Volume 1 of the 1984 Trilogy
Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication. – Steve Jobs
Seldom have I known any profound being that had anything to say to this world, unless forced to stammer out something by way of getting a living. – Herman Melville
I’m about to turn forty and the questions that I asked myself at twenty are still burning, undecided, unresolved. I’ve had acne, I went to university, I fucked around, I got married, I took drugs, I travelled, I did sports, I read newspapers, I said “hello”, I said “yes, thank you’, I was class president, I was employee of the month, I fought for this cause and I fought for that cause. I opened a bank account, I saved, I bought a car, I drove a little drunk but not a lot, I didn’t burn through red lights, I ironed my shirts on Sunday evenings, I bought gifts for Christmas, birthdays, weddings, Valentine’s Day. I’ve taken life insurance, I bought a flat screen, a laptop, I’ve recycled empty bottles, paper, cardboard, plastic. I’ve eaten fruits and vegetables and dairy products. I’ve turned off lights when leaving, I made sure faucets were closed tightly, I washed my hands, and I never pissed on the toilet seat. I traded in my vinyl records for cassettes, then my cassettes for CDs and my CDs for mp3s. I’ve got leather shoes for work, Reeboks for sport, cleats for the mountain, and galoshes for the rain.
I watched Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane because it’s the biggest film in cinematic history. I watched Titanic because it’s the film that was watched by the biggest number of viewers in cinematic history. I watched The Seven Year Itch because it contains the cinematic history’s most iconic scene, in which Marilyn holds down her white dress atop the subway grates. I watched Pierrot le Fou because the New Wave changed cinematic history. I watched Jaws because my father wanted to take me to the movies. I watched Star Wars because I was ten. I read Brave New World because it was on the curriculum. I read Agatha Christie’s Ten Little Indians and Ernest Callenbach’s Ecotopia for the same reason. I’ve played baseball, I’ve played handball, I’ve played volleyball, I’ve played football, I’ve played badminton but I never played hockey. At fourteen, I picked vegetables to learn what it was to work. At fifteen, I worked as a babysitter to pay for the movies, a pair of jeans, a pack of beer, and an Iron Maiden album. At sixteen, I pumped gas so I could spend a week camping in Cape Cod. At seventeen, I worked as a librarian to pay the return bus fare between Quebec City and Thetford Mines. At eighteen, I worked as a host at the Educative Society of Canada to pay for a shared apartment, and I worked as a waiter to eat.
I owned a tricycle, I owned roller skates, ice skates, a skateboard, a 10-speed Gitane, a moped, a Honda Civic, a Renault 5, a Ford Horizon, a Peugeot 305, a Peugeot 306, and a Peugeot 307.
I developed an allergy to cat hair, I smoked a pack a day for ten years and then I stopped. I kept my wisdom teeth, I donated my sperm. I shattered a bus shelter. I built a house.
I’ve been a model, a journalist, a waiter, a farmhand. I’ve worked at a cement plant, in a hardware store, and in a chemistry lab. I’ve been a French instructor and an English instructor. I’ve done theatre and I’ve pumped gas at a Petro-Canada managed by Ti-Cul Perron.
I’ve fished trout from the banks of rivers. I’ve fished bass from canoes on lakes. I’ve fished gudgeon from streams, I’ve fished salmon with a fly.
I’ve listened to disco, rock, heavy metal, jazz, fusion, prog, country, grunge, classical, baroque, opera, and world music.
I’ve smoked weed and hash, I’ve snorted coke and mescaline, I’ve swallowed acid and ecstasy. I’ve gotten pissed from beer, I’ve gotten pissed from whisky, I’ve gotten pissed from red wine, I’ve gotten pissed from rum and from vodka. I’ve mixed, I’ve vomited, I’ve woken up with hangovers and done it all again, numerous times.
I’ve read Diderot, I’ve read Voltaire, I’ve read the Bible. I’ve read Shakespeare, I’ve read Melville, I’ve read Rabelais. I’ve read Baudelaire, I’ve read Flaubert, I’ve read Ducharme. I’ve read Pynchon, Williams, Capote, Irving and above all Brautigan. I’ve read Kerouac. I’ve read Miller, I’ve read Rimbaud, I’ve read Camus. And then also Blanchot, Yourcenar, Sartre, Bakhtin, Céline, Cyrano, Hesse, McLuhan, Sterne, Zola. I’ve also sampled Plato, Nietzsche, Barthes, Freud, Newton, and Galileo.
