posthumous one-act play Elle was written during Genet's visit to Scandinavia
in 1955, but was not published until 1989. Publication of the play was delayed
for decades due to a feud between Genet and his publisher, Marc Barbezat, which
was finally resolved in 1980 when Genet authorized the publication of this
play after his death. Since then, it has been performed only once, in Paris
In French, "Sainteté" (Holiness) is feminine;
hence the pronoun "elle," which is used to refer to the Pope throughout the
Performance of this translation is encouraged
in all parts of the world at all levels of theater, free of charge.
A monumental door--a golden double door--occupying
the entire background of the scene. The door is shut, but then it appears
to open--into nothing: as if this door, with its frame, was set in a desert.
To the left, some photographic lighting equipment.
To the right, a camera with a black veil, on a tripod.
The Photographer is hidden beneath the veil.
The Usher (about 50 years old, with a silver chain, and a coffee grinder between
his legs) gets up from a red armchair, and goes behind the back of the chair,
making the chair pivot: the back of the chair is fake and contains two cups,
and a small hot-plate on which a coffee pot is heating. He makes coffee.
(yawning) Even the armchairs are fakes.
On one hand, a visitor can take a rest. On the other, the ceremonial could
never take place with a coffee grinder present. No, no, don't take any pictures.
(coming out from under his veil) Nevertheless,
this is exactly what a good photographer must make known: what is not authorized.
I especially want to show what we lock up, as well as what we hawk up.
Young man, what use would that be? I know what
you are telling me: the nobility of a coffee grinder, the dignity of the most
humble object. But why try to glorify them?
That's not exactly what I wanted to say. What
seems more important to me is showing the falseness of the ceremonial, because
of its presence, because it's there... along with who knows what else--in
the back of a secret compartment, in the back of an armchair, in the cushions,
in the paneling. I mean, who knows what's inside a hollow pedestal, or the
nose... cavity... of a fifteenth-century virgin?
Like you said, who knows? Exactly, who knows?
That's the question. Have a cup of coffee, it will give you strength.
Isn't the Pope coming soon?
Don't worry. No one's even gotten up yet, except
for the Pope, and he dresses by himself. In the dark, out of modesty. At this
very moment, he is buttoning his pants. (he holds out a cup)
(taking it) That's true, it's early. The
guards were still sleeping, and yawning. They opened the doors for me as if
they were opening the doors of sleep.
(holding out a sugar bowl) One pope? Or
(He picks up a sugar cube with a sugar tong
and hands it to the Photographer)
(astonished) Don't you mean sugar cube?
Yes, thank you.
I call it what I want. It is a pope.
Excuse me, and thank you for the pope. Another,
if you please.
(He takes a gulp and holds the cup,
then gets his lighting equipment ready)
If the Pope's late, and daylight comes, then
I'll have to adjust my lights another way.
(He goes back under his black veil)
You worry me when you're under there.
(appearing, smiling) Photography also has
its mystery. Which, perhaps, is even more primitive than yours.
An usher also works in the dark. In certain
ceremonies. In death.
(smiling) Have I frightened you?
No. But when you disappear beneath that veil,
I ask myself what becomes of your face. Does it change completely? And what
do you do in there? Nothing of importance really. I know you open or close
a little eye, you slide a plate, and that's it. But all in all, it's worrisome...
because of that cheap cloth. I've always dreaded black cloth. The cloth of
cassocks (he crosses himself) and umbrellas, and the skirts and blouses
(interrupting) They're made of crepe.
Not always. Crepe, however, troubles me less.
The cloth of pockets, the cloth of record books, the cloth of...
(interrupting) With all these worries, and
all this stuff spilling from your mouth--you, nevertheless, are here--dressed
in velvet and silver. How come?
(not amused) My story is of no interest
(a long silence)
(contemplating his chain) However, without
this chain, this symbol, this organ of my function, this virile member attesting
to my dignity--without you, heavy chain, what would I be?
Is it made of silver?
(correcting him) It is silver. And of so
many carats that... Don't you doubt it!
(polite gesture from the Photographer)
(yawning) Will the Pope come soon?
