Helène Cixous (trans. Beverly Bie Brahic), Death Shall Be Dethroned: Los, A Chapter, the Journal, Polity, 2016
Reviewed by Maia Nichols
Effortlessly, as if not visible from afar or from behind, this book comes like the tide that rushes to wash over sand-plunked feet. Oscillating between the unanticipated and also the most recognizable. If you ask what it can do for you, it caters to what you didn't need, instead giving itself unapologetically and asking for nothing. Written with the sincerity that can only come from a place of having known loss, with no aim to bog down its wretched kernel, the book unfurls filling pages with the discretion and sincerity of the wise.
Fears are harvested as if from a garden and placed upon a table to be shared, like earth-drawn carrots bearing their stringy filaments and dirt film. In part this comes from Cixous' welcoming position, which plays in language and lightness to siphon through the depths of some deeper shatter that undergirds. Any secret seems never to appear wholly. The circling and effacing in the story, written over a span of time, mentions in passing, sporadically the "death-bolt" of a man, Los. He emerges intact, a man she loved, under the moniker Carlos, stretched across moments in the book.
Cixous writes about writing The-Book-I-Don't-Write. This tome is a relatable feat, reminiscent of Borges' "Library of Babel" where all the possible orderings of a 25-page book exist. The messiah seeks the book in this library that contains perfect index, like searching for one's relative ghost locked in a crypt on dusty shelves, a private elixir.
Yet here, Cixous is not starved from a pipe dream. A book from Los' collection, mixed into her bookcase in his absence, is fleetingly recast—"with the special status of a long-abandoned child, a foreigner to whom systemic carelessness has granted a never-once-verified residence permit. Its fate is as astonishing as that of Figaro: a character of exceptional power, who is everybody and nobody and who has spent an entire lifetime without anyone, himself least of all, wondering where he comes from and what he's doing there." (28)
Slipped in unnoticed, 'the eruption of ash', and an assortment of elisions depicts the death of her lover.
The book is a kind of Russian doll, laced with scenarios that are gifts to the reader. She collapses the influence of those that enter her life, her travels, her books, with speculations, part fable-fact, part diary-poem. The mischievous box locked away reappears in different guises. She calls upon the uncanny observer that is modest—just there, deep inside, and cordially pulls out a seat to this one in the reader.
Each rake-off written with unfathomable ease. Moments that settle deeper are those of the threat of loss, being suspected and accused. Tribunals for the haunted are healed by chance, and populated with darts of wit. Laughter shuffles in as a liberation in the present, to dispel the abandonment or lamentation being reenacted of days to come, or long passed deadpan... "In German "pince-sans-rire" is pince sans rire. My mother is in stitches. "Dann muss ich lachen," says Omi, my German grandmother." (32)
Cixous comes bearing light—like an agile carpenter with fifteen-foot long rods of birch beneath one arm—that bounces unwavering, fresh and well-postured, ever-ready to free up the most violent streets that share the same path. All with the incalculable decision to let laughter off its leash.
(I'd said: You, here?! At the corner of Rue Lhomond and Rue D'Ulm. For ever afterwards I avoided that damned spot. Where I had doubted.) (64)