For Daniel Blanchard

Utagawa Hiroshige, Evening Cherry Blossoms at Gotenyama, 1831

A refrain, for Daniel Blanchard.


And this will be the limit of the impasse, a dead end. Beyond that, one does not go; beyond that nothing happens anymore, all that passes is time and bad weather – and it will be for a tree to have the chance to take root there, in my humus, to take my place – really, this time, and no longer in my chimerical reverie…

Prepare yourself for death,
prepare yourself,
the cherry blossoms rustle.
(Kobayashi Issa)

Even more attractive than that of my friends the pines, the company of the cherry trees in bloom and their invitation, so to speak, for me to join them… Just as illusory – and their advice to prepare for death, as their flower passes… Is there not here a diversion, on the contrary, even something like an entertainment?

To prepare oneself? As if there was something to understand here? To this end without something beyond, without possibility? What can we understand about what has no meaning, since it does not happen, since it stops meaning? Enigma: where was “I”, how did “nothing” happen?

I detached my forehead from the vibrant body of my tree friend, from this bark with its large blue-brown scales which leaves a fresh imprint on my skin – I detached my thoughts from it, and I turned away – turned away, I want to say, of this reverie of metamorphosis, of a return to the innocence of the plant – diverted, certainly, from the enigma, and I retraced my steps, letting my gaze run before me on this path traveled so many times – and the gaze of my mind too, as if caught by the breath of the abyss of memory, darting before me, with its agility and inconsistency – darting through black holes, mirages… – until it stumbles on this point outside memory, beyond reason, unthinkable: my birth – an enigma… The opposite enigma of that of my end: “where was “nothing”, how, why did an “I” come to be?» and my whole life would have gone from one nothing to another, my whole journey, nothing? A latent question which, during all my life, conscious or not, has maintained a gaping disquietude, a dizziness.

Birth, an I emerging from nothing? Doesn’t this enigma flatter the feeling of absolute singularity, and perhaps even arbitrariness, like a miracle, that we would like to have of our own existence? A laugh, certainly, or a shrug of the shoulders are enough to dispel this lure and the complacent illusion of a spontaneous generation – and, even more surely, the gentle or painful pressure, on the body and on the soul, of beings, things, circumstances that generated, nourished, shaped me, both morally and physically…

But then, if this enigma of my birth is only an illusion, would this I that came to be not be entirely reducible to what thus generated, nourished, shaped it and which, I verify every day, alas, constrains me tightly? And if I look back now on the journey of my life as if to take a cavalier view of it, which of my steps, my gestures, my actions can I assure that they were a beginning, that in them I exceeded my initial circumstances? At each step, each step of my journey, can I save from the avalanche of circumstances, even constraints, a nothing that is my own, a spark, a void?

A void, precisely, and the disquietude and the vertigo in the face of this void. My freedom, then?, this “faculty of beginning” that birth, the advent of an I, would have conferred on me, where there was, not nothing, but an opening, a gap… A void, and the call of this void, call of abyss, of loss. All my life haunted by this call, so imperious that, all my life, I have desperately tried not to hear it, to lock myself in the reasons that oblige – to continue rather than begin.

I passionately closed myself to this call, turned away from this emptiness by attaching myself, clinging to everything that life brought out before me in fullness, in reality, in giving myself over to the charms of other humans, in offering to their desires, and also letting myself be captivated by places, seasons, fictions – linked by words.

Bakunin: “I am a fanatical lover of freedom.”

Jens Bjørneboe, Moment of Freedom: “Is there anything that can grip me with anxiety like freedom? Who would be mature enough to be able to face it? And who taught us to fear light, space, mountains and the sea?”

Franz Werfel, Barbara or piety: “He felt free like a curious dead man who searches for voices, smells and bodies that he has ceased to understand.”

I am not “a fanatical lover of freedom”, perhaps because I have never been cruelly deprived of it. I hated and despised power, but freedom “seized me with anguish”, like emptiness. Like the nightmare of being a dead person who no longer understands what he loved… But it did not let go of me. It forced me, through all these seductions, these pleasures, these discoveries, to invent myself, or rather to discover the possibilities that birth had opened up before me.

Thus, from question to question going up this path, as in every circumstance of my life, here I emerge before the limitlessness of the world – and it is from this limitlessness, or perhaps incompleteness of the world, that the human is engendered, right? This is where the enigmatic aspect of birth lies: not in the emergence of an I where nothing was, but, with the emergence of an I, the opening, in the compactness of reality, of possibilities, of a gap for a beginning.

So, if I go back to this initial moment, it will not be to let myself complacently bemused by the enigmatic advent of an I, but to soberly try to recognise, that is to say, to explore and name the original configuration where this possible beginning opened up before me. Original, yes, it is indeed the origin that we are talking about. Like when we ask the question: “where are you from?””, “?where do you come from ?”, “from when, from what era?”, “From who were you born?” …

But am I the one who can answer these questions? This morning, surprising my reflection in the mirror, suddenly the doubt struck me whether the character I saw there was really “me”… “Another”? Yes, in the sense that the representation I have made of myself is a construction, or rather a fiction – which means not feint or lie, but elaboration, invention, both discovery and creation, and undoubtedly also affectation , pretension, self-mystification …

If this is the case with the character that I carry with me through the present, even more obviously fictitious is the notion that I can have of my origins. It goes without saying, and without laughing, that when I was born I was not really present. Also, the assertion of the civil registry according to which I was born on May 3, 1934 in the 14th arrondissement of Paris provides only an insignificant answer to the question of knowing from what place, from what time I am from, from what place, from what time I arise or derive… This goes infinitely beyond the date and place of my birth: an ocean of space and time where I am floating. How do I find my way there? This ocean is not made of points. […]

From Daniel Blanchard, La Vie sur les crêtes. Essai autobiographique. Éditions du Sandre, February 2023.

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