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The blog of author Dennis Cooper

Spotlight on … Edouard Levé Suicide (2008)

 

‘It would be an interesting experiment to sit someone down in a chair and present them with a copy of Edouard Levé’s Suicide from which front and back covers, promotional blurb, author bio, translator’s afterword and other such paratextual trimmings had all been removed. Such a reader, blinkered against the novel’s context, might well find it a strange and unnerving and hypnotic read, but it would, in an important sense, be a very different experience to the one that awaits every other person who picks up Levé’s final work. Ten days after he submitted the manuscript of Suicide to his editor at the age of 42, the author killed himself. And this fact, which is presented to us on the back cover (and also, naturally enough, in everything that has since been written about the book), isn’t something we can choose not to take with us into the fiction. In an even more extreme way than David Foster Wallace’s unfinished The Pale King (to take another recent example of a work of fiction published in the shadow of its author’s suicide), Suicide denies us any chance of separating text from context. Perhaps the most compelling thing about this deeply compelling novel is the distinct possibility that Levé himself wanted actively to foreclose any such possibility of separation. To write a book about a suicide, to call it Suicide, and to then take your own life before its publication is, whatever else it is, a way of exerting an overpowering influence over how that work is received.

‘During his life, Levé was best known in his native France as an artist and conceptual photographer. The reality of Suicide, which is his fourth prose work and his first to be translated into English, is that it functions almost as though it were one panel in a diptych, the second panel being Levé’s actual death. Reading the novel, the eye is continually drawn back to that second panel; it isn’t that the first makes no sense without it — it does, or at least it would if there were some way of viewing it separately — but rather that its presence utterly changes the way we see the first. The novel’s subject, only ever referred to as “you,” is the narrator’s childhood friend who committed suicide at the age of 25, and the narrator addresses this oddly totalizing pressure that suicide exerts on a life retrospectively considered. “Isn’t it peculiar,” he remarks, “how this final gesture inverts your biography? I’ve never heard a single person, since your death, tell your life’s story starting at the beginning.”

‘In certain respects, the book presents itself as an attempt by this narrator to work his way past the blank exterior of facts into his friend’s inner world, into the circumstances around his taking his own life. If it could somehow be cut free of the wider context that envelops it — if we could somehow erase or bracket the knowledge that its author was almost certainly planning his own suicide as he wrote it — the opening passage of the book would still make for deeply disquieting, even painful reading.

‘It has a a shocker of an opening gambit, not just for the calamity it lays out before us, but also for the pitiless and affectless clarity of the style in which it does so. There then swiftly follows a passage that is close to unbearable in its intimacy, in the access it allows us to both a scene of imagined grief and the imminent real grief it eerily foreshadows. “Your wife screams,” Levé writes. “No one is there to hear her, aside from you. The two of you are alone in the house. In tears, she throws herself on you and beats your chest out of love and rage. She takes you in her arms and speaks to you. She sobs and falls against you. Her hands slide over the cold, damp basement floor. He fingers scrape the ground. She stays for fifteen minutes and feels your body go cold.” I don’t know whether Levé left behind a wife, and I think I would prefer to continue not knowing.

‘This is fiction, but it is fiction of a sort that raises some very serious questions about the possibility of cordoning off actual realities from imagined ones. Another way of putting this would be to say that you can’t help wondering what it must have been like — what it must have taken — for Levé to write these sentences knowing that his own cold body would soon be left behind for someone to find, and that this opening scene would be read by people aware that he was aware of this. It is dizzying and disturbing in a way that is quite unlike anything else I have ever read, and it hardly needs pointing out that this is not necessarily a good thing. We know that Levé was deeply influenced by Georges Perec, and I think it shows in strange ways; it is almost as though this book were written in response to a particularly unplayful version of an OULIPO imperative: “Write a fictional work about a suicide called Suicide and, upon completing it, commit suicide yourself.”

‘After effecting this initial devastation on his subject, this anonymous “you,” Levé then sets about a faltering process of reconstruction. The portrait is radically unchronological, the narrative less fractured than pulverized. The narrator alights on one memory of “you,” briefly expands upon it, and then moves on to another, usually unconnected to the last (and then another, and then another). At one point, he offers a fleeting defense of this fugitive approach: “To portray your life in order would be absurd: I remember you at random. My brain resurrects you through stochastic details, like picking marbles out of a bag.” To the extent that a portrait does emerge, it is a hauntingly incomplete one, providing only isolated coordinates along the trajectory of a life toward its own end. Levé’s style — controlled and yet erratic, arbitrary and yet precise — seems to reflect art’s confrontation of the randomness and fragility of memory and the self’s nebulousness as it is experienced.

‘What becomes apparent as this fragmentary portrait gradually takes shape is that it may be a kind of estranged and dislocated self-portrait, that the “you” may really be a displaced “I,” or perhaps a complex compoud of self and other. Certainly, the narrator couldn’t possibly know much of what he tells us about “you.” The phenomena of dissociation are central, in fact, to many of the experiences Levé relates. At one point, “you” is put on a disastrous course of medication for his depression, which results in uncanny and distressing intervals of complete self-alienation: “You tapped your fingers on your head; it sounded hollow like a dead man’s skull. Suddenly, you no longer had a brain. Or rather, it was another person’s brain. You sat like this for two hours, asking yourself if you were yourself […] You recognized your physiognomy, but it seemed to belong to someone else. Fatigue disassociated you from yourself.” To externalize and scrutinize oneself in this manner — to act out a kind of performative self-displacement, even self-erasure — is to engage in a very particular form of narcissism. And Suicide is a highly narcissistic piece of writing; in a sense, it couldn’t be otherwise, in the way that a suicide note — and a suicide itself — is unavoidably self-focused.

