It’s hard to know what to say at the moment. We’re almost a week into Russia’s invasion of Ukraine but it seems that things are still unfolding at a disorientating and uneven rate.

The last few days, my mind has been — if I’m completely honest — on other things (specifically, moving house). But as I feel disconnected from everything, unfortunately trapped in my little bubble of mundane logistical arrangements, occasionally glancing at the chaos outside, I’ve been increasingly aware of my little window on the world, and those of other people as well. Every time I look, it makes me feel worse.

I saw some comments going viral in the US about not commenting on Ukraine if you can’t name its bordering nations, for example. I’m not sure what this is supposed to prove. Nor do I understand why the US always equates political virtue with geographic knowledge? That seems like the legacy of mid-Noughties European bullying and the general perception of American ignorance. Personally, I’m not sure listing off countries like you just won the final round of your local pub quiz gets you as many Brownie points as you think it does… Ultimately, even if you know where things are on a map, the US still seems largely detached from reality to the rest of the world, no matter where your ancestors are from.

Things are no better on home soil, of course. (Are they ever?) Tory warmongerers display their throbbing hard-ons for stolen valour, invoking the legacy of World War II or, even further back, the Crimean War, despite the fact everyone knows they’re very currently complicit in oligarch money-laundering. Their often wobbly historical knowledge resounds as dissonantly as American geographic knowledge — the past is another country to these people, and I’m not sure they could name its bordering nations either. The memory-holing of more recent conflicts, particularly the post-Soviet unrest in Europe in the 1990s, is particularly bizarre but unsurprising.

And of course, there is the amount and type of attention paid, particularly by rolling news journalists. With Israel’s atrocities still ongoing and looming large in recent memory, never mind images from other countries currently at war, killing each other with US and UK arms, the coverage has been as eye-opening as it has been mind-numbing. It’s not just that there is war in Europe but a war among “white people” — scare quotes for the obvious reductionism. “War has broken out in civilisation”, they exclaimed, shocked and appalled. It’s like someone’s turned Midsummer Murders into a globe-trotting drama. “Things like this don’t happen here!”, says the local neighbourhood watch representative — except when they do, continuously, and usually at the hands of people like you.

Amidst all this noise, what is there to say? I’m finding listening hard enough. How to filter through the shit streaming out of every outlet? Plenty of people are doing valiant and increasingly necessary work to separate fact from fiction, of course, but this also feels like the crescendo of a series of waves of disinformation that have defined every crisis of the last few years — domestic and otherwise. From Trump to Covid to whatever else — take your pick — we’ve hardly learnt a thing. Wanting to write authoritatively about a war between Russia and Ukraine without an inordinate amount of expertise feels like King Cnut wanking into the approaching tsunami, but it hasn’t stopped most.

There is, of course, the ambient sense that if you’re not talking about all of this, there’s something wrong with you. But there’s equally a sensation that comes from the other side — if you are talking about this, are you really saying anything? Or just contributing to the information smokescreen? The libs are doing cringe Marvel takes again! But it feels like cringe all the way down. I hate the posturing as much as I hate the cynicism. I hate the noise. All the noise, the constant noise, seems like petty squabbling whilst the world burns.

I offer my solidarity to those who are fighting, in Ukraine and elsewhere, against imperialist forces. I can’t offer anything else. It’s not much, if anything at all, and finding the right way to say it online feels like trying to gracefully jump onto a furiously spinning platform. Why does everything always feel like too much too soon or too little too late?

Meanwhile, I’m booking removal vans and packing up my life as the Home Office once again says the quiet part loud regarding who’s the right kind of refugee.

I think I best be logging off.

Caja Negra’s Mark Fisher Vigil

A wonderful event organised by the folks at Caja Negra last weekend, as something of a response to the events organised in the UK over the last few years, chronicled in my book Egress.

It’s beautiful to see these images, as these are the sorts of events we always wanted to inspire. It is hard to make an event that is fully accessible to all when we are so geographically constricted, but we always hoped the sentiment would be taken up by others and actualised in other contexts.

All of the photos above were taken by Nicolás Espert.

Mundane Schizophrenias:
Notes on Wounds and Degraded Ideals

I’ve been feeling really frustrated recently. Angry even. I find myself lying awake at night just raging against things in my head — mundane injustices and difficulties and obstacles that I wish would fuck off. The other night I found myself ranting to my analyst about it — specifically the sense of injustice I feel at having to see him, as a sort of last resort, with the monthly cost of weekly sessions being almost as much as my rent, and the fact I’m only really there because I feel utterly failed by the NHS, which has rebuffed me at every turn because nothing wrong with me, physically or mentally, can be tied up in a nice little bow and explained away.

“No further action needed” is the perpetual response I get to every single enquiry into mental and physical health treatment and support, despite the fact that everything keeps on deteriorating.

Therapy is good though. It’s working — or it is at least doing something. I feel the ground shifting. I sit in my emotions more and don’t hide them away. (Doing so has kept me off the blog at late, and away from a lot of other things — although the way I schedule and split up by manic moments of productivity means that no one has probably noticed.) But this “work” I’m doing is only on myself, and is seemingly it’s own reward.

That’s fine, of course. But whilst I might be starting to feel more at home in myself, it’s not making relationships any easier or my work or my ability to cope with any sort of external stimuli or disruption. When I did go through the NHS, I got to the point where I was just saying, “look, I want a diagnosis”. “That may not be the best reason for us to refer you”, they said. And fair enough, I suppose. But what I meant to say was that, if you can’t just snap your fingers and fix my life, I need something. I need a slip of paper I can pass onto my employer or something that gives me a little extra time and support because, despite the fact you have no idea what to do with me, my life is disrupted every single day. But “adoption trauma” doesn’t seem to be recognised in the DSM and I think a lot of people with it are “high functioning” anyway, whatever that means.

I say that, but I think I do know what it means. I read an interesting blogpost recently about the chameleon self some adoptees feel like they have, which I found both reassuringly and unnervingly relatable. Roz Munro, discussing her own sense of postnatal separation, explains:

Our biology … involves the limbic regulation that a mother provides to her baby, to soothe and to give a feeling of security — the attachment bond. This begins as part of a neurochemical hormonal bond in the womb and without it the child feels overwhelmed. It is this devastating loss at the start of life that causes a large part of the traumatised response induced by maternal separation. I imagine my little mind was full of confusion and terror, the limbic overload of trying to mirror and connect but not getting the right signals…

My baby-self needed to connect to stay alive, literally, the baby is helpless and all they have is this connection; it is a matter of survival. The baby’s responses are elements of the adaptive behaviours that adoptees use as attempts to get their needs met, they are survival responses to the relinquishment trauma suffered on loss of our mother. Nancy Verrier writes in Coming Home to Self about the two modes of coping that adopted children implement to manage the alien situation: acting out and acting in, i.e., defiance or emotional shut downness. She also distinguishes between these behaviours, which can define a child early on, and their true personalities that are hidden under levels of management of self: to fit in or to radically object.

Either way it is not the true self that is known to the family, or to the individual. I became a compliant baby — a “good” baby, mum said. When the Adoption Society conducted a welfare visit I was reported to be on three meals a day and sleeping through each night. I was 15 weeks old. The reptilian brain works very basically: Do as they want, and this will not endanger me. This translates in my adoptee brain as “do what is asked of you and be safe, anything else and they too might abandon you.”

