Out of the crude cipher with which he communicates from his prehistoric desk with the archaic men of the world a new language builds up which cuts through the death language of the day like wireless through a storm.
There is no magic in this wavelength any more than there is magic in the womb.
Men are lonely and out of communication with one another because all their inventions speak only of death.
Death is the automaton which rules the world of activity.
Death is silent, because it has no mouth.
Death has never expressed anything.
Death is wonderful too – after life.
Only one like myself who has opened his mouth and spoken, only one who has said Yes, Yes, Yes, and again Yes! can open wide his arms to death and know no fear.
Death as a reward, yes! Death as a result of fulfillment, yes! Death as a crown and shield, yes! But not death from the roots, isolating men, making them bitter and fearful and lonely, giving them fruitless energy, filling them with a will which can only say No! The first word any man writes when he has found himself, his own rhythm, which is the life rhythm is Yes! Everything he writes thereafter is Yes, Yes, Yes – Yes in a thousand million ways.
No dynamo, no matter how huge – not even a dynamo of a hundred million dead souls – can combat one man saying Yes! The war was on and men were being slaughtered, one million, two million, five million, ten million, twenty million, finally a hundred million, then a billion, everybody, man, woman and child, down to the last one. “No!” they were shouting, “No! they shall not pass!” And yet everybody passed; everybody got a free pass, whether he shouted Yes or No.
In the midst of this triumphant demonstration of spiritually destructive osmosis I sat with my feet planted on the big desk trying to communicate with Zeus the Father of Atlantis and with his lost progeny, ignorant of the fact that Apollinaire was to die the day before the Armistice in a military hospital, ignorant of the fact that in his “new writing” he had penned these indelible lines, 265 “Be forbearing when you compare us With those who were the perfection of order. We who everywhere seek adventure, We are not your enemies. We would give you vast and strange domains Where flowering mystery waits for him would pluck it.” Ignorant that in this same poem he had also written: ”Have compassion on us who are always fighting on the frontiers Of the boundless future, Compassion for our errors, compassion for our sins.” I was ignorant of the fact that there were men then living who went by the outlandish names of Blaise Cendrars, Jacques Vache, Louis Aragon, Tristan Tzara, Rene Crevel, Henri de Montherlant, Andre Breton, Max Ernst, George Grosz; ignorant of the fact that on July, 14,1916, at the Saal Waag, in Zurich, the first Dada Manifesto had been proclaimed -“manifesto by monsieur antipyrine” – that in this strange document it was stated “Dada is life without slippers or parallel . . .
Severe necessity without discipline or morality and we spit on humanity.” Ignorant of the fact that the Dada Manifesto of 1918 contained these lines. “I am writing a manifesto and I want nothing, yet I say certain things, and I am against manifestoes as a matter of principle, as I am also against principles …
I write this manifesto to show that one may perform opposed actions together, in a single fresh respiration, I am against action; for continual contradiction, for affirmation also, I am neither for nor against and I do not explain for I hate good sense .. .
There is a literature which does not reach the voracious mass.
The work of creators, sprung from a real necessity on the part of the author, and for himself.
Consciousness of a supreme egotism where the stars waste away . . .
Each page must explode, either with the profoundly serious and heavy, the whirlwind, dizziness, the new, the eternal, with the overwhelming hoax, with an enthusiasm for principles or with the mode of typography.
On the one hand a staggering fleeing world, affianced to the jingle-bells of the infernal gamut, on the other hand: new beings…” 266 Thirty-two years later and I am still saying Yes! Yes, Monsieur Antipyrine! Yes,Monsieur Tristan Bustanoby Tzara! Yes, Monsieur Max Ernst Geburt! Yes! Monsieur Rene Crevel, now that you are dead by suicide, yes, the world is crazy, you were right.
Yes, Monsieur Blaise Cendrars, you were right to kill.
Was it the day of the Armistice that you brought out your little book -J’ai tue? Yes, “keep on my lads, humanity…” Yes, Jacques Vache, quite right – “Art ought to be something funny and a trifle boring.” Yes, my dear dead Vache, how right you were and how funny and how boring the touching and tender and true: “It is of the essence of symbols to be symbolic.” Say it again, from the other world! Have you a megaphone up there? Have you found all the arms and legs that were blown off during the melee? Can you put them together again? Do you remember the meeting at Nantes in 1916 with Andre Breton? Did you celebrate the birth of hysteria together? Had he told you, Breton, that there was only the marvellous and nothing but the marvellous and that the marvellous is always marvellous – and isn’t it marvellous to hear it again, even though your ears are stopped? I want to include here, before passing on, a little portrait of you by Emile Bouvier for the benefit of my Brooklyn friends who may not have recognized me then but who will now, I am sure… “. . .