‘This is not to suggest that “you” is a straightforward surrogate for the author, or that the book itself should be read as a suicide note; if Edouard Levé had wanted to write a prose self-portrait, he would have done so — and did in fact previously do so, giving it the typically utilitarian title Autoportrait. There is nothing so simple going on here as self-expression. The jacket copy insists that Suicide “cannot be read as simply another novel” — which is, I think, accurate enough — but it then also describes it as “in a sense, the author’s own oblique, public suicide note, ” which is a considerably bolder and riskier claim. It can certainly be read that way, and, as I’ve been saying, it’s often nearly impossible to avoid doing so, but whether that’s what it actually is is another question entirely. Levé’s intentions are weirdly obscure, even for a work of experimental fiction (which this book more or less is); there is a constant temptation when reading to stop and ask yourself why he wrote this thing when he wrote it. But it seems to me that this isn’t just a futile question, it’s also the wrong sort of question (why does anyone write anything, after all? What, while we’re at it, is the purpose of art?). And it’s connected to another, perhaps even more futile pursuit: the pursuit of the meaning of a suicide. When “you” is found dead by his wife at the very beginning of the novel, a possible explanation for his suicide is alluded to, but it is a lost explanation, an aborted approach to meaning. “On the table,” we are told, “you left a comic book open to a double-page spread. In the heat of the moment, your wife leans on the table; the book falls closed before she understands that this was your final message.” The deceased’s father later buys dozens of copies of this comic book and distributes it to everyone who knew “you” in the hope that someone, somehow, might be able to extract some meaning from this text, which — like Levé’s novel itself — is at once provocatively overcharged with significance and endlessly obscure.

Suicide is both profoundly sad and bleakly playful, as though Levé were at once acknowledging the essential inscrutability of a person’s decision to end his or her life and shrewdly alluding to the way in which his novel, which he must have intended to be published posthumously, would be picked apart and ruthlessly scrutinized for potential explanations of what he was about to do. It’s almost funny, in fact — but only almost.

‘And that is, in a way, the most disquieting thing about Suicide — how artful and calculating it is, how it is never quite as sincere as you would want the writing of a person about to kill himself to be. It seems almost indecent to point out that Levé’s prose is occasionally affected, even contrived; it feels somehow wrong to point out that a sentence like, for instance, “your suicide was scandalously beautiful” is in fact scandalously crass. It feels wrong in the way that it would feel wrong to point out stylistic infelicities in a suicide note. But this is not a suicide note; this is a work of art, and — despite its occasional tonal flirtations with grandiloquence — it is a controlled and pitilessly uncompromising one, too.

‘To devise such a series of questions about a bereaved wife in a work of fiction is to combine empathy with something suspiciously close to cruelty, but to ask these questions while planning to take your own life is something else again. To be absolutely truthful, I don’t know what it is; and I’m not sure, either, that I would want to know.’ — Mark O’Connell, The Millions

 

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Further

Édouard Levé @ wikipedia
EL @ goodreads
Suicide reviewed @ The Guardian
Edouard Levé’s Suicide and Realizing the End
Suicide reviewed @ Bookforum
Suicide reviewed @ FULL STOP
Teenage Suicide: Edouard Levé, A Suicide’s Anatomy
In the end, after all: Suicide by Edouard Levé
WHERE ABSENCE MEETS ART: READING EDOUARD LEVÉ
Last Things
“Given that I am speaking to you, are you dead?”
As its title augurs, …
The suicide author: David Foster Wallace & Édouard Levé
When I Look at a Strawberry, I Think of a Tongue
On The Multiplicity of Depression: Édouard Levé’s Suicide
double take
Suicide: Tropes made original, even artistic
DEATH OF AN AUTHOR
The Death of Sophistication
Happiness, Sadness, Death

 

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Extras


Culture: Edouard Levé au MAC

Hommage Edouard Levé


Edouard Levé – Suicide, Works, Newspaper, Autoportrait

 

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Oeuvres
by Edouard Levé

1. A BOOK DESCRIBES WORKS THAT THE AUTHOR HAS CONCEIVED but not brought into being.

2. The world is drawn from memory. There are missing countries, altered borders.

3. Proust’s head is drawn on a page of IN SEARCH OF LOST TIME. The words tracing out the contour of his face form a grammatically correct sentence.

4. Man-sized aluminium mannequins are dropped at different heights from a crane. Metamorphosed by folds, they adopt the pose to which they are constrained by their new morphology.

5. An exhibit displays pieces unalike in spirit, style, and technique, but with the same origin: their author saw them while dreaming.

6. Entomological boxes contain invitation cards to exhibitions that didn’t take place. The reasons for their cancellation are written below the cards. The boxes are hung on the walls like a collection of insects.

