Danielle Collobert | It Then

 

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Soirée Action Poétique: Jean-Claude Montel, Franck Vernaille, Danielle Collobert

 

 

I met Danielle Collobert in a cafe on the boulevard Saint-Germain in March or April 1958, at which time she was not yet eighteen. We immediately spoke of the essentials: writing, death. Theses two things—or is it one single thing—seemed to occupy her exclusively and with such rigor that one felt from the outset she would proceed in this single and unique direction, that no one could divert her or deceive her as to its end. At most, out of love for her, one could hope, idiotically of course, that sooner or later she would lose track, that her resolve would weaken. At that time, she had just left her studies, was writing very short poems, strangely haiku-like. Of course she was reading a great deal, but beyond everything she had discovered her own utter nakedness: that owned by nights of relentless attention to the other, or reflected in mirrors of all-night cafes where you can look, listen or simply wait, attending the blank page, from which the lassitude of daybreak will rescue you, overwhelm you.  When she spoke of her Breton childhood, of her family, it sounded both clear and distant: news from another planet or a dead star but communicating the smells and sounds from a real landscape (the one in the texts of Meurtre). This setting constructed of unnamed spots was profoundly placed, located. Her parents belonged to the Communist Party, one of her aunts was in the Resistance and had been deported. And we were in the middle of police surveillance of Algerians and other dark-skinned people. There was no mistaking whose side you would take. At first, she worked at some little jobs, research, baby-sitting, then later found a position in a gallery that exhibited painting, in the rue Hautefeuille, where, surrounded by white walls and geometric works (the style featured there) she began slowly to compose the texts that would become Meurtre. One change of scene: her stay in Tunisia during the spring of 1960. In April of the following year, she published a collection of first poems, titled Chant de guerres. This chapbook published at her expense by P.J. Oswald consists of twenty short poems, and is, to my knowledge, quite unavailable, since Danielle had, a few years later, retrieved the whole run, more or less, and destroyed it, just like that. For several months she had belonged to a group supporting the F.L.N. From time to time, she disappeared in order to carry out missions she never spoke to me about. What I do know is that for over a year, absorbed in her clandestine daily life, she stopped writing but came out of this period apparently unchanged, as though nothing real could reach her apart from writing. The Algerian experience wound up of necessity with a sort of enforced stay in Italy (between May and August 1962 she was in Rome, then in Venice) that would permit her to reconnect with her writing and complete the composition of Meurtre. First she offered the manuscript  to Minuit, who refused it. Then, represented enthusiastically by Raymond Queneau at Gallimard, Meurtre was finally accepted and came out in April 1964. Meanwhile she had joined the staff of “Révolution Africaine,” an Algerian magazine begun after the war but which would disappear, I believe, soon after Ben Bella. The years between ’64 and ’67 are somewhat fuzzy in my memory. I have the impression that our lives were static, as if in suspension: the Algerian war was over, her first book was out. You’re published, you write, and then what? That her writing could receive praise—her book had received some very positive response—was, according to her, only the result of some misunderstanding. When she presented her second manuscript, Parler seul (which became Dire I) to Gallimard, it was rejected. The following year, she composed a new text, Film, originally conceived as a screenplay, whose stripped-down narrative, no doubt an outcome of writing the visual, represents a major step in her formal evolution. It was also then that her desire to travel asserted itself, little by little becoming a kind of aggravated impulse to wander, an almost perpetual motion in which contradictory motives fused; the need to escape, the attraction of distant, “exotic” countries as bearers of nameless signs guaranteeing silence, solitude; and simultaneously a sort of proof by geographic exhaustion that she would not be content anywhere, that places were but names, and that, wherever she went, she would “not [be] going towards anything”. This, however, did not stop her from being, at times, very present in the world: in May ’68 she joined the Writers’ Union, and a few months later she turned up in Czechoslovakia as Soviet tanks rolled across the country. Finally in 1970 she could undertake her first major voyage: Indonesia, Bali, Borneo, etc. During this period she wrote Dire II, took notes for other projects, collaborated on a radio play, Bataille (broadcast in Germany in 1971), and participated in translating an Italian novel. Meanwhile she had met Jean-Pierre Faye, who would spare no effort seeing her work into print. Dire I-II appeared in 1972 from Collection Change (Seghers-Laffont). The following year she rewrote Film into a radio play, Polyphonie, broadcast by France Culture. And she traveled.  Between ’74 and ’75 she visited, in turn, Italy, South America, Mexico, the United States, Greece. She also worked on a new book and collaborated on another radio play, Discours (broadcast in Germany in 1976). And then she traveled. Again to the United States, to Crete, Formentera, Italy, Egypt. Il donc appeared in October 1976 from Change. Her trips abroad proliferated, continuous: Egypt again, Africa, New York, and Crete. When she returned from the island I caught up with her again in Paris, at the end of March or beginning of April 1978. She had just completed a short text,  Survie, wanted to see it published as quickly as possible and wanted it translated into Italian and English. A strange and uncharacteristic sense of urgency. I translated it into Italian. Survie came out at the end of April, a chapbook in an edition of 60 copies, from Orange Export Ltd. One night she came to say good-bye to me, she was leaving the next day for New York. I left Paris at the end of the month. By mid-July she was back in Paris. She chose to die on her birthday: she had been born in Rostrenen (Côtes-du-Nord) 24 July 1940.

