Paris, 1 October 19..
Yes, this is indeed a book, and this is indeed my signature. And it is indeed to you, and you alone, that these pages are addressed. As you see, I have taken up the pen again. After all these years of silence. Despite those solemn farewells, despite the publicly proclaimed mourning.
I imagine this may surprise you. It surprises me as well, and I am not so far from seeing in it a sort of miracle. Oh, a minute miracle, certainly, parsimoniously tailored to the demands of its beneficiary!—but a miracle all the same…
I am not quite sure who, or what, I owe for this long-awaited blessing. I cannot pinpoint any exterior guide around me, and have begun to think, however immodestly, that after all I have only myself to thank.
Not a week ago, an admiring friend compared me, with a smile, to a “modern Lazarus.” The image, in its excess—by its excess, even—amused me so much that I adopted it thereafter. I have thus come to find myself in the shoes of a somewhat peculiar Lazarus: a Lazarus who, bored of waiting in his immaculate shroud for the unlikely intervention of a savior, suddenly takes it upon himself to stand and walk.
Do not be shocked, then, that the recipient of such a miracle should still feel so acutely the strange grace just bestowed upon him. As he walks he traces a kind of sinuous curve, erring incessantly from one side to the other on the path he tries to follow, as though it were impossible to make a choice and stand by it. Yours is only to accept him, with caution.
Perhaps it will irritate you to observe that I have surrendered once again to my old demons. But what else would you have me do now?
For as long as I had stayed fixed in silence, my desire and my dreams, obstinately toiling in the same direction, had brought to life (a life so intense that it sustained itself quite easily, without requiring any other ingredients from me) the image of the book to come.
Having become (you know under what circumstances) free to fly, I saw in the feverish accumulation of my writings nothing but the reflection (flaccid, frankly, and faded) of my long vexation. Could the joy of liberation only give way to the height of distress? I found myself again as though before those ancient labyrinths, where the multiplicity of possible routes has no function but to hide the absence of any real escape.
At first I was tempted to destroy my nascent works, and hesitated between the many methods suggested by the past (which has long been, as you know, my most inveterate vice). I could have buried them, like Dante Gabriel Rossetti, who, out of love, shut up the manuscripts of his poems in his wife’s casket—at the risk of following his example too far (he, who did not hesitate to open the tomb of his beloved seven years later to recover his precious texts). Or I could simply have burned them, thereby conforming once more to the judicious maxim of Lichtenberg: “the only way to have the final word in one’s manuscript is to burn it”.
Ultimately, though, I did not settle on either of these desperate solutions.
Why, I asked myself, why must it be that, perpetually persecuted to work against my momentum, I continue to put my dignity in my refusals and my ruptures? Thanks to what malediction am I, apparently alone among the human race, one who sets himself problems he cannot solve, one who can do nothing but this?
Thus I came back to my comforting concession of yore—you remember, it made you smile. So I have few qualms in reminding you: writing about drink does not slake thirst; writing about food does not stand in for a meal; writing about books—and this makes all the difference—can take the place of a book.
I certainly do not want my approach to be misunderstood, however: there is nothing here to do with an enterprise like that of Sachs, that Sabbat where the author knows only how to humble himself incessantly, never judging himself low enough, and beats his breast without renouncing a moment of his former revelries.
You know how important this difference is to me.
Try, though I know you are otherwise occupied at the moment, to send me your impressions of these pages.