Numbered Days (‘To the Friend Who Did Not Save My Life,’ part 8)

“That instant” [ce moment], which precedes the receipt of the results of the seropositivity test that should itself precede “the blood analyses that are done after a seropositive result,” would seem to mark the onset of the three-month period invoked in the first sentence when Herve “had AIDS,” or “more precisely” believed he “was condemned to die of that mortal illness called AIDS.”  But a more exact reckoning, a recounting of his now and henceforth numbered days, renders the opening sentence and what follows newly problematic.

I’ve re-counted the days on my calendar:  between January 23 [1988], when I’d received my death-sentence at the little clinic on the Rue du Jura, and this March 18, when I’d received another news flash that might prove decisive in sweeping away what I’d been officially told was irreversible, fifty-six days had gone by.  I’d lived for fifty-six days, sometimes cheerfully, sometimes in despair, alternating between sweet forgetfulness and ferocious obsession, trying to get used to my impending doom.  Now I was entering a new phase, a limbo of hope and uncertainty, that was perhaps [peut-etre] more terrible to live through than the one before.  [E 159-60; F 176-7]

Not three months, then, but fifty-six days:  the belated recount gives the lie to, or rather fictionalizes the claim, uttered in the first person and the past tense, that opens the narrative of To the Friend Who Did Not Save My Life, a claim about Herve’s lived experience.  The “perhaps” that surfaces in this tacit confession turns out to inform the entire text, from first to last.  This is the case most obviously where the word makes an appearance, as it does here and in the passage, already cited, that recounts how, in October 1983, “I told myself that we both had AIDS.  In an instant, this certainty changed everything…. I had perhaps finally achieved my end” [E 30-31; F 39].  “Perhaps” plays a role, too, in the translation of Herve’s justification for arriving late at Muzil’s funeral, thereby practically missing another appointment and courting further suspicion of irresponsibility:  “Perhaps it was a partial transportation strike that kept me from arriving on time on the morning of the brief funeral service” [E 99]  (“Le matin de la levee du corps…fut-ce une greve partielle des transports qui m’empecha d’arriver a l’heure….” [F 112]).  In each instance of its occurrence, the “perhaps” “unleashes a trembling in the assertion, in the certainty, a trembling that leaves its mark and its essential modality on the entire discourse of the possible perhaps” [Derrida, Demeure, 68], and on the experience of reading To the Friend Who Did Not Save My Life.

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

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