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The Exquisite Corpse - A Journal of Letters and Life
Edited by Andrei Codrescu
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the making and unmaking of person
The Making and Unmaking of Person

Viva Arletti! Our Lady of the Egrets
by Mark Spitzer

(fragments from an abandoned novel extrapolated from the posthumous film concept "Arletty" by L.-F. Céline)

The Synopsis:

Arletty, a young and alluring gospel singer from Louisiana, leaves her Baptist community and goes to the modern-day Utah of Latter-Day Saints, where she has earned a scholarship to a Mormon University. There she meets Orrin, a student of theology, whose missionary aspirations enrapture her. They fall in love, get married in Vegas, and set off to save the world. They travel across the continent searching for places of strife, where their singing and preaching bring people together. After stopping the violence between inner-city gangs in L.A. by getting them to cooperate on an urban revitalization project, the Devil goes to earth to balance out the good the missionaries are responsible for. He shows up at a rodeo in Montana following a truce Orrin draws up between Native Americans and Amish farmers battling over grazing rights. The Devil is a wrestling fanatic who takes note of Strong Bull, a powerful Indian who punches out a Texas longhorn. The Devil tricks Strong Bull into a contract, then sabotages the missionaries' Cadillac. So off they all go together in the Devil's limo. To Chicago, where Strong Bull wins a highly televised wrestling match by killing his opponent with a single punch. Arletty and Strong Bull have ethical problems, but Orrin can't stop to consider this. He's got work to do. He tries to calm pro-lifers demonstrating against an abortion clinic in the City of Brotherly Love, but the Devil interferes. Orrin ends up in jail on drug charges. Arletty, however, sparks the mojo in Orrin's lawyer and Orrin gets off. Then it's on to Washington D.C., where Arletty sings at a gay-pride event and a riot occurs with neo-Nazi skinheads. Again, the Devil interferes. This time Orrin is charged with murder. But Arletty gets him off again, by indenturing herself as a sex-slave to a Mexican Mafioso who pays off a judge. Arletty finds herself a prisoner in Chiapas as Orrin finds himself on the bum wandering across America, getting beat up and losing his faith. In Houston, Orrin finds Strong Bull who is now the World Champ. They steal the Devil's limo and take off for Mexico. Meanwhile, the Devil gives up, walks into a bar, and goes gay. Strong Bull and Orrin make their way to Arletty and Orrin gets gunned down. Strong Bull escapes and Arletty cuts off the Mafioso's member. She flees the stronghold, finds Orrin's corpse, and hauls him into the night. After the Apocalypse, the Devil is running a roadhouse and Strong Bull is the bouncer. Arletty sings on stage wearing nothing but a snake. Orrin is a stiff and the Devil employs him as a dummy in a ventriloquism act.

The Prelude:

Look at Arletty, electric Arletty, the only white face in the whole black congregation, radiating light and swaying with the beat like a siren of the cypress swamp, yet innocent and young-fleshed and wide-eyed and clapping, enchanting in the swing of her hips, oblivious to the men repenting in the pews for eyeing her with wolflike intentions.
      Arletty: her high cheekbones and perfect skin, her sparkling eyes and confidence -- she is meek and deadly too, a femme fatale, a daughter, a whore -- a woman, an object, a sister, more. She is chance, she is fluke, she is the voice of an angel -- so girly in her yellow dress you'd think she had a pie in the oven.
      Then it happens: stepping forward, she releases the twisting crystal of her voice, holding a note the color of amber, bending brilliant in the air.
      This is what Arletty was made for: her thorax, her lungs, the tendons in her neck -- quivering ecstatically, shuddering unceasingly -- like a tuning fork ringing and ringing and ringing -- she belts it out for God.
      And as Arletty lets it rip, gushing forth with a flow of Whoooaaa Whoooaaaa Whoooaaaas so heavenly that it fills the church with a sacred vibration.With the whole old building throbbing and pumping and pulsing in time, it leaks through windows, sneaking through cracks, rising like steam as it swells the floorboards, shaking the foundation. Then crossing the blossoms of camellias, azaleas, and burning white magnolias, it drifts into the sugarcane and enters the forest of twining vines hung thick with banana spider webs, before diffusing through the levéed swamp where watersnakes wind through the duckweed and muck while the junebugs buzz along with her song. Until all that the birds and deer can hear is one high whine, senseless but familiar with the shape of human sound.
      "Hallelujah!" somebody shouts.
      "Save Us, Oh Lord!" the chorus cries out.
      Forgiveness, charity, honest hard work -- these are the values of the people -- the goals that they will act upon, week after week, year after year, not one selfish thought in the whole holy whole.
      Because of Arletty, who sings every Sunday, instilling the will to help each other and love thy neighbor -- even if he be the Devil.
      Virtuous Arletty, sultry Arletty, unsuspecting, trusting Arletty -- Arletty who will do anything for God. Arletty--has sung.