Don't you worry. He will be announced by a little
bell. A bit like a little maid... or a little train. A sharp little ring,
just like his little legs and his little footsteps. Are you nervous?
A bit. I'm afraid of messing up my portraits.
What if he takes offense?
He might take a little. But the Pope is very
good. I can't see him getting angry. However, it is preferable that your negatives
come out perfectly, so that his traits and gestures can be taken to the four
corners of the earth, even to Black Africa, as far away as the four winds
blow, even to the Isles of Timbucktou.
In the bush!?
(feigning dread) In the jungle. The jungles
of Oceania. They consume the most. Even more than the Pampa. The jungle devours
them. You can do it in several poses, can't you?
Yes. And that's just what worries me.
But... why? You aren't short on supplies, I
hope? You have plenty extra plates. So what's the problem?
Oh nothing. Just an idea which came to me.
(uncomfortable) Nevertheless, haven't you
forgotten the ceremonial? It's very simple. It's just a morning prayer, but
it is important, and the Pope will be sensitive to it.
Do you want me to rehearse it? He will enter...
the door... but just before, a sharp little ring. I'm composing myself. Already,
I'm moved. Already, a shiver of respect travels through me...
The Pope is very simple, and accessible. Before
this, he was a shepherd. A little shepherd, as he will tell you himself. A
rustic scavenger in love with wild eyes, and the fog. Thus, the Pope is very
simple. But continue.
Already a shiver of respect travels through
me. A noble monument brings itself to us. I'm setting myself in a pose, respectful
Natural, certainly. Just show your flexibility.
You will need it in order to work. We can't ask him to hold his pose too long.
The Pope is old, and crippled--because even though God prefers him to us,
the Pope, still, is not spared from harm. But soon, from his features, I shall
see how he suffers, and then... (holding out another cup) One pope?
(a long silence)
(startled) Did you hear something?
Are you sure?
(weary) For forty years my ear has always
caught the slightest noise, the softest murmur, the flight of feet across
these carpets. Nothing escapes me. My downy ear hears everything: your breath,
a bit stifled, the back door in the corridor. My ears have been trained to
record the slow precious life of these chambers.
Does the Pope require silence?
The Eternal Silence of Infinity, as they say.
Is it necessary for his work and meditation?
It is necessary for his slow ripening. The silence
is a heavy sun which gilds him on all sides, so as to make him a good Christian
pear.1 Yes, this silence--if you like--is an emanation of his self.
His heart--that mysterious heart! His heart secretes a silence which spreads
itself in thick layers across our carpets. Around him, shock is absorbed:
that is the mystery.
You speak admirably. How come you're so good
In a little while, when the Pope gets here,
I won't be able to utter a word. He will be the one who speaks. He will entrance
Even you? Who sees him everyday?
(after some silence) I have never seen him.
(dumfounded) What? What are you saying?
Doesn't he come here every morning?
Who dares to say that he has seen him? Does
the Pope exist? Yes, since he reveals himself. But where does he exist? If
my eyes see him, it is not him. If it is him, then these are not my eyes.
How then could I see him?
But what about me? Won't I see him?
That is exactly what I'm asking. (Suddenly)
(The Photographer freezes.
Motionless, they listen)
And yet, he comes. With slow hesitant steps,
but he comes. Don't be so stiff. Stay relaxed. It won't be that bad, you know.
Besides, the Pope is still very far away. I just heard the bleating of his
pet lamb. Which means that the door of his room was open for an instant: the
time it took for him to close it.
He has a lamb?
For the legend. This is the detail which humanizes
him and renders his sweetness and goodness accessible, present and visible.
It is because of the lamb that we are able to dream about him, and so we embrace
him. So--don't--be--stiff! Breathe freely. Loosen up, if you wish. Do some
stretching. The Pope is still very far away. Imagine that he limps slightly--has
sciatica--and that he must travel trough... (a yell) the Fanfares!
The Fanfares, there they are! The Fanfares! The trumpets! Behind the windows,
the guard just hailed his passage. Soon, the Pope will cross the Winter Garden
and I shall hear his light steps on the sand, and then upon my carpets...
There! Just like each morning, he stops to cast a weary look on the rising
sun, which colors his youth and his cheek...