This layering of behaviours and coping strategies add further silt to the difficulty of knowing, or being, oneself after the trauma and resultant brain changes of being relinquished as a baby and adopted into a biological strangers’ family. I conformed and turned into a very proficient chameleon. I continued to be a compliant and quiet child. The chameleon who asked unconsciously in every interaction or relationship “What do you want me to be?” In essence, I wanted to know what you needed me to be, so I best ensure that you stay happy, and I remain “good enough to keep”. My mum said I was easy as a younger child and young teenager; it was when I left home that I “became difficult”! I feel I was attempting to exert my independence, be myself, but that was not welcomed.

Munro’s experience very closely mirrors my own. And it’s quite a revelation to be able to recognise that — I was in complete denial of this up until six or seven years ago. Growing up, I knew a lot of adopted or fostered kids who acted out. I think my mum was relieved that she’d gotten a well-behaved one. In fact, she used to brag a lot, even when I was much older, about how I was such an easy baby, who never cried or wanted. But having read Verrier myself a few years ago, I already know the truth. In fact, having since acquired a lot of notes about my early life, it’s written right there on the page. One note from the local council, visiting me whilst in foster care, notes how I am a quiet but attentive child, with big eyes that watch the world around me. I think I know that version of myself. They see a child who watches and imbue it with some sort of sign of early emotional development; I see a child terrified and anxious and untrusting of those around them. And so, I too acted in, and in many ways still do. It builds relationships at first, as I’m often eager to please, before the mania calms down and relationships become stunted. This trauma and its responses, so often invisibilised, really do ruin lives.

What’s making me so angry of late is how isolating it feels. I feel at odds with myself, at odds with society, at odds with the institutions and expectations of those around me, and angry that the only solution I’ve been able to access is to sit alone in my room and talk about it somewhat philosophically over Skype. That’s how therapy feels at my grumpiest. The solution to feeling alone on the outside is to go into a little confession box and engage in some sort of frank communion with another outsider. (That’s not how it should be, of course, but such are the lingering COVID restrictions.) Is it helping me? I hope so. But also, the issue isn’t just me. We can focus on my sense of self all we like, but what hurts the most is a life of missed connections and stunted relations with others.

That’s where I’m at right now. Unable to put down roots, despite a great deal of effort, I’m left having to come to terms with the fact I don’t quite fit in where I want to be (or where other people want me to be). Though I understand the implications and the best way forward in theory, it is hard to counter a sort of visceral and embodied feeling that is deeply seated in your soul, dealing with a sort of nomadic baby’s existence that I don’t have any conscious recollection of, but am nonetheless reminded of every single day.

The older I get, the more I try and find ways to understand myself in this regard, only to feel all the more misunderstood by those in positions of power. Again, medical professionals are of no help. To say you grieve a relative you’ve never known, outside nine months in utero and a few days after, sounds silly, even mystical, and surely like a retrospective projection? But for as long as I can remember, I remember feeling grief, even before I knew what the word was or meant. The earliest emotion I can remember feeling is loss, and so many of my most vivid childhood memories are memories of loss also. On the surface, they’re mundane — grief for broken toys, toys left behind — but these ultimately inconsequential losses triggered a kind of embodied response. I was an easy child until I lost something.

Even now, I remember that feeling in my solar plexus of a ragged void, a dense emptiness that weighs a ton. It has been ever-present. And you should see the face on your average GP when you tell them that another round of CBT probably isn’t going to cut it.

In my experience, they don’t really know what to do with you after that. Consider the past year of my life alone: I’ve self-referred to my GP four times because I’ve, at times, felt suicidal or I’ve injured myself or I’ve been in pain or made myself sick. But those moments come and go. Bones heal, moods settle, they send you home. Once at home, the main way I self-medicate is with food. Over-eating is a sort of quick fix for filling the hole. Friends will be aware of this because, as much as I try to hide it, my weight fluctuates rapidly depending how where I’m at in the constant cycle of coping and not coping. So I was referred to an eating disorder clinic twice in 2021, only for them to turn around twice and say the obvious: “you have an unhealthy relationship with food but you don’t have an eating disorder.” So I go back to my GP again and say, “look, this was stupid and a waste of time; my depressions are getting worse, what can I do?” They recommend banal things like trying to consume less sugar or going to the gym more. I do as I’m told, and the latter in particular has been a good form of release, but it hasn’t done anything to fix the ragged void. It’s a short-term endorphin boost; a form of counteraction that balances out, rather than actually addressing, this inner tumult.

In ranting about all this to my analyst, the intention was not to cast aspersions on what we were doing, of course, but it was nonetheless a frustration to recognize that this hour, once a week, was the one place to just let it all out — a break from trying and failing to spin the plates of everyday life. It wasn’t that I was mad about therapy in itself, but I was mad about it as an enclave, a compartment for the mess, otherwise kept painfully in check at work or in my relationships or anywhere else. (The blog is occasionally an exception — this post included — but the closer I find myself getting to the core, to an active reflection on daily life, rather than just a space for last night reflections on old wounds, the harder it feels to say anything here at all. This post, in particular, has been lingering for months as a kind of emotional blockage, getting in the way of writing anything substantial about anything else.)

As I’ve mentioned before, this is Laingian analysis, and though I may feel frustrated at it, it is undoubtedly the best thing I’ve done in years. Though initially it felt like a shot in the dark, it has been the best thing for me to embark on, I think, with all of the above in mind. The other day, my analyst discussed his own interest in it, and explained a little bit more about the community houses that grew out of Laing’s approach, which he believes are genuinely effective. Though euphemistically described as group housing for people who are “in distress”, he clarified that the intention, coming off the back of the anti-psychiatry movement, was to provide a space for people who were rebuffed by clinical psychiatry because their issues did not neatly fit into some symptomatology or could not be explained away by neurological defects or chemical imbalances. They were places of and for “uneasy dwelling”. It was for people who found that the ultimate thing they needed to reckon with was their experiences, and these community houses provided a space for people to do that, away from the frenzy of everyday life, that was not an institutionalised or restrictively medicalised space of confinement.

It’s the sort of space I wish I could go, in all honesty. Having never found any adequate support through the “proper channels”, it seems the reason for this is that the root cause of my distress can’t be dealt with by society at large, because the very issue at hand is society and a falling-out of its structures. That’s because there’s no clinical treatment for adoption trauma. It may get lumped in with cPTSD, but in my experience, you are so stretched over different compartments of understanding as to be ultimately ejected. Adoption trauma has no institutional remedy. In fact, it is born of a flight from that very first “institution”: the family.

In going through this process, I’ve begun to feel a lot more intrigued by the immediate political applications of a thought like that of Deleuze and Guattari. Though their appeals to madness, to schizophrenia, are often interpreted as affirmations of some of the most extreme mental health conditions in society, the truth is that schizophrenias can be mundane and ever-present. Laing’s Divided Self, for instance, is a schizophrenia; “schizo-” meaning “cleft, divided, split” and “-phrenia” related to the mind — that’s why we associate schizophrenia with “split personalities”. But looking beyond the Hollywood caricature of “splits” that are nonetheless whole — multiple (seemingly) fully formed personalities seated alongside each other, which do occur but are incredibly rare — the truth is that we are split in so many other ways, and many of us due to circumstances of birth or identity or gender. Is being transgender a kind of schizophrenia, for example? Is being mixed race or of a mixed cultural heritage? Is being adopted? Deleuze and Guattari’s philosophy seems appropriate to all of the above, for the ways it describes our slipping and sliding out from convenient but poorly formed understanding and categorisations; the quite visceral experience of being bodies that resist social organisation.

