1 - Fore-word
Pierre André. Dinner with André.
Pierre. An Alain Delon brought to his extreme, a brush of Anthony Perkins, much of Jimmy Dean (but this is more to the liking of critics who need to label any filmic phenomenon they cannot otherwise explain), much more dramatic, more intellectual (Dean was a rebel, not an intellectual), varnished with Living Theater, drugs, leftist ideology, and above all, intellectual, intensely intellectual, the true intellectual, dare I say, if one really needs a label for this modern figure, a man who doesn't lower himself to masturbating his mind, because he is in practice what "intellectuals" preach in theory, pretending to be what they're not. Because intellectuals, those who always talk, those whose words we read ridiculed in artsy-fartsy journals, reviews and literary circles, those, in fact, who strive to be what they cannot be, deluding themselves, and who, in order to better play their "role," impose upon themselves certain choices, attitudes from which they derive only disarticulations of thought and ideals, lost as they are in a labyrinth of speculations and argumentations that confuse and detract from the original idea, impregnated as they inevitably are with bourgeois values, harnessed by their own words, as Liliana Cavani rightfully points out, "in a revolution words are already the beginning of compromise, of defeat" (my translation).
Then she goes on to say: "[Pierre] is the new man and the old man at the same time, in whom words and action are the same thing... We have forgotten that words and gestures are tightly interwoven in the non-alienated man. [Today] we are destroyed by words. The greatest prophets wrote nothing." A prophet, then, the new man who melts in with the old, the old and the new find in this man their sublimation and the overcoming of a whole tradition of musty moralities, of hypocritical values and of disavowed wills, a whole chain of errors which, piled up in the course of the most recent history of humanity, have led us to the present situation of chaos and uneasiness, where life has become incompatible with the nature of man. Hence a return to the remotest past becomes necessary, crucial for the new man who lives in the future, suffering in the present tense from this alienation he has inherited without blame. What characterizes this "new man"? How can we recognize him? Liliana Cavani answers this question: "a pure being, still virgin, a being so detached that he can understand." Understand what?
Pierre is this modern tragic figure of the non-alienated man who lives his own isolation in the first person, in all its extraneity from external reality, to which he doesn't belong any more, to which he never belonged. Pierre is the one who lives on a razor's edge by fate, not by existential choice, the one who suffers from society's failures, who suffers from the double exploitation by both the establishment, which has no use for him and rejects him, and the old left. He is the isolated individual who loses himself within the structures of the establishment, who is used by the left simply as another ideological infrastructure. And it's precisely from the left that a violent moralistic campaign comes. All in all, conservatives are content with undermining the character and the struggle of this individual, presenting him as an outcast, a clochard, a drug-addict, unredeemably forever lost. On the other hand, the old left presents him as a hero, fallen victim of the conservative establishment (note: not just any establishment); instrumentalization is made possible by the innocence of young men like Pierre Clementi and Lou Castel who, in their thirst for the absolute, let themselves be manhandled by radical intellectuals for the sake of explicating and expressing their political beliefs; considering from which side of the trench it comes from, this instrumentalization appears to be even more repulsive. Whereas empowered left-wing intellectuals, feeling guilty for their bourgeoisité, frustrated for they are neither fish nor meat, with all their co-signing documents and petitions, and open letters to stop this or that discrimination or desegregation, or any political repression, feistily attack that very establishment in which they end up irremediably trapped and to which they eventually surrender.
With such a character, so well profiled by the testimonials (souvenirs, remembrancer) of his contemporaries, who so well summarizes in himself, concentrates and reformulates the characteristics of Marc and Marcel, generating an entirely new character, strong, powerful of his silence, with such a character I have fallen in love, maybe more with the symbol than with he what really he is. With him I've fallen in love not in the same way as for Jacques or Paul or even Marcel (for whom my love is of the highest kind, whom I have cherished and admired and venerated in a transphysical sort of way), but in a new way, just as deep as in Marcel's case, only more symbolically. It was love at first sight, but unconscious. It took me years and years to realize this love inside which silently inspired other loves, leaving in my mouth that taste of deja vu without any recollection of the prime motor. What struck me about him was not his words, nor his looks (undeniably excellent!), nor anything as usual as that. What has deeply conquered my heart about Pierre is his role, his figure, the coherent stand in his societal and political outlook. To this man, wherever he is or whatever he's doing, I send my appeal for understanding and excitement, for I need a strong figure to lean against, a spokesman to talk to, a leader to follow, and a friend who has done everything I've always wanted to do. I have fallen in love with him because I always fall in love with men who treat me like their own little sister. I'm still looking for my older brother.
