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MARCH 3, 2010 · 1:44 PM
Numbered Days (‘To the Friend Who Did Not Save My Life,’ part 10)
In these terms, living with AIDS is an apprenticeship, or more precisely a series of unique apprenticeships, instructing us in what we know already but are too apt to ignore: that our days are numbered, our time counted. If AIDS takes time, subtracting it from life expectancy, it also gives time – time dedicated to living and dying freed from the amnesia that plagues us, that plagues Herve, for example, as he recollects the stroke of midnight, December 31, 1987: It’s strange to wish someone Happy New Year when you know the person might not live all the way through it: there’s no situation more outrageous than that, and to handle it you need simple, unaffected courage, the ambiguous freedom of things left unsaid, a secret understanding braced with a smile and sealed with a laugh, so in that instant your New Year’s wish has a crucial but not weighty solemnity. [E 125; F 139] In truth, this situation is neither strange nor outrageous, or rather only as strange and outrageous as our mortality. For we always know – though we are liable to forget – that the friend to whom we offer the wish may not live long enough to see its fulfillment, with which it can never coincide. (In Seneca’s stark reminder in “The Brevity of Life,” “You are living as if destined to live forever…though all the while that very day which you are devoting to somebody or something may be your last.”) To the Friend Who Did Not Save My Life is a labour of writing dedicated to making that knowledge freshly legible, reminding Herve and his readers alike that human life is the presentiment of a death that, whenever it comes, will arrive prematurely. To this extent, Guibert’s text “is but a gloss, a justification and expansion of a title that speaks of itself and for itself” (Derrida, Demeure, 53). As Roland Barthes has observed, “‘To dedicate’ is…’performative’..[the] meaning merges with the very act of enouncing… ‘I dedicate’ has no other meaning than the actual gesture by which I present what I have done (my work) to someone I love or admire…[through] the act of giving…and this modicum of writing necessary to express it” (“Sagesse de l’art” in Cy Twombly: Paintings and Drawings 1954-1977, 12).
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I can write it. the dedication that arrives as if from the far side of a death that came too soon. if not as “every possible book. it is his book that counts.” then at least as one readable by turns as a testimony. and that’s what’s going to be the most difficult thing to make people believe and understand. and indeed as a work of literary fiction that simulates all of these. nasty book. with the speed of light. as a symptom. signaling in advance what the narrative finally spells out: that in the end Bill failed to make good on “his promises. The time that Bill misjudged. To the Friend Who Did Not Save My Life. [E 237. eventually runs out. a full 257 pages before the narrative.com/tag/to-the-friend-who-did-not-save-my-life/ Page 2 sur 16 . through a rhetorical structure proper to fiction rather than autobiography or testimony. as an archive. already guarantees the work’s status as fiction. Hence the difficulty will be to convey this madness to the reader. nearing its end.“To the Friend Who Did Not Save My Life” | Be Sovereign 20/02/13 19:21 Like its first sentence. through an experience of reading that does not yield knowledge of what right to confer on a text that. [E 61-2.” http://besovereign.” When I learned I was going to die.wordpress. F 70] Hastened by HIV/AIDS into the category of the books of a young writer’s premature old age. F 257] More than his life. not only from its first sentence but from its very title. that he’d misjudged the timing involved [qu'il n'avait pas bien mesure le temps] [E 220. and to write not only the books of my anticipated maturity but also. admitting that my reproaches were justified. renders problematic an effort to secure its referential and rhetorical modes once and for all. To the Friend Who Did Not Save My Life emerges. then a philosophical one – and to devour these books almost simultaneously. to follow to the end this novelistic logic that so hypnotizes me. at the risk of writing them badly: a funny. as a document. in the text’s first and ultimate instance of a non-coincidence. his friend’s henceforth counted time. in the reduced amount of time available [dans la marge retrecie du temps]. Yes. at the expense of all idea of survival. to ascertain what remains as permanently elusive as the “perhaps. “almost” (but not quite) “simultaneously. and that’s undoubtedly what my madness is – I care more for my book than for my life. Bill told me he’d sensed all this. And in the dedicatory title. an impossibility of coincidence between the time inscribed in the text and the time of lived experience. the slowly ripened books of my old age. which he’d been making for a year and a half now but had never honored…. the friend he did not save addresses him as if from beyond the grave. I won’t give up my book to save my life. the titular dedication. I’d suddenly been seized with the desire to write every possible book – all the ones I hadn’t written yet. F 240]. glosses the generic stamp roman: I’ve decided to be calm. the work’s title adopts the first person (“my life”) and the past tense (“did not”).
