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The blog of author Dennis Cooper

Spotlight on … Pierre Guyotat Tomb for 500,000 Soldiers (1967)

 

Buy me, buy me, or I will die torn to pieces, yesterday they seized me and sewed me inside the horsehair of a mattress, cutting a hole in the cloth at the place of my thighs and everyone could then fuck me choking inside the horsehair, eyes pricked by the sweat, and the cloth, around the hole, blackens and sticks to my belly; I can’t see them, I recognize them only by their cocks. Set me free, I’ll work for your living. — P.G., Tomb for 500,000 Soldiers

‘Most books demand solitude, this one screams for solitude, for you to take yourself away from any still pulsing, breathing encumbrance; so as to exist, in single file, as a witness to the death of humanity across turned pages.

‘No more than one witness at a time is necessary, efficacious.

‘Otherwise there’ll be a lack of continuation, propagation.

‘Like Marx, this book is an anti-aphrodisiac – a stark reminder that all was, in fact, has been, lost.

‘Not least paradise, space, place, corridors of even a bureaucratic beauty.

‘Converted too late, we defend symbols to then be symbolised.

‘Start again. The post-human rings out in its own absence.

‘The overman, or something more abstractly sexed, is here to be built-up from the miniscule moments of bleak poetic relief:

“dust runs in the folds of the curtains”

“a pink cloud passess in the frozen lake”

“a flock of cranes flees towards the border; the sun irradiates the radio antenna”

‘The edge extended turns into a ledge.

‘A membrane defended, a de-cathexis.

‘If de Sade was a forecalling for the dismemberment of God – as unifying principle, as psychic sop, as creative alienation – then this book reminds us, one at a time, to keep more than god dead: heads, civilization, culture, ever-declarative mouths, mirrors.

‘Apocalypse always.

‘Organised into seven chants across 378 pages the book charts the colonial wars within colonial wars within the interior of archipelago’d people colonised.

‘Only sphincters move. Shit on this.

‘Read it aloud? There would be a risk, in voicing the force of primordial massacres, in mouthing the ur-brutalities done to children and horses, of taking it on, in to some affectible inside, becoming it, being overheard, in single file, alone; becoming an emissary of more than auto-destruction: willing will-lessness overdetermined becomes a reflex of urge appeasement minus the pleasure.

‘Desire dies, is replaced by ash-grey doves and mouth foam.

‘Solidarity breaks-out via incest, pimp deals, slaver alliances.

‘Soldier vampires loll, fuck, prod, rape, shoot, sever, cut, burn, bleach, turn tail, ring noses, vultch, displace populations, wait for furniture…

‘Soldiers captured in their own barrack-blocks like boxed goods, free now but for the wire.

‘The overflow of horror, the Boschdom without narrational context, has left each and everyone on the verge of extinction: enter a character/exit a character, enter tenderness/murder tenderness. For now, in an excess of present unaccessible to hope, expecting, almost willing, the expenditure of the cheapest of all the economic variables, there is a kind of living hysteria, as if the permanent time here, throughout the centuries, is seven or less minutes to midnight.

‘It is this hysteria, its animal energy and, also, the fallback onto psychosis that spares the book the mass suicides that would end it *.

‘At this pitch of survival (“beyond the barrier of terror”) there can be no fear.

‘Fucking, a loveless valve. A time beating, a little prepatory death.

‘The human generates no affect. The affect always from outside, crossing in, as a vaguely veiled romanticism:

“over them hover large white and violet butterflies. The dust from their wings falls on the sentries’ dry lips”

‘Respite for the author? Recipes for the readers?’ — datacide

 