My memory of Pierre is, I'm afraid, restricted to one instance alone, far back in the past, when I was only 13, when he had already suffered from the deleterious effects of the negativistic campaign I have described earlier. As an actor the only movie I've ever seen was the Conformist, where he played the role of the chauffeur. Even then extremely thin, pale, intense, and already a reputation for alleged drug-addiction: he had already been in jail for drug possession. Now, nobody knows where he is, what he's doing; nobody knows even if he's still alive. In the role of the chauffeur, he was a homosexual, and it was he who initiated the protagonist to sex. As in real life, even his character was used and then disposed of. And even this aspect of the heroine-addict (but is it true?) accentuates the character of the bohemian, the martyr, giving him a mystical hue, derived perhaps from the fact that his aspect emanates a genuine, almost instinctive tendency to utopia, as if he already lived in the utopia, or rather, as if utopia lived in him, without the others ever even noticing.
Future, n. That period of time in which our affairs prosper, our friends are true and our happiness is assured. (A. Bierce, The Devil's Dictionary, p. 47)
At the time I couldn't see this myself, maybe bacause I had there, right in front of me, one homosexual (my first close encounter), my next-desk mate. He, too, was dark and silent, tall and thin, always wearing a suit-jacket, the butt-joke of our classmates, who, we all know, fear homosexuals at that age. He was the more intelligent of the two, the more attractive, by my standards, less vulgar. His noble posture would link him, in my memory, to another figure from the movies (the British soldier from Ryan's Daughter, but if we start proceeding by association, who knows where we might end up...!).
Also, from that same period, I recall the "ragazzi perduti" (I could say "di vita," but this would connote a Pasolinian overmeaning which I don't intend; what I mean by "di vita" is the life of the streets: a life of "perversion," drugs and perdition, cigarettes, unshaven faces, in other words, a certain kind of outcasts, the so-called members of the "generazione bruciata," to be distinguished from the previous "lost" generation). I remember them, usually in groups, alone at times; all perfectly innocuous people, couldn't harm you if they wanted to, but well-bred girls distrusted and avoided them. If they were alone, they would walk up and down Main Street, in search, some searching for male customers to satisfy, others for old ladies in need of new/old emotions. But they didn't hurt anyone. There they were, clustered, clammed among themselves, shy, lonely hearts; they stared at you from a distance, you, the well-bred girl, you so fresh and lively, so pretty, so young, just like them, you could have given them some affection, a mite of love which would have cost you nothing, but they didn't dare ask. They’d just sit and look, content with what little your appearance could offer.
One of them, cute, dark short hair, looking dejected, your friends had told you he slept with older women for money (couldn’t have been older than eighteen); so you stared back at him from the corner of the game room, toying with his intentions. He returned your gaze with interest, he was getting ready for the approach. Then your girl-friends would recalled you to your "senses:" what are you doing standing there like that? don't stare at him, you know he's one of "those." Come on, come on. And you'd feel bad, not for what they were doing, or what they were, but because nobody wants you either, and in order to find someone who wants you, you know that in the end you'll have to sell yourself as well, just like them. And you almost went with one of them, because they wouldn't have said no, because they're kids like you, alone like you, alone and sad.
Today I would probably call them, with a flair of creativity, "hippies," "beats," or "the outcasts of the student movement." Among them there was a guy I later met and loved. Antonio didn't do drugs, but I didn't know that back then, and he looked just like one of those rebels, unshaven face, frightfully thin, always in the company of the "ragazzi di vita," whiling most of his time between the bar and the game-room, irascible and purposefully rude, prudish he would look at you through those little cunning eyes, eyes which already knew what you were going to say, waiting for you to say something stupid and then make a mockery of yourself, proving to you the moron you really are. Somewhat moralistic and misogynist, but not out of personal conviction, rather as a rebellion against the empowered moral values this society imposes from the outside. Within himself, however, rebellion gradually turned into self- destruction. But the character is strong, the vital energy at the peak of its strength, hence the struggle for survival. Antonio has dearly paid during this struggle, but he's been lucky too, relatively, of course, because he was born into a middle-class family, true, but a healthy family that loved him and worried about him (although it took him a long time to understand it and accept it). Others have not been so lucky; immersed, or better, heavily thrust into a much more exasperated situation, they could only give in to the need for self-destruction. Actually this is hardly the result of any rebellion, rather of non-adaptation. The establishment is strong, and if you don't have the strength to coexist, in some way or another, if you don't have the cowardice, the weakness of integrating yourself, compromising your position, surrendering and adapting, passively, the establishment will phagocyte you, killing your individuality. To some of us, this means death. Not a suicidal death, pursued to put an end to your troubles, not a homicidal death, pursued to rebel against an unjust establishment. No, this is a consequential death, the logical result of the most absolute, most totalizing marginalization. Death by abnegation, therefore, where physical death represents, and actually complements, the spiritual death of remissive integration within the powerful arms of the establishment.
