Alain Badiou; Pierre Guyotat, Prince of Prose


I say that Pierre Guyotat is the prince of prose. What does ‘prince’ mean? It signals first of all Guyotat’s nobility, the extraordinary nobility of his prose: a nobility without precedent since the speeches and sermons of Bossuet; and one that is all the more striking in that it organizes, or ennobles, materials drawn from the base layers of our existence, from the atoms of exposed flesh. Sex and cruelty, visible and solar, hook up with being qua excremental being: the word putains, ‘whores’, designates in prose the subsoil of the sublime order established by the retreat of the gods. This is the order according to which, covered by vomit and come, I contemplate the void of which I am the sexuated atom.
Completely given over to his own injunction, and to his alone, this writer also stands unwaveringly under his own law as unbeliever. ‘Prince of prose’ thus means, in the second place, that Guyotat’s prose is a prose of principles, a prose of the principles of prose. Here I would name four of these principles:

1. Never say anything except what is, insofar as what is never is what just was, nor what soon will be. Neither is memory useful nor the possible acceptable. Prose of total instantaneous oblivion and of the impossible.

2. Confer its full radiance on what ordinarily is only half-said or suspiciously left in the shadows. Reject all such precautions, which belong to the law of thuggery or to the servility of fear. Prose of the sonorous equality of its saying, without reticence or crazed rumours. Consequently, proceed to the declaration of all things as equal to the universe. This is a text that absolute egalitarianism forbids us from ever interrupting.

3. Reserve prose for the essential relations of the universe. The point is to inscribe the rhythm of what is, and never that – feeble and psychological – of the representation of what is. Direct and ecstatic inscription of constitutive collisions. Eradicate all psychology. Push to the extreme, within prose, Pascal’s axiom: ‘The self is odious.’ Prefer the smallest drop of sperm, the tiniest tortured body, to the sophisticated arrogance of the self. Prose is the calm and at the same time violent declaration of what happens, or the illuminating description of what shows itself. It is never application, reflection or judgment. Yes, this is crucial: the ethics of prose exempts it from all judgment.

4. Like the universe, prose must pass from one thing to another without having to justify this passage. Or rather: in the retroaction of this passage, an evidence is created, which is that things are such and not otherwise. Prose transitions from act to image without the image being that of the act. And yet this image is eternally fixed, in the present, onto the act that it delinks. Principle of prose: schooled by the world, to create some eternal link by the effect in the present of a delinking.

And so, we have four principles: a principle of the pure present; a principle of the egalitarian radiance; a principle of non-judgment; a principle of the delinking of necessity.
Let us quote a passage in which all four are at work. Listen to the principles, because that too is the cadence of Guyotat’s prose: a prose that makes us hear and see, in its own materiality as well as the spectral materiality of the world, the inflexible firmness of principles:

I sit on the heaped-up corpses, blood wets my buttocks, a throat quivers under my cock, two breasts under my thighs and I tilt my head backwards, and my eyes become lost in the starlit sky; the breathing, under me, weakens, my hard-on points towards the stars, my chest moves up again towards my throat, the jackals’ paws claw the flagstones. At the bottom of the valley, the jeeps’ and half-track vehicles’ headlights dazzle the kingfishers mating on the reeds and on the pink shingles, the monkeys mating inside the ruins of the thermal power station, or playing on the motionless driving belts and gear wheels. At the noise of engines, breaths, moanings have started coming out of the pile of mingled bodies but, under me, the breathing has ceased and I lean back hands joined under the nape and I spread my thighs and I let my cock fall back on my belly and lift my belt. Headlights pierce the smoke, I spring up, I strike the comrades dozing in the vines, throat strangled by the grapes, and we run till morning towards the sea, to purify the harshness of our bodies and of our minds.(1)

