Translation by Catherine A.F. MacGillivray of
Le Psychanalyste (from The Psychoanalyst)
Leslie Kaplan

Excerpts from PART I

Simon and The Judgment

- And he writes this story too as if it were a dream.

Simon Scop had stopped short at this sentence and was looking at the pile of papers in front of him. I didn't know him; I had wandered in by chance, attracted by a poster announcing a conference on Kafka. The speaker was a psychoanalyst.

He went on.

- The story is a simple one.

A young man finishes a letter to a friend who has lived abroad for years. This friend has not prospered there, but is afraid to return home, where he no longer has either relatives or ties. He has remained a bachelor. Georg- that's the hero of the story- senses that his friend is not doing well in his business, not doing well in the foreign country, is like an aging child who has grown a ridiculous-looking beard that doesn't suit him, so out of step with life that Georg barely dares to tell him about his own, about the success of his own ventures- he has quintupled his father's business since his mother's death- or about his upcoming marriage to a rich young girl.

The figure of the friend is familiar to us; we know lots like him. As for Georg, he is flourishing, in top form, happy.

Having finished his letter, he goes to see his father. He has no call to do so, but he does.

Georg finds his father in his room; he is surprised at first then horrified to see him so different from the father he sees every day at the store. Old, weak, senile even, he plays with his son's watch chain, and his underclothes are not particularly clean. The atmosphere in the room is heavy, unbearable. It's stifling; it's dark.

Georg wants to talk to his father, but the father starts right away to complain: things are not the same " since the death of our dear mother," as he puts it. Georg feels himself getting confused, he's alarmed by his father's weakened state; he reproaches himself; and suddenly decides to bring his father to live with him in his new household.

It is here that everything starts to happen very quickly.

The father sits up straight in the bed where Georg has tucked him, flings back the blankets, Ah, you wanted to cover me up, he says ironically, about this son who thinks he has subdued his father, who has decided to marry; he insults the fiancee. He compares Georg unfavorably to the friend abroad: now there's a son after his own heart. His aggressiveness increases, along with his insults, and he throws out his final verdict, his judgment: I sentence you now to death by drowning.

Georg leaves, he feels driven from the room, he runs, he climbs onto a bridge, and " calling out softly, Dear parents, I did always love you, he lets himself drop into the void."

The speaker runs his hand through his hair.

- The fate of Georg's friend, in sum, is the fate common to us all. Hesitation, uneasiness, weak desire, where am I, what do I want, failure. The world as it is, as we know it to be. But Georg . . .

Successful at everything, business, love- and yet, when his weak, sickly, debilitated father tells him to go drown himself, he runs and throws himself into the void.

The speaker stops again and gestures with his index finger, as though to point at something or someone.

In the void, words are unstoppable. He leaps of his own free will into the curse.

Simon Is Interrupted

- You don't know what a curse is.

This from a young woman seated in the first row who stands to speak, very emotional. She has short blond hair, a black turtleneck sweater and pants, and she talks very fast, as though reciting a text; at several points she stammers. She is pale with rage, livid.

- I read " The Metamorphosis" and it changed my life. A guy wakes up in the morning, he's been turned into a dung beetle. He has become a gigantic vermin. Doesn't that mean anything to you? Vermin! Scum! Garbage! Don't you get it? Do I have to spell it out for you? Of course you understand. And my name is Eva; remember that. Eva's not garbage, she's not vermin.2 But in fact I'm wrong, you don't understand a thing. A curse! And then you have the gall to talk about the void. I must be dreaming! I live- I'm not going to tell you where I live. I'm going to tell you what it's like; we'll see if you recognize it, Mr. Know-It-All, we'll just see. You get off the RER. You walk to the bus stop. You wait for the bus. There aren't a lot of buses, so you have to wait for a long time. The bus finally gets there. You go up a road. The road is bordered by telegraph poles. The bus is very slow. On both sides of the road are cookie-cutter pre-fab houses. Each house has a door with an iron gate, one or two floors, a flower bed, a backyard. At the top of the hill is a cafe called " We're the Best." You come to an intersection where there are a bunch of big stores. A store for dining rooms and kitchens with lots of furniture on display. As you go by you can see tables, chairs, shelving units, stools, construction drawings. It's like they're in the middle of the road. There's also a hardware store with piles of detergents, boxes of nails, stepladders, bags filled with rags. You keep going until you get to a group of school kids. During the day there are kids carrying books. Next comes the tree-lined neighborhood. Pedestrian crossings. Then you get to some housing projects, big block towers.

She stops for a minute.

- Big block towers. Slots for windows.

She seemed to have to make an effort to go on.

- In the middle of town is the commercial center, the town hall, the town square. So do you know what I'm talking about or not? I forgot, in the commercial center there's also the pizzeria, the Chinese restaurant, the bakery, the deli, the supermarket, the grocery store, the pharmacy. If you don't recognize all this, you're really worthless.