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Further

Pierre Guyotat @ Wikipedia
The Multiplying Hells of Pierre Guyotat
Pierre Guyotat – His books stink of sperm and killing
into the zone: guyotat & film
A History of Reason
A Vital Aberration: Writings On Pierre Guyotat 1994-2010
Pierre Guyotat Reading Matter Pt. 1
Alain Badiou: Pierre Guyotat, Prince of Prose
Why Pierre Guyotat’s Work Is More Relevant Now Than Ever
PG interviewed @ BOMB
PG @ Semiotext(e)/MIT Press
PG interviewed @ Purple
‘Pornographic’ French writer Pierre Guyotat dies aged 80
Donatien Grau’s Homage to Pierre Guyotat’s Eden, Eden, Eden
;*)%,”””!@;,: Pierre Guyotat
PG @ Goodreads
2 X PIERRE GUYOTAT
Disparition: Pierre Guyotat, éternel éden
« JE NE PEUX PAS VOIR CE MONDE COMME UN MONDE INFERNAL, PARCE QUE J’Y SERAIS DÉJÀ RÔTI »
« Je suis un musicien, je suis un alphabétiseur. »
“Pierre Guyotat, la matière de nos oeuvres”
Download a free pdf of ‘Tomb for 500,000 Soldiers’

 

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Gallery

‘Pierre Guyotat’s experiences as a French soldier in the Algerian War of Independence led him to develop an entirely new kind of writing. The brutality he witnessed in North Africa compelled Guyotat to refuse the conflation of literature with civilisation. Instead, he treated language as physical matter through deformed words, verbal onslaughts and obscene imagery. This led him to the concept of the matière écrite, a sort of ‘secretion’ to be perceived orally, visually and architecturally. Of Le Livre, for example, he once explained: ‘I am aware that what I do in Le Livre cannot be readily understood without me speaking the text, pronouncing it publicly.’

‘But perhaps the most famous expression of Guyotat’s approach was the book Eden, Eden, Eden – a hallucinatory evocation of the horrors of sexual violence under colonialism – which was banned in France the same year it was published. For Guyotat, even the manuscript itself was a piece of visual art, and he did a special painting for the cover. Guyotat gave up drawing after a breakdown in the early 1980s and would only resume the practice in 2015. The artworks on view demonstrate his extremely complex yet direct language, which stems from memory and symbolism while presenting scenes of sexuality, freedom, joy and exploitation.’ — Manifesta 13

 

 

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Extras


Pierre Guyotat, écrivain radical


Pierre Guyotat – “In bed” by Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec


Pierre Guyotat – Rencontre à la Librairie Les Cahiers de Colette


Life of Pierre Guyotat: New Social Environment #43

 

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Interview

 

THE WHITE REVIEW — In 1960, at the age of 20, you were sent to Algeria with the French army, where you stayed for two years. In 1962, you were found guilty of encouraging desertion and possessing forbidden material and were imprisoned for three months.

PIERRE GUYOTAT — I went back to Algeria frequently after independence, particularly to the Sahara. Since then, I’ve only returned through my fictional characters, or at least those that can recognisably be identified as ‘Algerian’. As a soldier over there, and immediately afterwards, I’d reached saturation point with France. I was very anti-Europe and anti-West. It was the great era of thirdworldism and ethnology, a period that is very controversial today because some see it as an avatar of colonialism. One can read very surprising things about this period nowadays. Everything becomes neo-colonialism and it has become impossible to consider nations that were colonised as free – free to reject their dictators – and proud. Every time something bad happens to them, we see the hand of the ex-coloniser behind it and we continue to treat them like children.

No one is perfect: it’s worrying that there is today this desire for everything to be perfect. The fewer things that happen, the fewer things are possible – and still we want even more perfection. To be politically perfect, which means that you can no longer be anything. Someone taking an interest in an African tribe will be seen as a colonialist. No one knows what to do any longer. There are committees, charities, councils representing who knows what… it’s astonishing. All of these entities would be interesting if they had no vested interests, but the charities are generally supported by the state, which means they are accountable for their actions. A certain number of scandals and controversies justify this state support, just as policemen have to hand out a certain number of traffic fines.