The first time Lula had a vision was eighteen years ago. It was Sunday at the Ibis Bayou Baptist Church, forty miles south of Baton Rouge, and the choir was singing away. The preacher was at the podium and Lula was feeling the spirit on the organ when things began to blur. Shapes took form, and then she saw a pregnant lady with a man beside her, sweating like crazy. Both of them were white and both of them were leaning forward as if straining toward some distant wish beyond the dashboard.
      Lula, of course, had no clue who they were: a French opera star who had come to America to sing the blues, but got caught up in gospel instead, and her husband the Reverend Jackson Divine, a fire and brimstone minister, who'd been driving through the South for years, singing and preaching wherever they went, spreading the word of "tolerance." Racial, that is.
      Which didn't make them very popular in certain parts of Arkansas, where a sign reading "County Route 333" suddenly went rushing by. And then, up ahead, a bunch of muddy pickup trucks were blocking the road, while a gang of rednecks waved them over to the shoulder, pointing with their shotguns.
      And the next thing Lula knew, they were dousing the man with gasoline, lighting him up, and laughing as he burst into flames. Then kicking the woman six or seven times, they left her lying in the mud, contracting, in shock, and going into labor.
      The vision vanished and Lula stood up. She told the congregation what she had seen, and the preacher didn't question it. They wound things up as quickly as they could, jumped in their truck, and took off for the Ozarks.

# # #

Eight hours later, winding through the red-clay ruts, they heard her wailing from a mile away, oscillating eerily with the howling of coyotes. And then they came upon the same scene Lula had seen, but obscured by hundreds of bright white egrets puffing up their breasts.
      Skidding to a halt in front of the flock, the preacher leapt out and slammed his door hard. The birds, however, stood their ground. But when Lula came running up, shooing them away, they exploded whitely into the sky, revealing a pile of smoldering jerky that used to be Reverend Divine. And in the ditch: his wife stiff with rigor mortis, a blood-covered baby caught in her thighs, yowling its head off.

Flash Forward to Present-Day Mexico:

