Chris TyshChris Tysh

Working Note

The sentences are stretched out on the white page with their terrible story of evicting the father, the hideous truth of the paternal trampled until its name hangs naked, mere shreds.The child and the mother arrange themselves in the vacant space, suddenly dizzy under their common aversion for bourgeois bienséance, i.e. what sits well with the good people. Pierre and Hélène practice a new conjugation: irregular, indecent and deeply corruptive. In truth, these impossible words have already effected one transport, from French to English, none too worse for wear. I hail them now, their divine laughter, the stupendous hell of their flesh, their abject logic. Like a seamstress puckering her lips I outfit them with images, I pinch and tuck; I undress and invent. Docile bodies, they go on, all the same, never forgetting the irrespirable air that is their due. In the cinematic light of my recutting, I dispatch the brides to be. From behind I look at them fading into black.



Mother, I : a film script based on Bataille’s Ma Mère

A fairly long preamble constituted by a series of flashbacks pertaining to the primary family structure: i.e. number 3; the triangle. All these quick shots to be filmed before the credits appear.

The film would open with a brutishly obvious shot (or shots, to be more specific).

1) A young man in a darkened room startled by shouts. Opens door and posts himself in the corridor. Noise, indistinct shouts, scraping sounds, heavy breathing, silence.

2) A door opens: the father, red in the face, disheveled and swaying.

3) The father speaks to the son; an incomprehensible tenderness in the voice, a solicitude, absurdly boyish. We can’t hear the words; a lingering close-up of the young man’s incomprehension, bordering on terror.

4) The son walks in on father in nightshirt rushing after fully clothed mother. They fall to the floor; shouts. Camera follows young man to his room.

5) Father opens son’s door by mistake; swaying, bottle in hand. When he takes notice of son, he drops the bottle. The liquor flows while young man’s gaze is fixed upon his father who’s clutching his head. The young man trembles with rage.

6) A view of a village church. Mother and son walk toward church in the early morning. A silent communion holds them. Their dark beauty is almost painful. The word adoration should make itself visible as an insistence on meshing these two against the intruder. It could be the name of the church (one of the words, that is), possibly followed by a didactic shot of a Madonna w/child painting (a close-up of mother’s gaze, e.g. Bellini’s series) which could in a proleptic fashion, indicate the measure of mother’s pleasure.

Credits & all that jazz

(The designing principle of the credits ought to rest on the notion of letters, correspondence, etc. since the movie is about positionality, relay, about the one who stands in the place of desire)

Scene 1 Night. Interior.

Music begins, something religious, Gregorian chant…The camera reveals a large, beautifully appointed room which is both bedroom and study. Its opulence is undercut by an invisible, intangible sobriety; everything is perfectly in place—the ambient order is to counterpoint the emotional disarray of Pierre, the young man kneeling by his bed dressed only in his pajama bottoms. Perhaps a series of photographs adorning the wall will inject into the viewer the undeniable presence of terror that Pierre lives in and thrives by. (cf. iconography of sacrifice, mutilation, "natural" eruptions dear to Bataille) He recites his prayer, eyes lowered, his speech stressing certain words which will function like a nursery rhyme (i.e. mère/terre/terreur or pig/kill/will/age/edge/etc.)

Terror unendingly renews with advancing age—

Without end, it returns us to the beginning.

The beginning that I glimpse on the edge of the grave

Is the pig in me which neither death nor insult can kill.

Terror on the edge of the grave is divine and I sink

Into the terror whose child I am


Scene 2 Int. Night. Pierre’s bedroom

A tracking shot of a phantom bed, obfuscating disarray of white in the darkened room.

"Pierre!" spoken by a soft, feminine and imperious voice.

Framing the bed, the camera reveals movement in response to the insistence of the voice. There will be no repetition of the name. The young man sits up and reaches for a cigarette as if to watch a movie. Three different takes will mime the scene of the call:

a) Flashback: a sick child looks at his mother who calls his name as if it were a question.

b) Between sleep and wakefulness, Pierre acknowledges his name. The camera pans across the room, the next one, looking for the source of the voice.

c) Pierre is dreaming and hears his name spoken by a woman’s voice. The feeling it evokes resembles something unspeakable, beyond representation (the Real).

The next shot will make it clear that the "movie" is over and yet a bridge will have been established. A close-up of Pierre extinguishing his Craven. When he looks up, someone bursts out laughing. The camera will start with the high heels and slowly go up the back of Pierre’s mother. The shot should be equal in length to the obscene laughter of the mother. It is imperative to have the mother fill the screen. The son and his wounded gaze have been deleted by her presence, self-sufficient, smutty and gorgeous. We do not see her face. This fetishistic avoidance inscribes the son’s position (in back of her). (A bas-relief of Eurydice and Orpheus will highlight the tenuousness of this relationship and perhaps announce the impossibility of a face- à- face)


Scene 3 Int. Evening. Dining Room.

