The following work of Danielle Collobert, translated by Norma Cole, is available in English: It Then (Oakland CA: O Books 1989), "Survival" (Tyuonyi 1991), From "Murder" (Série d'écriture 4, 1990), From "Notebooks" (Tripwire 2, 1999)

In a presence already dissolved

[excerpts from the Journals of Danielle Collobert, 1960-1961, translated by Norma Cole.]



     "She was sitting by the bridge   on the bridge a lot of people were watching
the barges unload   suddenly the rock she was sitting on started to roll  - 
it was a big granite slab   block   She yelled  -  everyone turned to look at
her  - The rock picked up momentum   nothing could stop it  -  the people
couldn't understand  -  Little by little she leaned her upper body forward  - 
until she was laid out on the slab -- Simultaneously she felt a great
emptiness inside   a hole   a descent  -  No one moved from the bridge   
captivated by the movement..."

     I don't ever want to learn anything again  - 
     just people  - 
     I really only get close to them in bed  -  their nakedness  -  essential --
     to understand  -  grasp by means of gestures  -  looks  -  more than with words
 -  already so many men ...


     I've been walking for a long time -- it's 9:30  -  it's cold   I rarely see
streets or people at this hour   in this neighborhood the houses are mute --
people pass quickly  -  closed   walking tightly -- don't know how I got to
this neighborhood  -  slept at J.'s and walked all the way here -- like it
follows logically  -  strange   
     looking at a long and empty day -- nervous --
     there's that exhibit at the Musee d'art moderne   to kill time, not out of
love  - 
     that cold strange room last night  -  seeing myself again in all the bedrooms
 -  dislocated -- blurred -- bodiless inside those walls -- maybe a little heat
remaining --
     sudden silence -- cold -- and all of a sudden solitude returns -- bad --

     watching the kids in the square just now -- retrieving childhood sensations
-- earth and water -- fuzzy sensations -- a smell --
     scattered images --
     the dining room door ajar and my grandfather in bed -- face to the wall --
     women sitting around the kitchen table speaking quietly -- and weeping --
reds and pinks --
     the boy in blue -- on a hook hung from the balcony of the house at one corner
of the square -- and the Germans all over -- the hook -- the garden -- the
entry -- the doorway with masses of red fuschias -- garden masses of apples --
     one evening in the "house in back" eating pink rat poison and shrieking --
terror --
     flowers -- frost on the window -- feet warming at the stove -- scorched
socks -- after school--
     the storms and wind in the pines at Compostal -- the fire in the living room
hearth --
     listing images when really the smells are what returns most vividly --
roasted coffee -- detergent -- overripe pears in the loft -- smell of wood and
wet ground --


     Such a strange night -- on the Quai des Fleurs -- I've been living here for a
few days -- very nice apartment -- They're sleeping -- the table faces the
window where I write -- the Seine -- the lights -- water -- calm came back --
like glancing crystal in the water -- rising and falling -- as real as my hand
-- my face in the pane -- the Seine's reflections disrupting the lamplight's
opacity -- like crossing dream with reality -- and then a car passes -- from
light to opacity -- disappearance --
     tranquility -- very rare peacefulness - after days of emptiness -- empty
enough to put off getting up -- because of the emptiness itself -- and after
-- completely futile efforts to fill in --
     why despite appearances I go to such lengths to achieve this feeling
emptiness -- of discomfort -- as though every gesture --every movement were
bringing me nearer to death --
     the sensation of emptiness disappeared in that orgasmic moment --

     I have possibly never been so far into that solitude as these last months --
it still might not be enough -- there is a vague form of stability left here
-- of security -- some doubt about what I can stand --
     more wandering -- add leaving the country -- breaking all bonds -- or
whatever -- being broke in a country I don't know -- maybe --
     probably an illusion -- equating being alone in a room for days -- and going
off somewhere --


     Departure -- tomorrow -- real escape -- I'm going to Tunisia -- calm --

     Tunis 1
     here with no break -- already the same life -- I go to cafés -- I make love
-- I go to films -- I talk to people -- no distance -- I've already been here
since forever --
     but still it's the East -- the light -- the colors -- the beauty -- at least
this: I have new eyes -- senses beginning to function again as though after a
long illness -- this morning very early -- in the village -- scarcely daybreak
-- through the grillwork on the window -- some noises in the covered streets
-- after making love all night -- body heavy and hot -- impression of
tiredness -- of well-being -- H. motionless -- head on my belly -- almost cool
-- a smell I couldn't place -- almonds and oranges -- old food -- and then
suddenly in the silence -- a very long sound -- very low -- the slow
modulation of the muezzin -- extraordinary beauty --
    now here -- in the café -- seated on matting -- they're playing cards --the
patron sitting on a chair by the stove closes his eyes -- head thrown back a
little -- he is tall and lean -- looks high as a kite -- they aren't paying
any attention to me -- I'm fine here -- it's raining out -- sound of rain on
the steps --

         ran into R.

