translated by Romain P.A. Delpeuch


We were hypocrites, we made light of her fears and her hopes, it was the most horrible drama, our mores required it from us and we did not dare challenge them head on, I deplore it, this spiritual assassination and I would have preferred euthanasia, I wish we had not misled the sick and that she died in her fashion in the beginnings of her throes, this is my only remorse. Poor Madam Mother, a victim of charity that did not save her from decline, we knocked her out with medicines her mind could not resist, she lived, alas! and what life, in comparison to which physical assassination is a mercy.


And what should we have done? Would Madam Mother have withstood the explanations we denied her? She would mention her old age and never her death, she would have preferred to grow old than to die in her beauty, this is not the turn of mind of a coquette, so she delighted in living and apparently, as a young woman, she reveled a great deal in Berlin between years 1925 and 1929, she had her share of joy and frivolity, this made her sober. She deemed me singularly tragic and without condemning me, she did not partake my pessimism, she admitted that every woman possesses resources that men cannot discern.


It seems to me that deep down Madam Mother was a tormented soul, she confided that, when young, she was afraid, but she had no less courage than alarms, the balance she had she gave it to herself, this was a personal victory. She was very prone to fainting and Mister Father, as an experimented man, flew to rescue the beauty. The number of times I saw Madam Mother in a swoon, I dare not conjecture it, when she came to her senses, it was from far away, she often felt like she was dying and if not for some assistance, no doubt this would have been the outcome. She was frail and her mainspring supported her even in her weaknesses.


Let these details be forgiven me, but they are said to be important: Madam Mother was AB and I am A, in my paternal family it is believed that group O prevailed. Poor Madam Mother was bound to suffer from the so-called humoral diseases and fated to die from malignant tumors, she deemed herself healthy and praised her temper, she was not healthy and I am not healthy, since she bore me for nine months, this makes me prone to the same accidents, she overcame her natural chaos, her admirable character was a defense system, I did not overcome mine, I will probably die from it.


She said she had the devil’s beauty and should one look at her closely, the admiration she first had raised would wane. Her charm tapped, it seems to me, into other sources I would not be able to trace back. She was a woman to the highest degree and when she came to her senses from a swoon, she would ask for her powders and blushers, so afraid she was of causing displeasure. She held fast to her discipline of coquetry unto the approach of death, for she knew the world does not care for one’s reasons about the spirit moving it with regard to women, who are unforgivable as soon as they do not seduce.


I know she was afraid, but as long as she lived, she appeared to me as bravery itself and I rested on a fortitude I saw in her, with which she armed herself to face her anxieties. She was order and she spread daylight, but these outwards after all were only an incessant work of reconquest over chaos and darkness: she was too clever not to feel the contradictions she was subject to. Peace to the poor tormented soul! She endured a lot, and now that she is dissolved, she rests at last and for the first time her sleep is dreamless.


Madam Mother, who always dreamt and whose sleep was a succession of dreams, those dreams she did not tell me, despite my insistence, in them more and more often she saw her own mother again, dead from cholera when she was five or six years old: this is the only confession I got from her. It is said such an omen is sinister and I presume the insensible progress of her illness informed the nature of her dreamlife, her depths warned her maybe, but she was afraid of dying and she closed her ear to them. Once bedridden, the drugs got the best of her head.


Madam Mother’s secret world, I surmise it now, was placed under the sign of fear, she was ashamed of her superstitions and she shielded them from me: every month she would invoke the moon while holding some gold in her hand, then she would force me to receive her blessings, she carefully closed wardrobes and when she sewed a button, I was not allowed to keep quiet, she valued amulets, she would undertake conjurations and she feared the evil eye, but to her credit let us admit that she grew less superstitious as she was aging, unless she put more artifice into hiding it.


Her character seems all the more admirable to me for this and her best trait was a lucid and coherent reason. Madam Mother and I would argue as philosophers, and we could remain silent together, guessing each other, understanding each other, agreeing on many a matter and almost never fighting. She had a natural politeness, doubled with an exquisite reserve, members of both our families reproached it to her for she kept people at bay and offering them no grip, they accused her of pride and they knew it was not quite that, but the very effect of her precellence.


Madam Mother we incinerate today, there are two of us to accompany her to the oven. Mister Father and myself. Here we are at the place, the oven is of an excellent style, the surrounding galleries invite to meditation, for the first time since I do not know how many days the sun pierces the clouds down and warms us after weeks of wind, rain and cold. The people—who never lives—imagines the dead more alive than the living that it judges unreal, therefore the cult of remembrance is people. Fui, non sum, non curo, such is my motto, we must forget our dead.


