Philippe Sollers

WOMEN Novel by Philippe Sollers. Translated by Barbara Bray, Columbia University Press, 1990, 560 pages.



Born male and single at an early age. . . .
Own and operate own typewriter.




In all this time… You'd have thought someone would have risked it… I look, watch, listen, consult books, read and re-read… But no… Not really… No one mentions it Not openly anyway… Hints, mists, clouds, innuendos… In all this long time… How long? Two thousand years? Six thousand? Ever since records have existed… You'd have thought someone would have come out with it—the truth, the plain lethal truth… But no: nothing or almost nothing… Myths, religions, poems, novels, operas, philosophies, contracts… It's true there've been a few bold gestures… But most soon lapse into overemphasis, exaggeration, murderous exasperation or straining after effect… Nothing or almost nothing about the cause. The cause.

The world belongs to women.

In other words, to death.

But everyone lies about it.

Hold tight, reader—this isn't going to be an easy ride. Though you probably won't be bored. There'll be details, local color, one scene after another, mix-ups, mesmerism, psychology, orgies. I'm writing the Memoirs of a traveler the like of whom has never been seen before and who'll reveal the secrets of the ages… The origin of things unveiled! The secret fathomed! Fate X-rayed! So-called Nature unmasked! The temple of error, illusion, hidden murder, the very heart of things… Ever since I was brought into this bear garden, which can be terribly tedious. I've also quite enjoyed myself.


It's a woman's world. Only women exist. They've always known it, and yet they don't know it at all. They can't really know it. They can only feel it, sense it. That's how it works… And how about men? Froth. Pseudobosses, pseudopriests, vague philosophers. Insects… Managers taken advantage of by the workers illusory muscle, surrogate energy… I propose to tell how and why. If my hand obeys me, if my arm doesn't drop off, if I don't die of exhaustion en route. Above all if I can manage to convince myself this revelation is actually addressed to somebody. Though I'm almost sure it never can really get through to anyone…

  Settling of old scores? And how! Schizophrenia? I should think so! Paranoia? I'll say! The whole thing has driven me crazy? I'll buy that. Misogyny? That's putting it mildly. Misanthropy? You must be joking… These pages will go further than all the great names of antiquity. Of yesterday in general, and of today, tomorrow and the day after that… Much further in height, breadth, depth and horror… But also in melody, harmony and inwardness.

Who am I, really? It doesn't matter. Better stay in the background. A philosopher in a darkroom… I've merely asked the writer who's going to put his name to this book to discuss a few points with me… Why did I choose him in particular? Because people hated him. I went into it, did a survey. I wanted someone reasonably well known but heartily disliked… A specialist in grudges and poisoned wells. I have my own ideas on the subject… A metaphysical theory… You'll see, you'll see… Why in French? A question of tradition… After all it's the French, some of them at least, who are most familiar with the dramatic world I propose to describe… Funny, though It's as if they were also the primary inventors of what happens behind the scenes… The process still goes on, though on a more paltry scale, like everything else these days… Mutant on the one hand, Martian on the other…

I start from an elementary premise. If you're here, with your eyes scanning these lines, it follows that you've been born. Male or female? He or she? The action's beginning. You belong to one sex or the other, or at least you seem to. But is the appearance true or false? Le cosi fallaci… You don't exactly know I say "exactly” advisedly. Anyhow, there you are. And you don't know why, either. No, no, I'm talking about the old Mama-Papa puzzle which science cracked long ago. As Faulkner—him again—said to Ben Wasson in the spring of 1930: "Sorry, I haven't got a picture. I dont intend to have one that I know of, either About the biography. Dont tell the bastards anything. It cant matter to them. Tell them I was born of an alligator and a nigger slave at the Geneva peace conference two years ago. Or whatever you want to tell them." No flies on him… All I mean is, a pig can't evaluate its own poke… Are you really in it? In your body? Does your thought exist in a body? Do we spend a season in the hell of the body and then ping! out of it? Into the void? "I have seen the hell of women there," said Rimbaud… What did he really see? To be? Not to be? Hell? We're going to rediscover hell — that's part of the plan. With a certain amount of pleasure in the process. Right — so where does it all come from? Mama? Mama? God-Mama? Her!! Behind him, her! The universal cell, the great atomic pile now run on the pill, the eternal mouth Isis, Artemis, Aphrodite, Diana, Hecate! Cybele! Demeter! Mater! Athena! Gea! Geova! The frown, the pinch, the safety pin, the pyramid, the sacred triangle, the delta!



