New Prose

Asymptote Journal, 2024

Translation by Tobias Ryan of Nouvelle prose (from Se survivre, Editions Verdier) in Asymptote Journal.


“A couple more treatments and it would be over.

They repeated it to me at every session. Difficult to know what it could mean. Daily life had gradually been dragged down into a uniform exhaustion.

Chemotherapy washes out so much, dulling even the colour of your eyes; everything left languid by how it sucks away at you, you become a distended, pale form, mouth straining toward the gloom. Just as it painlessly plucks out your hair – the absence of pain making it almost more terrifying as you feel yourself dissolving alive – it ends by tearing you from everything, everything falling apart within it.

Half-dreaming, I would turn my face and eyes, transparent, having turned completely clear, toward what seemed to exist at the end of my fatigue. Sometimes it would take me over entirely. I could no longer move, not even my lips or eyelids, nor could I think, allowing myself to be drawn into that state where the body lightens in being weighed down, as though at the far pole of the self one might still find life, a hint of life onto which to cling or around which to gather.

I would travel toward the ends of exhaustion, there where birds of fire live resembling certain nights of love in which you give yourself over to lovers who play at being men, launching themselves like matadors, pirates or pimps, covering your eyes when they can no longer bare your gaze, harpooning your flesh, marrying your mouth, your eyes, your ears, every orifice, strangling you with their tentacles, a little like the woman abused by octopi in Hokusai’s print, profaning you while you expect nothing in return other than to be at their mercy. Jouissance, then, without pleasure, the jouissance of pure abandon, which owes less to love than to shock and consent. Tentacled lovers to whom you are grateful for offering you the fleeting illusion that you are both man and woman, and therefore neither one nor the other, but whole in the ambiguity. And grateful that you have survived it too, without being blinded. A rare eclipse on the road to the impossible.

The cold octopus I was then grappling with, which wasn’t just the combination of cancer and chemotherapy but the weakness they engender and which digests the body, gave me the impression, in such moments, of being a beast that meant me neither harm nor good, one groping at me as though I were some bizarre object in the world’s great domain, embracing me, holding me back to examine, whether I was a corpse-like or ecstatic, content or horrified, and offering me, snatched up in death’s vulva, sensations never before imagined…”