Translated from the French by Joyce Nettles
While going out one day from Gallimard Publishing House in Paris , the philosopher Emil Cioran realizes he has forgotten his way back home. That is the starting point of this play, which accompanies the wandering of a great Romanian philosopher of French expression, starting with the moment he begins to lose his memory. A loss of memory which is the pretext for travelling throughout a century and a life, between the East and the West of Europe, mirroring an epoch, ours, which is also broken by the progressive loss of memory.
THE BLIND MAN with the telescope
THE WOMAN who makes crumbs
THE BLIND PROFESSOR of Philosopy (The Blind Man with the telescope?)
THE YOUNG MAN who wants to kill himself
THE YOUNG WOMAN with the little rabbit
THE DIRECTOR of the Department for Stateless Persons (The Blind Man with the telescope?)
THE YOUNG WOMAN who came out of the sea
THE WOMAN IN WHITE (The Woman who makes crumbs?)
YOUNG Emil CIORAN
Typically Parisian music played on a barrel organ. When the curtain rises, we see a photo projected on a huge screen upstage, showing Cioran, Eliade and Ionesco together, in Place Fürstenberg, Paris. The BLIND MAN WITH A TELESCOPE enters. He starts to set up his telescope on a tripod. The characters in the photo slowly fade and disappear leaving only the image of Place Fürstenberg. CIORAN enters
CIORAN - Monsieur?
THE BLIND MAN - Yes?
CIORAN - Excuse me, but are you the photographer?
THE BLIND MAN I’m sorry?
CIORAN - My name is Emil Cioran. Does that mean anything to you? I’ve got a meeting here, with two friends and a photographer. I just wondered if you’re the photographer.
THE BLIND MAN - No, not me.
CIORAN - Are you sure?
THE BLIND MAN - Monsieur, surely you can see I’m blind. How could I possibly be a photographer?
CIORAN - But you’ve got a tripod.
THE BLIND MAN - I know, but it’s for my telescope.
CIORAN - I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to bother you. But I’m afraid my memory seems to have deserted me. I know I’ve got a meeting here, but I don’t know what time it’s meant to be. I was told to come here for the photo. A photo for a publishing house. With two friends from my youth, my best friends, it would seem, but I can’t remember their names. And I can’t remember the name of the photographer, either. But this is Place Fürstenberg, isn’t it? I’m not going completely mad?
THE BLIND MAN - No, you’re not. This is Place Fürstenberg.
CIORAN - I can’t even remember who Fürstenberg was. I have a strong sense of déjà-vu: I think I’ve already lived through this moment, and had this meeting. Or perhaps I’m late? I just don’t know. I’m normally never late for anything. I’ve always been a great one for punctuality. Time is an illusion, I know, but punctuality is important.
THE BLIND MAN Would you like to have a look at the sky through my telescope? It’s not expensive. For just one franc, you can look for five minutes.
CIORAN - I’m sorry, but I’m not interested in the sky.
THE BLIND MAN Please try it. It’s a really good telescope. Things look really close, and you can see them in the most amazing detail. You can even see the craters on the moon.
CIORAN - Really, no. I think it would bring on one of my dizzy spells. I’m prone to them, you know.
THE BLIND MAN - I’ll let you have you a look for nothing, though it’s still a bit early, the sun hasn’t set yet. Do you know what time it actually is?
CIORAN - No, I’m sorry. The minute I remembered I’d promised to be here for this meeting, I had to leave in a hurry. I forgot to put on my watch, and even my hat.
THE BLIND MAN - There’s meant to be a full moon tonight. Has it begun to get dark yet, monsieur?
CIORAN - Yes, it’s just beginning to get dark.
THE BLIND MAN - And can you see any stars yet?
CIORAN - No, not yet. It’s actually rather cloudy this evening.
THE BLIND MAN - Does it look as if it’s going to rain?
CIORAN - I’ve no idea.
THE BLIND MAN - Usually, when it rains, I have to hurry back, otherwise the telescope would get damaged. And anyway, if it’s raining, nobody wants to look at the stars. Is it getting darker now, monsieur?
CIORAN - Yes, it is.
THE BLIND MAN - Can you see the moon?
CIORAN - No, I’m sorry. I can’t see anything. The sky looks absolutely empty.
THE BLIND MAN - No moon, no stars…that’s very strange.
CIORAN - Nothing. Nothing but a low blanket of cloud.
THE BLIND MAN - Oh, I’ve always known Place Fürstenberg wasn’t a good place for this. Even when there are lots of stars, you can’t see much from here. It’s too closed in. You can’t see enough sky. You’re squashed in by the roofs…..the roofs of Paris…..