He was not all crazy, and could explain his conduct when occasion required.
His actions, none the less, were as disconcerting as Jarry’s worst eccentricities.
For example, he was barely out of hospital when he hired himself out as a stevedore, and he thereafter passed his afternoons in unloading coal on the quays along the Loire.
In the evening, on the other hand he would make the rounds of the cafes and cinemas, dressed in the height of fashion and with many variations of costume.
What was more, in time of war, he would strut forth sometimes in the uniform of a lieutenant of Hussars, sometimes in that of an English officer, of an aviator or of a surgeon.
In civil life, he was quite as free and easy, thinking nothing of introducing Breton under the name of Andre Salmon, while he took unto himself, but quite without vanity, the most wonderful titles and adventures.
He never said good morning 267 nor good evening nor good-bye, and never took any notice of letters, except those from his mother, when he had to ask for money.
He did not recognize his best friends from one day to another…” Do you recognize me, lads? Just a Brooklyn boy communicating with the red-haired albinos of the Zuni region.
Making ready, with feet on the desk, to write “strong works, works forever incomprehensible”, as my dead comrades were promising.
These “strong works” – would you recognize them if you saw them? Do you know that of the millions who were killed not one death was necessary to produce “the strong work”? New beings, yes! We have need of new beings still.
We can do without the telephone, without the automobile, without the high-class bombers – but we can’t do without new beings.
If Atlantis was submerged beneath the sea, if the Sphinx and the Pyramids remain an eternal riddle, it is because there were no more new beings being born.
Stop the machine a moment! Plash back! Flash back to 1914, to the Kaiser sitting on his horse.
Keep him sitting there a moment with his withered arm clutching the bridle rein.
Look at his moustache! Look at his haughty air of pride and arrogance! Look at his cannon-fodder lined up in strictest discipline, all ready to obey the word, to get shot, to get disembowelled, to be burned in quicklime.
Hold it a moment, now, and look at the other side: the defenders of our great and glorious civilization, the men who will war to end war.
Change their clothes, change uniforms, change horses, change flags, change terrain.
My, is that the Kaiser I see on a white horse? Are those the terrible Huns? And where is Big Bertha? Oh, I see -1 thought it was pointing towards Notre Dame? Humanity, me lads, humanity always marching in the van . . .
And the strong works we were speaking of? Where are the strong works? Call up the Western Union and dispatch a messenger fleet of foot – not a cripple or an octogenarian, but a young one! Ask him to find the great work and bring it back.
We need it.
We have a brand new museum ready waiting to house it – and cellophane and the Dewey Decimal system to file it.
All we need is the name of the author.
Even if he has no name, even if it is anonymous work, 268 we won’t kick.
Even if it has a little mustard gas in it we won’t mind.
Bring it back dead or alive – there’s a $25,000 reward for the man who fetches it. And if they tell you that these things had to be, that things could not have happened otherwise, that France did her best and Germany her best and that little Liberia and little Ecuador and all the other allies also did their best, and that since the war everybody has been doing his best to patch things up or to forget, tell them that their best is not good enough, that we don’t want to hear any more this logic of “doing the best one can”, tell them we don’t want the best of a bad bargain, we don’t believe in bargains good or bad, nor in war memorials.
We don’t want to hear about the logic of events – or any kind of logic. “Je ne parle pas logique,” said Montherlant, “je parle generosite.” I don’t think you heard it very well, since it was in French.
I’ll repeat it for you, in the Queen’s own language; “I’m not talking logic, I’m talking generosity.” That’s bad English, as the Queen herself might speak it, but it’s clear.
Generosity – do you hear? You never practise it, any of you, either in peace or in war.
You don’t know the meaning of the word.
You think to supply guns and ammunition to the winning side is generosity; you think sending Red Cross nurses to the front, or the Salvation Army, is generosity.