I understand very well, I’ve always supported the idea that slavery should be recognised as a crime against humanity – and, as we know, the West is not the only guilty party with regards to this abomination. I’m not saying there should necessarily be legal recognition of this fact, but we should agree that it was a crime that was perpetrated continuously over the course of 300 years. Involving the law in something like this is very complex, but when people’s desire for publicity leads them to speak lies…

It is unbearable to live in this kind of environment. Someone trying to live an honest life can no longer live. He can be honest, he can watch everything he says, everything he thinks even – but he will be dead. One cannot live when one is constantly ordered. There is a contradiction at play here: people always talk about multiculturalism in France but at the same time you have to stay politically correct on every single topic… We have to accept some form of disorder. It’s impossible to control a population through interdiction, it’s impossible. On building sites, for instance, you sometimes hear terrible things and often people shout at each other in an incredibly rude but also funny manner, and things are settled in good humour. Things can go very well. We have to let people express themselves. Otherwise, they die. We are always facing language barriers built by ignorant people. We cannot let some societies make laws and create interdictions: there are enough interdictions as it is. It’s strange that people are so infantilised. We have to let them speak for themselves, to let them learn for themselves what not to say because it hurts others, history, a History, the honour of man. And we can say certain things and laugh at them up to a certain point, which time will decide.

THE WHITE REVIEW — In CARNETS DE BORD you wrote: ‘Great works (or great men) are those which bear the mark of the brutality of the world. Not those which conquer their serenity and gentleness on the most profound chaos and the most acute solitude. Otherwise, one does not feel civilisation (the moment of conquest) but already decadence (i.e. the habit of benefits conquered in the past).’ This idea still applies to your work, in which violence and gentleness are both present.

PIERRE GUYOTAT — I’ve always said that. The premise of my work is brutal, but it does become gentler.

THE WHITE REVIEW — But is cruelty its fundamental reality?

PIERRE GUYOTAT — It is one of its realities. Cruel acts don’t need to be shown explicitly. There are also implicit cruelties. Inequality is an implicit cruelty, the most terrible, the most violent cruelty. One might wish to abolish it, to abolish what makes a man not know he can do anything. One has to seize what lies close at hand, what is urgent. The transformation of humanity into ‘strata’ or ‘masses’ – an avatar of scientism that has done so much harm – can only inspire disgust. I’ve long thought that in every human being there is a sleeping genius and I endeavour to continue to believe this. I wrote something, long ago, along these lines: ‘So long as man has five fingers on each hand, we cannot do anything about it.’ Unless a great organic and bodily mutation occurred. Man isn’t everything, either. We need to look beyond the human too. It’s a necessity. I do it a lot. I force man outside of his humanity.

THE WHITE REVIEW — How important is working as a collective to your work? Does collective work have as much value as the work of an individual? You were part of the Tel Quel movement at one stage.

PIERRE GUYOTAT — Yes, Tel Quel was my generation’s collective. It remains the only time I have been part of a collective. It fitted me quite well at the time, especially in terms of the movement’s discourse. From an artistic standpoint, it was quite different. The overall discourse suited me at the time – that’s clear – and I think I suited them, too. Later, things changed, quite quickly. As always in the history of literature.

THE WHITE REVIEW — Was it an alliance of sorts?

PIERRE GUYOTAT — Yes, it was during the brief moment when – this was the high point of Tel Quel – there was a division between two sides, broadly speaking: those favouring convention, and fiction, and the avant-garde, who favoured anti-fiction. I was very much in the fiction camp, full of characters, places, and scenes. I was more aware of the constructive aspects of the movement: the future, a more material fiction which would be open to the world, a transformation of language to be effected immediately rather than to be vainly wished for…

As I have often said, I read very few nouveau roman books. I knew their authors, but I didn’t read them much. The important thing was to know that these books existed. That was enough. It was a kind of tabula rasa, a fresh beginning. That, I knew, but I almost felt like there was no need for me to actually go out and read the books. I got a sense of those books instantly by just looking at them. I’ve always had the eye of an illustrator, I can tell immediately whether something is right or not. If it’s not good enough, I can tell straight away. I should have read a lot more, as I had as a child and adolescent, before really starting to write like I do now. I read a lot of British and American authors, like everyone else. But I read the authors people like to match me with much, much later.

THE WHITE REVIEW — Do you see any proximity between your work and that of writers like Bernard Noël or Jean Genet?