This is the radical perspective of the “body without organs”, which isn’t an extreme form of disembowelment but a perspective available to us all, on the other side of a medicalised view of the “organised” body. It is an affirmation of the madness that results from an acknowledgement that there is no linguistic foundation for your experiences. It isn’t just to fall out of the social but, perhaps more fundamentally, to fall out of language and therefore understanding. It’s not just about “going mad”. “Mad” is an insult. For Antonin Artaud, who infamously coined the term “body without organs”, it is precisely this limited perspective on human experience that makes society itself mad, as a false totality, rather than those who inhabit its imagined peripheries. He writes that,

demented as this assertion may seem, present-day life goes on in its old atmosphere of prurience, of anarchy, of disorder, of delirium, of dementia, of chronic lunacy, of bourgeois inertia, of psychic anomaly (for it isn’t man but the world that has become abnormal), of deliberate dishonesty and downright hypocrisy, of a mean contempt for anything that shows breeding, of the claim of an entire order based on the fulfilment of a primitive injustice, in short, of organised crime. Thing are bad because the sick conscience now has a vital interest in not getting over its sickness. So a sick society invented psychiatry to defend itself against the investigations of certain visionaries whose faculties of divination disturbed it.

Artaud’s celebration of “madness”, particularly that of Van Gogh, almost seems cliched today and a little extravagent. “I’m not mad; the world is” is the sort of truism you’d expect to find on a fridge magnet alongside “live, laugh, love”; a sort of “I’m Joker” non-point about the world in which we live. But it is true nonetheless. We need only look at the statistics. A life of oppression, of racial discrimination, of class struggle, of trying to find your place in a chaotically ordered world, greatly increases your risk of schizophrenia. This is clear enough when we look at people who grew up in care, who were fostered or adopted, etc., who make up just 1-2% of the population, but account for 4-5% of all mental health referrals. Those we do not fit into a white, cis, middle-class imaginary are overrepresented in our mental health systems (as well as in prisons, etc.).

This is the attraction of Artaud’s view on Van Gogh. We all know the famous painter’s personal circumstances very well, such that they have been absorbed into a high-cultural mythology: the cutting off of his ear, his botched suicide, etc. And we’ve accepted it all. We place him back into the fold, recognizing that his paintings are beautiful and expressive visions of nature. We interpret his madness as genius and see both as innate to the man himself, as if madness were a “quality” and not always a category of relation.

The truth is that Van Gogh didn’t have to be “mad” to paint his works. The madness came instead from society’s revulsion at his flowers. That’s what his ejection amounts to. “For Van Gogh’s painting doesn’t attack a certain conformity of manners and morals, but the conformity of institutions themselves.” Society punished Van Gogh for “tearing himself away from it”, for painting according to his own vision and not that which has been accepted by others. It’s telling too, I think, that his own “vision” is not simply reactive. It is not an imagined inversion of what is accepted. It’s just his own sense of the world, which doesn’t offend manners or morals but is rejected nonetheless. It is that rejection, that betrayal, that was undoubtedly the biggest factor in his mental deterioration. He was “suicided by society”, as Artaud provocatively puts it.

Other reasons have been found for Van Gogh’s struggles since. Neurologists and psychologists try to find reasons to retrospectively diagnose him, as if to give him just cause now that he is beloved. But this is nothing more than a belated attempt to bring him back into the fold. “He was one of us, except for this chemical imbalance, which is nothing more than a shame.” But this only neutralises the escape, the very thing we say we cherish more than anything, but which, in reality, we punish more harshly than any other crime.

Somedays, I feel I’d take death or confinement over the invisibility of the ragged void, the shadow of a primal wound. It is a life in purgatory. “Van Gogh could not shake off in time the kind of family vampirism that wanted Van Gogh the painter to stick to painting,” Artaud writes, “but which, at the same time, denied him the right to claim the revolt necessary to the bodily and physical blossoming of his visionary personality.” We make a mistake when we think, “well, at least he had his brushes.” That was all Van Gogh had, until we began to posthumously venerate him. He deserves our veneration, of course, but for his escape. And veneration needn’t be a by-word for assimilation. When we think of veneration, we think of saints, for instance, who are so often ridiculed and martyred and destroyed, but who ascend to a higher plane. All saints are mad, in that regard.

Framing “madness” in this way starts to feel like a slippery slope towards delusions of grandeur and lionisation and hagiography. But again, the reality is often so much more mundane, to the extent that we’d never think to treat those around us this way; those who slip. More often than not, we’ve already discarded them. PKD’s line that “the symbols of the divine often show up in the trash stratum” has a twisted logic to it. The trash stratum feels like a naturally occurring zone, where things that escape some centre of gravity find a way to orbit at a distance,e but the truth is that we always put them there first. The vast majority of those who end up spat out by society aren’t celebrated radicals, nor are they limited to the most destitute among us. There are plenty of mad people who walk among us, functioning, looking for even the most basic assistance from the institutions set up to help us, but finding themselves turned away — whether through prejudice or ignorance, which so often amount to the same thing. The demand, of course, is not to be welcomed into the fold and given a comfy place to sit. The demand is for a society that stops clutching its pearls and makes space for other ways of passing through its institutions.

There is a further layer to this, of course, for those who “act in”. The truth is, I’m a bit of an idealist. In going through life and thinking of things to make or do, I tend to always imagine the perfect version of something and just wait for it to appear or happen, thinking the stars will align and set everything right if I’m patient enough. I’m a stubborn idealist too, in that sense. Even when reality is clearly indicating otherwise, I’ll hold onto my ideal and its potential to be fulfilled, or otherwise find a silver lining in an imperfect scenario, doing what I can to work towards it or, as can tragically be the case, treading water waiting for some outside activation. I’m a pathological optimist. “Things can only get better” is the mantra adhered to, with no basis in fact or experience. Sometimes I think it’s a superpower, as good things do often come to those who wait. Other times it’s a curse, as you can waste your whole life waiting for a right moment that never comes.

Lately I’ve realised that these ideals aren’t mine, but ideals acquired. They’re social ideals that I internalise for the sake of acting in, of keeping up appearances, for forestalling what feels like my imminent abandonment. But in having this hardened sense of what or who I should be, I find myself stuttering and tripping up every time I try to live up to the ideal foisted upon me (in ways that, ironically, I don’t think most people do).

My first kiss is a funny example — to me at least. I’d built the whole concept up in my head so much that I was terrified of even holding a girl’s hand in case the moment wasn’t right. The ideal I had in my head maybe made me seem quite “gentlemanly” to some, frigid and queer to others, but either way, it was always to an embarrassing fault. In the end it took the steering hand of another to set it right and bring me out of myself. There are similar scenarios I can identify throughout my life, and plenty less significantly proximal to that particular right of passage. Indeed, this impotent idealism is as true of platonic relationships as it is romantic ones. I have a tendency to sit around waiting for the perfect moment to be present in something and then, before I even know it, I’ve sat out a whole relationship.

