how to forget, that, one day, you forced yourself to forget.
You no longer enter the cafes, checking the tables with a worried expression on your face, going into the back rooms in search of you no longer know whom.
You no longer look for anyone in the queues which form every two hours outside the seven cinemas in Rue Champollion.
You are alone. You learn how to walk like a man alone, to stroll, to dawdle, to see without looking, to look without seeing.
You learn the art of transparency, immobility, inexistence.
You learn how to remain seated, or supine, or erect.
You learn how to look at paintings as if they were bits of wall or ceiling, the walls, as if they were paintings whose tens of thousands of paths you follow untiringly, merciless labyrinths, texts that no-one will ever decipher, decaying faces.
You walk slowly, and return the way you came, gazing into emptiness, for hours.
You marvel at him. You try to discover his secret, his weakness. But he appears to have no weak point.
He doesn’t even dribble, or move his lips, he hardly even blinks.
The sun describes an arc about him:
Perhaps his vigilance consists
Solely in following its shadow;
He must have markers
Placed long in advance;
His madness, if he is mad,
Consists in believing
That he is a sundial.
You would like to look like him, but – and this is probably one of the effects of your being young and inexperienced in the art of being old – you get restless too quickly:
In spite of yourself, your foot starts scuffing the sand, you let your eyes wander, you are continually crossing and uncrossing your fingers.
Sill you keep walking, wherever your feet take you. You get lost, you go round in circles. Sometimes you set yourself derisory goals:
On your way out, you sign the book with large illegible initials accompanied by a false address.
You sit at a table at the back of a cafe and read Le Monde, line by line, systematically.
It is an excellent exercise.
Five hundred, a thousand pieces of information have passed in front of your eyes so scrupulous and attentive.
But your memory has carefully avoided retaining any of this.
All that matters to you is that time should pass and nothing should get through to you:
Your eyes follow the lines,
Deliberately, one after the other.
Indifference to the world is.
Neither ignorance nor hostility.
You do not propose to rediscover the robust joys of illiteracy but rather in reading, not to grant a privileged status to any one thing you read.
You do not propose to go naked but to be clad, without this implying either elegance or neglect. You do not propose to let yourself starve to death, but simply to feed yourself.
You eat, you sleep, you walk, you are clothed, let these be actions or gestures, but not proofs, not some kind of symbolic currency.
Your dress, your food, your reading matter will not speak in your stead. Never again will you entrust to them the exhausting, impossible, mortal burden of representing you to lose little by little their meaning and for the sadness, the misery, the poverty, the need, the shame that has become inexorably attached to them this hardness-become-meat, this bitterness – become – wine – stop hitting you, stop leaving their mark on you.
No explanation marks punctuate your meals. You drink your red wine, you eat your steak and fries. You devise complicated itineraries, bristling with rules which oblige you to make long detours.
You protect, you destroy, you construct, you plot, you concoct one plan after another:
A futile exercise, a danger that entails no risk of punishment, a derisory restoration of order:
And you feel almost unhappy, when all your patient calculations lead to the impossible outcome.
It is as if this solitary silent strategy were your only way forward, as if it had become your reason for being.
You close your eyes, you open them.
Viral, microbial forms, inside your eye, or on the surface of your cornea, drifty slowly downwards, disappear, suddenly reappear in the center, hardly changed, discs or bubbles, twigs, twisted filaments, which, when brought together, produce something resembling a mythological beast.
You lose track of them, then find them again;
you rub your eyes,
and the filaments explode,
Time passes, you are drowsy.
You put down the book beside you on the bed.
Everything is vague, throbbing.
Your breathing is astonishingly regular.
As the hours, the days, the weeks, the seasons slip by, you detach yourself from everything.
You discover, with something that sometimes almost resembles exhilaration, that you are free, that nothing is weighing you down, nothing pleases or displeases you.
You find, in this life exempt from wear and tear and with no thrill in it other than these suspended moments, an almost perfect happiness, fascinating, occasionally swollen by new emotions.
You are living in a blessed parenthesis, in a vacuum full of promise, and from which you expect nothing.
You are invisible, limpid, transparent.
