Commentaries - February 2013
A first translation from French by Clayton Eshleman
Paris, 27 December 1946
To M. Gilbert Lély
I did indeed receive your letter urging me to send you the promised text
for your special issue on love. But I did warn you that I could tell you only what I
think. It was you who questioned me, it is to you that I respond.
For I have had, for a long time, nothing more to say about love. It’s a feeling
that I believed I had and understood, at a time when I was developing false ideas
about life, for in truth I never found any love in it, only in me:
attachment (if that), selfish friendship, esteem, provisional consideration,
but love, in the, one could say, alchemical sense of the word, never.
Example: the King of Thulé’s love, IN Gérard de Nerval’s poem,
love in the valley of the dappled lawn, from Edgar Poe’s Eleonora;
as for love in Baudelaire, it reaches its highest expression in the A Martyr,
Carrion, A Voyage to Cytherea which are no more than a fall into the depths.
André Breton alone remains, in his life as in his acts, faithful to this kind of
decantating, from a pure and detached attraction, from life into more than life.
I mean: in his thinking, but who is there who will follow him in life?
And then, what is love in reality? So many poets, philosophers, painters, heros,
clergy, saints, mystics, martyrs, tortured ones have passed through, and over,
that the thing sickens perhaps even more than the word.
Love is a unique feeling, so unique that the idea of sharing it with others, of
having this feeling concomitantly with others, horrifies me.
What I think about it, apart from this, is for me:
for me alone, and I forbid anyone to talk about it, talking strictly to myself, to
speak of it at the same time as I.
Besides I now believe that this feeling is called hate, and, for me, is called the
flagellation of a hate, which will lead me I don’t even know where.
An old fetid smell of the idea of old love came back to me one day at Rodez, in
March of 1946, the day when I saw getting off at the Rodez station Marthe Robert
and Arthur Adamov who, after nine years of internment, were coming to look for
me and to claim me. And I have always asked myself what notion of repressed
love, one that had through time how many faces, through history how many
sent them to me that day.
I thought a great deal about love in the Rodez asylum, and I dreamed there of
some daughters of my soul, who would love me as daughters, and not as lovers, I
their pre-pubescent, lascivious, salacious, erotic and incestuous father;
and chaste, so chaste as to be dangerous.
For one can only love one’s creations.
The woman who loves inclines to mother,
the man who loves wants the tiny atom of life that loves him and which the
has pushed toward him,
to feel itself, above all, descended from him.
One cannot evade, in the world such as it is made, this idea of primogeniture,
not the first child of his father, but the father of the first child.
As for the interpenetration of souls, the mystique of deep love, a woman wants,
if not on earth, at least in the depths of the arbitrary idea of I no longer know
what bottomless heaven, not to be born after the man she loves, but at least at
the same time,
LIKE THE VIRGIN FACING GOD!
In love there is the idea of service. And one does not indefinitely serve the same
There is nothing more exhaustible than the idea of devotion.
Besides, it seems to me a fundamental indiscretion that one can ask me this
question, that this question can be asked.
Love is that untouchable thing of which one only speaks with a sealed mouth,
through how many strata of earth?
And there is no secret drawer, there is no dark register that offers an account of
what it is, this pariah of satisfied realities.
Love is a forgotten feeling. And that’s all.
— No. Man’s passional body no longer delights in the King of Thulé! –Too many
lovers have cuckolded me for me to believe that this feeling still exists. And I am
not saying outside its place, outside its old dwelling-place, at Madam Poetry’s; for
I forbid poetry to still harbor the unfaithful, there is no life-long faithful, short of
decanting life. From life to more than life. And this is no longer poetry, but a kind
of ghastly autopsy.
This decantation has to be brought about, on our old bodies gone to war against
the invisible and the uncreated (as if that had ever existed : the uncreated) –
with our bodies kept whole in the dungeons of the uncreated, in this same chaos
of the uncreated where life rekindles its wars, when there is no more to eat or to
drink, and when to drink is the same as to eat.
Where has my lover gone? I would then say to the King of Thulé.
And my lover’s just as good as yours!
And do you know what the King of Thulé answered me before dawn, when his
legend was still being established, (but where did time go farther than its own
legend taking shape?)
And it’s now that he answered me.
Now, this very last night, spent in my chimney hole; --and all that was left to
me of love was a black, indescribable army, that unavowable army of succubi and
incubi armed with their sole hatred for what remains in me of an unused feeling :
The feeling of love exhausted before it could be born, this machine of
magnetized rust between the blood and the shit of being, called
“My lover is not up to yours, and you will surrender yours to me at once!”
responded the King of Thulé.
