The Train from Tokyo
Atlas – Air France n°70 – April 1972
“What do you think of D. James Orang?” asked my visitor.
One always has to be careful when one is asked such questions. I closed my eyes, hastily thumbed the card-index of my two frontal lobes, and found no trace of this James. Same result in my parietal lobes. I didn’t even try disturbing my temporals and answered that I was too interested in D. James Orang to express an unbiased opinion on him; that I first wanted to know my visitor’s intellectual motivations with regard to old Jimmy; and that, in short, my opinion of him was “it all depends”.
“Ah! he replied, “it all depends”. Very well. I will be more precise. To come directly to the point, I will say that I consider D. James Orang an individual without talent.”
“Without talent, without talent. Now, there’s a rather hasty judgment”, I remarked. “And I won’t be telling you anything new when I say that everyone does not subscribe to your point of view. Look, just yesterday I was talking to someone who did not hesitate to utter the word “genius”.
(But who the devil could this confounded D. James be? An actor perhaps? Or rather, a new singer who’s come into fashion? D. James Orang, wasn’t he classed in the “Top 10” somewhere? His name seemed familiar.)
“I admit”, I ventured, “that his voice is a matter of debate, especially in the low notes. He has short breath.”
“Ah”, my interlocutor exclaimed astounded, “he sings as well”?
Good! It wasn’t a singer. What the devil then? This D. James was starting to irritate me.
“He rarely sings”, I amended’ “but you know how it is: when one has success in… in… well, success in some… particular activity, one tends to lose one’s head. One considers one’s self… (I searched for a word as polyvalent as possible, and I found two)… a Jean Cocteau or a Leonardo da Vinci.
My visitor burst out laughing and gave me a dig in the ribs; I had made an excellent joke.
“You will see” he said (and there his laughter became so spasmodic that I had to slap him on the back out of politeness. “You will see what they will make him do, as they made Cocteau decorate old romanesque chapels. Well, I will exert myself to see it. To see that” he added, as he pushed a colored postcard under my nose, “yes that, between two twelfth-century columns, in an old and venerable Poitou or Rhenish place of pilgrimage. And the dupes will pay to enter; I will be the first, like I paid for this postcard at his exhibition in Topeka.
So! Exhibitions, postcards, in color, it was a painter. A nonﬁgurative painter, I even ascertained, examining the card… I am not very expert in this kind of painting, but an intellectual like me should never admit it. An intellectual: that’s a man who knows everything without ever having learnt anything; which gives him the right, I would even say the duty, to have opinions on everything and to proclaim them from time to time in manifestos so that the public will remember his name, because the public is very forgetful.
Just between us, I found D. James’s picture very ugly. But an intellectual like me should resist first impressions, especially if they risk appearing insipid to common sense. And also, I’ve read many criticisms on art, and, because I have an excellent memory, I sharply reprimanded my laziness. I indicated to him that the composition entitled “The Train from Tokyo” assumed the ontogeny of a virtuality in dynamic equilibrium between essence and existence. It was in some way an ontomorphosis (I stressed “in some way”, since, reading between the lines, the proposition was not without a hidden ambiguity). And to mark the scientific basis of my statement, I concluded by quoting Chomsky, Roland Barthes, Wilhelm Reich, Feuerbach, Jacques Lacan and William Shakespeare. He acknowledged that there was some truth in my analysis, although, he admitted, he had never heard of William Shakespeare. When I had explained to him that he was a Playboy correspondent in Carpentras, I saw that he was almost convinced. He eyed the picture pensively, sighed, then suddenly said:
“By the way, I have something to show you. It’s a very recent photo of this very D. James Orang. A very pretty photo, very touching. We see him in full meditation. Here, look, I believe You’re right. There is in the perplexity of his gaze, in his thoughtful way of holding his molar between the thumb and index finger, something which makes one think he’s read Roland Barthes. And again, we cannot deny that his dynamic virtuality is in equilibrium, nor that his ontomorphosis rests on a vacillating foundation. Mr. Diogenes, you have a great mind. Thank you for having opened my eyes.”
He considered me for a long time with respect, as I like being looked at, and added:
“You’re going to take me for a flatterer, but I find there is something about you… that you have something (he tapped the photo of D. James with his nail without stopping his study of me)… yes, I am sure that you, too Mr. Diogenes, have read much of Barthes.“■
(1) D. James is an orang-outan from the Topeka zoo in Kansas. See overleaf.