Pierre Guyotat – His books stink of sperm and killing, they are a malignant orgasm; he is the last great avant-garde visionary of the 20th Century

Pierre Guyotat, Tomb for 500,000 Soldiers (Solar Books; Revised edition, 2009)
Pierre Guyotat, Eden, Eden, Eden (Solar Books; Revised edition, 2009)

«This is the shit beneath your fingernails. You are appalled because – Christ – there is shit! – beneath your fingernails! You are appalled but you must know how that shit got there. That is why you read Eden Eden Eden.
Things you should know (and these things will arm you, these are things you require: think of what I am about to tell you as an enormous pair of boots to help you wade through the sickening morass of shit, spew, jism and mud here): Pierre Guyotat masturbates as he writes. As such, his sentences rarely include punctuation or follow straight grammatical rules, rolling on and ever on, dreamlike (or nightmarish), insistent, perplexing. Guyotat has displayed his manuscripts (spunk encrusted telephone directories) in galleries throughout the world. During the writing of The Book and The Story of Samora Michel, he gave up eating, lost half his body weight and eventually had to be resuscitated from a near fatal coma. Guyotat is, if nothing else, somewhat driven.
More importantly, Eden Eden Eden is viewed by those who know as a significantly biographical work, set as it is during the war between Algeria and France, a war in which Guyotat was held prisoner. Saying that, to view Eden Eden Eden as a biographical work – to approach it as a way of attempting to understand what Guyotat does – is wrong, in my opinion. You need to approach this as if it was the combination of an extraordinary piece of abstract art and a nail bomb. There is beauty here, but there is also great, savage pain. (Imagine a wounded wolf howling, and then imagine that the sound – the howling – can generate similar, equally awful, wounds in those that hear: that is the experience of reading Eden Eden Eden.)
The hero of the book is a teenage prostitute called Wazzag, and the novel follows his participation in a series of sex acts, which constantly escalate in scale, intensity and number. In his introduction, Stephen Barber says: “The book stinks of sperm and killing. It is a malignant orgasm. It is the perfect book for contemporary Europe.”
You do not expect entertainment. You walk like a refugee through these pages. Nothing is what you would precisely deem pleasant. Sentences read like the foundation stones for the pyramids (stones that you must jar your shoulder against, stones that need pushing thirty or forty miles). This is work, work that requires a particularly distinct heroism. You are reporting from the front line. You are witnessing that which nobody else is doing, that which few others have seen. It is frantic and unpleasant, yes, but what you are bearing witness to is something brutally unique.» - bookmunch

«You think you've read them all—all the writers with powerfully wicked imaginations, that is. Maybe you caught the bug in high school: there you were in English class, slumped on your desk, cuffing The Ticket that Exploded like a Playboy inside a rented copy of Catcher in the Rye. Or maybe it started on an unusually cool and foggy Saturday morning in July, when you fished that grocery bag out of a dumpster and let your friend have all the stuff with pictures while you kept Blood and Guts in High School. Eventually you got to the point where Hubert Selby and Lautremont are old hat to you; Sade, simply clunky. You wonder why no one other than Bernard Noel has yet to try pulling Bataille's sword out of whatever it is he left it in. You're still waiting for The Story of P. In short, nothing on any page in the world fazes you.
The above comparisons are here for one reason: if any of what you've read above strikes a chord, you've come to the right review. If not, avert your eyes and move to another piece without delay, for we are about to enter the most desolate, the most brutal, the most unabashedly depraved realm in the history of the printed word: the world of Pierre Guyotat. Here's a typical scene, both savage and poignant, from the "First Chant" of his deliciously debased work Tomb for 500,000 Soldiers:
—Buy me, buy me, or I will die torn to pieces, yesterday they seized me and sewed me inside the horsehair of a mattress, cutting a hole in the cloth at the place of my thighs and everyone could then fuck me choking inside the horsehair, eyes pricked by the sweat, and the cloth, around the hole, blackens and sticks to my belly; I can't see them, I recognize them only by their cocks. Set me free, I'll work for your living.
The guard strokes the hair, the temples, the slave's forehead, strokes, soothes the restless forehead, the quivering neck, his belly touches the belly still wet, the stain on the dress called "slave's stain," his wooden leg crushes the foot of the now silent slave, motionless and quivering against the guard.
Of the two [books], Tomb provides the easiest point of entry into Guyotat's realm by far; plotless for all intents and purposes, the novel at least provides a modicum of description cumulatively over time, and approaches conventional narrative a good deal more closely than Eden, Eden, Eden, a single sentence in which one action immediately follows another with absolutely no intervening description or reflection for 181 pages. Both of these editions contain useful introductions by Artaud scholar Stephen Barber which help situate Guyotat's "supremely resilient and innovative body of work" for English-language readers.
While Tomb conveys some notion of time's passage, albeit strangely, Eden's temporal perspective is completely exploded. Ostensibly the book presents the story of an increasingly degraded male prostitute, but its language is pared to bare essentials, each page different from the next only in the exact composition of the scenes and sentences upon it. Whether it's "Wazzag crouching alongside apprentice, licking cold sweat pearling on forehead, on navel" from early in the book or "vipers, in warm cavity of laterite covered by rustling almouz, copulating, striking jaws, horn, entwining" from near the end, Guytotat's torrentially presented lines and images are all but identical in tone and rhythm. In the preface to the book, Roland Barthes champions it as "a free text... outside all categories and yet of an importance beyond any doubt."