I’ve been cross-country skiing, alpine skiing, snowshoeing, rowboating, windsurfing, and scuba-diving. I’ve surfed, skydived, and wiped out in motocross. I’ve done tobogganing, rafting, and a little bit of spelunking.
I’ve caught toads, frogs, garter snakes, tadpoles, grasshoppers, snails, butterflies, caterpillars, mice, and voles. I’ve trapped marmots, muskrats, squirrels, and foxes. I’ve hunted partridge and set up rabbit snares.
I’ve ridden a Ski-doo, I’ve ridden a Sea-doo, I’ve watched Scooby-Doo. I’ve watched Dallas, The Incredible Hulk, The Dukes of Hazard, and Knight Rider. On Saturday nights, back when I was young, I had dinner in front of Space: 1999. For four years on December 31st, Michel Fugain & Le Big Bazar rang in my New Year’s Eve. While I played with my Legos on Saturday mornings, Candy Candy, Belle and Sebastian, Captain Future, and Captain Harlock flickered on the screen.
One summer, my dad took me to Old Orchard Beach in Maine. After three days of camping in the rain, we came back. Later, my mom took me to Ogunquit, which went better. The following year, it was Toronto and Niagara Falls. I participated in a student exchange program to Calgary.
When I was five years old, I visited Montreal, Rome, Amsterdam, Seville, Munich, Venice, Bordeaux, Paris, Bruges, and Auschwitz. When I was twenty-three years old I did it all again, going from Paris to Nice, then Monaco, then Brindisi, then Athens, then Corfu, then Rome, Geneva, Luxembourg, Bruges, Amsterdam, and back to Paris before returning to Quebec City.
I studied the sciences and mathematics (integral and differential calculus), and I took courses in politics (totalitarianism according to Hannah Arendt) and economics (Adam Smith’s invisible hand and Schumpeter’s creative destruction). I also studied the history of cinema (from Battleship Potemkin to Frank Capra) and the historical novel (from Racine to Yourcenar).
I’ve traveled charter, I’ve traveled economy class, I’ve traveled business class, and I’ve traveled first class. I’ve crossed Canada by bus, I’ve crossed Europe by train. I’ve crossed the Atlantic in a 747, a 737, a DC-10 and an A-320.
I’ve participated on reading committees and editorial committees, I’ve sat with the board of directors, I’ve done brainstorming sessions, weekly reviews, monthly meetings. I’ve been project leader, coordinator, assistant, manager, director, and president. I’ve written summaries, technical manuals, I’ve implemented strategies.
I’ve made love in the snow, I’ve made love in a pool, I’ve made love in a plane. I’ve fucked in the kitchen, I’ve fucked in the living room, in the den. I’ve fucked on a washing machine, I’ve fucked in a stairwell, I’ve fucked in a car, I’ve fucked in the middle of a field, under a tree, in the shower, and in a castle tower.
I’ve eaten poutine in Trois-Rivières, I’ve dined on goulash in Budapest, I’ve eaten schnitzels in Prague, I’ve eaten tapas in Seville. I’ve eaten a pizza in Naples, duck confit in Bordeaux, steak frites in Paris, grilled chicken in Porto, sausage in Strasbourg, lobster in Saly Portudal, suckling pig in Hong Kong, fajitas in Hollywood, pad thai in Toronto, and a burger in New York.
I’ve given crayons to kids living in the baobab forests of Senegal. I’ve bought drugs by taxi in a Chicago ghetto. I’ve snorted coke in a Montreal tavern. I’ve eaten at Gaudi’s Casa Batlló in Barcelona. I’ve pissed in the toilets of the Peninsula in Kowloon. I had my bags searched at the Ritz-Carlton in Istanbul. I’ve served beers to Renaud around the time he was singing “Miss Maggie”. I’ve traveled next to Luc Plamondon as he slept. I’ve won story contests, photo contests. I’ve won a bronze medal, a silver medal, and a gold medal. I’ve lost many races.