You can clearly hear the pure present, and already the list of verbs alone is like the construction of this present that nothing precedes and which prepares nothing either. Watch the effect, which is immediately singular, of a small section of the verbal rainbow that is this passage: ‘wet, quiver, breathe, having a hard-on, claw, dazzle, lean back, spread, pierce, spring up, strike, run, purify.’ Look how, from this single sequence, we recognize the prose of Guyotat, because we recognize therein its principle, the prince’s principle. And similarly the nouns stand implacably under the law of equality: whether in ordinary language they are trivial, obscene, magnificent, imaginative, drab or technical, the work of prose covers them with an egalitarian coat that arranges them like the atoms of the earth, or like the stars in the sky, so that their list is once again in principle recognizable as belonging to Guyotat: ‘corpses, blood, buttocks, throat, cock, sky, chest, throat, jackals, flagstones, valley, jeeps, kingfishers, monkeys, thermal power station, moanings, breathing, thighs, belt, vines, grapes, morning, sea, minds’. As you can tell, this is already written in an absolute sense, already being the markings of the second principle, the egalitarian principle. But the movement of prose itself, its general tracing, obeys the third principle, that of non-judgment. Because the movement is always that of a raising, or a lifting up, of being, which carries with it all the useless hierarchies that judgment presupposes. In truth, there is no place for judgment because what is organizes the spiritual necessity of the pure present. The verbs, as we saw, are organized from ‘wet’ and ‘pointing a hard-on’ all the way to ‘purify’. And the nouns are organized from ‘corpses, blood and cock’ all the way to ‘minds’. Everything thus forms a trajectory that is traversed, linked, and sublated. Judgment is only the stupid delay with regard to the being of the present. And finally, the fourth principle: what is more paradoxically necessary, in the after-effect of prose, than the passage from a pile of corpses to some kingfishers on pink reeds? Or the passage that takes us from a pairing of monkeys in a thermal power station to the morning rush of men to the sea? Who fails to see and hear, in these passages, the very law of the universe, which at each instant engenders necessity with the materials of contingency and delinking?


However, ours is not just any universe. Guyotat has seen, no doubt before everyone else, at least with such opinionated force, that our universe is a prostituted universe. It is scientific, and by no means fantasmatic, to call putains the basic atoms of the world such as it presents itself today, and such as Guyotat has known that it was in the process of becoming almost half a century ago, unless something like communism happened to it. But communism did not happen to it, for the time being, so that the universe is in the process of becoming an integral regime of prostitution. Guyotat is also the prince of prose because in his prose he states the regime of prostitution as cosmology.

What does regime of prostitution mean? It means the reduction of every vital norm to the immediate mercantile potentialities of bodies; and, more generally, the transformation of the destitute, the weak, all those who compose the immutable bottom layer of the planet’s popular human masses, into exchangeable bodies offered up to brute desire, cruelty, destruction, and consumption. Here is one example among thousands of the manner of this unlimited exposure of the general regime of prostitution in the prose of Guyotat. You will once again hear, in this prose, the tenacity of the prince’s principles. But you will also hear a gripping truth about what constitutes the new planetary atrocity, which is the price to be paid by the people of gigantic flea-ridden cities for the deleterious enjoyment of a very small number:

At the end of the room, on a battered paillasse, a young whore, legs joined under a large piece of linen bloody in places, moans: a sailor deflowered her too violently, she has been delirious and bleeding in the rags for three days; the shadows of the eucalypti shaken by the breeze pass on her cadaverous belly, blacken the hole of the navel, and the flows of blood; rats run along the pavement, whores scream; the men stopped in the middle of the street and embraced by the whores from below, pick up stones and throw them at the rats; children, out from the alleys, rush forward with sticks, club the rats still alive, pick them up by the tail and disappear again in the alleys screaming, fighting over the dead rats. Now and then a red sand wind rises beyond the city, comes out of some savage valley, covers the river then the corn fields; the whores, worked on, feel the sand coming, the clients give a start, their muscles snap slowly under the gleaming skin; their veins swell all along the whores’ body; the red sand spatters the wall facing the open window, clings with its teeth and its claws to the saltpeter, to the ivy. Far beyond the sea knives rise, in the white streets, pierce the hanging linen, men hand rifles to the children, put up in front of them some dummies to shoot at; the children, lying on their belly in the sand of the wash-houses, machine-gun those puppets, shoulders shaken by the shots.(2)

Such is the material substance, the atomic form, in the sense of Lucretius, of the regime of generalized prostitution. A key point therein is the requisitioning of children in the violent clash of exposed bodies, as well as in the armies of mercenaries that roam the territories – countless children, victims of rape or armed recruits, of which every day we are being told, or shown, the massive existence. Children to whom the prince of prose, haunted by this word, ‘child’, has also devoted himself from very early on.

