Catching Darkness by Nicole Brossard


“The dark suspends everything. There is nothing that can, in the dark, become true.” Alessandro Barrico

I often look at the time on my watch. There, in the dial’s deep luminous reaches, I happen upon the reflection of my eyes. Yesterday something slid into my thoughts that has changed the course of time in such a way that I, for a reason that remains unknown to me, want to write a book, slowly, in a language that is not my own. A way of avoiding shortcuts in my mother tongue, or perhaps also of taking flight. Like a stranger, I want to plunge into the landscape of a provisional world where meaning repels meaning along the steps of my path. I also write this book so as not to be gentle and to see the horizon approach in flames.

I am everywhere that I am. I am here to understand and to elude. I have posed a distance between my mother tongue and reality. I courageously try to imagine how pleasures and joys, fears and frights construct themselves in an unfamiliar language. I try above all to understand how, with a vertical body, it is possible to impale reality at the same speed as fiction. Then I let that gentle, ever gentle immensity heave its blue of Nordic melancholy onto my shoulders, without collapsing.

Around me the vast kingdom of time-flown-by forces me to coexist with words unknown and so harsh that I hesitate to articulate them; to speak that which one shelters, is to devour cold the narrative of our sincere lives.

I constantly strain to cast life, luminous and fascinating bait, before me, then I rest still for days, amidst words and tombs of high night. This forces me, this urgent, vertiginous time, to listen to what I call a maelstrom of dizziness grammar as a bottomless pit. That’s the way it is.

I will do what I must to understand, yet I will have to simplify down to the bone, to flaunt the darkness, embrace it, carve open its soul, in broad daylight, if I must.

Many before me have chosen to write in a language other than the one given to them in childhood. Each held by the wind, suspended above a fecund void, neither distanced nor returned to the land of the young child, vivid, vital, thirsting to name everything. The world is always ready to dress itself in our joys and our wounds to adorn its surroundings. This world is perhaps nameless, unwritten, just swallowed along the reel of time by a finite number of dawns and twilights parched of languor and reason.

The years have gone by and never have I felt the sombre settle into my day-to-day acts. Nothing in the depths of my thoughts suggested a darkening that was not isolated and minor. Then one day, scarcely visible in the landscape, a small mark of something nascent in the form of an amoeba, a dimming of the houses, the trees, of passers-by, women and their children. A feeling of threat and tenderness reunited, as when compiling a biography, or if holding the hand of someone you don’t know. There is a blackness on the horizon, a surface that does not reflect light, a lifeless surface that flies out from the expanse into the volume of life as precious as the arms of a child, as the leaves of tall crimped trees, as the turquoise surface of the water at the foot of glaciers. In my language I have exhausted the vocabulary that would have permitted me to name this intriguing black that approaches: raven, raptor, feline, black of volcanic sand, of marble, of ink and soot, of leather, of cassock, of niqab, chador and of charred corpse. Now I am in need of other words for this darkness, born of nature and civilisation, which draws nearer.

I do still, when travelling, dream, but with smaller and smaller images, difficult to stake out, like miniatures composed of an incalculable number of unreadable letters, assembled on a flimsy surface as if a world were on the point of wiping itself out, but a world whose disappearance is unthinkable.

I am everywhere that I am. Today, a lot of words take flame in my dreams that do not relieve me from my mother tongue, nor from the other that is already at work, I know, to transform my thoughts, to make me more sombre than I am.

Something silent passes through me when I imagine the foreign language. Like that day when I arranged to meet a girlfriend in a restaurant where the meal was served and eaten in utter darkness. Closing ones’ eyes or opening them made no difference. Each of our words, each of our gestures drowned in an opaque and nameless black that I qualified all the same as friendly as this black staged a new invention of space apt to renew the familiar reference points. A black that held no terror, it was part of a universe that had until now eluded my sensory experience. As with everyone, I had become accustomed to the half-light of cities and believed it offered a joyful alternative to night. That day I had to learn to breathe deeply, to break down those little barriers of resistance which, habitually, shorten my breath and turn me into a creature puffing with longing and anguish.

No one searches for darkness, nor likes to see the weather shadow over. I know nothing of the black. It is here, sudden, like a feline that takes its place in daily superstitions. It is now up to me to go to it, to approach and probe its soul with the invisible part of mine that, since yesterday, has begun to take on a life in a foreign language.

‘Catching Darkness’ is an extract from La Capture du Sombre, by Nicole Brossard novel published 2007. Extract translated from the French by Olivia Heal.

This translation appeared in Chroma Journal, Summer 2007.


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