PIERRE GUYOTAT — With Bernard Noël, none whatsoever. As for Genet, we’d known each other for a long time. I met him in the Gallimard offices on the day I met Antoine Gallimard for the first time, forty years ago. It was a very open first meeting, we laughed a lot. I met Genet several times afterwards, I ‘loaded’ him in the Volkswagen I had at the time. I felt very free with him, and I also witnessed his ordinary human suffering. But, you know – and I’ve explained this often – I read most of his work later. I read a lot of the books that were compared to my work after I had already produced a consistent oeuvre. I first read LEIRIS AND GENET only then, and SADE, much later. I would read someone’s work after I met them. For example, Leiris himself gave me his AFRIQUE FANTÔME, in the beautiful blue Gallimard edition of the time. When someone gave me their book, I would read it. Mascolo gave me his COMMUNISME, which I maybe would not have read otherwise. It doesn’t always work out like that, only sometimes. I like it when people give me their own works.

THE WHITE REVIEW — In terms of English-language authors, were you into Faulkner and Joyce?

PIERRE GUYOTAT — Yes, among others. DOS PASSOS was formally very interesting. In Faulkner’s work, there is a kind of matter, a kind of idiocy, it’s wonderful. His is a world that suits me perfectly. Joyce too, especially FINNEGANS WAKE, a wonderful book which bears little relation to what I do, but which has such freedom, such visual language! I’ve always felt a greater affinity for that kind of literature to modern French literature, where language is a matter of state. Shakespeare and Molière are the couple who educated me.

THE WHITE REVIEW — How attentive are your readers? Do you have any contact with them?

PIERRE GUYOTAT — Sometimes I bump into them on the street or on the metro. Some recognise me but don’t say anything. I also receive letters, from readers who have really read me properly. I trust that these readers exist – I think that an illusion is created in this regard by a certain section of the media. Beyond that, there are still readers, of course. There is no reason for that to change because there is this desire for fiction, for language. I saw this when I used to give readings. People would come without preconceptions. Preconceptions are a problem. People with preconceptions say: ‘It’s too complex for you.’ Those in the universities say that to their students. The press also plays a part in this – even if it is almost entirely discredited — because the printed form still has a little bit of prestige. The ‘illegibility’ reproach is an old classic, which reflects only consumers’ inability to read anything.

THE WHITE REVIEW — What is more important in your relationship to your work: your control over it, or its independence from you?

PIERRE GUYOTAT — One’s work, everything one does in life – it all overtakes you in the end. It’s particularly true of politics, for example. A lot of people, a lot of politicians, practically acted in total emptiness. Nowadays it’s not really the case anymore. Before people stepped out into the abyss without really knowing what would happen. Nowadays nothing like that happens because speech is so weak, so miserable, so controlled that it annihilates itself, and no one takes risks any more. Without being conscious of urgency, speech can no longer have the same strength. Acts have practically disappeared. Apart from in the civilised world where, day to day, those left behind by politics have to act day to day to survive. We are no longer ‘children of God’, but voters.

 

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Book

Pierre Guyotat Tomb for 500,000 Soldiers
Creation Books

‘This is the first English translation of French writer, Pierre Guyotat’s legendary novel, which was recently included in Le Monde’s “100 Greatest Novels of the 20th Century.” A violent collision of brutal warfare and sexual ecstasy, Guyotat is said to have hallucinated the subject matter as a young soldier during the Algerian war, where the novel is set.’ — Creation Books

 

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Excerpt

 

 