It is a tendency that manifests itself innocuously enough — in person, quite unlike how I am online, I can be very quiet and distinctly hate talking about myself. It makes me a difficult person to get to know. My (ir)rationale is that I don’t want to spoil anything going on around me. For someone who can casually write 6000-word posts about personal grievances, I dread ever being a punisher, to the point I could more often described as its opposite — whatever that is. It’s like knowing that something will remain perfect so long as you don’t touch or fiddle with it, but from the outside it probably looks like negligence or indifference — or, at worst, like I’m harboring some sort of pretentious superiority, as if I see myself as some omniscient observer on high. I’ve been accused of all the above before, but on the contrary, I’m often so anxious about messing anything up, I play a spectator even to my own experiences. 

Thankfully, this isn’t something that applies to my whole life. When it comes to creative endeavors, I’ve managed to force myself out of this strange impotence. For instance, as a teenager, I was always sad that I could never draw or paint or play music because I always wanted everything, from the first mark or noise made, to be perfect. I knew that this was silly and a major mental block for me, and so I spent a lot of time trying to find my way around it. 

It turns out that, for a neurotic kid who feels like they’re sitting out on their own life, photography is a good way to still observe but also start to participate. To begin to learn the craft is like watching the mess of life pass before your eyes, figuring out when it is best to pounce so that everything, even if just for a moment, lines up. It was a way to pull out the ideals and pin them to boards, so that life could keep going as you gather up your little melancholic mementos. It was strangely empowering. I could sit and wait for that one decisive moment, as I’d always done, but I also learnt how to seize it, take it, insert myself into it and capture it for (what I felt was) the benefit of everyone.

Then, over time, I got tired of taking “perfect” photographs, beautifully if anally composed. In fact, plenty of “perfect” photographs aren’t all that “good”. They can be lifeless and contrived, for instance, and it took me a fair bit of time to learn to shoot from the hip more and let life back in. Photography started to feel like jazz to me then. It was improvisatory and responsive but confident in itself, rather than fleetingly self-engaged to the point of onanism. It required a real attuning to life to do it right and stick with it. It was like learning how to free yourself from your own education — the infinite undoing of a twisted knot of autodidactic joy. “A schizophrenic out for a walk [with a camera]…”

I’ve written many times before about how I think I cracked some sort of code when I started to apply that way of working to writing. I’m an admirer of a perfectly crafted sentence as much as the next person, but if you’re not careful, your will can end up suffocating the very thing you’re trying to write down. Sometimes it’s good to just write whatever is on your mind and let it all flow out of you and treasure the messiness and the ill-formed nature of something because, though it might never win you any institutional prizes, there’s often something about the vitality of it all that can sometimes be even more affecting and compelling. The mistaken assumption often made is that this is just giving into mediocrity, but I think it’s an appreciation of all life as anything but mediocre. It’s not just a celebration of the “mundane” but an exploration of its texture, its rhythm, and the ways in which it, in itself, can be split and transformed — something which can be elevated to the sublime when seen from the right perspective. It’s the texture of unfolding human experience, in all its messiness.

Regular readers might hear an echo here. I’ve often tried to articulate my own shift from photography to writing on this blog, trying to understand how so much of what I wanted to photograph then relates to the same writerly concerns I have now. The difference between then and now, if there is one, is that I once struggled to verbalise what I was thinking. Expressing it through “photography” is one task, and an often profound one, but I never felt like anyone else shared my visual language. There was an abundance of expression but a failure of communication. Photography, in the end, is another isolating medium.

But this is not another one of those posts. Forgive the extensive recap, but what I’m struggling with at the moment is how to define the negative image of that kind of self-exploration. Because, unfortunately, writing and photography are the only two outlets I’ve found for this kind of thinking. I wish — I wish — I could practice what I preach in all other instances. But I can’t. Despite all my love for the imperfect in all things aesthetic, I’ve yet to master life as its own wabi-sabi work of art. The trauma of adoption, in this sense, is that I wish I could conform, for fear of never finding a place to call home, but the reality is that I can’t. I can only keep up the charade for so long. Then, every few months, the world falls apart and I along with.

I’m struggling with this a lot right now, to the point of feeling ungrounded by an early on-set mid-life crisis. As I enter my 30s — not “mid-life” for most people, I appreciate, but my more pessimistic self is experiencing it that way anyway — it feels like everything is about to change and my control over things is limited. If I had any money, I would probably buy a silly car.

Things are coming undone or becoming fraught, difficult, hard to manage, upsetting. A general sense of homeliness, far from fixed but somewhat portable, is being carefully and gently deconstructed. It’s about time too, I think, but I’m finding it very hard to let go.

I’m moving to Newcastle in mid-March. I’ve got a flat with my oldest friend. I was hoping to do a PhD up there but circumstances are such that I’m now moving before I know if it’s possible. It’s exciting, in lots of ways — no matter what happens, I have so many friends in the city and my Dad’s family live nearby. And yet, despite this newfound promise of a rehabilitated social life, I’m moving up without my partner of ten years. And that is conjuring up feelings of a very particular and painful loneliness that I’m struggling to come to terms with.

It’s the ideal. I’m struggling to let go of the ideal. The socialised ideal that I’ve carved indelibly onto my heart in my many attempts to socialise myself and “act in”. It’s an ideal that looks like a nice house in the country and all these other markers of social and emotional stability. In truth, though we’ve both yearned for them, in our own ways, we’ve never had them, at least not together. When I come close to it, I find myself acting out, as if I am about to acquire what I should want but which revolts me in its own way. Still, the dream is there: this sense of settling down and putting down roots, entering my 30s with a plan to finally make a home, a base, a place to always come back to. I’ve not had a place like that for a long time, or ever, in terms of bricks and mortar. Home, for the last decade, has a person. Now I’m leaving home. Whilst some people get on fine without it, I struggle without a nest. The loss of that stability is the first thing I ever mourned, and I’m still not over it. Every loss still resonates with that ragged void, no matter how minor. Every time the ideal is revealed to be just that — an ideal and nothing more — reality quivers, is repeatedly tarnished and degraded, jettisoned further and further out of reach, but always aimed for and always desired. It’s not a “madness” anyone can really help with. It’s a split implemented by society itself, in its failure to make space and its disregard for the consequences of its own ill-fitting solutions to complex social problems. That’s what adoption is: a remedy with lifelong consequences, the support for which is zero.

My friends are very supportive, of course. “Embrace this change”, they say; “this is a really exciting time for you”. I’m sure I will eventually, but for now I’m feeling suddenly adrift in a society that I know I cannot rely on. Support feels fleeting, immaterial, conditional. “Let’s get you back on track”, is the perpetual promise made. But the feeling of having never been on the track in the first place looms large, and is rarely understood. Hence all these draft translations of Joe Bousquet lately. I want to say we’ll get back to our regular scheduled programming soon, but this is it. This is what it has always been. From Fisher to patchwork to all the rest of it — how to make a home in your own wound is the only thing this blog has ever sought to think about. The attempts have started to get a lot more direct. They will continue to.

The K-Files:
Episodes So Far

I’ve been a little distracted of late and just realised that I hadn’t yet boosted either episode of The K-Files here yet.

ICYMI, The K-Files is a new venture from we three Buddies Without Organs, exploring the lesser known works of Mark Fisher.

We kicked things off with a favourite post of mine, “Megalithic Astropunk”, and then interviewed Robin Mackay about his time with the Ccru and his recent audio, By The North Sea — a piece about his relationship with Mark and the Ccru and an unfinished project that Robin returned to after Mark’s death, which was recently premiered as the fifth annual Mark Fisher Memorial Lecture, hosted by For K-Punk (myself and Natasha Eves).

