In Spite of Blasphemy

[...] In Paris all the hotels were full. By bus, plane, car, boat, and even on bicycles, the tourists were pouring in. In between a couple of visits to the Tomb of Napoleon and to Notre-Dame they would come to feast their eyes and ears on the "existentialists" of Saint-Germain-des-Pres, whose metaphysical or sentimental conversations (depending on the sex of their audience) would be paid for in drinks and sandwiches. The price of the hotels rose in direct proportion to the incoming tide of foreigners, and rooms could not be rented by the month by only by the day, which made the price of a single room -- with no amenities, of course -- leap from three to ten thousand francs.

To give the hotel managers a better impression, I had discarded my shorts and bought a pair of linen trousers, pretentiously labeled "Palm Beach," which lost their creases completely in the course of a few hours.

We started on our quest in the Latin Quartier, then tried District VII and finally the whole of the Left Bank. But the tourist invasion was complete. Where rooms were not already let to tourists who had arrived, they were reserved for tourists who were going to arrive or were expected to arrive. We got the same answer wherever we went; and we soon felt shy of even going in and asking, so certain were we of the smiles which would welcome us when we asked for a room, or two rooms, at about three thousand francs a month.

We were not tourists; therefore there was no room.

Despairing of ever finding anything in the small hotels, we decided to see if we could get a servant's room in one of the big hotels. At the Meurice they looked with pity and contempt at my shaven pate and limp trousers.

"No, gentlemen, no servants' rooms. We've just one room left, with a private sitting-room, at 25,000 francs a day."

We though they were pulling our legs, so abandoned the search.

Father Master had not let me leave without money. He handed me everything my father had sent for me since the day I had entered the monastery. After paying our fares from Marseilles, we still had a quite considerable sum left, which enabled us to live for almost a fortnight in a maison de passe at three hundred francs a night each. But they were not very keen on keeping their clients for any length of time. Our funds ran out completely and we were thus released from the worry of finding a hotel.

We decided to camp out for a few days in the copses of the Bois de Boulogne. It was not too cold at night and the trees that still had leaves on them served as a tent. We discovered a refuge for rainy days: a bench under an archway at the entrance of the Trocadero aquarium.

One day we heard there were a couple of beds in a students' hostel which had been set up in a former maison de passe. The blatant naked frescoes on the walls reminded one of the original use to which the establishment had been put and were a great delight to its new occupants, who had hastened to embellish them with appropriate captions.

We could have been put into a rather dark Gothic chamber in which, only a few months earlier, tired sexual appetites used to be toned up. A cross-shaped beam in the middle of the ceiling and dark woodwork on the walls gave the room quite a monastic atmosphere.

I likewise turned down a smaller room in which the ceiling consisted entirely of mirrors. Finally it was in a large Louis XV drawing-room decorated with erotic panels that we made our beds. We were not the only occupants. Several mattresses were lying on the floor in rows. The furniture did not run to a wardrobe and our belongings formed squalid, shapeless piles on the bare boards.

It was a cosmopolitan atmosphere and the din was deafening. It was useless even to think of working. Most of the lodgers slept during the day, and all night long boys and girls would dance until dawn, showing their utter lack of social sense to the few who were trying to get to sleep. If there was anything we all had in common, it was the emptiness of our pockets. Meals provided the main problem of the day. One of us would occasionally bring back a loaf of bread, which would vanish in a flash. I had written to ask my father for help until I could find a job. From the letter he sent in reply I was surprised to learn he had become a fervent, revengeful Catholic; he presented me with the following pious ultimatum: "Go back to the monastery at once or I'll have nothing more to do with you. Your father."

Luckily we found a solution to the food problem. We spent every evening washing dishes in a students' restaurant. We were not paid for the work but were given a free meal, and we considered ourselves fortunate when we saw we had larger portions than the paying customers. At midday we would hand over to some friends who preferred to have their meal in the morning, whereas we liked ours better at night. Everyone managed to keep alive, more or less. Some of us acted as guides to the Americans in the "cellars" of Saint-German-des-Pres and so managed to earn a couple of sandwiches and a glass or two of rum. Tourists, so they said, were bringing money into the country. But it was extremely difficult to get into the wonderful foreign-exchange racket which went round us at Saint-German-des-Pres or in the Latin Quartier.

We had also found a part-time job with a big florists which used to get letters from Germany or England. We would translate them. Like this we sometimes made two or three hundred francs. But when we did it called for a celebration!