7. A woman’s voice describes the shapes she sees in the static snow on the television screen after the end of broadcasts. Geometric forms, windmills, ghosts. The video is shown on a monitor posed on a low table at the foot of a divan couch. The visitor lies down and compares what he sees to what he hears.

8. MUSEUM OF NOBODIES. Instead of the usual celebrities, a wax museum displays unknown characters. Chosen at random from the telephone book, the models are representative of neither an epoch, nor a region, nor a profession. At its inauguration, the museum shows thirty statues. Two new models are added to the museum’s collection each year: as the years go by, an evolving, sculptural, and hyperrealist memory of society emerges.

9. Every year in January, a painting is made from memory of the same photograph, which represents a square in Bangkok during a time of affluence. Neither the model image, nor the preceding paintings are looked at. After ten years the paintings are revealed and exhibited alongside one another.

10. A film scene is shown backwards to actors so they can learn to act it in reverse. Once they succeed, they are filmed anew. The new scene, in turn projected backwards, becomes strange: reversing the inversion doesn’t get you back to where you started.

11. The friend of an artist selects descriptions of artworks from press reviews of exhibitions. The accompanying photograph is cut out and the text sent to the artist to draw the work based on its description. The final work is a triptych composed of the drawing, the description of the work, and the photograph accompanying the article. There are four authors, direct or indirect, voluntary or involuntary: the artist who created the referenced work, the writer of the article, the friend who chose it, and the artist who drew it.

12. A scene reflected in the retina of an eye. Photograph.

13. A sculpture represents a man whose extremities, instead of jutting out, extend into the interior of his body. The head, hands, feet, and genitals are folded in. The man sits on the ground, legs spread and arms folded. Marble.

14. The floor of a cage is littered with pages from the Old Testament. For a month, a record is kept of the words upon which a hummingbird comes to rest. A text is written using only these words.

15. A leather jacket made from a mad cow.

16. A hundred pictorial or sculptural representations of a biblical character, from different times and countries, are photographed using the same framing. A print is made by superimposing the negatives. Appearing in a halo are the average faces of Adam, Eve, Mary, Jesus, and God.

17. A litre of molten lead is poured out in zero gravity in a vacuum. Brought back to earth, it is exhibited in the form into which it has hardened.

18. THE MIMIC. In a yellow hall lit by yellow light, the voice of an artist is heard telling his life story in the form of an anamnesis, from his birth right up to the day of the exhibition. The voice is not his, but that of a professional mimic. Yet nothing gives this away.

19. A butterfly is released into a room, hidden from sight. Every night, its flight, detected by laser beams, is transmitted to a mobile machine equipped with an hourglass. By morning, the imprint of the nocturnal flight is drawn in sand on the floor.

20. In the United States a voyage is undertaken to photograph towns with names that are homonyms of towns in other countries. The itinerary, which connects them by passing through each town only once, goes around the country in thirteen thousand kilometres. The trajectory commences in New York, follows the coast to the south, heads west up to the Pacific, climbs back up north, and follows the Canadian border to the north-east before returning to the starting point. The route is traversed by car. The towns crossed are, in alphabetic order:

AMSTERDAM, BAGDAD, BELFAST, BELGRADE, BELLEVILLE, BERLIN, BETHLEHEM, BETHUNE, BRISTOL, CALAIS, CAMBRIDGE, CANTON, CARLSBAD, CARTHAGE, CLERMONT, CUBA, DELHI, DUBLIN, FLORENCE, FRANKFORT, GLASGOW, HEIDELBERG, JERICHO, JOHANNESBURG, LIMA, LIVERPOOL, MACON, MADRAS, MADRID, MANCHESTER, MELBOURNE, MEXICO, MILAN, MILO, MONTEVIDEO, NAPLES, ODESSA, OXFORD, PANAMA, PARIS, PEKING, POTSDAM, ROME, ROTTERDAM, SAINT-CLOUD, SEVILLE, STOCKHOLM, STUTTGART, SYRACUSE, TORONTO, TOULON, VERSAILLES.

In these towns, photographs are taken of places that are ‘common’ in the double sense of being banal and being gathering spots for the community. Each photograph is accompanied by a title: CUBA’S TOWN HALL; A BAR IN BERLIN; SUPERMARKET IN ROME; HAIR SALON IN PARIS; A STREET IN VERSAILLES. Descriptions that are misleading, without being false.

21. A pillow is filled with feathers lost by birds at the moment of taking flight. On the white pillowcase is embroidered: ‘Flythms’.

22. Paintings combine contradictory techniques, formats, styles, or modes of presentation.

A grey monochrome in a gilded baroque frame. A geometric painting with matter-painting impastos. A large-scale miniature. A Chinese scroll depicting Paris. A blurry hyperrealist picture. A pop art portrait of the cardinal de Retz.

23. During a film shoot, the actors don’t open their mouths, but inwardly speak their lines. They are then dubbed using their own voices. Though synchronic, the sound and image remain dissociated.

24. A house designed by a three-year-old is built.

25. A lunette before a window, inside an exhibition space situated on an overhang, allows one to see works installed in a village a few kilometres away in the background. Their positions (in gardens, on rooftops, behind walls) make the works invisible from the village itself.

