From Book 2: What Does Rrose Selavy Look Like?

            After the ruckus had spilled into the street, I went backstage to say something to Artaud—I didn’t know what, something encouraging, comforting. But he was already talking to André Breton, and I heard the other side of the Youki story.

Artaud listened sympathetically as Breton, who knew that Artaud and Desnos were still good friends, warned Artaud to use whatever influence he had to stop Desnos’s frolic in another Surrealist’s rose garden. Not Foujita’s garden, of course; Foujita was not a Surrealist, and the marriage of Foujita and Youki did not concern André Breton. (As I saw it, it also did not much concern Foujita and Youki.) Breton was not worried about Desnos possibly having a broken heart, either. Rather, it was Desnos who was the transgressor, for he was luring Youki away from Marcel Noll, that angry lover of hers from outside her house that January night. According to Breton, Noll embezzled funds from the newly-opened Galerie Surrealiste, where Noll was manager, in order to romance Youki and keep her as his mistress in the same opulence that she enjoyed with Foujita. There was no mention of any suicide attempt by Noll, and I wondered if Louis was exaggerating. Artaud’s reply indicated that he could not care less about the gallery, or this “betrayal” of a fellow Surrealist; he was revolted only by Desnos’s ongoing roguishness.

Genica Athanasiou came backstage to look for Artaud and stood just behind the proscenium arch, waiting for Breton to leave and wiping at her eyes. They were puffy and red, and she was very pale. She remained there for several minutes as Artaud went on talking to Breton without even noticing her. Roger stole up behind me and gave a low whistle. “Do you want to hear what Genica just told me?” he said in my ear. “Artaud refused to tell her who the playwright was during rehearsals. She did not learn that it was Claudel until Breton shouted it from the audience tonight. Her name is going to be splattered all over the newspapers tomorrow in connection to a copyright breach and this scandal, and Artaud didn’t even consider the effect that this could have on her career. Because of him, she has been made an unwilling party to insulting an ambassador.”

            I groaned. “Let’s get out of here!”

            Louis and Desnos—Rob had shown up for the performance, after all—were waiting for us at the door, and together the four of us went out into the foggy night. Roger hummed a tune to himself without much involvement as we walked, and I was in a foul mood, sickened by the ugly scene in there, sad for Genica, and revolted by Artaud’s roguishness. Louis was quiet too, nodding automatically in answer to Desnos’s jubilant chatter about his trip to Cuba. “And you would have loved the music too, Geoffrey! It’s so alive, so vital—a lot of it reminded me of polka music, lots of woodwinds. And then, of course, the food—” I didn’t hear the rest of his words. The air was cold and cloying, so we ducked into the Metro and rode it to our familiar Left Bank.

            As we hung onto the straps, Desnos kept up his jubilant chatter. Now that Marcel Duchamp had moved back to Paris for a while, he and Desnos were collaborating on yet another work inspired by Rrose Selavy. Finally, a thought struck me. “What does Rrose Selavy look like?” I asked, interrupting Desnos.

            Louis and Roger grinned at each other. Desnos whipped the cigarette from his mouth and with a nimble flick of his deceptively heavy fingers, launched it at me. I sidestepped to avoid the tiny missile and it landed on the floor, glowing feebly. “What do you think she looks like?” he demanded.

            He sounded miffed, so I figured that she had to be in the image of the most gorgeous, glamorous, and mysterious stage actress he could imagine. Yes, knowing Desnos, that’s what she was—an actress in the cinema of his imagination, someone as beautiful as Yvonne George, too special to share. Perhaps he actually envisioned her as that singer. “Don’t you carry her photo in your wallet?” I teased.


            “Because it’s Rrose Selavy who’s your true love, Rob. Not Yvonne George, and not Youki Foujita or anyone else.”

            “What the hell are you talking about?” he sneered. “I’m not in love with Youki. She’s in love with me.” He straightened up defiantly, and Roger scoffed.

“You don’t love women as much as the challenge of women,” I informed him. “You’re in love with chance, spontaneity, surprise, and that’s what Rrose Selavy represents to you. She’s impenetrable, elusive, kind, cruel, unpredictable, and most importantly, she’s your own creation. She’s you. There’ll never be any one woman for you.”

            I could see from the look on his face that I’d gotten to him. He flushed slightly and looked insulted. “As a matter of fact, I do carry a picture of Rrose Selavy with me,” Desnos bragged as he reached into his breast pocket. He extracted a small photograph.

            I held my hands out eagerly for it, but when I saw that face, that imbecile who simpered coquettishly in the frame, its doe-eyed expression and masculine features topped by a mop-like wig, I thrust the picture back at him. “Yeccchh! Good God, Rob, that’s Marcel Duchamp in drag!”

            Roger and Louis were doubled over with guffaws. Desnos laughed uproariously and snatched the photograph back. “Well, you asked for it! Rrose Selavy is a surprise. She never looks the way you expect her to. She doesn’t even have to look like a she.”

            “So have you kissed her yet?” I retorted.

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