Pewien mężczyzna w średnim wieku przyjeżdza do obcego miasta. Z powodu nieporozumienia (czy też braku silnej woli) kupuje za małe buty. Buty ocierają jego stopy. Na jednej ze stóp tworzy się rana. Mężczyzna gorączkuje, majaczy. I odkrywa, że to nie jest ot, taka zwykła rana. To jego dawna ukochana, Suzanne, która wróciła pod tą właśnie postacią. Topor z tej książki jest kiPewien mężczyzna w średnim wieku przyjeżdza do obcego miasta. Z powodu nieporozumienia (czy też braku silnej woli) kupuje za małe buty. Buty ocierają jego stopy. Na jednej ze stóp tworzy się rana. Mężczyzna gorączkuje, majaczy. I odkrywa, że to nie jest ot, taka zwykła rana. To jego dawna ukochana, Suzanne, która wróciła pod tą właśnie postacią. Topor z tej książki jest kimś zupełnie nam obcym. Trochę przypomina autora "Chimerycznego lokatora". Ale tylko trochę. Jest dojrzały (o ile nie stary), niekochany i smutny. Nie szydzi, nie drwi. Obnaża się. Budzi nasz żal...more
Five months of intermittent work later, I've finished reading this delirious never-translated-to-English 82 pages from Roland Topor, leaning heavily on a dictionary, probably learning several hundreds of new words, let alone all those I've forgotten already, finally able to make it through 15 well-comprehended pages in the last two days, which for me is some kind of a record. All this because I was absolutely needed to read more Topor. He's one of the best, Dalkey or another imprint with a surreFive months of intermittent work later, I've finished reading this delirious never-translated-to-English 82 pages from Roland Topor, leaning heavily on a dictionary, probably learning several hundreds of new words, let alone all those I've forgotten already, finally able to make it through 15 well-comprehended pages in the last two days, which for me is some kind of a record. All this because I was absolutely needed to read more Topor. He's one of the best, Dalkey or another imprint with a surrealist/absurdist interest really needs to get more of these into translation. At last count he has 8 more novels including this one, plus numerous story collections, books of drawings, plays, strange collaborations.
Topor protagonists are always running into difficulties navigating the treacherous borders of body and identity, but none perhaps in such a comprehensive as our narrator here. Alone in an unfamiliar city whose name is pronounced "Carcass", our artist-antihero finds himself constantly at war with his own overweight body and sharp swings of apparent manic-depressive nature. Paragraphs of strange action through the unreal streets alternate with passages of self-critical or misanthropic observation and philosophizing, sometimes of a rather unreliable nature (I should really have started with something more concrete, as far as translation goes -- maybe some Redonnet next). As usual, the protagonists problems manifest as a kind of absurdist horror story, as early alienation gives way to revulsion of the self and body (an ankle wound of very peculiar aspect here, I should say no more) and finally to a kind of terrible and very physically manifested haunting. Here, the title comes in, a pun: idiomatically "Full-length portrait of Suzanne" and literally something like "portrait at the foot of Suzanne" or "portrait in foot of Suzanne". Trust me, it makes complete sense halfway in.
This is so good and quintessentially Topor (as well as manageably short), that I had originally considered translating it. But that ignores what a complicated and subtle task translation really is: being able to stagger into decent understanding while tightly gripping a pocket Larousse's is one thing, but being able to appropriately convey voice and connotation (or even to figure them out in another language) is entirely another, one that must take years of reaidng. Plus, I'm out of a job, now, and really won't have time. But here, for curious posterity, is the complete text as far as I got along with it:
For twenty-three days without respite I travel the labyrinthine black lanes of the foreign city. From time to time, I stop to draw within an out-of-date agenda book whose cover is falling to bits. I am unsure of whether I am a painter, architect, or clerk, but I must be poor since I attach great importance to my work. The reasons for which I had to flee Paris are ambiguous; in all cases I carefully avoid thinking on the circumstances of my departure.
The city is called Caracas, but there is no question of its being the capital of Venezuela. The residents pronounce "Carcass" with a gloomy and disquieting intonation. My parents were born in this miserable central-European country, whose language I do not know. In fact, there is an absolute incommunicability between its speakers and myself.
The houses possess lavish baroque facades, but I am sorry to report their state of dilapidation. Ornamentation and sculptural detail disappear beneath a layer of filth. The sky, a winter sky, gives hardly any light either. I lower my eyes to peer into the gloom, knowing already that my sketches will be incorrect. Form and meaning steal away, the angles change. The stones that I work at decoding cloud like dirty water. My hand gropes blindly over the glaucous scenery.
The darkness becomes so dense, now, that the page of my agenda dissolves into the night. A thought crosses my mind: "The drawing is just as confusing as the model."
This evidence overcomes my stubbornness. It is better to give up. I resign myself to returning to the hotel. In passing along the river, I feel very tired, all at once. Happily, there is a bench nearby. I let myself fall there with the dreadful sensation that I am a burden from which someone has just freed himself.
The river is wide, but no reflection plays in the hollows of the waves. An unlit bridge crosses, a little further on, to the left. When I commit myself to it, in a few minutes, my heart will pound.
