Paris Atmosphere, September 1995
by Richard Pinhas
Translated by Tim Adams
Source: Chimeres: 31, (Summer, 1997)
Gilles says: I'm having a severe attack of asthma and hangs up inhaling. The telephone rings again. Gilles: I want to speak clearly, in a metallic but gentle voice. A buzzing is transmitted by the receiver as if an insect was vibrating around it: a reconstituting machine. Gilles' voice, dry and colourless, wan, already faraway, withdrawn and frustrated by the rhythm of regurgitated air, to the beat of another surge of delightful oxygen. It's September, he calls unexpectedly from Saint-L?onard-de-Noblat. He's back in Paris: Gilles hangs up, mumbling the humble apology: 'severe asthma'. The phone rings again: is the new Philosophie out in Paris' Have you read it? What do you think? How is it? Does 'Immanence' disappoint you or not? How do you find it? A sublime and beautiful text, 'Immanence: A Life...'(1), beyond its inheritance, it embodies both the absolute density of style and the fundamental necessity of thought. A last pneumatic breath. I am stunned, excited and floored by it. The pure narration of the Deleuze-clinamen. The actual and definitely eternal version of a singular and internal event.
The voice is normal, pale perhaps, a little breathless. No, that number of Philosophie is not yet available, it's only just been advertised; but Claire's given me his copy. The last two days spent with this text have passed extremely slowly. And again yesterday, on the embankment of the 5th arrondissement, reading beside the Tournelle, a few steps from the Tour d'Argent. Harbour flotsam, a little tobacconist's shop with a terrace, an enervating north wind -- sweet, light breath on the deserted embankment at summer's end. Naturally I start reading the difficult and moving, 'Immanence: A Life...'. It demonstrates that philosophy is perhaps, among other things, a quest that profoundly modulates the density of things and the multiple variations of surface. Such style. I cry a few tears, immediate forms of an inconsolable spontaneity. Then I rummage through the sometimes confused and often muddled comments of the apocalyptic post-agr?gatifs [students studying for high-level teacher's exam]. The thinking is clear because it expresses the power of becoming or else the incorporeal being of shit elements, they're thinking about the agr?gation [high qualification for teachers], they're playing an old tune. Above all, Gilles warned us not to worry about these paraphrases without great interest or use. The aesthetic of Kerenski in the minor. This is what Nietzsche says, 'From the event, they have made an old tune'. Well after all, that is to be expected, one being sometimes controversial. Gilles' crafty smile. Returning to 'Immanence', followed by sad and dark thoughts, taking so long on some pages, I am slow, so slow, so confused. The text consumes the afternoon, it captures me and initiates a metamorphic process.
'Immanence' penetrates me slowly, like a divine nectar, like a subtle poison. No doubt its strange beauty conceals like the ethereal veil of a last text. Perception from a final address, as if things will soon be less consistent, less luminous, less terrestrial perhaps? A world disembodied, the world without Gilles. A philosophical question: what is the world without Gilles? But we visit other regions, we live in other mornings, 'bathed in a serene brightness', of the most real possibilities still remaining. During this time he didn't have long to go, two months maybe. I had been sad without knowing why. No doubt the confused and vague perception of a veiled sorrow of a gap, at once the largest and the smallest, a kind of simultaneously minimal and maximal distance. Gilles and (is) our 'interior simultanism', a testing-clinamen, a block of contracted time. That is what makes me sad: a block of condensed time insidiously reveals that this immediate present soon becomes an immemorial past. Intuitive (sensory) power of the transcendental empiricism.
I loiter through 'Immanence' like a delinquent adolescent, a heavenly child dazzled by a magic object, Rimbaud of Prisunic. Reading slow, very slow, making each word reverberate and return a scintillating echo, welcoming the recollection of infinite conversations, smiles, and points of view from certain years gone by. At this moment I see clearly the smile of the cat after the cat has gone, or Caesar crossing the Rubicon in Leibniz's commentary. Dazzling intuition of the 'coalescence of the virtual and the actual'. I touch at the same material of the ineffectual and feeling event like an instantaneous cut in time. The grand scene of a ball with pale, white masks, blurred inscriptions, sublime exhalations of time regained. Gilles liked so much these classic pages that are so popular today. The text annoys me, it takes too long, the entire afternoon perhaps, the sun scraping and bathing Paris in a surreal light. Sweet light of the first days of September, only in Paris.