Here we must evoke the question of paedophilia. Today we witness the forced incorporation of childhood in the spectacle of pornography, which is increasingly ubiquitous. We must hold that this incorporation is the correlate of the repressive obsession with paedophilia. It is because our planetary cosmology is the regime of prostitution that there is an obsessive repression of paedophilia, a relentless tracking down in the name of children’s innocence. The general regime of prostitution, which is the exposure of any body, like anything else, to the shopping windows of the commodity, violently juxtaposes the pornographic ubiquity with the mythological innocence of the child, which people want to present to us, a century after Freud, as an asexual angel. If we think of the cruel and irrational nexus of the sale of pornographic images and the legal prosecution of paedophilia in the courts, of universal exposure and obsessive imprisonment, of the commercialization of false desire and the juridicalization of false innocence, who can fail to see that Pierre Guyotat is the great prose-writer of these phenomena, their great denouncer under the princely law of prose?

That is because Guyotat has included all these arrangements in a grandiose cosmology. Carrying our world on his shoulders as a writer, sublimating the obscenity of generalized exposure by way of inflexible principles, Guyotat has invented the cosmology of the general regime of prostitution. For him, we will never fully come to understand a world whose basic constituent is subsumed under the word putain, les putains, with both masculine and feminine inflections being equally contained in this term. Neither masturbatory fantasy, which is the instrument of useful writing, nor marxisant anthropology, which also amounts to useful good will, can fully grasp this. What is needed is a theory of the world, of the universe: an atomistic theory of bodies. Between these bodies there exists a force of attraction, or rather two forms of a single force: sex and cruelty. That is what, without any morbidity, in a cold and intense objectivity, conjoins the bodies. Or, rather, as with Lucretius, that is what organizes their collision: the collision of bodies exposed as a collision of whores, these atoms of humanity in the universe of generalized prostitution.

Consider a short example of the similarity between the attraction of bodies reduced to sex and cruelty, on one hand, and the collision of atoms, on the other; or else the cloud of flies, or the settling of dust, or the call of the birds:

he turns to the woman, seizes her by the shoulder, drags her towards his bed, knocks her down under him, tears her dress, bites her mouth, gives a broad hand signal; the other women come to lie by his side and begin stroking him again, and caress his hips, his back, his chest, his cock. Illiten bears heavily on the woman, rolls, writhes on her, groaning; the taut cock gets tangled in the torn dress; the woman’s head rolls in the dust, flies gleam in the rays of light, run between the man’s fingers, on the sweat running from the woman’s breasts, settle under the eyebrows black with makeup and sweat. The two bodies glow in the dust, Illiten slides over the woman, his fingers claw the earth, raised dust falls back on the man’s shoulders. The soldier now and then looks back, his heart beats inside his chest, he leans against the wall, flattens his belly, the battledress gets crumpled and white with the saltpeter; a cock at the bottom end of the village, crows. (3)

You can hear, I think, what such a text contains in terms of pure and abstract thought, but through a sensible or sensuous materiality chosen for its heaviness and its suffocating insistence. It is with this gluey, sticky, mixed-up materiality that the point is to create the pure fiction of the universal attraction of bodies, which is our truth. To this very day Guyotat insists on this point, that the world created by his prose is a real world precisely insofar as it is not realistic, or referential. It is a double, a spectral world, which is the truth of the given or visible world. We can conclude as much from the fact that the cosmology of generalized prostitution presupposes that, in order for it to be transmitted to us, the ordinary world must be transformed into a non-world, or chaos. This is the function of the colonial war, for example, in Tomb for 500,000 Soldiers. It is the collapse of the world, bloody chaos, and rage. And then, against the indifferent backdrop of nature’s splendour, we can see, I mean really see, the atomistics of bodies and their law of prostitution, the agitated and senseless attraction of the human atoms, of the whores, by sex and cruelty.