26. A building is transformed into a cemetery. The rooms become vaults.

27. Cello pieces written by amateurs, with the aid of an arranger and a cellist. The former musically translates suggestions by the amateur, which the latter plays for him to judge and correct. A professional soloist plays the finished pieces. A record is released.

28. The number of works in a museum is added to without the knowledge of its employees. False modern and contemporary pieces, or ones that are authentic and donated by living artists who are in on the ruse, are deposited in the storerooms. Three people make appointments with a curator to consult artworks kept there. While two of them distract the curator, the third plants a small parasitic piece in the collection.

29. A picture is painted. A detail, copied onto another canvas, acts as a point of departure for a second picture. A detail, copied from the second picture, different to the preceding one, is copied onto a third canvas, on which another picture takes shape around it. And so on. The series is a chain, of which the pictures are the links, and the details the points where they meet.

30. A house is built without the use of measurement. Each measure is intuitively estimated. The materials are contemporary and the banal style is that of mass-produced houses. At first blush, the house seems normal. Looking closer, one sees numerous errors. The partitions are poorly joined. The steps are poorly assembled. The flagstones are not parallel to the walls. These, along with the windows and the doors, are not set square. The roof is not watertight.

31. VETERANS OF JOY. Aged hedonists, men and women more than sixty years old, are photographed in their homes. Old rock stars, clubbers, demimondaines, swingers, porn stars.

32. The instruction manual of a piece of translation software is subjected to translation, twice, by that same software, from a foreign language and back again. The work consists of a copy of the original guide alongside the pretty different, doubly translated text.

33. The noises heard in a landscape are written on the walls and floor of a room. The size of the lettering is proportional to the intensity and distance of their sounds. Their position on the wall corresponds to where they appear in the landscape.

‘Crickets
Slow shrill birdsong
The buzz of a fly
Children playing in the distance
Bird whistling, several shrill notes
Bird shrieking, tapering off
Children speaking in the distance
Crickets
Shrill bird whistle
An adult addressing the children in the distance
Slide of a ballpoint pen over a sheet of paper
The moo of a cow
Shrill bird
Buzz of a fly, it comes to rest, its legs knocking against the plastic table
Flight of a bumblebee
Scratching of my nails on my shoulders
I sniff
I breathe
Shrill bird
Cuckoo
I swallow
I move the notebook, scraping against the plastic table
Airplane far off
Wasps around the nest they’re building
Fly on my left arm
I chase it off: the bones in my shoulders creak
Telephone.’

34. The hanging of a museum’s permanent collection is changed for the duration of an exhibit. The choice of works remains the same, but the order of their appearance in the flow of halls changes. They are ordered by decreasing size.

35. Fake drawings by artists from the early twentieth century are folded up and inserted into books in provincial libraries. The books are chosen for the coincidence of their dates of publication and the supposed dates of the drawings. At an undetermined date, a reader discovers the work. Not imagining that it might be a fake, since the usual motive for forgery – the financial enrichment of the forger – is not operative here, experts authenticate the drawing. The artist’s body of works is augmented. Wrongly so.

36. Music for a single instrument is written by transcribing texts into musical scores. For each letter there is a corresponding note. The spaces between words mark rests. The choice of notes corresponding to letters determines the tune.

37. A photograph of a man’s face is cut down the middle from top to bottom. One half is kept protected from the light. The other is taped to the man’s place of residence, exposed to the sun and elements. One year later, the photograph is reconstituted by reassembling the two pieces.

38. An artist is filmed under hypnosis. The videotape shows the beginning of the session, the wait, and then his passage into a hypnotic state. The hypnotist’s voice accompanies the images. His awakening is not recorded. Watching the video plunges the artist back into a state of hypnosis that only the hypnotist can bring him out of. The hypnotist not being present, the artist cannot take the risk of watching the tape. Having chosen to show it, he is the only one who cannot watch it.

 

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Book

Edouard Levé Suicide
Dalkey Archive Press

Suicide cannot be read as simply another novel—it is, in a sense, the author’s own oblique, public suicide note, a unique meditation on this most extreme of refusals. Presenting itself as an investigation into the suicide of a close friend—perhaps real, perhaps fictional—more than twenty years earlier, Levé gives us, little by little, a striking portrait of a man, with all his talents and flaws, who chose to reject his life, and all the people who loved him, in favor of oblivion. Gradually, through Levé’s casually obsessive, pointillist, beautiful ruminations, we come to know a stoic, sensible, thoughtful man who bears more than a slight psychological resemblance to Levé himself. But Suicide is more than just a compendium of memories of an old friend; it is a near-exhaustive catalog of the ramifications and effects of the act of suicide, and a unique and melancholy farewell to life.’ — DAP

Excerpt

One Saturday in the month of August, you leave your home wearing your tennis gear, accompanied by your wife. In the middle of the garden you point out to her that you’ve forgotten your racket in the house. You go back to look for it, but instead of making your way toward the cupboard in the entryway where you normally keep it, you head down into the basement. Your wife doesn’t notice this. She stays outside. The weather is fine. She’s making the most of the sun. A few moments later she hears a gunshot. She rushes into the house, cries out your name, notices that the door to the stairway leading to the basement is open, goes down, and finds you there. You’ve put a bullet in your head with the rifle you had carefully prepared. On the table, you left a comic book open to a double-page spread. In the heat of the moment, your wife leans on the table; the book falls closed before she understands that this was your final message.