We must forget our dead as dead, but we are allowed to follow their example and to perpetuate their works, as to the rest this is but play-acting. I wanted to keep Madam Mother’s ashes, the French laws prohibit it, they will be walled up into a small compartment, this is better than to let the body rot in the dirt and to go ridiculously lay flowers on her grave. I am the resurrection of the one who is no more, my work drags her from nothingness, behold she is become my daughter, no sadness subsists in me and Mister Father is no less serene than I am.


How simple it is to die! Death is a good thing, only the blind fear it and I envy Madam Mother, she has no problem left to solve, she would not be of my opinion, no doubt she would fain have died in her eighties, she whom everything rejoiced, despite her deep shaking, for she had more resources of happiness than me, dark and peaceful, calm and desperate. I who cannot recall dreaming four times a year and who at will plunge into total indifference, I would let myself be won over by the trifles the most reasonable woman sometimes gave into.


Madam Mother was often mischievous, all kindness and funny words and crazy ideas, living by her side was very pleasant, she chased boredom away, her beak dispelled a bad mood, she had spirit to pour out and, why not? causticity. The change of life worked in her in the softest way and earned her qualities of a new kind, it was from this moment on that she became a gentleman without losing her female virtues, all things considered she was only lacking a salon, she would have worked wonders in there, I admired her maturity much more than I valued her youth.


Our touchstone is maturity, when too many women belie themselves and when their shadow reveals itself: those mothers whom we praise, because they were fruitful, laborious and devout, when we see them up close, they have nothing to get you attached to them, they are poor, damaged beings that their stupidity saves from malice, with no charm, grace or light and I call them the ruins that order, morality and faith leave behind them. Madam Mother did not care about religion, she never practiced any, she dropped off her superstitions, in the years preceding her death she turned herself into a philosopher.


Madam Mother and I gladly affected to laugh at those women, who deemed themselves devout and cohabited nonetheless, always at fault and always forgiven: she had known her share of those, she called them floosies and called their husbands pleasant animals. The sight of a priest would greatly annoy her and at the Hospital fate sent one of those black men, ugly as sin, who took it into his head to besiege her door: she received this envoy from Heaven with majesty and did not yield on a single chapter, she armed herself with the remainders of her head and chilled the enthusiasm of this first comforter, and of two others who backed him up.


Madam Mother inspired me with the most absolute disgust for those more or less devout women, she was completely right and in my opinion all this is up-in-the-air fornication, more dishonest than the real thing. She died in her sleep, exhausted, and was incinerated without any kind of ceremony. She believed my words and I proved to her that should God exist peradventure, He cannot be personal, duration being the constitutive element of the person and eternal death the reward of all life. We love what is to die and we only love because we feel mortal and threatened.


God does not love us and is not an object of love, Mysticism in the end is but Narcissism and the personal God is only nonsense, the wretches’ need to be comforted proves the wretches’ debasement, not the evidence for the figures they suppose…the God of the philosophers is enough for me, I myself am a person and I don’t look for personhood outside of myself, I consent to my permanent death and the idea of salvation seems delirious to me, to be saved is to be raped metaphysically. Madam Mother preferred Classicism to any form of Messianism, she was saintly right.


Thus it was that Madam Mother was strongminded, it took me much effort however to uproot them, those few superstitions, that came from her childhood and about which she finally was embarrassed for good. Women are to be pitied, they feel threatened more than men, but since they reason less, they hardly can make sense of the dread that devours them, their fickleness is a support with which nature accommodates them, and this need to believe without discernment was never but the acknowledgment of their weakness. My Mother was only a woman and from the moment she suffered from being nothing more, she broke, as if by magic, from the state of her nature.


What makes me sad is not death, death is worth better than suffering and decay. Madam Mother did well to die; what grieves me is not the empty space she leaves behind and that my philosophy fills in; I only suffer from feeling that she had been ill, ill for years and that the lovely woman was stricken in the tree of her life, while no one suspected it and she herself did not know. At least I have nothing to reproach myself for, I was very subservient to her, she avowed I was so beyond measure and that she did not expect that much deference, she wanted me to resist her.


I was her eternal child, she felt sorry about it for me, but she enjoyed the tribute and would say she owed me, in her idle hours she blamed herself for her selfishness and sometimes she would feel guilty: “It is for myself alone that I brought you up, I did not think of me as a devouring mother, and I mutilated you, my poor child. You should be more wary of your mother, without meaning you harm I do not do you all the good that I would like to and it is of me that, in spite of myself, I think. Be a little more brutal, some ungratefulness would reassure me, in the end we are all dreadful egoists…”


She had suffered so much from being an orphan, she had wept for her mother so much that in a way she wanted to take her revenge on fortune and have only a single child so as to pamper him with an overdone fury. She disgusted me against all tendernesses by overwhelming me with her embraces and before half of my lifetime I would not be kissed by anyone, I am overfed till death with lovely proceedings, I am full with strokes, this is a strength and I am thankful to her, I will not go and beg for caresses, as so many ill-beloved men do, whom one shadow of a smile stirs up.