I turn the page and a surprise awaits me: an article entitled 'Suidas'. A short, brief, stocky essay, an ode of love for Gilles. Some brilliant and amusing lines that finally make me laugh out loud. Someone named Bernold has known a certain essence, one possible modality of 'Deleuzism'. Suidas, or Soudas, late 8th-century AD philosophical collector or compiler. Did he really live? Apocryphal. Virtual reality of a philosophical being whose very existence is in doubt. Has he like Xenophon lived through the Anabasis? An image: Suidas giving a commentary on Democritus and Epicurus. Telescoping duration and the lysis of time, as if an active and powerful chronologist takes hold of this little number of the revue Philosophie. A rare moment of happiness and a small joy of the purist kind. The grand laughter of the double affirmation. I quickly reread 'Immanence' one last time for today, and remain astounded by my impression of sadness. Why this sadness when the text is so beautiful, so powerful, so perfect?. The quintessence of philosophy in action perhaps, and of a vital one-all that it harbours. Becoming imperceptible in my step by step journey up to Jussieu. I turn off on the left and lose myself once more in the Jardin des plantes. Let's go see my pal the tortoise. I've spoken to Gilles about this friendly tortoise whose life seems to be an enigma. It has certainly read Nietzsche (passim), this tortoise from the Jardin des plantes. We are well in agreement between a whisky and the translation of the Aion paidos of the Obscure fragment by Cl?mence Ramnoux. Entered into captivity in 1870, before the heroic Paris Commune, the tortoise is always there, immense and brave. How old was it when it was captured, during its long transit and its arrival in Paris in 1870? Of course the tortoise is not a conceptual animal, but it has the right to embody slowness and the improbable: Zeno of Elea, the famous paradox, the fast and slow movements.
On the telephone I told Gilles that I liked 'Suidas'. Ha! Bernold! He makes a little cry of delight, a expression-groan of joy. An amusing animal this unknown Bernold? Gilles seems to be happy with my description and enthusiastic with my praise. You like tarantulas, Bernold? No doubt, no doubt. Returning to 'Immanence' I passed on my profound admiration. Really? As if I had told a white lie just to make him happy, as if an undefined doubt remained, as if perhaps it had not reached his goal. No, I stood firm in my blissful admiration. I profoundly like this text that achieves a form of absolute perfection, I insist and describe to him the joy that it gives without however concealing this background of sadness and melancholy. Why is that? As if a page turns and then I don't know it any more. It will not take long for me to know why. I was probably, without knowing it then, very receptive to Gilles' suffering. Each word-material transmits a joy (I repeat again) and produces a pain. From this text-event rises an unfathomable grief that I have come to understand and incorporate. Grief that instantaneously passed into my flesh like a machine engraving the words onto the body's surface. In the distance watches, a guarding shadow, the second essay of The Genealogy of Morals.
For the next week the calls never stop. Gilles talks about Ravel and the book on music he would like to write. He would 'overcome' the book-form to harmonize with a new form of enunciation, an other enunciative-matter, possibly to compose. He suggests an electronic Bolero. I am speechless because it associates in the same beautiful phrase the famous Bolero and the little electronic refrain [ritournelle]. Reminiscing back to the late '70s, he joyously recalls some stirring episodes at Vincennes and our shared trajectory around music. He wished to stay longer with me (and of course me with him, that goes without saying), to reminisce: we shared these stellar moments with emotion, in a great surge of pleasure. Gilles was very sick, he wished to talk, to be transported by a transfer; I share fear but also happiness, a crowned idiot, this brief infinity. Certainly, prior to the bad news, I did not understand his grand nostalgia nor perceived his constant suffering. I did not want to, seeing him to be eternal. Not wanting to conceive it or imagine it. To breath again, not wanting to breath, to think to breath, machine to breath, machine that breathes for me -- for him -- machine of machine, a subtle and terrible connection. I am a son, says Fanny.
Here we are. For the first time perhaps, he will go back to the circle of events at Vincennes, the music that we heard during that time. He described his passion for Ravel, the Bolero, the waltz. The waltz above all, the suspension of beings and time suspended. Pure aether. Have you come to grips with 'Immanence'? Isn't the text too difficult, too abstract? (Gilles detested 'intellectual' abstraction).Will it be well received, will it be well understood? For the first time, I sense in Gilles a singular anxiety, as if it might be truly important that this text not be open to confusion, that it be read in only one sense, bearer of a will with a double imperative: the plane of life and the plane of composition.
At this precise moment we compose, him and I, a sequence on the plane: symbiosis of the rhizosphere.
Two or three weeks pass by. What is doing? I call Paris, Fanny does not want me to visit. Same story the next day. A great anxiety returns to my cyclical depression from the end of October. He calls me back: again the electric hissing seems to twirl around his voice. Is this the electric sheep that androids dream?
1. 'L'immanence: une vie...', Philosophie: 47, (September, 1995), pp. 3-7, translated by Nick Millett in Theory, Culture & Society: 14, n.2, (May, 1997), pp. 3-7.