This is the tale of a lengthy journey. A step-by-step journey, one inspired by a misfortune that took place in the court of the Hungarian Prince Esterházy, in November 1772, in the city of Esterháza. A kind of voyage. An esoteric and maiden voyage whose steps I will attempt to recount for you. So what is it? An itinerary. An itinerary of the twenty-six stations. As we approach the starting line, all is possible, all is permitted: is this freedom or is it permissiveness? This departure fills me with enthusiasm and I am rather moved by all of the possibilities, all of the potential. Potential is what you can say when you take into account all that has been said before you by your friends who have since been excused by decease (who have taken leave of their once potent shells), but also by your friends who are still alive or by you yourself. An infinite potential, likely too great. The enormity, the infinite spreads out before us, giving its potential over to me. How easy it seems! I am amazed by the opportunity it offers up, a rare enough occurrence in my universe. Bzzzzzz, turn your gaze, use your ears, localize your eyezies on the housefly who zips, zigzagging, one last lazy cruise past and there goes his last Z.
Too large a universe? I may have spoken too soon. It’s as if some supernatural power heard me the very moment that I announced the all-free all-permitted all-possible. Soon, and from this moment, the universe seems to contract. Just a little bit. Barely. The tiniest bit . . . Oh, they’re going to rationali . . . no, they’re going to tell me it’s not that difficult, and they will be right, but I’m not claiming to be a hero. I close my eyes, inhale the scent of ylang-ylang, and find myself in a yurt near a river, at its delta, one in the shape of a Y rather than a delta, and, impassive, I head back upriver, pursued by a handful of redskins hammering away on their xylophones, as well as by a few joyful ichthyosaurs singing their song of styrene. I move away from the delta, still impassive. And there is the first station. A soul departs, and now its cry is all that can be heard. For the soul bellows, the soul cries out in despair: these are the Stations of the Cry. Hear Haydn’s cry at the court of the Prince, and his symphony. And so from the river vanishes the Y.
Next another bifurcation appears, a crossroads, an intersection in the shape of an X. A cross is a choice, a selection: an axe’s sudden slicing through the air, a choice of direction at this intersection. The cross is not to be borne, just cut out. Cut out the cross along the dotted line. With an X-Acto knife. Apprehensive, even anxious, I look: which direction am I to go? Who will explain the exact, exhausting direction I am to follow? With exhaustive attention I examine the surrounding expanse and set out on the side with open fields, leaving this last X junction behind me. Never again shall we part with kisses, just with hugs. A more restrained example of affection. Adieu to all, adieu to that which is most profound in each of us, an excess of adieux to the nexus of our choice. Adieu to the souls. Adieu to the crosses. The farewell song of our adieux. Exit the cross, our ex-crucifix.
I swing open a door and there I am waist-deep in a western. Some people are in the middle of a poker game in front of me, while some have chosen whist; the whiskies are flowing à gogo, and the washrooms are never vacant. The women, without a doubt, have remained at the wigwam. It seems like I’m in a Marco Ferreri film, that pastiche of good westerns, Don’t Touch the White Woman! And so we leave this whole universe behind. And then forevermore we leave the wagons and Georges Perec’s memories of childhood and we turn the page. It’s true, isn’t it? If I whisper wagon, what does it bring to mind? Me, I think of W.
Marching, marching. So long I have marched, as the soldier told us in a Tale from a Russian composer—his name, though pronounceable, is impossible to put to paper. Taking our leave, the universe seems simpler, not unlike a small village in our provinces, perhaps Volvic, containing the H2O that springs forth (although the heavier of these elements is used in composing neither Evian nor Vittel), perhaps Valvins, provenance of the vino and a peaceful retreat Mallarmé used to savor, or perhaps that municipal hub in Lorraine, homeland of the Vologne and the sinking place of little Grégor (never did he develop into a man). This bucolic universe and its pleasures (and even its dramas) delight me. People find me delighted, people find me delightful. Is there a better reverie? And I greet one and all in the Latin manner: Vale vale as someone enters, ave, ave, as someone leaves, thinking, the entire time that this usage of the dead idiom must at last fade into oblivion!
Marching, marching, so far did I march, as the soldier has told us, and then all of a sudden the skies go dark, for this is almost the point that an essential link is to be lost, one of those indispensable links that permit unambiguous sounds, and bereft of these links, sounds become abstruse. Henceforth, it’ll be crucial to make do cut off from the fifth, albeit the feeblest link, the least common. And so I declare adieu, adieu, don’t shed a tear; it is most important that no tears be shed. Adieu to tears. Doubtless the song is about to be heard, the song of stations that succeed each other, and their particular cries. And I must state this one last time: toodle-oo. Is that loud enough? Toodle-oo! And adieu to adieu!
Marching, endless marching, and, at this moment, farmland presents itself before me. This fetching French farmland, and its golden fields and its adorable criminis and portabellos and its ocher grass, and its dense thickets, and its golden reeds, and its earth after the heat has passed, dark earth, an earth of toasted, tanned tints, the farmland and this gentle, ailment-stricken little animal . . . Let’s make a toast! It is no longer time for tea!