I’ve repaired a washing machine, I’ve repaired a vacuum cleaner, I’ve done plumbing, I’ve put up a wall, I’ve assembled a chicken coop, a doghouse, a table, a couch, and a birdhouse.
I’ve dissected dead bodies, I’ve filmed surgeries. I’ve dined with directors and surgeons, accountants, secretaries and economists, architects and the unemployed, professors and mechanics, the big, the fat, the small, the weak.
I’ve owned a Texas Instrument 99/4A, I’ve owned a Commodore VIC-20, I’ve owned a Macintosh Classic, a Power Mac, a G3, a G4, a G5. I’ve learned how to use Windows, Outlook, Word, Excel, Photoshop, Dreamweaver, Flash, Final Cut, Motion, Netscape, Gopher, iTunes, QuarkXPress, PageMaker, InDesign, Toast, and After Effects.
I’ve done layout, brochures, posters, books, video editing, digital shooting, 3D animation, audio mixing, photography. I signed myself up for Facebook, I created a blog, I used Google Docs, I opened a Yahoo account, a Free account, a Hotmail account.
I’ve also been a soldier. I’ve cut off cocks, heads, and arms. I’ve raped young girls and run over women with a Hummer. I’ve blown up embassies, I’ve gone AWOL. I saved lives, bandaged wounds, and fed children.
I’ve seen the Twin Towers on fire. I’ve seen a journalist beheaded like Saint John the Baptist. I’ve seen Salome belly dance. I’ve seen Genghis Khan’s elephants cross the Mongol Empire, I’ve seen Roland carve the Pyrenees with his sword. I’ve seen Mount Vesuvius destroy Pompeii and Erina, who screamed as lava melted her feet, her legs, her trunk, her head, levy her last look at me. I’ve seen Geronimo charge a cavalry line. I’ve seen skulls scalped by Iroquois. I’ve seen skulls scalped by white men. Under the watchful eye of Moctezuma, I took part in the sacrifice of six thousand virgins. I stabbed Caesar, I took the streetcar with Brando. I’ve leapt from the top of the Statue of Liberty. I’ve pissed blood under the blade of Guillotin’s invention. I’ve been shot in the neck and seen my blood splatter across the floor. I’ve seen the firing line before being blindfolded. I’ve soldered the bodies of Fords in Detroit. I sold everything in ’29 before turning on the gas. I’ve died on the electric chair, and I’ve worked at Menlo Park.
In Vietnam I burned children alive with napalm. I climbed the stage at Woodstock. I set a foot on the moon. I fired at Kennedy. I bombed London. I entered Havana with Castro. I carried the stones for the Great Wall of China. I led a revolution with Mao. I was a Bolshevik. I blessed the Assembly. I’ve harpooned whales. I’ve sold brushes. I inaugurated the Panama Canal.
I’ve marched against nuclear energy, against the death penalty, against low wages, against the church, against violence, against war, against colonialism, against the cult of personality, against the massacre of Indians, against circumcision, and I’ve filmed orgies in the Californian villas of Malibu.
And now, I’m going to swim the one-hundred-meter freestyle in under a minute.
Johnny Weissmuller, born Jànos, arrived into the world in a little village of the Austro-Hungarian Empire at the start of the twentieth century. More precisely, he was born on June 2nd, 1904, in Szabadfalu, and he would come to embody, in immaculate perfection, the last of the great myths: Tarzan, the Apeman.
Gabriel Rivages was conceived in May 1968 in the backwoods of a Canadian forest. In Paris, it was called the unrestrained pursuit of pleasure. His mother, a waitress at the only hotel on a wildlife reserve, had succumbed to the charms of a foreman. Gabriel was born on February 13, 1969, the same day the Front de liberation du Québec set off a bomb at the Montreal Stock Exchange. The president of the exchange noted the event with irony: “You might say that the market went up!”
At the age of forty, Gabriel Rivages feared his life hadn’t amounted to much. After the women, the drugs, the travels, the books, the many jobs, and the children, he still felt a deep-seated emptiness inside him. He fills it with everything he can get his hands on.