I have never gone into this house. Yet I know the garden, the ground floor, and the basement. I’ve replayed the scene hundreds of times, always in the same settings, those I imagined upon first hearing the account of your suicide. The house is on a street, it has a roof and a rear façade. Though none of that is real. There’s the garden where you go out into the sunlight for the last time and where your wife waits for you. There is the façade she runs toward when she hears the gunshot. There is the entryway where you keep your racket, there’s the door to the basement and the stairway. Finally there’s the basement where your body lies. It is intact. From what I’ve been told, your skull hasn’t exploded. You’re like a young tennis player resting on the lawn after a match. You could be sleeping. You are twenty-five years old. You now know more about death than I do.

Your wife screams. No one is there to hear her, aside from you. The two of you are alone in the house. In tears, she throws herself on you and beats your chest out of love and rage. She takes you in her arms and speaks to you. She sobs and falls against you. Her hands slide over the cold, damp basement floor. Her fingers scrape the ground. She stays for fifteen minutes and feels your body go cold. The telephone brings her out of her torpor. She finds the strength to get up. It’s the person with whom you had a tennis date.

“Hello, what’s going on? I’m waiting for you.”

“He’s dead. Dead,” she responds.

The scene stops there. Who removed the body? The firemen? The police? Since murder can be disguised as suicide, did a forensic pathologist do an autopsy? Was there an inquest? Who decided that it was a suicide and not a crime? Did they question your wife? Were they sensitive or were they suspicious when talking to her? Did she have the pain of being a suspect added to the pain of your disappearance?

I haven’t seen your wife since. I hardly knew her. I met her four or five times. When the two of you got married, you and I stopped seeing each other. I see her face again now. It has remained unchanged for twenty years. I’ve retained a fixed image of her from the last time I saw her. Memory, like photographs, freezes recollections. You spent your life in three houses. When your mother was pregnant with you, your parents lived in a small apartment. Your father didn’t want his children to grow up cramped. He used to say “my children,” although he only had the one at that point. With your mother, he visited a partially dilapidated château belonging to a retired colonel of the Légion who had never moved in because he deemed the place to be in too great a state of disrepair for it to be habitable. Your father, director of a public works contracting firm, didn’t seem put off by the scale of the repairs. Your mother liked the grounds. They moved in, in April. You were born in a clinic on Christmas day. A servant kept three fires going in the château at all times: one in the kitchen, one in the living room, and one in your parents’ bedroom, where you slept during the first two years of your life. When your brother was born, repairs had still not progressed. You lived in precarious luxury for three more years, until the birth of your sister. It was after your parents had decided to look for a more comfortable place that your father announced to your mother that he was leaving her. She found a house that was smaller and less beautiful than the château, but warmer and more welcoming. There you had your second bedroom, which you occupied until leaving to live with your wife at twenty-one years of age. The little house you shared with her contained your third bedroom. It was your last.

The first time I saw you, you were in your bedroom. You were seventeen years old. You were living in your mother’s house, on the first floor, between your brother’s and your sister’s bedrooms. You rarely left your room. The door was locked, even when you were inside. Your brother and your sister have no memory of ever entering it. If they had something to tell you, they would speak through the door. No one came in to clean up; you did it yourself. I don’t know why you came to open the door for me when I knocked. You didn’t ask who it was. What made you guess it was me? My manner of approach, of making the floorboards creak? Your shutters were closed. The room was bathed in a soft red light. You were listening to “I Talk to the Wind” by King Crimson, and you were smoking. It made me think of a nightclub. It was broad daylight outside.

Your wife only remembered later that before falling from the table, the comic book you had left there was open. Your father bought dozens of copies, which he gave to everyone. He came to know the text and the images of this book by heart; this was not at all like him, but he ended up identifying with the comic. He is looking for the page, and on the page for the sentence, that you had chosen. He keeps a record of his reflections in a file, which is always on his desk and on which is written “Suicide Hypotheses.” If you open the cupboard to the left of his desk, you’ll find ten identical folders filled with handwritten pages bearing the same label. He cites the captions of the comic book as if they were prophecies.

Since you seldom spoke, you were rarely wrong. You seldom spoke because you seldom went out. If you did go out, you listened and watched. Now, since you no longer speak, you will always be right. In truth, you do still speak: through those, like me, who bring you back to life and interrogate you. We hear your responses and admire their wisdom. If the facts turn out to contradict your counsel, we blame ourselves for having misinterpreted you. Yours are the truths, ours are the errors.

You remain alive insofar as those who have known you outlive you. You will die with the last of them. Unless some of them have made you live on in words, in the memory of their children. For how many generations will you live on like this, as a character from a story?