We’re trying to keep to much more regular deadlines for these episodes than we had previously when reading Deleuze, so we already have another episode in the can, which will be dropping imminently.

To stay up to date, you can follow the Buddies on Twitter, but since the podcast is now being hosted by Zer0 Books, you can also find every new episode on their their YouTube channel. Click on the embeds below to go subscribe!

“Maintaining now the spectres of Mark.”

A really lovely and humbling essay from Tamara Tenenbaum on, on the Spanish translation of Egress:

Egreso tiene la emotividad de los mejores textos de Levinas y Derrida sobre la muerte, y tiene algo más quizás: una valentía inusual para sumergirse en la pregunta por el sentido del suicidio Y, más aún, del suicidio de un pensador cuya obra estaba surcada por la relación entre el capitalismo y las emociones, un autor que abrazó en su pensamiento la negatividad que el capitalismo quería negar y esconder. ¿Cómo se lee la obra de Fisher hoy a la luz de su muerte? No hay respuestas definitivas, pero decir que autor y obra son asuntos separados sería un atajo que Colquhoun elige no tomar.

She mentions the book alongside Sara Ahmed’s Complaint! and notes how both Ahmed and Fisher were both lecturers at Goldsmiths at around the same time.

It is an interesting comparison, and says a great deal about the problems at Goldsmiths. The university certainly has a prestigious reputation, but it also has a great deal of problems alongside that. The best thing about the university, in many ways, is that its staff and student body seldom relies on its reputation performatively. Issues are addressed directly and forcefully, no matter what disruption is caused to the functioning of the institution as a whole. But so much of this work also takes place through inscription and protest, out of sight, in private, as well as on picket lines.

That was the one thing I remember happening within Goldsmiths’ library in 2017. I only heard about Sara Ahmed’s protest and resignation after the fact, as I believe it happened before I arrived at the university. But she left her mark, quite literally and infamously.

Ahmed’s complaint was against former Goldsmiths lecturer John Hutnyk. I am not aware of the legal ins and outs, and as I understand it, conversations about the issue after the fact was far from open, but I remember that almost all of Hutnyk’s books, held in the university library, were inscribed with complaints. Though Ahmed was no longer there, anyone who wanted to know more simply had to look him up in the library. Or if you were completely unaware and stumbled upon his books, you certainly got more personal information than you bargained for.

It wasn’t certain who wrote these messages on the inside of his books, but it was the perfect way of sharing information within the institution, in one of its most explicitly communal spaces, right under the nose of senior management. I thought it was brilliant.

I often wonder if this was an established form of institutional protest or whether Ahmed started a trend. I remember an inversion of her act unfolded not long after Fisher’s death. Picking up Capitalist Realism whilst I was in the library one day, I found this:

What a strange time that was…

“Joe Bousquet and the Morality of Language”
by Ferdinand Alquié
[Draft Translation]

Another essay referenced by Gilles Deleuze in Logic of Sense, on the work of Joe Bousquet. Following the previous essay by René Nelli, this shorter tract is by one of Deleuze’s former teachers, Ferdinand Alquié.

Alquié is interesting as a staunch Cartesian who spent decades in a protracted debate with his Spinozist contemporary Martial Gueroult. There has been some English scholarship, notably from Knox Peden, on where Deleuze himself fell between these two positions; intriguingly, the anti-Spinozist Alquié supervised Deleuze’s thesis on Spinoza and “expressionism in philosophy”. How this Cartesian-Spinozist dialectic reflects on Deleuze’s more specific (if still seemingly passing) interest in Bousquet is more interesting still. The essay below opens the door on this only a crack, but the light that comes through, for me at least, is vibrant.

Translation note: I am less satisfied with this than I was with the Nelli essay, but again, only a draft, as my main desire at this stage is just being able to read these texts for myself.

Joe Bousquet and the Morality of Language

No idea has cast a greater shadow over the creations of the mind than that of vocation. It obscures the relationship between men and their lives; it leads to the assumption that the poet or philosopher has a kind of message prior to his existence, expressing himself in spite of daily difficulties, and as if in spite of them. To speak of vocation is always to take the side of revolt, to prefer a man to his life, to believe that there was more richness in his dream than in his history. It is always closing our eyes to him.

Joe Bousquet’s eyes were open. “The only morality I retain,” he wrote, “is that which … imposes on us, as the only principle of our entire existence, the fact that happens to us, whatever it may be; holds that this event alone is real and that it is up to us to accomplish its perfection and brilliance.”[1] Those who knew Bousquet know how scrupulously he followed this rule, his only rule. If his life was so beautiful, and so seductive, it is because, far from wanting to make it his own, he accepted to find his principle within it.

Without the accident of his injury, Bousquet would probably never have written. We cannot, therefore, speak here of an innate mission, of a first intuition of the world and of man. But, wounded, Bousquet considered his wound as a kind of birth, cancelling out his birth of flesh: “I escaped,” he says, “the mortal consequences of a shock in order to render doubtful the dispositions that my birth had given me. By tireless work, I substituted a being of culture”.[2] So, wounded to death, he no longer seemed mortal. He had ceased to be the son of Nature to become the son of the Event. Of all future events, he seemed to us to have to remain the conscience and the echo.

And such was the meaning of his work. In anyone else, the literary concern would have been to escape, to compensate: one can, in fact, forget one’s sorrow in the exercise of an art with borrowed forms, and in the pleasures of vanity that this exercise provides. Bousquet’s genius was, on the contrary, to understand that, through the effect of his wound, the separation had become his essence; his wound had made him a poet; it was up to him to devote his poetry, not to forgetting it, but to deepening it. “I would have put all my strength into naturalizing the accident of which my youth was the victim. I wanted it to cease to remain external to me.”[3]

Bousquet wanted to follow the rigour of such a project to the end, which led him to an ethics of language. To the expressing, he granted the value of the expressed, he allowed interiority to dissolve into the visible, and the pain experienced into the light of the object. “I know,” he said, “that death and unhappiness are images”.[4] Bousquet’s poems, wrote René Nelli, “all translate the reduction of the self to the event”.[5] This is the key to these obscure texts, which always seem to close in on themselves. To learn to read them, one must understand to what extent the reduction Nelli speaks of was imposed by the necessity of a destiny that Bousquet wanted to accept to the point of becoming one.

Every man must choose between the search for a lost paradise, which appears to him as his being, and the difficult effort by which he equates himself to the object, to history, that is to say, to the truth of a discourse. Bousquet thus opposes knowledge and existence: “The apotheosis of knowledge excludes existence”.[6] And if he likes to write with difficulty, it is not to deplore some clumsiness, but to signify that the act of writing engages his life by separating it from his being. “What dominates this end of the year,” we read in his diary, “is the overwhelming conviction that I hear nothing of my art. I don’t know how to write.”[7] This seemingly banal concern immediately reveals its depth: “I am not the author of what I have done that is passable. It seems that the effort made to express myself aggravates the misunderstanding between my thoughts and myself.”