Kate arrives in her fancy cowboy hat. She takes herself for an Amazon now. Her head's full of the woman epic. Seething with it. "We women…" You can tell she never stops thinking about it. Excited, depressed, terrified. Obsessed. She's feeling awful, but has to hide it and pretend she's always on form, cheerful and decisive… No one must see her whole life is shot through with turmoil and fear. She has to keep on lying, trying to put people off the scent. Dissimulation isn't second nature to her—it's first nature, before nature itself. A spontaneous defense, a veil—but a distorting one… I can see she's gritting her teeth. She's about to approach me. Public Enemy No. 1, top of the black list, the man who knows ten times too much, who has inside information… She kisses me, switches on the stereotypes of seduction. Power struggle… I look at her. She's exhausted after a long day spent asserting herself and her rights. After an endless series of posturings—at the Journal, at the Agency, and at the press conference of the reactionary-progressive candidate whom she, as a progressive-reactionary, has to pretend to see as a moderate reactionary Something like that. Her skin is greasy and shining, her breasts droop, her stomach protrudes as if in a permanent threatened abortion. Can it be her liver?

"You see, darling, you don't take women seriously…"

The old tune. She hasn't been here five minutes before she puts the record on again. Every moment counts, every situation has to be pressed into service. Nothing for nothing. I observe her surreptitiously They're really crazy, women. Completely, fundamentally and systematically That fixed leaden gleam in their eye. She doesn't see or hear anything. Yet the bar near the Etoile where I arranged to meet her is a pleasant enough place. Comfortable leather armchairs, table lamps, discreet piped-in-opera… But no—she's somewhere else. Like a sleepwalker Frozen. Consumed by her passion.

"I often ask myself what you'd think or do about something. And I know right away what I ought to think or do. Exactly the opposite."

She's let the cat out of the bag. For her and her pals I'm the absolute negative yardstick. The funny thing is she seems to think the conversation can go on as if nothing had happened. It's as though she were so perverse she needed this kind of preliminary attack to get her going. But after spending a while first treating me to reams of gossip and being as nasty as possible about the friends she's going to meet later on, and then trying to gouge information out of me that she thinks might advance her career in the next few days or months, she'll suddenly lean forward and say, her breath already reeking of alcohol:

"I could tell you more… Quite a number of things… But it'll take time… For me to get used to it… In another two or three days perhaps… " Here we go. The trip trick again! She never misses… They all end up suggesting a trip… A change of scene… The better to eat you with when you get back… Egypt, Greece, Rome, Venice, India, Singapore, Morocco… Just a weekend… Three days, a week. Of being together… All the time… Hotel room, tête-à-tête, cheek by jowl, walks, meals, museums…        And then, perhaps, on the second day… Late in the afternoon… After some shopping… Shoes… A ring… A bracelet… A necklace… Fusion… We'd tell each other everything, absolutely everything… And the thing would be settled… Marriage, I mean. It always comes down to that in the end. settling down, sorting things out, putting things on a regular footing, having just one atmosphere for two… One bubble between you… Perfect understanding… A shared placenta… The little things in life, rather revolting but very touching; the real things… And it's then she'd tell me what I need to know… The dangers threatening me… Give me advice… Other people's intentions, what they really have against me, tittle-tattle, the plots being hatched behind my back… All the details I'm dying to know… I brace myself slightly against the shock… She mustn't see how disgusted I am… So I plunge in right away…   Take her hand, lean forward, give her a little kiss under the ear…    Nothing to speak of… Not that I wouldn't like…

"Yes, of course, we'll have to work it out…"

My voice sounds a bit feeble to me… Lacking in the proper enthusiasm… She'll notice… But no—women never notice… They're protected by a monumental, cosmic invincible narcissism. Either they're depressed in advance, whatever the situation, or else they're convinced of their irresistibility… And usually they're right… Vibes, spiritualistic vapors and so on end up confusing everything and casting a spell, a sense of unease, on any man, however homosexual or professional he may be… Better still, the mother effect! … Hidden causality. Always all or nothing, never perhaps… She wants me to want her, and it would never occur to her that I don't… Unless… One doesn't really know…  She may have registered my instinctive recoil, my reticence…  I can see a film of the whole thing already…  Speeded up… The country hotel, the garden, the tables under the trees, the river, the bed, the bathroom…  There might be a good moment at the beginning, my hand in the fly of her pants, my finger in her crack… Her, so sure of herself… And of them all… The certain damp something at the start…

But what can she do, actually? Pursed lips, incisor a bit crooked I light a cigarette, finish my drink Mumble something about a pressing engagement… She draws herself up… Another double black mark in my already sinister record… The Phèdre story… A hint of Racine starting to boil up… Bye, darling, we'll talk on the phone… I practically run out of the bar… A balmy June evening…




I have got an appointment, but not the one I alleged… Cyd opens the door. Always neat, punctual, discreet. The game is not to talk but to make love right away… She's naked under her black dress, and we go to it without more ado… We don't talk till afterwards… It's quite different once the physical crisis is over… Misunderstanding exorcized…  Inability to communicate acted out and discharged… She's realized this and accepted the pattern… I know practically nothing about her life… That's what freedom means nowadays… Keep things separate, water-tight compartments, don't say anything, never admit and above all never complain, just engineer a change of scene… As many different scenes as possible, never get in too deep, here today and gone tomorrow… That's what I like about New York. The way you can change sets whenever you like, the flexibility of space, the distances… You raise your arm, hail a taxi, it's dusk, anywhere else is the center too… Whereas in Paris… Two or three lively focal points, and the rest periphery… Eyes everywhere, as bad as the provinces… A kind of brake on everything, psychological dissuasion…      Not many people here who lead what can really be called a life…  An existence, yes…        But it's not the same thing…