according to the linguistic laws that govern speech acts. that punctuates the fictional three months when Herve “had AIDS.wordpress.com/tag/to-the-friend-who-did-not-save-my-life/ Page 3 sur 16 . As we are now in a position to recognize. by an extraordinary chance. It is the intervention of time into the configuration of the promise and its redemption that invites the perhaps.” [E 156. For though it was certainly an inexorable illness. in the event. And the force of this implicit performative exceeds the limits that might be ascribed to the text’s self-declared genre. as part of a “work of fiction.” It inhabits the possibility of a reprieve from his death sentence afforded by an experimental vaccine that. since in principle a vaccine is preventive. Bill’s unspoken promise is nothing less than a pledge to save the life of his dying friend by providing access to the experimental treatment (whose still unproven efficacy as a “curative vaccine” would come belatedly. since it is not properly preventive).“To the Friend Who Did Not Save My Life” | Be Sovereign 20/02/13 19:21 · 12:44 PM Numbered Days (‘To the Friend Who Did Not Save My Life. and specifically the new generation of combination therapies including protease inhibitors that became selectively available in and after 1996. sustained over a year and a half as Herve’s health suffers a precipitous decline.’ part 9) But the modality of the “perhaps” is also inscribed in the “something completely unexpected. On that fateful March 18. …I was afraid this new pact with fate might upset the slow advance – which was rather soothing actually – of inevitable death…. a cure for HIV/AIDS that has underwritten the history of the pandemic over nearly three decades. well not really a vaccine. transplanting death’s near horizon to a newly uncertain distance. obtained from the HIV virus and given to patients who are seropositive but don’t display any symptoms of the disease…to block the virus and keep it from beginning its destructive process…. and with it the risk that time will run out before redemption can take place. after the fact of infection. it wasn’t immediately catastrophic. allegorizes. F 173]. 1988 comes the news flash: “[Bill] tells us right off the bat that in America they’ve just come up with an effective vaccine against AIDS. the constative content of the unexpected bulletin is translated into the performativity of a promise. For Bill’s tacit offer.” the hasard extraordinaire invoked in the first paragraph and repeatedly thereafter. Herve’s terrible ambivalence as he enters the “new phase” inaugurated by Bill’s announcement prefigures the effect on many PLWAs of the advent of more promising treatment options. Herve’s friend Bill has a hand in developing. In no time. albeit one that is never issued as such. in keeping with the circumscription in some speech act theory of the gravity and consequence of fictional utterances. so let’s call it a curative vaccine.” the very real promise of more effective treatment and. it was an illness http://besovereign.
and in the end to discover life [c'etait une maladie qui donnait le temps de mourir. a recounting of his now and henceforth numbered days. And unhappiness. and freed us from our ignorance. then. trying to get used to my impending doom. [E 164-5. plus two years with AZT in the best of cases. Now I was entering a new phase. le temps de decouvrir le temps et de decouvrir enfin la vie]…. when I’d received another news flash that might prove decisive in sweeping away what I’d been officially told was irreversible. alternating between sweet forgetfulness and ferocious obsession.“To the Friend Who Did Not Save My Life” | Be Sovereign 20/02/13 19:21 in stages.” or “more precisely” believed he “was condemned to die of that mortal illness called AIDS. a limbo of hope and uncertainty. a lot less cruel. fifty-six days had gone by. than one would have thought. was a lot more livable than the presentiment of unhappiness. in fact. F 181-2] · 11:17 AM Numbered Days (‘To the Friend Who Did Not Save My Life. I’d lived for fifty-six days. but whose every step represented a unique apprenticeship. that was perhaps [peut-etre] more terrible to live through than the one before. [E 159-60.’ part 8) “That instant” [ce moment]. renders the opening sentence and what follows newly problematic. but fifty-six days: the belated recount gives the lie to. If Bill were to file an appeal against my death sentence with his vaccine. I’ve re-counted the days on my calendar: between January 23 . If life was nothing but the presentiment of death and the constant torture of wondering when the axe would fall. a very long flight of steps that led assuredly to death. or rather fictionalizes the claim. sometimes in despair.wordpress. then AIDS. time to discover time. he’d plunge me back into my former state of ignorance. 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. by setting an official limit to our life span – six years of seropositivity. and this March 18. or a few months without it – made us men who were fully conscious of our lives. once you were completely sunk in it.com/tag/to-the-friend-who-did-not-save-my-life/ Page 4 sur 16 . It was a disease that gave death time to live and its victims time to die. uttered in http://besovereign. when I’d received my death-sentence at the little clinic on the Rue du Jura.” would seem to mark the onset of the three-month period invoked in the first sentence when Herve “had AIDS. sometimes cheerfully. et qui donnait a la mort le temps de vivre. F 176-7] Not three months.” But a more exact reckoning.