[...] I found my place among the disillusioned and embittered failures of the Saint-Germain-des-Pres. Like them, I settled down in the cafe on the Boulevard Saint-Germain or the bars of the Rue Jacob and proclaimed that life was pointless and absurd.

Everyone was bored and forcing himself to be bored. Thanks to Camus we had learnt that man is a stranger on earth, has been "dumped" on this "scrap-heap" and forced to live in a world of which he will never be a part. If he tries to participate, he gets lost, "objectivizes" himself and disintegrates. And if he does not try, he is still in the wrong, for he is neglecting the responsibilities he has towards everything that exists.

We were in a quandary. We knew we were and fondly went on saying so. If we took to Sartre, it was not because he gave us any reason for living -- in fact he was careful not to -- but he did give us an exact picture in philosophical terms of what our life had been up to now. You will always find people ready to howl down Saint-Germain-des-Pres. As soon as the existentialists ceased to be objects of fun for the bourgeois on a binge, they were regarded as dangerous. It was then, and not till then, that Saint-Germain-des-Pres became known as a hide-out for idlers, anti-socialites, failures, homosexuals and madmen, all of them people who any self-respecting society must prevent from doing harm. The inhabitants of District XVI and the Faubourg Saint-Germain, however, went on gaping every night at the people they condemned during the day.

Perhaps there were two Saint-Germain-des-Pres, and our one, which was limited to the cafes that were kind to our pockets, was not the roisterers'. It was the Saint-Germain-des-Pres of the apathetic, the disillusioned. Disillusioned by the Resistance, by Fascism, by the Church and by politics, disillusioned in fact by the very air they had been breathing more or less everywhere since their birth. Their enthusiasm had sunk into the fatalistic attitude of laissez-faire, a kind of sleepy-sickness that was apparent at every cafe table.

Why had we not been able to adapt ourselves to the world? Armed with their complex-detectors, the psychiatrists could always pin it on our anti-social attitude. It was very strange, however, that there were so many anti-socialites and paranoiacs, very strange that an epidemic of mental diseases had suddenly laid low the whole of French youth. In this world, where we had been looking for life, we found only wreckage. We could have dreamt, as I had, of the good old days of prosperity or tried to make a pilgrimage through the old institutions which had once spread their blessings over the face of the earth; but all we could find were empty structures without a soul, all cracked, crumbling and condemned. Ghosts of splendour, memories of vitality -- in spite of ourselves, we had had to indulge in a romantic taste for ruins and dead glory.

We would force ourselves to keep quiet at the mention of our old dreams, accept the ruins and be happy in them, and become ruins ourselves, self-conscious, self-satisfied ruins. We had reached the point where we systematically went out of our way to find ugliness, evil and error in everything, but for most of us this was undoubtedly only a desperate show of bravado, a mask to conceal our disappointment at not having found truth, beauty and good.

In January 1950 the terrace outside the cafe de Flore had not been occupied by the homosexuals; they had not yet succeeded in making themselves felt by weight of numbers. Under the kindly eye of Mr. Boubal there were only respectable citizens on a literary jaunt who were anxious to get a glimpse of Mr. Sartre or Madame Simone de Beauvoir in order to warm their minds by rubbing shoulders with the great intellectuals of the day.

I had moved into a quiet little room in the Rue Saint-Louis-en-l'Ile and now formed part of a small group of friends who used to meet, not at the Flore or the Deux-Magots where coffee cost what was for us the exorbitant sum of 55 francs and which we left to our American chums, but further down the Boulevard Saint-Germain, at the Mabillon or the Saint-Claude where coffee cost only 20 francs and the proprietors were not very particular as to whether we ordered a second cup or not.

We would arrive there at eleven in the morning and stay until closing time, two the next morning, after spending the whole day reading, writing, but mainly talking, over a single cup of coffee. All this ever yielded was the one phrase, recurring like a leitmotiv: "Life is absurd, so are suicide, love and friendship. Man is utterly alone, alone beyond all hope, and not even alone with himself since he can never get possession of himself." Every one of us was wrapped up in the same solitary desire, the desire of self. A desire that could never be fulfilled, which we never stopped pursuing, though all the time we told ourselves it could not be fulfilled. The world, which I thought I would be able to seize and embrace once I lost my faith, seemed elusive and utterly unobtainable. Now that God no longer existed and all social relationships were illusions, there was not a single point of contact left with the world and with other men. One had to lock oneself up in one's own singleness, a strange, elusive, fugitive singleness wrapped up in its own nothingness, a freedom deprived of its power, with no sphere in which it could be exploited, the simple freedom of being free -- and powerless!