You went to a concert in Paris. At the end of the first set the singer cut open a vein and sprayed his blood over the first few rows, tracing out circular arcs with his arms. Your brown leather jacket got a few drops on it, which drops then got lost in its general color when they dried. After the concert, you went with the friends who were with you to a café, the name of which you forgot. You spoke to strangers for hours. Afterward you walked the streets in search of other cafés, but they were closed. You stretched out on the park benches of a square near the Gare Saint-Lazare, and you remarked on the shape of the clouds. At six o’clock you had breakfast. At seven you took the first train home. When, the next day, your friends repeated to you the words you had spoken to strangers in the café, you remembered nothing of them. It was as though someone else inside you had spoken. You recognized neither your words, nor your thoughts, but you liked them better than you would have if you had remembered saying them. Often all it took was for someone else to speak your own words back to you for you to like them. You would note down those sayings of yours that were repeated back to you. You were the author of this text twice over.

Your life was a hypothesis. Those who die old are made of the past. Thinking of them, one thinks of what they have done. Thinking of you, one thinks of what you could have become. You were, and you will remain, made up of possibilities.

Your suicide was the most important thing you ever said, but you’ll never be able to enjoy the fruits of this labor.

Given that I am speaking to you, are you dead?

If you were still alive, would we be friends? I was more attached to other boys. But time has seen me drift apart from them without my even noticing. All that would be needed to renew the bond would be a telephone call, but none of us are willing to risk the disillusionment of a reunion. Your silence has become a form of eloquence. But they, who can still speak, remain silent. I no longer think of them, those with whom I was formerly so close. But you, who used to be so far-off, distant, mysterious, now seem quite close to me. When I am in doubt, I solicit your advice. Your responses satisfy me better than those the others could give me. You accompany me faithfully wherever I may be. It is they who have disappeared. You are the present.

You are a book that speaks to me whenever I need it. Your death has written your life.

You don’t make me sad, but solemn. You impair my incurable frivolity. Whenever I am too spontaneous and self-centered, and, for some reason or other, your face appears to me, I realize again the importance of the people around me. I see things from a perspective I’m rarely able to achieve. I take advantage on your behalf of things you can no longer experience. Dead, you make me more alive.

You were five years old, and you still couldn’t manage to slip on a sweater. Although two years your junior, your brother showed you how it’s done. Your father belittled you by suggesting, mockingly, that you try to live up to your little brother’s example, and in the end declared you incapable of it. Your brother, who admired you just as much as he did your father, was caught between two authorities. Not wanting to hurt anyone, he didn’t brag about your father’s praise. His modesty completed your humiliation.
You lie alone in a stone tomb upon which your first and last names are engraved in gold lettering. Below can be read the date of your birth and that of your death, separated by twenty-five years.

When I hear of a suicide, I think of you again. Yet, when I hear that someone died of cancer, I don’t think of my grandfather and grandmother, who also died of it. They share cancer with millions of others. You, however, own suicide.

A ruin is an accidental aesthetic object. If it becomes beautiful, this was certainly not the intention. A ruin is not constructed or maintained. The tendency of a ruin is to crumble down into a heap. The most beautiful parts remain standing despite their wear and tear. The memory of you is what stays up, your body what subsides. Your ghost remains upright in my memory, while your skeleton is decomposing in the earth.

 

 

*

p.s. Hey. ** Misanthrope, There are probably player guitars at this point. In fact I think I saw one. A ‘Teen Beat fan group full of 20-to-60-year-olds’ is a super unpleasant thought, but maybe that’s just me. Get that fine lady to a doc ASAP, obviously. ** David Ehrenstein, Hi. I don’t think I saw that one in my search. Everyone, Mr. E suggests you add George Gershwin to the line up of Player Piano Players, and why not? Here. ** _Black_Acrylic, Hi. I love Evan Holloway’s work. He was a student of mine during my stint in the UCLA sculpture department, and he’s a good pal. I don’t know that piece you mention. I’ll see/hear what I can see. Thanks! The boot sounds kind of cool. Forbidding, yes, but cool and forbidding are not sworn enemies. Is walking with it interesting or fun at all? ** Dominik, Hi!!! Oh, yes, I’ll still be 100% percent functional by the time the new SCAB bursts through. Guaranteed. Unfortunately the film preparations right now are completely uninteresting — just figuring technical and logistical stuff out ‘on paper’, but when we get to the fun part — casting, finding locations and stuff, I’ll clue you in for sure. Ha ha, I know someone who’s writing a book about the Avril Lavigne death conspiracy thing, and the weird part is, he went into it thinking it was ridiculous, and now he think it might be true. (But he’s a bit … odd, let’s say.) Love as a scientist who discovers that the cure for Covid is eating a chocolate eclair upside down such that by this coming Friday night the streets everywhere are full of totally maskless strangers French kissing each other like maniacs, G. ** wolf, Okay, wow, I’m not even going to try to compete with that one. I think I’d need to chug-a-lug about 6 straight espressos. I’ll look for that Quietus essay, cool, thanks. ‘Sleepovers’ is an excellent example, yes. That concept of eternal rebirth does seem to connect to the writing discussion even if I can’t put my finger on the exact connective tissue. Beautiful line of thought there. I would err on the side of skill builds up irregardless. I think mine, whatever it is, did. Maybe Marc can bait the crow with the offer of a show, carte blanche, at Five Years? Heck, I’d break lockdown to train over and see that. ** T, Right? That’s what I was thinking too. When you get done ramming your hood, come over and get some Paris bashing business done. We need it. Cool, I’m glad the post settled in. You know your stuff. I’m guessing you make stuff with all of that interest and know-how? What’s it like (if so)? The Batman thing was a find, obviously. Did the assigned trick, but also popped a nice little intermission in there. There must be some way to make today great, and I’m going to figure it out. Yours too! ** chris dankland, Hi, Chris, buddy boy! I’m glad my joy at making that post filtered down to your student. Could be a life changing moment for her, no? Yeah, your Houston rap post held up to say the least. And it had beaucoup traffic. It was one of those posts where I wasn’t sure if it would hurl viewers inside it or not. Sometimes I can tell, but a lot of the time it seems totally random what posts ignite. I’ll put up a post about, I don’t know, something that people actually know about thinking I should be nice, and then it won’t go viral at all, but then I’ll put up a post about some super obscure film or book and people go nuts. Anyway, Houston rap is still a big lure. Pig Destroyer liking my work is why Zac and I got to use part of one of their songs in ‘Permanent Green Light’ for free. Nice guys. My morning could tilt into greatness, you never know. Hope yours throws caution to the wind. Safely, obviously. xo. ** Brian O’Connell, 🤟, Brian. Yeah, for most of my life my only association with player pianos literally was eating pizza in a pizza parlour with friends and having to talk really loudly to hear ourselves over the deafening fucking player piano. That sounds very like a snooze: the Logic class. I hope you can figure out a way to glide through with high enough marks to get it under your academic belt. Mm, it would be a huge stretch to say that the film work I’m doing right now is exciting other than the fact that once it’s done and the coast becomes clearer, that will be exciting. Never seen ‘The Human Condition’. It’s said to be important. Hope so. ‘Bigger Than Life’ could be good. Nicholas Ray is no slouch. Interesting picks, man. I watched a doc about Donald Cammell, the guy who directed ‘Performance’ and then never managed to direct another film that wasn’t a disaster of some sort. Pretty interesting. I’ll probably do a post about him. And I worked all day with Gisele re: the ‘Jerk’ film shoot, and that was productive. I’m going to go out and try to enjoy the rare non-rainy spring day that would seem to be in order based on the sky’s current clarity and tempting warmth. You? ** Okay. Today I’m spotlighting Edouard Levé’s great novel ‘Suicide’. If there are any fellow Levé fans out there, great news is afoot. Two complete but unpublished novels were recently discovered among his papers, and at least one of them will get published in the next year or so. See you tomorrow.