In each instance of its occurrence. to decide thereby to put an end to the suspense I’d created. 68]. (…today on the twenty-second of January. This is the case most obviously where the word makes an appearance. MARCH 2. because on January 12 Dr. F 39]. too. from first to last. 1989. in October 1983.” [F 112]). this certainty changed everything…. Chandi told me over the phone http://besovereign. which means it’s taken me ten days to bring myself to admit it.“To the Friend Who Did Not Save My Life” | Be Sovereign 20/02/13 19:21 the first person and the past tense. 2010 · 5:19 PM Numbered Days (‘To the Friend Who Did Not Save My Life.wordpress. The “perhaps” that surfaces in this tacit confession turns out to inform the entire text. I had perhaps finally achieved my end” [E 30-31. “I told myself that we both had AIDS. a trembling that leaves its mark and its essential modality on the entire discourse of the possible perhaps” [Derrida. he notes “in a passing remark” that 6. not yet having achieved his end. a claim about Herve’s lived experience. as it does here and in the passage. “Perhaps” plays a role. 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…. that recounts how.com/tag/to-the-friend-who-did-not-save-my-life/ Page 5 sur 16 . that opens the narrative of To the Friend Who Did Not Save My Life. in the certainty. the “perhaps” “unleashes a trembling in the assertion.’ part 7) It is five years and several months later that. and on the experience of reading To the Friend Who Did Not Save My Life. In an instant. Demeure. already cited.
second-hand…. and…it’s impossible to know beforehand how you’ll feel about these things when the time comes (et qu’on ne pouvait prejuger des mutations vitales de sa volonte)” [E 137. [On the morning we went to find out the results of the seropositivity tests] he told me my blood workup wasn’t good. in parentheses. if I choose to go with that instead of the Digitaline…. whose English translation first adds. Moreover. http://besovereign. I haven’t done a stitch of work on this book these last few days. the measure of time remaining here an absolutely heterogeneous measure…. Demeure. Absolute anachrony of a time out of joint” [Derrida. as though we were living it at the same time. I’ve been passing the time unhappily. The results of the blood analysis were to be sent to us in about ten days. waiting for this new verdict or this semblance [simulacre] of a verdict…but today. itself enacts “a sort of parenthesis of time that recalls the parenthesis: namely. Chandi had already sent us to the Institute Alfred-Fournier for the blood analyses that are done after a seropositive result. Suspecting [prevoyant] that our results would be bad and wishing to speed up the process…Dr.’ part 6) 5. “each person’s relationship with his illness changes constantly in the course of this illness. After we’d had our blood samples taken…we saw one boy come out again absolutely in shock…paralyzed at the news written all over his face…. if it comes. specifically to ascertain the progress of the HIV virus in the body…. at the crucial moment for the deadline [delai] I’ve given myself for telling the story of my illness [pour raconter l'histoire de ma maladie]. which suggests that in another month. the HIV virus will have ground my T4 count down to – I’m doing the subtraction at the bottom of the page . before the results of the seropositivity test would be known. the nurse asked me. emphasizes the agonizing wait for the results. What will happen will have opened another time. which holds out the seduction of an agency that could determine the limit of its own life expectancy. Looking over my lab slip. 61]. For the time being. and at the same time relieved us by showing us the worst that could happen. choosing the day of death’s arrival. thereby placing me…close to the catastrophic threshold that’s supposed to be staved off by AZT. from 368 to 291 in one month.214. This ultimate self-imposed deadline is likewise deferred – that decision. At that instant [a ce moment] I understood that a calamity had hit us. always later. F 152].