The Project Gutenberg e-book of Tarzan of the Apes, by Edgar Rice Burroughs, is for the use of anyone anywhere at no cost and with almost no restrictions whatsoever. You may copy it, give it away, or reuse it under the terms of the Project Gutenberg License available within this e-book or online at
Title: Tarzan of the Apes
Author: Edgar Rice Burroughs
First release date: August 1, 1993 [eBook #78]
Character set encoding: ASCII
START OF THIS PROJECT GUTENBERG EBOOK TARZAN OF THE APES
Produced by Judith Boss. HTML version by Al Haines.
I Out to Sea
II The Savage Home
III Life and Death
IV The Apes
V The White Ape
VI Jungle Battles
VII The Light of Knowledge
VIII The Tree-Top Hunter
IX Man and Man
X The Fear-Phantom
XI “King of the Apes”
XII Man’s Reason
XIII His Own Kind
XIV At the Mercy of the Jungle
XV The Forest God
XVI “Most Remarkable”
XVIII The Jungle Toll
XIX The Call of the Primitive
XXI The Village of Torture
XXII The Search Party
XXIII Brother Men
XXIV Lost Treasure
XXV The Outpost of the World
XXVI The Height of Civilization
XXVII The Giant Again
IT SMELLS OF FIR
Gabriel Rivages was born on February 13, 1969, at 8:50 pm. It was snowing all across Quebec. During the final contractions, his mother wavered between the imminent birth and thoughts of suicide. The violent convulsions of her abdomen only made her want to vomit. She buckled, unable to suffer more pain. During the lulls, since her room was on the fifth floor, she said to herself, if only I could get myself up, break the glass, and jump.
It smells of fir,
Rain was coming
Under the stars of the day.
She looked over my seven years.
She didn’t dare,
So I asked her,
I wanted to know why,
Why I felt like crying.
She said, “I’m leaving now”
And so I cried.
In 1929, near one of Paris’ largest public gardens, the Bois de Boulogne, the Molitor pool opened with a lavish inauguration presided over by Johnny Weissmuller and Aileen Riggin, an Olympic diving champion. At twenty-five years old, and three years prior to his role as Tarzan in the movies, Weissmuller was known around the world for his five Olympic gold medals. A lifeguard in his spare time, he worked at the Molitor during the summer of 1929. The pool also hosted fashion shows, theatrical performances, and training sessions for figure skaters.
I’m particularly fond of the photo where we see Weissmuller and Riggin, water up to their waists, in Molitor bathing suits. They’re standing side by side, and he looks a little apprehensive. It’s almost as if, there, in the water, they wanted to get closer to each other, maybe even embrace, but they won’t dare, frozen before the lens. In 1929, the two champions were far from the stock-market crash, far from America, far from home. The more I look at the photo, the more I see something between them. I see them going back to the hotel, having a drink at the bar, and sharing a good laugh at the funny accents of all the French around them. A little later, they climb the red-carpeted steps of the hotel’s grand staircase together.
Caption: “Aileen Riggin, campeã olimpica americana de saltos ornamentais. E Johnnny Weissmuller, o Tarzan, nas Piscinas Molitor (1929)”
It’s hot. It’s June 24, 1941. We’re in Freidorf, Romania. We’re in a war. In 1904, this same village was called Szabadfalu. It was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Today, two soldiers from the Third Reich are at the mayor’s office. They’re scouring the registers. The mayor helps them. They’re hunting for deserters. All men old enough to fight must join the troops. We’re in a war.
Near four o’clock, one of the soldiers finds a discrepancy. Someone named Jànos Weiszmueller is missing from the call. The mayor is questioned. He knows exactly where to find him—at the village cinema.
Fifteen minutes later, the two soldiers burst into the dark theatre. They order the house lights on. The bigger of the two bellows, “Where’s the citizen named Jànos Weiszmueller hiding?” In seemingly the same motion, the entire audience turns and points to the screen. There he is, Johnny Weissmuller, in his first film for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer: Tarzan the Ape Man.
Seems that the Earth turns, on itself and around the Sun. Mm-hmm. There have been people burned alive for saying as much. Seems also that the universe is expanding, that the Sun will burn out in a couple billion years and that, in the beginning, man was nothing more than a tiny bit of seaweed. They say that the ozone layer has been punctured and that in less than a century there won’t be any more drinkable water left. And that margarine and cellphones can lead to cancer.
As for me, yesterday I read a book: Tokyo-Montana Express. The guy who wrote it was named Richard Brautigan. I say was named because in 1984 we found him dead in his California home, a revolver at his side.
