Some Notes on the Belgian School of the Strange (2) by Edward Gauvin

Wed 1 Dec 2010 - Filed under: Not a Journal., , | Posted by: Gavin

Some  Notes on the Belgian School of the Strange (2) by Edward Gauvin (translator of Georges-Olivier Châteaureynaud’s A Life on Paper: Stories)

In Fernand Dumont’s Treatise on Fairies, a brief pamphlet of some twenty pages, we learn, among other things:

  1. A fairy never wears black, brown, red, or violet.
  2. A fairy has to speak but a word, and a fine dust—that of forgetfulness—falls over everything you’ve ever heard up to that moment.
  3. Only at that somber hour when despair rises on the horizon of reverie, that hour when certain people feel particularly burdened by the weight of an intolerable life—only at that very rare hour of lucidity can a fairy encounter occur.
  4. One would be wrong to believe oneself free to provoke a fairy with impunity, for a fairy’s character is a mirror—an enchanted mirror that reflects a hundredfold the image one brings to it.
  5. There is a fairy of syntax just as there is one of snow, one of chance, one of coincidence and encounters, one of freedom, one of scandal, and still another, of solitude.
  6. After searching for entire nights without knowing it, beyond sleep, beyond exhaustion, having traveled forests of lucid insomnia, you will reach a great deserted clearing where, holding your breath, your ear against the ground, you can hear the very heartbeat of silence. Then, as you rise, you will realize that you are surrounded by fairies.
  7. The power of fairies principally resides in what their intervention in your life lends it: a light, a color, and an intensity you seek elsewhere in vain.
  8. The color of a fairy’s eyes will always inform you precisely of its mood.
  9. Fairies can change how they look and take on almost any shape in less time than it takes to write these words, but dislike this tactic and resort to it only unwillingly.
  10. Although they can move at the speed of light, fairies do not abuse their vertiginous powers of velocity, and like poets, often prefer walking, even dawdling, in the placid evening and disappearing, down paths only they know, into the great depths of night.

The Treatise, written in 1940 and dedicated to his daughter Françoise, who was born the same year, consists of twenty numbered sections each devoted to some aspect of fairies—color, speech, smell, dwellings, character, bust size, customs, commerce, powers, irritability, invulnerability, invisibility, speed, longevity—beginning with observations, taking time to dispel widespread misconceptions, and often finishing with anecdotal evidence from personal encounters.

Belgian Surrealist Fernand Dumont was primarily a poet. André Breton, a close friend, so admired Dumont’s writing that he once said, “Sometimes I have the illusion that were we both given the beginning of a sentence, I would finish it much the same way as you.” In 1942, Dumont was 36 years old and living in occupied Belgium. He completed his masterpiece, the Dialectic of Chance in the Service of Desire, and published the Treatise on Fairies. On April 15, the German police arrested him in Mons. Three years later, he died in Bergen-Belsen.

Four books of poems were ascribed to his years in various prisons, of which two are lost. In the first, Freedom, he asks:

Where is she?
—At home.

What does she see?
—Our absence.

What is she saying?
—That it’s sad.

What is she waiting for?
—Our return.


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