Uccio Esposito-Torrigiani | FROM LITMUS PRESS 2003 
SEE ALSO: DANIELLE COLLOBERT |  NOTEBOOKS 1956 – 1978

 


 

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Danielle Collobert

 

 

IT THEN

 

 

It then — It — abandon of the impersonal — of the infini-
tive — at last resigned — to embody — with flesh in pain
— to embody like the thumbnail — It then

 

 

I

It — flows — it bangs itself — slammed into walls — it
picks itself up — stamps feet — it doesn’t go far — four
steps to the left — new wall — it extends its arms — leans
— leans hard — rubs it head — again — harder — fore-
head — there — the forehead — hurts — rubs harder —
becomes inflamed — not the forehead — from within —
cries

good start for the pain — head between arms — forehead
against wall — and rubbing — skin breaks open a little —
not enough — ooh the pain — there it is — feet kicking the
wall down low — go on — with the toes — striking hard —
trashing — nothing to be done — doesn’t subside — never
will subside — the rage — the pain — cries — hits with flat
hands — dull noise — a cry — here a cry — no gasp — a
little above a gasp — in shrillness — here it comes —
collects at the back of the throat — what’s going to come out
— still below the pain — not enough

 

 

sobs shaken — saliva at lips’ edge — bitter taste — slides a
little towards the corner — nose smashing — lips — the lips
twisted sideways — pulled back to the gums — moistening
the wall — eyes closed — stomach and chest flattened —
unsticks — comes back harder — sharp impact of shoulders
— unsticks — comes back again with elbows with knees —
bangs fists — fists’ backs — to the bone — starts over —
skin reddens — rips at last — it falls — doubled up —
dragging arms stretched along the wall — kept vertical by
ends of fingernails — it collapses — impact of back — head
rings on wooden floor — it pushes up onto its elbow
drags along the wall — reaches hung-up coat — hangs onto
— hoists itself — buries its head in the wool — grabs the
arms — holds the end of the sleeves tight — overlaps them
around neck — expecting softness — but no — squeezes
hard — chokes — coughs into tears — chokes — lets go —
hangs onto cloth — pulls hard to rip — rips with all its
strength — tears out pieces with its teeth — spits — chokes
— arms fall back down — sinks down — slips onto the
ground

 

 

a body there — practicing pain — as if it hadn’t had enough
of this suffering — at each moment — in floods — in vast
wave — trying pathetically to practice it

 

 

body striking — disfiguring its limbs with the too full pain
— which body sudden empty — which violence against —
about empty — pain congealed at last — wanting to reach
it to set it once and for all — to keep it there motionless —
or set it down in front of it — itself — to make it really
visible — in its infinitely numerous images — unceasingly

a body there — no — that body there — the one banging
its face against the wall — maybe — no

 

 

walls fictive also — unnecessary walls — no — only to see
from the place of the present invisible — here — facing the
stripped body — arms motionless yet sweeping around in
space without meeting anything to lean on — temporary
connection — just for an instant — to slow the breathing
down — slow down the beating — to quiet down — this
body seeking the place — the hollow in which to melt back
down again — heat ruptured — and cold of the world
around — its place or position unsure to inscribe against
the lack — the shocks of the day

 

 

it streches out on the ground — gathers itself up — arms
and legs folded — prenatal and burial position — identity
— like this — rarely — when exhausted or crying — daily
agony in mute groans — wihtout doubt — since nothing
there is listening — nothing blends with its voice — isola-
tion of silence

 

