February, 23 2003

The situation: As I was reading the text of a piece by the artist Douglas Gordon, "Past, Future, Present", I misread part of it and drew interesting conclusions.

The artist:
I, David Vincent, have the right to steal, modify and destroy pieces without the author's consent. I can create new pieces by crossing two distinct artworks. I can create new artists by interbreeding one with another.

The performance:
The text by Douglas Gordon is as follows:

"In 1905 an experiment was performed in France when a doctor tried to communicate with a condemned man's severed head immediately after a guillotine execution.

"Immediately after the decapitation, the condemned man's eyelids and lips contracted for 5 or 6 seconds. I waited a few seconds and the contractions ceased, the face relaxed, the eyelids closed halfway over the eyeballs so that only the whites of the eyes were visible, exactly like dying of newly deceased people.

At that moment I shouted "Languille" in a loud voice, and I saw that his eyes opened slowly without twitching, the movements were distinct and clear, the look was not dull and empty, the eyes which were fully alive were indisputably looking at me. After a few seconds, the eyelids closed again, slowly and steadily.

I addressed him again. Once more, the eyelids were raised slowly, without contractions, and two undoubtedly alive eyes looked at me attentively with an expression even more piercing than the first time. Then the eyes shut once again. I made a third attempt. No reaction. The whole episode lasted between 25 and 30 seconds."

...on average, it should take 25 and 30 seconds to read the above text..."

Instead of reading "At that moment I shouted "Languille" in a loud voice", I actually read "At that moment he shouted "Languille" in a loud voice". It didn't occured to me that somebody having his head cut off, even though he would still be living for a few seconds, wouldn't be able to emit one single sound because his vocal chords would have been cut as well.

Then I started wondering why a dying condemned man's last word would be "Languille". First I thought that there was probably a misspelling in the text : it should have been "L'anguille". The apostrophe would have been forgotten when the text had been translated from french to english! "anguille" is the french word for "eel".

I could think of two reasons why this guy shouted "L'anguille". Here is the first one : as he was dying, the materiality of words was becoming more pregnant, and "anguille" sounds a bit like "guillotine". So in a way, "anguillotine" was not illogical in this context. This argument seemed very convincing to me. But an other factor came to my mind : "anguille" is an animal which is not unrelated to the concept of cutting. There is a very famous dish, called "Lamproie à la Bordelaise". It's even more delectable, scarce and expensive than "truffles" or "foie gras". I had some once and the eel ("Lamproie" is an eel) was cut into several alike pieces.

Then, I don't know why, I looked into Google for "How to kill an eel", and what I found was amazing. First I ran on a very bad but enlightening joke. It's a bit long but it's worth reading :

HOW TO KILL AN EEL (a true story)

Little Johnny was 7 years old, and like other boys his age, rather curious. He had been hearing quite a bit about courting from other boys and he wondered what it was and how it was done. One day he took his questions to his mother, and she became flustered. Instead of explaining things to Johnny she told him to hide behind the curtain one night and watch his older sister and her boyfriend. This he did, and the following morning Johnny described everything to his mother.

Sis and her boyfriend sat and talked for awhile, then he turned off most of the lights. Then he started to kiss and hug her, I figured sis must be getting sick because her face started looking funny. He must have thought so too because he put his hand inside her blouse to feel her heart, just like the doctor would. Except he's not as good as the doctor, because he seemed to have trouble finding her heart.

He was getting sick too, because pretty soon both of them started panting and getting all out of breath. His other hand must have been getting cold because he put it under her skirt. About this time, sis got toward the end of the couch. This was when the fever started. I know it was a fever because sis told him that she was really HOT.

Finally, I found out what was making them so sick.... a big eel had gotten inside his pants somehow. It just jumped out of his pants and stood there about 9 inches long. HONEST! Anyway, he grabbed it in one hand to keep it from getting away. When sis saw it she got really scared. Her eyes got big and her mouth fell open, and she started calling out to God and stuff like that. I should tell her about the ones I saw at the lake!

"Anyway," sis got brave and tried to kill the eel by biting its head off. All of a sudden, she made a noise and let the eel go... I guess it bit her back. Then she grabbed it with both hands and held it tight while he took a muzzle out of his pocket and slipped it over the eel's head to keep it from biting again.

Sis lay back and spread her legs so she could get a scissor lock on it. And he helped by laying on top of the eel. The eel put up a hell of a fight. Sis started groaning and squealing and her boyfriend almost upset the couch. I guess they wanted to kill the eel by squishing it between them.

After a while they both quit moving and gave a great sigh. Her boyfriend sat up and sure enough they had killed the eel... I knew it was dead because it just hung there limp and some of its insides were hanging out. Sis and her boyfriend were a little tired from the battle, but they went on courting anyway. He started hugging and kissing her again. And by golly, the eel wasn't dead after all. It jumped straight up and started to fight again. I guess eels are like cats.... they have nine lives or something.

This time sis jumped up and tried to kill the eel by sitting on it. After about 35 minutes of struggle, they finally killed the eel. I know it was dead this time because I saw sis's boyfriend peel off the skin and flush it down the toilet.

Mother fainted.

Next, I discovered an other text, explaining the real method on how to kill an eel. It says : "To kill an eel you shouldn't hit it near the head, but near the tail". At that point, I was really convinced that I was on something very big, about death, ecstasy and words. But then I went back to the text by Douglas Gordon and I realized my mistake. "Languille" was probably the name of the condemned man!

Conclusion: You know, as mathematicians say, when the premices are wrong ....

Anglais -> Français
Anglais -> Français -> Anglais
Anglais -> Français -> Anglais -> Français