Hans Georg Berger, Hervé Guibert and Eugène Savitzkaya, New Year’s Eve, Rio nell’Elba, 1984. Courtesy of Semiotext(e).
In 1977, the writers Hervé Guibert and Eugène Savitzkaya began exchanging letters. Though the two rarely met, Guibert became increasingly obsessed with Savitzkaya as they continued writing to each other over the course of a decade. This selection of their messages is the first in our new series featuring correspondence, Letters.
March 11, 1982
a belgian stamp sticks out of my mailbox, what if it’s a letter from Eugène, and anyone could have taken it, between the moment when the mailman delivered it and the moment I return home, cluttered with files and folders and newspapers and a flan that will be delicious but yes it is a letter from Eugène, and it, it risks not being delicious, I ready myself for anything: a letter full of insults, or even worse, a letter that mocks me (yesterday on the telephone I heard the voice of a girl who asked me for a photo of Eugène and I clearly sensed in her sugary and whispering tone a caricature of my affection, my own expectation), first off, the letter is quite thin, and maybe there’s nothing at all inside the envelope, and if someone has stolen the letter that will cause yet another misunderstanding, but delicious your letter is still closed, and that’s why I wait to open it, I even crack open the flan first, and start this beginning of a reply, in case some polite or distant words end up cutting my desire to write you off at the knees, do you realize what’s happening right now, on my end? I’m missing an interlocutor, and I’ve chosen you, perhaps wrongly, to be one … Enough, I open the letter, shielding my eyes.
But no, look, your letter is sweet, so sweet, even if the warnings about your twisted character would like to make me question what you say. I’d love to see you in April when you come, and to take you to Bernard Faucon’s, I told him about you and he’s expecting us, I hope it will be a fun evening.
Don’t feel at all obliged to respond to this letter, I am a bit more confident now, and I’ll wait for you to give a sign that alerts me of your arrival.
April 27, 1982
I very much enjoyed Les aventures singulières, texts that I had already, for the most part, read, especially “Le désir d’imitation.” Thank you for sending me your two books. Je t’embrasse.
April 30, 1982
At first, to the touch, I wondered if the thickness of your letter was a flattened-out bomb, or a little present: thank you for the old photograph. Afterward, I wondered if your note meant to humiliate me or make me laugh.* And I examined the date, asking myself if it could be a “vexatious action” (I stole this expression from Brigitte Bardot’s secretary who used it several days ago on the telephone to refuse an interview!) following the probable delivery—and your reaction to my piece about you—of the review. Always I speak of you and always I think of you with much veneration, respect, affection, and love. Did you come to Paris and not contact me or did you not contact me because you didn’t come?
Je t’embrasse: hervé
(*Meaning that I almost always have the impression that your words are “living” autographs even before they are words that signify something, or transmit a feeling, that’s what leapt out at me tonight, later on, because I left your letter open on my table, and your note appeared all of a sudden in reverse and visually this inversion, its graphic perfection simultaneous with its illegibility, seemed to project it into the future and like the X-ray of a painting reveal its retro-posthumous character, but maybe you think that’s a little much, and that I’m the one who wants to see inside you, as a correspondent, a creator of autographs …)
As a correspondent I seem to be striving, a bit vainly, to make you fly off the handle …
June 4, 1982
I hope you’ve already forgiven me for standing you up at 11 at the Palace Hotel. I went back to Belgium last night, slightly ill. We will undoubtedly have another chance to see each other.
June 8, 1982
i was thinking just now that i was really hurt not to have had any news from you. I would like to know, quite simply, how you are, if you’re working right now, and on what, are you still writing from Faucon’s photos? I read in Munich, where I went on vacation, Un jeune homme trop gros, which I made the mistake of not wanting to read when it came out because of a stupid aversion to the character and the title. I was ashamed while reading it of having run the risk of dying without knowing this book, which is really very beautiful.
And so I await something from you, letter or book, or letter and book, which would be even better!
(P.S. If you don’t dare write me, out of embarrassment or a lack of desire to respond to my “letter” that appeared in the review, you would be very wrong, that isn’t at all what I expect from you: in reality nothing specific, but definitely something …)
July 18, 1982
i read yesterday, while standing up in a bookstore, and with the pleasure of a petty thief, the love of Évoé [Savitzkaya’s novel La disparition de maman]. I think your persistent and almost hurtful silence confirms your twisted character …
September 28, 1982
Many thanks for your book, which I’ve started reading with great emotion (up until page 37, line 21).
I’ve been paralyzed by an enormous torpor all summer, to the point that I’ve written practically nothing. Nothing devious in my silence, in my apathy. Your letter in Minuit overwhelmed me and tore up my nerves. I cut my hair because it was infested with lice.
November 4, 1982
I adored your book, Voyage avec deux enfants, and after taking an arbitrary break at page thirtysomething, I read it all in one go. Thank you. Je t’embrasse.
December 6, 1982
on the eve of a departure, and after a certain silence, between two aphorisms of Marcus Aurelius, would you permit me to foment an impetuous vow: that one day you come to Paris to see me, or to see someone else in secret, but that you stay with me, that you sleep in my bed, that you wash yourself with my soap, that you sit in my chair like the heroine in that familiar fairy tale that I can’t remember exactly, who leaves her little trace behind in a house of giants? (not that I take myself for a giant), do you know that story? but you, maybe you’re thinking: who cares, or maybe all of this turns you off. I’ve placed your second-to-last little letter, precious, on the hearth in my bedroom, amidst the dried flowers and against the shrunken face of an ex-voto Napolitan. I bought a cabinet to store your other letters, which are very thin, so thin that one might think the envelopes were empty: they rest against each other on the second bolt of one of the ten flat drawers of that antique paint box, a completely impractical piece that takes up lots of space and holds nothing, well, not nothing, since it holds you. Je t’embrasse, Eugène, I hope that this gratuitous letter will distract you a bit. Write me.