You no longer exist:
across the passing hours,
the succession of days,
the procession of the seasons,
the flow of time,
you survive, without joy
and without sadness,
without a future and without a past,
just like that: simply, self-evidently,
like a drop of water forming
on a drinking tap on a landing,
like a fly or a mollusc,
like a tree, like a rat.
In the course of time your, coldness becomes awesome.
Your eyes have lost the last vestige of their sparkle, your silhouette now slumps perfectly.
An expression of serenity with lassitude, without bitterness, plays at the corners of your mouth.
You slip through the streets, untouchable, protected by the judicious wear and tearof your clothing, by the neutrality of your gait.
Now, your movements are simply acquired gestures.
You utter only those words which are strictly necessary.
You never say please, hello, thank you, goodbye.
You do not ask your way. You wander around.
All moments are equivalent, all spaces are alike.
You are never in a hurry, never lost.
You are not sleepy.
You are not hungry.
You let yourself go, you allow yourself to be carried along:
all it takes is for a grey back, a few yards in front of you to
turn off suddenly down a grey street; or else a light or an absence of light,
a noise of an absence of noise, a wall, a group of people, a tree,
You walk or you do not walk.
You sleep or you do not sleep.
You buy Le Monde or you do not buy it.
You eat or you do not eat.
You sit down, you stretch out, you remain standing,
You slip into the darkened auditoriums. You light a cigarette.
You cross the street, you cross the Seine, you stop, you start again.
You pall pinball or you don’t. Indifference has neither beginning nor end: it is an immutable state, an unshakeable inertia.
All that remains are elementary reflexes : when the light is red you do not cross the road, you shelter from the wind in order to light a cigarette,
You wrap up warmer on winter mornings, you change your sports shirt, your socks, your underpants and your vest about once a week.
Indifference dissolves language and scrambles the signs.
You are patient and you are not waiting, you are free and you do not choose, you are available and nothing arouses your enthusiasm.
You hear without ever listening, you see without ever looking: the cracks in the ceilings, in the floorboards, the patterns in the tiling, the lines around your eyes, the trees, the water, the stones, the cars passing in the street, the clouds that form…
Cloud shapes in the sky. Now, your existence is boundless.
Each day is made up of silence and noise, of light and blackness, layers, expectations, shivers.
You slide, you let yourself slip and go under: searching for emptiness, running from it.
Walk, stop, sit down, take a table, lean on it, stretch out.
Robotic actions: get up, wash, shave, dress.
A cork on the water: drift with the current, follow the crowd, trail about:
in the heavy silence of summer, closed shutters, deserted streets, sticky asphalt, deathly-still leaves of a green that verges on black;
winter in the cold light of the shop-fronts, the street lights, the little clouds of condensing breath at cafe doors, the black stumps of the dead winter trees.
It is a life without surprises.
You are safe.
You sleep, you walk, you continue to live, like a laboratory rat abandoned in its maze by some absent-minded scientist.
There is no hierarchy, no preference.
Your indifference is motionless, becalmed: a grey man for whom grey has no connotation of dullness.
But insensitive, but neutral.
You are attracted by water, but also by stone; by darkness, but also by light; by warmth, but also by cold.
All that exists is your walking, and your gaze, which lingers and slides, oblivious to beauty, to ugliness, to the familiar, the surprising, only ever retaining combinations of shapes and lights, which form and dissolve continuously, all around you, in your eyes, on the ceilings, at your feet, in the sky, in your cracked mirror, in the water, in the stone, in the crowds.
Squares, avenues, parks and boulevards, trees and railings, men and women, children and dogs, crowds, queues, vehicles and shop windows, buildings, facades, columns and capitals, sidewalks, gutters, sandstone paving flags glistening grey in the drizzle.
Silences, rackets, crowds at the stations, in the shops, on the boulevards, teeming streets, packed platforms, deserted Sunday streets in August, mornings, evenings, nights, dawns and dusks.
Now you are the nameless master of the world, the one on whom history has lost its hold, the one who no longer feels the rain falling, who does not see the approach of night.
All you are is all you know: your life that continues, you breathing, your step,
You see the people coming and going, crowds and objects taking shape and dissolving.
