from I, Caustic
by Mohammed Khaïr-Eddine
hey such whatsoever-so-much ricocheting from I the martyrized stranglulationist along with the mongrel dog-faced Father caustically forced out of its immune insect. We gorge ourselves tossing and turning men and tables Go Fuck You in Your Face Here in this restaurant I strap on some culottes and spectacles to reinforce my portrayal of lousy exuberance. We lost no step. We saw so well through the luminosity…The city is gutboil. Laughter and tears release a tiny bit more crocodile smiling inside a coffee cup it promises anyone coming across it a new form of teething or quite simply put the repeal of the articles of law conceived by His Adroit Majesty Awaits us patiently in the stables where our counterfeit money deploys itself against the agrarians’ gold virtually a show-off And he? Speaking to… Taunting who? Squashing. Soiling. Poisoning. Aggravating the other. I’ve killed him Gentlemen do you realize what That so and so wanted to do? No more no less make a mockery of me. So I took him by the throat. The work was done under-ground-elsewhere Not here Under the insurmountable umbral collusion with a ritualistically purifying jet-stream But I’m not forgetting I owe you my situation: What a nice little runabout this was.
Take me, Causticity. Crown my skull, Ink. I guzzle your quills. Circle the Madonna. Pfft-scape! The glory of the Father the untraceable gibberish-spitting Father. His speeches hammered to the point of my reign’s putrefaction. My move, Cyclops! Everyone into the chamber. No, let’s meet inside the operating theatre. Inside the other trance Oh what succulence! Take faith in my rifles and patrolmen. Don’t dismiss them: Take warning get out of my sight The harshness of termites attacking the exposed beams without even unscrewing my view without a second thought of my immanence however jovial Jubilant pink upon the never-ending whiteness Not even the rainy season! Not one seedling of corn! Not one diplomatic accord! Not one foreign exchange! Not one holding their feet to the fire! Men without a lyre you are forgiven! Enough suggestions Take my gold my shadow my harems and get the hell out! I am become the king transformed into a socialist. Now, enough!
* * *
The inked one does not concern us here. Only compost. Sprawling outward with neither constraint nor root. The type to die along the stairs of his publisher. Has neither woman nor good sense in sight stomping into the ground and frequently sawing right through. Yet another tongue trying his Atlas. Breaks slings and arrows yet smiles and casts his shadow. The inked one is snuffed out. Those who never made any headway outside his giant matchbox have been massacred. They’ve never established order outside a script struck out from the start, outside any communal sense save an associations of old scorpions But it was working its way gently through his boxspring. A sort of worm had already ascended the parquet flooring, climbed up the wall where the photo of his spitting-image was working out his deserted obsolescence.
* * *
This is his text:
black on grey alucite fungus moth the grammatical fist I won’t commune with My Father didn’t do much else than augment you inside his halos and his grease Your leopard latching on the double by the toe But I’ll endeavor to get out of my own way It will release such sunlight that neither bomb nor telegraphy will omit constraining the array I rattle my teeth out with. Over drinks he would sometimes come to hazard harsh retorts and commit petty crimes. It quickly became clear who’d maim who for a vodka! Without the least bit of shame. His typewriter did the work while he was sleeping. A thousand ants settled up his nodule. He hollowed out all of time in one single gesture. No longer daydreamed of screaming sands or the few harvesters who’d settle down a stud after having completely had it out—there were no clothes aside from a sack of hemp carefully sewn together then burned in place by the ends of cigars. In those times politics ran smoothly. Draping a caparison over all those who opened fire on a standing guard or an emaciated dog. Politics reeked of its sperm. The Moroccan Goumiers and Senegalese were scattered along the sidewalks, held their arms out to the passers-by as if to signify that their death wasn’t the same as those! But it was a trap, an indescribable lesson directed by the army whose duty it was to surround the city by ever-broader means. The cesspools also reeked of the passion of a god accused of high treason. There were winged sharks coming out every ten minutes. These monsters would reward me with revolver or rifle bullets whenever I wandered about in search of the paradise promised me on a bench at school. After each lesson, the instructor would draw the sovereign’s head out on the board. This was always his way of instructing us, but the only thing he did was sustain a pitiful myth in our immemorial blood, which he secretly knew, sooner or later, would be ejected. Near the school, a conspirator had been shot. The noise of the gunfire seemed nothing short of applause to me. Only later did I come to understand that it had been about the liberation of an entire world and not of a single people rolled around in its secular complexes, wrists tied, twisted, more and more strenuously bewildered, and offering its backside to police batons, woven chicote whips, switches, and other means of persuasion! There was no room left in this eye of mine which, as if into a vat of sulfuric acid, had melted like a body without skeleton. Love was unknown to me! But necessary to find a new skeleton for this costly populace.