Mother and son dine alone. Mother talks in an excited, light-hearted way. She is dressed in black.

Your father’s gone to Brittany, to aunt Colette. No doubt, he will gamble and

Drink himself silly. I’ve had enough of his enfantillages. I’m staying home.

You will keep me company, won’t you? We’ll go out on the town and now that

You’re such a handsome creature, they’ll take you for my beau.

A laughter that follows these words echoes and again acts as a rhyme. A close-up of the deep red in the wine glass as if the Bordeaux were an explanation for these sudden revealings. Indexically, the camera will line up the wine, lips and nails in a vertical plane while Pierre recedes into the background.


Scene 4 Int. Day. Pierre’s room.

A medium shot of Pierre standing in front of a full mirror. He is talking directly at it as if speaking (rehearsing) for a part.

Up till then I had never realized

That she drank. I was soon to realize

That she drank every day, in the same way.

But that rippling laughter, that indecent



Scene 5 Int. Day. In the foyer of the house.

Mother, putting on her gloves, speaking to Pierre, over her shoulder

I’m taking you to town tomorrow

Until tomorrow night, my gallant lover

She kisses him lightly.

This scene will be shot several times in a mise-en-abyme structure so that the viewer gets a dizzying sensation yet is conscious enough to notice that during each take the kiss becomes more and more non-existent.

The last shot (taken from the hall, from above) shows Pierre as if trying to hold onto a spit of life which will forever elude him. The mother’s obscene laugh will punctuate (bracket) this corridor scene.


Scene 6 Ext. Day.

This scene will establish not so much a reality effect as the sense that Pierre has a normal life apart from his mother’s (torment).

A long shot of a college building. Young men smoking cigarettes stand in the street in small groups discussing the exam. The camera will meet their faces with gentleness and a need to display their boyish infectious charm. Pierre comes out of the building and begins to speak with animation.

L’acte gratuit, hmph, I’ve been ready for that one since my first

Ejaculation. What did you get?

The camera follows Pierre’s gaze and frames his companion.

The state. Marx. Weimar. Stalin, hegemony. I gave him an earful.

They enter a café named Everyday Life. The group conversation resumes around the examination topics (to be described in fuller details). Pierre lights a cigarette and looks at the waitress waiting for his order. She speaks with a very pronounced Parisian prole accent.

What will it be, mon p’tit chou?

Overcome with a sudden inexplicable embarrassment, Pierre is unable to speak. He simply points to the next table’s empty coffee cups. Medium shot of the back of the waitress walking away, swinging her hips toward the bar. The irruption of laughter returns Pierre to thoughts of his mother.


Scene 7 Ext. Evening.

Pierre returns home. Rings. Door. Maid. Hallway, etc. The suddenness of the dialogue takes center stage

Mother: It was sudden.

Pierre: He’s dead?

Mother: Yes.

During the short pause, the camera descends her figure the way one would a steep incline. Close-up of hair, shoulder, arm, downward to the dark hem of her long skirts.

Church bells in the distance.

Mother: We’ll take the train to Vannes and then onto Segrais.

We’ll have to rent a car. Don’t forget, you’re supposed to be

Overcome with grief. The servants expect this. There’s no need to weep but lower your eyes.

Pierre leaves the drawing room. On the way to the bathroom, he once again recites, as from a script learned by heart.

Could I conceal the jubilation

Which was mounting inside me

Against the conventional sorrow

That is bound up with the sly advent

Of death?

I did not want my mother to age

I wanted to see her set free

Freed from her oppressor

And also from the mad gaiety she took

Refuge in and which made her

Face lie. I wanted to be happy

I even wanted this bereavement

In which fate was enfolding us

To flavor our happiness with the spell-

Binding sadness that makes up

The sweetness of death

The last words should coincide with Pierre’s buttoning himself up. Water flush sounds. Fade. Windows streaming with rain. Inside the house, a maid wipes her face.


Scene 8 Ext. Night.

Filmed at great distance, through a filter, the car (carriage, hearse-like, limo, something huge and black) recedes from the viewer, shining with rain. This is the quintessential drive scene of the 19th century French novel. It remains less important to communicate the intertext than convey the obscure threat of what is not shown.

The camera will tease the spectator with fetishistic morsels (voilette, glove, branch, cutting in) in order to highlight the inescapably voyeuristic nature of any film enterprise. The to and fro of the receding car should connote the intermittency of desire by ushering in the famous fort/da reel.


Scene 9 Int. Night train.

In the drowning clutter of wheels, the softly breathing chest of the mother, sleeping as if all alone of her sex. A splendid match girl. Pierre standing in the corridor, cigarette in his right hand, gazes at his mother in the manner of a voyager looking at the darkened landscape. Softly he calls, maman. The night is stained with longing. Pierre turns to the window in the corridor and closes his eyes. The name of the dead father no longer a mutter between them.


Scene 10. Int. Day.

