Arax – Scorning bridges

This permanent threat of death is the intoxicating absolute that carries life away, lifts it outside of itself, hurls forth the depths of my being like a volcano’s eruption, a meteor’s fall.
– Colette Peignot

In 2014 the spirit of Colette Peignot, also known as Laure, obsessed me. For a period the force of her presence was a fever; I couldn’t think, I couldn’t sleep, without this restless, insistent remembering of a woman, whose death – before whose life and before whose name – was first divulged to me in Maurice Blanchot’s L’arrêt de mort (Death sentence). In fact, I knew the men that knew her before I ever recall reading her name or her noms de plumes, Laure, Claude Araxe: Bataille, Leiris, Blanchot… And before I sought out the few images that testify to the beauty of her “vehement existence.”

That account by Blanchot had slipped under my skin. I returned to that strange novella a number of times – I held it, I reread it, some passages over and over. I wondered at the life, the protracted death it contained. The uneasiness and the curiosity it provoked in me (and I really felt it within) I’d perhaps only experienced in that other enigmatic narrative of a cursed life, a cursed love, Hedayat’s The Blind Owl. (The two books always seem to share a physical closeness in the bookcase, as if drawn together in erotic sympathy). “…I recognised her violence, her secrecy. I saw that she was at liberty to fight even me up to the last second.”

As is often the case when a revelation irrupts, the exact circumstances and time are engulfed, submerged beneath the contours of a transfigured landscape. It must have been late Summer or Autumn, for on the anniversary of her death I received the copy of her collected writings I’d tracked down some weeks previously. Her sudden appearance on this day was for me a proof that her life still moved through the words she had committed to paper, though never published. An unfinished existence, an existence still evidently flowing.

Archangel or whore
I don’t mind
All the roles
are lent to me
The life never recognised

I began to dance, to encounter her. I called her by her names, I imagined the lives she had passed through. Her silences, her nakedness, compelled me. These dances, which first took place in a red room I shared with my lover, a lacquered cinnabar chamber into which our lives, all facets of our lives, was melded; and on the bed, the altar of our love; and in my imaginary, which is – for all its perverse chimerical lucidity – all flesh and the fire in my flesh. Here I sought glimpses of a life that had once flowered and was devoured by time, but whose passion anoints the revolutionary and the sacred even now. Wounds speak. “The blood does not stop flowing,” it is the river no man can bridge. Inviolable. Lorelei: the voice that the body gave up sang men to their immortal deaths. A true whore.

Sometimes the face I saw was my own, but changed. (Unsurprisingly, for there are certain experiences that we share.) The mirror – consecrated to Bileth – has a volatile surface. It can take you under. Sometimes the river carried other faces, those she’d worn and those lent to her. Sometimes only mutilated figures and hieratic gestures surfaced and she was faceless, headless; as if the waters were livid, molten – and issued from a deeper source.

La sainte de l’abîme – en abyme
A reflection caught endlessly between two mirrors – a rupture.

I find myself
as in a circle
which I escape
by this other
which brings me back

I had to dance her out of me
to dance her through me
I had to dance to release her from me –
that glowering insistence, that flare that ignifies my blood –
to dance her, “the steps accomplished in a state of trance,”
to dance her is to bleed with the same blood, to feel my sex coil and contract,
vexed by the same desire.


Further reading

Peignot, Colette. Laure: The Collected Writings. Translated by Jeanine Herman. City Lights, 2001.
Blanchot, Maurice. L’arrêt de mort / Death sentence. Translated by Lydia Davis. Barrytown/Station Hill, 2000.
Sweedler, Milo. The Dismembered Community: Bataille, Blanchot, Leiris, and the Remains of Laure. University of Delaware Press, 2009.
Bataille, George. Blue of Noon. Translated by Henry Matthews. Marion Boyars, 2005.
Acker, Kathy. My Mother: Demonology. Grove Press, 1994.