Elizabeth and Petrus board the S.S. Rotterdam on January 14, 1905. They’re going to cross the Atlantic in the dead of winter. The S.S. Rotterdam sets off from the city of the same name to New York. For twelve days, Elizabeth and Petrus live in the ship’s bilge. They are third-class passengers. They sleep in the deepest part of the ship, beneath the waterline. Because they are poor, and you really have to be poor to spend twelve days in the belly of the beast. In the deep and dark dormitory where rats roam, they cough, spit, shit in buckets, scratch themselves, bitch, bawl, and above all, above everything, in the middle of the ocean, they barf. Elizabeth carries, in her arms, her seven-month-old son. America truly possesses a glamorous and powerful attraction.
In 1905, Johnny’s nurses his mother’s breast and Einstein asks the following question: “Does the inertia of a body depend upon its energy-content?” Johnny’s father found a job at a coalmine in Windber, Pennsylvania. Einstein answers: “E=mc2.”
Thursday, 2:30 pm, I’m in my Probabilities and Statistics for Economists course. The prof lectures and I take notes:
“In probability theory and in statistics, the Poisson distribution is a discrete probability distribution that describes the likelihood of a given number of events being produced in a fixed interval of time, if these events occur…”
At five, I go by my apartment to get ready. I change out of my jeans and t-shirt and into pleated black slacks and a presentable white button-down shirt. I have a change pouch containing a hundred dollars, my apron, my corkscrew, my notebook, and my pen.
Thirty minutes later, I’ve arrived at the restaurant. I’ve looked over the schedule. I’ve been assigned evening service in Section C. I’ve checked the set up: the glasses for water, the wine carafes, the garbage bags, the cutlery, the coffee cups, and the tea-bags. I’ve gone into the kitchen to ask what’s on the table d’hôte: on the menu, fish. My first two customers arrived close to 6pm. They didn’t want an aperitif. He took the table d’hôte, she took the pasta. I entered my code in the computer, I tapped in 107 for the table number, 2 for the number of people and 0 at “Beverages”. When I returned with the bread, they’d decided to take a half-bottle of Entre-Deux-Mers. Two businessmen sat down at 102. I passed by and said good evening. I returned to the computer, my code, 107, beverages: ½ Entre-Deux-Mers, I pressed “Order”. I came back around to 102 and asked if they might like aperitifs: a Laurentide and a Bloody Mary. Three people at 105, a teenager with her parents. 107’s entrée was ready in the kitchen. I served the salad with a ‘bon appétit’. The two businessmen were ready to order. I said good evening to 105 and checked that the hostess had indeed set them up with menus. A Caesar salad and a steak frites, which I noted in my notebook. At the bar, the Laurentide, the Bloody Mary, and the half-bottle of white awaited me. A colleague asked me if I wouldn’t mind changing a ten for two fives. I tapped in 105’s order on the computer. I got going on the next course for 107. I took plates back to the dishwashers. I had a moment of concern for the two guys who were still waiting. I brought them bread, I took another order, I’d forgotten glasses of water, I came back to see if anything was ready, a quarter of red at the bar. I gave Maryse a helping hand in serving the next course to the table with the girl dressed in red. I still had several free tables in my section. An older man with a newspaper sat down in 103.
The peak hour arrived. There were customers to receive, to seat, to set up with menus, to bring water, to acknowledge with hellos, remove entrée plates for 4 then prepare a coffee and a tea for 32, settle up the little couple in blue, collect the last tip, take back the daily special to the kitchen for 14, they’re pressed for time, they have a rendezvous anywhere, somewhere, a funeral for all I know, finally then, we have to set up 105 for one person. Don’t forget to tell them that there’s no more soup with the daily special, cut the bread, prepare three pitchers of water. Someone has to go down to the cellar, draft number three is empty. The banker at 3 knocked over his glass of red.
