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Authors: Hubert Aquin

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Between a certain July 26 and the Amazonian night of August 4, somewhere between the Montreal Prison and my point of fall, I decline silently, under house arrest and beneath the wing of Viennese psychiatry; my morale is low and I concede the obvious: that this breakdown is my way of existing. For years I’ve lived flattened with fury. I’ve accustomed my friends to an intolerable voltage, to a waste of sparks and short circuits. To spit fire, to cheat death, to be resurrected a hundred times, to run a mile in less than four minutes, to introduce a flame-thrower into the dialectic and suicidal behaviour into politics – that’s how I’ve established my style. I have struck my currency amid the image of a flabby
übermensch
. A pirate set free in a misty pond, covered by a Colt 38 and injected with intoxicating syringes, I’m a prisoner, a terrorist, an anarchist, and an undeniably washed-up revolutionary! With my gun at my hip, always ready for a lightning shot at ghosts, never pulling my punches and with a heavy heart, I’m the hero, the former addict! National leader of an unknown people! I am the fragmented symbol of Quebec’s revolution, its fractured reflection and its suicidal incarnation. Since the age of fifteen I’ve always wanted a fine suicide: under the snow-covered ice of Lac du Diable, in the
northern waters of the St. Lawrence estuary, in a room at the Windsor Hotel with a woman I loved, in the car that was crushed last winter, in the little bottle of Beta-Chlor 500 mg, in the bed of the Totem, in the ravines of the Grande-Casse and the Tower of Aï, in my cell number
CG
19, in the words I learned at school, in my throat choked with emotion, in my ungrasped jugular gushing blood! To commit suicide everywhere, with no respite – that is my mission. Within myself, explosive and depressed, an entire nation grovels historically and recounts its lost childhood in bursts of stammered words and scriptural raving, and then, under the dark shock of lucidity, suddenly begins to weep at the enormity of the disaster, at the nearly sublime scope of its failure. There comes a time, after two centuries of conquest and thirty-four years of confusional sorrow, when one no longer has the strength to go beyond the appalling vision. Shut away inside the Institute walls and outfitted with the file of a terrorist who suffers ghostly maniacal phases, I give in to the vertiginous act of writing my memoirs and I start writing up the precise and meticulous proceedings of an unending suicide. There comes a time when fatigue erodes even unassailable plans and the novel one has begun unsystematically to write is diluted in equanitrate. The wages of the broken warrior are depression. The wages of our national depression are my own failure; it’s my childhood on an ice floe, it’s also the years of hibernation in Paris and the fall I took while skiing at the Totem into four sets of arms. The wages of my ethnic neurosis are the impact of the
monocoque
and the sheets of steel launched against an unshakable ton of obstacles. From now on I’m exempt from acting coherently and released once and for all from making a success of my life. If I wanted to I could end my days in the muffled torpor of an anhistoric institute, sit indefinitely before ten windows that display unequal portions of a conquered land and await the final judgement
when, given the psychiatric evaluation and the extenuating circumstances, surely I’ll be acquitted.

And so provided with a legal file and its psychiatric appendix, I can dedicate myself to writing page after page of abolished words laid out in accordance with harmonies that are always pleasant to experience, even though if worse came to worse that could seem like work. But this carefully dosed effort is neither harmful nor contra-indicated, as long as the periods of writing are brief, of course, and followed by periods of rest. Nothing stops the politically depressed from conferring an aesthetic colouring on this verbal secretion; nothing prevents him from transferring to this improvised work the meaning that his own existence lacks, that is absent from his country’s future. Yet there’s something desperate about this investment of spare funds. It’s terrible and I can’t hide it from myself any longer: I am desperate. No one had told me that in becoming a patriot I’d be cast into adversity like this or that because I wanted freedom, I’d find myself locked up. How many seconds of dread, how many centuries of impotence must I live before I merit the final embrace of a white sheet? Nothing leads me to believe that a new and wonderful life will replace this one. Condemned to the dark, I hit the walls of a dungeon cell that finally, after thirty-four years of lies, I inhabit fully and in all humiliation. I am a prisoner of my madness, locked up inside my probationary helplessness, crouching over a piece of paper as white as a sheet with which one hangs oneself.