 

it is going to unfold — it unfolds — climbs back up towards
which surface — touches its body — listens to its breathing
— directs it — tries to breathe without tiring — rhythm to
maintain for the remaining waking — forgets that noise of
air inside — opens eyes — again becomes motionless

 

 

around — places — choice of place — labyrinth — tunnel —
chamber — underground — homes — midway — towards
the white — the dark

or outside — to see — possible for the eye — cities — rivers
— the oceans — nothing but dead ends

nearby — more or less — faces — bodies — movements —
taut — slick with use — to death

 

 

body upon body — to body
lost
and cries

nearby then — voices

 

 

choice of voices — present — past — dreamed — a voice
coming from lips — unstuck — barely — from above the
hip — it lifts its head — looks at body level — skin stretched
on bone below the face — shudder under the breath —
breath little by little articulated — a word — for it — a
word — for the skin — there — maybe

a first word — choice
phrase for a first word
sequence — as always
necessity the sweetness of saying — to know
words for the story

 

 

its voice lowers — withdraws into the folds — its lips partly
open — word — silence — no — sounds of the body —
commotion — tries to hear — holds its breath — hears —
in the distance — deep — dim

story begun there — the inarticulate — the muffled com-
motion — voice begun there — ends there — at body level

 

 

this restricted space — the reduced limits — scrapings of
surfaces by erosion — the aging

ceaseless ripping of creases — brings to light words —
rehearse choice — according to the lips and body

worn out words — body long worn out — at the same time
— same rhythm

 

 

it hears itself — in the end — last word — last breath —
its raised body — tries again to say — stretches beyond
measure — crazy extension — in the end — maybe not —
the word choked maybe — in a groan — or the breath lost
— long lost — for the ear — motionless suffering — without
cry

 

 

for the moment — if desired — plays — moves onstage —
the body — speaking — words harmonically — make paths
— by flow — across seams of words — horizontal deposit
— at the bottom of which

sometimes slips out — separates itself — solidified — a
word — walled up inside — doesn’t slip out — it cries out
— yells — always the same word — twists — chokes without
expulsion — neither spit — nor vomit — slow burning —
fulminating

 

 

its flooded body
dull corrosion — imprecise
humiliated body — beaten ceaselessly by the words — reef
eaten by the water — eaten away on all sides — shaken up
by shocks to the heart — released to the pain without end
— is going to die — goes to pieces — despairing

doesn’t believe in it — never — is never dying — will never
know its end — as long as it lasts — there — on its body
no duration

 

 

chafing of the skin — still — muted in the cavities — louder
in the convexes — shaving the skin — sound arrives along
the whole extent — arrives at its lips — ever ready ti fall
open — its body open to the words — greedy — suffering
— from tension — of waiting

 

 

open right to the end — starving — to hear still — as much
as it hears — the voices in the setting — their words — the
world there — so near — bodies close — to know in order
to bear — still gasping to say — to hear — not silence — no
— not silence — words still — words against its lifeless
body some place — wordless body

 

 

thus its ground — at the heart of misery the words — dust
— taken from the body — at body level — choice — then
— among all the identified bodies — it rests its hand — its
breath in a hollow — head tilted back — detaching its kips
from the skin — rests its lips on the body — word between
two motions — to remember the word — no — seeks an-
other now — for this interval of time — what it says —
could say —still perhaps to be said — if naked still body on
body — it would say

 

 

it picks up again beginning with the word — there — finds
another gesture — seeks agreement — links itself from
gestures to words — seeking — still — it holds out its hand
— at the edge of the face — tangles its fingers in its hair —
pulls back — or rather it’s its face — in the first gesture —
once again then the head tilted back — to find out where
starts where ends the linking

 

 

of speaking knows nothing — shut up inside the word —
bewildered pursuit — to fill in space and time — time dead
space dead — whence the cold and pain — second — minute
— length of the gesture — distance to face — to hands —
to erase — to erase — to dissolve there — could perhaps —
in the modes of the possible — imaginary incursions — still

 

 

liaisons possible for bodies
some expectations
exchanges
to put on edge
can touch — grasp — shape — with light touch — deep —
at surface and to penetrate — stiffness or suppleness of
flesh — some equivalents — the ridiculous

mooring of old sensations — by slow repetition — waste
products

 

 

from so far seeming — cloudy determinations – the images
— forms of words unrolling slow under the detached sliced
bodies — out of reach — if not

the margin
in the margin — the voices hear each other

 

 

hears itself and collects the shreds — gyres around itself —
if it remembers from where — extends — geographical —
on its passage — trace — impression someplace

minimal contacts of tinted flesh — resonating on the circuit
— long walk groping blindly — from words to music —
chance — veritable embrace