You think a bonus twenty years too late is generosity; you think a little pension and a wheel chair is generosity; you think if you give a man his old job back it’s generosity.
You don’t know what the fucking war means, you bastards! To be generous is to say Yes before the man even opens his mouth.
To say Yes you have to first be a Surrealist or a Dadaist, because you have understood what it means to say No.
You can even say Yes and No at the same time, provided you do more than is expected of you.
Be a stevedore in the day time and a Beau Brummel in the night-time.
Wear any uniform so long as it’s not yours.
When you write your mother ask her to cough up a little dough so that you may have a clean rag to wipe your ass with.
Don’t be disturbed if you see your neighbour going after his wife with a knife: he probably has good reason to go after her, and if he kills her you may be sure he has the satisfaction of knowing 269 why he did it.
If you’re trying to improve your mind, stop it I There’s no improving the mind.
Look at your heart and gizzard – the brain is in the heart. Ah yes, if I had known then that these birds existed -Cendrars, Vache, Grosz, Ernst, Apollinaire – if I had known that then, if I had known that in their own way they were thinking exactly the same things as I was, I think I’d have blown up.
Yes, I think I’d have gone off like a bomb.
But I was ignorant.
Ignorant of the fact that almost fifty years previously a crazy Jew in South America had given birth to such startlingly marvellous phrases as “doubt’s duck with the vermouth lips” or “I have seen a fig eat an onager” – that about the same time a Frenchman, who was only a boy, was saying: “Find flowers that are chairs” . . . “my hunger is the black air’s bits” . . . “his heart, amber and spunk”.
Maybe at the same time, or thereabouts, while Jarry was saying “in eating the sound of moths”, and Apollinaire repeating after him “near a gentleman swallowing himself”, and Breton murmuring softly “night’s pedals move uninterruptedly”, perhaps “in the air beautiful and black” which the lone Jew had found under the Southern Cross another man, also lonely and exiled and of Spanish origin, was preparing to put down on paper these memorable words: “I seek, all in all, to console myself for my exile, for my exile from eternity, for that unearthing (destierro) which I am fond of referring to as my unheavening …
At present, I think that the best way of writing this novel is to tell how it should be written.
It is the novel of the novel, the creation of creation.
Or God of God, Deus de Deo.” Had I known he was going to add this, this which follows, I would surely have gone off like a bomb… “By being crazy is understood losing one’s reason.
Reason, but not the truth, for there are madmen who speak truths while others keep silent. . .” Speaking of these things, speaking of the war and the war dead, I cannot refrain from mentioning that some twenty years later I ran across this in French by a Frenchman. 0 miracles of miracles! “Il faut le dire, il y a des cadavres que je ne respecte qu’a moitie” Yes, yes, and again yes! O, let us do some rash things – for the sheer pleasure of it! Let us do something live 270 and magnificent, even if destructive! Said the mad cobbler: “All things are generated oat of the grand mystery, and proceed out of one degree into another.
Whatever goes forward in its degree, the same receives no abominate.” Everywhere in all times the same ovarian world announcing itself.
Yet also, parallel with these announcements, these prophecies, the gynecological manifestoes, parallel and contemporaneous with them new totem poles, new taboos, new war dances.
While into the air so black and beautiful the brothers of man, the poets, the diggers of the future, were spitting their magic lines, in this same time, 0 profound and perplexing riddle, other men were saying: “Won’t you please come and take a job in our ammunition factory.
We promise you the highest wages, the most sanitary and hygienic conditions.
The work is so easy that even a child could do it” And if you had a sister, a wife, a mother, an aunt, as long as she could manipulate her hands, as long as she could prove that she had no bad habits, you were invited to bring her or them along to the ammunition works.
If you were shy of soiling your hands they would explain to you very gently and intelligently just how these delicate mechanisms operated, what they did when they exploded, and why you must not waste even your garbage because…
Et ipso facto e pluribus unum.
The thing that impressed me, going the rounds in search of work, was not so much that they made me vomit every day (assuming I had been lucky enough to put something into my guts), but that they always demanded to know if you were of good habits, if you were steady, if you were sober, if you were industrious, if you had ever worked before and if not why not.
Even the garbage, which I had gotten the job of collecting for the municipality, was precious to them, the killers.
Standing knee-deep in the muck, the lowest of the low, a coolie, an outcast, still I was part of the death racket.
