This, I will say at the very beginning, is a true human literature, beyond that of those who simulate and understand death and decay from a vantage point of some remove. It is admittedly written at a great distance itself, and there is simulation and understanding, along with deceit, secrecy, feints and codes decoded. But the great distance I speak of, the last century and all of its misunderstood events, will now, finally, be travelled. As I unburden myself of my own secret, concealing another greater secret itself bred into a system of branch-secrets, I am writing the heaviest book of all: the book that contains all the others. All the other books of mine, firstly, which the present account pushes to one side, and all the other books it will refer to and which must now surely be reconsidered in light of their unveiled origins.
But where to begin? The question is disingenuous, not because I am certain where to begin (there is no correct place), but because there are any number of beginnings. There are many incidents that might be the stitch whose unpicking would fragment the garment, and it matters not which stitch should be nicked at first. All are laid out before me, as they have been for some time. I might begin with the children, or rather the many sets of children, that have bred in the dust that many things begin from. Raymond, Germaine, and George. Raymond, Suzanne, Gaston (Jacques, of course), Yvonne, Magdeleine, and Marcel. Marcel D. Etc. Etc. As M. Cabanne has noted, their births were 'spaced out in a surprising regularity', as if organization in such matters was unlikely to the point of improbability. Or it could begin with the other Marcel, Marcel P., and his brother Robert. Or the mothers of either Marcel, indeed, whose wombs were salons and whose salons were wombs. Or, forgetting families and biological beginnings entirely, I could just as easily begin with Michel, the young man politely waiting for the bookseller and I to finish speaking. He didn't know who I was, of course. Any of these tidy little stories (they are not even tidy. They are filled with mess) might begin the altogether less tidy one they are part of, where puzzles within puzzles make a solution all the less likely with every passing word and line, and where lines themselves are corrupted in their mirror-images. In dust free rooms, I am forced to concede, there is very often dust breeding; and the most perfidious form of dust at that. The dust of suns and of sons, and of the sons of suns, in ever more obscure and deformed generations. It should be said, of course, that at a safe distance it is precisely this obscurity that has caused the many pleasant and harmless misinterpretations I will go on to describe. When I say 'misinterpretations' what I mean is really 'artworks', and I mean it bitterly and comically. But 'misinterpretation' is not such a bad word for the artwork. Most interpretations are merely the results of trajectories that miss their target and end up somewhere else entirely. It is not such a bad thing. My words, in any event, will not be believed. I have long since stopped being listened to by any but the most ardent of the few readers I began with (and perhaps by those in the community of those interested in the murderous and the criminal, who will find within these pages a mystery of the kind that will not satisfy them).
But all the works I will speak of, great and slight, conceal within their misunderstood innocences shadow selves. Orpheus' reflection in the water, his image on the screen, and his phantom's broadcast are altogether more difficult to comprehend than the vain sentinel himself. Shadow selves, indeed! I have those myself, that I will uncover in turn. The Place of None is one. But for now such titles remain but names, which is precisely the point, precisely the reason for the dis-interning expedition upon which I am about to embark. Without 'the system', let alone the so-called 'Practice of my System', not to mention 'The Blockade', such names are nothing but the face that faces forwards. The queen's gambit, it can be assured if nothing else can, will be declined.
I could, indeed, begin with myself, and with the arrival of Jonathan G., covered in another kind of dust – the charred air-born debris of a fire. Fire, fed by air, and its arial distribution of charred messages, the broadcast of ashes. I am not sure that he fully understood the note I went on to send him the following day. Nor am I sure that he entirely misunderstood it either. I was perhaps mistaken myself, thinking that he too knew some of what I knew, and thinking that he might share my desire to burn up the library from within. But I shall stop myself, and get on to what Jonathan knew and didn't know later. He will be the executor of the other half of myself, the public half that has already been forgotten, and his discovery of the chess-murder is perhaps nothing more than a tangent, an outer-point of an already eccentric orbit. 'In Iraq, spying for Israel' indeed! These, I concede, are words that I bequested to him, and whose other face will also be revealed. But why the suspense? What is this 'system', this 'blockade'? It has been well publicised already. I attempted to do so myself, it will be remembered, although as with so much else I have written it was largely ignored. It seems that way now, in any event. Others (the young man in the bookseller's. Michel. How near to the most valuable deposits he mined without knowing of them!) have made more of it, and many more have listened to them. I will, for the sake of clarity – which is the goal and prize, after all – offer a reminder: 'In our ark, spine for his rail'. It is quite simple. But this is not the secret, merely a method amongst others. The secret is altogether more twisted than games such as these.