Structural particulars and challenge factor aside, the novels have much in common. Each consists entirely of concatenated vignettes situated in a world constantly at war, inhabited only by masters, slaves, and beasts—basically a 150-proof version of the world around us. Each is about sex, death, cruelty, and little else, excepting the occasional glimpse of potential for transformation on a purely animal level. To some degree, personal experience inspires and informs both. Guyotat, born in 1940, has seen time on both sides of the gun—as a child during the Nazi occupation, as an occupier in the French army during the Algerian uprising. He's written and spoken extensively about the relationship between writing and masturbation, apparently a familiar combo for him in real life. He's been hospitalized in the midst of long writing binges during which he neither eats nor sleeps. Guyotat transforms writing (his) and reading (ours) into physical acts. He pitches, we catch, again and again—if we're up for it.
Tomb for 500,00 Soldiers translator Romain Slocombe and Graham Fox, his Eden, Eden, Eden counterpart, have both demonstrated great courage simply by tackling these monstrous entities. The fact that each has successfully wrestled his monster to the ground and pinned it—wriggling, kicking, growling, and hissing, all simultaneously—only sweetens the deal. Despite Guyotat's obsession with death (or maybe because of it), each translation brims with raging life; each retains the sense and the savagery of the original, if not its exact rhythmic constituents. For Guyotat, those constituents are of paramount importance, albeit far more in his post-1970 work than in Tomb or Eden. By all reports, his more recent fiction, written in heavily phoneticized colloquial French with innumerable convolutions, seems all but untranslatable, meaning these two epic prose poems posing as novels might be all we Anglophones see of his work for a while. To paraphrase Martin Luther, it is no great matter. There's more than enough here to keep us busy.» - Rod Smith

«France's most controversial living writer is virtually unknown in this country, thanks to difficulties in translating his extremist oeuvre - extreme in style and in content. Pierre Guyotat is the uncompromising heir of De Sade, Artaud and Genet. He writes violent and pornographic books in his own invented language. Edmund White has called him "the last great avant-garde visionary of our century." Roland Barthes wrote an introduction to one of his books Eden Eden Eden - a work of which Michel Foucault remarked: "I have never read anything like it in any stream of literature", praising its "startling innovation". It has been labelled pornographic, a charge that Guyotat revels in. "Pornography is certainly more beautiful than eroticism," he observes. "Eroticism is ugly. Eroticism is an ideology... there is nothing more boring than eroticism, it's worse than poetry, even. I say three cheers for pornography."
Born in 1940 in a small town in a mountainous area of France near Lyons, the son of a doctor, Guyotat joined the army while still a teenager and served in Algeria while that country fought France for independence. Guyotat instinctively found himself more sympathetic to the Algerians (one can see a similarity with Genet and Rimbaud here), and incited the Algerian conscripts to desert. After getting involved in brawls with officers, he was arrested by the military police and interrogated for 10 days before being thrown into an earth pit beneath the army kitchens where he lived in semi darkness for three months in constant fear of his life. "They threw me scraps of food, refuse," he recalls, "not fit for a dog." He managed to write on a piece of paper which he kept hidden from his captors. The link with De Sade, scribbling away in the Bastille, is unavoidable.
Drawing partly on his experiences as a soldier, Guyotat has set many of his celebrated avant-garde novels in hallucinatory north African war zones. Soldiers rape and pillage. Bereft of narrative, and using short rhythmic phrases, he detonates sex as bestial act of power, and piles on atrocity after atrocity. With all the eidetic and visionary power of Rimbaud's illuminations, he burns images of war into the retina. War is a monstrously glorified exchange of fluids and solids.
"War is a situation in which one is totally insecure - sexually insecure as well as afraid for one's life," he has said. Imagine if De Sade had written about Vietnam after fighting in it, and you will get some idea of Guyotat's cultural significance for the French - both reviled and adored in equal measure.
Eden Eden Eden is published this week in Britain. The British academic and biographer of Artaud, Stephen Barber, remarks: "It stinks of sperm and killing." It's a novel that has become legendary in its own time. Originally published in 1970, it was immediately banned by the French government until President Mitterrand personally intervened in 1981. That's also the year Guyotat famously nearly wrote himself to death; he was so absorbed in the completion of an intractable work that he forgot to eat properly and ended up being rushed to hospital in a coma. "I was mad," he says. "And at the same time I was living in a camper van. I was driving and hallucinating and getting into very extreme situations. Once I got into a fight on a road near Marseilles, and my attacker threw me off a cliff into the sea. I was covered in blood and so weak it took me a day to climb back up to my van."
Guyotat has been described as a hermit. He has always lived in some poverty, at one time in a grim block of flats in the southern suburbs of Paris, living only on his small royalties and occasional fees from the Pompidou Centre where he goes every few years to deliver long extemporisations in the form of performance art (one photograph shows a naked man and piles of meat on a cart). Edmund White describes meeting him in his book Sketches from Memory. White says: "He has a powerful hieratic appearance and you feel you are in the presence of a priest of Baal - or perhaps he is Baal. He's stark raving mad but a very gifted writer who staked out the extreme limits of how far you can go."
Like many Anglo-Saxons, White betrays an amused and slightly baffled interest in the French passion for the avant-garde. He describes Guyotat as stealing food from his plate at a dinner party, and how he fell asleep in one of Guyotat's two-hour improvisations. "In his language every other word sounded like `testicles', for some reason."