That was Thursday evening. Thursday evenings are big nights. We were eight on the floor. For three hours, we worked non-stop. We were in over our heads a little bit, but not by much. Once the rush passed, my legs were sore, I finished clearing my tables, I emptied my garbage can, I had a corner of my shirt sticking out from my pants, my apron was stained. We sat down at the table reserved for the wait-staff and each tallied our takings. The moment of truth: on a ticket appeared the total amount of your sales for the night. In your pouch, a big roll of bills, all the receipts, including your tips and the petty cash. We pay the house, we deduct our cut and, if the night was excellent, we find ourselves with eighty dollars extra, it’s our tips. That’s pretty much how we do it. Once everything’s closed up, we head to the bar to drink.
Tina served me a Bud. It was already getting close to last call. So she could finish up sooner, I helped her restock the beer fridge. She wiped everything down, the lights were all turned on. Two customers remained in the back, bags under their eyes. We gathered our things, tired, but we still had some adrenaline remaining in our empty stomachs. We went dancing. By four in the morning, my tips had evaporated. Statistically, it was quite unlikely that I would have a career in the restaurant business or in economics. Poisson was onto something.
The S.S. Rotterdam has passed before Liberty Enlightening the World. The poem engraved on her pedestal is too far. Millions of immigrants have passed before it, but how many have read the words by Emma Lazarus?
Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore,
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!
The New Colossus, 1883
The Statue of Liberty was inaugurated on October 28, 1886, by Grover Cleveland, the only American president to serve two nonconsecutive terms in the White House. As an honour to the young republic that proclaimed rights and liberties to equality and to happiness, France offered the United States of America a copper statue thirty-seven meters tall. Imagined by Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi and constructed by Gustave Eiffel, Liberty Enlightening the World is, today, the most visited monument in the United States.
France wanted to offer the Stature of Liberty to America in order to celebrate the one-hundredth birthday of the Declaration of Independence. The statue was supposed to be delivered in 1876. France was ten years late.
See stood there,
like a wire
In 1867, Bartholdi visits the Egyptian viceroy, Khedive Isma’il Pasha. He has a lighthouse project for the Suez Canal, which Lesseps is in the midst of digging. He draws, makes sketch after sketch, writes, sets up meetings, discusses, then obtains an appointment with the khedive.
It’s 11 am. It’s already very hot on Cairo’s streets. With his rolls under his arms, Bartholdi climbs the palace steps. He waits in an antechamber.
After a very long wait, he finds himself before two grand, golden doors. The viceroy receives him. Across a large mahogany table, he unrolls his drafts. A beautiful woman draped in long robes spreads across the table. A torch in hand, she rests upon a giant granite pedestal. She’s Egypt bringing light to Asia. This is the lighthouse that Bartholdi proposes to the khedive. A lighthouse made to measure for the Suez Canal.
The figure of the beautiful Egyptian imagined by Bartholdi was inspired directly from a famous painting by Delacroix: Liberty Leading the People, a woman with breasts exposed standing atop the Parisian barricades.
But, with a simple shake of the head, the khedive rejects Bartholdi and his sketches of a woman-shaped lighthouse.
These days, more than two million people visit the Statue of Liberty each year. Bartholdi has been avenged.
This is the story of a poor guy who sold pencil sharpeners in Chicago, 1911. Things had started off relatively well for him. His father had money. He’d attended the Michigan Military Academy. He was supposed to go to West Point. But he fails the entrance exam. By and by, he finds himself in Arizona, in a cavalry regiment. One evening, after kilometers of trotting and galloping, he collapses. Medical exams reveal he has a heart problem. His military career ends there, in Arizona, one evening in July 1897.
He struggles for a brief time, working at several ranches in the area. His father offers him a job, but it isn’t what he wants. What he wants is the city, the big city. That’ll be Chicago.
But his struggles continue. They continue to the point that he finds himself selling pencil sharpeners. The only advantage of the job is the free time. And, during that free time, he reads. He devours pulp magazines. And the more he devours them, the more he finds them vacant. They pass the time but, frankly, our pencil-sharpener salesman can’t believe that people are paid to write stories this bad. He tells himself he could write them much better. So that’s what he does. He sharpens many pencils and he’s off.
One year later, he receives four hundred dollars for Under the Moons of Mars. A fortune in 1912. But all this is nothing compared to what the adventure of his next character will bring him: Tarzan, the ape man.
