Massive Words: 03, Jean-Christophe Valtat

It’s an 84-page novella. It’s one long paragraph that details what an adolescent narrator thinks about a mildly mentally-retarded/ developmentally-delayed girl he sees at a busstop. It’s translated from French.

It should be pretentious as hell.


It’s gems like these that make 03 worth re-reading:

This was clear from the way she never returned my gaze when I looked at her, so that my own existence, hard enough for me to maintain with any robustness to myself, was, for those dark eyes –black as the inside of closed fists, reflecting less the outside world than the abandoned interior of a skull….

Or this:

The only good thing about childhood is that no one really remembers it, or rather, that’s the only thing about it to like: this forgetting. What else could possibly lie beneath that peaceful oblivion but shame: a dark knowledge of that terrible badge of weakness, that inescapable servitude … a sickening awareness that just about everything there is to understand was beyond us, made even worse by the lies and inaccuracies that adults feel entitled to spread around, deliberately, or because they don’t know any better, about themselves or about the nature of reality…. And that’s not even counting the sheer terror that could take hold — the slightest thing could do it, a mask, a dummy– at any moment.

Or especially this!

…as far as I was concerned, as a reformed ex-child, a proud one, I don’t ever remember feeling that I was looking on a brand-new world with fresh eyes. There were, of course, some things that a small child did perceive for the first time, but given the narrow confines of its tiny mental universe, the blankness of its stunted memory, on the whole, adults or teenagers were better equipped to see more, to be more discerning, and, assuming they had their wits about them, to understand these things for the first time. The notion of this powerful childhood gaze was all the more specious given that adults, in the name of that very spontaneity, subjected children to every sort of rehearsed and prepackaged foolishness so that what children were supposed to see and like was no more than the adults’ idea of what they imagined having lost themselves, which in turn was probably no more than other versions of childhood recycled by other adults, this cycle of loss building itself up according to the endless demands of nostalgia, so that the older and more rotten the world became, the more this driveling idiocy prevailed and this idea of innocence took hold.

It’s a wonderfully non-Romantic, penetrating look at what is normally tediously (and nostalgically) lied about: children, adolescents, the developmentally delayed, and many other things.

It’s unyielding and truthful. Isn’t that one type of Great Literature?

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