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The Origin of the World

The Origin of the World

PIERRE MICHON
TRANSLATED AND WITH A NEW INTRODUCTION BY WYATT MASON
WITH AN AFTERWORD BY ROGER SHATTUCK
Copyright Date: 2002
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 112
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt5vm26c
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  • Book Info
    The Origin of the World
    Book Description:

    This spare, unforgettable novel is Pierre Michon's luminous exploration of the mysteries of desire. A young teacher takes his first job in a sleepy French town. Lost in a succession of rainy days and sleepless nights, he falls under the spell of a town resident, a woman of seductive beauty and singular charm.

    Yvonne. Yvonne. "Everything about her screamed desire…setting something in motion while settling a fingertip to the counter, turning her head slightly, gold earrings brushing her cheek while she watched you or watched nothing at all; this desire was open, like a wound; and she knew it, wore it with valor, with passion." Michon probes the destructive powers of passion and the consuming need for love in this heartbreaking novel.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-19906-2
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. INTRODUCTION
    (pp. vii-xviii)
    WYATT MASON

    In 1998, François Bon, a contemporary French writer unknown to English-language readers but with a following in France, wrote an essay called “Sur le «Fausto Coppi» de Pierre Michon”—“On Pierre Michon’sFausto Coppi.” Initially appearing in issue number five ofScherzo, a high-ideals, low-circulation literary review, the essay quickly became notorious. It was soon reissued by Bon and Michon’s principal publisher, Éditions Verdier, as a limited-edition letterpress chapbook the size of a number 10 envelope and almost as light. Even so, it contained enormous news.

    “We know,” Bon’s essay began, “two years ago, there were problems with a distributor,...

  4. One
    (pp. 1-18)

    Between les Martres and Saint-Amand-le-Petit lies the town of Castelnau, along the Beune. I was posted to Castelnau in 1961: devils are posted as well I suppose, to their Circles below; and somersault after somersault make their downward way just as we slip gently toward retirement. I hadn’t fallen yet, not exactly, it was my first post, I was twenty. There’s no train station in Castelnau; it’s long gone; buses leaving Brive or Périgueux early in the morning drop you there at the end of the line very late at night. I arrived at night, in something close to shock,...

  5. Two
    (pp. 19-32)

    I had noticed that often, on Sundays and certain afternoons, she went by foot along la route des Martres, always in high heels no matter what weather, all dolled up, returning much later or not at all—unless she had come back via a shortcut I didn’t know. I didn’t need to ask what she was doing there: the sky was my answer, to see her beneath it was enough. This road soon became my passion. There were great meadows, and dark walnut trees at the edge of the village, and farther along were woods crisscrossed by footpaths leading to...

  6. Three
    (pp. 33-44)

    At the end of November, the weather changed, the waters froze. The flooded fields froze, tufts of bulrush stood frozen over the region. It was the time of year when vehicle registrations were renewed; it was around three, a Sunday. Snow had fallen during the night, these little flakes, dense and reticent, that one sees only in the coldest periods and that don’t accumulate very much. It froze solid, the sky was rigid, pure. The light seemed green; another hour of daylight remained. The Tabac was full of unhappy customers waiting impatiently, tapping the toes of their shoes; they grew...

  7. Four
    (pp. 45-60)

    That night I learned of an old custom, surely long since abandoned, that held if a hunter were to kill a fox, he should entrust the pelt to innocents, so they might walk from village to village and rejoice in the ostentatious defeat of this pest while earning some coin off its skin: the animal, they said, carries rabies. Long ago it was said that it stole eels, hunted down she-wolves, and devastated vineyards. I always relate it to Yvonne’s defeated and devastated flesh, to her soul that had been flayed one deep cold night.

    I should mention that I...

  8. Five
    (pp. 61-70)

    In the barn, filling the space with its incomprehensible gears, was a green John Deere combine harvester. We skirted around the machine, worming our way along the length of the wall. There was no wall at the back, it was built onto the cliff. The entrance to the cave was shorter than an average man, about Mado’s height: we went in behind Jeanjean. It was as it always is when you walk into these antechambers and you don’t know if you’ll fall upon a nave of pictures, triumphant cows, or frightened wolves, a vague painted hand, or nothing; neither more...

  9. Six
    (pp. 71-84)

    I have a difficult confession to make: I martyred Bernard. He was a charming child, guileless, wise. His mother—who had him from a failed marriage and had left her acolyte behind, or perhaps the other way around—I believe his mother adored him. She had limitless love for this supernumerary flesh, but as I said, this didn’t do him much good. I would see her waiting for him at the gate to the school, perched on her high heels, vigilant, unaffected, surrounded by all the gossips, taller than them all, speaking to them, vivacious, infatuated with nothing, putting a...

  10. AFTERWORD: NOTES FROM UNDERGROUND
    (pp. 85-93)
    ROGER SHATTUCK

    InThe Origin of the World, an unnamed narrator arrives by bus in the little town of Castelnau in the Dordogne region of high plateaus and deep ravines close to the prehistoric underground sites of Les Eyzies and Lascaux. The Michelin regional map number 75 locates Castelnaud (with a finald) on the Dordogne River. Michon moves Castelnau (without thed) twenty kilometers away, to the banks of the smaller Beune River, quietly opening the space for fiction and for legend.

    I arrived at night, in something close to shock, in the middle of a galloping September rain that bucked...