The Pleasure of the Text
Hervé Guibert's unbridled eroticism
In a somber essay I wrote in 1989 and haven’t reread in twenty-five years, a piece whose heavyhearted title was “Speaking in the Shadow of AIDS,” I concluded: “The motive behind this brief inquiry into AIDS and language has been an attempt, perhaps immodest, to mold words into something stainless. AIDS has made me watch my speech, as if my words were a second, more easily monitored body, less liable than the first to the whimsy of a virus. . . . Bodies have always wanted only one thing, to be aimless: or so I say, knowing that bodies, and always, and aimless, are among the most seductive, and the most outdated, of the several rhetorics I must soon discard.” I still haven’t discarded those rhetorics. When I wrote these words, I hadn’t yet heard of Hervé Guibert, the French novelist, memoirist, critic, and photographer who would die of AIDS in 1991, at the age of thirty-six. I regret my ignorance. Now, after reading his posthumously published journals, finally translated into English by the esteemed Nathanaël and published by Nightboat Books (a press notable for having given us the collected poems of Tim Dlugos), Guibert’s lifework looms before me not merely as what Keats called (describing the Elgin Marbles) the “shadow of a magnitude,” but as the magnitude itself, sans shadow.
I might as well mention some impediments. I can’t write about Guibert without mentioning his beautiful face: His literary greatness is tied, Laocoön style, to his attractiveness. I can’t write about Guibert without noting the historical coincidence that he’s dead and I’m not: He was born only