“To the Friend Who Did Not Save My Life” | Be Sovereign 20/02/13 19:21 that my T4 count had dropped to 291. As his physician reminds him when Herve broaches the question of suicide. precipitously. that they’d already seen the bad news [le signe fatal] there even without knowing the results of the other test. I was like that poor boy devastated by his test results. in that precise interval of uncertainty [d'incertitude ou de feinte incertitude]…. F 145-47] · 1:36 PM Numbered Days (‘To the Friend Who Did Not Save My Life. “How long have you known that you’re seropositive?” I was so surprised I couldn’t answer her. that we were beginning a period of rampant misfortune from which there would be no escape. which arrives belatedly in the sovereign disorder of the narrative sequence. another parenthesis of time dictated by the non-coincidence of the procedures themselves and the diagnostic knowledge they eventually yield. like a parenthesis. [E 130-32.) [E 197-8. then subtracts a set of parentheses to and from the French text. these for seropositivity.wordpress. on the occasion of another set of blood tests. that time passes without passing.” cette page) – adding and subtracting with survival itself at stake. That account. in January 1988. It was a terrifying vision for Jules and me. the disjointed narrative here links the disclosure that the January 11 deadline was not met to the prospect of suicide (“the Digitaline”).com/tag/to-the-friend-who-did-not-save-my-life/ Page 6 sur 16 . F 215-6. will come later. which projected us one week into the future. As a matter of fact. emphasis added] The passage. Herve continues counting days (“it’s taken me ten days”) and T4 cells (“I’m doing the subtraction at the bottom of the page. The unsettling passages on the antigen tests and their devastating results have as their pretext the account of what happened a year earlier.
emphasis added] Even “at the crucial moment. upset at not knowing them on the evening of January 11 the way I’ve been expecting to ever since December 22. I have only seven days left in which to retrace this history of my illness. Chandi. often overlapping. coincides with the simulacrum of an appointment. might well threaten this book. emphasis added] In the throes of lingering uncertainty about the status of “today. this certainty changed everything. MARCH 1. I might add. turning my meter [compteur] back to zero and erasing the fifty-seven pages already written before kicking my bucket for me. through this pretence of my presence [ce simulacre de ma presence]. calm as well as terrified. as we have already read thirty pages earlier. January 4. whether it’s good news or bad (although it can only be more or less bad. I’m biting my nails down to the quick. but we are reminded that Herve knows already [deja] what he is supposed to find out “today. January 4. or making me think that this was the only way to get the drug. [E 49. where he attests that in October 1983 “I told myself that we both had AIDS. [E 59. I’m supposed to call him on the afternoon of January 11 to find out my test results. the term of the dishonorable pact he makes with himself to recount the history of his illness. F 56-7. that he would not live to see). F 39]. In an instant [en un instant]. which he would keep for me in order to obtain the anticipated medication. A scheduled meeting between doctor and patient yields to a conspiracy between them to http://besovereign. if he had to. dreaming that I wouldn’t have them….” Indeed.“To the Friend Who Did Not Save My Life” | Be Sovereign 20/02/13 19:21 January 11. he has perhaps known it for years. not only does his dream prophesy that failure before the fact. I had perhaps finally achieved my end” [E 30-31. and this both paralyzed and liberated me. and that’s why I’m saying that as of today. not to go to that appointment on January 11. 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. sapped my strength while at the same time increasing it tenfold.com/tag/to-the-friend-who-did-not-save-my-life/ Page 7 sur 16 .’ part 5) 4. turned everything upside down.wordpress. Chandi will reveal to me on the afternoon of January 11. as he’s taken care to let me infer). because I tried calling Dr. 2010 · 6:46 PM Numbered Days (‘To the Friend Who Did Not Save My Life. So here I am tonight without the results. but couldn’t reach him…. with Dr. Not only does the scheduled simulacrum of an appointment that is to deliver the simulacrum of a verdict fail to take place.” chronology yields to radical temporal disorder. January 11. playing a role on both sides. It was on the afternoon of December 22 that I decided. risk crushing it right at the source. Chandi at his office. I was afraid and light-headed. having spent last night. F 68-9. even the landscape. which should have been the day of the verdict. by using up the time assigned for our appointment to fool the monitoring committee. having been left entirely in the dark about something that is perfectly clear to me [sur ce que je sais deja].” we are here given to understand that Herve’s deadline. because whatever Dr.