We dawdled through the day. Our only pleasure was contemplating the moral depression of others -- which was also our own -- and soaking ourselves in this depression and boredom so as to convince ourselves there was nothing left but depression and boredom to occupy a man's life.

About ten in the evening we would go off, with dragging, listless steps, on a tour of the cafes. The homosexuals of the Reine Blanche were a special attraction; those pretty little men with their powdered cheeks, sparkling eyes and fluttering eye-lashes were a scream! Nowhere else was the atmosphere of decadence so apparent as here, which was why we liked it. Perverts of every kind -- by nature, according to convention, because of fashion, out of self-interest and for the sake of adventure -- formed a quivering, nervous, restless, hungry, haggard hurly-burly as they jostled noisily round the bar. When a new arrival came in all eyes would be turned on him, examining him, undressing him from every angle. And when the new-comer happened to be good-looking a murmur of approval and desire would sweep through the tipsy company:

"I bet he's got lovely legs!"

"Did you notice his mouth?"

We would leave the Reine Blanche, telling ourselves with a great deal of satisfaction that "we were done for all right!" We were happy because the whole world already stank of death, because everything was rotting and ready to crumble to pieces under an atomic bomb or in a Siberian concentration camp, because that was all we deserved, so what the hell. . . .

Once a week we would go and startle a certain literary group which used to meet in a cafe on the Ile Saint-Louis. Melodramatically, but utterly sincerely, we would proclaim that man, literature, poetry, art and science were all done for, and so much the better. Sticking to Andre Breton's old formula, which we simply adapted to the number of murders being committed, we had gone so far as to claim that it would be the greatest fun to hide a machine-gun under the platform of the Velodrome d'Hiver and pointlessly mow down a crowd of twenty thousand people. One day a member of our audience turned on us: "You're a pretty fine lot of Fascists!" With the bitterness we kept pent up in our hearts and the hatred we felt for everything around us, we were undoubtedly, although unconsciously, ready-made material for any adventurer in the capital.

And yet, despite the boredom and bitterness of our voluntary isolation, which we carefully preserved since we regarded it as the natural condition of modern man, there was another feeling which we could not explain or justify: a longing for human relationship, brotherly intercourse and communal prayer, a longing for "the other," for the society of men in its most simple, original form.

Every one of us indulged in violent declarations of revolt. Every one of us, however, in his heart of hearts, cherished the hope of finding some sort of contact with the world again. With one possible exception, who always amazed me because he seemed to be quite at home in the midst of denial, dispute and destruction.

The brightest optimism, the most buoyant hope could never have stood up to the atmosphere of Saint-Germain-des-Pres. It was like a slimy mixture which stuck fast in the pores of one's skin, in the crevices of one's soul, paralyzing everything, inspiring no other feeling than the urge to sleep, stimulating no other appetite than the longing for a meal or a sandwich, even though most of us were used to long spells of hunger and seemed able to perform prodigious feats of fasting.

Although quite alone in Paris, I was infinitely less unhappy than many others. I had run into a friend I had once known during the electioneering campaign of 1946. Like me, he lived on the Ile Saint-Lovis, so we made an arrangement whereby I gave him part of my pay and dined with him and his girl friend every evening. I often did not get up till two or three in the afternoon. I would go and sit in the Arsenal Library and, in company with Camus and Heidegger, would convince myself of the absurdity of life until six, when I would proceed to the Mabillon, hang around Saint-Germain-des-Pres for a few hours, and finally get to bed about three or four in the morning.

My neighbor on the Ile Saint-Louis, the colleague who shared my boredom at Saint Germain-des-Pres, was a good friend. Yet his friendship never gave me any of the joy I had known with Jacques. Points of contact are only formed through some specific object. It is through truth, according to Heidegger, than man achieves contact with his fellow-men. My friendship with Jacques had been like that. What had bound us so closely together was the confidence, a schoolboy confidence perhaps, but a full and glorious one, which we both had in truth. There was a purpose to our friendship: our search together, first through Maurras and later through the Catholic faith, for fundamental certainties. And when we thought we had unearthed one, when we noticed the vague but unmistakable sign of one, what indescribable joy we felt! Our whole friendship would be strengthened and confirmed because of it. We realized the necessity for that friendship more clearly since we had discovered together, and thanks to each other, what was essential to life and clear thinking.

