from robbe-grillet’s project for a revolution in new york
For this underground area seems entirely devoted to amusements: on each side of the huge central mall open out huge bays filled with long rows of the gleaming
I discover without difficulty the shop window I want, easily found because it displays nothing: it is a wide plain ground-glass sheet with the simple inscription in moderate-sized enamel letters: “Dr. Morgan, Psychotherapist.” I turn the nearly invisible handle of a door made of the same ground glass, and I step into a very small bare cubicle, all six surfaces painted white (in other words, the floor as well), in which are only a tubular-steel chair, a matching table with an artificial marble top on which is lying a closed engagement book whose black imitation-leather cover shows the date “1969” stamped in gold letters, and behind this table, sitting very stiffly on a chair identical with the first, a blond young woman—quite pretty perhaps, impersonal and sophisticated in any case, wearing a dazzlingly white nurse’s uniform, her eyes concealed by sunglasses which doubtless help her endure the intense lighting, white like everything else and reflected on all sides by the immaculate walls.
She looks at me without speaking. The lenses of her sunglasses are so dark that it is impossible to guess even the shape of her eyes. I bring myself to pronounce the sentence, carefully separating the words as if each of them contained an isolated meaning: “I’ve come for a narco-analysis.”
After a few seconds thought, she gives me the anticipated reply, but in an oddly natural voice, gay and spontaneous, suddenly bursting out: “Yes … It’s quite late … What’s the weather like outside right now?” And her face immediately freezesagain, while her body has regained its mannequin stiffness at the same time. But I answer right back, still in the same neutral tone, insisting on each syllable: “It’s raining outside. People are walking with their heads bent under the rain.”
“All right,” she says (and suddenly there is a kind of weariness in her voice), “are you a regular patient or is this your first visit?”
“This is my first visit here.”
Then after having looked at me again for a moment—at least so it seems to me—through her dark glasses, the young woman stands up, walks around the table and, though the narrowness of the room does not at all require her to do so, brushes against me so insistently that her perfume clings to my clothes; in passing she points to the empty chair, continues to the far wall, turns around and says to me: “Sit down.”
And she has immediately vanished, through a door so well concealed in the white partition that I had not even noticed its glass knob. The continuity of the surface is re-established, moreover, so quickly that I could now suspect I never saw it broken. I have just sat down when, through the opposite door opening onto the shopping mall, walks one of the men with iron-gray faces I glimpsed a few minutes earlier standing in front of a bookshop window: his body was turned toward the row of specialized magazines and papers on display, but he kept glancing right and left, as if he was afraid of being watched, though at times his eyes rested with some deliberation on an expensive magazine of which an entire row of identical copies were displayed at eye level, showing on its cover the full-color photograph, life size, of an open vagina.
Now he is looking at me, then at the table and the empty chair behind it. Finally he brings himself to pronounce the sentence: “I’ve come for a narcoanalysis.” Without omitting or changing a single word, I could give him the right answer, but it does not seem to me to be my part to do so; therefore I speak no more than the beginning, in order to reassure him even so: “Yes … It’s quite late.” Then I improvise: “The doctor’s assistant has gone out. But I think she’ll be right back.”
“Oh good. Thank you,” the gray-faced man says, turning toward the ground-glass window opening onto the mall, exactly as if he could see through it and had chosen this sight as a diversion, to help pass the time.
Suddenly I am filled with suspicion as I notice the way in which the newcomer is dressed: shiny black raincoat and soft felt hat with the brim turned down … Unless his back merely reminds me of the disturbing figure I have just seen pressed up against the display of the pornographic bookstore … But now the
man, as though to give more consistency to the disturbing connection I cannot help making, straightening up in his raincoat, thrusts his blackgloved hands deep into its broad pockets.
Without leaving me time to wait for the man to show his face again, so that I might recognize what he looks like even when his features are drawn by fatigue, the young woman in the nurse’s uniform returns and very quickly gets rid of me. According to her directions, I leave through the rear door with the glass knob and climb a steep narrow spiral staircase made of cast iron.
Then there is a long corridor entirely covered (except for the floor) with that dilapidated white ceramic tile already described during the passage through the subway station, in which, as a matter of fact, I must still be walking. At the end of the hallway, a tiny sliding door with an electric-eye device opens automatically to let me through, and finally I enter the room where, if I have understood correctly, we are to be given our orders for tomorrow. Here there are some fifty persons. I immediately wonder how many police informers there can already be among them. Since I have come in at the rear of the room, I see the people in it only from the back, which does not make any such estimate easy—in fact, ridiculous.