In a hotel restaurant, Pierre approaches his mother ensconced in a red banquette. A Bordeaux bottle already half-empty distracts him from looking up at her: tense with fatigue and a silent rage. This scene is charged with the exaggerated hardness of glass and sterling, reflecting the sudden hatred. The shots will crisscross between them, cutting and stabbing the trembling Pierre, flushed by now like the one who says yes after the fact. She fills her glass, all noise and hostile gaze.

Pierre: Isn’t it better for him? For you, too?

Mother: Shut up! What do you know about it?

Pierre begins to stutter an answer, failing to notice the queer smile which has come upon her face. Imperceptibly, the grand, cold opulence of the dining room has been spotted, degraded. The air is stale and their voices break the silence like cheap china.

Mother: I made his life, hell. Didn’t I? Go ahead, say it!

Pierre (in protest): He is dead and we shouldn’t say anything against him. But your life was difficult.

Mother: You know nothing about my life.

She’s drinking fast now, dead to the world, yet adamant not to drown the obscure matter closing up her throat. A tired, untidy waiter brings a new bottle.

Waiter: Feels like a storm coming up, he says looking up at the chandelier. Nobody answers him.

It will be the director’s task (and the lead actress) to displace the invisible, changing weather upon Mother’s face: after the hardness vanishes from her features, an indescribable softness takes over.

Mother: Pierre, please, look at me!

Instantly, her countenance grows overcast and a look of horror possesses her while she struggles against a dizzy spell which lends her the frozen air of insanity.

The camera will attend to Pierre as an unbiased witness, simply recording his intense bewilderment, adjusting the rack of his torture by a close-up here and there. Spectator of his mother’s hideous truth, he watches helplessly, prostrate by a governing panic.

Mother: You are too young and I shouldn’t talk to you at all, but sooner or later, you will be wondering whether your mother deserves your respect.

Well, your father is dead now and I am sick and tired of falsehoods. I am worse than he. Much worse!

The camera pulls back in a reverse track as if to insist on the finality of the last words uttered by Mother. Perhaps a few notes of music will accompany this false ending. The same scene but bathed in a much harsher, unflattering light. Forward track toward Mother, very close shot as she smiles a bitter, enigmatic, practically inexistent smile. Suddenly she grabs the neck of her dress with both hands and pulls it open.

Mother: Pierre, only you have any respect for your mother who deserves none. Those men you saw in the salon, those pretty fops, who do you think they were?

Pierre is once again in this scene, caught in the snarls of his ignorance. Faint music covers his inability to answer.

Mother: As for your father, he knew. He just went along with it.. The minute you were out of the house, those acting fools would stop behaving respectfully toward you mother.

Look at her!

Between indecency and agony, her distraught smile transfixes Pierre. The camera, perfectly still, should "hold" the pair prisoner in its tight gaze for what will seem to the viewer like an uncomfortable amount of time. In a way, the weight of meaning elicited by this scene, will have appeared through the meshes of Mother’s double, yet not identical, command. From me to her, what an abyss!


Scene 11. Ext. Late afternoon.

Camera sweeps the hotel grounds which darken suggestively under a sudden downpour, then frames dining-room bay windows as they explode with lightning to disappear behind a mean curtain of rain. Thunder sounds rattle the veracity of this disingenuous tableau. What is to follow will be hailed with a certain suspicion as if the relation between cinematic language and the materiality of desire could only be secured in fantasy. To purchase this disavowal, the film maker may resort to any number of conventions at his disposal. The scene will have the whispered somnolence of an anonymous call in the night.

Scene 12. Int. Evening. Pierre’s room.

Darkened bedroom has the unnerving semblance of a sick room. Lying in bed, Pierre, pale and disheveled, feebly raises himself as if to take his medicine. Pierre’s mother, totally obscured yet more present than ever, wills him to suffer these words before he (and the audience) can divine her face

What I want is that you love me unto death.

But I don’t want your love unless you know I am

Repulsive, and love me even as you know it.

Fade to black. Music.


Scene 13. Int. Evening. Pierre’s room.

Open window, stormy sky. Once again, a chiasmus will have operated. The hissing, whistling, panting and thunder boom one hears belong to the expressive weather, while Pierre’s anguish remains silent. Without much thought, Pierre positions himself on the rug, arms outstretched like a supplicant. Did he dream it? Had she truly been in his room? Uttered those words?

Pierre: For my part, it is in death I love you at this very instant.

A close-up of Pierre’s mouth will turn him over like a lover’s request as he quotes her words from memory:

Pierre: But I don’t want your love unless you know I am

Repulsive, and love me even as you know it.

Because it asks nothing of us save repeating a sentence in the proper order, citation, this conjure trick of identity, functions along hallucinatory lines. The slow pan of the camera will underline Pierre’s trance as he slips into his mother’s words. Having spoken the other, he literally falls asleep, letting his tears fall where they may.


BIO: Chris Tysh teaches creative writing and women's studies at Wayne State University in Detroit. Her books include Porne, Coat of Arms, and In the Name.

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