     the building's terrace and the little hut below -- just room for a bed --
when I came back at 4 -- air cool -- the whole town below -- early movement in
the direction of the station -- to the left -- the quality of the air --
especially that -- staying there a long time looking down at the town --


     Saturday -- evening -- a café -- I'm far away -- toward Aubervilliers -- I
walked a long time -- spent the last few nights walking -- here the old
neighborhoods-- the houses -- hallways staircases -- little courtyards -- what
goes on in the daytime -- warehouses -- workshops -- people -- their night
deserted -- a few lights farther off -- near the trees -- I'm cold -- bitter
taste of cigarettes -- voices -- a woman singing -- an accomplished liar's
voice -- slightly hoarse -- sad -- a little raw --
     go back and sleep -- get loaded -- no -- stay -- stay up -- nurture this --
thing that returned by chance -- the silence inside --


     he just left -- when he leaves I never know when I'll see him again -- always
chance encounters -- or nearly -- today I asked myself what little errors
we've let come between us -- I don't know yet -- I can barely guess --
     why such tenderness in his gestures -- after -- where there is usually
distance --
     don't be taken in by tenderness -- protect yourself from it -- I'm sucked in
too easily -- his presence I already live too much in these days -- not enough
resistance now -- or irony --


     I am calm -- finally without anxiety -- a certain balance --
    Y. -- circle around his presence -- no more severing -- or waiting -- calm --
a kind of delight -- also -- being with him -- finally this is a story I like
-- I feel good --
     but when I'm like this I don't do anything -- unable to write a word -- I
only write in an anxious state (oh sure)* -- or in times like that -- ideas
for novels arrive -- the story of the port for example -- stupid -- the novel
is basically a pacific creation -- that releases what's essential -- sensation
of well-being allows time to stretch out -- necessary to the novel -- whereas
the anxiety produces something strong -- complete -- at once -- no going
beyond -- (?)* momentary fixity -- in the anxious state --

     totally out of it -- what am I doing here -- with these kids -- feels like
sweet and well-behaved girls -- never been so isolated in the middle of a
group -- almost peculiar --
     get out of here at the first possible moment -- get away from it -- before
the end of resistance -- of rebellion -- before boredom -- exhaustion



     Algeria 2 -- as if this is really the beginning for me --


     Tonight I'm starting over -- after these parenthetical months -- for them --
go real slow -- like the first time going out after being locked up for ages
     tonight calm at last -- window open -- a little wind -- gentle -- feeling my
bathrobe -- music below -- I just picked up K.'s journal -- always the way to
get back to work when it's not happening -- Kafka or Beckett -- to start up
again --
     nothing is finished -- the problem hasn't been resolved -- but I'm at the end
of my rope -- still struggling with it -- because it would be easier to keep
going with them than pick up my life where it left off --
     these months speak years -- many new things -- to be completely current with
present events -- living the news as it happens -- with no time lag -- now
it's difficult to become nothing but a spectator again --
     what counted was the immediate -- objective justification was impossible --
for what I was doing -- theoretical questions useless -- when I make theory
for others -- I end up not believing it -- immediate action justified
immediately in its entirety -- uncomfortable position but real --
     for months no writing -- impossible to reconcile the two --
     walk paying attention -- I've lost sensation -- closeness of the outside
world around me -- I'm not connecting with things any more -- could be
irreparable loss -- trying now to recover sensations -- objects for instance
-- the table's smoothness -- its color -- my hand on the paper --
     it's raining -- that helps me -- I feel better -- more differentiated from
things -- from the outside --
     blur already --


     continuing -- I'm alone in the gallery space -- no options -- walls -- I
touch the walls -- I press myself against them -- I'll lean from one to the
other -- I stayed in the corner opposite for ten minutes -- now I'm in the
middle of the room on a chair -- writing on my lap -- the empty space all
around -- spinning --
     what to do -- yell -- call out -- for someone to come -- wait -- slow death
     explosion inside my head -- words -- invent words -- fast -- absence -- non-
sense of words --
     I can't --


     waiting -- days -- time passes filled with little things -- cling to the
slightest incident -- the most expected event -- the most foreseeable with
hope for some hidden thing concealed inside the opacity of stillness -- I
can't because I know what the end of waiting is -- the possibility of radical
change -- definitive -- there are lots of examples of such possibilities but
they crumble before any obstacle -- the real presence of people -- of objects
-- the world -- the margin between the image of suicide and reality's
uncertainty is too great --

     story limited in time -- will end on a specific date -- with departure of a
train -- wonderful impression of clean -- retreat -- irreparable -- it's there
in a presence already dissolved -- almost weightless -- if he knew --


1. Although placed in Tunis this passage actually describes the village of Sidi Bou Said and the café "des Nattes."
2. At this time D.C. became a part of a network supporting the F.L.N. [National Liberation Front].

Bio: Norma Cole is a visual artist, poet and translator. Her most recent publications are Desire & Its Double (Instress 1998) and Spinoza in Her Youth (Abacus: February 1999). With Stacy Doris, she edited Raddle Moon 16, a special issue of new French writing in translation.

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