Posts Tagged ‘Marcel Schwob’


Saturday, June 1st, 2013


I want to ask one question which sums up all the rest, a question which only I would ever ask, probably, but which has at least once found a reply worthy of it: ‘Who are you?’ And she, without a moment’s hesitation: ‘I am the soul in limbo.’

(NADJA, Breton)

Do not be surprised, she said. It is I, and it is not I;
You shall find me again, and you shall lose me;
Once more shall I come among you; for few have have seen me, and none has understood me;
And you shall forget me, and you shall recognize me, and you shall forget me.

I pity you, I pity you, my love.
Even so, I shall return to the night; for it is necessary that you lose me before you find me again. And if you find me again, I shall elude you once more.
For I am she who is alone.

And you yourself shall find me, and I shall find myself; and you shall lose me, and I shall lose myself.
For I am she who is lost as soon as she is found.


Old wives, if there are any left, will tell you that, if someone stares through a window persistently enough, that person’s image will faintly remain in the glass. Her face in my memory is just like that, I imagine. Only her expression stays with me, of which the music, and the voice if not so much the words, are a part. I want to go back!


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a total crystallizing FLASH with living force
in what til then had always pressed me into shape
as an atmosphere, and in my clay
the churning storms and currents stilled,
gave up their walls and met Her voice
sounding the tone of light coming clean thru a faceless prism,
in itself very self including in infinite expanse a total folding into core.
Within my heart my heart was being drawn out seen
and known in singing, an impossible promise
long-forced forgotten sudden & miraculously fulfilled. It ran
her fingers thru all my savage math and I was quieted.

Tho this was music it spoke from my silence
to which it was a half, the moment that we were
in the flame of a search ending in unition. Every
vulnerable doubt that arose in fear of its truth was met
synchronously with certainty til then unknown, and I wept
in disbelief then bliss both during the album and after.

: : : : :

Once I was asleep on my sick-bed, when a spirit approached me. It was a very beautiful woman. Her hair fell down to her shoulders in short black tresses. Other shamans say they have had the vision of a woman with one half of her face black, and the other half red. She said: ‘I am the ayami of your ancestors, the Shamans. I taught them shamaning. Now I am going to teach you. The old shamans have died off, and there is no one to heal people. You are to become a shaman.’

Next she said: ‘I love you, I have no husband now, you will be my husband and I shall be a wife unto you. I shall give you assistant spirits. You are to heal with their aid, and I shall teach and help you myself. Food will come to us from the people.’

I felt dismayed and tried to resist. Then she said, ‘If you will not obey me, so much the worse for you. I shall kill you.’


: : : : :

In the months that followed I saw signs in nearly every instant’s sights and sounds, guided by an hysterical, unshakable expansion. All phenomena was benevolent, and my contact therewith was the fruition of all that had ever been and intended solely for me as I moved thru the world on a path I paved in my walking. Holy madness. I’d enter a crowded room and the snatches of many parties’ conversations would form a single polyglot sentence that described the house inside it. I’d stand drunken with eyes closed on the ledge of my building’s roof at night and chant incantations as I did on the empty stage of the movie theater, stripped naked after closing and echoing before the many seats now empty.

But that was years ago.

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In the aftermath of my most recent break-up, I read GLORIOUS NEMESIS by Ladislav Klíma (Twisted Spoon Press, 2011). Although I always read voraciously, I choose my material at times like these more carefully than usual. The time previous, for example, I’d read Hélène Cixous’ first novel, ANGST, which begins like this:

The worst is upon me. This is it: The scene of Great Suffering. During this scene the impossible takes place: my death attacks me, life panics and splits in two; one life tears at the other which has it by the throat, biting. You struggle. […] You fall and the earth is no longer there.

The book’s sustained brutality was perfect, and proved auspicious for that particular heartbreak, there being a resonance between a project the art school girl I’d been seeing had done involving cartography (“Here be Lions, Here be Dragons” she’d written in her artist statement), and Cixous’ novel’s name for the monsters the Mystic encounters: “lion-dragons”.