* * *
At the end of the workday, I’d go home. I’d plop myself down in front of an old typewriter that I called The Hurricane and start typing. I composed my texts without thinking; I was of the understanding that plans, notes, and other criteria necessary to the development of a novel were of no use to me. I was writing my way through the dark. Yet I have to say that the books first took form in my brain before being thrown onto paper. I wrote with such speed that my own hand, having hold of the pen, was incapable of keeping up with me. More often than not, I would spin out an epic poem that would do it. One day, however, I must have struck a good vein. I found myself totally bereft of productivity. I wouldn’t put my mind to anything, much less myself. Perhaps that’s where the true creation begins. I had left crybaby sentimentalism behind me along with reminiscences of all sorts. Mallarmé had found himself in need of fording something all too similar. And yet how he droned on! But throwing the dice rescued him. At that time, I had already rejected all form, broken the normal metric, including that of vers libre. I listened only to the jerky rhythm of things. A creaky door could inspire me all the same as a man emerging from a particularly dangerous venture. But I loved only the noise of The Hurricane. It seemed to me that each of its flailings deformed the word over the course of its impression as if it were the result of igneous fusion. I no longer had anything to say. I listened. But the day came when I spit out a true vein of gold: I’d ejaculated a text different than anything I had written up to then: a racket of machine-gun fire followed by a rise of stifled howls. It was by way of this text I understood that I would have to commit myself once and for all to the path of the guerrilla linguistic! But I became completely closed off to others. I didn’t even go into the office anymore. I had sent a three-month medical certificate to my supervisor: an extraordinary sort of man. Go take a stroll through the neighborhood, he’d tell me whenever I was feeling down and out. To tell the truth, I must still be a sort of friend to him, but we can’t see each other ever again. He had understood from very early on that my sole employment would be to write without stopping, You should be fastened to a table with a typewriter and paper. You’re an author! He knew perfectly well that my book would be endless, that I would be consumed from the outset, Manure for desolate consciences, there’s your book. No way you’re gonna leave the stable before the manure reeks its way through. He took my blood for a vast, inexhaustible stable, forever condemned to be filled for as long as I was willing to empty it. I’d often tear myself apart. I loathed my origin, my parents, the world. I would settle under the sun, in front of the window in my room, sometimes even undressing myself, spreading out across the sill like a lizard lapping at the sunlight. I had come to reject my relatives, my friends. The landlady would bring them to my door to no avail.
