Ensor, les bons juges
I am not dying this year and may not even die the next year. Waiting for death year in and year out, I am growing restless. While death does not come, woes are approaching. Yet those woes are not approaching fast enough! – Li Chih (Li Zhi)
“You would even have agents, inspectors, who would send back to their houses those people who did not have the grimace of happiness stamped upon their lips.” – Baudelaire
LI likes to think that this blog follows certain secret themes, and that I invent those themes. I am the master. But any being that follows is, in one respect at least, not the master – viz, that it follows. This is not merely a play on rhetorical convention, as that random master who wakes up to his throat being cut by his footman, his maid, his garbageman, any of that lower level host, finds out in the end.
So I have been following a theme recently that is not even strong enough to be a theme. That is, strong enough to be subject to the truth table, where they strap down themes and take out their hearts and weigh them. From Wittgenstein to the Egyptian book of the dead, you know, is only a wink.
Well, that was my thought: all that we touch turns into mythology.
And into this I wanted to bring Gerard de Nerval, who, more than most, was hyperconscious of the mythological touch – he was the Midas of it among poets. And that brought me to Baudelaire, and that brought me to Baudelaire kicking the shit out of Jules Janin in a letter he never sent, and that I promised to publish.
But then I thought – hmm. Perhaps there is a whole geneology, one of those secret genealogies, who have had the thought, everything we touch turns to mythology. In their own ways.
Which made me think of the French writer Joseph Joubert, whose fans include Matthew Arnold, Maurice Blanchot, and Paul Auster, who translated him.
Well, here’s an anecdote from the essay by Paul Auster about Joubert. The translation was recently republished by NYRB books. But it first came out from North Point Press in 1983. Well, it didn’t exactly have a noble run – 800 copies were sold. But Auster loaned it to his friend, David Reed, an artist who had a friend in Bellevue. Reed left it with this friend: ‘Two or three weeks later, when the friend was finally released, he called David to apologize for not returning the book. After he read it, he said, he had given it to another patient. That patient had passed it on to yet another patient, and little by little Joubert had made his way around the ward. Interest in the book became so keen that groups of patients would gather in the day room to read passages out loud to one another and discuss them.”
There is nothing more flattering to a writer than an appreciative group of madmen. The mystery of the writer and the audience is second to the ways of the woman with the man, etc. Anyway, there is a rather hard to translate bit from Joubert about the presque rien that I’m going to translate in my next post for you lucky inmates.