Thursday, February 15, 2018

the blood of the chicken

Reading René Crevel's Babylon, 1927, tr. Kay Boyle in the afternoon, I believed that a line about "the blood of the chicken we were supposed to have for dinner" on page thirty of the Sun & Moon 1996 edition truthfully depicted the unseen side of the ending of Voltaire's dialogue between a hen and a rooster, which I had read the same morning in a translation by Theo Cuffe. It was good to see that the other partner in the chickens' experience - the humans - was exactly the way the rooster had predicted, a group of offhand murderers. The grandmother of Crevel's repressive household is hoping that the blood in the kitchen is that of the bird, not that of the cook, who has been tied up by burglars. These thieves have stolen a bracelet of the Empress Eugénie's hair. Startled by the sound of Françoise slaughtering a chicken, Proust's narrator tries to reconcile the artistry of the family servant with the irritation of this swearing killer who abuses the animal as it fights for life. Montaigne, looking at cannibals, observes that we are capable of many versions of rightness and all of them can seem alien to one another. Crevel, regarding Proust, said that knowing about the switch from an Albert to an Albertine in Lost Time made him "question the entire book and reject certain discoveries the author presented to me along the way". This was in My Body and I, 1925, tr. Robert Bononno. As I was reading Babylon, however, I thought the teenage girl's interest in the muscles of sailors might belong to a gay teenage boy. "The sailor's lips must be soft in that square patch of tan," writes Crevel in My Body as he remembers himself feeling roused at thirteen by the sight of a woman in the street kissing a sailor. Writing about the sailor's colleagues, he says, "Their necks have punctured their jackets and in the opening the powerful flesh is victorious." People will be free to love without worrying about European social mores, he suggests in Babylon: they should abandon their marriages, they should not mind being naked, they should be unconcerned with reproduction. In My Body he puts all of this into the figure of himself and stands alone nude in a field feeling sensuously aware and erotic. Then he is ashamed, worrying that a shepherd or cattleman might see him. The cook in Babylon remarks that the family has dissolved like butter in a pan. Voltaire put the point of focus on the greatest sufferers, the chickens.


  1. While I was putting my horse away, I heard a rooster squawking. I looked at my watch and sighed; it was three o'clock, and I knew that I must eat him at six. --Willa Cather, My Antonia

    1. Thank you. (I begin to think about the difference or distance between Cather's "sigh" and the alarm, repulsion, disgust or satire of the other three.)

    2. Cather takes predation and death for granted. There's none of the internal conflict in her work like there is in the examples you quote above. The predator suffers, not the prey; the poor prey is fated to be relief for the predator, and there is only so far our sympathies should carry us. Cather, I think, believed in only one version of rightness.

      I was thinking this morning about Crevel's comment regarding Proust's hiding of Albert behind Albertine, and that someday someone will revise Lost Time and turn Albertine and the others into young men, to give us a "more honest" Marcel. I really believe that's going to happen, with narrator Marcel's sexuality replaced by someone's idea of author Marcel's sexuality, someone's idea of Proust's "truth" being more important that Proust's actual art.