The mountains of the little shepherd. When he
used to lean upon his elbows...
My lights--are they in place? Yes. Good (he
adjusts a light) Does the Pope have any special traits, or tics?
(cautioning) Uh, uh, uh! Everything is a
trait in this admirable person. And everything will be enhanced, after you
do you work, since each trait, each flaw--will refer to the most sublime idea.
Therefore, I must photograph him in dim light...
Contrary to the common people, in whom you must
choose the most significant detail, the most common detail here will refer
to the most sublime idea.
So my work will be easy.
Too easy. Or... (he corrects himself)
... easy enough, I should say. But haven't you photographed...
Hitler! Yes. Before this, at my own risk and...
Silence! The Pope has resumed his walk. He comes.
I hear him trotting across the flagstones. The rustling of his robe... one,
two. He's approaching the halberds...
(interrupting him) But... when you say that
it's not him whom you see when your eyes see him, or that it isn't your eyes
if it is him, can you be certain that it's his footsteps that your ears hear?
(triumphantly) Exactly! I could never doubt
it, for the Pope is always absent! Thus, I can say that it is him, since he
has not yet arrived. Ah, when he shall finally be here! I shall hear him speak.
He will move a chair, dragging his leg. The springs of the armchair shall
creak beneath his ass...
(astonished) ... His leg? His ass? And then
what? His gut? His mug? His teeth and his schnozz?
His leg and his ass for the minute, yes. I am
trying to give him some life. When I say he shall finally be here... he's
coming, he's coming! He approaches, they've opened the golden gates of the
grand vestibule where the guards...
A noble way of speaking. Elocution... (resuming)
...where the guards are still sleeping--because the old man rises at the rooster's
crow--you'll remember Pierre of the Oliviers--but when the Pope comes, he
will move a chair, he will bump his elbow, or his shin, against a bureau.
He will break a vase, an inkwell. He breaks everything by accident. I can't
even be sure if he is here, nor if he really is, except that something could
perhaps, for a second, restore him to his absolute reality: in his toothless
mouth, dentures click ridiculously.
I must be dreaming! It's from this, and not
his natural majesty, that you will know...
(Suddenly the Usher plunges into a sort of exaggerated
reverence in the direction of the courtyard)
(astonished) What's come over you?
His Eminence... Greet him!
(A long enough moment, then enter the Cardinal,
in a great cape. Red skullcap on his head)
(holding out his ring to be kissed, but then
withdrawing his hand) I don't know if I should, because... isn't the Pope
Not yet, my Lord. But he won't be much longer.
Your Eminence is early.
Yes, I have arisen early, to go fishing.2
(he opens his cape, exposing his velvet underwear) As you see, I am hardly
dressed. This is why I did not dare hold my hand out for you to kiss.
If only I had known. Are you going fishing?
Hunting is a cruel sport, but fishing is an
agreeable game. In the hunt, one puts on boots, and leggings, then arms himself
from head to toe--armored with manly pride, with ferocity. But in fishing,
one approaches in silence, with softness, with tenderness almost. The rose
of the fisherman is not the rose of the hunter.3 One is more humane
than the other. I know the result is death in both cases, but nevertheless...
(he wraps his cape around himself, concealing himself) Tell me, can
you see that I do not have a cassock on?
(stepping backwards) No. But perhaps if
you walk softly. But very softly. Walk!...
(the Cardinal walks)
No, nothing can be seen of what's underneath.
It's just that I must cross through the grand
vestibule and I'm afraid of meeting the soldiers there. I wouldn't want to
bother them. So I threw this great cape over my shoulders, very quickly. I'm
In any case, don't worry about it. No one suspects
Good. Then I'll leave before the Pope arrives.
My questionable dress could cause a certain number of problems. He might find
my siren state quite fishy.
Christ was also a fisherman.
(turning around before leaving for the garden)
Thanks for the compliment.
Do cardinals go fishing in the morning? They
eat fish sticks?...
(interrupting) Everything leads me to believe
that in a few minutes the photo session will proceed as it must. You kissed
the Cardinal's ring with much dignity.
(blushing) I wasn't too bad?
Too bad His Eminence was a bit under-dressed.