You see a curtain rail in the tiny window of a haberdasher’s, which your eye is suddenly caught by, you continue on your way, you are inaccessible, like a tree, like a shop window, like a rat.
But rats don’t spend hours trying to get to sleep. But rats don’t wake up with a start, gripped by panic, bathed in sweat.
But rats don’t dream and what can you do to protect yourself against your dreams?
But rats don’t bite their nails, especially not methodically, for hours on end until the tips of their claws are little more than a large open sore.
You tear off half of the nail, bruising the spots where it is attached to the flesh; you tear away the cuticle nearly all the way back to the top joint until beads of blood start to appear, until your fingers are so painful that, for hours, the slightest contact is so unbearable that you can no longer pick things up and you have to go and immerse your hands in scalding hot water.
But rats, as far as you know, do not play pinball.
You hug the machines for hours on end for nights on end, feverishly, angrily.
You cling, grunting, to the machine, accompanying the erratic rebounds of the steal ball with exaggerated thrusts of your hips.
You wage relentless warfare on the springs, the lights, the figures, the channels. Painted ladies who give an electronic wink, who lower their fans.
You can’t fight against a tilt.
You can play or not play.
You can’t start up a conversation, you can’t make it say what it will never be able to say to you.
It is no use snuggling up against it, painting over it, the tilt remains insensitive to the friendship you feel, to the love which you seek, to the desire which torments you.
You drift around the streets, you enter a cinema; you drift around the streets, you enter a cafe; you drift around the streets, you look at the trains; you drift around the streets, you enter a cinema where you see a film which resembles the one you’ve just seen, you walk out; you drift around the over-lit streets.
You go back to your room, you undress, you slip between the sheets, you turn out the light, you close your eyes.
Now is the time when dream-women, to quickly undressed, crowd in around you, the time when you reread ad nauseam books you’ve read a hundred times before, when you toss and turn for hours without getting to sleep.
This is the hour when, your eyes wide open in the darkness, you hand groping towards the foot of the narrow bed in search of an ashtray, matches, a last cigarette, you calmly measure the sticky extent of your unhappiness.
Now you get up in the night.
You wander the streets, you go and perch on bar-stools and there you stay, for hours, until closing time with a beer in front of you or a black coffee or a glass of red wine.
You are alone and drifting.
You walk along the desolate avenues, past the stunted trees, the peeling facades, the dark porches.
You penetrate the bottomless ugliness tacky churches, gutted building sites, pale walls.
The parks whose railings imprison you, the festering swamps near the sewer outlets, the monstrous factory gates.
Steam locomotives pump out clouds of white smoke under the metallic walkways of the Gare Saint-Lazare.
On Boulevard Barbes or Place Clichy, impatient crowds raise their eyes to the heavens.
Unhappiness did not swoop down on you, it insinuated itself almost ingratiatingly.
It meticulously impregnated your life, your movements, the hours you keep, your room, it took possession of the cracks in the ceiling, of the lines in your face in the cracked mirror, of the pack of cards ; it slipped furtively into the dripping tap on the landing, it echoed in sympathy with the chimes of each quarter-hour from the bell of Saint-Roch.
The snare was that feeling which, on occasion, came close to exhilaration, that arrogance, that sort of exaltation ; you thought that the city was all you needed, its stones and its streets, the crowds that carried you along, you thought you needed only a front stall in some local cinema, you thought you only needed your room, your lair, your cage, your borrow.
Once again you deal out the fifty-two cards on your narrow bed. Your powers have deserted you.
The snare: the dangerous illusion of being impenetrable of offering no purchase to the outside world, of silently sliding, inaccessible, just two open eyes looking forward, perceiving everything, retaining nothing.
A being without memory, without alarm.
But there is no exit, no miracle, no truth.
How many times have you repeated the same amputated gesture, the same journey’s that lead nowhere?
All you have left to fall back on are your tuppeny-halfpenny boltholes, your idiotic patience,
the thousand and one detours that always lead you back unfailingly to your starting point.
From park to museum, from cafe to cinema, from embankment to garden, the station waiting-rooms, the lobbies of the grand hotels, the supermarkets, the bookshops, the corridors of the metro.