My new friendship was quite different. We had nothing to further it except the ever-present excuse of our common despair, our common impotence and spiritual sloth. It was a dreary, gloomy friendship which led nowhere and had no aim in view, no purpose in common, because neither of us had anything to give the other, even if we had wanted to, and because our boredom and irritable indifference to everything except our boredom, anguish and personal, individual worry, led each of us back and confined him to himself. With God cut out of my life and my soul restored to earth, I thought I would be able to take an interest in men, things and the world. On the ruins of the hope of a divine point of contact could I perhaps erect human points of contact which would be stronger and happier. It was not so. On the contrary. I felt that in losing God I had lost everything. God provided the only means of getting in touch with mankind, the world, one's own being. When God left me He took everything with Him, heaven and earth, saints and men. I told myself that one day, quite unconsciously no doubt, I had preferred myself to God and had asked Him to leave me alone, all alone in my happiness with myself. God had only listened to me and answered my prayer. He had left me alone, all alone, but I was not happy with myself, I was eternally confronted with the empty, terrifying sterility I saw in myself now that I was cut adrift from Him. I kept thinking of a remark of Gide's, which tortured me: "Any thinking person who has only himself as an aim in life suffers from an unbearable sense of emptiness." I had refused the help of God and, without realizing it, had at the same time refused the help of the world, the help of men, the help of life, and I now had no connecting link between myself and everything that was not myself.

"Why do you weep, as if all were lost? It would be so easy to get in touch with everything again, with God, with the world, your fellow-men, with the joys of discovering truth at every moment of your life! So easy, with a little humility! For months you have kept the road closed that leads to God, to truth and joy. You have lost your faith, but you stopped cherishing it in the first place. You do not love anything any more, not even yourself! At least make the first move! Go and ask forgiveness and absolution! Approach God by means of Communion!"

There was only one step I could take, but I felt I had not enough courage to take it. All I could do was slink past the churches, longing to go inside, but not daring to. And they became an obsession: places of joy and communion that were closed to me, not by any external law, but by a law of my own, which I had not the courage or faith to break. Especially Notre Dame, which I used to pass every morning and evening, which I noticed as soon as I took a few steps out of my room. Notre Dame, the symbol of Catholic splendor and of the faith to which I no longer contributed but which I still missed with longing and regret in the very depths of my being. Notre Dame, the symbol of the Church I loved so much but which I could never again approach.

[...] Towards the end of March I thought I had discovered the root of the problem, the cause of all the evil, the reason for my boredom and feeling of strangeness about everything around me. What was preventing me from getting in touch with the world and being happy in the world, what was making all my surroundings appear uniformly gloomy, pointless and hopeless, was the memory of God pursuing me and preventing me from finding my feet on earth. It was the open, welcoming churches, the Church, the Catholic faith, which had touched, affected and transformed the most secular things of our lives, all our ways of feeling and thinking, all our "humanisms" -- even the most persistently atheistic of them, like Marx's, which preserved the Christian dream in terms of history and ultimate freedom, or Sartre's, which was apparently nothing more than the most tragic tale of the misery of man without God, the story of God's murderer terrified by the vacuum formed by God's removal.

It was God, or the memory of God, God the symbol of contradiction, of the division between men and within man himself, that was preventing me from living. It was God that I had to kill objectively in order to be free. I had to cut every escape route leading to the Church so as to avoid the temptation of being received into its bosom again. I had to kill God and at the same time that part of me which loved God and was still missing Him and which had shattered my Catholic, Christian past. God was not yet dead. On the contrary, He was very much alive and ever present, ever present almost everywhere, and that was why, for one's peace of mind, one had to convince oneself of His death.

In one month my indifference, my boredom and regret were transformed into a raving, hysterical hatred of God, of a God who made His presence further felt the more I hated Him, a God whom I saw everywhere without being able to apprehend Him. I was hopelessly cut adrift from Him, but hopelessly eager for him.

One day I went into Saint-Sulpice and asked to see the priest on duty. I confessed to him. I told him about the wretched moral state I was in and about the hatred I felt. On the other side of the wooden screen of the confessional the priest nodded his head:

"Yes, that's very sad, it's all very sad! You must fight against it, my child, fight against it!"

And everything I said was answered with this one vague, extremely vague and hazy piece of spiritual advice:

"Fight against it, my child! It's all very sad."