I tried reading the Inferno at night, but it was in English and English is no language for a catholic work. “Whatever enters in itself into its selfhood, viz.
Into its own lubet.. .” Lubet! If I had had a word like that to conjure with then, how peacefully I might have gone about my garbage collecting! How sweet, in the 271 night, when Dante is out of reach and the hands smell of muck and slime, to take unto oneself this word which in the Dutch means “lust” and in Latin ‘lubitum” or the divine beneplacitum.
Standing knee-deep in the garbage I said one day what Meister Eckhart is reported to have said long ago: “I truly have need of God, but God has need of me too.” There was a job waiting for me in the slaughterhouse, a nice little job of sorting entrails, but I couldn’t raise the fare to get to Chicago.
I remained in Brooklyn, in my own palace of entrails, and turned round and round on the plinth of the labyrinth.
I remained at home seeking the “germinal vesicle”, “the dragon castle on the floor of the sea”, “the Heavenly Harp”, “the field of the square inch”, “the house of the square foot”, “the dark pass”, “the space of former Heaven”.
I remained locked in, a prisoner of Forculus, god of the door, of Cardea, god of the hinge, and of Limentius, god of the threshold.
I spoke only with their sisters, the three goddesses called Fear, Pallor and Fever.
I saw no “Asian luxury”, as had St.
Augustine, or as he imagined he had.
Nor did I see “the two twins born, so near together, that the second held the first by the heel”.
But I saw a street called Myrtle Avenue, which runs from Borough Hall to Fresh Pond Road, and down this street no saint ever walked (else it would have crumbled), down this street no miracle ever passed, nor any poet, nor any species of human genius, nor did any flower ever grow there, nor did the sun strike it squarely, nor did the rain ever wash it.
For the genuine Inferno which I had to postpone for twenty years I give you Myrtle Avenue, one of the innumerable bridlepaths ridden by iron monsters which lead to the heart of America’s emptiness.
If you have only seen Essen or Manchester or Chicago or Levallois-Perret or Glasgow or Hoboken or Canarsie or Bayonne you have seen nothing of the magnificent emptiness of progress and enlightenment.
Dear reader, you must see Myrtle Avenue before you die, if only to realize how far into the future Dante saw.
You must believe me that on this street, neither in the houses which line it, nor the cobblestones which pave it, nor the elevated structure which cuts it atwain, neither in any creature that bears a name and lives thereon, neither in any animal, bird or insect 272 passing through it to slaughter or already slaughtered, is there hope of “lubet”, “sublimate” or “abominate”.
It is a street not of sorrow, for sorrow would be human and recognizable, but of sheer emptiness: it is emptier than the most extinct volcano, emptier than a vacuum, emptier than the word God in the mouth of an unbeliever. I said I did not know a word of French then, and it is true, but I was just on the brink of making a great discovery, a discovery which would compensate for the emptiness of Myrtle Avenue and the whole American continent.
I had almost reached the shore of that great French ocean which goes by the name of Elie Faure, an ocean which the French themselves had hardly navigated and which they had mistaken, it seems, for an inland sea.
Reading him even in such a withered language as English has become, I could see that this man who had described the glory of the human race on his cuff was Father Zeus of Atlantis, whom I had been searching for.
An ocean I called him, but he was also a world symphony.
He was the first musician the French have produced; he was exalted and controlled, an anomaly, a Gallic Beethoven, a great physician of the soul, a giant lightning-rod.
He was also a sunflower turning with the sun, always drinking in the light, always radiant and blazing with vitality.
He was neither an optimist nor a pessimist, any more than one can say that the ocean is beneficient or malevolent.
He was a believer in the human race.
He added a cubit to the race, by giving it back its dignity, its strength, its need of creation.
He saw everything as creation, as solar joy.
He didn’t record it in orderly fashion, he recorded it musically.
He was indifferent to the fact that the French have a tin ear – he was orchestrating for the whole world simultaneously.
What was my amazement then, when some years later I arrived in France, to find that there were no monuments erected to him, no streets named after him.
Worse, during eight whole years I never once beard a Frenchman mention his name.
He had to die in order to be put in the pantheon of French deities – and how sickly must they look, his deific contemporaries, in the presence of this radiant sun! If he had not been a physician, and thus permitted to earn a 273
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