By Ulysse Bouchard

I’ve desired, and a symbol, less than a symbol; a sign has sufficed. Sometimes less: something to pursue, a movement, a gaze, a line, a wait, at last a doubt, sliding along the faces of the lakes — a question mark. Like the echo of an ancient melody, a familiar face glimpsed at in a crowd, a returning memory: first an instant, a sight, a doubt: was it this all along? — and then, at last, a recognition.

The Word precedes speech, and speech, language. Meaning shall come later, much later: first the Word, and before it, rhythm, that is, will through time. Speech tells itself; so be it that it speaks to itself; but was anyone listening? The true Sanskrit, says Novalis, the true Sanskrit speaks in order to speak, for speech is its joy and essence. Its essence, because it speaks itself; and its joy, for it finds in its speech its own excess, its jouissance. Its plenitude overflows the content that fills it, and the whole is a surfeit of life, the bottoms of the earth sprouting forth in hypersemiotized fountains. But the sign is a tomb, where too much has come to die; and the Greeks knew, having but one word for “sign” and “tomb.”

Man’s misfortune is his ability to build meaning on anything: he will bear much, and shall bow for longer still, if he may see the sun for one more day. And even without sun, his hands filled with plastic, he shall drag himself for another while along white corridors and cubicles under the mute snore of neons. The vanquished kings who walked behind the Roman triumphs are much akin to the Last Man. When Perseus, last king of Macedonia, begged to Paulus Aemilius that he may not be paraded at his triumph, the Roman answered: “the thing’s in your power.”

The human mind, although full of symbolic possibilities, nevertheless wanes, and goes nowhere; what makes an epoch a late one, is its tendency to think too much. The words wear down, as the masses use them; their weakened sense loses its color like an old photograph. And if there are many words that still lack a language to be spoken, there are many languages that still lack words. This is why Orpheus sang from the heights of Helicon: “Blessed the word that’s been uttered, for it shall sleep no more. Blessed also the word that was left unspoken; for it shall dream, forevermore.”

Hubert Robert had dreamt a non-linear future, a continuous perfection of what had been, rather than a movement in time. For him, the building of a new humanity was coextensive to its architecture; he had dreamt the architecture of the new aristocracy that was to be born from the Enlightenment, an aristocracy of the spirit and the will, whose castles and gardens he designed, both in his paintings and in reality: an architect, his art was both reality and fantasy. When he wished to represent the great gallery of the Louvre, which would soon, under his design, be converted into a museum, he represented it as a ruin, around the year 2500 or 3000. The collapsed roof opens unto the infinite of the sky, and among the toppled columns and broken marbles men are picking through the rubble, looking for the civilization that had flourished a thousand years before.

Under the Revolution, however, his works begin to stump, and take on more nostalgic tones, more twilit tones, as the dreams of his youth recede in the purple distance. Yet the dream reawakens under Napoleon, and Robert paints, in the sands of then-conquered Egypt, the nine Muses dancing around the broken obelisk of Tradition: there, he paints the cyclical movement of apogee and decline — and the promise of something new, to come.

The contemplation of past eras is always followed by this bitter reproach: “and yet the years have rolled, and they too, were forced to die, and their pillars to fall and crumble, and their world to give in to another one” ; for in the past the historian seeks Eternity, and yet finds there, to his horror, but becoming and change. The historian is a Christian, and his quest is for an after-world.

As among ruins, there is a soft melancholy to the void of urban spaces – a mute poetry, as if the absolute absence of beauty revealed something else, and showed how all perception is already an aesthetic experience. Underneath the flickering neons I have experienced myself.

And I have verse for concrete too, and also for the lights of cars reflected in the wet pavement; for them too, I have verse, and I have long dreamed the deep slumber of tropical forests and great fulgurations and white light, white, blinding white, like the sun mixing with the earth, and new rhythms, vast and expansive, have beaten the ground with a deep cadence.

It is not within the power of anyone to stop and disappear here in the Pacific dusk. Though we know nothing of the things to come, I can assure you that they will be the terrors of the earth. The night is warm and full of promise, the present pregnant with future, and life euphoric like the first effects of drunkenness.

To try to exit, here, to an outside — a line of flight.