I need not excuse the ellipses that so quickly form in recounting even the beginnings of this greater ellipse.
I need not excuse the fact that whilst concealing certain truths so many words have been spent in misinterpretation.
I need not feel compelled to give up these secrets easily, without paying respect to the forms that grant them secrecy.
I need not fear speaking the native tongue of secrecy in revealing secrets.
The desolate place in which all that I am about to describe has placed me is one of writing. The writing of the living and of the dead, and of those texts that pretend to interleave between the two – to be the bridge that leads the writer down into the underworld. This, the present writing, it should be made clear, is just such a text. It is like the writings it writes about, but more-so due to being a container that is their formal accomplice. It is the bridge of bridges! Beyond it lies the truth. 'The truth'. It is a form of truth, anyway. Nothing, nothing, will be able to follow it. The end of my account will be its end, irrefutable and terminated. I have set my claims and my intentions out quite clearly, I think. Air has seeped in. I will begin, after all, with a beginning of the usual kind.
The founding members of the coven of papers that bury the secret were contained within a box, and remained so until I opened that box. I was, I admit, surprised to discover that the box was not locked. Apart from objects and diagrams that I will describe later, it contained a written testimony that appeared to clarify certain points but also to raise many new ones. In it Raymond and Marcel P., the co-signatories, explained what at very least is the kernel of the structure containing many other things. It is not the very beginning, for as I will go on to describe, Raymond had planned certain things in advance, and had already engraved himself into the other Marcel's mind, Marcel D. that is. I wonder, will it become confusing that there are two Marcels? They are not mirror images, emphatically not. They are quite distinct. One wrote, with terrible personal consequences, and the other painted, or 'delayed', as he came to call it. That too will be explained in time. Here I am speaking of the former Marcel, the writer, and he and Raymond's written testimony. In it they describe the day that their transference and doubling took place, but furthermore the long sequence of correspondence and meetings that prepared them for it. Marcel had written, it is well known, to Raymond, congratulating him on his ecstatic poetry. What is less well know – unknown, more precisely – is that he did so in the form of a double letter vessel; a letter within a letter. The first letter was one of praise regarding the volume of poems published not long before. One can only imagine the effect of these verses on a young man so predisposed – purposefully predisposed, it has later become clear – to recognize his own native condition in their forms.
Within the folds of this letter, however, was a second envelope containing a second message. The contents of this second message, and indeed the establishment of their entire system of double-correspondence, has not been described before now, for the good reason that it has remained within my possession. As has, I repeat, the key to all that led from it.
The Defacement of Printing Plates and the invention of Surrealism
I have described to myself innumerable times the points of origin for this narrative, none of which suffice, and which even combined together fail to convince. There is also one even earlier fact, which if plunged like a syringe into historical veins pretends to convince, confirm and assure. I cannot see that it quite does, nor am I entirely sure that the fact itself is true. I should clarify: I am sure, but cannot irrefutably prove the thing. There is a scrap of paper, also from the box, that is more or less certainly written in Raymond's hand. It states that at the age of ten he was travelling in Normandy (with whom, it is not recorded. A familial excursion, perhaps, or one conducted in the company of a nurse-maid), and whilst there encountered a house at Blainville-Crevon that he found empty. As is quite normal for a young boy, conceivably at least, he penetrated the house and saw fit to alter, with small, cryptic and camouflaged scratchings, a number of copper printing plates, framed impressions of which hung on the walls. It should come as no surprise that this house was the one that the artist Marcel D. left, himself at the age of ten, some twenty years later to board at school. The precise nature of the discreet graffiti remains occluded. Some precocious transmission, clearly, but it will never be known of what, or how knowingly or predictively the transmission was made, if it was entirely registered later on by the younger child, or even, to be clear, if it happened at all.
