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From Nightwalker (Le Paysan de Paris), by Louis Aragon, 1926.


A sketch

SENSIBILITY (to man)-- You look gloomy today; did you have an untoward encounter in the valley?  Or did some sly bear cub arrange to see you this evening?

WILL (emerging from a bottle of champagne)--No fear of his going up the mountain this evening (in a resolute tone): if he goes, I go with him.

INTELLIGENCE (suddenly sitting up) -- And what about me?  I'm going, too; you know perfectly well that I remain with the herd while man chases mountain goats and bears.

MAN (smiling sadly)--Come now; to end this quarrel, I've decided not to go out today.  Knowledge, the poor sufferer, took to her bed when I stopped loving her, and perhaps would have given up the ghost by now if not for the ministrations and prescriptions of that fine, worthy physician from abroad who lives in the house on the hill.

SENSIBILITY-- Yes, that house on the hill, built with the characters of an ancient phrase, too long for my memory to retain.

INTELLIGENCE -- Don't you know what happens to lovers when they see a lyre, a suit of clothes or some other object which their passions ordinarily put to use?  On seeing this lyre, they are reminded of the image of its owner... as, in seeing Simmias, one recalls Cebes, the interlocutor of Socrates in the Phedo.


WILL-- I dislike your physician; I get scared whenever he comes around.  

INTELLIGENCE -- And why his big mustache, his fedora, his gaunt, unprepossessing face, and his fur greatcoat?  I've never seen anybody dress that way.

MAN--He's a foreigner.

WILL--I distrust foreigners.  It's rumored that they kidnap children and eat them.

SENSIBILITY--Idiot!  And what about those who allow themselves to be guided by man, under waterfall, across glaciers, along rivers in spate: Love, Lie, Dream, has any of these handsome foreigners, masked and richly attired, ever eaten or kidnapped his guide?

WILL--Oh, but that isn't the same thing!  You know their country of origin.  But this foreigner is of a different stamp.  "Imagination," you wouldn't call that a Christian name, would you?

MAN--It's not the name that's bothering you.  This new resident has done us nothing but good; why look a gift horse in the mouth?

SENSIBILITY-- We know nothing about his profession, it's true; yet, ever since Knowledge began ailing, he has cared for her provided her with medicine and demanded nothing in return.

INTELLIGENCE-- How cunning!  He's waiting for man to kill a big bear before presenting his bill.

WILL -- Oh, Lord, his bill will be a sight.  It'll frighten us as much as his face does, and furthermore he says he doesn't like little boys, they babble; in fact, he's happy only when alone.

MAN-- Slander, slander.  Imagination is a fine gentleman, humane and beneficent.

SENSIBILITY--Are you sure of that?  This stranger came out of the valley one stormy night; nobody knew him.

WILL--Yes, he fell into our midst like a wayward kite.

MAN-- Humbug.


MAN--Come now.

INTELLIGENCE--This gentleman..

SENSIBILITY-- is a dangerous criminal, perhaps, who is hiding in our valley.

MAN--A criminal?  That's the answer, is it?  How do you view a thunderbolt, my dear Sensibility, how do you view this radiant wildflower with which the mountains sometimes adorn their hair?  Is the thunderbolt a criminal or a benevolent divinity?  You, Intelligence, what opinion do you hold of Imagination?

INTELLIGENCE-- I dislike uncertainty.

(At this point IMAGINATION enters, fitting the description of him given previously by Intelligence;  he's a tall, gaunt old man, wearing a Hapsburg mustache, a long fur greatcoat, and a fedora; his face has nervous twitches; when he speaks, he extends his and as if to grab the imaginary lapel of an invisible companion.  Under his arm he is carrying a volume of Benjamin Pert's, At 125, Boulevard Saint-Germain.  There's only one thing really eccentric about him:  he has a roller skate on his left foot and none on his right.  He comes up to man and says:  


One must take the rough with the smooth; each of you has in his own way put a brave face on things without relying on me.  Moving form one illusion to the next, you have repeatedly fallen prey to the illusion, Reality.  Yet I have given you everything:  blue sky, the Pyramids, motor cars.  With my magic lantern at your disposal, why do you despair?  I've reserved an infinity of infinite surprises.  As I said to the students of Germany in 1819, one can anticipate everything from the power of mind.  Already its pure, fantastic inventions have, to giddy effect given you mastery over yourselves; I have invented memory, writing,  infinitesimal calculus.  As the word distinguishes man from mute creatures, so other discoveries, not yet imagined, will make him unrecognizably different from his present image.  What are you mumbling there?  It's not a question of progress:  I am just a cocaine pusher;  my snow, your manna--whether memory or the experimental method-- has the intoxicating properties of a mirage.  Everything stems from the imagination, and all that is imaginary sheds light.  The telephone is purportedly useful: don't believe a word of it; just observe man convulsing over the receiver as he shouts "Hello?"  What is he if not an addict of sound, dead drunk on conquered space and the transmitted voice?  My poisons are yours:  here is love, strength, speed.  Do you want pains, death or songs?  