As a biographer of Genet, White was intrigued by the Guyotat phenomena. He recalls asking a doctorate student about Guyotat's sexual proclivities. "She said his sexuality did not involve other living creatures."
I presumed Guyotat would reject labels about sexuality and I was right. At first he was evasive: "to be homosexual, to be anti-sex, pro-sex - "to be" something does not exist." Yes, I asked, but do you prefer men or women? He laughed and finally relented. "I like both - it's very clear - and it's very difficult to like both sexes, it pulls you apart."
He has very little time for sex; for Guyotat work is sex, and not just in the conventional "creation as sex". Guyotat is notorious for his habit of masturbating while he writes. The resulting soiled manuscripts are then shown in galleries as works of art. "Sex is the most relentless and powerful force in the world: it is all life, it is reality. It is not obscene." I asked him about scenes in Eden Eden Eden set in an Algerian boy brothel. Had he visited such a place? He seemed a little shocked. "No, no I 'ate them," he growled while admitting he had been to female seraglios in the desert zones.
Like Rimbaud, who ended up as a gun runner and coffee trader in Ethiopia and Somalia, Guyotat is drawn by the desert. He talks of the Saharan wastes with all the tenderness of a lover; he particularly likes the intermediate landscapes between desert and pasture, the mountainous areas "that look like moonscapes but with beautifully coloured rocks" given a chance, he would happily live in Algeria (he listens to Algerian popular music with a passion). "But it's impossible." He has watched with horror the rise of fundamentalism in Africa. For him fundamentalism is rooted in an attack on the writer (Guyotat has been vocal in supporting Salman Rushdie from the "great gestures of beard and robe"). "Asserting the divine character of a text is an insult to the human writer of it - it erases him, makes him disappear. Fundamentalism is an attack on writing itself and all writers should see this."
The British may laugh at Guyotat or be shocked by him. But his dedication to the idea of "being a writer" makes British literary preoccupations with Martin Amis' teeth and Julian Barnes' pool game seem quite banal. Though Guyotat's preoccupations with remodelling the French language and dwelling on French colonial atrocities may not have quite the same reactive effect in this country, his power as a writer, even in translation, is deadly and pure.» - Roger Clarke

«A new book by Pierre Guyotat (b. 1940) is always an "event," little matter whether one reads it. When Progénitures appeared in France, to the sort of consternated fanfare that has frequently greeted this writer’s output, one well-placed critic declared that neither he nor anyone else could, or would, read all eight hundred, bizarrely spelled, meticulously versified pages of this "novel" that is probably more akin to an extended Old Testament chronicle. This accusation of "unreadablenes," attached to Guyotat’s strange and provocative work ever since (at least) the lexical and orthographic experiments of Prostitution (1975), is nonetheless qualified by the conciliatory observation that he is the "last" member of the French literary "avant-garde" of 1960s and 1970s to have kept the faith. According to such a view, a book like Progénitures can be celebrated as a memento of a bygone era. And who knows, such critics implicitly posit, perhaps an exegete will one day elucidate a phrase like "du, que, l’ chiambranl’, d’ dedans son poang qu’ a jiaté l’ rat ta fill’ lui mordr’ au bois..."
However, for most commentators, the chore of dipping into Guyotat’s books, let alone studying what the man is attempting to accomplish, or examining his ideas about "prostitutional" human relationships, is another matter. Their general viewpoint is usually rounded out as follows: the authors associated with the New Novel ended up betraying their original principles—notably their suspicions about "character"—by penning "memoirs" (e.g., Alain Robbe-Grillet and his Ghosts in the Mirror; Nathalie Sarraute and her Childhood; Claude Simon and his Georgics). Likewise, the next generation of experimenters — linked (as Guyotat was) with the review Tel Quel—cast off their rigor, sought out influential publishing-company responsibilities, and began producing best-sellers (Philippe Sollers’s career and evolution from Paradise to Women being the salient example). As this trend toward more "personal," "direct" writing was getting underway, by the early 1980s, Guyotat remained by contrast—so the argument runs—pur et dur, his only concession to facility being Vivre (1984), a collection of interviews and sundry texts filling in the personal and literary background of Prostitution and his better-known novels, Tombeau pour cinq cent mille soldats (1967) and Eden, Eden, Eden (1970). Yet as far as his strictly literary writing was concerned, Guyotat—as he went on to compose Progénitures and to work on the (still unpublished) Histoires de Samora Machel—pursued, indeed radicalized, the path charted by his earlier books.
This critical consensus concerning Guyotat and the other writers mentioned above is singularly myopic. First of all, if one perceives Robbe-Grillet, Sarraute, Simon and other "New Novelists" as individuals, not as members of a "movement" (which, for the latter two authors, never existed in the first place), their respective writings exhibit an inner logic, or coherence, already evident in their first efforts, that inexorably leads to their "memoir-like" writing. (And one needs to specify what exactly, for each writer, is meant by "autobiography.") For instance, Sarraute’s deepening of her pioneering notion of "tropisms," dating from the early-1930s, logically draws her ever closer to dialogue, and these two interconnected aspects of her oeuvre are rarely dissociated from her personal experiences, as recalled from the recent or distant past (whence Childhood but also Martereau). As to Simon, his participation in the Spanish Civil War and especially the Second World War informs nearly all his books, from Le Tricheur and La Corde raide to Le Jardin des plantes. The novelist’s obstination to perceive—in retrospect—what happened to him and others in his midst creates no essential differences between what he fictionalizes in one book and "personalizes" in another. More generally, much postwar French literature investigates the ontological, metaphysical, or—less interestingly—existential and social problematics of the self, a theme engaging the work of many more prose-writers (and poets) than those associated with the New Novel. This over-arching concern embraces the various, only seemingly contradictory, approaches adopted by an author while he revolves around this central question.
