A Serial Novel

A literary experiment in judicial philosophy and historical fiction, inter alia.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Chapter 12: Muse

When her footman brought Jean-Pierre’s poem to her, Celimene was crying into Floris’s much-lauded tits. “And none of the rest of them even cared that he died,” she cried. “They didn’t even lift their heads.”

This phrase came from a waking childhood nightmare—the train of her family bringing Jacques and Heloise home transformed into a herd of cattle, but intent, shuffling, like no earth-cattle did. The horror wasn’t that they were cows—those bulky beasts comforting as warm stone—but that whatever it was they were stepping on wasn’t dirt and dust and rock. Celimene could feel it, whatever it was, crunch beneath her foot-hooves. Her cattle family stared at it. Huffing their breath, they slid, and one fell, and not one lifted its head.

Floris was lifting Celimene’s perfect head and wiping her oft-sung eyes. (They were like almonds. Men wanted to eat them. “Dark angels wear halos in their eyes” wrote Jean-Pierre. It was even more beautiful in French.)

“Why do love your father so much?” Floris asked. She was always curious about this. It wasn’t that Floris couldn’t understand loving a father—she was fond her own, a sensible man who admired her and let her alone—but that she couldn’t understand loving anyone when it hurt to do so. She would stop. She admired people who didn’t stop and failed to comprehend them. Hence her delicate scorn and careful attention to Jean-Pierre and his endless, tortuous, poetic love for her—(her?) If he could write it all done, someday someone would understand. Not her, but someone. And what else was worth writing?

Celimene said, “Everyone who ever loved me disappeared. But at least he died first.” Her eyes were tragic. Floris, wanting to taste them, wiped them.

That was the moment the footman brought Jean-Pierre’s poem.

Floris, with her statuesque eyes, read over Celimene’s eternal shoulders. “Some of his better work,” she remarked.

Celimene blushed. No one had written her a poem to her before. At least not a poem they sent her. “Do I write one back? A poem?”

Floris with ravished with the idea. “Yes,” said Floris. “And I will deliver it.”


Jean-Pierre had imagined Floris coming to him so many times that in later years the difficulty wasn’t simply remembering what was real and what imagined, but what was imagined first and what after. He swore he remembered this: Floris rising out of her clothes like corn out of a husk, a piece of paper in her hand.

Later Jean-Pierre wanted to apologize for the « blond moon is a bitch » remark, but didn’t know how to bring it up. “Your hands—“ said Jean-Pierre.

“That’s the much anticipated alexandrine?” asked Floris.

“Your hands, your hands, your hands, your beautiful-on-your-tits hands.” Jean-Pierre laughed. Embarrassed, he quickly said, “You think you were right. But you’re not. Requiting my love hasn’t stolen the poems I would have written you. Another—more worthy—has claimed her own.”

“Of course,” said Floris, “you have fallen in love with my immensely lovable friend, Celimene.” She had thought Jean-Pierre understood why they could have good fun with each other now.

“Of course,” Jean-Pierre said—He hadn’t meant... he trailed off. “Her name is Celimene?”

“It is, and I have brought her reply, and you have thrown it on the floor.”

“Why are you laughing?”

“Not at you,” she said.

“I will read her answer in the morning.” He felt himself unexpectedly at sea. “She made me love her very quickly.” Silence again, “She is beautiful, isn’t she?” he asked.

“Yes, very,” said Floris.

Jean-Pierre sighed. He sleepily sketched words on Floris’s belly. Floris blinked and, unexpectedly, wanted to cry.

Originally, she had decided to sleep with Jean-Pierre because he’d found a new muse, and Floris was as good a women as she had been a muse and not ungenerous. And then realization that by seducing Jean-Pierre she could continue to play the protective muse to unrequited love had delighted her. Unlike Jean-Pierre, she had read Celimene’s poem, and she knew that Celimene was a far better poet than Jean-Pierre would ever be.

Celimene didn’t write poetry about how everyone who ever loved her had disappeared; she didn’t have to. Floris could respect that. Celimene’s eyes rolled you along like wheels, but where they took you, they didn’t follow. Floris could respect that too. Celimene was touchy and intense and utterly defenseless. Floris didn't know how to deal with that.

Floris pulled Jean-Pierre’s hand lower down her belly. Between us we will break defenseless Celimene’s heart, she thought. She thought, So many poets and philosophes I know and that is the best phrase that I give this situation. She let the tears trickle into her mouth. Stop, she told herself. This is where you always stop. But this time, she wouldn’t.


Blogger Phoebe said...


When I read your last comment it got me thinking. First, I had totally forgotten about how you used to needle Dad like that. Second, maybe I pitched this story idea to you all wrong. I had framed it in terms of Dworkin but maybe it’s Husserl I really had in mind (I get all my boring philosophers mixed up. Just don’t try to bring in the “sexy” ones that the kids always rage over).

When he is trying to describe how phenomenology moves from description (which we all know is empirical and therefore non-philosophical) to essences (which as universal and fictional are worthy of philosophy) he introduces the importance of phantastic variation. Once an object has been described it is still not properly known until the philosopher has subjected it to as many imaginative variations as she can while keeping it essentially the same. I think that poets who take phenomenology seriously have often gone no further than description (I’d even put James Joyce and Marcel Proust here just to be controversial). Whereas the best novelists, Kundera certainly, and who knows maybe Philip Roth too, have gone to variation. So maybe the question is, are we good enough?

So I’m going to interpret what you’re saying about Jean-Pierre and Just (isn’t it really Celimene and Just though? Isn’t Jean-Pierre Heloise or maybe Ledoux?) as saying that you can’t know the essence of Just without knowing the essence of Jean-Pierre or the essence of Celimene. I hope that you’re right.

Now, that leads us to the strange conversation you recount in your comment, which I like to imagine as a dream that Justice had one night, even if it in fact resembles events that happened to you and me (were they events? I suppose they are now. You know that events only happen after the fact right?)

Do you remember the time “Irene” and I had too much to drink? (ok that’s not enough on its own). But surely you remember how one time it was the start of things between the two of you unraveling because no one can watch their tongue too carefully when they’re young and intoxicated with themselves.

I hope you’ll forgive me if I steal “Irene” and press her into the role of Juliette.

Because it occurs to me that we haven’t talked enough about her (Juliette or Irene.) And something about your last post made me wonder what they were up to.

9:39 PM  

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