It is true, though, that discovering him in an intimate kind of way--if I
dare say--made him even more noble... (a pause) for being more strange.
(A pause) All the same, for the sake of my gesture, and therefore my
pleasure, I would have preferred His Eminence in his totality. (A pause)
What do you mean, for your pleasure?
Yes, I know, he is just a man like all the rest,
and yet.... (with force) Yes, for my pleasure! I feel myself suddenly
relieved, having been able to have carried out a gesture which restored me
to a ceremonious mode, which is therefore definitive. For I did it ceremoniously.
For an instant, I was detached from time. As if some little death had been
there instead. And that relaxed me. When the Pope... When he shall be here...
for he will come...
(cupping an ear) You will see, you will
see--Don't be impatient, or irritated. He is coming. He is here! Oh, he is
quite tired. He must have had a terrible night again.
A capricious angel, perhaps. Or maybe a fairy...
But why are you giving me such a strange image
of him? The more you speak, the less real he becomes. I saw him once, white
and pale, thin, though cast in a sort of glory...
(interrupting) He is here.
But it was an awesome kind of glory, stern yet
soft, and radiant in any case, capable of knocking me down, then picking me
back up again, with a paternal tenderness, loving yet cruel...
He is all of those. Don't doubt it.
But you speak without respect, and you turn
him into a puppet. He cannot be the combination of those two opposites. Or
else he's not...
(shouting) Silence! (From far away,
a great blare of trumpets) On your knees! (They drop to their knees.
Then, as if by themselves, the double doors open and reveal a very blue, very
pale sky) He's here! It's him!
(announcing) His Holiness!
(The Pope, coming slowly, from very far away,
is dressed in a long white robe hiding his feet. He seems to glide across
the floor. He wears a tall papal miter, and a cross on his chest. On his hands,
joined together, gloved in white: a big ring. He slows to a stop in the middle
of the room and blesses the audience. After having watched him for an instant,
the Photographer kneels. He goes to kiss the foot of the Pope, but as he rolls
up the white robe, he realizes--and the audience along with him--that His
Holiness is wearing roller skates. Modestly, the Pope pulls down his robe)
(on his knees) Did Your Holiness have a
(clearing his throat) I have a cold!
(still on his knees) Me too. It's those
belches that don't seem to fully escape. I feel them in the hollow of my stomach.
Instead of leaving through my mouth, they explode with wet spray in my thorax.
(to the Photographer) Rise, my son. You
have sensitive knees, and soon it will be late.
(to the Photographer) Do it as quickly as
possible, don't exhaust His Holiness. One pose, very quickly.
(The Usher and the Photographer rise)
The pose! Will it have to be done more than
once? Every day I am only a pose, because I am the Pope. (A sigh) So,
what will it be, my son?
(stammering) Sire... Madame... Heloise...
Easy, easy. Call me "Holy Father".
Holy Father... it was agreed with the Nuncio
that we would do five sets of three million.
(still motionless, in the same spot) Three
million multiplied by five, that will make for fifteen million prints of my
image. That is not enough to impregnate the world. But after all, it is a
good start. But which poses should we begin with?
(approaching) If I dare advise your Holiness...
It is not enough just to advise. This morning...
Demand! For the moment, I am no longer the Pope. Or rather, I am not him yet--since
you have displayed neither the proper attitude, nor gestures, which would
make me the Pope. Therefore, I am nothing. It's a strange state though, to
be the one waiting to be conceived. I am still nothing. For indeed, until
your decision to photograph me, I was an odd Pope. A Pope in the papers, a
popular Pope... so finally I will be him, in the essence of Pope.
No holiness. I am a mannequin, fairly dismembered,
poor me. Or rather, what I am is the hope of being the Pope--to which you
will give the form of Pope. So do as you like with me. Pull down my arms,
lift up my foot, dislocate my neck, offer my left cheek, my right cheek, bend
my bust, tug my tongue, but make me the Pope for fifteen million men!
Never. I wouldn't dare touch your... never,
pardon me... I'd never touch you.
God damn it! Touch me, I tell you! I must be
taken: take me! Take me in prayer! Take me blessing! Take me taking communion!