*

p.s. Hey. I’m the latest guest on Paul K’s great podcast Wake Island where we talk about ‘I Wished’ and a whole bunch of other stuff if you’re interested. Here. ** Montse, Hi, M! Your comment arrived too late, but I luckily managed to notice it yesterday evening. Mmm, mushrooms while on, mmm, vacation. That must have been so nice. I can’t wait to get out of Paris. I’m good, still flying high about and around the reopening, seeing lots of art and friends and drinking coffees. You had Covid? Oh, no, but I’m glad it was mild. I don’t know how I managed to evade it, but I did unless I had a symptomless version and never knew it. Yes, Paris is just about well worth visiting now, and by fall … hey, there might even be music shows by then, although that’s hard to imagine. I see Pavement is playing at Primavera! Big love to you and Xet! ** _Black_Acrylic, Hi, Ben. Please tell me you’re feeling as right as rain after your second jab. Here’s hugely hoping so. ** Dominik, Hi!!!! Do you know that old story/fairytale about the 7 Chinese brothers? One of them inhales the ocean so the others can hunt for fish, but then he can’t hold it in anymore and vomits out the ocean and drowns his brothers? I think that’s where my yesterday love originated. Thank you for the eccentric love. I like the way he thinks. Love hacking into every social media platform and making it technically impossible for people to upload reaction GIFs as ‘comments’ because he’s grouchy and they’re making him hate humanity, G. ** jamie, Hey, Jamie. Thanks, buddy! Good question about the soundtracks. I don’t for for sure. The ones where I indicated they’re added on later I know, but I’m guessing he probably used sound of some sort, and so … ?  Ah, you get the openness in a week and a half? I hope it’s as spirit lifting as ours. Night and day in terms of what it does to one’s life and mood. I was out doing stuff all day yesterday, and it been a long time since there was enough out there to keep me out of my apartment for that long. Yeah, I think I would be sort of embarrassed and feel very uncool if I only got the virus now. I’m a bit in-between projects at the moment. Well, we’re starting to prepare for the new film. Puce Mary, who’ll be doing the sound/score for the film, is in residency in Paris right now, so we’re beginning to conceptualise and work on the film’s sound element, which is a very important aspect. And waiting for the green light to proceed from our producers, but that’s just waiting, not doing. Zac and I are co-writing a little novella that I hope we’ll finish soon. We’re finishing the final edit of the film of Gisele’s and my piece ‘Jerk’, and I’m very early on in developing the text for her next piece. So, stuff’s going on, but I’m not in the hottest heat of anything. What’re you up to? Have a great day doing whatever it is you’re up to. xo. ** Steve Erickson, So curious about that Romero, like I said. Mm, actually, I think the Eurovision performers are still utterly sincere. Either that or they conceal their irony extremely well because I didn’t detect even the tiniest trace of ‘knowing’ self-consciousness in any of the performances I caught. ** David Ehrenstein, I can never enter the NYT from over here. I can access that Foucault thing, so I’ll read it. Thanks. ** Bill, That film of Richter’s with the eyeballs is pretty great. His first couple are a little dated, but then they get sharp. I don’t know that Peter Brook. He’s still very active. His great theater near Gare de Nord is still putting stuff on, or was and will be when such things are allowed again  in a couple of weeks. ** Right. I’ve long wanted spotlight today’s great Guyotat novel, but it has been so extremely out of print and expensive to get ahold of. Thanks to the great site zLibrary, you can now download a pdf of the book for free using the last link in the ‘Further’ section, so that seemed like a green light to go ahead and give ‘Tomb …’ its DC’s due. See you tomorrow.

10 Comments

  1. Hi!!

    Fantastic post today! Thank you! I haven’t read “Tomb for 500,000 Soldiers,” but I can’t wait to fix this. I also really, really like the artwork you included.

    Huh, no, I’ve never heard this tale about the Chinese brothers! It’s a very uplifting one, haha.

    Uh oh, I guess your love makes communication almost impossible for a big, big chunk of humanity, haha. I can’t say I wouldn’t prefer if people could actually compose a few coherent sentences sometimes, though. Love offering a course that teaches the 100 most popular swear words in 60 different languages, Od.

  2. Hey Dennis,
    Thank you for another great post and special thanks for the link to the the pdf and the treasure trove that is zlibrary. Wow. My laptop is now crammed with pdfs. I also spent a bunch on books after your last Recently Read post, so I’m hoping it all karmically balances.
    Everything that you’re doing sounds exciting. Puce Mary is doing sound design and soundtrack for Room Temperature, is that right? That’s a dreamy idea. And yay to the Jerk film. I saw Jerk in Ghent maybe about a couple of years ago, with Jonathan Capdevielle and it blew me away. I’m glad I caught it before it’s retired (it’s retiring, right?).
    I’ve been doing some work with Jonathan, who you might recall I worked with on an animation project before? He got back in touch a while after our acrimonious parting and asked if I’d help him out with another attempt at a cartoon. So we’ve been working together, but at a distance, and it’s starting to look serious again. He wants to launch this whole educational platform but all I want to do is to make a cartoon. We’ll see.
    You were out and about doing stuff all day? That’s crazy talk. I can’t imagine what it feels like. But good, I’m betting. Brussels has kind of reopened a couple of weeks back, but Ari is quarantined for another week and a half, so our out-of-the-house lives can hopefully start up again then. Woohoo.
    Hope your Friday is peachy!
    Love,
    Jamie

  3. AMUSEMENT PARK starts streaming in the U.S. next month, so it should become available via the usual semi-licit sources soon. Or a release in French theaters?

