In an earlier post, I presented the synopsis of my novel in progress, Housebreaking the Muse. As noted, the novel is haunted by the figure of Jacques Rigaut, the French Dadaist, gigolo, addict, and suicide. Though I’d long had an interest in the Dadas, I didn’t hear the name “Jacques Rigaut” until I stumbled upon it in the following passage on page 233 of the 1990 Penguin Books edition of Paul Auster’s novel, Moon Palace:
I can’t remember all the pieces I worked on, but at least several of them come back to me when I strain hard enough: a meditation on money, for example, and another one on clothes; an essay on orphans and a somewhat longer piece on suicide, which was largely a discussion of Jacques Rigaut, a minor French Dadaist who declared at the age of nineteen that he was giving himself ten more years to live, and then, when he turned twenty-nine, held good to his word and shot himself on the appointed day.
In the margin, I wrote, “If true, a story?” I soon began researching Rigaut and, over time, began to piece together the biographical details of his life. Part of my research involved attempting a translation of the posthumous collection of his works, Écrits, published by Gallimard in 1970. I also wrote the story, “Jacques Rigaut’s Happiest Birthday – A Dada Bedtime Story” which has served as a seed for the novel. The following is my translation of the fragment “Spineless Remarks,” which appears in the “Early Texts” section of Écrits.
Perched atop my piano, I am the antichrist dressed in a gramophone funnel. Triumphant, I impulsively jump into the lobby of Constantinople’s Péra-Palace hotel and shake a gigantic rattle with my big toes. God bless you, blockheads of the moonlight!
The prestige of madness! To make one thing that is completely useless–a pure gesture of causes and effects. Up to now–as is elsewhere the one of gravity–this is the kingdom of purpose; from now on, via the absurd, I’m going to escape from …
I’m starting over. It’s as if I were alone in the world. Events born only of me, visible only to me; the mirror forgetting to reflect my image. Naked, to the point of having lost flesh, bone, and all consistency. Wading effortlessly (not to the heart of an insubstantial Rigaut) to the heart of things. Astonished by the independent and contradictory existence of this Rigaut who falsely measures himself by his reasoning and knowledge.
Here I am. I am. Here within this conscience, I fill my lungs with a consumptive oxygen, but an oxygen that refreshes the air which, elsewhere, is unbreathable. Beyond this purity, all is equal, all values equal, and it makes no difference whether I’m a minister or a doorman. Here, my friends (did I say, my friends?) will not follow me. And where will we meet? Between us, at present, there is no further possibility of exchange or communication.
Fatal, valid, and legitimate Immobility. (India is not so far away.) I, the most beautiful ornament of this room, as alive as the lamp and the easy chair!
* * *
The bitter pride of feeling without origins. Hollow as a toy flute, I go about in the uncertain pursuit of everything that could fill this void.–Avidity and aridity are separated by one small letter–. Purposeless, that goes without saying, but others know how to keep to their house, their room; no family rootless. If you were me, no more no less, in your bed oh! Rosalinde, to what convent, neither close to friends nor alone.
My belly is intact. I have no navel, no more than Adam. Without origin.
* * *
It’s quite obvious that I am worthless. I’ve made enough fun of myself with the words “heart” and “soul” to discover to my horror, one fine morning, that self-deprecation would spare me no more! I can’t imagine anything as barren as myself. I possess neither anyone nor anything. I expect nothing.
I remember having burst out laughing. I remember having had my backbone frozen to the idea of glory. I remember having been eager for love. There is no longer any life in me. I never find myself apart from boredom, I have no place.
Everything has been overrated! The war overrated! The “artificial paradise” overrated! And love, too! …
What a kick in the ass! But you go on. There is only one single thing in the world that is intolerable: the consciousness of its mediocrity.