I left Saint-Sulpice as distraught, bereft and lonely as when I had gone in. I was not sufficiently sober-minded to tell myself that the priests of the Church were not all like the one I had just seen. I had gone in to see a priest, any priest, a representative of Jesus Christ, and he was the one I had happened to meet! So this was the brilliant word of God: "Fight against it, fight against it! It's all very sad, my child!"

I went to hear one of Father Riquet's Easter sermons, the one in which he discussed existentialism. I heard him comparing the respective talents of Jean-Paul Sartre and Gabriel Marcel, and all I concluded from it was that in this duel between two writers, the Church preferred the Gabriel Marcel type to the Sartre type! I was certainly not the only one that day who was hoping to hear some mention of God in the old cathedral. But only literature was discussed in the same way as, the year before, there had been a discussion on the Hegelian master-slave theme. And to think that Father Lacordaire had once preached from the same pulpit! Last year political economy had been the subject, this year was devoted to literature. There were any number of literary arguments that could be used for convincing the atheist. But the single word of God . . .?

God was everywhere and I kept seeing Him like a constant reproach in everything everywhere, except that day in Notre Dame where I felt as if I was attending a literary discussion at the Cafe de Flore. The Holy Year was in full swing, and in the papers one could read this sort of advertisement: "Tour to Rome. Audience and pontifical blessing guaranteed. 14,000 francs inclusive!" And it was not a Canard Enchaine hoax!

These were minor points, I admit, but they occurred a bit too frequently and eventually made one forget the fundamental essentials. This was not the whole Church, of course, but it was the whole visible Church. The visible God, the God proclaimed during Lent in the Holy Year at the Cathedral of Notre Dame, was the God of Father Riquet, a God who would not have minding editing the literary column of Le Figaro!

Well, that God, the God of the tourist and literary Church, was certainly dead. And I do not believe that my saying so was the silliest part of the wretched scene in Notre Dame.[1] The God of the Pullman cars and the Holy Year Pilgrims, the God who condemned Jean-Paul Sartre only to congratulate Gabriel Marcel, the God who was always to the fore as a volunteer in President Truman's army, the God who after supporting Petain had joined the Resistance and was now in favor of de Gaulle and "the West"; this mitred, gilded, ermine-clad God burdened with jewelry in the midst of the poverty and misery of the world, this God of the gaping Anglo-Saxon Easter Sunday tourists of Notre Dame: I really cannot feel sorry that I thought He was dead.

What do I feel sorry about is that for a moment I believed this worldly God was the only God and also that I failed to see, in the middle of the Church of Notre Dame, the Sacred Host still there after centuries, the testimony of the resurrection, and Christ scorned and abused for two thousand years, at whom I hurled an additional, ridiculous insult where I went there with a few friends at Easter.

All this was arranged very quickly, in two days. By the time everything was decided, I had not time to change my mind -- even if I had been able to do so! When I now think about this business, which is already several months old, I can more easily understand why it was only taken as a poor practical joke, an "unfortunate lapse of taste," as one journalist put it. But during the two days and two sleepless nights preceding Easter Sunday I did not think about what the public would say or what the newspapers would write. Naturally I was hoping for some sort of reaction as a result of the Notre Dame incident, but a reaction in myself, a personal release.

It would be absurd to expect that the incident I was organizing with my friends was going to bring about a change in the state of the Church. In the fever of excitement we were in at the time, some of my friends, particularly one who was a former monk, a Spanish Jesuit, really believed it would. But I knew only too well that I had no message to deliver, no reforms to attempt, since I as in a far more wretched moral condition than so many others. I did not believe that God could be found anywhere outside His Church or that God could be an ally of ours against the Catholic Church. In this connection there was the example of all the pseudo-saintly sinners, the pseudo-mystics, the pseudo-illuminaries, both Buddhist and otherwise, who flourished in Saint-Germain-des Pres, and the "hidden knowledge," the "esoteric intuitions," the "visions" of the diabolical procession in honor of Satan, the Devil-Lucifer, of which at least one initiate could be found any evening in a Saint-Germain bar ready to describe his "trances." All these voluntary outcasts from the Church, all these madmen drunk on occult fumes and in search of a substitute God, a substitute Church and Mysteries, discouraged, by the very excess of their nonsense, any attempt to look for God outside the discipline and rules of the Church.

No, I had really no idea of changing anything in the Church! I was trying rather to convince myself that God no longer counted for me, nor did His Church, nor above all did the atmosphere of sacredness that could be felt in the ceremonies of the Church. By this insult to God, by this small sacrifice I was going to make, but not without anxiety or fear, I was trying to make God equal in my eyes with human, transient things which are destined to die and which can be trodden underfoot relentlessly and without regret.