There are a great many things I will describe that may not have happened. This might either be highly pleasurable to read or be greatly infuriating. I do not care to worry about either reception. There were some who, upon reading Raymond, saw in his contorted words a vision of the irrational mind when in fact it was nothing of the sort, however odd the mind who had produced (prompted, coaxed, tricked, tripped) the strange words with reproductive meanings that collapse into one another like a deck of cards in a game of snap. Or rather, a game of snap played by twins sitting before a mirror. Of course, this is one of those misunderstandings that gave birth to the red, or should I say green, herring that became known as 'surrealism'. It is not a concept or method that I favour. There is a great dishonesty in leaving things to a chosen kind of chance. It is like playing a tasteless war game whilst an actual war is taking place. The so called 'logic of dreams' that they were all pursuing was nothing of the kind. Dreams are mental catastrophes, not flights of fancy. They are to be feared. I know this from experience so familiar is is no longer even bitter. From stale experience, as it were. The truly surreal takes place not as assisted confusion but as the kind of sidestep into a concurrent reality that cannot be planned, pre-meditated or presumed. I once heard of some boys who were cycling in London but who failed to stop until they arrived at the sea the following morning. The set off on a north-easterly tack, and followed a route that took in place whose names were of such verbal density that they could barely speak them as they passed, for fear that the words would make language itself cease to hold meaning. Epping. North Weald. Moreton. Fyfield. Leaden Roding. These names are not easy to write, let alone pass through in space, time and motion. Great Dunmow. Great Bardfield. Finchingfield. A field for finching? The mind expands at such thoughts. Wethersfield. Sibble Hedingham. The home of the male witch who was beaten half to death. Castle Hedingham. Bulmer Tye. Sudbury. Great Waldingfield. Monks Eleigh. Bildeston. Needham Market. Coddenham. Hemmingstone. Gosbeck. Helmingham. Framsden. Cretingham. Brandeston. Kettleburgh. Framlingham. Bruisyard. Bruise-yard. The bruise yard. A yard of bruises! Peasenhall. Sibton Church. Darsham. Westleton. And then the sea, on the site of disappeared docks. A lunar expedition such as this is an example the truly sur-real, skimming as it does across the all too real land. I cannot help but think of the vulgarity of Morris-dancers and of the grace of migrating birds as I think of this, immobile as I am.
But, to return to the barely verifiable event in question, a set of engravings were amended by the young Raymond, to be found later on by the younger Marcel. The original author of the engravings, it is well known, was Marcel's grandfather, editions of whose plates the young man printed in order to evade military service, which was just as well, considering the use the continent's armies would eventually be put to. Marcel, in fact, had the good sense to leave altogether for the Americas. At around the same time Raymond would use the elder Marcel (the writer. I hope that is clear. Marcel P. This is the last time I will have the patience to indicate their initials, trusting that context will provide them in absentia) as part of much grander attempt to evade the dire European war. In fact, the attempt was rather more to avoid, rather than evade it – to avoid the war's happening. An ambitious plan, and terrible in its consequences for the sensitive and hermetic writer. As is very well known indeed his memory became quite overused, and put him into his sickbed. It is a surprise that it did not bury him directly in the dust. No one mind is capable of slowing down time itself, quite obviously. But I digress. So sad and vitally important is that branch of the narrative that it shall have its full, proportional, expansive place in due course. Or perhaps not. It may be the case that the fragment will continue to elude capture by forms of any greater heft. But to what extent was the artist-Marcel's evasion of military duties by the medium of print prompted by the alterations to the plates made by the vacationing young burglar some twenty-five years previously? Neither of them spoke of the matter later on, and so conjecture prevails. Marcel does tell Cabanne that the production of an edition of the plates greatly satisfied the examining jury to whom he presented them. I will allow the reader to draw his own conclusions from this. Conjecture, it should be remembered, is no shameful practice. It is the formation of a conclusion without evidence, but in so doing it is so very close to the creative act; and therefore very close to the reader's act. It is the perversion of thought's raw matter into meaning, and for obvious reasons I must believe that there is honour in this, and the possibility of a final recuperation of sense. I digress again, but I will return to the matter of the prints and plates that signify the earliest artefacts of contact between the many secret-bearers who populate this narrative, and populate those narratives beyond it; those that will never be told.
