Chew Your Own Adventure, by Jean CocteauTranslated by Alex Wermer-Colan

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June 2022 Issue [Readings]

Chew Your Own Adventure

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From Letter to the Americans, which was written in 1949 after a visit to New York City. It will be published for the first time in English this month by New Directions. Translated from the French.

Americans,

You graze the real world. Your sects, your clandestine religions, your phantoms, your fevers, your anguish, your disquiet, your crimes, and even your dread of Harlem’s beautiful dances, reveal your desire. And yet you are ashamed of it. You hide it. So you sniff out your desire in blurry spectacles that nourish you in secret.

I saw you, Americans, leaving your seats at the end of A Streetcar Named Desire by Tennessee Williams, ashamed and fulfilled. I observed you out of the corner of my eye, seeing your women and your girls falling over backward into the arms of the extraordinary actor Marlon Brando. I saw you searching for your pasture in front of the magnificent mortal sins of Picasso. I saw you, Americans, letting your masks fall and straightening them with machines, as one plays a record on a jukebox in your popular bars. One day, if you accept this automatism, you will order food in one of these bars, you will pay for it, another will eat it for you, and you will be nourished, without having chewed the meat. This will be the end of your world—the end of ours—the end of the world that the centuries have tethered to nothingness.

Human dignity is at stake. Be what you are. A people who preserved its childhood. A people young and honest. A people in whom the lifeblood circulates. Disentangle yourselves. Question others less and question yourselves more. Confide in your friends. Don’t content yourself with those encounters where drinks are served but nothing is said. Don’t disorient yourselves with vain activities. Don’t surrender yourself to the lethal vertigo of radio and television. Television encourages the mind to stop chewing, to gulp down soft, predigested food. But the mind has robust teeth. Chew things with its robust teeth. Don’t let them only serve as the ornamental smiles of the stars.


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