Trees, stones, water, clouds, sand, brick, light, wind, rain:
All that counts is your solitude: whatever you do, wherever you go,
nothing that you see has any importance,
everything you do, you do in vain,
nothing that you seek is real.
Solitude alone exists, every time you are confronted, every time you face yourself.
You stopped speaking and only silence replied. But those words, those thousands, those millions of words that dried up in your throat, the inconsequential chit-chat, the cries of joy, the words of live, the silly laughter, just when will you find them again?
Now you live in dread of silence.
But are you not the most silent of all?
The monsters have come into you life, the rats, your fellow creatures, your brothers.
The monsters in their tens, their hundreds, their thousands.
You can spot them from almost subliminal signs, their furtive departures, their silence, from their shifty, hesitant, startled eyes that look away when they meet yours.
In the middle of the night, a light still shows at the attic, windows of their sordid little rooms.
Their footfalls echo in the night.
But these faces without age, these frail or drooping figures, these hunched, grey backs, you can feel their constant proximity, you follow their shadows, you are their shadow, you frequent their hideouts, their pokey little holes, you have the same refuges,
the same sanctuaries: the local cinema which stinks of disinfectant, the public gardens, the museums, the cares, the stations, the metro, the covered markets.
Bundles of despair sitting like you on park benches, endlessly drawing and rubbing out the same imperfect circle in the sand, readers of newspapers found in rubbish bins.
They follow the same circuits as you, just as futile, just as slow.
They hesitate in front of the maps in the metro, they eat their buns sitting on the river banks.
The banished, the pariahs, the exiles.
When they walk, they hug the walls, eyes cast down and shoulders drooping,
Clutching at the stones of the facades, with the weary gestures of a defeated army, of those who bite the dust.
You follow them, you spy on them, you hate them:
monsters in their garrets,
monsters in slippers who shuffle
at the fringes of the putrid markets,
monsters with dead fish-eyes,
monsters moving like robots,
monster who drivel.
You rub shoulders with them, you walk with them,
you make your way amongst them:
the sleepwalkers, the old men,
the deaf-mutes with their berets
pulled down over their ears,
the dotards who clear their throats and try to control the spasms of their cheeks, the peasants lost in the big city, the windows, the slyboots, the old boys.
They came to you, they grabbed you by the arm.
As if, because you are a stranger lost in your own city, you could only meet other strangers;
as if, because you are alone, you had to watch as all the other loners swooped down on you.
Those who never speak, those who talk to themselves,
The old lunatics, the old lushes, the exiles.
The hand on to your coat tails, the breathe in your face.
They slide up to you with their wholesome smiles, their leaflets, their flags, the pathetic champions of great lost causes, the sad chansonniers out collecting for their friends, the abused orphans selling table-mats, the scraggy widows who protect pets.
All those who accost you, detain you, paw you, ram their petty-minded truth down your throat, spit their eternal questions in your face, their charitable works and their True Way.
The sandwich-men of the true faith which will save the world.
The sallow complexions, the frayed collars, the stammerers who tell you their life story, tell you about their time in prison, in the asylum, in the hospital.
The old school teachers who have a plan to standardize spelling, the strategists, the water diviners, the faith healers, the enlightened, all those who live with their obsessions, the failures, the dead beats, the harmless monsters mocked by bartenders who fill their glasses so high that they can’t raise them to their lips, the old bags in their furs who try to remain dignified whilst kicking back the Marie Brizard.
And all the others who are even worse, the smug, the smart-Alecs, the self-satisfied, who think they know, the fat men and the forever young, the dairymen and the decorated; the revelers on a binge, the Brylcreem-boys, the stinking rich, the dumb bastards.
The monster confident of their own rights, who address you without further to do, call you to witness,
The monster with their big families, with their monster children and monster dogs, the thousands of monsters caught at the traffic lights, the yapping females of the monsters, the monsters with moustaches, and waistcoats, and braces, the monsters tipped out by the coachload in front of the hideous monuments, the monsters in their Sunday best, the monster crowd.
You drift around, but the crowd
no longer carries you,
the night no longer protects you.
Still you walk on, ever onwards, untiring, immortal.
You search, you wait.
