From Book 3: Edgard Varèse

            He did bring friends over and I welcomed this, but Artaud did this hesitantly when he almost never vacillated on anything else. He also sometimes approached me with trepidation as if I would suddenly refuse his presence. Louis told me privately that Artaud still did this even with his oldest friends, including him. I finally met Edgard Varèse but unfortunately it was after a particularly difficult day at the bank, when the heretofore invisible president paid a sudden visit and strode about proclaiming his love for all of his lowly employees and shaking each of our hands, slapping each of our backs, and boomingly inquiring about each of our children. Yes, I finally heard from an employer, as Justine had so many times, that I should get married and start procreating! That strutting boob then enlisted various colleagues to name daughters and cousins and “friends” for me to court. I decided to pretend to be interested, and I took down the names and did not argue, but by the time I came home my head was throbbing from the stress of being forced to listen to that gorilla. Once home I threw myself face-down like Artaud often did, and I dropped my handful of notes to the floor. Artaud sifted mechanically through them. “Daisy, Lily, and Violet, and no addresses,” I mumbled from the bed, just to put that smirk on his face, “so no chance of a sneak peek, only telephone numbers—like horses beneath blankets, and there’s a saying about buying one.”

            Both Artaud and Varèse were worried their talk would disturb me but I assured them a stress headache would soon pass and their voices were pacifying, and indeed it was a comfort to hear them murmuring over their papers. Varèse was leaving soon for the United States where Ecuatorial would have its New York premiere. He was burly with heavy brows over large eyes and black wavy hair and a cleft chin, simultaneously steady and intense. His was a calm and pleasant presence and again I sensed a father-like figure in Artaud’s life, one who could well relate to Artaud’s frustration, for his compositions were received with much disbelief and derision. Like the audience at Artaud’s lecture at the Sorbonne, audiences mocked Varèse’s performances, and even rioted. To my surprise, Varèse had a background in engineering and mathematics but this was partly at the insistence of his father who disapproved of his musical interests. Varèse, however, treasured his education for it was through his enthusiasm for the physics of sound and for Leonardo da Vinci that led him to return to music.

            After an hour I was able to get up and throw together some dinner. “I remember your father,” Varèse told me kindly. “That would have been just before the War. And I remember your brother, but I do not remember meeting you.”

            I smiled, laying sliced meat next to pieces of bread and ovals of tomatoes. “I had probably run away from home again.” Both men grinned at me. “And then like an idiot I ran away to join the army, lied about my age, and got some sense drilled into me at last. Did I ever tell you I deserted?” I said to Artaud. Lifting his eyebrows, he shook his head. The three of us sat down to eat. “Well, I did. That scene in The Wooden Crosses when you had the panic attack, that is close to what I went through! I took off, and then I was taken prisoner by the British after playing chess in a foxhole with a wounded French soldier. Had I held my position I would have been buried alive in that trench with the rest of my company.”

            “You were right to run, Weidmann,” said Varèse. “I did not have your sense. I developed double pneumonia and was discharged. But I found it so demoralizing to languish here in the midst of a meaningless war that I moved to the United States for a time.”

            “I suppose I also deserted, technically,” Artaud mused, looking into space.

            Varèse smiled again, but I turned to Artaud in surprise. “But you said—didn’t you sleepwalk? Isn’t that why you were discharged—sleepwalking?”

            He focused on me. “I never told you! Sleepwalking can be induced. I self-induced it.”

            “How?” I asked.

            Artaud shook his head. “Do you really want me to tell you? I know you have certain fears of things in your mind so if I do tell you, you’re going to become afraid you’ll do it. I’m afraid I’ll do it again!” When he said this I knew he was right—I avoided some information that disturbed me out of fear it would open a doorway into a space where I did not want to go. Sometimes in my dreams, where I walked with a sense of adventure in a large, maze-like house, I was no longer delighted at the materializing of a new door but shunned it in alarm, although it was identical to all of the other doors. “But I will tell you induced sleepwalking takes some effort. One does not merely talk oneself into it. I achieved it in gradual steps. It is like learning to dance. But once induced, it becomes a danger; I could not always control it afterward and Desnos refused to understand that. He also didn’t understand that it sometimes had the opposite effect, causing the sleep paralysis I have at times. Also, I blame it for my inability to sleep through the night to this day.”

            “Oh, so now I see why you were always so dead-set against the trances at the Research Bureau,” Varèse put in.

            Artaud shook his head. “That’s not the real reason. I am after thought manifested, not entertainment in dreams. I thought Surrealism was after the full integration of the unconscious and conscious, but they’re mere tourists of the irrational.”

“But you’re correct to see a danger in the unconscious. I was friendly with the Dadaists in New York—it’s how I met my second wife—but they were flippant and for me creation is no laughing matter. Life as a joke becomes cynicism. Sneering hides fear.”

            My respect for Artaud grew, if that was possible, during these months for he gathered around him colleagues of like mind such as Balthus and Varèse and Anita Reynolds who were near-penniless like him, and renewed his acquaintance with Jean Dubuffet who had taken up painting again. Without regard for a person’s skin color, nationality, sex, or social status he pursued intellectual attachments and collaborated with many of his friends, and eschewed convenience friendships with successful dullards and people of “breeding” that would have furthered his career. Required associations like the one with Robert Denoël were almost counterproductive anyway since Denoël, as I saw it, had few ideals. Denoël’s partner Bernard Steele was also ostensibly a colleague of Artaud’s but Steele was so ambitious and dismissive, a smarty-pants, that I immediately disliked him and I also sensed he mocked Artaud behind his back. I assured Artaud the derision he aroused in some people was fear: though he was often an imposing figure Artaud wore his heart on his sleeve and it made others avoid their own secret fears by attacking that heart.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: