the “Introduction” section from Georges Bataille’s The Blue of Noon:
In London, in a cellar, in a neighborhood dive — the most squalid of unlikely places — Dirty was drunk. Utterly so. I was next to her (my hand was still bandaged from being cut by a broken glass.) Dirty that day was wearing a sumptuous evening gown (I was unshaven and unkempt.) As she stretched her long legs, she went into a violent convulsion. The place was crowded with men, and their eyes were getting ominous; the eyes of these perplexed men recalled spent cigars. Dirty clasped her naked thighs with both hands. She moaned as she bit into a grubby curtain. She was as drunk as she was beautiful. Staring at a gaslamp, she rolled round, irate eyes.
"What’s going on?" she shouted.
In the same instant, like a cannon going off in a cloud of dust, she jumped. From eyes that bulged like a scarecrow’s came a stream of tears.
She shouted again: "Troppmann!"
As she looked at me her eyes opened wider. With long dirty hands she stroked my sick head. My forehead was damp from fever. She was crying, with wild entreaty, the way one vomits. She was sobbing so hard her hair was drenched with tears.
The scene that preceded this nauseous carnival — afterwards, rats must have come crawling over the floor round the two sprawled bodies — was in every way worthy of Dostoevsky.
Drunkenness had committed us to dereliction, in pursuit of some grim response to the grimmest of compulsions. Before being wholly affected by drink, we had managed to retreat to a room at the Savoy. Dirty had noticed that the elevator attendant was very ugly (in spite of his handsome uniform, you might have taken him for a gravedigger.)
She pointed this out to me with a distracted laugh. Her speech was already awry — she spoke like a drunk woman.
"You know — ", racked as she was by hiccups, she kept stopping short, "when I was a kid . . . I remember . . . I came here with my mother. Here. About ten years ago. So I must have been twelve . . . . My mother was a faded old lady, sort of like the Queen of England . . . So, as it happened, coming out of the elevator, the elevator man — we just saw him —"
"Who — him?"
"Yes. The same one as today. He didn’t stop it level — the elevator went up too far — she fell flat on her face. She came tumbling down — my mother —"
Dirty burst out laughing, like some lunatic. She couldn’t stop.
Struggling to find my words, I said to her, "Don’t laugh any more. You’ll never get through your story."
She stopped laughing and began shouting: "Oh, my, I’m getting silly — I’ll have to . . . No, no, I’ll finish my story. My mother. Not stirring, with her skirt over her head, that enormous skirt of hers. Like someone dead. Not another stir out of her. They picked her up and began putting her to bed. She started to puke — she was stewed to the eyebrows, except that one second earlier you couldn’t tell — that woman . . . She was like a mastiff. She was scary. "
I said to Dirty, abjectly: "I’d like to fall down in front of you, just the way she did. . ."
"Would you throw up?" Dirty asked me, without even a smile. She kissed me inside the mouth.
I went into the bathroom. I was very pale. For no reason at all I looked at myself in the mirror for a long time; I was horribly unkempt, almost coarse, with swollen features that were not even ugly, and the rank look of a man just out of bed.
Dirty was alone in the bedroom. It was a huge room lighted by a multitude of ceiling lamps. She wandered around, walking straight ahead, as though she would never stop. She seemed literally crazy.
Her shoulders were bare to the point of indecency. In that light I found the glitter of her blond hair unbearable. She gave me a feeling of purity nonetheless. Even in her debauchery, there was such candor in her that I sometimes wanted to grovel at her feet. I was afraid of her. I saw that she was worn out. She was on the point of falling down. She began gasping for breath, panting like an animal; she was suffocating. Her mean, hunted look was driving me insane. She stopped — I think her legs were squirming under her dress. There was no doubt she was about to start raving. She rang the bell for the maid.
After a few moments, a redhaired, fresh-complexioned, and rather pretty maid came in. She seemed to gag on the smell. It was a highly unusual smell for so opulent a place: that of a lowdown brothel. Dirty had given up trying to stand on her feet unless she had a wall to lean on. She seemed to be in horrible pain. I don’t know at what point in the day she had smothered herself in cheap perfumes, but in addition to the indescribable state she had gotten herself into, she gave off a sour smell of armpit and crotch which, mingling with the perfume, recalled the stench of an infirmary. She also reeked of whisky, and she was belching…
The English girl was aghast.
"You’re just the personI need," Dirty announced, "but first you have to get the elevator man. There’s something I want to tell him."
The maid vanished; Dirty, now staggering, went and sat on a chair. With great difficulty she managed to set down a bottle and a glass on the floor beside her. Her eyes were growing heavy.
Her eyes tried to find me. I was no longer there. She lost her head. In a desperate voice she called out, "Troppmann!"
There was no reply.
She got up and several times nearly fell. She made it to the bathroom door; she saw me slumped on a bench, haggard and white. In my drunkenness I had just reopened the cut in my right hand. The bleeding, which I was trying to stanch with a towel, was dribbling rapidly onto the floor. Dirty, in front of me, was staring at me with eyes like an animal’s. I wiped my face, thus smearing blood over my forehead and nose. The electric light was getting blindingly bright. It was unbearable, this light that wore out the eyes.
There was a knock at the door. The maid came in, followed by the elevator attendant.
Dirty slumped onto the chair. After what seemed to me like a very long time, her eyes lowered and unseeing, she asked the elevator attendant, "You were here in 1924?"
The attendant answered yes.
