:: Article

‘And now we are no longer slaves’: notes on Eden Eden Eden at fifty

By Scott McCulloch.

Pierre Guyotat’s Eden Eden Eden (1970) is a modern epic. Published fifty years ago, it was written by a thirty-year old author in the south of Paris over the course of six months. The book’s thematic preoccupations with slavery and prostitution, and how the two overlap through history and the present, continues to generate a delirious rupture across the space of literature. Having passed away on February 7 of this year at the age of eighty, Guyotat is unable to witness the anniversary of Eden Eden Eden’s half-century, yet the work’s monumental legacy still causes scandal, admiration, and tremors through what he described as the ‘Great Prostitutional Pandemic’ of our age.

One single unending sentence, Eden Eden Eden is a headlong dive into zones stricken with violence, degradation, and ecstasy. Liquids, solids, ethers and atoms build the text, constructing a primacy of sensation: hay, grease, oil, gas, ozone, date-sugar, dates, shit, saliva, camel-dung, mud, cologne, wine, resin, baby droppings, leather, tea, coral, juice, dust, saltpetre, perfume, bile, blood, gonacrine, spit, sweat, sand, urine, grains, pollen, mica, gypsum, soot, butter, cloves, sugar, paste, potash, burnt-food, insecticide, black gravy, fermenting bellies, milk spurting blue… are but some of the materials that litter the Algerian desert at war—a landscape that bleeds, sweats, mutates, and multiplies. As the corporeal is rendered material and vice-versa, moral, philosophical and political categories are suspended or evacuated to give way to a new Word, stripped of both representation and ideology. The debris of this imploded terrain is left to be consumed—masticated, ingested, defecated, ejaculated. This fixation on substances is pushed through the antechambers of sunstroke lust and into wider space: “boy, shaken by coughing-fit, stroking eyes warmed by fire filtered through stratosphere [ … ]  engorged glow of rosy fire bathing mouths, filtered through transparent membranes of torn lungs—of youth, bathing sweaty face” (pp.148-149). The stratosphere, chosen instead of the night sky, produces the gleam to see inside this boy in an eclipse of prostitution, into which we enter directly, time and time again, in an endless exchange of enslaved bodies. The carnal and the pornographic take figuration, revealing a nudity of Creation—a biological immediacy streams through the text—with conviction, yet without dogma.

This collision of forms, figures and organisms coalesce to enact a universe affirming itself. Sex becomes the equaliser of an onslaught of savage and sonorous frequencies. Figures fall into animality, adrenaline, majesty, warfare, abyss itself. A radical attack on literary systems, the ‘Saharan fiction’ of Eden Eden Eden brings forth a new writing, and therefore, a new reading. Unbound, the text becomes aural in its cadence, commanding to be read aloud, recited, chanted; sending the prose backwards, forwards—the flesh of war constantly recomposed. Eden Eden Eden is partly experienced as an ancient love song sung in the face of atrocity. Repetitions unfurl in odd lockstep: sexual clusters, members, glans, muscles, tendons, nerves scintillate in the pollution, and through the flow of nomads, shepherds, pimps, akli (serfs), male and female whores, etc.:

tropical curves radiating –, tipping, erectile mass, into western shadow ; akli’s raised rump, head curved back over cooled sand, gleaming pink in grey air ; boy’s foot quivering over cunt ; member retracting into curls ; all sweat, all blood, all juices, all shit imbibed by bodies of animals, humans, cooled in darkening wind, setting over epidermis, skin, flesh (p.168)

The akli (serf) becomes a catamite, humiliated with pure energy, providing the solar axis—the equator of the sexual act taking place. Desires are hustled, denuded, abased, purified, re-enacted. The book occurs on the edge of a desert, on the boundaries of the uninhabited, a place run on libidinal drive (labour, aberration, trade), where a compulsion to live sexually spreads and breaks down what remains of so-called civil society. The heat of the narrator’s subconscious pries open primal states as it bastardises the architecture of language. The permutations Guyotat performed on the written word, or any of his given matière écrite (written materials), are committed to the exchange of Figures and their geographical formations in language. This is achieved without judgment or neutrality.