And no doubt Bousquet is expressing in this a difficulty common to writers. But instead of deploring the inadequacy of all words, and taking refuge in some ineffable experience, he prefers language and, with it, the objective fabric of his life: “I don’t like to feel more real than the thought to which I long to submit”.[8] For he knows that thought, being discourse, is closer to the event than to the being: the event can be said, its nature is that of words. Here Bousquet accepts, consents: “I was looking for all the facts that made me fall under the domination of my word”.[9]

This ethics of language explains, I think, why at the end of his life Bousquet paid almost exclusive attention to the work of Jean Paulhan. I also believe that the reservations he had about Cartesian thought had their deepest source there. He did not fall into the error of those who see in this thought only the transparency of clear ideas: rather, he was concerned to see Descartes grant being to thought. On the subject of “I think, therefore I am”, he wrote to me one day. “What will you say to me if I tell you that, at times, I feel to the point of delirium that I am thought?” … “The idea of me, I feel it being nourished by the things that happen to me” … And elsewhere: “I do not think about describing an object. I put myself in front of it until it is not me who looks at it, but it is him who sees me, who invents in my eyes the image of him sleeping at his feet”.

Thus, at a time when philosophers of existence and philosophers of discourse were in sharp opposition, Bousquet knew how to find in the objective event, and in the language that describes it, the reason for his very existence. His asceticism was not that of a loner who had voluntarily left the world, but that of a lover whom the world had left, and who could only rejoin it by preferring it to himself, by seeking the essence of his pain only in the brilliance of things. Nothing is further from this authentic quest for being through words than the artificial creation of works from concepts, which is so common nowadays. It is in this that Bousquet was like no one else. He was not one of those who go from reflection to life, and take for their drama that of their thoughts: he had rather to recover, by the help of images and words, his lost life, to avoid sterile revolt by preferring what he saw, what he said, to what he was. So he always consoled, not with the illusion of some promise, but with the truth of reconciliation. At the cemetery in Villalier, where we accompanied him on a morning of rain and sunshine, he seemed to have taken on the shape and colours of a landscape he had loved more than he had loved himself. And I believe that I am faithful to him by no longer seeking the truth of his voice except in those I still hear, and the accuracy of his thoughts except on the face of the World.

[1] Confession spirituelle, in : Journal des Poètes, janvier 1948.

[2] Le Meneur de Lune, p. 14.

[3] Traduit du silence, p. 9.

[4] Confession spirituelle, in : Journal des Poètes, janvier 1948.

[5] Le poète de la connaissance du soit : ibid.

[6] Le Meneur de Lune, p. 179.

[7] Traduit du Silence, p. 13.

[8] Le Meneur de Lune, p. 15.

[9] Le passeur s’est endormi, p. 120.

“Joe Bousquet and his Double”
by René Nelli
[Draft Translation]

As previously mentioned, I’ve been trying to translate some Joe Bousquet. Having started on his book Traduit du silence, I quickly felt I’d bitten off more than I could chew, so I have instead gone for something more manageable.

Below is an essay written by René Nelli for issue #303 of Cahiers du Sud, the French literary journal that was a frequent home to surrealists, modernists and philosophers. Issue #303 is a special issue dedicated in large part to Bousquet’s work, featuring excerpts from his notebooks and essays by many of his friends and admirers.

Nelli’s essay, “Joe Bousquet et son double”, was first brought to my attention by a footnote in Gilles Deleuze’s Logic of Sense, following a brief section where he talks about Bousquet, stoicism and develops his ethics of the event. Deleuze is characteristically evasive iand not that you would expect him to, but that he mentions it at all suggests it will be somewhat interesting (his footnotes often feel like great recommendations rather than citations in their own right; he won’t mention something unless it’s worth reading):

With respect to Joe Bousquet’s work, which is in its entirety a meditation on the wound, the event, and language, see two essential articles in Cahiers du Sud (1950), no. 303…

(The first essay mentioned is this one… The second, by Ferdinand Alquié, will follow here in a few days.)

Sure enough, it is a fascinating text and one that complicates not only Deleuze’s position but Bousquet’s own. After all, Deleuze draws on Bousquet for his affirmation of his wounding during the First World War, the paraplegic poet who found himself bedbound but all the more capable of fleeing into his own realism (and out the other side into a true surrealism) as a result. But things are not so simple, as Nelli explains. The true Bousquet is found in the struggle rather than any grand claims to certitude. It is not that Bousquet ultimately made himself worthy of the event that severed his spinal cord, but posthumously speaking, the attempt is, in itself, perhaps enough. It makes for an fascinating, if brief look into one man’s life, death and the eternal war between the two forces governing the two.

Translation note: this is a first attempt, and some sections could likely be improved upon. I’ve also not been so bold as to translate any of the quoted poetry; I’d only butcher it.

Joe Bousquet and his double

Joe Bousquet’s poems, those of the Connaissance du Soir and those that remain unpublished, almost all express, in a remarkably constant way, the invasion of man by his destiny, his effacement before an unknown Double, his replacement by a monster of absence.

…Souvenez-vous par charité
qu’un monstre attend qu’on lui pardonne
l’affreux bonheur d’avoir été…

D’un mal que la vie endure
En s’enfermant dans les pas
Dont elle était l’aventure…

These are not only the glimmerings of a Dialectic of the Imaginary that proceeds by successive abolition or reversal of its image-supports, (the nymph who dresses herself with that which denudes her), but the data of a lived, visceral experience, within which Bousquet aspired, and undoubtedly succeeded, in creating for himself a body of absence that compensated for his absent body. In Hans Bellmer’s drawing of him, he does not stand out against a background of nothingness, but against the background of appearances of which he wanted to be the opaque reverse. And this is indeed how he haunted his own poems.

…L’amour des choses qui dure
au cœur d’un mort qui m’attend…
…Rend leur corps lunaire aux morts que je suis…
…Donne des yeux a l’étoile
Dont ton fantôme est la cœur…
…Et qui vient sans moi demander sa main…
…Dont ta peine est la sœur vermeille
Et l’oubli de toi le miroir…
…Un homme n’est que son frère
Puisque son frère c’est lui…

This theme, tirelessly taken up, (quite similar, moreover, to that of the “Absence-Realising” which Romanticism, and then Surrealism, had put at the forefront of poetic concern) did not only determine – even in the syntax – the pace of Bousquet’s style, it also developed in him a mysticism of destiny whose evolution can be followed from 1925 to 1950, in most of his works, from the study on François-Paul Albert[1], written in 1925, to the Connaissance de Soir and the “Tales”, so original, so wonderfully complex, so mysteriously luminous. In a poet whose fate had taken pleasure in crucifying life, one might have expected to see consoling idealisms emerge, and to bring with them, almost necessarily, a taste for poetic divinations [mancies], fatal meanings, and systems of “coincidences”. Yet it was in a very different direction, and at the very time when he was most energetically safeguarding his wounded freedom, that Bousquet discovered the poetic meaning of all destiny. Magic idealism had certainly tempted him from the years 25-26, especially that of Novalis, which secretly agreed with the aspirations of some surrealists, and appeared at the time as a means of desensitising the universe. But even before the surrealists, in their poetry and painting, had set an example of an immediate and materialistic magic, without Gods and without any other prestiges than those that are inscribed, in filigree, in reality and in words, he showed, in all his writings, as much distance from fideistic reveries as repulsion from easy consolations. Devoted to the spectacle of “illuminating” apparitions, he refrained not from confronting the mystery, but from making the slightest hypothesis about its economy: the awareness of his misfortune turned into a hatred of God, and, combined with Marxism – to which he always remained faithful (only on the social and political levels) – it made him the most atheistic of poets.[2]