Similarly, it is more enlightening to consider Guyotat’s oeuvre, not as exemplary of an "avant garde," but rather as proceeding implacably, from his earliest fiction—Sur un cheval (1961) and Ashby (1964)—to Progénitures. Set in a Scottish castle, Ashby may at first seem conventional (if Sade-like), yet it amply reveals the most telltale characteristic of Guyotat’s mature style: the alignment of one action after another, with almost no intervening description. Committing no novice’s error in this respect, Guyotat increasingly—after Ashby—exaggerates this stylistic tendency, to an extent fostering both a kind of music and an epistemology. First, a music, because the novelist struggles to control rhythm by concentrating on active verbs and by severely restricting adjectives and adverbs. Second, an epistemology, because he obsessively focuses on a world so frenetically full of action—particularly, sexual action—that there is, rigorously, no "novelistic time" for recording additional or more complex sense impressions. Eden, Eden, Eden, for instance, recounts one sexual scene—or "flash"—after another, every descriptive phrase designating either a form of sexual intercourse or a gesture immediately preceding such an act.
This descriptive asceticism—a logical consequence of the epic intentions of Guyotat’s writings—is already apparent in the title of which refers both to a "grave" for 500,000 soldiers and to a French poetic and musical genre similar to the eulogy. The narrator of this novel, which spins off allegorically from the Second World War and the Algerian War, simply does not experience time—its potentially elastic duration—in ways permitting him to elaborate descriptions. There is no rest, respite, reprieve. At the end of each action, a new action begins; nothing else can be perceived; nor can enveloping, generalizing concepts be accommodated. It is instructive to keep in mind that Yves Bonnefoy (b. 1923), a French poet at antipodes from Guyotat in outlook and sensibility, has likewise plunged deeply into this problem of "de-conceptualizing." In French literature, this concern goes back at least as far as Mallarmé, whose pursuit of conceptual purity leads to an affirmation of language as our sole reality (whence the major stature attributed to him by poststructuralist philosophers). Guyotat, taking off from the a priori ideal of a strict, pure, materialism, arrives at the same results—and this is no paradox.
Moreover, although a characteristic, breathless "tone" emanates from his novels (because of his action-oriented, materialistic, epic worldview), there is no room for extensive narrative or authorial "subjectivity," at least in the common sense of the term. This is why Guyotat, too, seeks a form of "de-selfing," a propensity visible in many postwar French writers and poets. Might an analogy be drawn between the incessant rapidity expressed by his prose and the concept of "Brownian movement"? Yet Guyotat regularly insists on the "logic," not the "randomness," of his narrations. In any case, by Ashby, the novelist is already moving toward the austere, frenetic physical materialism of Tombeau pour cinq cent mille soldats and Eden, Eden, Eden—a materialism conveyed not by narrative declarations or explanations (these subsist only in his oft fascinating and moving interviews), but rather by his meticulously preconceived, preregulated style. Like the artist Jean Dubuffet, who likewise toiled with "matter" and "texture," Guyotat drags, prods, and sometimes gently eases language as close as possible to the brutest facts of existing. In his case, this first demands a close-focusing on the necessary locus of the self, the body—especially its secretions and excretions; second, a maniacal preoccupation with the minutest details of sound and rhythm. To the corporal materialism of Eden, Eden, Eden and Tombeau is thus added, in Prostitution and Progénitures, a "linguistic materialism" fanatically sensitive to the slightest phonetic or graphic phenomena. The result? A prolonged, repetitive, numbing, inebriating, dizzying and, it must be said, thoroughly exhausting linguistic dance—yet whose frenzy and especial ambition is unique in French literature.
Ashby recounts the sexual adventures of two cousins, Angus and Drusilla. Child-lovers, they are eventually separated, only to meet again as young adults. The novel thus prefigures the notorious, increasingly crude, use of sexuality typical of Guyotat’s later fiction—especially beginning with Eden, Eden, Eden, banned only one month after its appearance. (This story is recounted in Littérature interdite, a volume of interviews, reviews, and information concerning the petition—on Guyotat’s behalf—signed by French writers and intellectuals. Despite the petition, the book remained banned until December 30, 1981.) Yet also present in Ashby are statements mitigating, as it were, the provocative "obscenity" characterizing this book and, by extension, Guyotat’s subsequent fiction. Angus remarks, notably, that he is "not violent, but rather elegiac—without constraints." How then should this and the other books be read, if they are "elegies," albeit "without constraints"? Once the sexual violence is cast into this epicedial light, one can almost discern a hidden authorial appeal for some sort of redemption. What might its nature be?
Surely this is the most troubling aspects of these writings: the possibility that what, interpretatively, seems exceedingly "closed," is nonetheless slightly "open," even somehow strangely spiritual. On the one hand, the novelist overwhelmingly implies that physical cruelty and mechanical, emotionless, unpleasurable sex constitute all there is. On the other hand, these two fundamental features of our biological existence, as depicted by Guyotat, arguably perhaps conceal a positive, underlying, ultimately redeeming "aspiration." Yet one can deduce this hypothetical aspiration only by a reductio ad absurdum: everything is so unmitigatedly evil, violent, sexual, factual (etc.), that a contradiction must be lurking, implying a (partial) refutation of the initial premise. Does such reasoning constitute a self-illusion that the reader himself introduces into the text? Is not Guyotat’s vision completely nontranscendental?