recounted more than once. that number would have been different in the draft. alluding to the “pas sauve” of the title. the premonitions no less telling than the wishes that try to banish them. 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. 1988 brought the revelation of my illness. so too are the pages of “this book” we are still attempting to read. And counted. in the manner of the English “except. where we read about “the fifty-seven pages already written” on page fortynine.” whose grammatical function here is as preposition. followed three months later by that chance event [ce hasard] that managed to persuade me I could be saved. his time counted. the manuscript. · 12:10 PM Numbered Days (‘To the Friend Who Did Not Save http://besovereign.” resonates powerfully in its adjectival sense ["Qui a echappe a un tres grave peril. The complications accrue. For if. 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. a certain anachrony . certainly. the disjunction in the belated English translation. except [sauf] when I discover that progression springs from disorder. qui est encoure vivant apres avoir failli mourir"]. and only subsequently revised to correspond to page proofs. That’s the chronology that becomes my outline. with results that are bound to vary. a sentence without possibility of appeal. on the fifty-seventh page of the French edition. not to use the time assigned. In this chronology summing up and pinpointing the warning signs of the disease over a period of eight years.wordpress. That “disorder” – in temporal terms. If his days are henceforth numbered. [E 51. a narrative time-line that winds up calling the chronological model itself into question. Moreover. but to use it up. 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.proves the rule rather than the exception as Herve seeks to retrace the perilous history of his illness is by this point unmistakable. whether as story or as history.com/tag/to-the-friend-who-did-not-save-my-life/ Page 8 sur 16 . serves as a reminder of these calculations and their disparate times and dates. F 59] “Sauf.“To the Friend Who Did Not Save My Life” | Be Sovereign 20/02/13 19:21 obtain the “anticipated” AZT through this ruse that seeks.
whether as work of fiction or as testimony? Is it. another referent linking the roman to a confirmed historical reality) to his death? http://besovereign.’ part 4) 2. [E 40. and that he “actually” [en realite] has eight days to fail to keep his pact with himself. another date provided. 1989″ is a fiction. because he fears he will suffer the sort of disabling “collapse” that consigned his friend Muzil (the unmistakable figure for Foucault) to the hospital. emphasis added] In this instance – cited for brevity’s sake as elliptical fragments of a single agitated sentence that runs for three and a half pages in the English translation as in the French text – the initial date provided passes as “today. 1984. which is going to play havoc with my peace of mind. What can be the reason for dissimulating the date. exactly seven days to tell the story of my illness [qu'il ne me reste exactement que sept jours pour retracer l'histoire de ma maladie]. January 4. post-dating the provenance of “all this. because I’m supposed to call Dr. I tell myself I’ve got only seven days. as he claims. Today. He knows this as well as he knows even as he writes that “Today. retrace the history of his illness in the “seven days. pressing on fiercely toward my goal and its incompletion….wordpress. F 48. 1989.“To the Friend Who Did Not Save My Life” | Be Sovereign 20/02/13 19:21 My Life. tomorrow masquerading as today. it was only to dream that I’d been prevented for various reasons from keeping this appointment that was so decisive for my survival…and I’m actually writing all this on the evening of January 3 [et ecrivant tout cela en realite le 3 janvier au soir] because I’m afraid I’ll collapse during the night. and shortly thereafter (in June. this is a contract that he knows in advance will be broken. an effort that is bound to fall short. Chandi on the afternoon of January 11 so that he can tell me over the phone the results of the tests I had to have on December 22…thus beginning a new phase of the illness…plus I’d hardly slept at all for fear of missing the appointment made a month earlier…and when I did get any sleep that night before those awful tests when they drew off an appalling amount of my blood. While seven days may be a resonant time frame for an author’s work of creation. exactly seven days” that remain before he is to receive the results of the blood tests for the antigen P24. and of course I’ll never meet the deadline [delai]. January 4.” then confessing to the deception in the same sentence and thus disrupting the experience of reading the text.com/tag/to-the-friend-who-did-not-save-my-life/ Page 9 sur 16 .” the day that institutes Herve’s contract with himself (and with it a self-division in the grammatical subject). a vow to tell the story.
