This article was published in Libé on February 2, 1984.
RELEASE. – How can we explain the intensity and speed of the visions in The book ?
PIERRE GUYOTAT. – I really saw what I was writing. There is an extreme acuity of vision, very fast and very precise, which means that we stay little time on a body or on a sequence, that the gesticulation is intertwined, continues, from a body which is a certain geographical point in the gesture of another body which is often poles apart. This acuity is to be there. I write where I write that these bodies are, really there. What can also cause this vertigo, these shortcuts, these very brief appearances and disappearances of limbs, masses, whole bodies or agglomerates of bodies, is that we cannot make bodies talk, they do not have no time to talk. I can only signify what they are by gestures: bodies animated by something other than transport, slavery or forced sexuality. They are animated because I have tried to give them what I imagine to have been the soul of these multitudes of bodies; the soul, that is to say their capacity for resistance, for resignation. There is a really minimal gesture that manifests an interior life.
And where does the haste, the effect of haste come from?
This is because the project was huge at the start. The project was such that I had to do it quickly, that I imperatively pace this journey to get to this point at which I did not arrive, which was that of the first man. Language imposed itself, just as it imposed itself in Prostitution, because of the scenography, the figures in presence, etc. We cannot do this accounting which is in The book in a traditional language; you have to go very quickly, extremely quickly, to try to establish a poetic language, a poetry of human accounting.
Do orthographic distortions, syncopations, apostrophes appear in the first draft or is it a subsequent formatting?
It is written directly like that. What is published is the original manuscript, the first typed draft. I did not do any editing. It’s gross. Since Prostitution and Leap Forward, I’m used to this language, I don’t have to make any effort, it transforms itself. I did not decide such or such change of vowel, it was necessary, musically and rhythmically it was necessary. I don’t do clear text before, that goes without saying. I think, I imagine, I organize in this language. It has become my natural language.
Under what conditions was a text like this written?
I work a lot outside. Around me, I have the sun, the bad weather. I even write in the cold, in the rain, under the trees or with a large umbrella. The anguish dissipates a lot outside. Writing outdoors, especially for a book of this epic dimension, is essential. The air is around you, you hear noises, screams, you see smoke. When it’s night out you have candles or a kerosene lamp on a rotten old table, you have the sky above you. That’s how we should be able to write, and even do everything, for the rest. It is very important to see your page, the page on the typewriter get wet at the end of a very long day of work, the ink being drunk by the rising mist, or even the small corrections handwritten letters washed by rain. Frost is also very important. You just need to cover up or undress when it’s summer. There’s a lot going on around someone writing in a relatively large area by the sea or in a large meadow, in a scrubland. There are beasts that come, you are often in front of the same tree, or it is the same shrub that shelters you and you change places with the sun to avoid sunstroke.
I only like to work like this. My terror is the closed room, the table. For The book, when I was outside, I didn’t even have a table. A canvas lounge chair, with a square, red board on the footrest, where I put the typewriter and the notebook. I always take a lot of notes when I write, notes that immediately stick to the writing of the text, very simple comments in telegraphic style or in English, mixed with practical things to do, or funny, or mundane, well everyday ; terms to be used in the short or medium term, constructions of neologisms for example or junction points to not lose sight of between sequences, or sequences started, to be completed, which I never did, of course. I noted the time, or things that were happening around me, people who came to see. Because very quickly someone who writes in the middle of nature, it becomes clear, even if the village is 3 or 4 kilometers away … If only the noise of the typewriter or the music.
Do you listen to music to write? Which music ?
For The book, I started the day with polyphony: Roland de Lassus, Palestrina, Victoria, all the great polyphonists. This science of vocal volume, of volute, for me it is the greatest music that is with Webern or Schumann. These great polyphonies which are rarely triumphant, rather funereal, the Improper Good Friday of Palestrina, the Prophecies of the Sibyl of Lassus, the Miserere. It is necessary to start the job. I’m not at all a contemplative, listening to music has to be profitable. Music only really touches me if I can use it. And the music puts in this state that I would call sadness, with what the word has strong, the great sadness of Schubert or Schumann, the immense sadness which is commensurate with the world and which is not sentimental. . It is necessary for inspiration. It’s a state of tenderness over the universe, and a little about yourself too: it’s not that funny to write such texts. A sadness that allows you to tame all the great forces, to have everything in mind. A kind of affection for everything that exists. We don’t write in spite of things, that’s obvious. And at the same time, it is a harmonization of all that is possible, of all that we know culturally, a kind of appeal also to art in general, to the artists who have preceded you, to great ancestors. It’s a big family of which I belong when I write and of which I am excluded when I no longer write. When I am no longer able to assume a fiction, I am no longer anything.
Are there in the text traces of this writing in the open air, of this music?
Music is an element of this open air. You write between the earth and the sky. I have always included in my writings what I saw or had just seen immediately. It can completely change the course of writing. For Samora Machel, I was writing in Corsica in a sheepfold, there were sheep around me. The Corsican night, the language, the vegetation, the sheep with their degurgitation balls have become very important elements of the prostitution slavery scene. The whores also have their stuff degurgitating balls that you can imagine in a brothel they play with. Hence also in The Book the accumulation of bestiary, fauna, flora. It was the Aix countryside or the Hérault, or the sea, several places, the mountain, the plain, the island. Which makes the original manuscript a campaign manuscript, so to speak.
Were there any readings that accompanied the writing of this text?
It’s an inner culture, which I have always had. And it is relatively large because the past is not over for me. Everything leaves traces. Genocide leaves traces, so it is not over. I used simple things, old 3rd or 4th grade textbooks on Greece, on Rome, on the Armenian genocide which is an important part of the first part of the Book. I also used a little book on Ethiopia that my friend Dominique de Roux had given me and which justified the intervention of fascist Italy in Ethiopia. It was called The last bulwark of slavery. Sometimes I only need a few technical terms for a whole sequence to be built around these words. A large number of sequences are variations around 3 or 5 or 7 technical terms. And then I traveled a lot on maps, on the atlas in regions that I do not know, Ethiopia for example (although the maternal family may be of Ethiopian origin). There are rides or sequences by boat, I made it all travel by looking at maps where the relief was precisely drawn: valleys, gorges, tributaries, forts, ports, coves, bays, by looking at geological, economic maps.
Hence one thing that is very important: when I happen to come back to places that my mind, my soul, my hand has used, shaped, it’s strange, it’s like Orpheus who turns around and for which Eurydice disappears. It becomes completely banal, even the most beautiful landscapes, the most beautiful bodies, the most beautiful monuments are tarnished, they are emptied, I have to bend down to find a certain grandeur, it causes a feeling of extreme anguish and terror .
We must revive this idea of inspiration, a second state, and this conception of the work that kills. The work can kill. When we have gone very far in the exasperation of the ego, the fear, the terror, the Faustian contradiction, it causes an extremely nervous writing which exhausts the nerves. The work consumes, it also consumes you, we no longer think of eating. In 81, that was it, I thought I had eaten. A foreign object, a food settling down and living its own life in a body which was entirely occupied by this poetry, this language, this music, this vowel breath which makes like a sound column in the body, it is a short – terrible circuit. I felt it. I almost died of it. Anyway, what is the point of making art if it is not to revolutionize it, and not to risk your own life in it?