In his interviews, he nevertheless insists on the lasting influence of his Catholic-seminary education; he originally destined himself for the priesthood. Christian allusions occur in the work, not least of all in the very title of Eden, Eden, Eden—which incites the reader to reflect on the spiritual nature of this wildly infernal, systematically copulatory, thrice-decried "paradise," not to mention on whatever emotions (if any) might link a putative "God" to His libidinous protagonists. In this respect, Guyotat’s novel not only builds on the Book of Genesis, but also furnishes a commentary, the sordid details "correcting" the ambience of divine benevolence which, retrospectively, envelops Old Testament stories once Christly grace and mercy are taken into account. By extension, Tombeau, Prostitution and Progénitures (also a Genesis-related title, evidently) seemingly also depict an allegorical Hell or a "Hellish" Eden that is at once prehistoric (even almost pre-Homo sapiens), contemporary (as witness omnipresent "blue-jeans"), and "foreseeable" (as if the characters constituted a society of survivors of, say, a nuclear holocaust). "This is how beasts and people live," writes Guyotat bluntly in Tombeau. Are we those people?
These sociotheological considerations aside, Guyotat—in "Langage du corps," surely one of the most truthful, self-elucidating texts ever written by an author—explains at length how his bodily functions and acts relate to his writing. His elucidations particularly deal with masturbation. This tense interdependence between the human condition in its most rudimentary manifestations—our search for pleasure or at least physical (self) contact because we are doomed to die—and writing, a solitary endeavor aspiring to transcend annihilation, thematically vibrates at the heart of all of Guyotat’s books. His style simply imposes itself too forcibly and consistently to be otherwise. Or, once again, does Guyotat’s writing—in contrast to that of nearly all other writers—aspire to nothing more than the evocation of matter and its multifarious "movements"?
At any rate, this interdependence between the body and writing, at once conflictual and mutually nourishing, raises the question of what "personal reality" might be brought forth in Tombeau pour cinq cent mille soldats, Eden, Eden, Eden, Prostitution and Progénitures. Do the "plots" of such books stem from murky "psychological depths"? Are they collages of the most salacious subconscious imaginings? Does Guyotat in this respect quite courageously use his own mind and body as a medium, thereby picking up where Sade, Dostoyevsky and Freud left off? Is he getting things "out of his system," as countless references to secretions and excretions such as "sperm," "shit," "piss," "sweat," or "spit" literally suggest? In "Les Yeux de Dieu," an important text written in 1981, Guyotat remarks that
this contradiction . . . has always traversed me—the body, Writing. [It] originates in my . . . mutually-antagonistic visions of humanness. On the one hand, I see, I desire a humanity that is relatively happy . . . presentable, a species that is well-defined, neat, limpid, community-oriented (but presentable to whom, for whom, for what Eye). On the other hand, what emerges from me, when I write, and constructs itself infinitely thereafter, is a human organization of an unspecified species—grimy-black, as filthy-black as possible, thus already bright, indeed gilded in its bright blackness, racked above all by the cruelty of man against man . . . by war, hunger, torture, massacre, prostitution.
Such avowals not only reveal the complex ambiguity behind his work, but also point to the source of its "epic" nature, wherein "lofty deeds" are replaced by the most lowly acts. Compared to a historical chronicle or a diary, an epic has a supreme literary aim; a psychoanalytical outpouring is never reworked with the obsessive, rigorous artistry applied, by Guyotat, to his "material" (whatever its source may be); nor is Time incarnated similarly in these disparate genres. For these reasons, there is something not entirely satisfactory about perceiving Guyotat’s work exclusively as a "mirror held up to reality" (as Stendhal famously phrased it), little matter how bestial our world is, little matter how firmly and relentlessly the author keeps our faces pressed down into our own mud (to use an euphemism). If Guyotat’s writing pushes to unbearable limits Terence’s remark, "I am a man: nothing human is alien to me," he simultaneously constructs a fictional world that cannot be mapped, one-to-one, on to reality as we normally perceive it. His "timeless" epic world, perhaps symbolic of, yet at any rate temporally independent of our specific past, present, and future, allegorizes the notions of "bought sex," "inhumanness," "inhumaneness," and "coming to humanness." The key characters—many of them "prostitutes"—sometimes even resemble Christ-like figures. A fundamental moral ambivalence thereby haunts Guyotat’s theoretically "amoral" fiction. As in the case of Jean Genet, what indeed is the referential intention of this no-holds-barred aesthetic of cruelty, brute sex, blunt violence? What especially distinguishes Guyotat’s writing from literary realism (as it is habitually defined) is, of course, his excruciatingly precise labors with language. As early as 1972, in a "Note" written about his play, Bond en avant, Guyotat justifies his suppression of "relatives and possessives . . . as well as all anthropocentric naming or designating." These preestablished, systematically-applied rules lead to the increasingly nervous sentences of Tombeau, then to the high-strung short phrases of Eden, Eden, Eden, which are each, one after the other, separated by semicolons, creating one (unending) sentence running on for 270 pages.