February 8, 1983
yet another letter into the void, yet another gratuitous letter, why do you neglect me so? I imagine you’ve nailed my letters to a board in the town square to expose me, and my tenacious and ridiculous affection, as a laughingstock.
I think of you so often, especially when I pass by a shop full of stuffed toys: whenever they have a nice-looking teddy bear or a sweet little rabbit, I think of buying one and sending it to you in a shoebox, I don’t even know if it’s out of rancor or laziness that I don’t ever do it.
Kissing your beautiful cheeks:
February 15, 1983
you see: I am prompt, to respond to you, too prompt, certainly for I know you will sense in that eagerness something menacing, paralyzing, in short a good excuse to play deaf for several months. Recognizing your handwriting on an envelope, standing in front of my mailbox, with a wet head, in this frigid corridor (it’s snowing outside) makes me physically tremble: as if I were receiving a summons to appear in front of an athletic or disciplinary committee, a tribunal, as if I would find in it a censure, or a gluey prank, something that could cut off my fingers or paste them together. I wonder if cutting one side of the envelope clumsily with my index finger would be a heretical thing to do. I continue to tremble and flip between the two images, in search of a little note, and I tremble again finding nothing between them but space, reckoning that you may have sent me two pictures, which I couldn’t even see since they seemed opaque to me: which I couldn’t see as images, as illustrative and charming vignettes as long as I sought to find in them a message, to detect in them some sign of admonishment or flattery. But on the back of one of them I find your writing: thank God. At first it is very difficult to read, so I devour it blindly, from top to bottom, across, until I can steal a a bit of sweetness—and there is always a little bit, thank you Eugène—to appease me and I carry it with me all the way to to the boulangerie where I buy a croissant and to the barstool in the café where I drink, alone, amidst the vile stench of garlic, a black coffee. Now I’ve returned home, with no time to write you, but I’m writing you nonetheless. You will undoubtedly be the person, in the end, in time, to whom I will have written the most: perhaps this is a senseless fidelity, but I hold to it.
Coincidentally, the day before yesterday, because I have to do an interview with a writer whom I like very much (less than you), I reread a little bit of our interview, and I thought it was really nice, funny almost, and I felt a sense of contentment that was quite strong—to have done it with you, and that it had been written down, preserved somewhere.
I think of you often: you know that I live alone, and quite depressingly so, and I have lots of time, in between or during two everyday gestures, to have loving thoughts: I obviously don’t have a purely amorous feeling for you, since that would be crazy, but an affection whose reality sometime verges on irreality, and that gives me a sense of well-being.
I liked the two pictures very much, and in one of them I recognized myself in a way that I’ve never recognized myself in an image before; I don’t know if you did it on purpose or not but either way the attention really touched me. I love your letters that say so little and that are so present, like letters someone writes in the country, I imagine, to one’s family. I’ll stop here even though I still have lots of things to tell you, because you’re right, a letter shouldn’t be too long.
Je t’embrasse, Eugène, so affectionately:
February 27, 1983
a young girl is waiting at the door and says that she’s come at your request. She’s lying: when she sees your photograph she admits she’s never spoken to you. But she sees you often, at the Winter Circus, and I have a vision of you sitting on a red banquette, or on a wooden bench, in the stench of sawdust and urine, near the wild animals. But she soon explains that the Winter Circus is the name of a café, and she describes you as being always wrapped up in very heavy coats and adds: he must be really thin under all those layers, and I reply: yes, he must be really thin, in a tone I try so hard to make sound innocent that it must sound suspicious: no trace of boastfulness with this young girl, just irritated embarrassment. She leaves, saying to me: “When I see him again, I’ll tell him that I came here,” and I tell her: “Oh, he probably won’t respond well to that,” and she says, “Then I’ll be sad.” The young girl is charming, but it’s crazy how much I don’t like girls, she’s shown me that. Maybe you like them more than me. I like girls like you, that’s all. I’m writing you, my dear Eugène, not to tell you all that nonsense, but to tell you I feel sick, my eyelid twitches constantly as soon as I wake up, it has for ten days, it’s truly horrifying, and in the absence of your lips that could perhaps tame it a bit, that poor eyelid, a little word from you would be like a bouquet of flowers that you’d bring—and you’d be so very kind—to an unhappy acquaintance lying in a hospital bed. I’m not there yet.
March 15, 1983
I hereby delegate a little bird that I charge with taming your rebellious eyelid, but perhaps it has already calmed down? He will hover over you while you sleep and be vigilant. I hope that you’re not in a hospital bed and that you’re better. A curious miracle has happened to me: my hair has begun to curl. I’ll end up resembling you.
Translated by Christine Pichini.
Hervé Guibert (1955–1991) was a writer, a photographer, a filmmaker, and a photography critic for Le Monde. In 1984 he and Patrice Chéreau were awarded a César for best screenplay for L’homme blessé. Shortly before his death from AIDS, he completed La pudeur ou l’impudeur, a video work that chronicles the last days of his life.
Eugène Savitzkaya is a poet, playwright, essayist, and novelist who was born in Saint-Nicolas, Belgium, in 1955. His poetry collections include Les couleurs de boucherie and Bufo bufo bufo.
These letters are excerpted from Letters to Eugène, which will be published by Semiotext(e) on October 25, 2022.
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