Desnos was contemplating my blank page, his fingers drumming alongside his jaw. “You’re resisting… In automatic writing you need to speak from your unconscious.”
“I know a quicker way to reach my unconscious,” I rasped, and reached for one of the cognac glasses in the middle of the table. I filled it from the bottle beside Desnos and swallowed the whiskey in one gulp, and Roger, Louis, and Justine stopped their debate about Fatty Arbuckle to stare at me. Artaud looked up from his writing.
“Hey, go easy!” Desnos warned.
I filled my glass again and waved away his offer of some water to mix it with. “Please don’t play nursemaid, Desnos. I am a monk no longer.” He gave up and, with a wry grin, raised his own glass to me. I drained the glass again and regarded it thoughtfully. “In fact, I think I’m an atheist! I no longer believe in God. Is it possible to become an atheist in only three days?”
“Well,” Louis replied, “I doubt it took Jesus Christ even that long to become one when he was on the cross.”
“I don’t think that’s funny,” Justine reproved him as Roger and Desnos burst into laughter. Artaud grimaced, his eyes back on his writing. I filled my glass again and swallowed, feeling suddenly nauseated. I saw my religion as Artaud saw it: a Creator sitting like an overfed English gentleman in a Heaven cluttered with fawning souls like so much bric-a-brac. St. Peter an enormous cat purring drowsily on His lap and stroked by His fat, beringed fingers. The host of angels a group of lumbering half-wits who collected spittle in the corners of their mouths as they sang the simplistic, spineless platitudes upon which I had built, and destroyed, two—no three, lives. Heaven nothing but a rest home for all the faithful who had deliberately enfeebled themselves, refraining from enjoying their bodies until they were emaciated, and telling lies upon lies until God was anyone who happened to be in sight and love, whatever response they could still muster. “Faith is disbelief, willed disbelief,” I slurred. “Willed falseness until collapse.”
“That’s the point, isn’t it?” Louis replied. “One must have faith because one knows it’s not true.” Justine snorted her disapproval, and he shrugged. Artaud looked up from his papers again.
Lucifer a handsome young insurgent with long chestnut hair, who smiled at God through the chintz curtains, waiting just outside the window as His eyes blinked and that Almighty Head drooped until it fell onto His flabby chest flaked with crumbs. Lucifer. I locked eyes with Artaud suddenly; the look in them made me start.
“In the beginning was the Flesh,” Artaud spoke up suddenly, nodding to me, “and the Flesh struggled to Speak. But the flesh found words for objects outside of itself instead of for its own states of mind. So when the flesh finally looked inward, all it had were objects, and metaphors, and symbols with which to name its impressions. And out of this self-materialism the flesh invented the ‘soul,’ an elusive term for that inner life that we now cannot grasp with language, and yet cannot even imagine without it.” And as abruptly as he had spoken, he stopped. Louis looked stunned, but Artaud turned back to his nearly-blank sheet of paper and continued to gnash inwardly, shutting out Louis’s question.
He lifted his eyes in annoyance when Roger repeated it. “Just what is wrong with images and metaphors and symbols?” Roger didn’t ask the question quite as nicely as Louis had.
“Are you alive, or are you just a collection of abstractions?” Artaud asked in turn. “Why must we substitute outer objects for inner experience, and approximations for real things? I want to name my experiences. Consciousness is life. Analogies aren’t worthy of it.”
Roger yawned. “I wonder what your fear of symbolism symbolizes, Artaud.”
“And what does symbolism symbolize? An inability to see the inherent life in anything, an inability to respond to the thing-in-itself, that’s what!” Artaud complained. “The death of the singular mind, that’s what!”
Desnos was watching me, his smile growing larger as I continued to stare at the single word I had written on my paper. “What does it say?” he asked, and Justine craned her neck to look over my shoulder.
“Mnemosyne,” she announced.
There was general suspense as I picked up my pen again. When I crossed out the word, everyone burst out laughing. “Don’t—I want it!” Justine exclaimed as I started to crumple the paper. I handed it to her. “It’s a valentine,” she declared, smoothing it out again, and Roger slunk down in his chair, visibly annoyed.
“Maybe you’re the perfect writer,” Artaud said quietly to me, “because your struggle to write results in the destruction of words.”
“What’s the point of struggling to write if you don’t say anything?” Roger started in again.
“What’s the point of stacking up masterpieces simply to say anything?” Artaud retorted.
Desnos knocked back his drink and took a weary drag on his cigarette. “You’re pretty talkative tonight, Artaud,” Roger observed, while Justine made a big production out of carefully folding my “poem,” rattling the paper so that he glanced at it. He ignored the reproachful look she gave him. “Usually it takes more effort to get you to open your mouth.”
“Yes, that is true,” the other man admitted, as if it pained him. “I only open my mouth when I’ve something worthwhile to say.”
As Roger pressed his lips together Artaud’s eyes flashed in triumph, then lowered to his paper again. Surreptitiously I raised my glass to Artaud. Desnos lit Justine’s cigarette for her and, obviously infatuated, sat looking at her with his strange eyes as she smoked. Louis turned to a clean page in his sketchbook and began to scratch in it in broad strokes. Artaud’s pen likewise whispered on his paper for a few minutes, then broke off, while Louis’s staccato swipes kept up a steady rhythm.