I’d tried re-reading the book this newest instance, hoping perhaps to establish a tradition of sorts, but the book was not, this time, as useful. In hindsight, my impulse to read the Cixous book seems predicated in gaining access to the archetypal feminine imagination, which would in turn bring me somehow closer to my absent object of desire. But the flux, this time, made me sea-sick, and I decided it would be better to read books by dudes in my time of (dis)repair.

So, GLORIOUS NEMESIS. This guy Sider sees a woman at a resort he’d seen in his dreams. He follows her up a mountain called Stag’s Head, where she beckons him to jump across a gap in a cliff that would almost certainly prove fatal. He chickens out on the lovers’ leap and she curses him. In the many years following, he sees (or seems to see) her everywhere, and the book, which spans decades, is full is metaphysical rumination about whether or not this woman is dead, or a divinity, or what, and what it means to love and be loved by someone like that, who appears, as often as she doesn’t, in an antagonistic aspect.


25 Points: The Book of Monelle

Wednesday, November 7th, 2012

The Book of Monelle
by Marcel Schwob
translated by Kit Schluter
Wakefield Press, 2012
136 pages / $12.95 buy from Wakefield Press or Amazon








1. Let’s just start with the fact that this book made me cry. It’s an utterly heartbreaking book, beautiful in the torment and suffering that is manifested through its words. Though Monelle instructs, “Words are words while they are spoken. / Unspoken words are dead and beget the plague. / Listen to my spoken words, and act not according to the words I write,” these written words are the only spectral trace we have left of her.

2. I first heard about the new translation of this significant work at Harriet.

3. The synopsis of the book reads: When Marcel Schwob published The Book of Monelle in French in 1894, it immediately became the unofficial bible of the French symbolist movement, admired by such contemporaries as Stephane Mallarmé, Alfred Jarry, and André Gide. A carefully woven assemblage of legends, aphorisms, fairy tales, and nihilistic philosophy, it remains a deeply enigmatic and haunting work over a century later, a gathering of literary and personal ruins written in a style that evokes both the Brothers Grimm and Friedrich Nietzsche. The Book of Monelle was the fruit of Schwob’s intense emotional suffering over the loss of his love, a “girl of the streets” named Louise, whom he had befriended in 1891 and who succumbed to tuberculosis two years later. Transforming her into Monelle, the innocent prophet of destruction, Schwob tells the stories of her various sisters: girls succumbing to disillusion, caught between the misleading world of childlike fantasy and the bitter world of reality. This new translation reintroduces a true fin-de-siècle masterpiece into English.

4. The Book of Monelle is a book of words, like the Bible, these words may transcend its physical pages. In its biblical and prophetic tone, Monelle, perhaps herself a prophet, speaks of the beginning: “And Monelle said again: I shall speak to you of young prostitutes, and you shall know the beginning.”

5. If Monelle is a prophet, she is utterly of the present, of the moment, and of silence, because in life and suffering everything becomes a mirror to one’s suffering, and because in death there is only silence, but there is also the hope of forgetting.

6. Monelle instructs: “Do not remember, and do not predict.”

7. The translator gives two possible ways to interpret the name Monelle. First, the French translation that roughly translates into “My-her,” which implicates a strange hope for possession. Indeed, the narrator (whom we take to be Marcel’s tortured self) says, “And as I looked over the plain, I saw the sisters of Monelle rising.” Because every “her” is Monelle. And Monelle is every her. And yet, Monelle is of the past and infinitely elusive.

8. Monelle, its prefix derived from monos, then also implies a numeric singularity. Monelle is now and always alone. Schluter, in a footnote to his afterword, describes, “The infinite solitude that draws the narrator toward her is the very force that must ultimately repel him. In the end, no matter how we attempt to grasp her character, her name should be the first clue that Monelle will fade into abstraction in the fashion of a mirage or a dream recalled upon waking.”

9. Monelle speaks: “…for it is necessary that you lose me before you find me again. And if you find me again, I shall elude you once more. / For I am she who is alone.”

10. And then: “Because I am alone, you shall give me the name Monelle. But you shall imagine that I have every other name.” (Louise, Louvette, Lilly, Bargette…) (more…)