And what's all this talk of "establishment" anyway? This kind of discourse no longer has any meaning, today. Today the young don't talk about the "establishment," and this is a good thing indeed; it would sound false in their mouths, it would ring out of tune with the flow of modern history; after all, we, the sons and daughters of the Sixites, have grown pretty tired of the theoretical, absurd, impractical discourses of the old "comrades." This idea of establishment is not only dated, but dangerously vague and imprecise: what does it refer to? establishment of what, by whom? where does it trace its origins? Anyway, this is a whole different matter, and it doesn't fit into the general, particular focus of what I'm really here to say. Pierre, I see him in this light, and I like him so much better inasmuch as he is an even more powerful personification of that fictional figure I have created, Marcel.
In a way Marcel, as hero of this story, has been a failure because he was an attempt to reconstruct the portrait of someone I deeply admired, while, at the same time, Marc was also on my mind, that same Marc to whom Pierre resembles more and more, even more than Marcel. That is how I explain this failure, a dissonance of two different voices, although similar in nature. On the one side, the voice of Marc, still quite alive inside me, but which I have given up finding, a voice that rarely speaks, a voice that loves in an unusual way, which listens and does not give unsolicited advice, the voice of a man who lives off the avant-garde, but who is also isolated from it. On the other side, the voice of Marcel, a soft, gentle, sweet voice, that loves and says so, who is as sensitive as Marc, but if anything, by reaction, he cries, makes scenes, scenes which Marc would never dream of making. However, Marcel has the moral strength necessary to synthesize his pain, this diversity he hides, by creating, producing poetry, thought, whereas Marc closes himself off from the rest of reality, losing himself in the void, because he has not yet found the strength, or the existential cowardice, to create, and in any case, it wouldn't make any difference, the world would end just the same. Then, you might as well lose yourself completely and disappear.
All this is André: sensitive, sharp, too sharp to live on this planet, in this age, silent, sweet, but not as love-starved as Marcel, whom he understands better than any of us, whom he loves in silence, and in whom he provokes theatrical scenes of jealousy, totally unexplained, totally unfoudned, and toward whom, although with good reasons, he never raised his voice, against whom he never addressed justifiable reproaches. Marcel knew how deep André’s sensibility was, how deeply he loved him, and he loved him back, because in André he had found the fertile soil for his need for loving, his need for a silent refuge, but act, act in giving and giving without asking.
Someone comes on the scene, splash, blast, leaves point trace.
2 - Word
One day, a couple of years after Marcel's accident, willingly lost in yet another one of my aimless outings, strolling around the streets in the Marais, my steps led me again in front, actually behind, the Beaubourg. Across the square I meet a face, notice a familiar figure sitting on whitish pavement, back turned to colors, legs crossed. Meager, wasted, quivering in the sun, shaking a cigarette from his fingers, André. He hardly smiles at me. Not for rudeness, nor for ignorance, just fatigue. Fatigue which I never saw in him in the old days of the troupe, because, although he never said too much, his youthful energies, his hopes, his ideals produced an erupting dynamism, which didn't know fatigue. I sat near him, token of a very intense past, the common loss of the friend whom, for similar reasons, we had both loved. I, thanks to average intelligence and mediocrity of sensibility, managed to forget, actually to sweep away those memories which, more than any moral conscience, threatened to punish me for the choices made, whereas he, for his candor, could not and did not forget. Everything is coming back now, piercing my heart, I almost feel like crying. But the weak don't cry, infected as they are by the disease of pride. The pure cry.
Sad is to see him today, after so much time, sad is to think of all that has happened ever since then, and to think I haven't even noticed it until now. Ask him what has he been doing, where has he been: absurd questions, words for petty bourgeois. Silence enshrouds us, dense silence, filled with communication; there is a kind of love even greater than the love we feel for a man or a woman, greater than what we feel for our sister or a dear friend. There is a kind of love which is made of telepathy alone, of unexpressed affection, of a tie that unravels through the ether, unseen, but very strong it holds two beings tied, although miles and miles apart, although married or united to other beings in a relationship or another, and this kind of love continues to exist after death. Maybe Marcel was our tie.
