- "Le Concentrisme" and "Jean du Chas":Two Extracts
The radiant note of all his dislocations, and the very essence of his disquiet, is this: to feck off out of it all, a spur blighted in due course by being squandered.1 This empty and fragmentary life, as it emerges from his Journal2—the sole source at our disposal—is one of those horizontal lives, without apogee, wholly linear, a freak of motion impossible to expedite or retard, launched (but not initiated) by the accident of birth, terminated (but not concluded) by the accident of death: a void, hollow, untenanted abstraction from the mechanized vulgarities of the epidermis, which are activated without the soul becoming aware of them. Of social life, no trace. Reading his Journal one senses that for this man, ineluctably, but quite beyond pride or disdain, social life, societal custom, every tedious discreet convention of human affliction—love, friendship, renown and what have you—was a mere tittle, or the tithe of a tittle, unavoidable, like friction, a condition of his adherence to the surface of the earth.3 To wonder whether Jean du Chas, however insensibly and indifferently, possessed a social life as you have an inner life would be much the same as saying that he had no such thing, since insensibility and indifference hardly square with the sacrosanct tradition of the cave, fear, ignorance and fellowship shrivelled up by thunder.4 Excluding and excluded, he frustrated the social contract without castigating it.5 It would have been pointless to expect of him a general estimate, a comprehensive critique of local and actual proclivities. "The fauna exist in too many forms"—that is all he would have been able to say.6 Always the same fauna, [End Page 883] the mystery, accepted as such, dispassionately, at Marseille7 as elsewhere, except that there it was too stressful, too infinitely protracted, it depressed him, and compelled him to feck off out of it all. And it was always in this way that he would speak of it, in what effectively were verifications of the fact, regretfully, but without either anger or enthusiasm, and without undue vexation as to who or what it was, as a man might say, just before asking for his coat, "I have eaten too many oysters."8
He was one of those people who can never explain themselves. Any suggestion of an apologia, any diminishment of his substance in university hiccups9—reductio ad obscenum,10 he called them—made him wince and collapse in hysterics. This was not how he wished to be understood. This was not how he understood understanding. Several entries in his notebooks leave no room for doubt in this connection. I have chosen from them the one that is the most illuminating, and the most guaranteed to engage you by virtue of its topicality:
He writes: "I have just read a letter of Proust's, I forget to whom, whether a female or (more likely, I must say) a male, but anyway doubtless one of his Albertines-Jupiens,11 in which he explains why he cannot, simply cannot, blow his nose on Sunday morning before 6 o'clock. The microcosm of his thesis, collapsing with all the hauteur proper to a pagoda turned arsy-versy by teleological tergiversations, issues forth in a triumphant bolide which atomizes your feelings."12 Here is the conclusion of this very letter:—"so much so that I see myself doomed as a consequence of this baleful confinement in circumstances which, let me assure you, can be traced back to some Merovingian coryza,13 much like Françoise14 who this very moment is huddled and invisible behind the sonorous coffer of my door, stooped over the fatal and exquisite abyss of a titanic sneeze,15 to breathe the torrents of mucous lava which rise from the depths of my volcanic Sabbath morning snot and beleaguer the trembling valves of my nostrils."
I have never been able to find this letter. Perhaps du Chas concocted it out of whole cloth. It is sufficiently "in the manner of . . . " to be apocryphal. But that is in no way significant. What concerns...