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12 Comments

  1. Hi!!

    What a fascinating post today. I’ve never heard of Edouard Levé, and I adored both the “Oeuvres” and the excerpt from “Suicide.” In fact, I’ll go and see where I can get it right after this little letter. Thank you so much!

    Oh. Well, anyway, it’s still an amazing thing that things are happening around the new film at all! Even if only on paper for now. I’m looking forward to all the “juicier” news, of course, whenever they emerge!

    Seriously? Hah. I’m not – as opposed to yesterday’s love – obsessed with this conspiracy, but I find it quite interesting that it became a thing. Such a thing, indeed, that somebody writes a book about it, it seems.

    Ah, what an amazing, amazing love! I’d be immune in mere seconds, haha! Love listening to a podcast about randomly selected people’s most embarrassing memories while doing yoga in the nude in his living room, Od.

  2. Kenneth Anger in “Hollywood Babylon” speaks of “The Magic of Self-Murder.”

    Today’s Michel’s Birthday

  3. Dennis, Really like the excerpt here. Btw, I’m reading Schuyler’s What’s for Dinner? right now and really enjoying it.

    Yeah, that Timmeeee group is something else. And there are all these rules too. Like, you can’t mention Armie Hammer now or put up photos of him, even from CMBYN. You can’t talk about Woody Allen. You can’t share a pic from paparazzi. Etc. There’s this really weird feeling I get in this weirdo group.

    I really only joined to have an easy way to keep up with Monsieur Chalamet’s films/projects. I had no idea it would be this level of unpleasantness. But it’s like a car wreck, I can’t stop peeking at it. The really funny ones are people who draw him and put their drawings up and they’re just godawful and everybody’s going “beautiful!” Ugh.

    That, and the Timothee is perfect and can do no wrong stuff. It’s really cult-like at times. I mean, I love the guy as an actor and am a fan, but geez…hahaha.

    I don’t know, I’m just not ordering a custom bedspread with his pic all over it.

    Eek.

    So, yeah, me mum will be hitting the doc tomorrow at 1:30. She’s definitely better but she’s still getting pain when she eats. I’ve a feeling the ER doc was a little off. I mean, shit, they’re the same people who told me I’d have to get a kidney stent when I went there last fall. Nope, not the case. So we’ll see.

  4. Hi Dennis,

    I was really moved by the extracts on the blog today. Found a lot of it painfully relatable, but beyond that the writing is amazing and so… taut … I dunno how to express it well but it feels like skin that’s stretched tight over something that’s squirming violently beneath the surface. The addressing of the unknowable ‘you’, the searching for omens and signs in whatever comes. Number 33 of the Oeuvres totally hits my memories of being hideously depressed at the height of summer and finding the glut of life and noise just unbearable, which I haven’t seen any fiction do before. Which is to say, I would really like to have a read of the book, but feel like I might have to drip feed it slowly and carefully.