I imagined I was ahead of time; it appears on the contrary that the meeting has already been going on for some time. And it is not concerned with the usual specific details, concerning imminent action. Instead, today, the meeting is given over to a kind of ideological discussion presented in the usual form, whose didactic effectiveness on the militants of every persuasion has been readily acknowledged: a prefabricated dialogue between or among three persons assigned alternately questions and answers, changing parts by a circular permutation at each shift of the text—i.e., about every minute.
The sentences are short and simple—subject, verb, complement—with constant repetitions and antitheses, but the vocabulary includes quite a large number of technical terms belonging to various fields, philosophy, grammar, or geology, which keep turning up. The tone of the speakers remains constantly neutral and even, even in the liveliest moments; the voices are polite, almost smiling despite the coolness and exactitude of their elocution. They all three know their parts down to the last comma, and the whole scenario is articulated like a piece of machinery, without a single hesitation, without a slip of memory or the tongue, in an absolute perfection.
The three actors are wearing dark suits of severe cut, with impeccable shirts and striped ties. They are sitting side by side on a little platform, behind a rickety wooden table, like the kind that used to be seen in poor men’s kitchens. This piece of furniture is therefore more or less in harmony with the walls and ceiling of the room which are here, too, covered with the same dilapidated ceramic tiles, which slow infiltrations of moisture have loosened in irregular patches, revealing grayish surfaces of crude concrete, confined to the edges of the tile by crenellations or laddershaped areas. The theme of the day’s lecture seems to be “the color red,” considered as a radical solution to the irreducible antagonism between black and white. Right now each of the three voices is devoted to one of the main liberating actions related to red: rape, arson, murder.
The preliminary section, which was ending when I arrived, must have been devoted to the theoretical justifications of crime in general and to the notion of metaphorical acts. The performers are now dealing with the identification and analysis of the three functions in particular. The reasoning which identifies rape with the color red, in cases where the victim has already lost her virginity, is of a purely subjective nature, though it appeals to recent studies of retinal impressions, as well as to investigations concerning the religious rituals of Central Africa, at the beginning of the century, and the lot of young captives belonging to races regarded as hostile, during public ceremonies suggesting the theatrical performances of antiquity, with their machinery, their brilliant costumes, their painted masks, their paroxysmal gestures, and that same mixture of coolness, precision, and delirium in the staging of a mythology as murderous as it is cathartic.
The crowd of spectators, facing the semicircle formed by the curved row of oil palms, dances from one foot to the other, stamping the red-earth floor, always in the same heavy rhythm which nonetheless gradually accelerates. Each time a foot touches the ground, the upper part of the body bends forward while the air emerging from the lungs produces a wheezing sound which seems to accompany some woodcutter’s laborious efforts with his ax or some farmer’s with his hoe. Without my being able to account for it, I keep remembering the sophisticated young woman disguised as a nurse who receives the so-called patients of Doctor Morgan in the brightly lighted little room precisely when she brushes past me with her dyed-blond hair and her doubtless artificial breasts that swell the white uniform and her violent perfume.
She prolongs the contact insistently, provocatively, inexplicably. As if an invisible obstacle stands in the middle of the room which she must pass on my side by undulating her hips in a kind of vertical slither, in order to get through the narrow space. And meanwhile, the stamping of bare feet on the clay floor continues in an accelerating cadence, accompanied by an increasingly raucous collective gasping, which finally drowns out the noise of the tom-toms beaten by musicians crouched in front of the dancing area, their row closing off the half-circle of palm trees.
But the three actors, on the dais, have now come to the second panel of their triptych, in other words, to the murder; and the demonstration can this time, on the contrary, remain on a perfectly objective level while being based on the blood spilled, provided nonetheless it is limited to methods provoking a sufficiently abundant external bleeding. The same is then the case for the third panel, which relates to the traditional color of flames, approached most nearly by using gasoline to start the fires.
The spectators, seated in parallel rows on their kitchen chairs, are as motionless in their religious attention as rag dolls. And since I have remained at the very back of the room, standing against the wall since there was no empty seat, and since as a result I see only their backs, I can suppose that they have no faces at all, that they are merely stuffed figures surmounted by clipped and curled wigs. The speakers, on their side, moreover, perform their parts in an altogether abstract fashion, always speaking quite frontally without their eyes coming to rest on anything, as if there were no one facing them, as if the room were empty.