And yet, once I was embarked on the details of our scheme for creating a disturbance during the Easter service at Notre Dame, I began to take it all quite seriously. To my feverish mind the cry of revolt which we decided on at a table in the Mabillon was like a message to the Church, to the world, and I found it quite natural to put on my monk's habit again before mounting the pulpit. For me the habit of Saint Dominic was an exasperating symbol, an object of reproach. By profaning it I hoped to be rid of it.

Next day, after the Credo of the Easter High Mass in Notre Dame, dressed as a Dominican and wearing a tonsure, I mounted the pulpit and shouted out the old blasphemy: "God is dead!" But the blasphemy is no longer what it was in Nietzsche's day, the prelude to a hymn of joy; it is only a cry of madness and horribly sad.

I had not been able to sleep at all for three nights before Easter. I was arrested immediately after the scene on Sunday and interrogated all day in the police station by two inspectors, one of whom was "for" me and the other "against," so much so, in fact, that they began arguing with each other and forgot to question me. I was the main attraction of the day, the unexpected attraction of this gloomy holiday which they were having to spend at the office. Consequently they did not want me go straight away; I had to tell them my life story ten times, to the superintendent, to two clerks in the station, to the two inspectors and to three policemen. They had their clown and so were happy.

In the course of the interrogation I heard for the first time in my life about the Special Hospital at Headquarters. The superintendent told me I was in danger of being locked up there. About ten o'clock I was transferred to the main station. The policemen there asked me to have a drink and once again I had to tell them the whole story. One of them said:

"We need chaps like you to give us a good laugh occasionally!"

A car turned up to take me to Headquarters. I arrived there with about twenty beggars and hawkers who were to answer for their crimes of poverty in court two days later. No beds in Headquarters, no mattresses either. For the six of us in detention, locked up in a cell six feet by nine, there was only one small bench fastened to the wall, about four foot long but far narrower than one's body, on which it was impossible to stretch out and go to sleep without toppling off! But I was so tired that I dossed down without a blanket on the bare tiles. I slept badly.

Next day, Easter Monday, there was only one examining magistrate on duty: Mr. Goletty. He was not pleased to see me:

"You know what I'd do with tramps and ruffians like you? Give 'em the cold shower at Sainte-Anne! That's what you need! Or else send you off to pick beet-root in the North, that'd put you right!"

The magistrate turned over a couple of sheets in my file. He looked mournfully at the clerk:

"No doubt about it! I've looked up the law from every angle; no way we can run him in for wearing [a] uniform illegally. Still, it's not really much: from six days to two months in prison! And then, we can't keep him longer than five days pending a trial!"

He turned to me and added:

"I can't tell you how sorry I am about that!"

I went back to my cell in Headquarters. I was sharing it with two other prisoners who were familiar with the customs, conventions and personalities of the public prosecutor's office:

"Poor old chap, so you've got Goletty! Well, good luck to you! You're in for it!"

Next day I left Headquarters for the Sante prison with a streaming cold.

At the Sante a psychiatrist and former specialist in psychiatric hospitals was preparing to assist justice with his soul-plumbing apparatus. The man of science had a loud voice. Before I was examined I waited outside the door of his consulting room, a cell which already smelt like an asylum, until he had finished with the "client" before me. I heard shouts, oaths, imprecations, accusations and cries of protest, the latter more feeble than the former. It reminded me of the din of a political meeting or an argument in the Cafe de Commerce.

The afternoon had scarcely begun, the expert was only at his second consultation, but he seemed on edge and fidgeted a great deal, twisting, folding and unfolding his legs round the legs of his armchair. He told me to sit down in front of him on the opposite side of the desk.

He began by making me talk about Jean-Paul Sartre, then about Heidegger, then about Saint Thomas, and included an "imposition" on Leibnitz in his anxiety to find the flaw, the crack in my mind, the crack which he would eventually bring to light, broaden, deepen so as to produce a splendid 200-page report on it crowned with a certificate to prove me insane.[2] The point was not so much to discover if I was mad or not, but to make me myself admit that I was.

As time went by the expert seemed to fall into a trance. It was no longer a case of examination, investigation and consultation; we had embarked on a philosophical-literary discussion and were considering the respective beauty of Valery's and Prevert's poems so as to shout them out at each other when the time came.