Come on; let's get out of here.

She says this to a girl sitting next to her who hasn't taken her eyes off Eva, who looks at her admiringly, frowning with concentration. The girl stands up too. She is younger, garishly made up, red, black, molded into a miniskirt and a T-shirt that stops just above her belly button. She has faded blond hair, cut like Eva's. Eva puts her arm around her friend's neck.

- Come on; let's get out of here, Eva repeats. They leave the room, Eva taking long strides, her friend teetering on her high heels.

Simon Goes On

The speaker followed them with his eyes. He says- he seems genuinely disappointed:

- A pity they've gone.

So. He jumps, this Georg, into the curse, he is under the influence of words, of the judgment. With Kafka we enter a world where words exist in themselves, where, pushed to their limit, they're alive. They produce effects. They are reality. It's as if he had noted, described in all its details a particular, precise reality, one that we're all familiar with, an interior reality. Words are what we inhabit the most, because they inhabit us first. Our hero struggles with a situation, and that situation is made of words. What I mean is, this is what the reader feels, even if he doesn't realize it: that he travels through the story inside of the words. This is what happens in dreams too. Of course, we're not talking about just any words, or any dreams. We're talking about situations related to matters of age-old alienation, dread, and terror. It's as though we fall out of humanity and into another world, a world ruled by arbitrary, archaic laws. We wake up, and we haven't become like vermin, no, we have actually become vermin. Or one morning, someone comes to get you, and arrest you. There's a trial. It's absurd, for no reason, but this trial that is brought against you, you feel it, you experience it, it is a part of you. Or you look for work abroad, and you feel lost, like a foreigner without recourse. And, like in a dream, we participate in everything that happens. The world falls on your head, but you are a part of this world; there is no other. And if your father can send you off to drown, that's because the word father resonates for you, resonates and commands. Everything is linked; like in a dream, anything can happen, even the unthinkable, from the moment we think it.

Language, Simon goes on, hollows out in us a paradoxical distance, a distance that divides and separates us from ourselves, because before being able to use them in his turn, man is literally made, manufactured, by words, and words are the skin of dreams.

To be continued, Simon says.

I Love Simon

As for me, during this time I had fallen in love. Well, let's say I was attracted to him, really very attracted to this Simon Scop.

I had had some personal experience with psychoanalysis; it had pulled me out of a bad period. I had done it with an older analyst, from another generation. But I can't pretend this didn't play a part in my crush on Simon. I went up to talk to him while he was putting his papers in order, I told him how much I had liked what he had said, and I invited him to go for a drink. He smiled kindly, at first he said he was tired, and then he said yes.

I guess I was at my best. From then on we were together.

During the month of April I was working on a documentary about life in the poor neighborhoods on the outskirts of Paris, the banlieue; he saw patients all day, and we met up again in the evenings. I'll try to explain why I liked him so much. In the meantime-

We were taking a walk, the weather was starting to warm up, we were seeing the city, and all of a sudden there was a photo of Eva, the young woman who had interrupted Simon's talk, on the first page of the tabloids, and detailed articles in the rest of the press. I recognized her immediately, as did Simon. She had killed a man. Apparently he was a pimp, her girlfriend's former pimp. He had followed them, had tried to talk the friend into coming back to him. He was unarmed. Eva threatened him, showed him her revolver; he persisted, she fired. She and her friend had managed to escape.

Some passersby had heard her insult the man: You think just because I'm a woman I won't shoot.

Simon's Patient

Louise was walking quickly down the street, almost skipping, and she wasn't thinking about Simon at all. She was thinking about a dream she had just told him which had filled her with joy.

In fact the dream itself was not much, just one image. What made her burst out laughing as she walked down the street was everything underneath it.

The dream image came straight from a movie she had seen the night before, more like seen yet again, City Lights, one of her favorite Charlie Chaplin movies. It was an image of Chaplin during the boxing match, when he dances behind the referee in his little shorts, hides, protects himself- and bam, sends a fist straight into his opponent's face.

She had woken up very happy, and in recounting her dream her happiness had grown. Now she mentally replayed the associations, smiling and going from boxing, to box, to being boxed in, or doing it- boxing- with her brother, but then there was box, a box, who should they put in it, big choice, how about the old lady their mother, bury her once and for all that one, get rid of her, and to top it all off, finding in box its symbolic opposite, well not exactly, but still, we always go from b to c- and you get cocks.

Again, burst of laughter in the middle of the street.

The pleasures of thought, of thinking.

Not that the content of thoughts is always pleasant, Louise said to herself, kicking an empty can, no, not at all, but the act of thinking- it put you in a good mood.

And like a grown-up, Louise thought. All by myself. The other person hadn't said a thing, just smiled broadly when he said good-bye.

Leave him maybe? Forsake him, leave him.

Somewhere in the Banlieue

Of course we were not the only ones, Simon and I, to recognize Eva; lots of people had heard her at the conference, and two days later a map of the place she had described appeared in the paper, with the location of the cafe " We're the Best."

