Be careful when Zazie shows you some stones, they are alive !
The first time I saw Zazie getting a statue in her game, it was one of the female figure from a monumental sculpture in the Orsay museum. She had taken a photo of it and by te magic of computer tooling, she had replaced the texture of the stone by a nice flesh-like color, a very sweet, very convincing color. And as the original statue was quite visibly dying, she has added a thin dribble of blood gently dripping from the woman's superb mouth*. "Look, she said, I made her alive !" And I must say that the idea of giving life - and particularly such an obviously threatened quality of life - to a being who had never been alive, since it had been born from a sculptor's imagination, moved* me considerably.
But to go further along this path, more sculptures, much more sculptures were needed. And during a visit to the Père Lachaise graveyard in Paris, Zazie made photos of all kinds of statues from the graves there. But all well considered, something was wrong. Such photos could not fit her purpose. There was an essential problem that she had neglected, because these statues already had had their own lives and it is very difficult to offer an imaginary life to a being that already had a real one.
And there was already too much life in Père Lachaise too. There were lots of visitors, tourists, dreamers, cats, lovers,*the humming sound of the town all around, and above all the trees. The trees that were turning the tombstones upside down, breaking and pushing crosses away, ripping burial vaults wide open, and threatening even the chapels. The trees that were organizing the space in their own way, according to their wonderful sense of chaos. From there, from the depth of the darks splits opened by the vigor of roots some chimaera were born.
And the town.
Zazie does not live in Paris, but it is not inaccurate to say that Paris lives in her. Particularly Le carrefour Vavin, where a bit less than one century ago, everything happened - almost. "You know, sometimes I sit in la Rotonde, and I close my eyes for a while, and I see them..." Hence the necessity, the emergency, to visit the Montparnasse cimetery, to see the sun bathed grave of Man Ray et Juliet. And a little bit further, in a darker, shadowy corner of the graveyard, the green bronze of a mourning woman obviously required a photo. And in the background, there, like an incongruity in so much sweetness the highest tower in Paris*.
Hence, we had to go up there, of course. That was inevitable*. Just as was inevitable for Zazie's eyes to land first on the graveyard below and its lattice of graves and alleys.
There occured the coalescing of two aspects of the town, the architecture of the living, and its counterpart - enclosed in walls but not less living and present as soon as you care a bit - which is the architecture of the dead. And the rustling fabric that links them together.
Funerary architecture often draws its inspiration from ordinary achitecture. Or at least is it a reflection of it, distorted by the religious conceptions or funeral rites that happen to be fashionable at a given moment. This results from the fact that the funerary order attempts to extend or more exactly to inscribe the social order beyond death itself, which is quite comparable to what ordinary architecture tries to do in a less funereal domain.
I do not know of any architecture books that ventured into a comparative study* between these two arts. So I shall simply note here that the order in the Père Lachaise, which is based on family graves topped with tiny chapels, is on many points the opposite of the more modern order in the Montparnasse cimetery, from where chapels have almost disappeared.
In the Père Lachaise, families vie from one side to the other side of alleys by showing off their chapels, just as they used to vie in real life through business competion and more generally by showing off their riches. In Montparnasse, this nineteenth century bourgeois order tends to break up into individual tombs reflecting the destruction of the families and the atomisation of social links that are typical characteristics of big industry
Yet, always and everywhere, as soon as man knew how to write and build, he carved names in the stones, in the stones of towns as well as in the stones of graves.
And architecture, the architecture of the dead as well as the architecture of the living hence belongs to the order of textuality, to the order of the inscription. The core of architecture is the stele. And the inscription is this insane movement of memory and power attempting to move beyond and against life. A male originated sort of thing, most probably...
But what does Zazie show us ? Statues - in other terms petrified and inscribed life - that are so alive however in the movement or languor of their pleasure and in the outpouring of their tenderness that you cannot miss their laughter.
A liquid laughter and huge as the tide that grows and overflows the order inscribed in the city. A laughter in which any inscription gets clouded, misted up and ultimately fades out. A laughter with no name, and so independent that it is free of any stains of humor or irony. A laughter that is nothing else that the autonomous joy of Life itself, which - like the trees in the Père Lachaise - turns things upside down and breaks the family vaults and chapels where ruined bodies and ideas lie. A joy of Life however, that has understood , accepted and retained the sweetness and peace of death.
You have to be a women to dare show and say that. You need this specific relation women often have with death, graves and graveyards. And you might first think that this relation is restricted to some women only, because of an odd sort of singularity they have, until you realize - for instance - that there is no masculine in French for mourner,* and further on that the scope of such a finding is obviously not that one word just happens to be missing in a particular language... Representations of mourning widows and mothers have been the ordinary ornaments of graves in many places in the world and at many times, whereas weeping widowers do not seem to ever have provided enough business to feed a sculptor.
I must say that I always suspected mourners of a most redoubtable sort of hypocrisy. But reading Annette Weiner's book "Women of value, men of renown" about the culture of the Trobriand islands recently changed my views. My feeling is now that the reason why women are so present in funeral ceremonies is not to weep over a person's death but more to accompagny her back. Their role is to cut the proper way all the social links in which the deceased person's life was inscribed and to lead her back to the unnamable, back to what people in the Trobriand islands call the dala, which is something like the substance of the continuation power of the living stem that is common to the members of a lineage. In other terms, it seems to me that the mourners task is to accompagny the deceased back to unreasonableness. I mean, back to an area of reality which is the very opposite of the inscription, and through a movement that is symmetrical and opposite to the one by which, as mothers, women, through conception and birth, bear a new being from the empire of the unnamable to the social and reasonable empire of the name. From there comes this frantic quality of tenderness that pours out of these statues Zazie shows us, overflowing the streets and towns . And this tenderness is understanding, and trust, and pleasure and joy of the movement of the vital stem in the very core of death also.
Birth, marriage and funerals... The most fundamental moments of the human life are marked by women. A hint of male pride whispers to me that as regards death, for once, we could have done without them. But they obviously decided otherwise quite a long time ago. So, what is left for us to say about it, except that there is sometimes a sort of beautiful sweetness in surrender...