Common Knowledge 12.3 (2006) 460-502
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In Front of my Hermitage
The passages extracted below from Les Ombres errantes (Wandering Shades) by Pascal Quignard are those that most closely concern the themes of this symposium. "There is a life older than the life of ambition or even than one's love life, a solitude before social life," Quignard has said in an interview: "Today, more than ever, I am embracing that life. I am extricating myself from my fellowman as I have extricated myself from my motherland." He has added that, in Les Ombres errantes, "I make clear my determination to create a hermitage within the modern world where I praise insecurity of thinking, while the societies in which we live advocate the opposite." The title "In Front of My Hermitage" is a phrase appearing in chapter XIII and is not the title given by Quignard to any section of the original text. Chapter numbers in this selection are as they appear in the original and are provided to indicate where ellipses occur. Les Ombres errantes, for which Quignard received the Prix Goncourt in 2002, appears here in English translation for the first time.
Cock crow, dawn, dogs barking, the light spreading, men rising from their beds, nature, time, dreams, lucidity—there is ferocity in everything.
I cannot touch the colored cover of certain books without there mounting within me a sensation of pain.
A body preferred them to me. A young German woman looked after me until I was two. The fact that she used to read by my side removed me from the delight of being close to her. Because it felt to me that she was not beside me. She was not there. She had already departed.
She was elsewhere.
Reading was a sojourn in another kingdom.
My throat tightens suddenly as I recall those hours when I could not yet speak. They conceal another world that will always elude my quest. A sort of dry sob would choke my upper body.
I could no longer swallow.
I could not bear a fork or a spoon to come near my lips.
The nature of the attraction that books exert upon me will remain all my life more mysterious and more imperious than it might appear to other readers. Quickly I put the old book with its bright colors back in the place I took it from. I turn aside from the bookseller's display. I can no longer speak. As in the past. I dare not try. I hurry along the pavement. I walk away toward the shadows of the town and melt into them.
A piece of the original apple has remained stuck in the middle of my throat.
Old bilingual Latin-French books in the Garnier series that have acquired a downy feel from use, age, sunlight, and dust.
I read in one of those old books published by Garnier that in order to store the scrolls of pornographic pictures that he used to collect, the Emperor Tiberius insisted on having cylinders that were yellow all over and bore no titulus so that nothing betrayed the curiosity by which he was obsessed.
He wandered about the empire from which he was fleeing.
A disgraced emperor, like a wild wolf, loathing the cities, who did not want the empire, who killed God, and who fled Rome itself.
He preferred to live in the highest spot on Capri, in the shadow of the rock that overhung the sea. [End Page 461]
Living hidden—late—as Lucretius said.
It happened that in 1618 the Chevalier Le Cerf, being then more or less of an age to leave his childhood behind him, enlisted in the king's troops as a volunteer, with the aim of traveling throughout the world.
He went to join William the Taciturn at the Siege of Breda.
He stayed for thirteen months.
They became four friends. They started as four barrack-room companions. Taken in order of their enlistment, they...