After Eden, Eden, Eden, Guyotat’s maniacal prose comes even closer to resembling a "prose poetry" of the most extravagant kind. "Style" becomes too weak a word for this meticulously crafted langue à relief, as he puts it, the word "relief" being understood here in its sculptural and geological senses: a "language made up of reliefs." In Explications (2000), an absorbing book length interview with Marianne Alphant, Guyotat reveals—and a close look confirms—that the versets ("verses," in the Biblical sense) of Progénitures are "syllabically calculated." More importantly, he declares that the "necessities of meter often engage the meaning of, even the direction taken by, the fiction." In this respect, although he maintains his earlier focus on the specific ways in which prostitution, slavery, and marketplace relationships are expressed in the (male) body, Guyotat increasingly concentrates on the very structures of the French language. This linguistic overhaul, involving both sledgehammering and microsurgical interventions, is undertaken in the name of "restoring [to French] its profound eloquence without inventing another [distinct] language." Guyotat becomes a poet in the strictest (Greek) sense of the term.
Is it possible to imagine how his method might be applied to English? He quasi-systematically elides, for example, the mute "e" at the end of words. The word for "father," père, thus becomes pèr’, and so on. These elisions—except in certain cases that he also enumerates—induce a great number of apostrophes for the eye and, for the ear, a vigorously consonantal patois, at once bewildering and familiar, that simultaneously bares etymological roots or mimics the vowel-less transcriptions of Semitic languages (notably Arabic, with all its political connotations for the French). In the Gallimard edition of Progénitures, a CD-recording of Guyotat reading the first few pages is included, giving one a vivid idea of how such verses should be recited.
Guyotat also "re-accentuates" words (either by reinforcing stress or annulling it). He contends that "a letter is also an image, a ‘relief element’ of language. A new accent can thus reinforce this image, and thus the meaning of the word." This new accentual emphasis sometimes stems from a mere cedilla. His neologism suçée, based on the verb sucer, "to suck" and perhaps echoing suçon, "love-bite," illustrates this effort. Prepositions are also often suppressed, as well as coordinating conjunctions; definite or indefinite articles sometimes vanish so that nouns can stand forth naked, more forcibly, making Guyotat’s French seem at times a sort of literal translation from the Chinese. In this relentless endeavor to "physicalize" language, he also uses—once again, rather like Chinese—the infinitive, unconjugated, form of verbs. As he toys with sexual connotations, masculine words are sometimes feminized, and vice versa. This is not to forget his many neologisms, a few of which are defined in the "glossary" appended to Progénitures. Some have sarcastic political connotations, such as a Pétain, meaning a French "coin," while several express Guyotat’s efforts to get, once again, as close as possible to "facts." Mouchiassat, for instance, is based on a contraction of mouches, "flies," chier, "to shit," and chasser, "drive off." The word refers to hoards of "shit-flies" that one constantly needs to shoo away.
Fortunately, Wanted: Female (1996), a rare bibliophilic album consisting of seven aquatints by the late Sam Francis and a long-poem by Guyotat, gives one a compelling impression of what the French novelist can sound like in English. This poem-album, which exists in only forty-five deluxe copies, brings together all of Guyotat’s sexual and theological preoccupations. Here is a section from the opening passage, in Michael Taylor’s translation:
but how soon, Father God, my belly grows t’ward the wall where You tense Your toes better to thrust in me!
but which of us, You or me between my kneelin’ knees, You shakin’ me from behind,
me tremblin’ the first time,
the great thunder drummin’ its far reply, me the first you lov’d so hugely
for life ‘mong all the blesséd children, You or me, the cradle brought out with Our babe, who’ll pull the progeny into the sun?
who’ll lick the menstrual blood, You, me? who’ll eat the placenta, who’ll sell it? whose teeth’ll cut the cord, whose nails’ll scrape the ‘Arth to bury it deeper than deepest fang?
It is doubtful that many writers have gone as far "to force, to dislocate . . . language into its meaning" (as T. S. Eliot formulates it), all while—pace Eliot—not being "allusive," "indirect." Guyotat’s writings cannot please. They are intentionally, indeed overinsistently, scabrous; and they are conscientiously repetitious in their linear, timeless design. Yet it is nevertheless well worth one’s effort to examine the new, terrible beauty born of this author’s thoroughly disturbing "eloquence," a language alarmingly akin to some primordial, vivacious, at once guttural and sibilant French taking us back to awesome "origins" we had never suspected.» - John Taylor

Excerpts from Eden Eden Eden:

"Helmeted soldiers, legs spread, muscles drawn back, trampling over new-born babes swaddled in scarlet, violet shawls: babies falling from arms of women huddled on floors of G.M.C. tracks; driver’s free hand pushing back goat thrown forward into cab; / Ferkous pass, RIMA platoon crossing over track; soldiers jumping out of trucks; RIMA squad lying down on gravel, heads pressed against flint-pitted, thorn- studded tires, stripping off shirts in shadow of mudguards; women rocking babies against breasts; rocking movement stirring up scents sharpened with bonfire-sweat impregnating rags, hair, flesh: oil, cloves, henna, butter, indigo, black antimony — in Ferkous valley, below breakwater tombstones, drinks-stand, school, gaddous, fig trees, mechtas, stone walls oozing, spattered with brains, orchards blooming, palm trees, swollen in fire, exploding: flowers, pollen, buds, grasses, paper, rags spotted with milk, with shit, with blood, fruit peels, feathers, lifted, shaken, tossed from flame to flame in wind tearing fire from the earth ... "