I let several days pass, then I went there. Like I said, I was working on a documentary on the banlieue, so I was scouting locations. It was the preciseness of the details that had struck me in Eva's description, and at the same time it was all a blur.

I took the RER, then I took a bus. On the way I recognized the telegraph poles, the intersection, the huge stores, and, just like Eva had said, I saw what looked like kitchens spread out in the middle of the road. The cafe " We're the Best" was also a smoke-filled cigarette shop. It was a big place; it could have been nice but there were curtains on the windows. The sadness of curtains in an indoor cafe. I sat down and opened the ones near my table.

Afternoon sun on the square.

A young woman crossed the square briskly, walking with a determined gait, carrying a baby in a front pack. She came into the cafe, ordered a mint water at the bar, and went and sat down.

The baby must have been six months old. It was sleeping. Besides the two of us there was also an old woman sitting in a booth doing crossword puzzles, drinking a beer. You had the feeling she had been there for a long time, and that she came every afternoon. She kept her raincoat on and she didn't look up from her magazine. Some men stood at the bar, discussing sports.

I was exactly inside Eva's description, somewhere yet anywhere, with the poignant feeling that all this was very ordinary and yet at the same time unnatural. In a way I might have felt like letting go, letting myself slip away and float along on my beer's bubbles, on the little bits of light and dust that fell from the ceiling and crossed the room. That call of the void, still and all. The feeling of being so firmly inside things, in the here and now, everything so precise, so well-defined- the young woman with her long blond hair, and the baby, still bald, and the plaid front pack; the men who had come to buy cigarettes, and the owner who sold them, and made a joke each time, especially with the immigrants, How's it going Saïd, it's going OK- to be so firmly inside things, in the here and now, and at the same time what does that mean after all, we are everywhere, and everywhere is the same, nothing counts, nothing gels, nothing is important. zone of indifference and idiocy. We are worthless, we do not exist.

After a minute, the young woman began to rock her baby. In fact the baby was asleep, but she suddenly looked worried, and she started to rock it. The baby woke up and started crying. The mother took out a bottle and gave it to the baby, who drank for a moment and then closed its eyes.

The young woman rocked it some more. Time passed. The baby was quiet.

All of a sudden the young woman asked it what it wanted.

The baby went on sleeping.

The young woman asked it again, more urgently, What do you want? Talk to me, I know you can't talk, but say something. Say something! She shook the baby.

The baby said nothing.

My baby, my darling, my love and my life, murmured the young woman, through clenched teeth.

Say something. I don't know if you're happy. Say something! Why are you sleeping? Why are you always sleeping? Are you sick?

The baby didn't respond, didn't wake up. She kept it up for a few minutes. The baby ended up crying a little.

She rocked it; it went back to sleep.

All around, the cafe. The old woman in the booth had looked up; now she was once again deep inside her words and arrows. Outside, the empty square.

The folds of the curtains. The dusty sun.

- Why are you so mean to me, said the young woman, fairly loudly, you could see that she was trying not to shout. Why are you so mean to me? I'm doing my best.

She sniffled.

I had the impression the cafe was filling up with speech, with bad words, insults, slander. Who was speaking? The curtains.

The schoolchildren began to cross the square; it must have been 4 p.m. The young woman looked at them suspiciously. She got up and left, murmuring to the baby:

- You have forsaken me. Why have you forsaken me?

Eva Reads Kafka

Eva was not in a big block tower in the banlieue, or even nearby, she was on a bed in a two-star hotel room, she had decided to treat herself to a night, no matter the consequences, and she was reading The Trial out loud to Josie. She had gone back to the beginning; she felt that Josie had not been paying attention.

" Someone must have slandered Joseph K. for one morning, without having done anything truly wrong, he was arrested. His landlady, Frau Grubach, had a cook who brought him breakfast each day around eight, but this time she didn't appear. That had never happened before." Eva stopped short; all of a sudden her throat tightened; she felt tears welling in her eyes. It's the sentence " That had never happened before," thought Eva. It's so perfect. She didn't want to tell Josie; she didn't know how to explain it to her. The thought that came to her was: I feel alone, alone like this Joseph K in the book. But Josie wouldn't have understood.

Besides, Josie had taken advantage of Eva's silence to turn on the radio; she came across some dance music and looked at Eva hopefully. Eva shrugged and closed the book, saying, Well.

Right away she opened it again.

- I can't help it, Eva said out loud. Do what you want; I'm going to read.

Josie began to do a samba in the room. She danced really well, moving her belly and her thighs just the necessary centimeters, taking tiny steps forward and back.

Eva softened. That was the problem with Josie, she evoked such tenderness.

- But don't you see, Eva continued, they've arrested me too. Yes, they have. In the face of Josie's look of panic she repeated, Yes, they have. They've arrested me too, I figured this out a long time ago. Just like in the book. They didn't take me to prison, they don't take him to prison either, but they arrested me. I know it. I'm here, with you, I move about, I come and go freely, I do so-called what I want, but I'm arrested. I know it.