We never talked much between ourselves, not for long in any case, but intense relationship with Marcel has made him, André, a precious close friend, unique in his own way, a sparrow shaking in the snow, you hold him in your hand to restore him with warmth, you warm him up and he starts chirping again, happy. A sparrow who loves life, but it's so hard to love life when they take it away from you. In this silence of ours, in this closeness not merely physical, our hands meet and hold each other with fear and with love. The union in solitude, the strength to face a system of things that doesn't work. Our gazes meet, striving to make mine lie, to throw away something that happened and that can't be hidden any longer. No need for me to tell him what happened to me after Marcel had... he knew it already before it happened, even better than Marcel himself he understood what would have become of me. He understood it so well because he's that way too; he, too, has surrendered, has failed; like me, he has surrendered letting himself go, easy prey of illegality, usually tacit domain of the aristocracy, because they are beyond law and crime; but when we, poor little hermits, immerse ourselves in it, we get to pay for them too. Black his eyes lost stare at the void. Mine start wandering up, around the sky in this sunny spring day.
Dejeuner, n. The breakfast of an American who's been in Paris. Variously pronounced. (ibid., p. 29)
From my purse I extract cigarettes, the cigarette case I keep to remind myself, I offer him one. Softly he flows from this dreamy state that wrapped him up, slides his long bony hand to extract a cigarette, not oblivious to the silver container boasting words of pain. I lit his. I lit one for me too. Feels good this tepid warmth of the sun that invades our surfaces. Feels great to sit here in the sun doing nothing. Our silence is abruptly broken by suffocated sobbing. André is weeping, my fault I think. And yet it's so beautiful to see him weep, so defenseless, so noble. He's crying without inhibitions, he's like that. Sincere, sincere at all costs. Those who do pay attention to us judge we must be very strange indeed: a lusciously dressed démi-mondaine and a sobbing clochard. Shaking, fearful of annoying or fear of provoking myself beyond control, my hand lands on his dark head, malcoupé his hair, long over the ears. A man like him should not be made to cry, better if I did, for I know what I'm good at, at selling my body I'm good, good at hurting other people's feelings, people who love me and care for me, of course; my life made of compromises alone, it's this frenzy of living comfortably, life conceived merely as a pile of money and clothes, prestige and success, but inside it leaves me as arid and lifeless as I was, left with all the same problems only worse. Perhaps my problems ended then? Perhaps I put a stop to this anxiety that keeps me awake every night? Have I quit drinking, or snorting, trying to hide it from Jacques, who hates coming home to a wasted bitch, not even good in bed any more? Have I perhaps stopped lying, and lying to myself? Of Marcel he is the living memory; alright, I'm guilty of depriving André of his own personality, of attributing to him that of another individual no longer between us in body. Nothing has changed, quite to the contrary. I meet his eyes, open and honest. Gloomy and sad. Nothing can supplement what is forever lost, nothing can fill this gap Marcel left our only inheritance. And yet, our lives must go on; my way doesn't fit, agreed, but find a way we must.
What are we going to do now, André? He smiles, faint autumn smile in a day of springtime sun. Nothing, he says, there's nothing, nothing I can do. But even to do nothing you have to do it with dignity, you know? You need an inner, deeper strength to do nothing, you need the desire, the power to oppose your passivity against all the rest. And you have this power? Look inside, I see nothing. No, André, I don't. I have made some serious mistakes, I can't go back, I can't correct them now. Why? Everything seems easy with him, everything is simple to him; he's right, why bother? Because I can't, I cannot make it, I don't have the courage. To do what? To leave. He nods, it's his problem too. Do you want to come? Where? My place, I'll take you to my place. No, I won't come, I'm fine here in the sun. Me too, I'm fine in the sun. Don't ever leave me, André. I've never left you, Madeleine. I know, you are not happy either. What do you want to do, then? I'll worry about it later. Time passes, time goes by, eternal time never lies; I look at people passing in front, each one with a purpose in life, a trade to carry on, a house to upkeep, an affair or a family to support. Whereas we, here, crumbs, the meal-leftovers left from life, content with sitting and staring. You cannot live your whole life just staring at others. Why not? For us, there is nothing else left to do, there is no room for us in this world. Now come, come with me. Where are you taking me? You'll see. He gets up, picks up his black bag, throws it over his shoulder, takes my hand and leads the way. I follow him like an innocent little girl.
I call him pure, innocent and candid.