* * *
The Amazigh feel a kinship with madmen and genies. They suffer the world and its twists and turns, but they admit any sort of life, any alteration, and they adapt themselves to it with ease. They have the truth affixed to their foreheads and they modify their lifestyles according to their taste, handing it over to the printer and waiting around for its publication. They’re never interpreted right, save the disgust some of them incite, so inevitably they reject what comes back because it twists their ankles and takes them nowhere in their ridiculous journey! But they never revel in defeat…
* * *
A whole people is annihilated in the drool of a king who blubbers about and opens fire, without drawing anyone else’s fire upon their brethren. The king shuts down their internal work and progress but he uses both to his and his benevolent defenders’ advantage. He doesn’t observe Ramadan yet he commands others to do so. Along with those who spend their days losing their voice, their strength and their power. They’re so afflicted by aphasia that they’re propelled into ecstasy before the pestilence of his throat’s pouring out its sporadic nonsense. He no longer exists for them because they’ve submitted themselves to a bitter and grotesque fear. The fear of embers transcribed and commented upon a thousand times by theologians who’ve long dismissed the Arab tongue. Yes, if the Arabs haven’t illuminated their prepared-or-plagiarized-but-nowhere-to-be-found-God in the vapors of an auriferous world they’ve directed for so long; if they’ve come to believe the religion they’ve been served like the remains of a bloody feast, no more than a literary and metaphysical miscellany, yes, the Arabs will have pardoned God the Non-Existent along with their anchorite-sword-of-a-beard! I was above all taught fear, I was transfixed by it. Fear everywhere. In the home, in any encounters; fear, disguised in the silhouette barreling down every angle of the street: the intersection of the abyss! The whatever fear. I made this fear my own after I became determined to dismember the god who’d dispersed it amongst infantile brains. Now I’m an unbounded rage. I say to myself, Strike out if you no longer have anything left to fear. That’s exactly what everyone who has nothing to look forward to or back upon but the image of a police baton raised against the world must do! I’ve put death in charge. Death who stumbles around and souses itself in the eye of fear. I whipped it up, swallowed it, spat it back out! It was no ordinary rot. It grew stagnant and remained fear in so far as it could’ve consisted of something more appalling than it was. My vomit, reddened by the torrid anguish and premeditated crimes of my digestion, transcribed the fear through my eye which hurtled toward them like a fly to shit.
FEAR ME, I AM YOUR FATHER!
FEAR GOD! In short,
That’s what made my life so difficult to grow accustomed to. I’m never free of it. This fear is the tissue of my nights. It creeps up my body and nestles into my cerebral membrane. It hammers its way into my skull and disappears through my hair, only to immediately spring back before my eyes, static, grotesque, and cruel.
THE KING, THAT’S WHAT YOU CALL THE FEAR OF REMAINING THROUGH THE CENTURIES WITHOUT BEING CONSCIOUS OF ONE ANOTHER, OF REJECTING THE NAMES OF SCALPED CHILDHOODS FOR A CLOUD OF DUST.
Jake Syersak is the author of Mantic Compost (Trembling Pillow Press, 2020) and Yield Architecture (Burnside Review Press, 2018). Two of his full-length translations of Mohammed Khaïr-Eddine’s work are forthcoming in the coming year: the poetry collection Proximal Morocco— and the hybrid novel Agadir, co-translated with Pierre Joris. He edits Cloud Rodeo, an online poetry journal, and co-edits the micro-press Radioactive Cloud.
Mohammed Khaïr-Eddine was born in 1941 in Tafraout, Morocco. Widely regarded as one of the most influential avant-garde intellectuals and writers of the Maghreb region of Northern Africa, he is especially renowned for his “guerrilla linguistic,” an incendiary, Surrealist-inspired literary style which critically and iconoclastically engages the cultural and political hegemony of postcolonial Moroccan society. A vocal critic of King Hassan II, Khaïr-Eddine was forced into exile in 1965 for his radical political views. Alongside Abdellatif Laâbi and Mostafa Nissabouri, he helped found the avant-garde journal of Francophone/Arab art and culture, Souffles-Anfas. He eventually returned to Morocco in 1979 and died in Rabat, the capital, in 1995. A prolific writer, he authored numerous novels, essays, and collections of poetry.
I, Caustic is one of Mohammed Khaïr-Eddine’s earliest and most ambitious works. Part poetry, part ars poetica, part memoir, part fiction, part manifesto, and part political theatre, the book sees Khaïr-Eddine applying his trademark polyvocal Surrealism at full capacity. The narrator in I, Caustic is nothing less than the avant-garde itself, the linguistic guerrilla, relentlessly ambushing the various genres and voices at its disposal—donning the vocal cords of political sovereigns, the religious order, members of the bourgeois infrastructure, class conspirators, friends, family, and ancestors alike—demonstrating that the only authority is that of the tongue, the “king transformed into a socialist.”
Photo of performance by artist Leif Holmstrand.