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  • Eden and Atrocity:Pierre Guyotat's Algeria
  • Stuart Kendall (bio)

On 22 October 1970 the French Ministry of the Interior banned Pierre Guyotat's recently published novel Éden, Éden, Éden from sale to minors, from display, and from advertisement: a triple interdiction. The ministry justified its action based on a 1949 law for the protection of youth even though it had not fulfilled the evaluative stipulations of that law prior to enacting it.1 Thirteen years previously, the works of the Marquis de Sade had been cleared for sale by judicial decree, yet Éden, Éden, Éden—a book published by the most prestigious publishing house in France, Éditions Gallimard, and prefaced by Michel Leiris, Philippe Sollers, and Michel Foucault, three writers whose moral authority and renown transcended generations and national boundaries—was banned.2

The French intelligentsia responded with a petition written by Jérôme Lindon, the editor of Les éditions de minuit, published in Le Monde. On its initial publication the petition carried the signatures of Roland Barthes, Simone de Beauvoir, Michel Leiris, Jean-Paul Sartre, Claude Simon, Jean Cayrol, Jacques Derrida, Marguerite Duras, Michel Foucault, Alain Robbe-Grillet, Philippe Sollers, and Kateb Yacine, among many others. The list of additional signatures added to a reprinting of the petition ran to twenty-seven pages of names.3

Guyotat defended his book in a series of interviews published in Tel Quel, La Nouvelle Critique, and Promesse, and other writers wrote on his behalf, most notably Foucault and Sollers.4 Despite this support, the ministry did not lift its ban.

Censored, Éden, Éden, Éden was forbidden literature; Guyotat was effectively silenced. But why was Éden, Éden, Éden so threatening in 1970? And how should we react to the book today?5

Éden, Éden, Éden opens with a series of dots, bars, and slashes, a kind of code that is all but unreadable, unrecognizable as a linguistic system. It is in fact an epigram in Tamacheck, a North African language: it reads, "And now, we are no longer slaves."6 But what does it mean? [End Page 11] Who is no longer a slave? What we is speaking here since we—the readers—most likely cannot read this part of the text? What liberty has been gained and by what means? The book that follows is hardly a narrative of liberation: it is a series of often violent couplings. Perhaps the phrase carries the taint of dark irony. When is the referenced "now"? Is it the now of the narrative, which is written entirely in the indicative present; or the now of a colonial war or of its aftermath; or the now of the reader whose participation gives the book—as contagion—its release? Rather than guide us into the text that follows, providing some orientation, the epigram forbids our entry into that text (because this first part of the text is unreadable). While we may be able to read what follows, the epigram resists our comprehension and stands as a warning that much of what follows may prove just as challenging to understand.

The text proper begins:

Helmeted soldiers, legs spread, muscles drawn back, trampling over new-born babes swaddled in scarlet, violet shawls: babies falling from arms of women huddled on floors of G.M.C. tracks; driver's free hand pushing back goat thrown forward into cab; / Ferkous pass, RIMA platoon crossing over track; soldiers jumping out of trucks; RIMA squad lying down on gravel, heads pressed against flint-pitted, thorn-studded tires, stripping off shirts in shadow of mudguards; women rocking babies against breasts; rocking movement stirring up scents sharpened with bonfire-sweat impregnating rags, hair, flesh: oil, cloves, henna, butter, indigo, black antimony—in Ferkous valley, below breakwater tombstones, drinks-stand, school, gaddous, fig trees, mechtas, stone walls oozing, spattered with brains, orchards blooming, palm trees, swollen in fire, exploding: flowers, pollen, buds, grasses, paper, rags spotted with milk, with shit, with blood, fruit peels, feathers, lifted, shaken, tossed from flame to flame in wind tearing fire from the earth.7

The text continues in this vein for 270 pages in the Gallimard edition. Éden, Éden, Éden consists of one single sentence broken with backslashes, semicolons...


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