I live on the other side, near the last stop of the tramways. From my seventh-floor window, I observe their noisy progress. The lines arrive nearly empty, and it is a small party if someone falls. Last night, I was lucky. I had opportunity to see five such travelers.
A pebble hits me hard on the neck. Half stunned I feel someone touching me, someone trying to take my billfold. By chance, I grab a hand. My robber is only a dirty kid, a sling around the wrist. I succeed in grabbing it, and we wrestle in silence with a wild energy. The combat finishes as suddenly as it began. Swung by his sling, the hoodlum rebounds off the parapet. I hear the diminishing echo of his galoshes as he scampers the length of the quay. Reality sets in with the pain. The pebble which wounded me has nothing in common with my shifting facades. It is not fuzzy. Its characteristics are simple but precise. Its weight crushes, its edges tear, its angles pierce. It knows how to make blood spurt.
My God, I am too fat. No one loves me. I am still young, yet. But it has always been so. In school, they called me Bouboule (*Ba-Ball, essentially) and a little later Big-Belly or Bacon-Fat, or Tripe. God, how I suffered. I alone knew the wealth of purity that was concealed beneath my rolls of fat. Everyone else considered with disgust this body which they believed to be the physical representation of my moral state. Thus do zoo visitors often imagine that the animals are types of guilty humanity, condemned to be exposed in all their degradation. The monkey is a lewd man and the tiger a deceitful man, the serpent a base man and the lion a malicious man. I am a pig. Gluttonous and dirty. The spirit incapable of raising itself from the ground. Divine gravity dictates to me this law: my body resides at ground level, there must wallow my soul. I have often made the heroic decision to cease eating. Completely. Thus the alternatives would be simple: to grow thin or to die. My worthless lode of fat would melt, the cursed stuff! I would spring up, fleetingly translucent, just as I am. Unfortunately, I am not provided with sufficient willpower. Hunger easily triumphs over my best resolutions. At the first pang, I crack. And if, somehow, I persist in resisting, all the more spectacular is my failure. I binge at the delicatessen, on bread and on cream cakes. I swell to bursting. To destroy the vile body of which I am the victim. Too bad if my innocent soul is carried along in the fall! I will regret nothing.
The gravel rasps. A sound of furtive steps. Is it the kid returning to his post? No, a silhouette emerges from the shadow. A pale young women, clothed in black, comes towards me. Who is she? It appears that she begs. She takes my hand, holds me by the sleeve. What does she want? In fact, I am suspicious. Certainly she wants money. But scarcely the price of a meal. I will not dine, then, tonight. I am willing enough to make this sacrifice. It is necessary to follow her.
I accompany her as far as her room, in a building bordering the quay. There are two chairs, a table, a small gas stove on a kitchen cupboard by the sink, but no bed. A naked bulb hangs at the end of an interminable wire. It gives a disagreeably flooding light. I take off my coat, onto the back of a chair. I am embarrassed, disappointed that the women does not conform to custom.
She lights the stove, pours oil into the pan. Now, she beats two eggs in an earthenware bowl. I see only her back, agitated by jerks. I approach gently, but she pulls back immediately. Her gaze flees from mine. I am seized by an intense suspician: that she, too, will be inaccessible. Does she find me more repugnant under electric light? Yes, I must undoubtedly have become more seductive in the shadow of my bench. Out of spite, out of rancor, I believe, I take off my shoes. The soles are worn through. The leather is shredded like cardboard. It is necessary that I buy another pair. The girl smiles. She offers me a seat, sets the table. I have before me an omelette and a glass of wine.
I eat while she watches me with benevolence, standing. When I'm done, she writes a sum on a piece of paper. What is the point of this sum? She wants to know if I have the money? I leave a bill. She shakes her head. Why does she refuse my bill? I rise and try to embrace her. She struggles, maddened. -- Calm yourself, I will do you no harm. I pick up my bill, slip on my coat. She throws herself on me, searching my pockets. She chooses one piece, two pieces of small change. This meager taking completely satisfies her. Without transition, she overwhelms me with gratitude. Of course, she is mocking me. I long to slap her, but do not dare. She is capable of rousing the whole quarter, of pretending that I am sex-mad, a criminal... I prefer to flee while it is still possible. She calls me back in the stairwell to throw me my shoes.
I have committed a gross error in taking the women in black for a prostitute. The explanation is apparent to me by the middle of the bridge: my hostess rounds out the end of the month by operating a restaurant out of her rooms. An honest cook, that's all. The menu offered is hardly richer than she is. One plate a day, and yet, perhaps one plate a week, or a month... What valor for lowly pennies! I despised her unfairly, the heart swollen at her wounding indifference. The humor of the situation becomes apparent to me at last. It is not necessary to confuse belly with under-belly! I must stop walking to catch my breath, I'm laughing so. What a superb misunderstanding! This fat body that I was prepared to hold against her flesh, she had judged at a glance, an expert. I was missing not love but nourishment.
My good humor transforms into exaltation. Like so many other heroes, here I became an authentic adventurer. For none could pretend otherwise: I have just lived a real adventure.
A French illustrator, painter, writer and filmmaker, known for the surreal nature of his work. He was of Polish Jewish origin and spent the early years of his life in Savoy where his family hid him from the Nazi peril.