Desecration at Drancy
Over at the website of Uncensored, the Auckland-based magazine which reprints the work of leading neo-Nazis, a similar sort of desecration is occurring, as conspiracy theorists try to justify their fondness for The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, the paranoid text that inspired the first generation of Nazis.
Because it was a transit camp Drancy did not have gas chambers and ovens, but overcrowded conditions and inhumane administrators assured that many people never left its gates. One of the victims of Drancy was Max Jacob, who caught pneumonia there a few weeks after Nazi troops had frogmarched him out of the Catholic monastery where he had been hiding.
One of the most influential of the avant-garde poets that France produced in the early twentieth century, Jacob was born in Quimper, the ancient capital of Brittany, to a Jewish family, but converted to Roman Catholicism after having a vision of Christ in 1909. Jacob's conversion was not taken entirely seriously by some of his friends, who were used to witnessing his debauched behaviour at Paris parties, and up until the end of his life he would oscillate between Bohemian and monkish behaviour.
Jacob's writing was as original as his lifestyle. As a young man he shared a one-bedroom garrett with Pablo Picasso, and hit upon the idea of applying the principles of Cubism to literature. Jacob would sleep through the day, while his soon-to-be-famous flatmate painted; when night fell it would be Picasso's turn to sleep, and Jacob would work on the prose poems that would eventually be collected in his masterpiece The Dice Cup. A typical Jacob poem features maniacal punning, surreal images, and the sort abrupt changes of perspective which remind us of Picasso canvases like Les Mademoiselles D'Avignon. Here is the complete text of 'Inconvenience of Slipping':
The head was nothing but a little old ball in the big white bed. The eiderdown of puce-colored silk, adorned with fine lace, resting perfectly on the seam, was facing the lamp. The mother in this white valley was caught up in big things, her dentures removed; and the son, near the night table with the scruff of a seventeen-year-old that couldn't be shaved because of pimples, was amazed that from this big old bed, from this hollow valley of a bed, from this little toothless ball, could come a marvelous, winning personality, and one as clearly congenial as his own. Nevertheless, the little old ball didn't want him to leave the lamp by the white valley. It would have been better for him not to leave it, because this lamp had always kept him from living anywhere else when he was no longer living near it.
Last year I wrote a short poem about the last days of Max Jacob. I haven't published it offline yet, but I thought I'd put it here, as a small tribute to the man.
Max Jacob at Drancy Deportation Camp
That the law of equivalence tells us that a fish is a fish, that a star is a star, that a gorse spore is a gorse spore, that the sun is a fistful of nails. This is easy. The paint has flaked off Olaf's black knight, so that the creature must change sides.
That the laws of geometry tell us where to stand. Even during noon inspection, a taller man provides a modicum of shade. Try to arrange one on each side.
That the laws of literature tell us when to write. To watch the pen move is to watch it think, slowly, involuntarily, leaving lines as thin and regular as wire. I sit up on my elbows and squint at the page, looking for a hole large enough to crawl through.
That morality tells us when to confess. Even before I was born I was plotting.
That biology tells us how to live, how to go on living. Rot preserves by changing, makes us immortal as dust or fungi, as the soft log burning bright orange under my foot, when I step into the bushes behind the barracks wall to take a piss.
That the laws of harmony tell us how to listen. One lies awake all night suffering the shrieks and howls, until at dawn the exhausted sobbing suddenly sounds like the Odet waterfall in a dry summer. It ends too soon.
That the laws of anatomy tell us where to break. I heard the guards kicking a football about, and began to find the pitch and tone of their laughter strange, until Fischer's head rolled out of the barracks yard, and into view. Goal kick.