Thus is hell born.
You wanted to devote this special issue of Variétés to eroticism. Then, you
changed it to the idea of love.
That is not being half-mistaken, for nothing deserts love more, is further away
from the idea of love, than the machine used for fucking, copulating and
It is in despair of love that all the old monkeys of hate, described in the
Ramayana, invented the obtuse machine, the old box of caca humus, called sex,
The dyke’s sloping tongue, which, in the garrets of the mind, wriggles over that :
magma desire : Ca-Ca.
And let breath, from Ca to Ca, end up strangling the Virgin.
After that, we’ll see.
P.S. – Besides, the old box of caca humus will return when man has stopped
being that low ferret scratching at sex as if to force papa’s secret out from his very
And when papa-mama himself will have given up his seat to man, without
hieroglyph and secret keyboard.
But it will take a lot of blood to cleanse the shit-box, awash, not with shit, but
It’s the old haggler from Sinai who spread love-essence about;
But why didn’t it occur to anyone that to fiddle with the essences
(infinitesimals of principle, principles, embryos, magma larvae)
was to let in all the microbes
that are in the pruritus of the mind :
sows, cinders of life.
31 December 1946
[The foregoing is translated from Artaud's Oeuvres Completes, volume XIV, Gallimard, Paris, 1978. The translator also thanks Mark Polizzotti for some helpful translation suggestions.]
New at PennSound
On February 12, 2013, I interviewed John Ashbery in his Chelsea (New York, NY) apartment, and moderated a discussion with people gathered at the Kelly Writers House, while many hundreds more watched via live webcast. Thanks to Anna Zalokostas, PennSound’s Ashbery page now offers the audio-only version (in downloadable MP3 format, as always) of the discussion, and, also, links to audio excerpts segmented by topic. Here are those segments:
- on humor in Ashbery’s poems (3:53): MP3
- on Ashbery's relationship to nature and the country (4:00): MP3
- on “Auburn-Tinted Fences,” “Soonest Mended,” and living outside the margin (7:13): MP3
- on “Not Beyond All Conjecture” (9:01): MP3
- on aging, forgetfulness, and looking back at early work (5:06): MP3
- on “Homeless Heart” and not thinking in a straight line (3:44): MP3
- on Ashbery’s Three Poems and his need to constantly do something new in his writing (question from Ron Sillman) (9:22): MP3
- on translating Rimbaud (3:26): MP3
- on his writing process (2:34): MP3
- on writing that deals with institutions and bureaucracies (1:29): MP3
- reading and commenting on “Like America” (6:10): MP3
- on experiencing difficulty when writing poetry (2:43): MP3
- on “A Poem of Unrest” and trying to understand Ashbery’s work (1:29): MP3
- on Wallace Stevens, Harvard & F.O. Matthiessen (4:04): MP3
- reading and discussing “Just Walking Around” (8:57): MP3
"Reznikoff's Nearness" -- recording of Royaumont talk in 1989, introduced by Emmanuel Hocquard, translated by Pierre Alferi
From September 29 to October 1, 1989, the Literary Center at Royaumont, outside Paris, put on the first conference devoted to the American Objectivist poets. Emmanuel Hoquard and Rémy Hourcade were the organizers. Carl Rakosi came for the event (seeming startled to be the last surving member of a grouping about which he had often tenuous connections), along with Michael Davidson, Lyn Hejinian, Michael Palmer, Stephen Rodefer, and David Bromige. There was a large audience of French poets and critics. (Niedecker was not officially featured in the program, a regrettable omission that was often noted at the event.)
Fall 1989 was my first semester teaching at Buffalo – as a visiting professor. I flew direct from Buffalo to Paris for the event, which was a magnificent tribute to the these poets. It 's remarkable that these four great Second Wave modernist Jewish-American poets received the first grand tribute of this kind in France, not in the U.S.
After a several more years or work, my talk on Reznikoff became "Reznikoff's Nearness" (first published in Sulfur and later collected in My Way). In this early talking version, Emmanuel Hoquard gives a long introduction and I am simultaneously translated (with commentary!) by Pierre Alferi. A pamphlet transcribed from the talk was later published as Notes 3.
In Jacket 29
An selection of poems from Altered State — The New Polish Poetry. Edited by Rod Mengham, Tadeusz Pióro and Piotr Szymor. Todmorden, UK: Arc Publications, 2003. Price: £10.95. This selection was chosen by Rod Mengham and John Tranter.
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