Josie looked more and more anxious. Eva shook her head.

- I don't feel guilty. They've always wanted me to feel guilty. Me, guilty? Never. But I'm arrested, for sure. They're watching me. They're biding their time.

Josie started to cry.

- Don't cry, Eva said. I'll manage. They won't get me. She added, It's all in the book. And to herself she said, quietly, This guy is incredible. Me, who hate all men, and I have every reason to, why do I love this one so much?

I don't give a shit why, said Eva. He got it, he understood everything.

Listen, Eva said to Josie, who had sat down on the bed, completely despondent, don't worry. She put her arm around Josie's waist. Come on, let's dance. Samba.

Louise Leaves the Garden

Louise was living spring to the fullest, this precise, sharp time, time of beginnings, of air that cuts and carves, that draws, Louise said to Simon, the contour of things, the inside and the outside, the form and what's left over. Seeing becomes easier, Louise said, we can see what is, the crisp, clear air creates a backdrop, we see things, things reemerge. Leaves, all the shades of green, garden lanes and benches. She talked about the park near her home, she went there often, she could have spent her whole life there. It's the garden from my childhood, Louise said, I used to go there when I was a child, I used to go by myself, we lived next door. The garden from my childhood, my garden of Eden, my lost paradise, she insisted, laughing ironically. I knew it all so well, the lanes, the shelters, the pond, the statues. The location of every bench, the swings, the playground. Turn, turn, wooden horses.

I still love to go there even now, Louise said. I have my favorite bench, I sit. I look at the trees, the clouds forming and re-forming. You can see airplanes, too, very small, very far away. You'd think they were toys.

This garden, Louise said, this springtime, what a delight! It is wide, limitless. Everything is sprouting, growing, making its mark. But at the same time, Louise said, sometimes, often even, very often, it's hard. I have a phrase in my head- maybe I read it somewhere, maybe I made it up- but I have this phrase in my head: " Springtime, the rancor of things." As if things caught up with you, taunted you. It's worse than just hard. In the midst of a wonderful spring, you can also have, well, I have a very strong feeling of the uselessness of things. A feeling of emptiness. All of a sudden, it hits me. Nothing is worthwhile, nothing is useful. Working, reading, performing, seeing my friends . . . Nothing has consistency anymore. Everything's unraveling. The weather is beautiful, you take a walk, the park is splendid, you see everything as you have never seen it before, and, suddenly, nothing holds any appeal.

I could come up with some theories, Louise said, a metaphysics. Vanity of vanities, the absurdness of life, of the human condition. But grand speeches, Louise said . . .

What I'm feeling is the taste of death in the mouth. A flat taste. A dusty taste.

Why emptiness? said Louise. I don't understand. It catches me, it knocks me down. I can't do anything. I'm no longer good for anything. And for no good reason.

And as spring progressed, Louise teetered between the happiness of the garden- the strong, deep green, the open, joyful sky, explosions, enthusiasms- and sudden crises where nothing existed anymore except the dread of emptiness, the taste of death, that flat taste in the back of the mouth. So tiring, Louise said: highs, lows, lows, highs.

The garden, Louise said one time. As much as I love to go there, to go in, to walk, to sit on my bench, in equal measure when I leave I feel sad. It's horrible, said Louise, to have to leave. She stopped short.

Simon pressed her, Yes?

- To have to leave it- the garden, said Louise, it's sad.

Again, silence. Louise could clearly see in her mind's eye the garden's tall iron fence, and behind it, the buildings, the cars, the boulevard.

After a moment, Simon said again, Yes?

- I was saying, it's sad to leave the garden, said Louise, a little annoyed. It annoys me to talk about it. And anyway, said Louise, it's obvious. Why do you press me?

It's natural to be sad, Louise added after a moment. Leaving the garden of Eden is sad. It's natural.

Simon didn't say anything.

Louise saw only the garden's iron fence and suddenly had a very hard time talking.

- I feel heavy, said Louise. Like when I leave the park, said Louise, everything weighs on me.

When I leave the park, in fact, it's not exactly sadness, said Louise. That's not the right word.

It's a feeling of what's the point? said Louise. It's so painful. Even if I have things to do, people to see, work, as is the case, I have a feeling of the uselessness of everything. Everything loses its appeal. I drag myself around. Everything seems empty to me, said Louise.

Emptiness, Louise repeated, surprised. I can't seem to talk about anything else. But what does this have to do with the garden? Louise said.

Yes, what? said Simon.

- I don't know, said Louise. When I was little, it wasn't like that. I left the park, I walked down the boulevard, I went home, I did my homework . . . I liked doing it, I loved it. No one had to ask me to do it, I did it all by myself. No one told me what to do.

I was a bit suspended inside emptiness, said Louise.

- Yes, Simon said.

Eva Falls down a Hole

For Eva too it was spring, she too was living it fully, perhaps she too could have talked about " the rancor of things." She had a little money set aside, she had decided to change neighborhoods and to rent a furnished room in a hotel. Josie had found a job at a Monoprix, and Eva one as a waitress; she had often worked as a waitress. But she felt out of sorts. I took a hit to the back of the head, Eva said. I feel listless, like a puddle, like I've fallen down a hole. I've never felt like this before, what's wrong with me? And this fever, I always have a slight fever, and a terrible headache. And even though I don't usually pay that much attention to my body, Eva said to Josie, right now it's like I'm out of juice.

She worked with world weariness, she yelled at the customers even more than usual, but, Eva said without humor, for better or for worse, in the cafe where she had gotten the job, they seemed to like that.

As soon as she lay down to sleep, she saw her life passing before her eyes, her mother's house, the chickens and the greens, the grime, the mud, the surrounding fields, the potatoes, and her brothers, she saw all her brothers, one by one, Johnny in particular would put in an appearance, he was the only one she still spoke to, but she had had a fight with his wife, and for that matter, he was so far away, and for that matter, she didn't even know where. I see my life, she would say to Josie, like a movie, but the problem is, I don't like the movie. Josie would look at her and make her a cold compress, and Eva would get mad because Josie wouldn't talk to her. Are you afraid of me or something? Eva said to Josie one evening, Josie didn't answer but they both felt, each in her own way, an uneasiness. You get on my nerves, you get on my nerves, Eva ended up saying, and all of a sudden she said, cruelly:

- One day, I'm going to eat you.

Josie turned white and sat down.

Eva took her by the chin, and said:

- Exactly, you heard me right, one day I'm going to eat you.

Josie stood and began to tidy up the room.

- Leave it, Eva started to scream. This room is vile. You can't fix it. You can't fix anything. Look, the sink, it's in plain sight, there's not even a screen. And the curtains, do you like them, those yellow curtains? And the wallpaper, do you like it? Do you think that pattern is nice? Those little crowns of flowers, aren't they nice? And when we open the window, you see the RER, can you see it? or am I the only one who can see it? If I'm the only one who can see it, then I'm crazy, is that it? Answer me, can you see it or not?

Josie said she could.

- So you see, you can talk when you want to, Eva said. As long as you talk . . . she laughed without finishing her sentence.

Simon and the Asylum

I liked it when Simon talked to me about his beginnings, about his training, about the period when he had worked in various institutions, mental health clinics, psychiatric hospitals. He considered madness to be a borderland, an ever-present possibility for anyone, at the same time as he would often quote the phrase, " Not everyone can be crazy." He refused the idea of a biological destiny, thought that in principle- but according to each person's particular history- everything, in the psyche, could be treated, not cured but treated, by the work of analysis, of the spoken word. A drug, a concrete intervention on the body, was not necessarily an aberration, but once chosen, one could no longer intervene as an analyst; instead, one had then to try to treat the symptom, but only the symptom.

He would tell stories sometimes, irritated, about the asylum. What always made him mad was the medical professionals' fear, their fear of losing power, their stupidity linked to this fear. One story in particular struck me, perhaps because I could imagine the setting so easily, the old hospital located off the beaten track, a bit outside the city, the big park, the pre-fab yellow houses, and the walls at the end of the park covered with ivy, the beauty and sadness of ivy, behind it was a wood, you could see it from the bedrooms, its lights and its distant life. And the people, all those people. Their outdoor strolls.

Simon told me about a young, very brilliant student, who had become catatonic- no longer moved, no longer spoke. Simon saw him regularly and the boy began to speak again, then with a single stroke the head doctor, a woman, intervened: Sir, you are schizophrenic, it's written in your file, how is it that you are no longer taking any medication? Relapse and end of story.

In contrast to this attitude, Simon told the story of how a young psychiatrist friend used to handle his patients: to a patient who was acting out because the doctor had to be away for awhile, who threatened him with the worst, saying, You can't go away and leave me, I'm sick, the friend replied, tit for tat, Oh really? You're sick?

The important thing was not to confuse the illness with the patient, this distinction had to be maintained so as not to limit anyone to their illness, You are this sick person, that's all you are. And to assume that a person can step away from his illness, consider it, take it off, it's not his skin.

As for me, this pleased me because, I thought, it's like a narrative: Is a narrative told from the point-of-view of what one knows, like a " case" that unfolds linearly? Or from the point-of-view of what one doesn't know beforehand? Which doesn't mean: improvisation. But it's a question of point-of-view. It comes down to taking the measure of what, in these areas, is not a question of precision but of truth, and yet the truth is not spontaneously effective, as a result of its light or its illuminating qualities, nor is it like a medicine that simply need be swallowed, Ah yes, and one would be cured.

I told myself that at bottom, biological essentialism and the good old idealist sermon always go hand-in-hand, and, as if nothing had happened, the medicine is taken for the truth, and the truth for a medicine, in short something that one takes, by body or by mind, and then " all" one has to do is swallow, absorb, digest. Even though we understand that a given explanation doesn't work on its own- someone can know this perfectly well and yet it can have no effect on him- no more so than a story is a pure and simple " idea" that unfolds, that can be demonstrated; to the contrary, it's all in the details, the twists and turns, the density of language, the thickness of time.

Louise and the Worst Enemy

- I'm having a great time in my theater workshop, with the junior-high kids, Louise was saying, and the kids too, I think they're enjoying themselves. It's a school in an underprivileged neighborhood, as they say, more than half the kids come from immigrant families, the buildings are solid and made of brick, you'd think it was a factory, with miles and miles of hallways. When I climb the three flights of stairs to get to the classroom, I look at the students, they're seventh-graders- their oversized satchels, their sneakers, their track suits, their hoodies- and I've noticed I always sigh. But once the door closes and the workshop begins, it's different; idyllic, according to the teacher, Louise says laughing, but it's true, everything goes really well. Well, said Louise, at least I think it does.

I've taken advantage of the tension that exists, that is there, between the boys and the girls, and I've had them write short texts for improvisation.

We've worked on the idea of time. For the past, this works, they write real or imagined stories, drawing from their memories, and even when it comes to the present, this works well.

But the future, all of a sudden, impossible: Mademoiselle, I don't know Mademoiselle, I don't see anything, I don't have any ideas. One boy just wrote the title, " The Future," and underneath that, a single sentence, in fact a parentheses: (life, what's that?).

Initially I found this to be a bit of a caricature, this No Future, but after awhile I really got worried, I wasn't sure how to handle it.

I was wandering aimlessly among the desks, and then I had an idea, I told them to write about their worst enemy, and they all managed to write about that; the enemy could be an abstraction, an idea, like racism, intolerance, stupidity, there were several who wrote about imbecility, about an adult who was clueless. Or it could be a very concrete enemy, a neighbor, or the best friend who had betrayed you. Or else, the worst enemy could be oneself, one girl improvised on this, it was moving . . . In any case, when it came to enemies, everybody had one . . .

There were some girls who got together and answered the question with a text they acted out about forced marriages, it was so funny even the boys were doubled over with laughter.

I'm learning a lot, said Louise.

I talked to them about Brecht, about how he analyzes contradictions. His vision is a clear one, complex because of the contradictions, but clear.

Afterwards, when I got home, I thought, Clear like the sun on a railway platform in the banlieue, no not as clear as that.

Eva Before the Law

Eva was lying down, rereading in her book a story she found cruel, about a man who wants to enter the Law. The doorkeeper stationed before the Law tells him it is possible, but not at the moment. The man stays there, grows old, dies, but he never does get to go in, he never does enter the Law. Eva found this story to be cruel, and she agreed with the hero of the book, to whom the story is told. He rebels, he accuses the doorkeeper of having said nothing to the man. No reply, no clarification, not during the whole time the man stayed there, standing before the door, waiting, wanting to enter, wanting to learn how to live. But wait a minute, came the retort in the book to the hero and to Eva, wait just a minute, it wasn't the doorkeeper's job to reply, he hadn't been questioned.

Suddenly this exchange overwhelmed Eva. She turned off the light- Josie was already asleep- and lay on her back, eyes wide open. It was too much, too much. Nothing was ever a given. Everything had to be made and remade, all the time. And yet, thought Eva, I'm brave, I've always worked, unlike my brothers, I've always made my own living, always sent money home to our mother. That's not it. It's not that I don't want to work. But still and all. Too much, it's too much. I'm not even worthy of a reply. Not unless I ask the right question. The right one, at the right time. It's not fair, thought Eva, tossing and turning in her bed, it's not fair, it's exhausting, it's inhuman. Kafka understood this, that it's inhuman. To have to do everything, absolutely everything, invent everything, all the time. To have to do it all, to have the right to nothing. He understood this. We're forever on the run, we spend our time racing around, and even our obligations, we have to figure out what they are. Even the right question, we have to invent it. When it comes to the Law, it's not enough that we show proof of goodwill, that we want to enter it, no, that's not enough, we still have to figure out how. I've had enough, I can't do it anymore, I'm fed up.

Eva slept briefly, and had a dream. She saw herself as a child in her mother's house, she was going to the circus with her brothers; it was a small, shabby circus that was often in the neighborhood. Small, squalid circus, with a flea-ridden lion; they got fleas every time they went, and the smell of the big cat was so strong- it was hard to imagine how one lone beast could smell so much. And especially the clowns, they were pitiful, already so old, their sequined costumes covered with patches, their stars sewn on. What was the most oppressive to Eva in her dream was the feeling of the clowns' fatigue, how exhausted they seemed; they did everything, those old clowns full of holes; they played the violin, they played the clarinet, they sang, they told jokes, they did cartwheels, they fed the lion, they swept the stage, they primed the public, they never let up.

Eva woke in a sweat, she felt feverish, she almost woke Josie up, but no, she sighed, Josie wouldn't know what to say. She turned on her side and looked at the wall. The wall mocked her, " It's impossible to think about nothing," the wall told her, snickering. She thought again of the curse. What an asshole that guy was, Eva whispered, she was furious, remembering Simon's talk. He talks and talks, he says all kinds of things, he has no idea what it is.

Josie Sings for Eva

Eva and Josie were playing in bed, it was Sunday. Josie caressed Eva, Eva kissed Josie. It was joyful and lively, they both loved that. Afterwards, they were calm, peaceful even.

Josie put her head on Eva's chest and started to sing. She had a fine, clear voice, she sang current hits or old songs she had learned from her teacher at school, Our King Renaud came back from war or On the Northern Bridge / You will dance no more.

Her voice communicated a light, enveloping gentleness, and at the same time a poignant certainty: the world was closing in, disaster was waiting in the wings, the end of the world was coming, it was already here, it penetrated you, you felt it, you were living it, it was carried by the very gentleness of the voice, it was the voice itself, so light so gentle, soon it would stop, one day it had to stop.

Eva listened, transported and suddenly brimming with tears. Not sad; moved. She saw herself with her mother, she tiny, her mother in her shawl, both of them turning up the earth, her mother was working in the fields, Eva was with her, both of them bustling about, full of dirt and heat. Even so, her mother had never sung to her, had never sung her a thing. But, Eva told herself, she might have.

That's it, thought Eva, when it's beautiful, we tell ourselves it might have been, in reality. That's what we feel. That it might have been.

She put her arms around Josie.

Josie seemed to understand and began to sing Ne me quitte pas.

The Sands of Louise

- I love Vincent so much, said Louise. I love how he is, I love what he writes, I love him. He doesn't believe me. And it's true, I ruin everything. I don't know why. When he leaves me, I go crazy. I resent him, I want to break everything. I can't control myself. But I love him.

But when he leaves, it drives me crazy, said Louise.

What we're made of, said Louise. It makes me cry.

My mother used to sing me a nursery rhyme, what little children are made of, little girls are made of sugar and spice, and boys . . . I can't remember what boys are made of . . .

Of sugar . . .

Sugar melts.

Sugar is not that great.

As for me, I feel more like I'm made of sand, said Louise.

Crumbly, full of sand.

Nothing but sand inside, that's it, said Louise.

I'm crumbling.

I'm coming undone.

I'm breaking into a thousand pieces.

Why can't I hold myself together when he leaves.

I'd like to kill him when he leaves.

I could kill him.

I hate him when he leaves.

That's how it is, said Louise.

Or else, break everything.

I imagine myself breaking everything, then disappearing.

Yes, yes, leaving, disappearing, letting go, breaking free.

Simon and the Specialist

While I was waiting with him in line at a movie theatre, Simon ran into a childhood friend he hadn't seen in years and years. I know you became a psychoanalyst, as for me I specialize in treating phobias, Jean-Michel said to him right off the bat, a tall guy in a parka.

- Oh really, said Simon, flabbergasted. I didn't know there was such a thing.

- As what? said Jean-Michel; now it was his turn to seem surprised.

- Phobia specialists.

- Why does that surprise you? Every illness requires its specialist. You have cardiologists, dermatologists . . . I treat all different kinds of phobias, but agoraphobia in particular, repeated Jean-Michel.

- But how? asked Simon.

- Well, they have to be classified. By category. Fear of the metro. Fear of trains, fear of streets, fear of public places, fear of public squares. Fear of illness, fear of being stung, fear of being bitten.

In fact, laughed Jean-Michel, if we didn't control ourselves, we'd find as many phobias as there are people.

I use various techniques. Mainly gradual retraining. You've got to get results.

- Yes?

- I get a lot of patients from the banlieue, they don't have money. They demand rapid results, not like with you.

So I retrain them, little by little, I have a whole bunch of equipment. I start by showing them photos, then videos, then sound . . . Then I move on to the real thing. I show them a spider, I make their skin crawl. . . I persuade them. I show them that reality is not so bad.

- Tarantulas? Snakes? Simon's look of disgust made me laugh.

- Why not.

These are irrational fears, are they not. It's a question of getting them to accept that they have no reason to be afraid. So I use what I have close to hand. What they might actually encounter. No crocodiles, hahaha. . . .

- Why not? Simon said in turn; he had just read that in New York it was currently the fashion to keep crocodiles and boa constrictors as apartment pets.

And agoraphobia?

- People who're not from here and who aren't used to big cities.

They're afraid of getting lost. Afraid of the dark, afraid of being alone.

At that precise moment, Jean-Michel interrupted himself to take a call on his cell phone.

They can't stand being alone, Jean-Michel went on.

Often they can't stand promiscuity either.

Men, women, both together . . .

- And recidivism? said Simon, symptoms that get displaced?

You remember that film, Simon was talking more to me, the story of a man who is insanely jealous. He makes his wife's life impossible, he makes everyone's life impossible, he has a brush with crime. In the end, he finds refuge in a monastery, everything seems to have calmed down. But that final image belies his cure: he enters the monastery, he climbs the stairs, and you see him, he zgzags.

- Of course, there is recidivism, often even, says Jean-Michel, who hadn't been listening. Then he changed his tone, but was unaware of doing so, going from the experimental- piercing inquisitional gaze, fixed on the cold horizon of hard science- to a moral, emphatic tone, turned inward, almost sermonizing. Someone who is used to being afraid needs to be taught to give up his fear, to separate from it. I call that, " leave your fear behind," said Jean-Michel with a profound look. One needs to learn to leave one's fear behind, to let the fear go. There comes a time, said Jean-Michel with conviction, to let it go.

- But how do they let it go? said Simon. He seemed worn out.

Jean-Michel swelled up with pride, and said he made himself be strong, that he knew how to be convincing, etc.

Simon shook his head.

Louise and Sex

Sex, sex, said Louise. Why do I have to talk to you about sex. Freud is all about sex, everyone knows that. He reduces everything to sex. It's reductive. For his time, we all agree, it was revolutionary. But now.

You know the joke about the four Jews who revolutionized humanity? Jesus came first; he said, Everything is love. Next came Marx; he said, Everything is the economy. After that came Freud; he said, Everything is sex. Finally there was Einstein; as for him, he said, Everything is relative.

And by the way, what does that mean, sex?

It's not like I have a problem in that area, after all. I never have. In bed, everything is fine, thank you very much. I like it. Never had any problems.

I don't feel like talking about that. Maybe it's all I think about without even realizing it, said Louise. But I'd be surprised.

What I'd like to talk about is why I have so little self-confidence- that's what I'd like to talk about. Why I become so despondent. People tell me I'm pretty, I'm talented, well, it doesn't make any difference. I never think I'm good enough.

Never good enough, never good enough.

You'll say it's my mother. The way she always criticized me. You're not this, you're not that . . . Yes, yes, of course. But I know that and it doesn't stop me from being so dissatisfied.


I'm thinking about a movie I saw last night, said Louise. A very vulgar movie. There's a scene where the hero is in his underwear, and he's holding his balls, excuse the expression.

It was disgusting. What was disgusting was that he looked so proud.

Yuck, said Louise.

- Yuck? said Simon.

- You know very well what that means, Yuck, said Louise.


- You're very gifted at annoying me, said Louise.

I might point out, that's why I admire you.

What I mean is, I can see that I'm aggressive with you, I even curse you sometimes, but you stay calm. Calm and firm.

Actually, a little too firm sometimes- you never talk.


That was bad.

It's absurd, what we have in our heads.

Can a woman be as firm?

- What do you think? said Simon.

Louise and the Banlieue

- I'm tired, said Louise, really tired. Public transportation. The theatre workshop at the junior high. It's too far away.

In fact, that's not it, said Louise, what's tiring is what it feels like to be there. How the people there have to live, what they have to go through.

These are places that make you feel abandoned, like no one wants you. Like from the beginning, no one wanted you. You feel left behind, abandoned.

In order to get there, after the RER I have to take a bus, said Louise. It takes a long time to come, then there are never any seats, and it's always too hot. The bus goes up a road, it's so ugly. Pre-fab houses, furniture stores, everything looks like it's been tossed directly onto the street.

Everything looks like someone threw it there any which way, like nothing was thought out or prepared to welcome anyone.

If you could see the junior high, said Louise.

It's enough to make you cry.

It's what they call a barracks school. They're all like that, by the way, in neighborhoods like this. When you see the little ones coming into the school, with their packs, their satchels, so tiny in the huge hallways . . . They look lost.

I'm telling you, you get the feeling that no one wants them. Abandoned.


I'm exaggerating, said Louise. Maybe. Anyway, you don't give a shit.


In my theatre workshop, right now, during the improvisations I have them do, I make them work on feelings. I name a feeling, and I ask them to find words, thoughts, situations, characters to go with it. They love it, the stories they make up! . . . They always ask me to do one too, afterwards. We have a lot of fun.

I did a number for them on anger, I was thinking of their principal, Mr. " Average Joe," they laughed and laughed . . .

Anger isn't difficult. What's difficult is . . . Louise stopped.

- Yes? said Simon.

- Nothing, said Louise.


-Yes? said Simon.

The feeling of being abandoned, said Louise. When you feel abandoned, said Louise. She stopped again.

- Yes? Simon said again.

Die, said Louise. Drop dead. She laughed nervously. Or else you don't think at all, said Louise. You're too sad.

- Catherine A. F. MacGillivray, Translator