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An excerpt from NOW, NOW LOUISON

    Translated from the French by Cole SWENSON

The survival of the fittest, said Darwin, of the best fit for a given niche. Whereas you’re interested in the survival of the unfit, in the strategies of the handicapped, in the victory of the tortoise over the hare.
In a book, you read the story of a man who played billiards by himself. Against himself. He called it a game of the able against the one-armed. The able made a normal shot, while the one who played against him used only one hand.

One day, the one-armed man won.

The man stayed drunk for three days straight and never played billiards again.

So, you have to work with it. With the lacks, the weaknesses. The fatal inabilities. Work the handicaps against their grain. Survival, it’s a matter of survival, but survival of the unfit. Prove Darwin wrong. La Fontaine had a glimmer. We must go further. Fueled by despair. The strategy of the besieged. Have confidence in weakness. From failure to failure. Fail better, said the bilingual condor, the expert in scrawn. Though he may have left the conclusion a little too late. What remains when you’ve removed everything? A bit of music. Played on a pierced bone. At the end of your lips. Happy Days. I Love You So...

♩♫ Que reste-t-il de nos amours
Que reste-t-il de ces beaux jours
Une photo, vieille photo

De ma jeunesse
Que reste-t-il de tout cela

There are artists who work off their gifts—they may use them, overdo them, or even obstruct them, but no matter what they do, they’re still gifted. Whether they accept their gifts or not makes no difference. And there are others who work off of their inabilities, their incapacities, and their ineptitudes because they have no choice, though what they produce will never have the authority, the inevitability, or the definitive stature that is the mark of the gifted when they’re great.

The ungifted tend not to like themselves very much, and they often don’t like their work either. And so they work feverishly in an unconscious attempt to flee success when they glimpse it, unwittingly protecting their work. Their power to touch viewers, to say something, stays more alive by being constantly put off until later. And it’s precisely in this later that their force resides. Later may well never arrive, but it retains a potential that right now quickly exhausts.

Which is why some among the inept—though no more than among the very gifted—can look forward to the lovely potential for revenge. It’s always possible that the one-armed man might win. And when he does, it’s both touching and troubling because it’s the victory of fallibility.


You look at yourself in the mirror. You find yourself faded. You had a particular tenderness for Mother’s soft belly. You recognize it—your belly is just like Mother’s, which brought you into the world. You feel so small. Little Mama. If we didn’t fiercely squelch all memory of our first three years, we would be crushed by the recognition of how small we were. This smallness will always be an integral part of us. The slightest hand held out makes us burst into tears that acknowledge this. You are not crushed; you have nipped that crushing in the bud. At times you feel drunk with smallness, and you dream of nothing but abandoning yourself to a sea strong enough to carry you away. I said sea without even thinking about it—la mer. But that’s actually what I did—Mère having abandoned me, I literally threw myself into the water, first of the Bièvre, from which I was rescued (Father, who always got the best parts, played Superman), and then into the waters of the sea. That it might toss you around, and that you might founder. And might wash up here—on the old Native American island of Manhattan, between two rivers under an inclement sky, but so vast that it seemed made to welcome all the disarrayed, all the inept who’d found, through the energy of despair, a way of surviving, and had clung to it. They only had to put down roots. And for that, you must burn your boats—even those you don’t have—brave the tides, accept the drift, take the risk that the American dream might veer into a nightmare. And only then, perhaps, might regrowth be possible. Shyly, not the first or even the second spring, but one day, a branch.

You drew this branch in red ink. It’s you. It’s ridiculous, but it grows. It says, just look how I grow! It’s an offshoot, like a child, a child on a swing or toboggan crying, Look Ma, no hands!


Jean FRÉMON is the director of a contemporary art gallery by day and a writer by night. He founded the Lelong Gallery in Paris and New York. In 1985 he commissioned Louise Bourgeois’ first European exhibition. Since 1969 he has had over twenty works published, including novels and poems (trans. Lydia Davis), as well as essays on art, some of which have been translated into Spanish, German and Norwegian. In English, eight of his books have been published in America by independent presses, receiving praise from John Ashbery and Rosemarie Waldrop. Now, Now, Louison (Les Fugitives) is his first book published in the UK.

Cole SWENSEN is an American translator, poet, editor and a professor at Brown University, Rhode Island. A finalist for the National Book Award in 2004 and the recipient of a PEN USA Award for her translation of Jean Frémon’s The Island of the Dead, she was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship in 2006.


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