In honor of the late enigmatic nomad and wandering guerrilla of art, I’d like to share the opening to a book that will probably never be translated: Chris Marker’s first and only novel. Le cœur net (mystifyingly rendered as The Forthright Spirit on Wikipedia and in The Washington Post, but probably someone knows something I don’t) takes its title from a standard expression that has been a perennial thorn in translators’ sides, en avoir le cœur net. Usually “mind” is swapped in for cœur, or heart, resulting in “to be clear in one’s mind” or “get peace of mind” about something, though it has been translated more colloquially as “to get to the bottom” of something, or “to clear [the matter] up.” Another tack is to go with net, or clean, and “make a clean breast” of things.
Marker’s novel was first published by the prestigious literary house Le Seuil in 1949; he was also the editorial director for their Petite Planète imprint. Though it has since been reprinted at least twice, by Le Club Français du Livre and La Petite Ourse, Marker himself disowned and suppressed it (which is why I venture that no translation of it will be legally published anytime soon). Concerning as it does the reminiscences of Agyre, the ghost of a former pilot, it’s hard to read now without hearing echoes (heralds?) of Marker’s most famous work, La Jetée. Probably its most often quoted line is the eerily apt: “Dying is, at most, the opposite of being born. The opposite of living remains to be found.”
“An accident is nothing, quite precisely nothing. There’s the moment before, when the plane leaves the runway, when a certain quality of silence around it, a certain anticipation in the light, hides it from movement, a petrifying fountain (like an angel pressed for time who plucks the souls from men, like the blindfold placed on a condemned man seconds before death)—and the moment after, when the plane is no more than a dart in the ground, a fried grasshopper, a cross… Between the two, nothing.
You’re amazed to have seen it coming. You know, you’re ready to swear that the moment the plane took off you expected the accident, and all the rest just met your expectations. And yet you didn’t move, or make a sound. The accident is a fakir: it lulls you to pull off its feats. Sometimes all you have to do is say something, reach out your hand, to ward off its work.”