Cyd has a lot of humor but she's also violent… She likes play-acting …The kind that helps you come… Useful artifice… Magic, an ironical geisha, year two thousand style… Black stockings, garters, no panties, whispered preliminaries, intermittent obscenities… The retro manner… I must work out a theory of whispering one of these days, write a thesis, send it to my academic friends—I'll tell you who they are in due course… Casual, vague areas, staccato language, anything goes. Silly, old-fashioned beating about the bush, but exciting, in the end exciting… Don't you agree, hypocrite lecteur, lucid readeress? … Look at the audience in porno movie houses… Men on their own, embarrassed, gauche, obsessed… A few couples… If there's a foursome they laugh… They have to… As if to say there's nothing going on where they are, no one need come and stick their nose in, it's just a lark, the whole thing's ridiculous… Modern repression… In reverse… The women make them joke about it, while the image staring them blatantly in the face produces its subterranean effect… They don't stay very long, and when they go out they're pensive, stooping… Sometimes I look at a couple… She's gone to sleep with her head on his shoulder… He follows it all like a diligent schoolboy… She goes on sleeping…  Typical of this day and age! It doesn't concern her…  She just waits for it to be over… For her chap to have had his fill of cunts, thighs, asses, pricks and balls, from in front and from behind, of mouths outlined clearly against penises, sperm spurting over backsides or breasts… The actors have got some nerve… So earnest it only adds to the general despair… Every so often there's a peculiar, childish gleam somewhere… But never anything really out of the way… Nothing ever goes wrong… It bowls along like a puppet show, like clockwork, pictures on the one hand, sound track on the other… If it was real, that's to say happening in everyday life, it would be banned… Naturally… Cynicism and naiveté, the two main factors in everything now… Realism and foolishness… Abolition of death, intensive gynecologism… With the male in the middle of the maelstrom like a sort of circus animal… Either at work or sitting up and begging… Sometimes it's the other kind of sex: homosex… Murky writhings, gleaming queers… It comes to the same thing…

I look at Cyd in the dark. She's naked now, wearing only her shoes… Beautiful like that, fair but brown from her last trip to the south of France… She kneels down and sucks me off… At length… We become part of the universal movement… In the swing I know what interests her—the mental instant, abstract domination by the within, the ritual of silent possession, yoga through concentration… Seeing if I can hold out, and how… That's what excites her… I lie down on the divan… She goes on going down on me… I can hear her now, the first time she said: "Do you want me to suck you off, you bastard?" … In a taxi at night on Park Avenue… There'd been some footsy during dinner, and I'd just kissed her, more or less out of politeness… And now here, at her place, in Paris… She's never minced her words… A language that isn't her own, that doesn't matter… These Englishwomen… Words like blows… Free for all… Transparent missiles… Sudden crudeness… I think I know the story she's telling herself… About a vampire, the switchback of death… The word "suck," louder… Why is she like this with me? I mean why doesn't she ask anything in return? Every time I expect her to name her price… Even indirectly… A word to someone here or there, some favor or other, a request for closer intimacy, the usual thing… But no, nothing… Everything remains smooth, frantic, enthusiastic, as if only the moment mattered… Even if it was only once or twice… As a matter of form… But no… It's free of charge… Unless she regards it as a long-term investment… I let her play… She must be as bored as I am in the ordinary way… Hence the scientific side of our meetings… She'll get pleasure from making me have pleasure… She mounts me, twitching, trembling… Straddles me, shudders running through her… Kundalini, the Indian books call it. I can feel the very snake of her sinews, from its coils to its head, and chromodynamically back again. Quantum chromodynamics, the physics of today, and of tomorrow… The varied resistance of the bedrock, matter vaporized and so more strong… With motionless catastrophes! … All the colors of the rainbow… Anticolors! A whole spectrum to experience… Cortex, spinal cord, the search for counterwaves… We're in the antiworld world now… And Cyd there dancing on the drifting raft. She comes down again, thrusts her mouth at me, tears at me… I'm starting to come… I let her come first… She eats me… Love… She devours me completely… Electrons, protons, neutrons, photons, leptons, muons, hadrons… And even the new ones, the gluons, which hold fibers together … She shakes substance by the scruff of its neck… A mane of atoms… As if she fed direct on the cogito… She murmurs as much… "It's your mind that excites me"… Her own invisible reconstructed image via my mind… She breathes me in entirely, collapses… She's lying down, sleeping, now… No conversation today? I get up and dress quietly. She utters an amiable little mmmmmm… I feel for the door in the dark… Am out on the cold stairs…



Philippe Sollers

Sollers - Femmes