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Alice Becker-Ho

3 fables taken from a selection of 10. Translated by John McHale (London, 2001)
"…life's a dream,
and dreams are dreams."

        Pedro Calderón de la Barca.

1. The Light and its Shadows.
2. All Flowers
3. Why
4. Luce In Broad Daylight
5. The Invisible Box
6. Lapis Mura
7. The O Tribe
8. Itt
9. The Mystery of the Trinity
10. The Crocodile

Alice Becker-Ho's "Au Pays du Sommeil Paradoxal" was published by Éditions Le Temps Qu'il Fait, Cognac, 2000.

1. The Light and Its Shadows.

  There once was a man who loved life, the world, and mankind.

  So that he might see them, draw near to them, and make their acquaintance, he decided to stride out at daybreak and meet them.

  But the more he advanced, the more the other people moved away from him, and the more his shadow grew.

  He said to himself that his shadow struck fear into others.

  But he realized too that the shadow was the price of the light, its tribute.

  So he carried on walking, and night fell.

  The shadow had vanished.

    He thought that he would cease to inspire fear in others, although he walked on alone.

    Everybody else had gone home, since night is an even greater shadow.

    Once indoors, they clustered round the one and only light remaining, the one they had invented.

     Less dazzling, less incandescent, it was also a flickering and fragile thing, but they found it reassuring.

     Then they noticed that it too threw shadows that collided with walls, masked faces, and transformed objects.

      The only thing left for them to do then was to go to bed.

       And they withdrew into that night of sleep, the one that stops the eyes from seeing.

        Those who had been so afraid of the light and its shadows slept reassured.

        Others dreamt.

        But did they dream of the light or its shadows?

        When they awoke, they were unable to say for sure.

         Some say there's a place for everyone in the sun.

         The Gypsies say that there's a place for everyone in the shadow.

         But most people don't know what to say or what to think.

         Either about shadow or about light.

5. The Invisible Box.

    Hidden away in his laboratory, a clever inventor had been indulging himself in a spot of robot-making. One day he came up with an absolute dream of a robot. So realistic was his creation that the only thing it seemed not to be was alive. Nothing however could have been further from the truth. There was absolutely no doubt that under the guise of an exquisite toy, a living, albeit perfect being had thus been created. The harmonious combination of beauty, grace and natural bearing with which its inventor had endowed it had a quite spellbinding effect on those who were fortunate enough to behold it.

    Its inventor's undeniable genius earnt him worldwide recognition, so much so that people the world over wished to acquaint themselves with this remarkable masterpiece. No longer was it enough merely to see, touch and feel it, there was now a very real desire to love it, with some people even wanting to possess it for themselves. There wasn't a country or the smallest museum that did not request that Walker-through-Walls (as it was called) be loaned to them.

    In order to protect his handiwork, our clever inventor decided to make a kind of invisible box which would shield it from the unwelcome advance - or simply the tainted breath? - of its innumerable admirers. Further mystery surrounded the exact nature of the materials that the ingenious artist used to make this box. It nevertheless proved to be undetectable to the public eye and the spell remained unbroken.

    Yet nobody saw or had the faintest suspicion about the imperceptible change that occurred in Walker-through-Walls's attitude. Only an informed observer - although in this case there were none - would have spotted the merest, very occasional hint at the slightest of changes. Walker-through-Walls himself was taking all this very badly. It was, without his being able fully to characterize it, like an incomprehensible blend of nuisance, uneasiness and irritation whose cause he was at a loss to explain. Whenever he came to try and fathom it, it appeared to be like the faint recollection of a memory come imperceptibly to disturb his senses and the space around him. Neither could his original purity turn to that notion of the unconscious so useful to so many others. It seemed to him shallower, closer, less out of reach, one might say less repressed, although when he really put his mind to it, seemingly more present, as though oppressive.

    Walker-through-Walls decided quite simply to ignore this absence of presence. He knew he would find the way to give back their grace and naturalness to new, less sweeping gestures; his voice would adapt to other harmonies in less extensive tones; his gaze would become imbued with less infinite visions.

    The outside world for its part continued to bathe in rapture. While more and more the rot was setting in. The first pangs of worry gradually turned into a state of anxiety that soon gave way to genuine anguish. He realized that the state of original happiness was destroyed, and with it both the happy-go-lucky life and sleep. Walker-through-Walls began to fade away.

    The public then began to marvel at such a perfect performance in similitude. They were astounded by the realism of his pallor, by his thinness which made his fragility even more authentic, by the fever which gave his eyes such a poignant depth. Walker-through-Walls was dying. The world, whose length and breadth he continued to travel, seemed to him ever more and more of a cramped, unbreathable place. There was no air.

    In one final burst, since he could feel himself suffocating, Walker-through-Walls relaxed his whole body with a force and an abruptness he never knew he had. His head hit the transparency of the box which shattered.

    At the same time that he got his breath back, Walker-through-Walls rediscovered the joy that for such a long, long time had left him. Quite simply the box, although invisible, was too small. Far too small for Walker-through-Walls who had only been conjured up to live free and not just in appearance.

10. The Crocodile.

    A very ancient chronicle - although should it not rather be termed a legend? - tells us the story which is said to have happened to a faithful disciple who, at his revered master's bedside, asked him to pass on the secret of his immense wisdom to him. As he breathed his last, the master replied quite simply: "Don't think about the crocodile".

    The master now passed away, his fervent disciple racked his brains in an all-out effort to understand the hidden meaning of what seemed to him to be a particularly thorny riddle.

    Having in his turn reached a ripe old age, our unfortunate disciple awoke one morning struck at long last by the glaring obviousness of the message.

    The master had merely said: "Don't think about the crocodile" and yet that was what he himself had spent his whole life doing.


Alice Becker-Ho is currently publishing Guy Debord's correspondence (Volume 3 published in January 2003 by éditions Fayard, Paris) and has published 3 books on European slangs (éditions Gallimard, Paris - English publishers for which have still to be found), as well as the In Slumberpuzzleland fables, two books of poems (the second will be out shortly), translations into French of Edgar Allan Poe (all éditions Le Temps Qu'il Fait, Cognac), and a book of photos & texts on Gypsies ("Paroles de Gitans", éditions Albin Michel, Paris).

Thank you very much to John McHale for offering these excerpts from 'In Slumberpuzzleland' for publication on Monocular Times, and for providing the above information about the author. John McHale is Alice Becker-Ho's English translator.


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