When I was young, my best friend was my cousin Luc. He was like my brother. I was eight years old and he was twelve. He was also my hero, in a way. For his birthday, he’d received the Beatles’ red album. I can see us in the basement, the music blaring. We sang, “She loves you, yeah yeah yeah”, without understanding any of it. So it was my cousin Luc who introduced me to the Beatles. Much later Paul McCartney sang “Say Say Say” with Michael Jackson. But that’s another story.
My story with the Beatles is really the red album. They’re all there, on the balcony, they’re looking down. To make me happy, my dad bought me the blue album. But it was the red one that I wanted.
Today, what brings me back to the Beatles is another record, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. It’s superb. It was released June 1st, 1967. Moreover, behind Ringo, tucked in between Marilyn and Edgar Allan Poe, he’s there, in black and white, his head jutting out: Johnny Weissmuller.
After the Beatles, my cousin Luc made me listen to Kiss, Styx, and Led Zeppelin. After that, we lost touch.
Austria Est Imperare Orbi Universo. It’s up to Austria to command the entire universe. That was the Habsburg’s slogan. Petrus was fed up with everything. Elizabeth had given birth seven months ago. On January 14, 1905, they leave Holland aboard the S.S. Rotterdam. They cross the Atlantic. It’s winter. They are at the bottom of the hold: third-class passengers. We sleep with the rats. We don’t have water. We suffocate, vomit, gasp and drift toward America. If we have to eat rats, then we eat rats. For America, we’re ready to do it all. The baby’s finally sleeping. It all begins in the belly of the beast.
ARMELLE AND GIONO
Now the Lord provided a huge fish to swallow Jonah, and Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.
From this biblical passage, Melville in Moby Dick arrives at this:
“Delight is to him, who gives no quarter in the truth, and kills, burns, and destroys all sin though he pluck it from under the robes of Senators and Judges.”
But that’s how Giono translated the passage.
Armel Guerne translated it this way:
“Great delight to him who, for the truth, gives no quarter, who kills, burns, and destroys all sin, even in exposing and plucking it out from under the robes of Senators and the robes of Judges.”
That reminds me of Armelle, who’d traveled from Paris to Montreal to study at UQAM. That’s where I met her. She had skin as soft as Bible paper. I remember her breasts. They were a sight to behold, perfectly poised. Magnificent breasts, practically suspended in air. When I pulled back her dress, they looked like they were calling my hands, and the Lord saw that it was good.
A QUESTION OF PRINCIP
His mother gave him water wings. He’d turned ten at the beginning of the month. Today is Sunday. It’s hot and humid. For once, the windy city is that only in name. Flags fly at half-mast. It’s hot in Chicago. Two children walk toward the lake. They pass under the skytrain. It’s early in the afternoon. It’s a full-on heatwave. The swim that awaits will relieve them of all that, of the heat, of their alcoholic father, of their crying mother, of the beatings, of the city. When he dives, when he leaps, when he floats out, he doesn’t even feel the water, he’s not swimming but flying, he’s gliding along the current. He and his brother can spend hours, days, like this. But going back is not a question, it’s beginning to get late, and we’re dying of hunger. We’ll nevertheless dive in one more time, one more walk across the wharf. He gets up, climbs, all the way to the top. It always makes his stomach tingle a little to see the lake from that high up. And he jumps, he falls, and he gains momentum, and his naked skin explodes into the water. We hear an enormous detonation, it’s June 28, 1914. Gavrilo Princip has just fired at the Archduke Franz Ferdinand. Johnny breaks out in laughter. He was scared, but it didn’t hurt. Seven thousand kilometers from here, the First World War is about to break out.
I’m always a little let down when, in reading a literary translation, I come across a passage that appears, in its new language’s context, to be little more than a carbon copy of the original. This in itself, I feel, is a difficult idea to translate, but anyone who’s read literature in translation must surely be aware of the vague discrimination I’m referring to: a sense that though specific words have been dutifully rendered into English, some deeper and arguably more significant import of the thought process has been left behind in the original language, creating a needless foreignness to the narrative.
Of course, translation is the conflicted act of overcoming and preserving that foreignness. I hesitate to use a more prevalent word like exoticism in this case, which strikes me more as a trending perception (or merely a misperception) of what a distant reader’s imagination perceives to be the attractions of a book’s source culture. The foreignness I have in mind has more to do with hegemonic values that exist in cultures, society-specific patterns of thought and rationalization that rise up into the way an author writes, unconsciously. What is a translator to do with these undercurrents that suffuse the language but are not ably represented by the word, when a language and its idea threaten to separate?