"I want to ask you — the tall old lady . . . The one who fell down getting out of the elevator and vomited on the floor . . . You remember?"
Dirty was articulating through dead lips, seeing nothing.
In fearful embarrassment the two servants cast sidelong glances, questioning and observing one another.
"I do remember," the attendant admitted. "It’s true."
(This man, who was in his forties, may have had the face of a thieving gravedigger, but it was of such an unctuosity that it seemed to have been pickled in oil.)
"A glass of whisky?" Dirty asked.
No one answered. The two characters stood there in deferential, painful expectancy.
Dirty asked to be given her purse. Her gestures were so sluggish it took a long minute for her hand to reach the bottom of the purse; as soon as she found the stack of banknotes, she tossed it on the floor, saying merely, "Go shares."
The gravedigger had found something to do. He picked up the precious stack and began
counting out the pounds aloud. There were twenty in all. He handed ten to the maid.
"We may leave?" he asked after a while. "Oh, no, not yet. Please, sit down."
She seemed to be suffocating; blood was rushing to her face. Showing great deference, the two servants had remained standing; but they too became red and anxious, partly because of the staggering size of the tip, partly because of the implausible, incomprehensible situation.
Dirty remained mutely perched on the chair. There was a long silence: you could have heard our hearts inside their bodies. I walked over to the door, pale and sick, my face smeared with blood; I was hiccupping and on the point of vomiting. In terror the servants saw that water was trickling across the chair and down the legs of their beautiful guest. While the urine was gathering into a puddle that spread over the carpet, a noise of slackening bowels made itself ponderously evident beneath the young woman’s dress — beet-red, her eyes twisted upwards, she was squirming on her chair like a pig under the knife.
The trembling, nauseated maid had to wash Dirty, who seemed calm and content once again. She let herself be wiped and soaped. The elevator man aired the room until the smell had completely disappeared. He then bandaged my cut to stop the bleeding. Things were all back in their proper place. The maid was putting away the last articles of clothing. Washed, perfumed, more beautiful than ever, Dirty was stretched out on the bed, still drinking. She made the attendant sit down. He sat next to her in an armchair. At this point, drunkenness gave her the forsaken candor of a child, of a little girl. Even when she remained silent, she seemed forsaken. Occasionally she would laugh to herself.
"Tell me," she at last said to the elevator attendant, "during all the years you’ve been at the Savoy, you must have had lots of repulsive experiences."
"Oh, not all that many, "he replied, although not before finishing his whisky, which seemed to give him a boost and restore his composure. "The guests here are
well-behaved, as a rule."
"Oh, well-behaved — that’s a whole way of life isn’t it? Just like my departed mother when she took a tumble in front of you and puked all over your sleeves…"
And Dirty burst into dissonant laughter, to which, in that emptiness, there was no response.
She went on: "And do you know why they’re all well-behaved? They’re scared, do you understand? Their teeth are chattering — that’s why they never dare let anything show. I can sense that because I’m scared myself — yes, my good man, I am. Can’t you tell? Even of you. Scared to death."
"Wouldn’t Madame like a glass of water?" the maid asked fearfully.
"Shit!" Dirty curtly answered, sticking out her tongue at her, "I happen to be sick, don’t forget that. I also happen to have a few brains in my head. "Then: "You don’t give a fuck, but things like that make me want to vomit, do you hear?"
With a mild gesture I managed to interrupt her. As I made her take another swallow of Scotch, I said to the attendant, "Admit that if it was up to you, you’d strangle her."
"You’re right,’ Dirty yelped, "look at those huge paws, those gorilla’s paws of his. They’re hairy as balls."
"But, Madame," the attendant protested "you know I’m here to oblige you."
"What an idea! No, you idiot, I don’t need your balls. I’m feeling sick to my stomach."
As she chortled, she belched.
The maid dashed out and came back with a basin. She seemed all servility, and utterly decent. I sat there pale and listless. I kept drinking more and more.
"And as for you — you, the nice girl, " Dirty began, this time addressing the maid, "you masturbate, and you look at the teapots in shopwindows for when you’ll set up housekeeping. If I had a fanny like yours I’d let everybody see it. Otherwise, one day you‘ll happen to find the hole while you’re scratching and die of shame."
Appalled I abruptly told the maid, "Sprinkle some water on her face — can’t you see she’s getting all hot?"
The maid immediately started bustling about. She put a wet towel on Dirty’s forehead. Dirty dragged herself over to the window. Beneath her she saw the Thames and, in the background, some of the most hideous buildings in London, now magnified in the darkness. She quickly vomited in the open air. In her relief she called for me, and, as I held her forehead I stared at that foul sewer of a landscape: the river and the warehouses. In the vicinity of the hotel the lights of luxury apartments loomed insolently.
Gazing out at London, I almost wept, I was so distraught with anxiety. As I breathed in the cool air, childhood memories — of little girls, for instance, with whom I used to play at telephone and diabolo — merged with the vision of the elevator attendant’s apelike paws.
What was happening, moreover, seemed to me trivial and somehow ludicrous. I myself was empty. I was scarcely even capable of inventing new horrors to fill the emptiness. I felt powerless and degraded. It was in this uncompliant and indifferent frame of mind that I followed Dirty outside. Dirty kept me going; nevertheless, I could not conceive of any human creature being more derelict and adrift.
This anxiety that never for a moment let the body slacken provided the only explanation for a wonderful ability: we managed, with no respect for conventional pigeonholes, to eliminate every possible urge, in the room at the Savoy as well as in the dive, wherever we had to.