The Collapse of a World Condemned


01 Takabata Sei, book cover
Takabata Sei, book cover (Youth drawn with a brush)

The Collapse of a World Condemned
by Léon-Paul Fargue, translated by Jody Gladding
found in Mirror of the Marvelous by Pierre Mabille

My grandmother used to say that if man’s stomach could talk, it would murmur in a plaintive voice, “Carrots, carrots…” The world, which was collapsing like an enormous souffle, could no longer speak either, of course, but nevertheless we heard it yelping through all the fissures, “I love you… I love you, I love you…” This was not the pieces of swallowed flesh, nor the vertebrae, nor even the earthly throngs, which the planets in the first row recognized by their overcoats, but the feelings. One died by the heart. Confronted with this slide toward nothingness, one was overcome with anguish as if being forced to abandon the beloved forever. And nothing remained to men of their machines, their telegraphs, their gears, their pressure gauges, their films, their politics. Nothing remained to them of what constituted illusion, of what we had all taken for power, for strength. We had only our love on our backs and before our eyes. And we finally learned that love was all that had given us a little sparkle, a little backbone, a little durability.

A singular temperature was dropping on us from the dull skies, initialed by drifting trees hurrying along toward other laws. A bluish temperature which made some cover themselves with furs or newspapers, others wander naked… The dogs stuck out their tongues, but the fish burst like frozen pouches, stiffening in the river beds which emptied like baths, the water running out through gaps toward the Dark Larynx. The door handles were covered with ice, while the fruits were crawling with wasps and, reduced to pulp, fell onto the scaly, flaking sidewalks. The climates, the winds, and the smells were blended together like the colors on a palette. Asparagus could be seen sprouting in bookstore windows. Lemon trees flowered in a pile of streetcars. Mollusks were found where there had been calves’ heads, or emeralds, or umbrellas. Nearly all the building facades were still standing, but they were painted with flames or covered with snails, cinders, human eyes. It seemed that ink had run from the upper floors toward the cellars, that the liquid of the sky had fallen down in a form completely different from rain on the remnants of the world in distress. There were rose-colored pools, the pure rose of a young girl in puberty, green ponds, the handsome green of billiard felt, that slept in the provinces. With the speed of a bus, a river of glue came and went in Paris, carrying chisels, cigarettes, gaping pianos which revealed gazelle skeletons to onlookers. One knew nothing. One heard nothing. The racket was so powerful and so new that it achieved the mysterious immensity of silence. Sometimes a man approached us and hissed:

“Is that you?”

“Yes, it’s me,” one would respond.

“My God! Tonight the bus conductors have been changed into Easter eggs. Tomorrow, it will be the chiropodists’ turn, next come the mailmen, the opticians, the leather workers, the scholars, the noblemen, the ziblostresses, the cacoterms, the pantaguriches, and the bottonglozers…”

“But there won’t be any more next days, any more nights, any more days, any more rhythms…”

“That’s true, there won’t be any more anything… Good-bye. All the same, come tomorrow, Monsieur, we will try to find our neighborhoods again, we will dine together…”

“You are from Paris, you, too?”

“No, I am from Toul… but I’ve just seen the streets of Toul, there, behind that enormous horse… I have seen them, as one sees children in the arms of their mothers in Italian paintings. Good-bye, my handsome blonde… Luterdu pourquil aholoay!…”

And the man abruptly disappeared. He exploded right under one’s nose like a lightbulb, and nothing remained of him but a short and comical bit of smoke that which, at another time, on the stage at the Amboise or Charleville theater, would have signaled the disappearance of Mephistopheles.

Click for images for larger view:

02 Takabata Sei, 1975

03 Takabata Sei, 1972

04 Takabata Sei, 1975

05 Takabata Sei, 1977

06 Takabata Sei, 1976

07 Takabata Sei, 1976

08 Takabata Sei, 1972

The Fargue text is from “Danse Mabraque,” in Mesure, no. 2 (April 15, 1939). I came across the passage tonight browsing through Mabille’s incredible book, and used it as a prompt to post these images, which I’ve been sitting on for months.

I know nothing about Takabata Sei (高畑正), except that he was one of the first students of Yukihiko Tajimi at Osaka Art University. Before I asked Colin Peters for translation help, I was under the impression that this book — a posthumous collection of Takabata’s work — contained Tajima’s own work, and purchased it for that reason. (And so for a while I thought someone who made such intense paintings actually went on to be a famous illustrator of children’s books.) For those who read Japanese, there’s some information about Takabata at the bottom of this page.

“Carrots, carrots…”
“Asparagus could be seen sprouting in bookstore windows.”
Is anyone enjoying this as much as I am?

For related posts: Japan on 50 Watts

Will Schofield is the editor of 50 Watts (original name: A Journey Round My Skull) and Writers No One Reads. More from this author →