Thus, we can say that the principles of Guyotat’s prose enact the statement about the death of the gods. If there are no more gods, then there is no more world. The cosmology of generalized prostitution must be thought of outside the world, and thus according to a solitude in which only the basic attractions rule. In this sense, Guyotat’s courage consists in uttering the death of God in the present. Let us quote:

God, who has been at the point of death for three centuries, dies. His priests, in vain, strip the ritual service of his worship, whiten the walls of his temples. God had hidden the secret heart of man, man now sees his bestial heart, his eyes are unsealed, the smell of the beast chokes him, God dies at the moment of man’s greatest solitude. (4)

In the humanist controversy – the controversy between Sartre and Foucault, for instance – Guyotat clearly takes the side of antihumanism. It is first of all to his own prose that the observation he makes in the early 1960s applies: ‘An art is born with no place for man, for safety.’ (5) This is what renders him so strange to our age of human rights, hypocritical compassion and commercial pardons. It is also what renders him so glorious. The death of God opens up the possibility, not of the promotion of man, but of the discovery by man himself of his beastly core. This beast is the inclusion of man in the silent collision of bodies under the control and influence of sex and cruelty. In the retreat of God it is not man, nor meaning, nor peace that happens, but a package of animal atoms. Man is thus asphyxiated by his own drunkenness, becoming that beggar who pleads to the dead God: ‘… in the intoxication of wine, you call your god, the dumb god, whose absence and silence earn the wrath of men’. (6)

Beyond the formal power of his sexual cosmology, beyond the condition to which we are confined by the death of the gods and the uncertainty of revolutions, beyond generalized prostitution as the nakedness of the absence of a world, Guyotat, it seems to me, proposes to us a productive hesitation between two outcomes, or between two stars.
The first outcome is that the only thing that survives is the almost solar vigour of doubt. The question of life and death is indeed radically posed by the dereliction of meaning in the sexual cosmology. If there is no world, if there is only sexual and murderous attraction of atoms, or of whores, if the heart is silent, then love is probably impossible. In that case, it is better to die. Whence the call: ‘Dispatch me; how can I live with a silent heart?’ (7) Doubt, at least, remains for its part in agreement with the indifference of nature, with the sexual collision of human atoms, with the fictive character of all belief. There might be a joy in doubt, a kind of eternal joy. This is the truly beautiful and striking formula, in which Antoine Vitez saw concentrated the genius of Guyotat: ‘I go in for disbelief, with a quivering of joy. My forehead, I want it crushed and squeezed by the bow of a litter, and my shoulders soiled by vomit. O doubt, only eternity.’ (8)

In Guyotat we thus obtain an eternity of joy without belief, an eternity of doubt in which I discover at last the foul glory of matter. But the fabulous joy of eternal disbelief demands a firmness of all instants, because, before anything else, this disbelief is the disbelief in man. Yes: true joy, the joy that makes you tremble, is the pacifying certainty, whose form is doubt, that man does not exist. We then gain access to eternity, to which the principles of prose bear witness.