“ …. boy sleeping on side ; tarantula crawling from sticky pubic hair, climbing up onto whore’s swollen belly, distended abdomen dividing blood over chest ; body of whore shuddering, hands following steps of tarantula around right nipple : “…suck lower man…”; penis, tucked back into hollow of groin, hardening : tarantula brushing against tip of tongue poking between lips ; jissom slopping out of Wazzag’s arse, pushed back, driven out along anal passage by date picker’s member ; Wazzag stifling fit of laughter ; Khamssieh waking : tarantula, alarmed by twitching of muscles, crawling into nostril ; Khamssieh sniffing scent, stifling sneeze, pulling legs together, suppressing shivers of body smeared with cold sweat moistening dried blood, beads of sweat glistening in fresh blood over loins ; nostril swollen with jissom crushing spider ; Wazzag exploding into laughter ; tarantula stinging nostril : venom, flowing with blood, veiling eyes of whore, softening eyelid ; Khamssieh’s hand, weak, crushing tarantula in nostril : venom hardening forehead ; fingernails scraping cold blood around nipples ; pulling dead tarantula, pinching sticky legs, out of nostril, pushing crushed spider between buttocks ; exhausted elbows dropping onto heaps of floor-cloths : penis contracting into shrivelled scrotum ; odour of sodomy wafting through room ; rubbing of jeans, farts : regular in dawn silence …”

«Hey Richard, Yeah, you’re right about the work of De Sade evincing a certain stuttering or aphasia, and about his attempt to stretch the limitations of the body as far as words will allow. The problem with De Sade, though, is that, despite the transgressive and repetitive content, his work still remains under the governance of classical representation. Someone I’ve been thinking about recently in this regard is French writer Pierre Guyotat – the so-called “other Sade.” Guyotat was a chronic stutterer, and one may read his novel’s deterritorialized word-flows as a liberation – on the page – from his debilitating stammer. His novel Eden Eden Eden, for instance, is a 192 page novel made up of one continuous sentence.
There are no characters (they’re splintered into partial objects in constant movement: an anus + an armpit + a penis + …. etc.), no plot, no development, no structure, just an incessant phrasal becoming that overflows syntactical and grammatical organisation as it enacts endless scenes of homoerotic lust. As Steve McCaffery has noted, “Guyotat enters and occupies the phrase as a material unit of dynamic force,” one that “cripples pictorial mimesis under the weight of … metonymic, syntagmatic incessance and overturning.” Here, the borders of human body that one still finds in De Sade gives way to a connective series of sliding body parts and fluids in writhing assemblage. In a sense, Guyotat fulfils the promise of De Sadian stuttering.» - BÉGAYER LA LANGUE

«Mainline Digitalis and flutter along the cardiovascular axis of Pierre Guyotat’s Eden, Eden, Eden a sentence lasting 6762 lines and 163 pages undisturbed by the closure of a single full stop. Heart stimulants are recommended because the rhythmic pulse of words droning through Eden’s lettered vein-structure perfectly synthesises, balances and regulates the monotony of the reader’s metabolic rate as they pass through the text’s homeostasised violence. During this exposure to elaborate rape, child murder, bestiality, paraphilia and death, a dangerous harmony is struck between text and reader: any MORE boring and the reader would fall into coma or die. Like Foucault’s disposition to sociologise Guyotat’s Eden… (celebrating its prodigal return after its eleven year censorship like he couldn’t get a copy?), the logic of rational commentary is equally likely to assume the didactic responsibility in placing transgression within moral limits, despite the intention being quite the opposite. According to Pierre Klossowski ‘a transgression must engender another transgression… its image is each time represented as though it had never been carried out’. To redeem the eruptive discharge of Eden… by attaching use-value to its excesses is to demonstrate the obfuscative and discrete process typified by the prostitutional contract: perversion commodified, a process of exchange where each diabolical act stands (ironically) to serve the moral hypersensitisation of Society. Evil is ‘put to work’, to serve ‘The Good’ in the terminal display morality squeezes from the deified bodies of Eden’s slaughtered subjects (witness the redemptive pleasure in light of the Bulgerisation of childhood). In our moral code, the spectre of atrocity, of gratuitous and profitless sacrifice, is always recuperated back into an economy of responsibility; in the same way that pornography industrialises the process of erogenous looking in order to locate and secure the field of eroticisation, which is thereby disarmed and regulated in repetition. Each obscenity must be tethered to yield utility (plane crashes, motiveless bombings, car crashes and stabbings are all useful), and it is exactly within the privileged margins of (in this case) radical literature that such an economy is placated; that is, if commentary goes looking for ‘cause’ or even ‘meaning’. The problem for Eden… is the extent to which it can slip the moral noose that it sets out to use gratuitously and thereby disavow; the degree to which it can annihilate language’s axiomatic ‘idealistic proposal’ and facilitate the desire to construct a random ejaculative-machine where the ‘text is a motor’, without then enslaving the erratic drive capacity to a moral gearing-down ­ without converting the likes of ‘soldier pulling ejaculating penis out of whore-master’s arse’ into an ‘abreactive’ code, where it begins to signify something like ‘Thou must not pull ejaculating penises out of whore-masters’ arses...’