    The Wire recently posted a song by Dalibor Cruz, which I quite liked, so I checked out his album RIDDLED WITH ABSENCE. He has a unique approach to techno, with polyrhythmic hand drums on top of programmed beats and a Latin feel. But there’s also a lot of electronic noise and a frantic pace.

  4. Nice to see a day devoted to such adeliciously sinister literary figure. “Eden Eden Eden” is a masterpice. A number of years back Guyotat came to L.A.and did a reding of his ten-recent work. I believe you were there too, Dennis.

    Regarding Foucault what’s fascinating is the America Right’s sudden interest in him. Do they know who he was? What is it about his work that attracts them.? I suspect it’s the “Roy Cohn Strain” of Postmodern Republicans.

    And ow it’s time for Larry Hart

  5. I’ve never read any of PG’s books but his drawings here are truly fantastic!

    Happy to report that the 2nd Covid jab has seen no ill effects. In fact this morning I attended a Zoom meeting in my capacity as a trustee for the Dundee-based NEoN digital arts festival, which is scheduled to include one Annie Sprinkle in this year’s lineup. Should make for an interesting show I think.

  6. The online prices for this book are eye-popping. Good to hear there’s an alternative.

    Is it somewhat different from Coma? I had some trouble with the latter. Will look at the pdf.

    Good to hear Brook’s theater is still active. On my first solo trip to Paris in the 90s, I naively took the subway up to the theater without checking a Pariscope or similar, and was disappointed that there were no performances while I was in town (duh). I did catch their Hamlet production in Seattle a few years later.

    Bill

  7. Shane Christmass

    May 28, 2021 at 4:58 am

    Oh I love Guyotat.

    My favourite things about these posts are always the videos. Spent last night watching these videos. Thanks.

    For some reason I then went and watched this – one of my favourite short films ever – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qduvk4zu_hs

    Okay going to track down this Wake Island pod and give it a listen. My postal app indicates that ‘Latex, Texas’ may’ve arrived?

    Take care.

    Love these Guyotat drawings as well.

  8. Hi, D!
    Yeah, it seems I have problems posting messages here lately, haha, I don’t know. I’m reading the Spanish translation of ‘Eden, Eden, Eden’ at the moment. Nice that you can do more of the cool stuff you usually do in Paris. The weather must be lovely now. A music show when we visit would be kind of a dream come true. I miss going to gigs so much! Yes, Pavement! Maybe you could come to Primavera? Getting Covid was very unfortunate because we’re both working from home and barely left the house. But we went to a birthday picnic in a park last September and we guess we got it there. I wanted to ask you something. Have you read ‘The Magic Kingdom’ by Stanley Elkin? I translated it into Spanish and it’s coming out next week. I’m very happy about it. I love the book. Have a great day, my dear pal!

  9. Hi, D! Yeah, it seems I have problems posting messages here lately, haha, I don’t know. I’m reading the Spanish translation of ‘Eden, Eden, Eden’ at the moment. Nice that you can do more of the cool stuff you usually do in Paris. The weather must be lovely now. A music show when we visit would be kind of a dream come true. I miss going to gigs so much! Yes, Pavement! Maybe you could come to Primavera. Getting Covid was very unfortunate because we’re both working from home and barely left the house. But we went to a birthday picnic in a park last September and we guess we got it there. I wanted to ask you something. Have you read ‘The Magic Kingdom’ by Stanley Elkin? I translated it into Spanish and it’s coming out next week. I’m very happy about it. I love the book. Have a great day, my dear pal!

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