 

 

thick colors’
heavy swells — the visible

eyes on edge — circle upon circle of dilated pupil — picking
up the outlines — lines — map of the body — suffering
shocks to the ear

it looks — burned — if eyelids could reduce intensity —
light memory — of having seen

 

 

exploding of the eye — felt immensity of a blow — flooding
the aqueous surface — will spill over from the body flaming
— one day — without doubt

at the level of the flesh to look  for darkness — it glues its
eyes on the dark cavities — lashes stilled — flattened against
the damp skin — seeks its night

 

 

thick shadows’
heavy swells — bleeding

it doesn’t see any more — tries not to see any more — digs
in — shivers — as if forever nascent — all along the tinted
beaches — at the meat market — flowing waves of red —
fiction — in the homogenous liquid

nor swim – naked in the density nor float
slow fall – without order
without distinction

 

 

or the dark — hazy — dark blue green grey — fixed point
between the closed eyes — hardly twinkling — passing
lighthouse lighting — finally black — eyes’ abso-
lute silence

in the plumbed flesh — black — red on black —
on red ground
on black ground
deep sleep — living’s limit
duration’s threshold in the dark — threshold of a shape
dissolved

 

 

even now — perhaps
forever lost that one
for other shapes to come — dissolution
possible words to dissolve
it collects the syllables — squeezes eyelids — speechless on
the other body — filled with strained sounds — dislocated
— silence without silence — already said — noise of crushed
speech — mechanical — grinding — consistency sometimes
irreducible — resistance — perhaps — resists  with meaning
— or unexpected music — stubborn

 

 

it scatters the sounds — harmony — dissonance — awaken-
ing

at the unappeased body — is biting — slowness of the
motion – of the righted body — fullness of breath —
presses elbows underneath — head tilted of the back — already
seen like this — curve of the small of the back — breathing
to the belly will arrive the flow — or at the open mouth the
word — or spaced the memory — some shreds of articula-
tion

 

 

underlying the gestures — to glances the flow — can only
wait for that — gushing — on groundwork — nerve and
vessel work — slowness of current — surges — detours —
frailness — uncertainty

 

 

there — choice
to choose the flow of the body — speech — choice of desire’s
hesitation — of the desirable — to want — circuit of desire

it wants — it buries itself in the confusion — it wants — it
wanted — would want — will yet want — it was inclined —
was pushing away — was seeking — the whole in the present
or time’s future — shape to desire — its long work of pro-
duction

 

 

interruption in sleep — inertia — short moments of peace
when it will doubtless be stretched out on its side — arm
bent under head — clear vision of a semblance of absence
in the world

 

 

agreement of body with inertia
agreement with emptiness
weightlessness of time
rest on the ground

recovered earth — it crumbles — it melts — words pene-
trating the ground — it dissolves — loss of possessions —
loss of power — like dead the buried text

 

 

voice silence underground
quiet depths
to break up
yet to rise up out of the ground — folds and fractures —
ruptures of thicknesses — overabundance of seams — in
trouble being in daylight — to go out into the visible — into
hearing — body continually withdrawing — desire out in
front of speech — to reach a word — slow crossing

either projected — expelled
or vomited pliably — to say the awakening
mouth open at last — despairing — rush — pain

 

 

return of irritation to the nerves — torturing the fibres —
gaze tirelessly separated — its body falls open — discretion
expectation of the blow — opening one by one orifices —
pores surface — the least defenses — it’s taking it badly —
fear that increases — heavy easing — complete submission
to the bites of the word

 

 

it is reappearing — floating  up from the ground — unfolded
— opened out — its length on the ground lifted up to the
vertical — span of outstretched arms — to offer ceaselessly
all of its body — stretching out to fullest extension — to
absorb — to fill up

vibrating easing — elongation — arms outstretched towards
the other body — without end — other fear still nascent —
to comfort the skin — time of the tension

 

 

in the tension — it withdraws — folds in — hardens its skin
— uncontrollable heartbeat — holds its breath — internal
breathing — to eyes the loss — already the inscription

if in the silence is bending down — its stripping — is coming
close — if it is holding close — a body — like sometimes —
surely

from the longing to say — from the flow of words — over-
flowing — seeking the way out of the body — is inventing
— intangible discourse

 

 

FROM
DANIELLE COLLOBERT | IT THEN
TRANSLATED BY NORMA COLE
O BOOKS 1989

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