Following our central prostitute boy, Wazzag, we are overcome by the vastness of this world through each inch of his body, which in turn blends into a labyrinth of vessels—human, animal, material, spectral, ephemeral—accumulating to what could be a single organism. The text travels its way in through orifices and neurons, making the reader participate in this continuous and inexhaustible sex act. Polyphony is continuously heard throughout the book: multiple accents and voices babble, cry, yelp, scream, chant, and rave through their matrix of emancipation. (Guyotat once said how he listened to the acapella morass of Karlheinz Stockhausen’s Stimmung (1968) while writing Eden Eden Eden). The soil and sand of the text clog the reader’s pores, as it does in Wazzag’s, one of our principle conduits, both hero and anti-hero, plunging us into states of psychic warfare. Impassivity vanishes along with mechanical time. Wazzag is both a figure in antiquity, as well as a modern rebel, wresting away for ‘the golden space’ (Sollers) lying beneath any given reality. Wazzag embodies these sonorities as though notated as music, on bare pages rather than the staffs of a score, as uninterrupted lines of lettering that would suit being carved into rock as petroglyphs, or on the mud walls of the cell in the ground where Guyotat was imprisoned for two months for inciting desertion within his battalion during his time as a soldier in the Algerian war.

The ruthless sensitivity of Eden Eden Eden draws on the Classical as much as it does with (and beyond) the avant-garde. As philosopher Raymond Brassier once described: “he forces the reader to participate in the experience that he is inscribing. Clearly the precedent is epic poetry. I think the emotion suffuses every single word.” The apparitions of Venus towards the end of the book are a telling example of the well-honed abstractions we enter. The desert and the dunes are met with archetypical and mythical proportions of fertility, within a samsara of economy, in circular gravitation. The unending close of “vortex veering back to Venus” (p.181), as well as the title of the book itself, impels a cyclical narration. As Venus is reincarnated, spun, veering, throbbing, vortexed, prostituted across the topography of Eden Eden Eden, she foregrounds the war in amber orbit, incandescent, her presence neither metaphorical nor symbolic. By importing the goddess into the brothel of this text, we are opened to a divine continuum, one that multiplies the irrepressible movement of the unconscious through Time, and it is through such an amassment that as readers we bear witness to the vast machinery that imagines Eden Eden Eden into being.

“We make art not to prove to ourselves that we exist,” Guyotat conveys in an interview with one of his translators, Noura Wedell, “but in order to place ourselves on the border of the circle of being. It is a circle into which we can fall, as if into nothingness. I’m interested in being and in the circle.” Guyotat perceived himself as a vehicle through which words flowed, rather than their embodied author. Even though Eden Eden Eden is not an autobiographical work (except, perhaps, metaphysically), much personal struggle and anguish fed its composition, and the author’s oeuvre as a whole, yet without ever being remotely lugubrious. Eden Eden Eden’s transformative use of language, the metamorphosis of its motifs, its sentient hallucination across the nexus of the sacred and the cruel, lacerates time immemorial.

Contrary to the often-times merciless figures who populate many of his books, Guyotat was known as a sensitive and caring man, who exerted a gentle orator’s sense of story—shifting between history, classical music, painting, landscapes. Similarly, Eden Eden Eden, cuts into the past and into the future, for another fifty years, and beyond.

An artist whose heart encompassed the outermost lengths of the deep and who, up until early this year, was arguably one of the boldest living writers of our times, now rests alongside his Figures within the circle of his singular jurisdiction. An irreplaceable totem of literary power, Guyotat’s Tamasheq-language epigraph that opens Eden Eden Eden persists to inscribe:

– ‘And now we are no longer slaves’

Guyotat, P 1970, Eden Eden Eden, trans. Graham Fox (1995), Creation Books, UK
Guyotat, P & Wedell, N 2014, ‘Pierre Guyotat by Noura Wedell’, BOMB Magazine, USA: https://bombmagazine.org/articles/pierre-guyotat/


Scott McCulloch‘s fiction and nonfiction has appeared in SoutherlyAustralian Book ReviewKYD, at the University of Paris Diderot, at the Writers’ House of Georgia, and elsewhere. He was a recipient of a Marten Bequest for Prose 2017-2019, put toward the development, field research, and realisation of his first novel, Basin. Based between the Caucasus and Ukraine since 2014, Scott is currently working on various writing and music projects.

First published in 3:AM Magazine: Wednesday, September 9th, 2020.