“he could be suspected of the abuse of a fiction. the vexed occasion of the “decisive” blood tests. not responsible for what happens to the narrator or the characters of the narrative.wordpress. “differer”) set to coincide with the phone appointment with his physician thus assumes further significance with reference to a prior engagement at an earlier date: December 22.com/tag/to-the-friend-who-did-not-save-my-life/ Page 10 sur 16 . 55). of a type of text whose author is not responsible. if only with himself. The integrity of the author’s implicit contract with his readership is likewise at stake.“To the Friend Who Did Not Save My Life” | Be Sovereign 20/02/13 19:21 At a minimum. derives from the older form deslaier. Is it time for your appointment already? Tomorrow. my God – how quickly time flies! [comme le temps passe vite!]“ Later [par la suite] I wondered if he’d said that intentionally to remind me that my days were now numbered [mon temps etait desormais compte]. that I shouldn’t waste them writing under or about another name [plume] than my own. when he’d studied http://besovereign. The self-imposed deadline (the French delai. almost ritual phrase he’d used a month before. your blood test. Demeure. and make public a pact that he knows he cannot and will not honour. On the previous day. he confers with Dr. One might insinuate that he is exploiting a certain irresponsibility of literary fiction in order to pass off. not answerable before the law to the truthfulness of what he says. like contraband. Chandi: ‘Oh yes. consistent with his willingness to enter into a contract. that is. the dissimulation and confession bring to the experience of reading To the Friend Who Did Not Save My Life the suspicion of a certain irresponsibility on Herve’s part. an allegedly real testimony” (Derrida. and I remembered that other. whose primary sense is the interval of time rather than its term or limit. Perhaps more fundamentally.
“almost ritual” formulation. I don’t know what to think about any of these crucial questions. to date] the only treatment for full-blown AIDS”: another referent linking the roman to the history of the epidemic-turned-pandemic). and asked me to have a new blood test to check for the presence of the antigen P24…so that we could set in motion the administrative procedure required to obtain the drug AZT. but henceforth: “mon tempts etait desormais compte. Muzil learns that the days remaining to him are likewise numbered: Realizing his days were numbered [Une fois le temps compte]. saying. it’s no longer a question of years. Chandi said. figures of speech proper to literary language and not to the time of experience.’ part 3) 1.wordpress. Demeure. having reached the limits of both hope and despair. 20 mars.“To the Friend Who Did Not Save My Life” | Be Sovereign 20/02/13 19:21 all my latest blood analyses. in Rome…several months after those three months when I was truly convinced I was lost. In December . but of months. Failing treatment with AZT (“currently [a ce jour. Later. was sealed.” “several months. in one of several cruel revisions of his life expectancy and its most suitable unit of measure that Herve eventually confronts: 3. it’s no longer a question of years. we’re now talking about a few short months. the roman or work of fiction signed by Herve Guibert – the narrative here refers the reader back to its first sentence and paragraph.” “a month before”).” he remarked. offered “a month before. On this twenty-sixth day of December. specifically to “those three months” when “I had AIDS. but of months. ou j'acheve la mise en propre de ce livre].’ thus later. however short-lived. And he was very definite about the reprieve granted by AZT: between twelve and fifteen months”…. as I begin this book. wavering now between doubt and lucidity. about this alternation of certain death and sudden reprieve [cette alternative de la condemnation et de sa remission]…. 2010 · 12:53 PM Numbered Days (‘To the Friend Who Did Not Save My Life. call Herve) believed that his fate. “which signifies ‘from now on and in the future.” or more precisely when the first person (whom we will henceforth. in English as in French. following his cue. F 223. an imminent and premature death. [E 205. and to the ensuing months inaugurated by the extraordinary chance (hasard of course also signifies risk or danger.” as the translation has it. March 20. emphasis added] Attesting to the origins of “this book” – the book we are now attempting to read. 102). (Earlier in the narrative. then. not simply “now.” “the months that followed.” The cliché will subsequently serve as a reminder (whether intentional or not) that his fleeting days are numbered. On February 10 I picked up my capsules of AZT…but as of today. [E 2. the cliché about the rapidity of time’s passing will recall another. emphasis added] “Short months. as I finish getting this book into shape [mais a ce jour. is the potential waste of precious time involved in “writing under or about another name than my own”: writing pseudonymously. it will be a question not of years but rather of months (as it has been throughout the narrative to this point: “three months. say.) To be avoided.” “longish weeks”: these of course are fictive durations. too. F 10. always later. I still haven’t touched a single capsule of AZT. 1988. noted the sudden inroads the virus had made. the future always later.” In February. currently [a ce jour] the only treatment for full-blown AIDS.com/tag/to-the-friend-who-did-not-save-my-life/ Page 11 sur 16 .” [E 44. or penning novels in lieu of autobiography. “Now.” about the henceforth counted time that remains to the patient.” my time was henceforth counted. “If we do nothing. the permanent future” (Derrida. FEBRUARY 26. F 52] “How quickly time flies. and after the months that followed when I was able to believe myself saved by the luckiest of chances [par ce hasard extraordinaire]. crucial senses in this context) that brought the http://besovereign. “if we do nothing. or some longish weeks [c'est une affaire de grandes semaines ou de petits mois]. Dr. he began to reorganize his book with absolute clarity [E 28. he’d revised his estimate sharply. “At this point. F 36].