You wander through the fossilised town, the intact white stones of the restored facades, the petrified dustbins, the vacant
chairs where concierges once sat;
you wander through the ghost town,
scaffolding abandoned against
gutted apartment blocks,
bridges adrift in the fog and the rain.
Putrid city, vile, repulsive city.
Sad city, sad lights in the sad streets,
sad clowns in sad music-halls,
sad queues outside the sad cinemas,
sad furniture in the sad stores.
Dark stations, barracks,
The gloomy bars which line
the Grand Boulevards.
Noisy or deserted city, pallid or hysterical city, gutted, devastated, soiled city, city bristling with prohibitions, steel bars, iron fences.
Charnel house city:
the covered markets rotting away, the slum belt in the heart of Paris, the unbearable horror of the boulevards
Haussmann, Magenta – and Charonne.
Like a prisoner, like a madman in his cell.
Like a rat looking for the way out of his maze.
You pace the length of Paris.
Like a starving man, like a messenger delivering a letter with no address.
Now you have run out of hiding places.
You are afraid.
You are waiting for everything to stop, the rain, the hours, the stream of traffic, life, people, the world; waiting for everything to collapse, walls, towers, floors and ceilings, men and women, old people and children, dogs, horses, birds, to fall to the ground, paralysed, plague-ridden, epileptic; waiting for the marble to crumble away, for the wood to turn to pulp, for the houses to collapse noiselessly, for the diluvian rains to dissolve the paintwork, pull apart the dowel-joints in hundred-year-old wardrobes, tear the fabric to shreds, wash away the newspaper ink, waiting for the fire without flames to consume the stairs, waiting for the streets to subside and split down the middle to reveal the gaping labyrinth of the sewers; waiting for the rust and mist to invade the city.
You are not dead and you are no wiser.
You have not exposed your eyes to the suns burning rays.
The two tenth-rate old actors have not come to fetch you, hugging you so tightly that you formed a unity which would have brought all three of you down together had one of you knocked out.
The merciful volcanoes have paid you no heed.
Your mother had not put your new second-hand clothes in order.
You are not going to encounter for the millionth time the reality of experience and forge in the smithy of your soul, the uncreated conscience of your race.
No old father, no old artificer will stand you now and ever in good stead.
You have learnt nothing, except that solitude, teaches you nothing, except that indifference teaches you nothing:
You were along and you wanted to burn, the bridges between you and the world.
But you are such a negligble speck, and the world is such a big word: to walk a few kilometres past facades, shopfronts, parks and embankments.
Indifference is futile.
Your refusal is futile.
Your neutrality is meaningless.
You believe that you are just passing by, walking down the avenues, drifting through the city, dogging the footsteps of the crowd, penetrating the play of shadows and cracks.
But nothing has happened:
With each passing day, your patience has worn thinner.
Time would have to stand still, but no-one has the strength to fight against time. The hours, minutes, the days and the seasons. For a long time you constructed
sanctuaries, and destroyed them:
order or in inaction.
drifting or sleep, the night patrols, the neutral moments, the flight of shadows and light.
Perhaps for a long time yet, you could continue to lie to yourself, deadening your senses.
But the game is over.
The world has stirred and you have not changed.
Indifference has not made you any different.
You are not dead. You have not gone mad.
There is no curse hanging over you.
There is no tribulation in store for you, there is no crow with sinister designs on your eyeballs, no vulture has been assigned the indigestible chore of tucking into your liver morning, noon, and night.
No-one is condemning you, and you have committed no offence.
Time, which see to everything, has provided the solution, despite yourself.
Time, that knows the answer, has continued to flow. It is on a day like this one, a little later, a little earlier, that everything starts again, that everything starts, that everything continues.
Stop talking like a man in a dream.
Look at them.
They are thousands upon thousands, posted like silent sentinels by the river, along the embankments, all over the rain-washed pavements of Place Clichy, mortal men fixed in ocean reveries, waiting for the sea-spray, for the breaking waves, for the raucous cries of the sea-birds.
No, you are not the nameless master of the world, the one on whom history had lost its hold, the one who no longer felt the rain falling, who did not see the approach of night.
You are no longer inaccessible, the limpid, the transparent one.
You are afraid, you are waiting.
You are waiting, on Place Clichy, for the rain to stop falling.