Here they are, the promenades in Paris, they have become as many places of pilgrimage to me. Madam Mother, there is no area where I do not find her again and my rapture joins with sadness, the City appears to me as a forest of signs, what I had lost everything reminds me of and gives it back to me by some sort of incessantly renewed miracle, some facade that I had never seen imposes upon my sight and requires my remembrance, I thought I was forgetting Madam Mother and her presence is more real than ever, the dead is more alive than she was during her lifetime. What a surprise! What an enrichment! And what a revelation for a skeptic!


Here, for the last time, I had goûter with Madam Mother, one week before the hemoptysis, at Smith’s tea-house, opposite the Musée du Jeu de Paume, after my last fitting at Old England, in late October. Madam Mother complained about a tiredness she attributed to the season, which was sultry, indeed. Madam Mother did not walk as much as she used to, and from the start of the autumn term, she would preferably take a seat on a bench, asking me to walk in large circles around her. At Smith’s, we recognized a waitress, who was from Rumpelmayer’s where we saw her in the year 1948.


At the Tuileries, with each step, memories fell upon my person and their confused mashup, where years followed the track of hours, filled me with a hubbub that suppressed my ability to think. Was it before the War? Was it after? And during what stay? Everything seemed to be overlapping, to the point that I could not unfold myself from it and I was feeling like I was ten and fifteen, thirty and forty at the same time. Oh! As to time, I had regained it, but I had lost myself so well that, in the absence of a subject capable of gathering them together, my treasures were melting like snow.


What does it prove? That I have a poetic head, these are the shortcomings of the system, the world is what it is and symbols are fantasies. Madam Mother had nothing unique and the universe contains plenty of lovely women and often unhappier, this is what my objectivity teaches me and I yield to its lessons. Should Madam Mother have perished younger, I would have been much more miserable and in a way I thank her that she literally accustomed me to her absence, her body’s decay makes my loss more tolerable and I thank her again that she lost consciousness before she died.


Madam Mother would tell me a lot of bad things about women, women—according to her—were monsters, they only thought about their own interest, they only chased man so as to live off him and never loved him as much as they claimed, in the end they remain strangers till death. When she herself looked awful, she would teach me her face and make me notice its flaws, then she would apply cosmetics scientifically and exhort me to consider the metamorphosis, this disillusion cooled me down toward her sex, this way she obtained what she had assigned to herself.


Madam Mother sometimes judged herself guilty of having disgusted me too well, I do not blame her for that, the older I get the less I suffer from my continence. She made a duty for me to remain a child and in order to console me on this, she would talk to me about my old age, that she wanted very long and very happy: she wished to see me by her side and sporting a white beard, the main thing being that I was not a man in the eyes of other women, of whom she felt jealous. She praised all mothers, she blamed all women, then she sometimes was astonished at my alienation from the seconds.


Life is nothing compared to our reasons for living. Madam Mother felt it, although she loved life. She was mistaken for an Englishwoman or a German, this made things easier, no one believed she was Jewish and the Jews were astonished to learn she was of their own, her capacity and her ease for socialness had no other source, and I made her notice it: “My poor Mother” I would say, “you are unaware of your good fortune and if you looked like such and such of my aunts, you would suffer what you cannot imagine, hatred and scorn would welcome you at each of your steps, your balance could not resist it and you would lose that standing of yours!”


I envied her somewhat, I wished I had resembled her and I managed to adjust myself to her, by adopting whatever style she had. Her dispositions, in spite of the strength and finesse they announced, were not able to express themselves freely and her talents, for lack of use, languished and went to waste. In order to realize her full potential, she would have needed to sacrifice Mister Father and myself, she lived under the bushel of the Scriptures, and such is the lot of many women, who die below their limits…what she would have deserved to become, however, walked in the shadow of her being and suavely communicated itself to us.


Madam Mother lives in me, I have no longer any reason to mourn her, she incarnated herself and I carry her in my bosom, she is my child, I believed at first that I was going to forget her. Vain presumption! No, Mister Father, she is not annihilated and you will find her again in me, dry your tears. We were reasonably happy, at least in the measure Jews can be, for they are not much so, when they reason and when they feel, their methodical optimism attests their fundamental abjection and if they build on hope, it is because present evades them and in their hands everything turns to dust.

About the Translator

Romain P. A. Delpeuch is the author of Hypnagogia (Terror House Press, 2023). He earned his MA in Philosophy (2015, Université de Reims Champagne-Ardenne) with a thesis on Albert Caraco, and he holds an MA in English Studies (2019, Université Bordeaux Montaigne). He lives in France.


For all installments from Post Mortem, click here.

Previous installments:

  1. Parts 1-30