But a second outcome is sketched out. This would be the appearance of another world, a new world, beyond the sexual cosmology and the eradication of any true world by the unleashing of generalized prostitution. A new couple, an incalculable alliance with the feminine, perhaps? Or a kind of paganism revisited amid the fever over a dead world. Here and there, you find this sketch, even sometimes at the disciplined heart of chaos. It unfolds in the seventh and final song of Tomb for 500,000 Soldiers. Without deciding the matter in an abstract way, this song tells us that what is being invisibly prepared is perhaps the dawn of a recommencement of the world as a whole. In the couple of Kment and Giauhare, this song indeed presents us with a renewed figure of the original couple, Adam and Eve submerged in a disjointed nature after the disaster. The woman is expecting a child. It is a humanity under a completely new emblem. No doubt this is Guyotat’s version of the obscure formula of Heidegger’s testament (‘Only a God can save us now’). Which God? No, not in the form of the gods, but in the sense that a new humanity would come from the depths of universal obscenity, with the mission of restoring a world. The two survivors of sexuality as brute attraction of bodies, which we cannot distinguish from the cruelty of destruction – in short, survivors of the murderous atomistics – understand that they are alone. Some emblems of the old deities still circulate: a goddess, a faun with his mane, a Christ between dove and thorns. Then, love is tenderly and powerfully restored. I read the very end of Tomb:

Kment and Giauhare, woken up, knees and fists in the thorns, push the hedge aside; a man bending over the stone, is mating with the goddess; a mane sticks out of his nape and of his back; on his head a dove and a crown of thorns; his bare legs are vibrating, incandescent; in the distance, on the sea, the sail scuds along towards the island and the fish shoot out, sparkle on the forge, strike the sides of the boat, play in the deep beneath the shadow of the hull; the boat is empty but a beam of light, the first one of dawn, watches and stands by, upon the sail. Kment kneels down before Giauhare, and Giauhare before Kment. Fists on the ground, they kiss each other on the knees, on the genitals, on the forehead.(9)

The prose principles of our prince have allowed him, with a force that nothing can match since then, to fabulate the following truth: we find ourselves in a worldless age, an a-cosmic age, because we are bound to the generalized figure of prostitution that is the commodified body, a figure that properly speaking atomizes us. In that case, Guyotat tells us, there are probably two hypotheses:

1. Doubt is the only attitude that has not been won over by the corruption of the world. This is the position of ‘Stoic’ or ‘superior nihilism’. One takes on board the knowledge of the absence of meaning, as well as the fact that one’s self is naked in the sexual collision.

2. New love happens. Kment and Giauhare are face to face, on their knees; they have interrupted the chaos of cruel collisions. They can hug and create. The world will turn to the worst, but this worst is pregnant with a new dawn.


My conviction and my optimism certainly make me turn towards a third hypothesis, which would not be hanging in the balance between doubt and miracle and would not have to find support in any myth. I accept the contemporary absence of a world. But I hold that in the absence of a world there is the outline of a world, its drawing, its watermark, a kind of sketch on the walls of an underwater cathedral, a network of event-traces that are to be traversed and assembled. In this sense, I for my part desire to go in for belief, and not for disbelief, with a tremor of joy.

Nevertheless, I know the risk to which any belief is exposed, even if it visibly separates itself from all the saving gods, fables and totalities, as well as from meaning in general. It exposes itself to the fascination with what Guyotat superbly calls ‘the melancholy of the perfect centuries’. It is true – even if we attempt to read the stigmata of a renaissance in the devastation, let us beware of the melancholic desire for the coming of perfect centuries. Perhaps we may be protected from this desire by a quality that Guyotat disparages, which is the Cartesian quality of common sense: the political good sense which preserves us from contemporary extravagances and unprecedented debasements, of which our current capitalo-parliamentarism offers us the ruinous spectacle. Of good common sense, to conclude, we will accept Guyotat’s definition, which is truly instructive about our dubious paths: ‘Common sense, weakened form of savage custom.’


(1) Pierre Guyotat, Tomb for 500,000 Soldiers, trans. Romain Slocombe (Creation Books: 2002), pp. 105–6.
(2) Ibid., p. 229.
(3) Ibid., pp. 133–4.
(4) Ibid., p. 43.
(5) Ibid.
(6) Ibid., p. 114.
(7) Ibid., p. 296.
(8) Ibid., p. 44.
(9) Ibid., p. 378.“

Alain Badiou; „The Age of the Poets: And Other Writings on Twentieth-Century Poetry and Prose.“ Translation by Bruno Bosteels

Verso 2014

Images by Eric Rondepierre

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