On the screen are projected images of the Jardin de Luxembourg, with a blind man turning a barrel organ and a woman feeding the pigeons. Suddenly, the pigeons fly off. The image fades and slowly disappears, almost as if as a result of the pigeons’ flight. CIORAN enters and approaches the woman.
CIORAN - They’re completely stupid.
THE WOMAN - I’m sorry?
CIORAN - Just like all city birds.
THE WOMAN - Why?
CIORAN - It’s because they’ve lost their freedom.
THE WOMAN - But it doesn’t really matter.
CIORAN - They’re incapable of finding food for themselves.
THE WOMAN - That’s true. But it doesn’t matter.
CIORAN - Fortunately for them, you’re here every day to give them something to eat. They say it’s a calming thing to do.
THE WOMAN - (handing him a piece of bread) Here, would you like to give them some?
CIORAN - You’re not by any chance Mademoiselle Domnaru, are you?
THE WOMAN - No, why do you ask?
CIORAN - You remind me of someone I used to know, a long time ago. The Donmaru sisters, in Sibiu, in Transylvania.
THE WOMAN - I’m sorry, but I’m not Mademoiselle Domnaru.
CIORAN - But you have been coming here to feed the pigeons for several years.
THE WOMAN - Yes, I have.
CIORAN - Sometimes I ask myself if you really come for the pigeons.
THE WOMAN - No, I don’t come for the pigeons.
CIORAN - I’ve never dared speak to you before, but today…
THE WOMAN - I come because of you.
CIORAN - So, you’ve been stalking me for about ten years.
THE WOMAN - Forever, monsieur Cioran.
CIORAN - And those beautiful letters that I’ve received every week for ten years…
THE WOMAN - That was me as well.
CIORAN - So, you know where I live?
THE WOMAN - Yes, I do.
CIORAN - I only ask because something quite extraordinary happened to me this morning. I went to the Gallimard publishing house and, when I came out, I couldn’t remember how to find my way home.
THE WOMAN - I know.
CIORAN - How do you know?
THE WOMAN - I am your memory, Monsieur Cioran.
CIORAN - Well, and why not? But don’t you think it strange, Mademoiselle Memory, that I’d forgotten how to get to my own apartment?
THE WOMAN - You live at 21 rue de l'Odéon, Monsieur Cioran.
CIORAN - I’m afraid it doesn’t mean anything to me.
THE WOMAN - It’s a building with four floors and an attic. You live in two little rooms, right at the top.
CIORAN takes a key from his pocket.
CIORAN - And I suppose this is the key to my apartment.
THE WOMAN - I don’t know.
CIORAN - Last year, in October if I remember correctly, I went for a long walk by the sea, at Dieppe. The tide was out, and I walked for about four hours. All of a sudden, a woman came out of the sea, and asked me if I’d seen her bicycle. Was that you?
THE WOMAN doesn’t reply.
CIORAN - 21 rue de l'Odéon, you said?
THE WOMAN - Yes.
CIORAN - Right, thank you. I’ll be on my way. Can you tell me where it is?
THE WOMAN - You see that big building?
CIORAN - Yes.
THE WOMAN - That’s the Odéon Theatre. The rue de l’Odéon is right opposite.
CIORAN - It’s clear, Mademoiselle Memory, that I am beginning to lose you. But what’s strange is that I seem to be losing you pell-mell. Do you like this garden?
THE WOMAN - Not particularly.
CIORAN - But it is the Luxembourg Garden, isn’t it?
THE WOMAN - Yes.
CIORAN - Well, at least I remembered that. When I left the Gallimard office, I had no idea where I was meant to go. Just like an actor who suddenly forgets his next line, a really important line. I mean, can you imagine Richard the Third forgetting the line ‘My kingdom for a horse’?
THE WOMAN - My kingdom for a few crumbs.
CIORAN - Right, my kingdom for a few crumbs of my memory. Do you like this garden?
THE WOMAN - Not particularly.
CIORAN - Nor do I, even though it’s a world-famous garden. I don’t like it. But I do like to walk here and, out of pure spite, to think only truly banal thoughts: banal thoughts in the morning, banal thoughts in the evening; in this mythical garden, in the midst of tourists taking photographs and families strolling with their children. I have to admit that I sometimes feel like a murderer amongst all these people.
THE WOMAN - There’s not enough green. There aren’t enough lawns.
While they continue to speak, remaining motionless, they begin to sink gently into the ground. It’s as if they were being sucked in, though extremely slowly, by quicksand.
CIORAN - And when it rains, it becomes really unbearable. The earth turns into slime. I wonder if the mayor’s office would ever dare publish the true figures for all those people who’ve disappeared in the Luxembourg Garden on days when it rains.
THE WOMAN - They’d never do that. I’ve worked there. I know what they’re like.