Today I bring you a narcotic imported from the outer reaches of awareness, from the frontiers of the abyss.  What have you sought heretofore in drugs if not a sensation of power, a deceptive megalomania and the unfettered exercise of your faculties in the void?  The product which it is my honor to introduce procures all that, and other adventures too: immense and unhoped for, it surpasses your desires and arouses them; it helps you develop fresh, wilder appetites.  You may be sure of this; whoever traffics in the philter of the absolute is an enemy of law and order.  We smuggle it in under the sentries' noses disguised as books, poems.  The anodine pretext of literature allows us to offer you, at an unbeatable price, this mortal ferment which it is high time everybody tasted.  It is the genie in the bottle, a stick of poetry.  Go right ahead, buy you damnation; at last you're about to lose yourself -- here's a machine to upend your soul.  I bring tidings of supreme importance: a new vice has just been born, one more source of vertigo has been given to man, surrealism, son of frenzy and darkness.  Enter, enter, here begin the realms of instantaneous. 

Modern hashish-eaters, what cause will you have to envy the waking dreamers of the thousand and one nights, convulsionaries and the miraculously-healed, when you play, without benefit of an instrument, the hitherto incomplete scale of their amazed pleasures, and when you secure such visionary power over the world, whether it take the form of invention or the glaucous materialization of daytime's slippery luminosities, that neither reason nor the instinct of self-preservation, notwithstanding their lovely white hands, will be able to inhibit you from using it in excess, transported by yourselves until, fastening a beautiful image to the vital cross-strut of your heart, you become at long last a man transfixed forever by one woman, no longer the butterfly pinned to this adorable cork?  The vice called surrealism is the unsystematic and passionate use of the narcotic image, or rather the uncontrolled provocation of it for its own sake and for whatever unforeseen upheavals and metamorphoses it renders visible; for every image, whenever it strikes, forces you to revise the entire universe.  And every man has an image which, in coming to light, will obliterate the entire Universe.  You who descry the orange glitter of this abyss, make haste, bring your lips to the fresh and burning cup.  Soon, tomorrow, the obscure desire for security which unites mankind will dictate primitive taboos.  The propagators of surrealism will be broken on the wheel and hanged; these  image-topers will be locked in mirror-lined rooms.  Under cover of singing cafes, the persecuted surrealist will traffic in verbal contagions while the police, suspecting clients of surrealism, will try to get the goods on them by studying their poses, their reflexes, their nervous tics. I can see from here the agents provocateurs, the ruses, the mousetraps.  Once again the right of individuals to dispose of themselves as they see fit will be encroached upon and contested on grounds of the public danger, the general welfare the preservation of all humanity.  Upright citizens will league together in indignation against this indefensible activity, this rampant anarchy tending to lift each person by main force from the common rut in order to create for him a paradise of his own, this diversion of one's thought which people will promptly describe as intellectual malthusianism.  Splendid ravages:  the principle of utility will become foreign to all who practice this superior vice.  For them the mind will at last cease to be "applied."  They will see its limits recede; they will make whatever  on earth is ardent and unsatisfied partake of this inebriation.  Young people will become hopelessly addicted to this serious and sterile game.  They will pervert their lives.  The universities will be emptied.  Laboratories will close.  Army, family, and and trades will come to an end.  Then, faced with this growing estrangement from social life, a vast synod of all the dogmatic and realistic forces of the world will be held to deal with the phantom of illusions.  And they will win, this coalition of powers including "why not" and "one must go on living willy-nilly."  It will be the mind's last crusade.  I therefore summon you to join this battle lost in advance, solemn and adventurous hearts indiferent to victory who seek, at night, a chasm down which to hurl yourselves:  Let's go, the part hasn't yet been cast.  This way, step up to the ticket window.

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