Take me in meditation! Do it! Do your work... I am not the Pope!
But I recognize you.
(astonished) From where? From my old photos?
Yes. And from an appearance on the balcony of
From the balcony, my friend, from where I was
blessing a people overwhelmed by my appearance. Yes, but then if you recognize
me, then this is only because... But are you sure you recognize me?
Quite sure, Holy Father.
Then this is serious. Does this mean that the
Pope whom I was on the balcony is the same one you are speaking to now? For
if I am, then I won't strike any pose at all.
Well, what I mean is that any pose will be just
fine, and will make me the Pope. Catch me then, as you wish. And how convenient,
I love taking a shit. (to the Usher) Bring me my chamber pot so I may
shit--so this young man can show fifteen million loyal followers the image
of a squatting old man who will be the Sacred Pontiff.
I don't know if we can give this to the world...
So what? My pot, the blue one is fine, over
there, hidden there, in the pedestal of Saint Philomene. Go on, go get it!
But fifteen million souls!
My son, it is on the pot, when I am tranquil,
when I relax myself, where I have been visited by the most fecund thoughts,
by the highest thoughts, those which leave a trace of fire--from wild game
and ice cream--in Christianity. My son, listen: when softly, heavily, but
tenderly, my tissues relax, when my organs loosen, an angelic sweetness descends
upon me. All of a sudden, I am good. And pious. Charity halos me in the pose
of an old Turk. We do not know how to shit on our knees. Thus, I conclude
that the only posture which is not an imposture, is the squatting posture.
And at the moment that I rid myself of all that reeking matter, I become closer
to God, and I take advantage of it. An angel then--visible, my dear fellow,
visible--puts his finger, gloved with white snow, to my temple. And then I
have the desire to spread an infinite goodness across the world. My heart
opens up to the misery of lepers, of Arabs, of heretics, and High Society
ladies. Oh how many bulls were divinely inspired within me there! Suddenly
everything becomes accessible to me: the beauty of rubies and satin brocades--which
I discretely equate with that strange matter my entrails have been making
for twenty-four hours--leaves me when this goodness visits. But, without a
doubt--you are right. We cannot offer the world the image of a Pope on his
pot. The world would not believe it. This would not be the image of the Pope!
Yet, does this mean the Pope would be a series of poses? Hence, my young friend,
give pontifical postures to the mannequin who is here. Go to it!
I forgot where I left off.
(laughing) Don't get lost so easily. Otherwise,
where would that leave me?
(to the Pope) He is still very young, you
(to the Photographer) Do you have any children?
Two. A boy and a girl.
Are you married?
(embarrassed) No, but my girlfriend and
I, we love each other. Our love seems sufficient enough to sanctify our bonds.
Because we want to relate everything to it, and make everything depend upon
it, we consider our love as the absolute sacrament.
Does everything really depend on your love?
Even the loyalty between you?
Two children. Two angels no doubt? Blondes like
Would you like to see them? (he searches
in his pocket and takes out a photo, which he hands to the Pope) There
they are, both of them. Pierre. And Jacqueline.
Oh, in color! And what pretty hair-dos. Jacqueline
is styled like a boy.
These days it's called the Joan of Arc, Holy
Father. It's her favorite Saint, whom she wants to resemble.
(interested) Is that so? So as to be canonized
or to die a virgin? Or all that as well as the rest? To be Joan of Arc or
to resemble her? Images, always images! I have had enough! (he tears up
the photo and throws the pieces down)
(offended) You've gone too far!
What have I done? I tore up a piece of paper.
But as for your adored creatures, I did not touch them. You idolize them,
Yes. On your knees. It's getting late.
(kneeling) Okay, I'm kneeling, now what?
Strike an inspired pose, if you please.
Ah, ha. I saw this coming. And what is an inspired
pose? And first of all, if one is inspired... does one pose? And this pose,
what is it? Is it an apparent beatitude, the delight in understanding God--or
the suffering of receiving a message of such importance that all your traits,
like arms, reach out in order to carry it? Or is it the pose of a student
who tries to solve a riddle, and should I stick out my tongue? My friend,
neither your trade nor mine allows us any rest. But I wouldn't mind joining
my hands, looking at Heaven, and offering it my face. (He does it)
(changing the position of the Pope's hands)
Not bad. Not enough fervor in the look though. A bit more intense please,
and with pleasure.