      Strong Bull throws Orrin's corpse to the ground and springs into the thicket, while on the balcony above, Arletty stares down, trying not to scream.
      "Chiquita," Felipe whispers, coming up behind her, "it is time."
      He thinks this gunfire is the usual gunfire used to keep the workers in line. He has no idea what just happened. He has no idea what's about to come.
      Because now it's clear to Arletty. All there is in the world is meat. Tons of meat! Loads of meat! The meat of Chaos, the meat of Chance, taking up space! Genocide meat! Murderous meat! Meat no good for nothing other than fucking and killing and rotting and digesting! Hallucinatory Holocaust Meat!
      So Arletty nods and follows him in, feeling unsteady on her feet, but strong enough to get the job done. The job she can finally do, now that Orrin is history.
      As usual, Freduardo is there, standing before her in his robe, smugly holding up the handcuffs. Then jingling them. Once. Twice.
      And to his surprise, she slowly, somberly, nods her head yes.
      "Oh Chiquita," Freduardo grins, rushing forward to dominate his whore. "I thought you would never agree!"
      Arletty kicks him in the nuts.
      "Ooomph!" the Mafioso grunts, keeling over, holding his balls.
      She picks up a chair and smashes it over his head. She kicks him in the face, and then again. And again and again.
      "Please!" Freduardo begs. "Please Stop, Chiquita!"
      "I'm Not Your Chiquita!" Arletty yells, picking up a leg from the chair. "I'm Not Your Nothing!"
      SMACK! She whacks him in the ear. KRACK! She busts his nose. THWACK! No more front teeth. SMACK SMACK SMACK SMACK SMACK SMACK SMACK!
      "No," he grovels, "What's Wrong With You!?"
      Arletty grabs a bottle of brandy and uses his skull to shatter it, knocking him out till next Tuesday. Then gripping the broken bottleneck, she rips his bathrobe open. And there it is: his shriveled-up pecker looking like a puny mushroom growing on a ball of dung. SWIPE! She bobbits him completely.
      "AIIIIIIIIIIEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!!" Freduardo screams, waking up and passing out again.
      Arletty throws the door open. Nobody's there. She runs down the stairs, stops, staggers, and pukes.
      The guards spot her, blood running down her gown. And then they're up and after her.
      But Arletty is ahead of them. She bursts out and into the dusk, flinging Freduardo's dick in the dirt.
      And as thousands of birds erupt around her -- ibises, egrets, herons, cranes -- the peasants see her heading for the hills.
      "VIVA!" a cry arises from the fields. "VIVA ARLETTY!"
      And as a tempest of talons descends from above, screeching like vultures, gouging out eyeballs, half the soldiers are blinded in the instant, while the other half runs back to the castle holding their hands over their heads.
      But the workers are hot on their heels, surging forward with shovels and picks and torches and sticks, breaking down doors, smashing in windows -- to burn Freduardo's bastion to the ground, once and for all -- on this day of their independence.

Beyond the Smoldering Pit of Death:

After dumping the bodies into the crater, Juan Carlos and Carlos Juan kick back and smoke a Kool. Until, that is, they hear a rumble, then see the fire brightening the sky. The castle is engulfed in flames.
      But that's not all. On the opposite side of the pit, veiled in ghostly smoke, a sudden silhouette is shimmering exquisitely. It's the Angel of Chiapas.
      A zephyr blows in and clears away the smoke, revealing her gown blowing all around her. In the lunar gleam shining down, her nipples are highly defined in the night, staring and glaring straight into their brains like a pair of pupils so piercing that they are capable of destroying men with a single thought.
      "Bruja!" Carlos screams, and they throw down their guns and run away.
      Arletty walks through the smoking pit. She can hardly see, she can hardly breathe, but this doesn't matter. She has the power.
      Tires sizzle all around her as the fire leaps higher and higher and higher, lapping at her legs, licking at her hips. She forges her way through burning garbage, vegetable matter, and the charred remains of incinerated masses. Until finally she arrives at the pile of smoking corpses, where she finds Orrin, half-burnt and riddled with bullets, face frozen in a blissful expression.
      "Orrin," she whispers, "we're together again..."
      Arletty gets a grip on him and drags him through the ash. Up the slope, she sweats, she glows. Perspiration flows. And then her vaporous dress ignites. And as it rises like a pair of blazing wings, exposing her callipygian curves to the world in all her noble nubileness, it's consumed in less than a second.
      She tries to inhale, but all oxygen is gone. Everything spins, she begins to slip. And as she spirals into the black, a hand reaches down and steadies her back. A hand she knows does not belong to God.
      "Strong Bull," she sighs as he lifts her from the pit, shamelessly naked and smeared with soot. He's dressed as a priest, bloody scrapes all over his face.
      And in the flickering crackle from the flaring castle, he slings Arletty over one shoulder, hoists Orrin over the other, and follows the moonglow into the jungle.

Apocalyptic Climax...
Ludicrous Ending...




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diaries and memoirs translation and her retinue
the book of revelations and epiphanies working class sweat
the making and unmaking of person the corpse reads classics letters

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