Jean Ferry was a pataphysician, a script writer, and a general poet. Like many French writers who swam in the miasma around surrealism, he had fantastic contacts in the French literary world and lived an adventurous life, all of which was perfectly unnoticed in the Anglosphere. He wrote scenarios for Georges Clouzet and dialogue for the famous soft-core vampire flick, Daughters of Darkness, that starred Delphine Seyrig, which is as close as he got to English language attention.
As far as I know, he is generally untranslated. In English. So I decided to translate this little story, or prose poem, from the collection The Mechanic, published by Finitude in 2010 – but I believe it was first published in The Secret Society (1946).
Kafka or “the secret society”
When Joseph K… was around twenty, he discovered the existence of a secret, very secret, society. Truly, it didn’t resemble any other society of that type. It was very difficult for certain people to become admitted as members. Many, who ardently wanted to, never succeeded. Others, by contrast, become members without even knowing it. One was never, besides, never totally sure of being a member. There were many who believed they belonged to it and weren’t, really, part of it at all. However much they had been initiated, they were still less part of the secret society than many who didn’t have the slightest knowledge of the existence of the society. In fact, they had undergone the tests of a false initiation, destined to put off the scent all of those who were unworthy of being initiated for real. But even to the most authentic members, those who had reached the most elevated place in the hierarchy of this secret society, even to them it was never revealed if their initiations were valid or not. It could happen that a member attained, due to a number of authentic initiations, a real rank, and consequently, without being advised of the fact, they went and undertook false initiations. Among the members it was an object of interminable discussions whether it was better to be admitted to a smaller but real level in the hierarchy or to occupy an exalted, but illusory, one. In any case, no one was sure of the solidity of their position.
In fact, the situation was even more complicated, for certain postulants were admitted to the highest levels without undertaking any tests at all, and others without even being told. And to be frank, there was no need to be a postulant: there were after all people who had received very elevated initiations without knowing even that the secret society existed.
The powers of the superior members were unlimited; they carried in themselves a powerful emanation of the secret society. For instance, their presence alone was enough, even if they didn’t make it manifest, to transform an anodyne gathering, like a concert or a birthday party, into a meeting of the secret society. These members were held to establish secret links in every gathering in which they participated, which were taken from other members of the same rank; there is thus between the members a perpetual exchange of relationships, which permitted the supreme authorities of the secret society to keep a firm hold on the situation.
However high and far the initiations go, they never are high enough to reveal to the initiate the purpose pursued by the secret society. For there are always traitors, and for a long time now, it has been no mystery for anyone that the goal is to keep the goal secret.
Joseph K… was horrified to learn that this secret society was so powerful and had so many branched that it might have been the case that he, without being aware of it, had shook the hand of the most powerful members. As bad luck would have it, one morning, after having woken up from a restless sleep, he lost his first class ticket in the metro. This accident was the first link in a chain of confusing and conflicting circumstances that put him in contact with the secret society. Later, needing to simply defend himself, he had to do what was needed in order to become a member of this fearful organization. That was a long time ago, and he still did not know where he stood in the process.