(forcing himself to obey) Like this?
That's much better.
Closer to what? (Silence) Closer to what,
my friend? Speak quickly. Don't forget I'm holding the pose. More fervor in
the look, face more intense? Closer to what? Speak quickly, in the name of
Closer to God.
Ouch! You frightened me. I though you meant
closer to the Pope! Because then, having attained this sublime expression,
and having become--for fifteen million greedy souls--who I am trying to be,
I would have no more recourse than the inexplicable crime of suicide. Therefore,
I was being closer to God.
That's how you seemed, Holy Father.
How could you tell?
For a second your face was veiled in such solitude,
and such a soft light lit it that...
(dropping the pose) Idiot!
Idiot! Such solitude! So softly lit! And you
didn't even click the button, so now fifteen million savages pass through
life just inches from grace! You little punk!
Excuse me, Holy Father. The Lightning! I was
in the grip of grace! I was having the Unique Revelation! Can you restrike
that pose, and the fervor?
Just like that!? At will? I've had it with that
admirable expression! I am enraged with this wretched job you are making me
do! With the result that fifteen million souls pass just inches from an imposture,
thanks to your blunder. Someone can be chosen by God as much as he wants--it
does not matter if one is elected by men, and venerated by old women and little
negroes--for we are still just flesh, meat, and humors. And more fatigue than
But Holy Father, you are Gentleness, Charity,
Shut up, you old codger! Ask your friend the
Photographer if a talented actor or--what am I saying?--a third-rate actor,
a method actor--couldn't be quicker in putting on a spontaneous face--a paler
face, a face more moving, more elegant than mine. I am of course speaking
of an atheist actor--if one is to be found... However, I hardly dare to speak
about actors. The disgust which they inspire in me is tremendous. Do you know
why? It's because, like me, they have a definitive image to which they refer.
(shouting) Holy Father!
(very softly) Let it go, my friend. Your
cry proves there is a budding friendship between us. I would like to recite
"The Laments of the Pope" for you. Sit down.
(The Photographer sits down)
(solemnly) Listen. His Holiness will now
recite "The Laments of the Pope". A sacred poem in five songs. Song I.
(after a moment of silence) I was 16-years
old and I was a shepherd. Let us pass very quickly through my emotional childhood
of communing with nature, and wolves, with their evangelical recitals taking
place near my groves, and in my sheets. Finally, however, I disciplined that
disorderly fervor. I learned how to study its rigor, its goal. Slowly--from
the sickly crippled shepherd in a sweater, to the old man whom the archangels
politely addressed--I climbed up the ladder--the ladder of perfection, let's
hope--but also the ladder of Hierarchy. I climbed the echelons. Like a meteor,
though slowly, I went blazing into the fray. Always heading toward an image
I sought to identify myself with: deacon, priest, vicar, bishop, cardinal
(smiling) and others, pagan and lovely... I was elected by the Sacred
College--and here I am.
As I was saying: I was heading toward an image:
attracted by it. Alas, little by little, I lost all interior density as I
watched an image outside me dance. Friends, all my life I have been running
after only that new image--which kept offering itself and refusing my desires.
So, if you want to drop me now, then go ahead and recreate the Pope, and all
his accessories, his entourage of gestures and deeds which make up his admirable
train. But I am Pope! Here I am Pope! I have attained the definitive image!
So now what should I aim for, isn't there anything more? My friends, should
I listen to you? Should all that remain, therefore, be for me to destroy this
image, to come back down those rungs I so painfully climbed--despite my increasingly
painful sciatica--so as to rejoin the hoarfrost and the wolves? Do you follow
me, all of you who listen to me, do you follow me? To destroy the image by
refusing to perpetuate it--within me at first--and then by reproducing it
outside myself! It's not easy. It's not in the bag. It's inferred that the
Pope was given to the world. But by whom? The Sacred College? No. But by the
demands of the Pope's very Image. By the millions. And are they going to stop
me from destroying it? I'm worn out from jokes. One time, on a negative, I
replaced my foot with the foot of another, then my leg. Then it was the hand
of another. And there I was, the lowest, because someone else was giving the
blessed gesture. Sure, it was the hand of a Belgian high bishop, but it didn't
help things. Finally, I replaced my face, and then, exhausted, thinking this
was enough, I lent an ear, then ear hairs--to authenticate this image. Finally,
little by little, I ceased to represent myself. I disappeared altogether.