All this explains why his theory of Destiny, far from being part of a magical system, was committed to an ethic. All those who knew Bousquet in 1925 were struck by the care he took to forget his illness and to make others forget it. One admired less the courage he had displayed as a lieutenant during the First World War than the heroism he displayed in counteracting the empire that his infirmity might have taken over his mind. The young people who approached him at that time would never have thought, before knowing him, that it was possible to push so far the rebellion against the most unjust of fates. He tried, on all occasions, and especially in front of women, to remain who he would have been if his wound had not deviated, to play the role he would have played if his body had not been broken: in short, not to deserve their pity. In fact, some men in his little town forgot to pity him, and came to envy him. It was a time of fantastic passions, of incredible loves. Each of his admirers, naively, like the peasant girl in Molière’s Don Juan, believed herself to be the exclusive beneficiary of the fervour with which he transfigured the world and its passers-by. Il ne fait pas assez noir, Rendez-vous d’un soir d’hiver, Une passante bleue et blonde, the first “Cahiers Noirs” were an “innumerable declaration of love”. I borrow this word from a famous poetess who added: “You have to be a woman perhaps to hear all that these books say”. No doubt. But I think you have to be a man to recognise, under the melody of these love songs, the challenge to destiny that constitutes their essence, and to measure the abyss of despair from which this cry for revenge against God rose.

Future critics may call the period of Bousquet’s life up to 1936-37 Stoic – or Luciferian. He had not succeeded, whatever he may have said, in overcoming his destiny, since he did not accept it in its horror, and refused to become one with it. He existed only to oppose himself. The real Bousquet, the great one, was born, it seems to me, in 1936, with the Tisane de sarments : Every myth, every symbol in this admirable book tells us that he was henceforth determined to reconquer his equilibrium, his happiness, on Fatality itself, and no longer on the memory of a destroyed past. In the Passeur s’endormi as in the Mal d’enfance, he finally reaches the image of what he is: (a man struck by lightning, a rock, a tree, he sometimes said). The notes in the “Cahier Noir” are very revealing in this respect, especially this one: “Everything that affects us must be experienced in an exemplary way”. It is from this key idea, the beauty of which seems to me inexhaustible, that he was able to rise little by little to the Godless Mysticism of which “Presentism” (in 1930) only half predicted the ultimate direction, and which was to blossom into a kind of logic of the irrational only in the years 1945-50, those directly preceding his death. The essential proposition is well known: the world that appears to us, the events in which we are involved, exist only insofar as they end in us, merge with us, and await us. According to this phenomenology of Destiny, “my wound,” he said, “existed before me: I was born to embody it.”[3] The only eternity he ever wanted to conceive remained that of that unthinkable point from which we can contemplate without ourselves the acts and events that manifest us.[4] But interpreted in the light of this star of eternity, the figurations of his tales, the presences of his poems found their mystical – and agnostic – value in the very absoluteness of their appearance. The Stoic – or Luciferian – pride, so poor, so ineffective, so literary, gave way, in Bousquet’s case, to the most difficult love which consists, for each person, in loving his destiny as if he had chosen it. The unique, the irreplaceable, is the being that we create for ourselves by adhering freely, with dilection, to a privileged event which alone can take our true measure, provided that we ourselves grant it its definitive meaning. There is a kind of brotherhood that radiates from this myth. But there is a risk of seriously misunderstanding its true content: the “fraternal tone” that reigns in Joe Bousquet’s poems has neither the same origin nor the same meaning as that which we perceive in the political poetry of some Marxists. Bousquet remains an individualist even when it comes to ruining individualism. For him, human brotherhood is not a “social” feeling. It results from a quasi-mystical experience of the individual who feels that his own death – which runs alongside him – is exactly the substance of other men, their Double. And who thus substantializes death, he feels himself already living in the “Others”. A magical process which testifies to an unconscious desire to apply the identification procedures of amorous mysticism to the whole of the Thinking Real – and not only to the Feminine.

In 1945 Bousquet professed that Acts came before the Person, that beings and things were only there to fill the expectation of destiny with consciousness. And I leave it to you to imagine all the esoteric aspects of this assertion, which led to a theory similar to that of André Breton’s “Objective Chances” (for which Bousquet has always had the greatest poetic sympathy), but which does not proceed from it. The idea that destiny was a set of lines of force that magnetised, poetically attracting appearances, had imposed itself on the entire Carcassonne Group as early as 1924. Some verified it in Schopenhauer’s “Destiny of the Individual”, others tried to control it by magical practices. But only one of them, Joe Bousquet, had been placed – unfortunately – in the right circumstances to experience it in its reality. I will refrain from reporting here the magic-objective phenomena I witnessed at that time, because they would make fools laugh, or risk, which is more serious, to end up in some suspicious Anthology of “occultism”. But it was necessary to remember that one cannot understand anything about Bousquet’s work if one refuses to enter in any way into the secret of his hermeticism.

The real had become for him a state of emotion. Love was the existential flavour imparted to an image of a woman. And at the expense of the subject. I mean that every image thus revaluated exiled him from the concrete and transformed him into a reflection. At least he experienced this kind of annihilation, thanks to which he made these living visions come to life. These women had fairy-tale names: they were called Nettle, Holly-grass, White-by-love. But we can be sure that he retained only the mysterious figure that he had tried to discover in them, and which linked their adorable everyday figures to adventures of the spirit, infinitely interiorized, that is to say, basically, to omens. Love constantly suspended him between two nothingnesses. I said that he conceived reality only negatively and as a void that would have opened up within him: reality, he said, equalled love; love, substantialized death. This is an illusion that all lovers experience, but one that Bousquet experienced more than any other, because, as a result of his wound, he felt that he existed as a barely embodied image, always on the point of being lost in the darkness. Let us imagine him, training himself relentlessly to confuse dream and wakefulness, to note pell-mell, in his diary, the events of the dream and those of real life, in order to better integrate their being with their original verb, and we will understand that the influx of presentiments, it is understandable that the influx of presentiments, inseparable from the nature of love – but occurring in him with much greater intensity – conjured [développe en mancie] the “Natural Sense of Destiny”, as well as a direct sympathy, sometimes going as far as absolute communion, with the Spirit of Femininity, the source of this prophetic power.

Towards the end of his life, he believed he had found the way to reach the feminine heart from within, not an infra-natural intuition, which made him say that, decidedly, his Double would be feminine. Shortly before his death, a sculptor who knew him only by name had the idea of representing his features as seen through a woman’s face. This was to restore to him his spiritual heredity as a thirteenth-century troubadour. He accepted the homage as an omen of death.

Joe Bousquet always said he was happy. And he wanted to be told so. “My body was broken,” he wrote in one of his notebooks, “I asked myself what I was going to do with all this life that was given back to me: no one can imagine the happiness of the man who no longer belongs to anything and to whom his life belongs.” …He was mistaken, or deceived us: his life did not really belong to him. Wounded in his nervous integrity, he was, moreover, a very sick man whose moral equilibrium was established only at the price of a non-stop struggle. Several times a year, overcome by a painful crisis, he would fall into bed, chattering his teeth under the covers… But “returning to life was sweeter for him than living. I enter my existence, he added, as if I were in the memory of another…”. This ghostly duality which ensured his happiness, and thanks to which he had re-established his vital equilibrium, he felt it to be a dead end on only one level: that of literary creation. He aspired to live in another, but he wanted the man and the writer in him to be one.

