Sunday, February 05, 2006

“Monsieur Jarry?”

“On the third floor and a half,” answered the concierge.

The answer astonished me. But I climbed up to where Jarry lived—actually on the third floor and a half. The ceilings of the building had appeared wastefully high to the owner and he had doubled the number of stories by cutting them in half horizontally. This building, which is still standing, had therefore about fifteen floors; but since it rose no higher than the other buildings in the quarter, it amounted to merely the reduction of a skyscraper.

It turned out that Jarry’s place was filled with reductions. This half-floor room was the reduction of an apartment in which its occupant was quite comfortable standing up. But being taller than he, I had to stay in a stoop. The bed was the reduction of a bed; that is to say, a mere pallet. Jarry said that low beds were coming back into fashion. The writing table was the reduction of a table, for Jarry wrote flat on his stomach on the floor. The furniture was the reduction of furniture—there was only the bed. On the wall hung the reduction of a picture. It was a portrait [of Jarry by the Douanier Rousseau], most of which he had burned away, leaving only the head, which resembled a certain lithograph I know of Balzac. The library was the reduction of a library, and that is saying a lot for it. It was composed of a cheap edition of the Bibliothèque rose. On the mantel stood a large stone phallus, a gift from FĂ©licien Rops. Jarry kept this member, which was considerably larger than life size, always covered with a violet skullcap of velvet, ever since the day the exotic monolith had frightened a certain literary lady who was all out of breath from climbing three and a half floors and at a loss how to act in this unfurnished cell.

“Is that a cast?” the lady asked.

“No,” said Jarry. “It’s a reduction.” (Guillaume Apollinaire, Il y a.)

The ceiling of the room was so low that the top of even Jarry’s head brushed against it as he walked about, and he collected the flaky plaster like a severe case of dandruff. It was said that the only food that could be eaten conveniently in the place was flounder.
Roger Shattuck, The Banquet Years