 

B
ETWEEN CUBA’S
July 26 and the lyric night of August 4, between Place de la Riponne and the pizzeria on Place de l’Hôtel-de-Ville in Lausanne, I met a blonde woman whose majestic stride I recognized at once. The happiness I felt just then echoes in me still as I sit at a table in this pizzeria – meeting-place for the masons of Tessin – and give in to the sadness that’s been numbing me progressively ever since I left my hotel, where all I did was spend some unproductive minutes after I’d gone to the Benjamin Constant movie theatre. In this pizzeria I ran aground.

And when the jukebox gave off the first chords of “Desafinado” for the third time, I’d had all the nostalgia I could take. To the rhythm of Afro-Brazilian guitars I got up and paid my bill. And here I am again in that earlier night, constricted once more in the vise of the rue des Escaliers-du-Marché, which I climb as if this slope could offset my inner fall. It’s a few steps from Place de la Riponne and it was while I was making my way there that I spotted K’s leonine mane. I speeded up and was soon beside her, very close to her face, which was turned away. I was afraid my sudden approach would frighten her and so, acting quickly to avert a misunderstanding, I spoke her name with an inflection I was sure she’d recognize. And it was then that the wonderful event, our
reunion, occurred, as the two of us were approaching the grand esplanade of Place de la Riponne. We’d turned left after the dark colonnade of the university and the blinding happiness of our reunion. I don’t remember what route we followed next or what dark streets we strolled, K and I, before stopping for a moment on the great bridge just above the Gazette de Lausanne facing the dark mass of the cantonal government building that hid Lac Léman and the spectre of the Alps. Twelve months of separation, of misunderstandings and censorship, were ended magically by this coincidence: a few words relearned, the light touch of our bodies, their new expectations. Twelve months of lost love and lassitude were eradicated by the bliss of this unexpected encounter and our fierce love; we were carried away again towards the upper valley of the Nile, drifting voluptuously between Montreal and Toronto, between Queen Mary Road and the Portuguese-Jewish cemetery, from our lyric rooms at the Polytechnical Institute to our fleeting encounters in Pointe-Claire, some time between a violent July 26 and a funereal August 4, twofold anniversary of a twofold revolution: one that began dangerously and the other, secret, that arose from our kisses and our sacrileges.

Our life could be summed up by some sad and voluptuous oaths exchanged one rainy evening in a car parked near the barracks on Île Sainte-Hélène. Before I met you I was writing an endless poem. Then one day I shuddered, knowing you were naked under your clothes; you talked but I only remember your mouth. You talked as you waited, while I simply waited. We were standing, your hair was tangled with an etching of Venice by Clarence Gagnon. That was how I saw Venice, over your shoulder, drowned in your brown eyes while I held you close. I don’t need to go to Venice to know that the city resembles your head thrown back against the living-room wall while I held you. Your languor led me to our forbidden embrace, your great dark eyes to your damp hands that
searched for my truth. Who are you if not the ultimate woman who sways to the rhythms of desire and my veiled caresses? The seeds of our revolutionary plans were sown in our apostatized pleasure. And now, on a midsummer night, somewhere between old Lausanne and its medieval port, on the median line that separates two days and two bodies, we rediscover our old reason for living and wishing for death a thousand times rather than face up to the cruel separation whose sudden end flooded us with joy.

We walked till late that night, till the entire Rhône valley was filled with sun, and little by little the old port of Ouchy rang out with the sound of motors and work, and the waiters set out the chairs on the terrace of the Hôtel d’Angleterre where, during a single night in the beautiful summer of 1816, Byron wrote “The Prisoner of Chillon.” We had breakfast at a table on the hotel terrace, silent beside the liquid mirror still veiled by a hazy breath. After a twelve-month separation, after twelve times measuring the impossibility of living one more month, after a night spent walking from Place de la Riponne to the ancient lake, at the first hour of dawn we went up to a room in the Hôtel d’Angleterre, perhaps the one where Byron sang of Bonnivard, who had once foundered in a cell in the Château de Chillon. K and I, drenched in the same flood of sorrow, lay down naked between cool sheets, annihilated voluptuously by one another in the timely splendour of our poem and the dawn. Again tonight I’m shattered by our blinding embrace, by the incantatory shock of our two bodies, and now, at the end of this blazing dawn, I’m alone on a blank page where I no longer breathe the warm breath of a fair-haired stranger, where I no longer feel her weight that attracts me according to a Copernican system, where I no longer see her amber skin or her tireless lips or her sylvan eyes, where I don’t hear the pure song of her pleasure. Alone now in my paginated bed, I ache as I remember that lost time now regained, spent naked in the secret profusion of the pleasures of the flesh.