    And on a brighter note, yeah, I have tinkered with music/sound art on my computer for a few years now. I guess if I were to put a name on it, would probably be tending towards abstract electronics/noise stuff. I do really want to start carving out a consistent practice/sharing it somehow or somewhere, and I’m grateful to you for asking, as it got me back working on things today after a few weeks of neglect.

    And et me know if any means for greatness in your day did ultimately manifest!

    T 🙂

  5. Things seem to be moving a little, here at the hospital. I’ve been sat wearing this big cyberpunk boot thing most of today, and have begun walking around the ward wearing it in the company of physios. All being well, I get discharged out of here later this week into a physical rehab centre at Chapel Allerton in Leeds. That would at least be a change of scene.

    Leve looks like essential reading. I will devour today’s post, so thank you!

  6. Dennis! Shit, I had not actually listened to the Tom Johnson piece for Player Piano yesterday, and just did. Kerrrrrist! It’s so good! The evolution of the printed track is a brilliant piece of visual art in and of itself. I do wonder if the high notes disappearing in the “all at once” clusters is an illusion or just that they’re not able to resonate above the lower ones when against them. It’s always hard to get the same volume from high notes as low ones on a piano. But that mechanised Bösendorfer sure is a trooper! Brave little piano.
    Very moving excerpt from Levé. I do generally find second-person narration really irritating but it works perfectly here. Funny. My read of “you” is always “someone else” – when I am reading the text I identify with who *wrote* the text, since the text is now in my head, read in my voice… and I then have to imagine who this “you” is that I might be talking to. It opens up this space that I have no idea how to fill. But after talking about this with other humans I realised the general experience is that the reader finds the text’s “you” to be directed at them, and so the reading feels closer, more intimate, than first-person narration. That definitely seems to be how most writers intend it to feel like, and I must be a weirdo with literature-induced depersonalisation disorder. But the way Levé’s text works is so cleanly descriptive that the you is experienced to be an observed external other, without clunkily attempting to make the reader think it’s them that’s being talked about. There’s a melancholy quality there that’s very dreamy.
    I will have to think about how to appeal to a crow’s inner artiste maudit. “I can make you a STAR!!” “arrrrrk?” “Bring 18 of your friends over and we can call the show… Corvid-19!!!!” (I’m so sorry)

  7. Shane Christmass

    February 24, 2021 at 8:54 pm

    Yea – massive fan of this book. Love the fact that there is no suicide note – but they think the suicide note was the comic book left open. I find that very funny, precise gallows humour.

    I once recommended this book to a few people on Goodreads and they wanted to know if I was okay.

    “Yes I’m okay – I just read the most amazing book and want to tell everyone!”

    Hope yer well.

  8. Thanks Dennis, have you ever watched the Swedish film ‘The Square’, you may enjoy it? Also this French artist reminds me of Ray Johnson 🐇.

    I lost two friends to suicide, one was schizophrenic and the other might have been bipolar. The disturbing part was they did it in the same way, around the same time of year, and in the exact same location. They lived across the street from one another. There were no warning signs, and they had every reason to live. Nate loved to play Nirvana songs on his electric guitar, and smoke pot. Tommy was fun to swim and go to parties with. Rest in peace.

    I know your friend/former lover George Miles was bipolar and killed himself. I am deeply sorry for your loss.

  9. I had lunch with a friend today. He was the first friend I’ve seen in person for almost 4 months, and that stirred up a lot of emotions I’m finding hard to untangle. The level of loneliness and boredom during this winter has been very difficult, combined with steady weight gain and increasing back pain. But while it looks like “back to normal” is in sight some time this year – you’ve probably heard that NYC theaters are allowed to reopen on March 5th – I feel massive dread at contemplating what that would mean for me, the city or the country. I feel overwhelmed by the mental and physical issues mentioned above if I allow myself to think beyond the next 5 minutes.

    But I plan to watch Lawrence Lek’s video art-cum-cyberpunk anime film AIDOL very soon, maybe tonight.

    What do you think of Jon Rafman, whose work AIDOL has been compared to?

  10. About that 3-part attack on Woody on HBO

  11. Brian O’Connell

    February 25, 2021 at 5:52 am

    Joyeux jeudi, Dennis,

    Books like this are so remarkable—ones where the writer makes their life synonymous with their art. (That reminds me of Mishima, of course, and Dazai.) It’s horrible and fascinating. And the excerpt is quite harrowing. I haven’t read Levé, but of course I’ll have to now.

    Thanks for the hopes re: Logic; I’ll need the good luck. Oh, well, yes—the work you’re doing right now doesn’t sound too exciting. I more meant that just being involved in a filmmaking process, or getting ready to make a film, is sort of exciting in and of itself, or at least in my inexperienced view. In any case, best luck getting through the slow stretch. Your day sounded pretty great. Looking forward the Cammell post if you do one; I’ve never seen “Performance” but it sounds so strange and interesting. And productive collaboration, that’s great, yay. My Wednesday was a stressful nothing and Thursday will probably be even more so (I have a very early start and a lot of dreary work), but I leavened it by spending the last of my birthday gift card money on a copy of Jean Genet’s “Funeral Rites”, so that cheered me a little. I hoped you went out as planned and enjoyed the early spring weather. God knows we need some of it here. Have a great one.

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