'Secreters', I may call them, rather than 'secret-bearers'. 'Conspirators' suggests something far too crass, and 'secreters' suggests the practice as well as the status of those who hold secrets. With every hour that it remains within their possession they secrete it despite their best efforts not to. 'Out, damn scab' the secret cries, without the anxious guilt of a human being.
The box. So material is this artefact (container of artefacts, repository, depository) that it resists digression and evasion. Its contents are quite clear in their statement and script if not their register and tone. They seem to me, who has kept them for so long, to have sharpened in their material form and become like microfilms, or even the writing on the screen of a computer-terminal. I amuse myself, on occasion, by consulting the microfilms of youngsters whose dissertations, alert and thoughtful as they may be, grasp with clumsy fumbles at what seams of the truth peer through the surface of the rotten and corrupt state that we are compelled to call our 'culture'. 'Memesis and Fiction in the Modern French Novel', indeed. Young Hill actually did a rather good job, and he can be forgiven for the the foundations of his thesis. Memesis is a difficult concept, it must be granted, and in the case of Raymond's letters neither representation nor imitation nor the middle ground between them quite do the job of providing a serviceable description of the writing's act. The word 'representation' is very often mis-used, the user forgetting that there is meant to be a re-presentation occurring. But what if the representation in question is not only the very first presentation of that which it supposedly represents, and is furthermore a derived presentation? The matter is not merely semantic. It cuts to the quick of all that we call call writing. When the presentation is derived from elsewhere then a term such as 'rescription' is far more satisfactory – an imperfect copy, and pleasing in its imperfection, of a perfect source. A copy made by a scribe of script. A writer, in other words. One thinks again of the printing plates, however, and remembers that they were altered at their source. That is perhaps a different case. John, the American poet who did at least remember my name and credit my own public work on this matter, was to begin one of these dissertations himself before seeing better of it. I shall account for his own contributions to this secret-mire at a more opportune moment. His work on this subject is not insignificant, and it is certainly significant in its charm, not to mention his own work, the poetry, that seemed to lead from it. I do not concern myself so very much with the present state of American letters.
The box, though. I have said that its contents are clear in their statement and script, which is perhaps a little misleading. If that really were the case I would simply publish them in facsimile, now that there is nothing to lose by making clear their implications. I am publishing this explanation of not doing so, after all, so why not simply do so? I am, I must concede, perhaps guilty of having become happy in performing the role of their concealer. The keys to a crypt, after all, are not held without some degree of privilege, and their weight (far beyond material weight, and far less than it too. And, certainly, far more poisonous) has anchored me in my decline. I feel as if I am holding back, but that I must release my knowledge slowly. Not merely to avoid error (although this is almost inevitable), but to safely balance the atmospheres of concealment and disclosure, closure and unconcealment. I do not seek the reader's pardon for this, nor do I necessarily even expect him to read that which he may or may not pardon.
The box contains, in no particular order that I can discern: the letter I have already described, the co-signed letter within it, a list of initials, some of which are circled, some of which are not, notes and diagrams pertaining to both a chess problem and a crossword puzzle, a small panel of glass both of whose sides are written on (in brown ink) in the respective hands of its two authors, a shirt-collar, and a key to what I have always supposed must be another such box. It is of the same approximate design of that which opens the present box, but differently cut. The two keys are in fact each other's mirror image if placed end to end. I have some notion of what might need to be done to locate this supposed other box, but have never had the means to do so and so in all probability – in near certainty - it will remain unopened. I shall describe the box's contents in more detail, although this will not help very much in deciphering their meanings. That will be something that can only happen later, with the objects themselves lodged in the reader's mind as distant and doubtful memories.