The swaying rhythms of “Desafinado,” which burst unexpectedly from the Multivox, raise me up to the level of the bitter lake where I rediscovered the dawn of your body in one overwhelming embrace. They take me to your membranous shore where it would have been better to die because I’m dying now. The weather that morning was fine, it marked the exalted union of two days and our two bodies. Yes, it was absolute dawn, between a July 26 that evaporated above the lake and the immanent night of the revolution. The burden of words inside me doesn’t stop the clear stream of time past from cascading into the lake. Past time now passes again, even more quickly than it did that morning in our room at the Hôtel d’Angleterre, with its view of the vanished glacier of Galenstock which descended one day to the very spot on the hotel terrace where K and I sat at dawn. Vanished glacier, vanished love, fleeting interglacial dawn, a kiss that has fled to the far shore, far from the misty window of my bathyscaphe that dives beneath the window where Byron wept in his stanzas to Bonnivard and I in the golden tresses of the woman I love.

This evening, if I am adrift in the bed of the great soluble river, if the Hôtel d’Angleterre is breaking up in the liquid tomb of my memory, if I’ve stopped hoping for dawn at the end of the occlusive night, and if everything is collapsing to the strains of “Desafinado,” all this is because I see at the bottom of the lake the inevitable truth, a terrifying partner no longer disconcerted by my flights and my displays. In the watery depths the unnamed enemy who haunts me finds me naked and defenceless, just as I was in the embrace that forever confirmed us, K and me, as the elusive owners of the Hôtel d’Angleterre, located midway between the Château de Chillon and the Villa Diodati, between Manfred and the future liberation of Greece. Let the global enemy come, for I’m pining away as I wait for him! Let the confrontation come, and the realization of the truth that is threatening me. Or else
let them set me free, now, with no other form: me, a prisoner with no poet to sing of my exploits. Then I’ll drown once again in a warm, unmade bed, in the blazing body of the woman who has sated me with love between the night of a chance meeting and a second night, between the dark bottom of Lac Léman and its helical surface. Superfluous words surge past my window, they darken the perimeter of memory and I capsize as I tell my story. Did the meeting at the Hôtel d’Angleterre take place on June 24 or July 26; and is this faltering mass that blocks my field of vision the Montreal Prison or the Château de Chillon, romantic dungeon where the patriot Bonnivard still awaits the revolutionary war I’ve incited without poetry? Between this lakeside prison and the Villa Diodati near Geneva, in a divine hotel room at a place where Byron once stayed, I reinvented love. I discovered a sun, eclipsed by twelve months of separation, which rose that morning between our united bodies, warming the supreme centre of our bed and bursting forth, resplendent and unbearable, in the ancient lake that tumbled gloriously from our two bellies. If only the room, the sun, and our love could be returned to me, for here I have nothing and I’m afraid. What is happening inside me that makes the alpine granite tremble? The paper slips away beneath my weight, like a lake fed by a river. Insidiously, my depression demineralizes me. From a sea of ice I become greedy lava, mirror of suicide. Thirty pieces of silver and I’d kill myself! I would even drop the price lower to cut myself with a shard of glass and be done with revolutionary depression! Yes, it would mark the end of the conspirator’s shameful disease, of mental fracture, of falls perpetrated in a police cell. The end of plans for attack, perpetually renewed, and the indecent pleasure of walking in the crowd of voters as I grip the cool butt of the automatic weapon I wear like a sling! And I’ll fly! Let me walk, unknown and unpunished, through the streets that run from Place de la Riponne and wind their way streaming to the shores of Pully and Ouchy, let me
mingle with the great current of history and disappear, anonymous and universal, in the powerful river of the revolution!

All that matters to me is the period of time between the night in the upper part of town and the revolutionary dawn that struck our bodies like lightning in a room where Byron spent a night writing, between Clarens and the Villa Diodati, already en route to a revolutionary war which ended in the final epilepsy of Missolonghi. All that matters to me is this road of light and euphoria. And our embrace at dawn, a closely fought battle, long but so precise, that annihilated us both in the same fainting fit, flooding us with the pure blood of violence!

BOOK: Next Episode
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