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Portrait of Jacques Rigaut by Man Ray

Portrait of Jacques Rigaut by Man Ray

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 “Mae Murray,” which appears in the “Early Texts” section of Écrits.

Mae Murray
Jacques Rigaut

Already you can see that the young people ten years from now will reproach us for having allowed ourselves to be amazed by cinema. The last refuge of sentimentality. Women and voyages, what pretexts! Narcotics need no justification. The unheard of miracle: there are those women who don’t speak. All of us, at least one time, will be their victim.

The dramas of coquetry. Her little laugh that you will never control, her past lies, her lies yet to come, her dresses, her exasperating childishness, her ultimatums concerning a glove or a drive–everything I don’t know, the terror and desire of an inevitable break-up, her tenderness when you no longer hoped for it, her incorrigible cheerfulness, and the memory of that very slender, very agile body, of one extravagant reward, of one vice, I am in love with Mae Murray.

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