And it is in chorus now, all three reciting the same text together, in the same neutral and jerky voices in which no syllable stands out, that they present the conclusion of the account: the perfect crime, which combines the three elements studied here, would be the defoliation, performed by force, of a virgin, preferably a girl with milky skin and very blond hair, the victim then being immolated by disembowelment or throat-cutting, her naked and bloodstained body having to be burned at a stake doused with gasoline, the fire gradually consuming the whole house.
The scream of terror, of pain, of death, still fills my ears as I contemplate the heap of crumpled bedclothes spread like so many rags on the floor, an improvised altar whose folds are gradually dyed a brilliant red, in a stain with distinct edges which, starting from the center, rapidly covers the entire area.
The fire on the contrary, once the match has grazed a shred of lace soaked in gasoline, spreads through the whole mass all at once, immediately doing away with the lacerated victim who is still stirring faintly, the heap of linen used in the sacrifice, the hunting knife, the whole room from which I have just had time to make my escape.
When I get to the middle of the corridor, I realize that the fire is already roaring in the elevator shaft, from top to bottom of the building, where I have lingered too long. Luckily there remained the fire escapes, zigzagging down the façade. Reversing my steps, then, I hurry toward the French window at the other end. It is locked. No matter how hard I press the catchiii every direction, I cannot manage to release it. The bitter smoke fills my lungs and blinds me. With a sharp kick, aimed at the bottom of the window, I send tue flat of my sole through four panes and their wooden frames. The broken glass tinkles shrilly as it falls out onto the iron platform. At the same time, reaching me along with the fresh air from outside and drowning out the roar of the flames, I hear the clamor of the crowd which has gathered in the street below.
I slip through the opening and I begin climbing down the iron steps. On all sides, at each floor, other panes are exploding because of the heat of the conflagration. Their tinkling sound, continuously amplified, accompanies me in my descent. I take the steps two at a time, three at a time.
Occasionally I stop a second to lean over the railing: it seems to me that the crowd at my feet is increasingly far away; I no longer even distinguish from each other the tiny heads raised toward me; soon there remains no more than a slightly blacker area in the gathering twilight, an area which is perhaps merely a reflection on the sidewalk gleaming after the recent shower. The shouts from a moment ago already constitute no more than a vague rustle which melts into the murmur of the city. And the warning siren of a distant fire engine, repeating its two plaintive notes, has something reassuring about it, something peaceful, something ordinary.
I close the French window, whose catch needs to be oiled. Now there is complete silence. Slowly I turn around to face Laura, who has remained a few feet behind me, in the passageway. “No,” I say, “no one’s there.“
“All the same, he stayed out there, as if he was on sentry duty, all day long.”
“Well, he’s gone now.”
In the corner of the recess formed by the building opposite, I have just caught sight of the black raincoat made even shinier by the rain glistening in the yellow light of a nearby streetlamp.
garish-painted devices: slot machines whose enigmatic apertures, which respectively devour and spit forth change, are embellished so as to make more obvious their resemblance to the female organ, games of chance allowing the player to lose in ten seconds some hundreds of thousands of imaginary dollars, automatic distributors of educational photographs showing scenes of war or copulation, pinball machines whose scoreboards include a series of villas and limousines, in which fires break out as a result of the movements made by the steel balls, shooting galleries with tracer bullets trained on the pedestrians in an avenue set up as the target, dartboards representing the naked body of a pretty girl crucified against a stake, racing cars driven by remote control, electric baseball, stereopticons of horror films, etc.There are also, alongside, huge souvenir shops in which are set out, arranged in parallel rows of identical objects, plastic reproductions of world capitals and famous structures, ranging, from top to bottom of the display, from the Statue of Liberty, the Chicago stockyards, to the giant Buddha of Kamakura, the Blue Villa in Hong Kong, the lighthouse at Alexandria, Christopher Columbus’ egg, the Venus of Milo, Greuze’s Broken Pitcher, the Eye of God carved in marble, Niagara Falls with its wreaths of mist made out of iridescent nylon. Lastly there are the pornographic bookshops, which are merely the extension in depth of those of Forty-Second Street, a few yards, or dozen of yards, or hundreds of yards up above.
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