I find this problem to be especially acute in Canadian literature, where French-Canadian novels are routinely translated for English-Canadian audiences and the risk of separation hangs over both cultures as a matter of history. Here, language is political and has been since the formation of the union well over a century ago. Culture in Canada is a fragmented affair; a Quebecois experience is quite separate from an Acadian experience or, for that matter, an Ontarian or Atlantic or Prairie experience. We are a country of many parallel experiences with few root identities to bind us all together. The translation of the Quebecois realist novel, especially, poses a unique conflict in need of delicate navigation. The province’s literary heritage can be deeply inward-looking, even impenetrable, in its internal folklores, its nationalistic aspirations, and its thematic preoccupations when compared to other North American novelistic traditions.
Which is why as a potential translator I fell in love with Éric Plamondon’s 1984 trilogy, of which Hungary-Hollywood Express constitutes the first volume. Here is an author who represents Quebec but looks outward to North American popular culture and historical artifact at large in order to find the framework with which to represent his home. In that respect, the novels are quite un-Quebecois in their approach but, to an open mind, resolutely progressive in their presentation of a Quebecois character that lives and participates, interacts with, North American sensibilities.
This could be partly due to the fact that Éric Plamondon is an outsider, a Quebecois novelist based in Bordeaux, France. He belongs to a loose collective of adventurous neo-formalists in Quebec, many of whom are associated with the Le Quartanier publishing house, who are infusing the techniques and tropes of American postmodernism’s avant-garde period with the poetics and heritage of Quebec’s literary traditions, to largely innovative effect.
The above segment represents the opening pages of his 2011 debut, Hungary-Hollywood Express, named so on account of events that occur in that year and connect the three books together. The trio of novels has quickly become a contemporary Quebecois classic. In this first volume, which follows the life of Tarzan actor and Olympic gold medalist Johnny Weissmuller, the year alludes to the actor’s death. In the second volume, Mayonnaise, the year refers to the year that sixties counter-culture writer Richard Brautigan committed suicide. In the final book, Apple S, which presents a fictionalized biography of computer giant Steve Jobs, the year is a reference to the first public presentation of the Mac.
It’s worth pointing out this sort of gamesmanship across the three novels of the trilogy because it illustrates the pointillist manifestations of Plamondon’s narrative approach, and the central challenge in translating his historically charged and globally implicating imagination from one language to another. The novels, composed primarily of non-linear vignettes that riff associatively from one to the next, use vocabulary and allusion to build extended leitmotifs that double as plot. The thrill of reading Plamondon, then, comes from investing oneself in the connection and recollection of these language games.
The combination of historical record and language assembly that infuses the 1984 trilogy’s base storyline means that any worthwhile translation of Plamondon ought to operate simultaneously with this triangular relationship of priorities in mind. The patterns of repetition and evolution in history and language imbue a surface-oriented visual component to the narrative; the reader must recognize that such an assembly is underway and intrinsically understand the implications of what the eye sees.
In this way, the novels call on the translator to engage in the hybrid creativity of the writing. The translator becomes a sort of complicit visual artist, using vocabulary for its surface connectivity while adapting the linguistic structures of the author to construct a parallel mechanism that stands independent of the original text while still communicating the same underlying message.
For all its history and formalist experimentation, the 1984 trilogy is an exercise in self-perception, borne from a culture preoccupied with self-assessment and self-definition. It manages this feat by instead looking outward and re-calibrating the lens through which Quebecois culture grants itself permission to be seen. This dynamic, embedded within the foundation of the novels, is particularly intriguing to me as his translator. Plamondon's novels propose a version of the contemporary Quebecois imagination that is at once confidently separate yet deeply engaged in absorbing North American history and culture, much like a translator would be.
Literary translation is, in a narrow sense, the revealing of one story to a new culture. But in a more activist sense, the translator can act as a curator whose role includes the revelation of a an innovative way of thinking espoused within one culture to others, as if to say, “Look, all is not as we once assumed. Change is afoot, and our own thinking can be improved if we only heed its perspective.” I can’t help but think of Plamondon’s novels in much the same way when I think of Quebec’s place in the literary world.