From Book 3: Lise Deharme

This is the night of Balthus’s suicide attempt. Previous scene here.

“Desnos really wants to get Artaud into radio,” Deharme said gently to me as the car pulled forward, guided by our faceless driver. “Artaud has a great voice for it; his portrayal of Fantômas was unforgettable! I’ve appreciated working with him. It’s a pity he is not more widely recognized.”

All too aware of Lise sitting on the other side of me, I told him, “Artaud needs support. He pushes through projects largely on his own. He seems to have boundless energy but even he can only accomplish so much by himself.”

“Speak to him about radio, if you would,” Deharme pleaded. “If you have any influence on him.”

I smiled, and unexpectedly Lise did as well. “Who has influence on Artaud?”

“Speak to him while he sleeps,” Deharme said mischievously. “Desnos told me about that Loire experience. I wish I had been there.”

“Well, then you know it backfired, quite: Desnos said or did something to try to make Artaud susceptible but it affected the rest of us too, and then we nearly ended up killing each other. So Artaud’s quite resistant. Or the rest of us were more willing to be led, and perhaps we all embellished the experience.”

“Oh, I don’t believe that!” Deharme exclaimed. “The unknown mind—I call it the astonishing force of the unconscious—is an undisputed scientific truth, and I consider radio the voice of the unconscious. I’ve told him that. Desnos has told him that.”

“Your view of the unconscious sounds more like Breton’s. Artaud doesn’t like disembodied voices. He was always turning off the radio at the Loire.” I smiled, remembering this. “He is not into dreams like Desnos. He is very conscious, but non-narrative.”

Lise was nodding. “Yes, Geoff is right. Artaud is quite deliberate in all he does. Except falling in love.”

“What do you mean by that?” I wanted take Lise down a notch. Honestly, I could not see what such a nice guy like Paul Deharme saw in her. She was clever, charming, and beautiful but hard—she could be a bitch. She was probably crazy in bed though, however long a man could stand that without any softness.

My reaction backfired, however. Lise smiled in a nasty way and taunted, “What do you think I mean by that?” That’s what she does, I thought—let out these little enigmatic statements to seem mysterious, and volunteer almost nothing about herself. Artaud did it too but he did it playfully, giving out paradoxes born on his tongue—like the time he told Roger Vitrac, “I don’t always know what I am doing, but I know what I’m doing with what I don’t know I’m doing”—and not conniving little spells by a witch. Lise was lethal.

Her husband was not stepping in, so I searched for a nasty answer in turn. I leered at her around the towel. “I think you mean Artaud is not a social climber.”

She closed her mouth and her face closed against me. Gratified, I turned away from her and found something to say to Deharme to resume our chit-chat. From now on I was going to talk over her and ignore her. I was not going to share anything with this profoundly dishonest little snit with some driver listening in. Lise had a mind like an iron maiden, so I was going to act like Artaud did sometimes and feign chauvinism. Actually, Artaud was a mixture of both chauvinism and chivalry with more than a little women’s emancipation thrown in. As I saw it his machismo only came out when he felt cornered or dismissed, for example in his later letters to Génica that she had shared with Justine. When I read them as she asked me to, Justine was horrified when I said Génica deserved a little scare from Artaud for complaining about his opium use while dismissing Artaud’s malady that had caused the addiction in the first place. I only meant it was unfair for Génica to complain about one and not the other, but Justine and I almost got into a fight. I did admit that when he wanted, Antonin Artaud could truly summon the menace. I certainly did not admit to Justine how the wrath in his letters kindled a real envy in me—he was so angry out of love for her. I definitely feared Lise was a gossip so I talked radiophonic art with her husband and shut her out.

To my surprise we ended up at the home of Valentine Hugo. I felt uncomfortable to be in the presence of Breton’s love-albatross especially after her melodramatic stunt, swallowing a bottle of sleeping pills with a bottle of perfume and then calling Paul Éluard to come to her rescue. The fact that she received us like the most gracious duchess made it even more embarrassing for me. None of us mentioned Balthus to her. She gave me a cold compress for my eye. We drank tea in her sumptuous suite and talked the kind of light talk that irritated Artaud to no end and it began to irritate me, too. Valentine was a great friend of Gaston Gallimard, the publisher, and of Jean Cocteau, and she was a natural hostess.

