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Charlotte Mandell

Excerpts from La Nuit remue, by Henri Michaux



We must also pay great attention to the sea. On stormy days, we have the habit of walking along the cliffs. And although the sea is full of dangers, and despite the come-and-go of its powers that seem to be increasing moment by moment, the spectacle is beautiful and on the whole comforting, since this great uprising and all these enormous waves, waves that could overturn a train, all this does nothing more than get you a little damp.

But if there is a cove, where the sea's violences may be less strong, but come from all directions to join together in a confused fray, it may be better not to look. For while the greatest violence had not succeeded in demoralizing you, quite the contrary, this surface without horizontality, without bottom, a vat of water rising, falling, hesitant, as if it itself were suffering, in human pain (its movements have become slow and constrained and seemingly calculated), this water makes you feel the absence in yourself of a real foundation that could be of use all the time, and the ground itself, following the example of your mind, seems to fall away under your feet.


The Realm of Ash.

Above joys, and above agonies, above desires and effusiveness, lies an immense stretch of ash.

In this country of ash, you see the long procession of lovers looking for mistresses and the long procession of mistresses looking for lovers; such desire, such foreknowledge of unique joys can be read in them that we see that they are right, that it is obvious, that it is among them that we should live.

But whoever finds himself in the realm of ash can find no path. He sees, he hears. Finds no path but the path of eternal regret.

The Plateau of the Delicate Smile.

Above this exalted but miserable realm lies the chosen realm, the realm of soft fur.

If some prominence, some peak appeared, it would not be able to last; scarcely emerged, they disappear in little folds, folds in a shudder, and everything becomes smooth again.

"When the wave that carries away meets its friends, those waves that connect, then a great murmuring happens among them, murmuring at first, then little by little it is silence, and then there is no more meeting."

Oh! Country of warm tiles!
Oh! Plateau of the delicate smile!


It is still only a little halo, no one sees it, but he knows that fire will come from it, a giant fire will come, and he, fully aware of that, he will have to get by, so he can go on living as before (How's it going? Fine, and yourself?), ravaged by the conscientious and devouring fire.


There is in front of him a motionless tiger. It is not in a hurry. It has all the time it needs. It has the matter in hand. It is unyielding.


...and fear makes no exceptions.

When a fish in the great depths, having gone mad, swims anxiously toward the fish of his family three hundred fathoms down, hurtles into them, wakes them up, accosts them one after the other:

"You don't hear the running water?"

"You mean you can't hear anything here?"

"You don't hear something that goes 'che,' no, softer: chee, chee?"

"Pay attention, don't move, you'll hear it again."

Oh Fear, terrible Master!

The wolf is afraid of the violin. The elephant is afraid of mice, pigs, firecrackers. And the agouti trembles while he sleeps.


He who does not accept this world does not build his house there. If he is cold, it is without being cold. He is hot without heat. If he chops down birch trees, it is as if he were not chopping anything; but there the birch trees are, on the ground, and he receives the right amount of money, or else he receives only blows. He receives the blows like a gift without meaning, and he leaves without being surprised.

He drinks water without being thirsty; he beds down in rock without feeling uncomfortable.

His leg broken, under a truck, he keeps his usual attitude and thinks about peace, peace, peace so hard to obtain, so hard to keep, peace.

Without ever going out, he knows the world well. He is familiar with the sea. The sea is always under him, a sea without water, but not without waves, but not without expanse. He knows rivers well. They keep crossing him, without water but not without lassitude, but not without sudden torrents.

Airless hurricanes rage in him. The stillness of the Earth is also his. Roads, vehicles, endless herds travel through him, and a great tree without cellulose but quite firm ripens a bitter fruit in him, often bitter, rarely sweet.

Thus apart, always alone with others, without ever holding a hand in his hands, he thinks, hook in his heart, about peace, damned twinging peace, his own, and the peace they say is above that peace.


The soul loves to swim.

To swim you stretch out on your stomach. The soul disconnects itself and goes away. It goes away swimming. (If your soul goes away while you are standing up, or sitting, or with your knees bent, or your elbows, for each different position of the body the soul will leave using a different method and form, as I will establish later.)

We often speak of flying. This is not that. It is swimming that it does. And it swims like snakes and eels, never otherwise.

Many people thus have a soul that loves to swim. They are commonly called lazy people. When the soul leaves the body from the stomach to swim, an indefinable sort of liberation is produced, an abandon, an intense fulfillment, an intimate letting go.

The soul goes away to swim in the stairway or in the street according to the timidity or boldness of the man, for it always keeps a thread from itself to him, and if this thread were to break (it is sometimes very fine, but a frightful strength would be necessary to break the thread), it would be terrible for them (for it and for him).

So when it finds itself swimming far away, from this simple thread that ties the man to the soul, masses and masses of a kind of spiritual matter stream, like mud, like mercury, or like a gas -- fulfillment without end.

That is why the lazy person is incorrigible. He will never change. That is also why laziness is the mother of all vices. For what is more egotistical than laziness?

It has foundations that pride does not have.

But people attack lazy people.

While they're in bed, they punch them, throw cold water on their heads, so they have to bring their soul back quickly. They look at you then with that look of hate that we know so well, the one seen most often in children.


He thought there was a deposit of lime in his abdomen. Every day he would go to find doctors, who would tell him, "The urine analysis doesn't reveal anything," or rather that he was actually undergoing a decalcification, or that he smoked too much, that his nerves needed rest, that... that... that.

He stopped his visits and remained with his deposit.

Lime is friable, but not always. There are carbonates, sulfates, chlorates, perchlorates, other salts in it, that's natural, you can expect to find a little of everything in a deposit. But while the canal of the ureter lets anything liquid pass through, it only lets crystals pass with excruciating pain. You must not breathe too deeply either or suddenly quicken your circulation running like a madman after the trolley. Just let a lump break apart and a piece enter the bloodstream, and goodbye Paris!

In the abdomen there are quantities of arterioles, arteries, principal veins, the heart, the aorta and many important organs. That is why it would be madness to bend over, let alone ride on horseback.

What caution is needed in life!

He thought often about the number of people who have deposits in them like this, one with lime, one with lead, another with iron (and recently a bullet was extracted from the heart of someone who had never known war). These people move with caution. That is what brings them to the attention of the public, which laughs at them.

But they continue cautious, cautious, with cautious steps, meditating on Nature, which has so many, so many mysteries.



Translation copyright Charlotte Mandell