I was absent from all representation, whereas images of the Pope were multiplying
infinitely--in castles, in cottages, in convents, churches, farms, hospices,
prisons, the bush, barracks... but during those times, me, whom you see here
this morning, crying his miserable laments--what was becoming of him? Tell
me, what was becoming of him? He didn't have any more images. The mirrors
of the Vatican, you say? Where are the mirrors? I was becoming a prop for
gestures destined to define the most unattainable image ever, me, like a tiny
snail, I curled up inside myself more and more, I shriveled myself up, I shrank
myself, I watched as this magical person spread from Rome to the Sahara, from
Rome to the Pampa, to the Tundra, and me, the delicate snail, I sat down on
a step of the pontifical stairway, and I cried in silence. End of Song I.
(drying his tears with a handkerchief) It's
atrocious, Sovereign Pontiff. Fate is too atrocious.
I know you're sad, but at least you have the
pride of having been chosen among so many--and among those so noble and so
dignified--to serve as a prop for this glorious image. Whatever made this
image for you must've been inside you. So, what was it then?
I can tell you. It will last the length of the
Can I photograph you?
You are mad! You'd be photographing a bard,
a ham actor.
And yet, you're not like the others, since we
venerate you. So why is this?
I will tell you. But tell me, my friend, is
your girlfriend beautiful? For I have heard it said that men attach themselves
to women because of their beauty, and that this, in your language, is called
love. She is beautiful, isn't she?
(suddenly) Halt right there! That's none
of your business!
Oh, leave me alone...
Out of the question. I will not permit you to
ask him this in such a lewd tone... except, that is... if you want to.
You are appropriately stern, like an old woman.
Shut up! This is the first time I've permitted
myself to intervene. You know I have the right. So don't insist. Tell us,
if you like, why we venerate you. I will grant you this.
(to the Photographer) Then I will tell you:
it is not the person I am who has earned me so many homages, even though these
homages, suddenly, made me sacred.
Do you want to say, Holy Father, that it isn't
you whom we venerate when we fall to our knees to kiss your shoe?
When a man kneels, he knows--or he does not
know. And I don't give a crap--that he attaches more importance to his own
gesture than to my foot--and especially to the man to whom it belongs. What
he wants is to feel himself trapped inside a ceremonious jelly.
So when I fell to my knees...
Pomp can crush a man. Faced with the unobtainable
distance between himself and the Pope, man gets dizzy. This distance, this
void, is obtained through the accumulation of useless gestures. And I have
so many of these gestures that I cannot do anything anymore. I am Un-usable.
Good for nothing. I am a dancer. I, the Pope, dance. They've faked me. And
it happens more and more all the time. Here, go behind me. Look!
(The Photographer goes behind the Pope and utters
Oh! But... my poor man.
(upset) Yes, that's a good one, isn't it?
Behind, I'm showing my ass. And it's useless to waste cloth to hide it, since,
basically, my back is never seen. Therefore, if by chance someone saw my back,
and bare ass, it wouldn't really be the Pope's, because the Pope does not
have an ass.
But the cold... all the same, you should still
In our region, the climate is gentle. Still,
sure enough, I often catch a cold. No one gives a damn about a poor old man.
Especially me. My ass is exposed--but I don't even have a back--though my
hand--pontifical!--carries to my ear--pontifical!--a telephone of solid gold.
A ton of it.
A ton of gold! And we put you on roller skates!?
At your age!?
The Sovereign Pontiff must be carried by angels.
He shouldn't know how to walk. That is what the Image desires. It had to be
sold. I do well enough, though. But I haven't recited Song II of "The Laments
of the Pope" to you yet. Don't you want to hear it? Song II is pretty short.
