Numbered Days (‘To the Friend Who Did Not Save My Life,’ part 5)

4.  It was on the afternoon of December 22 that I decided, with Dr. Chandi, not to go to that appointment on January 11, which he would keep for me in order to obtain the anticipated medication, playing a role on both sides, if he had to, or making me think that this was the only way to get the drug, through this pretence of my presence [ce simulacre de ma presence], by using up the time assigned for our appointment to fool the monitoring committee.  I’m supposed to call him on the afternoon of January 11 to find out my test results, and that’s why I’m saying that as of today, January 4, I have only seven days left in which to retrace this history of my illness, because whatever Dr. Chandi will reveal to me on the afternoon of January 11, whether it’s good news or bad (although it can only be more or less bad, as he’s taken care to let me infer), might well threaten this book, risk crushing it right at the source, turning my meter [compteur] back to zero and erasing the fifty-seven pages already written before kicking my bucket for me.  [E 49; F 56-7, emphasis added]

In the throes of lingering uncertainty about the status of “today, January 4,” we are here given to understand that Herve’s deadline, the term of the dishonorable pact he makes with himself to recount the history of his illness, coincides with the simulacrum of an appointment, which is to say with another contract destined to be broken (this one recalling how his dying friend Muzil blithely dictated acceptances to invitations to lecture in far-flung locations for dates, often overlapping, that he would not live to see).  A scheduled meeting between doctor and patient yields to a conspiracy between them to obtain the “anticipated” AZT through this ruse that seeks, not to use the time assigned, but to use it up.

The complications accrue.  If his days are henceforth numbered, his time counted, so too are the pages of “this book” we are still attempting to read.  And counted, recounted more than once, certainly, with results that are bound to vary.  For if, on the fifty-seventh page of the French edition, we read that fifty-seven pages have already been written and are now threatened with erasure by the news he expects to receive over the phone on January 11, that number would have been different in the draft, the manuscript, and only subsequently revised to correspond to page proofs.  Moreover, the disjunction in the belated English translation, where we read about “the fifty-seven pages already written” on page forty-nine, serves as a reminder of these calculations and their disparate times and dates.

What follows Herve’s musing on the threat to his work-in-progress is an effort to provide a succinct chronology of his illness from 1980 to 1988, a narrative time-line that winds up calling the chronological model itself into question, whether as story or as history.

1988 brought the revelation of my illness, a sentence without possibility of appeal, followed three months later by that chance event [ce hasard] that managed to persuade me I could be saved.  In this chronology summing up and pinpointing the warning signs of the disease over a period of eight years, when we now know that its incubation period is between four and a half and eight years… the physiological accidents are no less decisive than the sexual encounters, the premonitions no less telling than the wishes that try to banish them.  That’s the chronology that becomes my outline, except [sauf] when I discover that progression springs from disorder.  [E 51; F 59]

Sauf,” whose grammatical function here is as preposition, in the manner of the English “except,” resonates powerfully in its adjectival sense [“Qui a echappe a un tres grave peril, qui est encoure vivant apres avoir failli mourir”], alluding to the “pas sauve” of the title.  That “disorder” – in temporal terms, a certain anachrony – proves the rule rather than the exception as Herve seeks to retrace the perilous history of his illness is by this point unmistakable.

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Filed under Books, Culture, Death, History and historiography, Reading and writing

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