then. Little wonder. We learn that he embarks on this book in the aftermath of the three months and the several months that followed.wordpress.com/tag/to-the-friend-who-did-not-save-my-life/ Page 12 sur 16 . http://besovereign.“To the Friend Who Did Not Save My Life” | Be Sovereign 20/02/13 19:21 promise of possible salvation. that here and throughout the narrative temporal indications abound. in a time of flux precipitated by his alternation between despair and hope. between the prospect of imminent death and the promise of reprieve.
com/tag/to-the-friend-who-did-not-save-my-life/ Page 13 sur 16 . dovetailing in the French histoire.wordpress. History and story. are intricated in a text that can be read as a partial http://besovereign.” this uncertain time is given the strict demarcation of a date that both historicizes it in the context of the unfolding of the epidemic and locates it in the narrative sequence.“To the Friend Who Did Not Save My Life” | Be Sovereign 20/02/13 19:21 Despite the imprecision of “several months” and “the months that followed.
part of the reader’s task in this instance will be to reckon in light of what follows that “this twenty sixth day of December. · 11:46 AM Numbered Days (‘To the Friend Who Did Not Save My Life. it must have been sometime in 1981. But after three months. no longer latent operation of the HIV virus. at least six in number. prove to have two traits in common: a reference to the work itself as it is being written. 1988″ falls four days after the tests undergone on December 22 of that year to check for the presence in Herve’s blood of the antigen P24. 1981 issue of the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.’ part 2) With the designation roman that twice punctuates the French title. F 9] But at several telling junctures in To the Friend Who Did Not Save My Life.“To the Friend Who Did Not Save My Life” | Be Sovereign 20/02/13 19:21 historiography of AIDS. “was the first to tell me about this famous disease. With regard to the narrative sequence. which everyone still claimed was always fatal…. These instances. With “it must have been.] This is the case for the provocative opening sentence as well as its qualification in those that follow. and as the work of fiction it styles itself: for example when we read that Bill.” the self-declared literary fiction binds itself to history. http://besovereign. Guibert’s text declares itself from the outset. The unsettling experience of reading these passages leads us to ask (among other things. as chapters from Guibert’s autobiography. for three months I believed I was condemned to die of that mortal illness called AIDS…. that I would become. That I was going to make it. [Translation cited hereafter as E. French text cited hereafter as F. one of the first people on earth to survive this deadly malady [cette maladie inexorable]. [E 1. He’d just returned from the United States. freed by author and reader alike from responsibility to what might actually have happened. For only subsequently are the tests and their dates explicitly noted. a fundamental law of the novelistic genre is transgressed when author and narrator converge to become indistinguishable. and an act or event of dating that demarcates its provenance.wordpress. a work of literature. were he’d come across the first clinical reports about this strange death and its specific provenance in a professional journal” – presumably the June 1. the friend of the title to whom the book is addressed and dedicated. before any further experience of reading. according to what the first person will belatedly term a “novelistic logic” (the logique romanesque evidently posed no problem for the translator). something completely unexpected [un hasard extraordinaire] happened that convinced me I could and almost certainly would escape this disease. adumbrating the plot and the central predicament of the narrative: More precisely. which is irreducible to a chronology. a narrative of a certain duration whose first person would not be the author. to one among several indelible events that serve here as referents. certainly) what the co-presence of these traits inscribes in the relations between novel and autobiography. but rather a narrator not bound by any commitment to historiographical or autobiographical veracity. which included the first published clinical account of the condition known only later as AIDS [E 13. And for the most part it is indeed readable as such a fiction. F 21]. by an extraordinary stroke of luck [par ce hasard extraordinaire]. fiction and testimony. sign of the active.com/tag/to-the-friend-who-did-not-save-my-life/ Page 14 sur 16 .