. The structural disfigurement of the text’s one-dimensional volume catches us in an awkward attempt to situate at least a modicum of desire (whether it is the desire simply to consume a narrative plot or to spectate atrocity with the minimum cost to our conscience) a frozen moment caught in the glare of self-conscious moral propriety and the text surgically dis-invests the body, snipping off moral abjection as if it were merely the effects of a hypertrophied gland. Guyotat opens up the voyeur without guaranteeing to sew their embarrassment back together. In this sense the visceral anatomy of the skinless text is flayed of the comfort of personal pronouns, devoid of the relief of descriptive nuance. Sexual mutilation, spilled liquids and glistening organs become dreary, boring and undifferentiated; stripped of the hierarchies of appropriate emotion. Asked how the act of writing destroys, Guyotat commented: ‘by breaking down idealisms. I bring everything to the material level. Active verbs; present participles and the past perfects of these active verbs; these kinds of adjectives or the redoubled prefixes of verbs rather than adverbs; commas and dashes instead of full stops. The abolition of all psychological, humanistic, and metaphysical terms’. Like Kafka’s Penal Colony, the perfection of the enterprise arises at the point of its auto-destruction, where Guyotat takes on the role of Kafka’s fanatical juridical officer who straps himself into his own punitive machine to have ‘Be just!’ repeatedly inscribed into his flesh by a harrow of needles until his death. Similarly inscribed into a fundamentalist Eden… is the demand that language be forced by means of various structural deviances to submit to its own asphyxiation; where the impossibility of the text becomes an approximation of the unrepresentable or contradictory nature of its subject or ‘the subject’ in general. In Penal Colony, this is the point of consummate purity when the machine’s executional scribe would cut into flesh ‘Thou shalt not kill!’; inscribing the absolute symbiosis of ‘sin’ and ‘commandment’ working in inextricable communion. We are informed that writing almost cost Guyotat his life, neglecting to eat, lapsing into coma and being rushed to hospital. For all of Guyotat’s furiously emissive verbiage, the nihilistic elevation seems almost in danger of taking on the vista of missionary-bound hard work rather than jouissance (although this is not to suggest that ‘moral masochism’ does not give rise to, or is not originated from, a profound sense of pleasure. Liberal protectionist rackets are no less pleasurable: grazing his knees as he is flung to the nylon-carpeted Amnesty International floor, Guyotat the sacrificial lamb is called to recite crimes-against-humanity while his attentive audience weep and sigh. But from Guyotat’s base perspective he notices hands working hard beneath the conference table...). Masturbating in Eden..., the Messianic author appears in spent onanist repose after achieving the second-thousandth-cumming. But when his climax is deified by the commentary of disciples, Eden… becomes a Mills and Boon novel for RELATIVELY SANE psychotics. And in this sense the ‘secondary text’ already erodes Eden’s furious resistance to language; which leaves us to presume that reading it should have much the same effect that reading a romantic novel would have in severely testing the ‘unpleasure’ appetites of the sadist.» - Jake Chapman

«Pierre Guyotat has been called the last "poete maudit" in France, that country's last "accursed poet." He first came to prominence in France in 1967 with his novel Tomb for 500,000 Soldiers, a minimalist recant of lurid sexual and violent atrocities set in the French Algerian War. His next book Eden, Eden, Eden, made up of endless, uninterrupted descriptions of sexual brutalities, some involving children, was censored by the French government for 11 years. A later book, Prostitution, is a homosexual collage of Arabic, French, German, and Black "deviant language," or, to use one of the author's terms, a "linguistic minority." All the elements have been welded by elliptical spellings and phonetic distortions into a flow of glutinous consistency. They contain triple and even quadruple puns on often obscene words. Guyuotat sees his books not as sexual but as political and writerly. His texts are a flaunting of sex as power in the voices of the powerless. And rather than a prudent levitation of the indicated minorities to a respectability they are assumed to deserve, as would happen in a Protestant-inspired text, the literate writer is mercilessly sacrificed to their appetites. However, complete license in Guyotat works to deaden sexual excitation. In this sense, his texts are moral, an attempt to drive home the point of the dulled inhumanity inherent in monotonous sexual practice.» - Bruce Benderson

«Éden, Éden, Éden consists of one single sentence broken with backslashes, semicolons, colons, and commas. At first glance, the text presents a disorienting, agrammatical word horde. Of his style, Guyotat says simply, “I destroy rhetoric.” The project is familiar in the avant-garde tradition. For Friedrich Nietzsche, faith in grammar is faith in God. From Comte de Lautréamont and Stéphane Mallarmé to Guyotat, the avant-garde tradition set about tearing the cathedral of that faith to its foundations.
In Éden, Guyotat eliminates all connective tissue, all conjunctions, and all adverbs: all ac- tions are direct, unmodified, and fierce. In Éden, he flattens and extends the French language by writing from behind a wall of dictionaries, using specific words, geological terms, ethnographic terms, anatomical terms, the names of regionally specific plants, and regionally specific animals. Where Gustave Flaubert wrote from within an archive of texts and images, and thereby inaugurated a distinctly modern disjunction between text and world, Guyotat attempts to return words to the world, through specificity, and to return the world to words, through specific investment. His language here is technical and precise, rigid but also sensual; it is so exact that it can be incomprehensible.
Éden, Éden, Éden also radicalizes narration by largely eliminating traditional distinctions between characters, between character and setting, and between scenes. Only a few characters have names, and their continued presence in the “plot” hardly contributes to its development or interest. We know we are in North Africa, primarily through references to flora and fauna (birds mostly) and to geography (Ferkous valley), but the novel does not rely on topical political or other cues to locate its meaning. Spatial and temporal cues are so few and far between, and so reticent, that distinctions of space and time largely collapse. The action takes place here and now. (the entirety)» - Stuart Kendall