I was worn out with lack of sleep and, by the attempt to listen carefully, my hands began to shake with fatigue.

Did this look as if I were an alcoholic? I found myself feeling guilty. But the expert swept on to ask me why I was wearing a corduroy suit. I felt that this time things were beginning to look serious:

"Well, you see, corduroy's so practical; it doesn't show the dirt and doesn't wear out so quickly at the knees and elbows. And besides, I haven't anything else to wear!"

In my fearful state of mind, I could see the conclusion quite clearly. I was a paranoiac existentialist with a clothes fetish.

I had wavered a little the day before the incident? Paranoia! I was fond of the Church, but was sorry to see it in such a state? Paranoia! I had not a regular mistress? Sexual inhibitions and paranoia! If I revolted against some of the wretched conditions of the world, it was because of the well-known pride of the paranoiac! And if I regretted the happy days when I still had my faith, it was through the distress of the paranoiac, the need for affection and support! Paranoia! Paranoia! Paranoia! All enquiries seemed to lead to that conclusion.

The doctor decided to adjourn the seance. His voice became gentler, more convincing. He proceeded to paint a glowing picture of the asylum in which I should be incarcerated.

It had never crossed my mind that I might be put into an asylum and I was now more frightened of the psychiatrists than of the magistrate. I sadly remembered that a few months earlier, at the beginning of the year, we had planned a burlesque conference on the following subject: "Should psychiatrists be certified?" The conference was never held; we had not had enough money to take the Learned Society's hall! The psychiatrists were getting their own back all the same!

I had the impression of being caught in a machine. I had already been deprived of my liberty. They were going to look after me, cure me or kill me, without asking my opinion.

When the examining magistrate -- and it was not Mr. Goletty, thank God -- had, for form's sake, provisionally released me and then transferred me to the Special Ward at Headquarters after furnishing me with an internment certificate, which now only lacked the endorsement of the Commissioner, I spent a few hours of real torture. I saw myself locked up for months, perhaps years, without any recourse against the measures they were going to take against me. I was isolated. I was frightened of being buried alive.

I was not allowed to write or communicate in any way with my lawyer. It was thanks to a warder than I learnt about the campaign being waged by two liberal newspapers against my imprisonment. I was rather sad to hear that no Catholic or Christian voice had joined in their protests.

I had been in the Special Ward at Headquarters for three days when I was summoned to appear before another psychiatrist. This one, who had the high complexion of a good liver, a long white moustache that made him look like Marshal Joffre, and an old donnish stiff collar, was at first much nicer than the first one. For him my case was settled in advance. He had formed his own opinion on that point the very first day: it was simply an art-student's rag.[3] I told him that it was not a rag and that in any case I had never been an art student. I might have saved my breath. The doctor kept insisting:

"Ah yes, yes indeed! You've no idea what a laugh we got out of it! It was an art-student's rag, I know!"

Two other experts came the following day. The interrogation lasted a long time, but all went well. One of them talked to me about Andre Breton and recited a Surrealist poem. As they were about to leave his colleague pointed out that I had rather prominent ears.

"Yes, that's quite true, he has got rather prominent ears. Anyone ever tell you that before?" he asked.

I said no.

"We'll have a look. Open your mouth wide!"

The psychiatrist delved carefully round my palate, then turned to the other doctor:

"No, nothing there. Nothing wrong with his ears!"

And off they went.

Two days later I was free. But I realized I had almost been locked up and that Sainte-Anne could easily have become the "narrow gate" through which I would have had to squeeze in order to become "a useful, respectable citizen."

"Our heart is troubled until it rests in thee" (Saint Augustine)

I have come to the end of my tale, to the end of my first twenty-two years of life. It is the history of a failure; I am more certain of that now than when I began to tell it. In fact it is just because it is the history of a failure that I thought of writing it.

A few months ago I felt I had made a mess of my religious life, my life as a Christian. I thought that everything would be put right by revolt; I thought that in this way I would be able to choose the life I wanted to lead. But undoubtedly nothing can be achieved outside God. God remains at the source of life and for our redemption. Once in my life I had had the chance of finding Him at that source and I can never forget the happiness and love I found there. God remains, like remorse, like justice and secret loyalty which lay bare and wipe out the false character we are sometimes tempted to display before the eyes of the world. He remains like Hope, which no worldly filth or human abuse can efface.