CIORAN - 21 rue de l'Odéon, opposite the Odéon Theatre. I’ve been wandering around the garden for hours. I’m ashamed to say it, but I’m rather hungry. (Pause) Do you know something? You, with your daily visits here to feed the pigeons, you are clearer in my memory than the place where I live. It does me good to talk to you like this. I can talk to you, because I don’t know you. I’ve never said any of this to anyone before.
THE WOMAN (takes out another piece of bread) Would you like a piece of bread?
CIORAN - Yes, thank you.
THE WOMAN - It’s a bit dry.
CIORAN - It’s funny that the pigeons aren’t here. You’ve got lots of bread for them, but they’re not here.
THE WOMAN - They’ll come.
They continue to be gently swallowed up by the earth.
CIORAN - But you have to admit that these city birds get stupider by the day.
THE WOMAN - They do. That’s why I bring them these crumbs.
CIORAN - I think that city birds fly less than country birds. It’s as if the very fact that they’ve got wings makes them tired. Maybe it’s the same with human beings. Maybe they started out that way. Perhaps there was, at the very beginning of time, a species that was completely free, and knew how to fly. But then certain individuals in this species became more and more lumpen, more and more lazy, more and more just plain stupid. They worked out how to get rid of their wings, and came down to earth. And that’s how Man was born. (Pause as he nibbles on the bread) What department did you work in when you worked for the mayor’s office?
THE WOMAN - The Department for Stateless Persons.
CIORAN - And who exactly are you?
THE WOMAN - I’ve already told you, monsieur Cioran. I am your memory.
The earth has now swallowed them almost completely and we can see only their heads.
CIORAN - Well, why not, if that’s what you think? Maybe it’s not such a bad thing: you’re my memory, that’s completely normal, but…What was I going to ask you? Why do you make all those crumbs?
Le théâtre est peuplé de personnages qui ont proféré des paroles philosophiques. On ne s'étonnera donc pas de voir le philosophe accéder au rang de personnage. Mais si les propos de Vladimir et Estragon peuvent devenir philosophiques, c'est qu'ils sont avant tout théâtraux. (...) Inversement, si le philosophe apparaît sur le scène pour y discourir comme dans ses livres, on assistera - au mieux - à une conférence. On ne peut donc être que circonspect devant l'entreprise de "théâtrification" de Cioran par Matéi Visniec... En incluant dans le titre le nom du philosophe, l’auteur annonce la couleur. Certes, le sous-titre imagé à rallonge, dont Matéi Visniec a le secret, tente de corriger le tir, mais trop tard : c’est dit ! Le personnage principal s’appelle donc Cioran – et pas emil C., par exemple – et ses propos sont truffés de références à la pensée, voie à la vie du philosophe. Il n’y a donc aucun doute possible. Cioran est la matière première de cette pièce d’un auteur jusque-là porté sur l’allégorie et le fantastique grotesque que sur la biographie ou sur la philosophie…
(Emil Lansman, éditeur)
Avec des accents burlesques, surréalistes et satiriques, la pièce s’empare du texte que l’auteur Matéi Visniec a écrit sur Emil Cioran, philosophe français d’origine roumaine, atteint, à la fin de sa vie, de la maladie d’Alzheimer. Si les connaisseurs de son oeuvre identifieront vite les sources «cioraniennes» de certaines répliques et les idées de ce grand philosophe, c’est cependant avant tout de cette mémoire qui s’effiloche que la pièce veut traiter. Evoluant parmi des personnages loufoques, dans un monde touchant et onirique, le philosophe apparaît en effet de façon décalée, à travers les réponses tragi-comiques apportées à un étudiant fantaisiste. Petit homme égaré, objet de l’attention des autres et pourtant enfermé dans une grande solitude, le personnage Cioran apparaît tour à tour d’une lucidité désabusée et d’un pessimisme jovial. L’humain frappé d’amnésie n’est-il pas plus heureux et libre que l’intellectuel en proie à l’incertitude ? Cette pièce légère et enjouée traite un sujet de société complexe en théâtralisant, à un rythme effréné, une tranche de vie de ce personnage lunaire. Faisant preuve d’une remarquable inventivité scénique - écran géant, sol en vinyle reflétant le jeu des comédiens, scènes de pantomimes - née en partie des improvisations de la troupe roumano-franco-luxembourgeoise, Radu Afrim met au devant de la scène avec un humour rare et une joie insoupçonnée ce philosophe du désespoir, fâché avec l’humanité.
(Production D’Un acteur à l’Autre, Théâtre du Château, Ville d’Eu, avril 2010)
National Theater, Cluj, Romania, 2004, directed by Radu Afrim
Company PapierThéâtre, Charleville-Mézières, France 2010, directed by Alain Lecucq
English (translation Joyce Nettles)
Bulgarian (translation Ivan Radev)
Czech (translation Jiri Nasinec)
German (translation Christina Weber)
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