Not All Priests Are On The Side Of The Good

First edition cover of Joris-Karl Huysmans’ Là-bas


After a childhood haunted by the Other Side, surrounded by a set of Rationalist cranks who refused to accept the possibility of interference. Reader, I know different now let’s call it The Occult. When confronted by Demons of whatever sort, best play it cool first avoid Angst. Not that’s there nothing to be afraid of. Believe me, there is. Lots. But what? Spells, maybe to start. I knew a priest who Sunday Mass in the West of Ireland cursed a whole poor, terrified family off the pulpit and, within a week, a house fire burned them all out except the father who was blinded. That’s 12 children and a mother. Ruthless and brutal. Ash. No forgiveness. No coincidence. Devils, they work with symbols and Not All Priests Are On The Side Of The Good.   

What of it? The Manichean in me sees how it all fits together. Two personalities, two ontologies in One. Deleuze called it Capitalist Schizophrenia and he wasn’t stupid or cowardly, although he did die by jumping from the 7th Floor. So, if there is some meaning you can find, better whisper it low then keep it secret. And try to survive. There were suggestions that Deleuze too had been visited in the middle of the night by a Stranger. The story fits. Guattari proclaimed pure innocence of course, as did Deleuze’s philosophical adversaries although it was notable Badiou had no reasonable alibi to hand.


How to respond? Well, think up the possibility of being able to kill or otherwise harm someone by casting spells on them. That heavy, gilt framed mirror crashed to the ground at the very spot. Also, the room and its elements are prone to a surrounded sense of invisible, not always silent forces. All evening an anxiousness with unpleasant tactile sensation abounds. There are those who practice Black Magic each day before supper and Eduoard Dubus, that young poet responsible for propelling the table round Berthe de Courrière’s apartment, is a paradigmatic example.  All my life I have been followed by voices, have joined Occultic circles. I am said to be extremely high-strung, naively credulous. But I can assure you of this; the Devil exists and the power He enjoyed in the Middle Ages has not been taken from him. Read St Augustine of Hippo’s voluminous writings and you will see this prophecy starkly enunciated, between the lines obliquely. In The City of God most especially, awaiting the Vandals, there is that fatalistic creeping Dread, Augustine almost ready to admit that the whole thing has been scripted from the beginning of the beginning. 


Take note of the rumour concerning Durtal, that modern anti-hero Counter-Enlightenment man. Was he agonized or alienated in any genuine way or was it just Angst employed as an occultic nay aesthetic ruse? Oh, I am so robbed of religion and plunged into decadence by the pressures of modern life, says Durtal oh so exhibitionistically, with his beloved, very own self-same Persecution Complex, but he fails to look into our eyes directly and has that furtive askance stare of a man with a secret agenda. As if he doesn’t mean it and perhaps never did. Could he really be faking it, dear reader? For the sake of literature, say. 

He has discovered a new Road to Rome. God’s Death, the hyperbolic death of the monotheistic one true Deity, is but a temporary disappointment for Durtal. A slight hiccup. Of course, this nonchalance of the bould Durtal draws down on him, on his very corporeal and mortal body, the moralistic wrath of the Catholic Church who convict our modern anti-hero of the obscene crime of obscenity. But, all things considered, isn’t it that precise denunciation and estrangement from the pathways of the Moral and Good Life, to become one of the Damned of the Earth, isn’t it that specific morbid fate which constitutes exactly our anti-hero Durtal’s most treasured Dream of Ultimate Exile? Woe upon woe, how can one such human, born amongst us fragile and weak beings, be both so vain and so admirable at the very same time? Paradox. Although a tendency to paradox was hardly the worst of his weaknesses, or of his strengths.

There is another story told that having conjured up this extraordinary figure in the languid afternoons of the French Civil Service bureau of the Ministry of the Interior, his disregarding author J.K. Huysmans had decided that this line of thought just wouldn’t cut it in the fin-de-Siècle aesthetic world and that he would have to go back to the writing board. Realising the dangers associated with meddling in this way with occultic characters, Huysmans had taken every precaution, from visiting a Witch Doctor to consulting his psychiatrist, as well as re-reading the memoirs of the infamous Gilles De Rais. Taking account of as much of this advice as was possible in the circumstances, our bold author resolved to burn the relevant pages of his extant manuscripts in a midnight pyre one October night, so as to finally banish this wretched cur of the imagination from the purviews of humanity. Not simply the passages where Durtal featured overtly but also any secondary suggestion of his involvement or even of his existence, and even finally any line of the extant text which seemed to carry in its direction the potential of leading to the emergence of such a villainous anti-hero, would have to be excommunicated and banned from utterance or from memory forthwith. Alas, the fateful October night was, as if by chance, one where the wind blew down from the North through the skies of Paris and before Huysmans could intervene, much of the pyre’s materials seemed to take off in a hallucinatory release of wild pages, which, as they rose in a concentric circle into the dark skies to depart this scene, appeared to mark out their very lines one by one, mocking their now distraught author, who could only dear reader, now fear the Absolute Worst.