The Church perhaps is lost from the temporal point of view. Perhaps in a hundred years, or even less, the churches and chapels in the West and the East will be empty or turned into popular museums or grain-stores. But when you come to think of it, does that matter very much? The Church is not limited to its stone buildings and its wonderful universal organization. The essentials of the Church, of our Catholic Church, will remain; and also the Hope it offers us, the same Hope it has offered us for centuries and centuries, our Hope which slaps us in the face, almost insults us, so much does it dazzle our eyes which are infected with ourselves.

I hated the Church when I thought I was incapable of living up to it, incapable of living up to God who was crucified for the very man who denies Him. A God who is always within reach of one's soul, provided it is willing to break out of the prison in which its pride has confined it, provided it gives up the terrible devilish thirst for itself, provided man sees himself as a man, boundless in his desires, but poor in himself, a common man, an ordinary man.

July-August 1950

[1] On Easter Sunday, 9 April 1950, Michel Mourre (22 years old) and three other comrades (Serge Berna, Ghislain Desnoyers de Marbaix and Jean Rullier), climbed the rostrum at Notre Dame and read aloud the following declaration, which was co-written by Mourre and Berna.

Today, Easter Sunday of the Holy Year
Here, inside the notorious Basilica of Notre Dame of Paris,
I accuse
The Universal Catholic Church of the mortal diversion of our living forces in favor of an empty sky;
I accuse
The Catholic Church of cheating;
I accuse
The Catholic Church of infecting the world with its mortuary morality,
Of being the chancre of the decomposed West.
In truth I tell you: God is dead.
We vomit out the agonizing insipidity of your priests,
because your priests have generously manured the battlefields of our Europe.
Go to the tragic and exalted desert of a world in which God is dead
and brew anew this world with your bare hands,
your proud hands,
your prayerless hands.
Today, Easter Sunday in the Holy Year,
Here, in the notorious Basilica of Notre Dame of France,
we proclaim the death of the Christ-God so that finally Man can live.

There was a scuffle, and Mourre and the others were arrested; all but Mourre were immediately freed. In 1952 or '53, Serge Berna and Ghislain de Marbaix would join the Lettrist International. The text of the "Notre Dame Address" was first published by Marcel Marien in Les Levres Nues, #4, January 1955, Brussels. Michel Mourre would go on to write In Spite of Blaspphemy (1951), Charles Maurras (1953), Lamenais (1955), Le Monde a la mort de Socrate (1961), Religions et Philosophies d'Asie (1962) and Le Monde a la mort du Christ (1962) and L' Histoire vivante des moines (1964). He died on 6 August 1977.

[2] "Schizomaniac in Paris," Time Magazine, Monday, 25 December 1950: "Worshipers at the cathedral of Notre Dame last Easter were shocked by a young man in the robes of a Dominican monk, who stormed the pulpit and shouted 'God is dead! (TIME, April 17). Paris psychiatrists took him over from the police for examination and the current issue of the English-language literary journal, Transition, carries the psychiatrists' report. Samples of the report's psychiatric word-weaving:

Michel Mourre suffers from psychical disturbance of the schizomaniacal (Claude) type. Pride, desire to show off his personality and to represent himself entirely in his actions . . . Auto-didactism. Blitz philosophico-culture, with motorised arguments, but no main striking force. Highly assured personal modern outlook. Indignant irritation at the suggestion that Being may have preceded existence . . . Vaingloriously established in existentialism.

Present ocular reflexes indifferent. Very strong tendinous reactions. Trembling in tongue and fingers. Hyper-emotivity. Intelligent. Able to go straight to the core of a doctrine. A didactic tone hostile to originality. Temperament of a professor. Artistic but republican mind. Possibility of a cure following a fit of modesty. His condition requires that ... he be confined in a lunatic asylum, where he can receive the treatment of which he is in need.

"The report was more shocking to Parisian intellectuals than the original incident had been to the worshipers. To many, it sounded like a fair description of any eager young existentialist. So shrill, in fact, was the outcry that tendinous, hyperemotive Michel Mourre was released on bail, has written (for a couple of French newspapers) the memoirs of his autodidactic life as a Dominican student, as an existentialist, and as a bohemian."

[3] A conceit.

(Excerpts from Malgre Le Blaspheme, written by Michel Mourre, and first published in French in 1951. Translated into English by A.W. Fielding, published by John Lehmann, London 1953. Footnotes by NOT BORED! February 2008.)

To Contact NOT BORED!
ISSN 1084-7340.
Snail mail: POB 1115, Stuyvesant Station, New York City 10009-9998