He said to me one day: “You see, I have just experienced the deepest joy of my life, the only one that gives the accent of a presentiment to this happiness (of which we had just spoken). Jean Paulhan, to whom I had entrusted my diaries, has published a large part of them. It seems that he threw me into my life and gave me the same soul to live and to be a writer. The one I thought I was and the one I am, since Traduit du silence was published, are one and the same man…”. No one has better assessed the importance that Paulhan’s intervention had in his literary life than Bousquet himself.[5] It was only from Traduit du silence onwards that he recognised the right to be a realist in his own way – or even in the classical way of La Bruyère – that he dared to look at himself as a man-in-the-social, and that he finally held up to society the mirror which until then had reflected only his Double. “I realised,” he noted at the time, “that Realism and Materialism must not be confused. Not to confuse the interests of man with those of truth. The realism of one who accepts that he is only half real. The truth to be put in terms of beauty has taken the place of the man I was…”. From this moment on he will also try not to say “I”. He dreamt of objective poems, of tales in which his person would have disappeared or of which he would have been “the last passer-by”. His poetry will remain faithful to this Double, which still embodied the threat of death that weighed on him, but “truth” and “beauty” now drew him into the larger mirror in which the round of all the living is reflected.

It was, I believe, Jean Paulhan who pushed Bousquet to write regular poems, thus disciplining, most fortunately, the prodigious verbal wealth of the writer (one will notice that Joe Bousquet’s prose uses a vocabulary almost as abundant as that of Rabelais, while his poetic tarot is poorer than that of Racine…). This was the aesthetician’s way of bringing the poet back to the human. No doubt his poetry remains caught up in the meanders, folded in on themselves, which represent the steps and gestures of one who no longer had a body, but it rises, after Paulhan’s lesson, to harmony, purity, perfection, as if, in this paralytic, it had proceeded from a dance. And that was indeed a miracle of language. And so, between 1945 and 1950, it was inevitably the problems of language that took precedence over those of destiny and love for Joe Bousquet.

He meditated on the Fleurs de Tarbes and the Clé de la Poésie, making them his bedside books. The verb having become the place of his coexistences, and the occasion for the future to invent itself in the present, he wrote an article on the Fleurs de Tarbes, which he decided almost immediately to expand into a book… He was divided, at the time, between the two antagonistic doctrines, the one that believes in invention from language and the one that asserts that language can only express the preconceived idea. If he admits, with Paulhan, that “words and thought can sometimes be indifferent in poetry,” he also tries to prove, in his stories, that there are poetic units that are neither words nor ideas, that the deepest poetry corresponds to the Act that embodies beings in their essence of the word. Hence his taste for the mystical philosophies of language. He scrutinised ideograms, the formulas of hermeticism, the poetry of folklore which resides nowhere, neither in the expression nor in the avowed meaning. He dreamed of reconciling Duns Scotus and Descartes, Cornelius Agrippa and Jean Paulhan. If his Essay appears one day – and I hope it will be at the same time as the Tales – we will see that he went further than anyone else in the understanding of Paulhan’s theories, to which he lent unsuspected horizons – but that he also held a part of them – perhaps the essential part – to be a dead letter, because the concern to give back to ontology all that the aesthetician situates in the phenomenon, hid from him its philosophical interest. Between Paulhan and him there was the screen of a gnosis to which Paulhan would probably not have wanted to adhere.

Where the Clé de la Poésie poses only the indifference of signs (the idea being basically only the sign of a sign), Bousquet established an equivalence, an exchange of being. No doubt because his mind animated his words more than he animated his body. For him, words were events as disembodied as others, and if they resulted in semantics, it was that of an inhuman destiny. The real Double into which he was ultimately driven was the Universe of the Word. It is therefore easy to understand why he tried – to no avail, moreover – to reconcile what Cornelius Agrippa calls “the intrinsic verb engendered by thought, the conception by which thought conceives itself, i.e. self-knowledge, and the extrinsic and vocal verb, the giving birth to and manifestation of this verb, the spirit signifying something.” (Magic, 3, 36.) But it was undoubtedly chimerical to want to discover a valid identity between the original purity of Being, which, following Duns Scotus, he sought in the verb (signifying nothing but its infinite subject) and the triple relation (of the word to its practical meaning – of the word to its “power” to create the idea – of the word to its power to signify indifferently) in which it seems to me that Paulhan rightly encloses the delirium of poets.

When one looks closely, one realizes that the astonishing parallelism according to which Bousquet rubs shoulders with Paulhan, without ever joining him, is the expression of a metaphysical divergence, of an infinite disagreement, which only becomes clear when one pushes the notions to the limit. Paulhan wants the indifference of inspiration and calculation to be the poetic mystery, and Bousquet wants this phenomenal indifference to be the symbol – and the mystery – of a substantial equality of All to All[6] (and of this equality, his own spirit, disembodied, foreign to himself, dispossessed by appearances, duplicated in his acts, wanted to be the pledge). The mystery begins for Paulhan where it ends for Bousquet.

It is for having taken the side of the word – the absurd word, the incredible word – that Joe Bousquet’s poetry will live long into the future. Not that I want to underestimate the importance of his mythical thought, one of the most authentic, one of the most profound that has ever been revealed. But it is difficult, discontinuous, disconcerting, and I don’t see that our “civilisation” shows much interest in experiments of this kind which demand of the mind more attention to itself than application to the social. It is his unusual language which, by necessity, will excite the curiosity of men for a long time, will catch it. Her poetry will always bear witness to the fact that there is more mystery in words than in things, and in consciousness than in words. It will disturb those who want to reassure themselves scientifically. This poetic phrase where transparency becomes solid by dint of accumulating on itself, where the volume of the body is reborn – disproportionate – from a thousand interlocking relationships, these images where words “infinite” suddenly open up true, “unforgettable” climates… it is in this second world that we must look for “my brother the shadow”. For there is the Double, the exact resemblance, of this poet who really took up the challenge of being himself what he was not, what Fate had not wanted him to be, what another Fate wanted him to be, in a word: the extraordinary adventure of the disoriented mind, the most beautiful adventure of language.[7]

[1] Booklet published in Nîmes, in 1925, under the pseudonym of Pierre Maugars. It concludes with this sentence, which is somewhat influenced by Unamuno and André Suarès: “It is a new sense that the crossing of the universe lights up in the human mind: the sense that the intelligence of Destiny gives.”

[2] I call the most atheistic of poets the one who, having come closest to God through circumstance, deliberately turns his back on him.

[3] “Everything was in place in the events of my life before I made them mine. And to live them is to find myself tempted to equal them, as if they had to take their best and most perfect qualities from me alone.”

[4] Cf. Paul Eluard:

Des femmes descendent de leur miroir ancien
T’apportent leur jeunesse et leur foi en la tienne
Et l’une sa clarté la voile qui t’entraine
Te fait secrètement voir le monde sans toi

[5] In the notebook from 1945, we read this sentence: 27 May 1942. Here comes again the anniversary of a day that transformed me… Jean Paulhan has passed…

[6] Cf. Cornelius Agrippa: “And all that can be said is only the verb and is called equality, for it has an equal relation to all things, not being one rather than the other giving equally to all things the right to be what they are, neither more nor less” (Magic, 3, 36).

[7] I attribute the fact that Joe Bousquet confessed before his death only to his will to bet, once again, on the omnipotence of language conceived as having to achieve in the “Absurd” the most incredible purifications and the most marvellous metamorphoses. This, if they misunderstand it, will not satisfy either Christians or materialists. What, if they understand it well, will perhaps satisfy the (heretical) Christians more.