“Do you write poetry, Geoffrey?” Valentine asked me kindly. She had probably forgotten her behavior at the “duel” between Breton and me. The woman was attractive, with curling hair and the most symmetrical face I had ever seen, gently curved eyebrows over deep and steady eyes, and a long nose over a rosebud mouth. I realized suddenly she had been one of the people at that table of the medium in the Dôme all those years ago, whom Artaud had mocked. I asked if she was interested in the occult. “Oh yes,” she told me, “my late husband Jean and I used to meet at the Dôme with a gifted medium, and later he and I held séances here, but that was years ago. Now I hold Surrealist exhibitions.”

“Artaud has mentioned Weidmann’s poetry,” Lise nosed in. “There is one he mentioned to me in a letter some years ago. So Geoffrey does write.”

“I don’t remember any poem of mine,” I said honestly.

“Something about a migraine, light darkness, et cetera.”

I fixed angry eyes on her again. “I remember him telling me about your poetry and how disappointed he was that Paulhan pulled his review of it without him knowing.” I succeeded in shutting her down again.

At any rate her husband Paul was more interesting, though I did not share his enthusiasm for Freud. Paul Deharme envisioned radio waves moving through space as a communication between the conscious and the unconscious for the masses. He was disappointed in popular radio, the yammering narrators who told viewers what to think and the mass-produced melodramas that reduced this invention to trite dialogue. In my opinion Deharme argued his point too far, claiming his audience became “the unconscious interlocutor of the speaker.”

I asked him, “But don’t people simply listen to the radio distractedly, while doing other tasks—as background noise?”

“Unfortunately that’s true,” he replied. “The audience can always say, ‘So what?’ The audience can always wander off. That is why I emphasize intensely imagined dialogue in a controlled environment.”

Lise was chatting with Valentine and ignoring me in turn. Yet I felt Lise’s eyes on me with her lazy, pseudo-disinterested gaze. She seemed quite unaffected by my snubbing her, or else it was all an act. My swelling had gone down by now and I was chafing at the bit to leave. I had heard many stories of the Deharmes’ expensive home after their years of struggle, how Lise decorated it in layers so that it was neither a domicile nor a showpiece but almost a three-dimensional Surrealist exhibit, through which one walked like a fun-house and was confronted with entrancing images, but that was in the country. I shook off Deharme’s offer to have a late dinner here. It was considerably after midnight. “You don’t look as bad as I thought,” he said in surprise when I stood to go. “Perhaps that bounder only grazed you.”

I said, “I told you, no? I do not bruise easily.” Unexpectedly both women smiled at me. I shook Deharme’s hand with sincere liking.

Suddenly Lise spoke again, ostensibly to her husband but I sensed her words were for me. “I’ll tell you what Artaud is very good at: instruction. I wish I had been in on his Theatre Alfred Jarry at the beginning, before things got tense and it fell apart.”

Deharme shrugged. “You would inject more money into his boondoggle? That company had some great ideas but it did not hold even twenty performances in three years.”

“It didn’t, but I would have encouraged Artaud to make it a school as well, since that’s what it turned into anyway. That’s always what it turns into with him. I would have encouraged him to take on pupils and I think he would have done it. He likes to teach, and he’s very particular in the results he wants, and he gets those results. Alexandra Pecker said he truly inspired his actors and I believe it.” She smiled at me again so I decided to reward her with a friendly face, but I did not trust her. Youki at her most artificial did not have the subterranean ambition I sensed in this woman.

“There was a delirious piece from Artaud that I wanted to perform on the radio, but he cannot seem to find it among his papers again,” Deharme mused. “It was part of that trilogy—Vitrac contributed a piece, then there was a piece by Aron, and then Artaud’s vignette and only that one got good reviews. Something about a burned belly. It left one with a really odd feeling. I wish he could retrieve it. Desnos loved it, too.”

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