Jean-Marie Damais
from "A Spasm of Vacuity"

translated from the French by Fabienne Pizot-Haymore

Marie-Anne

Un jour, ulcéré par son manque de prévenance et de considération, ayant encore dans la bouche plusieurs semaines après ce coup un arrière-goût de latrines, tu lui as posé une question précise consécutive à un incident futile, une grotesque histoire de répondeur, de panne partielle et d’appel différé, la totale de l’incommunication endémique, qui avait dégénéré en dispute mesquine assez éloignée des subtilités du marivaudage, dont l’érudit le plus vétilleux ne relèverait pas le moindre indice sur la carte du Tendre : « Vous (tu vouvoies Marie-Anne, si réelle et si familière, alors que tu tutoies l’inaccessible Milena, si peu incarnée, inconséquence digne d’un esprit assez tordu) avez trouvé naturel de n’avoir pas un seul mot ni un seul geste pour me retenir, alors que j’étais en plein désarroi, ce vendredi sinistre, au lendemain d’un anniversaire désormais inscrit dans ma chair au rouge d’une plaie pérenne, comme l’autre il y a environ un an, quand vous m’avez infligé, en toute légèreté de cœur et d’esprit, le premier camouflet de notre histoire. Je soulève aujourd’hui une hypothèse des plus fantaisistes, vous en conviendrez : si un jour, parce que je trouverais trop pénible votre désinvolture s’ajoutant à l’absence permanente de tendresse, je proposais de ne pas poursuivre plus avant, feriez-vous un geste, quelque chose, je ne sais quoi de ludique et de poétique pour me retenir ? Je vous demande de répondre par oui ou par non, comme à l’université, première année, où l’évaluation des connaissances s’éprouve au crible de la complexité zéro, parce que toute autre formule, en particulier votre fameux « je ne sais pas », qui m’a maintes fois cloué de doutes et d’inquiétudes, quand je cherchais naïvement, pathétiquement devrais-je écrire, à savoir si vous m’aimiez un peu, beaucoup ….., veut dire invariablement non ».

Marie-Anne répondit non et ne te revit pas. C’est clair, le bouleversement dans sa vie est de l’ordre du iota.




Marie-Anne

One day, her lack of thoughtfulness and consideration rankling with you, as you still had a foul aftertaste in your mouth several weeks after this blow, you asked her a precise question consequently to a trivial incident, grotesque nonsense dealing with an answering machine, a partial failure, a delayed call, you name it: the height of the endemic incommunicability which had degenerated into a petty argument rather far from the subtleties of sophisticated banter and gallantries and of which the most finical erudite would not be able to discover the faintest clue on the carte de Tendre: “Well, (you formally address Marie-Anne who is so real and so familiar, whereas you are on first-name terms for the inaccessible Milena who is so illusory, an inconsequence that is worthy of a rather warped mind), you found it natural not to utter a single word nor make the least attempt to keep me from leaving when I was in complete disarray that gloomy Friday, in the aftermath of an anniversary henceforth deeply engraved in red on my heart with a perennial wound, like the other one approximately a year ago, when you inflicted on me the first scolding in our story, in all thoughtlessness and carelessness. At the present moment I am making the following assumption, you will agree that it is going a little far: if some day because I found your casualness too painful when added with your permanent lack of tenderness for me, I suggested not to pursue our relationship, would you react in a way or another with something amusing and poetic to keep me? I am requesting from you that you answer with yes or no, like in the freshman year, when the evaluation of competences is assessed with a zero level of complexity, because any other phrase and in particular your famous “I do not know” which on numerous occasions left me stricken with doubt and worries, as I was trying to know naively or pathetically I should write, whether you loved me, loved me not, … …, invariably means no.”

Marie-Anne chose no as an answer and never saw you again. It is clear; the disruption in her life is barely worth one iota.


• • •

Jean-Marie Damais is an agrégé of French literature –i.e. tenured in the French University system. He is now retired from a carrier spent teaching high-school French and Latin in the French southern city of Toulon where he still lives. Jean-Marie Damais wrote four books which had a very small readership. First published in 1989, his first novel entitled Gentil-Tranquille constitutes a preamble of sorts of two autofictional novels, Mosaïque convulsive (1993) and Un spasme de vacuité (2002). Bérénice ou les proverbes flamands (2007), Damais’ last published book is in fact his first real novel, even if the character of Bérénice is, in large part, autofictional as well. Mosaïque convulsive, Un spasme de vacuité, and Bérénice ou les proverbes flamands denote Damais' interest for the masters of European painting. In his extensive quoting of paintings by Jerome Bosch, Carpaccio, and Brueghel the Elder, Damais' spiritual quest takes shape throughout his works: it is a call for beauty, purity, and generosity. His fiercest critic and friend, Alan Nordmehr, describes Jean-Marie Damais as a spirit rare and authentic, lost in modernity whose components he analyzes with constant and sticking irony.


Fabienne Pizot-Haymore specialized in English and American studies in the University of Montpellier, France. She has been living in the United States of America since 1998.
Fabienne Pizot-Haymore has been teaching as a lecturer in French in several American universities, in addition to being a student in translation and becoming a free-lance translator. Her areas of interest are semiotics and cognitive linguistics as well as the theory of metaphor. She also composes lyrics, and performs as a jazz singer. She occasionally writes scripts and works in storyboarding for historical documentaries. Un spasme de vacuité (A Spasm of Vacuity, © Fabienne Pizot-Haymore, 2007) is her first work in literary translation.


No comments: