Jan Svenungsson

Frédéric Valabrègue's text from "A Commissioned Readymade"


"A Tale"

They were a few idlers from the green valley who met up every tenth year by the rocks overlooking the sea. It was the warm season, the same as they always were, and the same beginning again. There was the rabbi of La Plaine, the zaddik of La Capelette and the verger of Chutes-Lavie. And when it wasn't them, then it was their children. As they lay chatting in the sun, they fished tiny cerulean fish on lines tied to their big toes.

"Let's see now," the good rabbi of La Plaine said, splashing himself with turquoise water from a white beach hat. "We began discussing the need for our conversations around nineteen hundred and four, and if it wasn't us, then it was our fathers."

"Nineteen hundred and four!" repeated the verger of Chutes-Lavie whose wisdom surpassed that of the greatest masters. "That makes five. From nineteen hundred and four to nineteen eighty-four we've looped together all the nine numbers. In nineteen ninety-four we're back at five and once more, the same beginning again."

He lifted his leg lightly as if he was about to dance a bourrée. A little wrasse the colours of sapphire had just taken a bite at the hook.

"Good point," the zaddik of La Capelette said, a little grumpy as always. "Indeed, from nineteen ninety-four to two thousand seventy and four the same list of nine numbers repeats itself term by term. All the same, I'm not the least taken by that kind of glitter. We've had enough of exercises like these to know that you can just about make anything out of them!"

"And the other way round, " the rabbi of La Plaine added, by the way.

"Every time we've tried to juggle our numbers and letters it's been like all we've landed on the beach were small fry, trinkets that you marvel at only for a moment," the verger of Chutes-Lavie remarked.

"Who's made us swallow a disk that's so well programmed it feels like we're soaring through the air just as it pulls away the carpet from under our feet?" the zaddik of La Capelette went on.

All of a sudden he shook his leg. His toe had been electrified by a surprising catch: a nipper, a little crab with periwinkle eyes that screeched and made bubbles. He picked it up carefully between his thumb and forefinger and took a close look, admiring the pattern of its armour, then put it down on a rock from where the creature took its leave. The zaddik sighed. "What's the good of fouling the water of the sea?" And so the day passed dullish by the groaning town, the hardworking town of winds and hunger. The rumbling came and went: humming, backfiring, big underground trains, air routes...

As the evening made the islands blush the verger proceeded to the point. He raised the following question, a question that his fathers had discussed and which his children would continue to discuss: "Would it have been better if the universe of the mind had never been created since it does nothing but drive us up the wall, like a game of blind man's buff? Hadn't it been better if the spirit come alive in man had given itself up to be resorbed into the unconscious and the not-human? Or would it indeed have been better if the unconscious and the not-human had been entirely purified in order to give birth to a live spirit and a knowing mankind?"

The subtlety of the verger's words still rang in the head of the rabbi of La Plaine as he observed a strange phenomenon of the setting sun: a sheet of the sky was reflecting over itself in the sea while a veil of the sea reflected over itself in the sky. He knew that the zaddik of La Capelette would return under his bridge, amongst the garbage, to keep watch over the rubble of the town. He knew that the verger of Chutes-Lavie would return to his niche behind the ruins of a church to which, even though it was open to the four winds, he still exhibited the bunch of keys. And so he answered him firmly: "In any case, it would've been better if the real world, the world that we are conscious of, had never been created. There's not the slightest doubt that the most desirable of all for mankind is reaching its conclusion and being resorbed into infinity."

And so, as usual, they stood up and arranged to meet at the same place in ten years; an appointment for themselves, for their descendants, and even for their ascendants.

Frédéric Valabrègue
(translation: Kimmo Mutka & Mary Parks)