Book//mark – Monsieur De Phocas | Jean Lorrain, 1901

Monsieur De Phocas | Jean Lorrain, 1901
Jean Lorrain, 1855-1906                                                    Jean Lorrain, Monsieur De Phocas, 1901

“The madness of the eyes is the lure of the abyss. Sirens lurk in the dark depths of the pupils
as they lurk at the bottom of the sea, that I know for sure – but I have never encountered
them, and I am searching still for the profound and plaintive gazes in whose depths
I might be able, like Hamlet redeemed, to drown the Ophelia of my desire.”

“Masks! I see them everywhere. That dreadful vision of the other night – the deserted town
with its masked corpses in every doorway; that nightmare product of morphine and ether –
has taken up residence within me. I see masks in the street, I see them on stage in the theatre,
I find yet more of them in the boxes. They are on the balcony and in the orchestra-pit.
Everywhere I go I am surrounded by masks. The attendants to whom I give my overcoat
are masked; masks crowd around me in the foyer as everyone leaves, and the coachman
who drives me home has the same cardboard grimace fixed upon his face!

It is truly too much to bear: to feel that one is alone and at the mercy of all those enigmatic
and deceptive faces, alone amid all the mocking laughs and the threats embodied in those
masks. I have tried to persuade myself that I am dreaming, and that I am the victim of a
hallucination, but all the powdered and painted faces of women, all the rouged lips and
kohl-blackened eyelids… all of that has created around me an atmosphere of trance and
mortal agony. Cosmetics: there is the root cause of my illness!

But I am happy, now, when there are only masks! Sometimes, I detect the cadavers
beneath, and remember that beneath the masks there is a host of spectres.”

“Ingratitude’ is the name which avatars of
Narcissus give to the success of others.”

“…the presence of others has become even more intolerable to me, their conversation most
of all. Oh, how it all annoys and exasperates me: their attitudes, their manners, their whole
way of being! The people of my world, all my unhappy peers, have come to irritate, oppress
and sadden me with their noisy and empty chatter, their monstrous and boundless vanity,
their even more monstrous egotism, their club gossip… the endless repetition of opinions
already formed and judgments already made; the automatic vomiting forth of articles read
in those morning papers which are the recognised outlet of the hopeless wilderness of their
ideas; the eternal daily meal of overfamiliar cliches concerning racing stables and the stalls
of fillies of the human variety… the hutches of the ‘petites femmes’ – another worn out phrase
in the dirty usury of shapeless expression!

Oh my contemporaries, my dear contemporaries…

Their idiotic self-satisfaction; their fat and full-blown self-sufficiency: the stupid display of
their good fortune; the clink of fifty- and a hundred-franc coins forever sounding out their
financial prowess, according their own reckoning; their hen-like clucking and their pig-like
grunting, as they pronounce the names of certain women; the obesity of their minds, the
obscenity of their eyes, and the toneless-ness of their laughter! They are, in truth, handsome
puppets of amour, with all the exhausted despondency of their gestures and the slackness
of their chic…

Chic! A hideous word, which fits their manner like a new glove: as dejected as
undertakers’ mutes, as full-blown as Falstaff…

Oh my contemporaries: the ceusses of my circle, to put it in their own ignoble argot. They
have all welcomed the moneylenders into their homes, and have been recruited as their
clients, and they have likewise played host to the fat journalists who milk their
conversations for the society columns. How I hate them; how I execrate them;
how I would love to devour them liver and lights – and how well I understand the
Anarchists and their bombs!”

“There is nothing to be found in human eyes, and that is their terrifying and dolorous
enigma, their abominable and delusive charm. There is nothing but that which we put
there ourselves. That is why honest gazes are only to be found in portraits.

The faded and weary eyes of martyrs, expressions tortured by ecstasy, imploring and
suffering eyes, some resigned, others desperate… the gazes of saints, mendicants and
princesses in exile, with pardoning smiles… the gazes of the possessed, the chosen and
the hysterical… and sometimes of little girls, the eyes of Ophelia and Canidia, the eyes of
virgins and witches… as you live in the museums, what eternal life, dolorous and intense,
shines out of you! Like precious stones enshrined between the painted eyelids of
masterpieces, you disturb us across time and across space, receivers of the
dream which created you!

You have souls, but they are those of the artists who wished you into being, and I am
delivered to despair and mortification because I have drunk the draught of poison
congealed in the irises of your eyes.

The eyes of portraits ought to be plucked out.”

“8 April 1891
The obscenity of nostrils and mouths; the ignominious cupidity of smiles and women
encountered in the street; the shifty baseness on every side, as of hyenas and wild beasts
ready to bite: tradesmen in their shops and strollers on their pavements. How long must
I suffer this? I have suffered it before, as a child, when, descending by chance to the
servant’s quarters, I overheard in astonishment their vile gossip, tearing up my own
kind with their lovely teeth.

This hostility to the entire race, this muted detestation of lynxes in human form, I must
have rediscovered it later while at school. I had a repugnance and horror for all base
instincts, but am I not myself instinctively violent and lewd, murderous and sensual?
Am I any different, in essence, from the members of the riotous and murderous mob of a
hundred years ago, who hurled the town sergeants into the Seine and cried, ‘String up
the aristos!’ just as they shout ‘Down with the army!’ or ‘Death to the Jews!”

“The beauty of the twentieth century is the charm of the hospital, the grace of the
cemetery, of consumption and emaciation. I admit that I have submitted to it
all; worse, I have loved with all my heart.”

“To dream! Such dreams certainly make life more worth living…
and only dreams can do that for me.”

 Jean Lorrain, Monsieur De Phocas, 1901

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   Jean Lorrain, Monsieur De Phocas, 1908

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