And so on and on did I march, marched and marched along said roads, considering aimless meanderings, farmland roads, rambling lanes of passage, roads of happiness, roads lacking lines from A for B, considering hairpin corners along said roads. See, people ramble along like Monarchs or some similar kind of Papilionidae. Like Papilionidae, marching on (I adore seeing Papilionidae march), marching on, free from looking back, since an odor of long-gone essences loses all sense. Eh! Hence essence is senseless.
On and on, marching, more marching, nearing a cardinal land, a land of commerce, a land of reading, a land of recording in pen and ink, a land of magic, of an effable, performable magic, of a challenging performance, a land of image, a land of film, a land of idea, a land of idea formed of image. An idea molded here from an idiom, for an idiom can engender an idea, an abridged idea, a clear idea, a deep idea. An idea fired off, like a famed cock-a-doodle-doo fired off from a cockerel, like a roar from a free animal: free, free, free! In a homeroom pad / On a big bench and a maple / In a golden flake of ice / Her name I cried, like Pol Élard once marked in ink. Here, being near freedom cried from afar, I face a problem inhaling clean air: rarefied air, meager air, rare air. End of an era, no heir for R.
Each idea half-baked in flame, an idea held in check like a niqab cloaking a face. And a niqab can hide a look, a glance. A niqab made of qiana, concealing a dimpled chin, a long black mane, enfolding a bold confidence. An idea . . . a niqab can conceal a face like an idiom can hide an idea, like an idea can cloak a being.
A keen idea, gleaming, appealing, a model idea, all pomp. A fine, honed edge, a model idea, an idea I can dig, man. Chomp on an idea like a pipe. Leaping pope! Poke a pin in each papillae! Pffff . . . Leaking, leaking and POP! Hence flooded P.
Hello, hello? O, faded home globe. No, oh no, an O denied. End of a globe? A gagged globe. End of a minim of a globe? A mélange of blood and bone high and lo on a mollified globe. No, oh no. A damaged globe. A failing globe like a balloon de-filled, like a fallen beach ball. A link abandoned me again. Done in, old O, ol’ O done gone.
I imagine I’m nimble, I imagine I’m likeable. Cain liking me made me lack calm. I lack calm? I ebb and begin failing. Feeble. A line lacking an end. A cable, a fine indefinable cilia. A fine linen cilia. Ending an end.
I fade. Like, I add, all mileage did fade. All malice faded. Alike, Alice faded. Alice chilled me: imbecile, idle cad! All did file ahead. Dame Amélie half-mimed. Dame Amélie held me back. Amicable bee-made milk. Famed gem, I beamed. Alice blabbed: “Lame gem, embalm ‘em!”
I hail a beddable, giggle-filled gal. Balladable bee! Ah, able alibi, ah, fabled facile bee babble. Gal hailed a half-baked badge. He fled, a hack, jellified, addled. Badge bailed. Gelded badge, bail liable. I defaced Babel. I called L’Ile à Hélice: a gabled, gilded cache, a khalif cache. A chalice I did deblack: a glad cache, falbala bedecked, cabled lace. Ill, I beheld a hacked Achilleal heel, a fell acidic lack; licked, I beheld a lack. Lack did feeble. Did flag. Hell! Elided, failed, fell.
Ah, Kafka! I faced Kafka, jaded. Kafka, effigied. Kafka faced, khaki-faced, face effaced. Kafka effaced, k?
A cabbage-headed babe, a faded chic! Baggage I daffed. A beige babe I hid. Chaff, chaff. Beige babe, jade. I edified, I defied, I deified beige babe. Ah gee, I . . . babe. A jiff . . . jagged J gagged.
Fie! A begged deed! A chief-chided deed! A chief-decided deed! A fief-chief-decided deed! A fief-high-chief-decided deed! A faded chief ahead. A bad, acidic, effigiac fief-chief-decided deed! Faded chief, a gagged edifice-big-chief. I, faded chief, gagged chief, headached chief. I died.
Face hedged. A chafed edge, a hagged edge. Ah! Eh! Bagged H. Edged H. Hedged H. Beheaded!
Gaff! Gaff! A dead adage! A de-gagged face. Gage! A cage. Aged cage, a baggage cage. Efface a G, gaga gab effaced. Gee!
Cede a bad faded decaf, baff a feeb, efface a deaf F, a facade effaced, face a beaded abba, deface a fee, eff effaced.
Be. Ebb. Add DeeDee. Abbe. Abbe ceded, abbe deceded. DeeDee deceded. Baccae, accede, accede. Acceded, dead! A bad decade. A ceded E, deceded e.
Add a dad, add dada. Abacadaba, A.C. Dada?
A cab, ABC B.A., CB: baa, baa, baa.
A baba, A=AB-B.
"Les stations du cri." First published in Nouvelle Revue Moderne 16 (2006). © Olivier Salon. By arrangement with the author. Translation © 2013 by Chris Clarke. All rights reserved.