by Jean-Paul Sartre
"Well, I talked to you about that in the café. I talked to you about it à propos of the big edition of Michelet's History, the one I had when I was little. It was a lot bigger than this one and the pages were livid, like the inside of a mushroom. When my father died, my Uncle Joseph got his hands on it and took away all the volumes. That was the day I called him a dirty pig and my mother whipped me and I jumped out the window."
"Yes, yes . . . you must have told me about that History of France. . . . Didn't you read it in the attic? You see, I remember. You see, you were unjust when you accused me of forgetting everything a little while ago."
"Be quiet. Yes, as you remember so well, I carried those enormous books to the attic. There were very few pictures in them, maybe three or four in each volume. But each one had a big page all to itself, and the other side of the page was blank. That had much more effect on me than the other pages where they'd arranged the test in two columns to save space. I had an extraordinary love for those pictures; I knew them all by heart, and whenever I read one of Michelet's books, I'd wait for them fifty pages in advance; it always seemed a miracle to find them again. And then there was something better: the scene they showed never had any relation to the text on the next page, you had to go looking for the event thirty pages farther on."
"I beg you, tell me about the perfect moments."
"I'm talking about privileged situations. They were the ones the pictures told about. I called them privileged, I told myself they must have been terribly important to be made the subject of such rare pictures. They had been chosen above all the others, do you understand: and yet there were many episodes which had a greater plastic value, others with a greater historical interest. For example, there were only three pictures for the whole sixteenth century: one for the death of Henri II, one for the assassination of the Duc de Guise and one for the entry of Henri IV into Paris. Then I imagined that there was something special about these events. The pictures confirmed the idea: the drawings were bad, the arms and legs were never too well attached to the bodies. But it was full of grandeur. When the Duc de Guise was assassinated, for example, the spectators showed their amazement and indignation by stretching out their hands and turning their faces away, like a chorus. And don't think they left out any pleasant details. You could see pages falling to the ground, little dogs running away, jesters sitting on the steps of the throne. But all these details were treated with so much grandeur and so much clumsiness that they were in perfect harmony with the rest of the picture: I don't think I've ever come across pictures that had such a strict unity.[...]"
September 09, 2001.
Updated: July 30, 2003: 11:51 a.m.