The List of Initials
As I have said, the list of initials is in some parts circled and in others not. The list itself is type-written and the circles appear to be in two sets, one in blue ink and one in pencil. There are no other markings. I have my own theories as to the possible implications of this, but these theories cannot be substantiated until considerably more evidence is brought before the court at whose bench the reader sits in judgement. I will therefore wait before I attempt to offer meanings and will merely state the material facts, at least most of them. The 'material facts' of these documents could include more than simply their text. In fact, the text provides only the immaterial facts. And even they are less facts and more indicators; they are initials rather than names. The initials that are uncircled, first of all, are the following:
The initials that are circled in pencil are:
One name is circled in both pencil and blue ink:
This is not a great surprise. The others circled in blue ink are:
I believe that the list in incomplete.
The Crossword and Chess Notes
These texts would appear to be complimentary pieces, as their layout is the same. I have been unable to discern their meaning, at least until very recently. But before explaining them there are a great many other things I must describe. Suffice to say that when I do the answer to the question 'was Franz K. really seen on the tram in Berlin?' will be all but answered.
The Glass Panel
This pane of glass, as I mentioned previously, is written on (with a brush and permanent ink, I can only assume) in two hands, on either of its sides. One therefore reads one side with the background interference of the other side's writing in reverse. I can confidently say that one side is written by Raymond, and the other by Marcel. Not all of the text is abundantly clear, but Raymond's side appears to describe a device that enables the user to convert light into time and time into light. To swap them, in effect. He does not justify this invented invention with credible physics. Marcel's side is written in a neater hand, it must be said (although Raymond can be excused for his relative illegibility – calligraphy with a brush is no easy medium), and describes the voyage taken by a leaf fallen from a tree overhanging water. It is particularly concerned with the way in which the leaf sits perfectly flat on the surface of this water (a river, I assume, given that he describes the current moving it in one certain direction) without its top side becoming wet. A matter of surface tension and the metaphorical implications of this. I have often thought that at its heart Marcel's writing is rarely about memory as such but is more like the construction of a grand memory-simulator for the benefit of the reader. This is on the one hand very generous and on the other quite an oppressive act, in my opinion. It occurred to me more recently that what I first assumed to be the brown ink with which these texts are painted might in fact be dried blood.
This I can only assume to be an example of the sort of collar that Raymond was known for the very frequent changing of due to what is most often thought of as a kind of hygiene-mania combined with the less attractive symptoms of excessive wealth. But it should be said that his writing was also just such a symptom and that this may be one of the causes of the more aggressive ways in which it has made its mark on the works and lives of many others. It could even be suggested that his writing had no 'natural' place in the published world, and that it cheated and bought its way in. It did, of course, cheat and buy its way onto the stage and page. I remain ambivalent about this point. I think there is very often a great deal more fault in the writing of those for whom publication and fame come easily, although I do not have the most objective view of this debate. I suppose that Raymond was something like a gentleman-criminal, or terrorist-riddler, or producer of rumours about people who do not exist in the first place. But I am guilty myself of spreading disinformation, or what must seem at the present time to be disinformation, by listing and beginning to describe these objects whilst suppressing their meanings. The box itself is not especially remarkable. And, as I have said, its contents are not yet able to take on the meanings they most certainly have. I should perhaps have not, on reflection, begun this account by even mentioning the box at all. By the time my narrative is over and its contents belong to a context that allow them to make sense they may have ceased to be important or necessary, like the architectural plans for a completed building. They will be useful for reference, perhaps, and will be pleasant souvenirs, but will be little more. They will be stored away, rolled up in tubes never to be consulted.
In fact, this makes me think of the rather tragic status of architect's plans that reach this state of archival interment but which describe buildings that have never been built. A diagram is so far from being its material equivalent, and is so hypothetical as to be quite tragic. It is for this reason, primarily, that I have on occasion destroyed those writings of mine that have been the basis for later writings. I have suppressed and silenced the ancestors of the present generation.