and simulate everything…. uttered in the first person and the past tense. renders problematic its own referential and rhetorical modes. published in French in 1990. GRID yielded to AIDS as the rate of infection rapidly attained epidemic proportions.“To the Friend Who Did Not Save My Life” | Be Sovereign 20/02/13 19:21 FEBRUARY 25. For literature can say anything. 2010 · 4:27 PM Numbered Days (‘To the Friend Who Did Not Save My Life. despite numerous overtly autobiographical elements (chief among them the young writer’s recurrent self-identification as “Herve” and “Guibert. indeed the work of a literary fiction that simulates all of the positions that we have just enumerated. I return to my manuscript The Brevity of Life: What AIDS Makes Legible for purposes of bringing to light a chapter that has not yet been published in print. from its opening sentence (“I had AIDS for three months” ["J'ai eu le sida pendant trois mois"]). and the earliest generations of treatments were first heralded and then rapidly encountered the limits of their potency. “Numbered Days” begins with an epigraph from Jacques Derrida’s Demeure: Fiction and Testimony: Before coming to writing. literature depends on reading and the right conferred on it by an experience of reading. rightfully include this sentence.com/tag/to-the-friend-who-did-not-save-my-life/ Page 15 sur 16 . dating from 1980 to 1989 and thus spanning the decade in which the first clinical reports of what would provisionally be termed Gay-Related Immunodeficiency were made public. http://besovereign. receive anything.wordpress. which dates from the period – the early 1990s – in which Derek Jarman and Felix Gonzalez-Torres were likewise working under the cloud of HIV/AIDS. Within the narrative’s precisely delineated historical parameters – hence. is a first-person account of a young writer’s confrontation with a range of physical.” it attempts a reading of Herve Guibert’s To the Friend Who Did Not Save My Life (A l’ami qui ne m’a pas sauve la vie). or as a document. And indeed. One can read the same text – which thus never exists “in itself” – as a testimony that is said to be serious and authentic. or as a symptom – or as a work of literary fiction. psychological and social effects of HIV. and with them the very experience of reading? Herve Guibert’s To the Friend Who Did Not Save My Life (A l’ami qui ne m’a pas sauve la vie). for between 1980 and 1989 most anyone who had AIDS for three months. period. the French edition declares its status on both cover and title page: roman. Entitled “Numbered Days.  Herve Guibert What right might an experience of reading confer on a text that. lends itself to understanding as fictive: practically no “serious and authentic” testimony of the time could truthfully. would likely be writing it on the far side of death.’ part 1) With this post.” as well as the transparent figuring of the author’s friend Michel Foucault in the character called Muzil). suffer anything. crucially. in the absence of a vaccine as well as a treatment regime sufficiently effective to counter the virus over time – its introductory claim. accept anything. or as an archive.
displaced to the fine print below the copyright. of contemporaneity. between the times inscribed in the text and the time of lived experience. Any similarity of persons.com http://besovereign. is an explicit caveat to the reader in language that would appear formulaic: “This is a work of fiction.“To the Friend Who Did Not Save My Life” | Be Sovereign 20/02/13 19:21 Curiously.wordpress.” One may wonder why Guibert’s translator rejected the obvious (and economical) option of affixing “novel” to cover and title page. as the fiction of a fiction. this is not so much a matter of a dissimilarity or difference between the persons. places or events rendered and some putative actuality. perhaps. But the caveat’s appeal to coincidence may help to make legible precisely what in the text guarantees its status not simply as fiction. the designation does not survive the text’s translation into English.com/tag/to-the-friend-who-did-not-save-my-life/ Page 16 sur 16 . ereign” elivered ss. What appears in its stead. but rather of a necessary failure of coincidence. but also. As it turns out. places or events depicted herein to actual persons. places or events is entirely coincidental.
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