(solemnly) The Sovereign Pontiff will now
recite Song II of "The Laments of the Pope". (to the Pope) Hit it!
[this passage was intentionally left blank]
(crying) Still, your power over the Sacred
College is real. And you have a personal effect on the world.
Well, that's another part of the problem. No
doubt, I have an effect on the world, a personal power--but then, in having
it, I cease to resemble my image: I scratch, I fidget. I laugh with high-pitched
laughter--like this: (the Pope laughs like a fairy). I pick my teeth,
I re-eat the leftover food caught in an old tooth stub, I burp, I fart, and
I even shit--so therefore, I tell you, I cease to be the Pope.
(joyfully) So, you exist!
Not so fast, my young friend. First, this power,
this reality, comes from my image. Without it I would not have this power.
Do you see what I mean? Good. I have to live with this atrocious contradiction.
Oh man! It's hard. (He weeps) But you must hear Song III of "The Laments
of the Pope"--or better yet, "The Song of the Sugar Cube"!
(solemnly) His Holiness will now recite
Song III of "The Laments of the Pope", also known as "The Song of the Sugar
(psalm-like) Indeed, I tell myself, if it
is enough that our intervention--as well as the most effective anodyne--can
sanctify any image no matter what, then my image could be anything. Should
I continue with my demonstration?
God help us!
So be it. I will then establish that any object
can represent me. If it does not matter what face, what shoulder, what temple
can be the Pope's, then anything will do. I was trying to figure out what
object would best represent me and my noble absence. I thought at first of
a thimble, of a stuffed giraffe, of a lint brush--my humility could not disregard
this: I thought of a spat-out cigarette butt--yes, I had the idea that as
soon as a cigarette butt is flicked through the air, it becomes the Pope and
has a right to all pontifical respects. Then I took this even further, to
the idea that a nothing could represent me best. A nothing? That's hard to
grasp! Fortunately though, in my anguished quest, the idea of using an object
from everyday conversation came to me--because cigarette butts, I told myself,
rarely try to deceive honest men--and then the idea of a sugar cube came to
me! I was delighted! I released a famous secret bull--establishing, regulating
and codifying, the representative powers of little bits of sugar. Thus, in
all places in the world, and during every second, millions of followers consume
incredible amounts of my image. Instead of receiving thousands of pictures
of an old man, the convents, the presbyteries, the bistros, the barracks,
the reform schools, the parliaments, the train stations, the airports, receive
tons of white sugar, ideal images of Our Gullibility. They put me in a hot
cup of coffee, of milk, of camomile, phooie!! I melt. A kid, an old woman,
munches me up. More Pope? End of Song III of "The Laments of the Pope".
Holy Father, be clear: who knows this secret,
and venerates you too?
Nobody knows it. Only me. But do you at least
understand my grief?
Better than anybody. More than once I've had
tears in my eyes, believe me. But all is safe--you, them, me, everybody--if
you're in touch with God...
Am I? I must be. Either the splendor which the
Sovereign Pontiff is is ridiculous--or pomp has not worked well enough. It
is the entire universe... pearls, rubies, silks, swords, cannons, guards,
music--but what music? Aren't there any waltzes? Yes, waltzes--processions
of young pageboys, dances, shows, parades--and the universe orders itself
around my Papacy, the axis of the visible world, singing Hosannah to all other
strange words, be they Hebrew or Caribbean. Their earth orbits my miter...
then... oh, oh, my friend, hurry, ask me some questions. Tell me, your girlfriend,
is she beautiful? Do you love her?
Our love is the most beautiful thing in the
world. But tell me: the earth orbits you... then what?
(very quickly, and haggardly) And then many
splendors equal to no splendor at all! With the greatest of all being the
negation of everything. Yet, I thought I was brought to this throne to contest
these golds, these brocades. But your girlfriend, does she love you? Answer
quickly. Quickly! Quickly, I am about to take off...
But I was asking you if you were in touch with
(getting more and more upset) In the name
of God, speak quickly, I have to leave. Already, I am--look, I'm moving backwards,
backwards--I feel the shudder starting up again, straining the rope connecting
my skates to my chapel, the illustrious seat of all my decisions. I am leaving
you. On my ridiculous skates. But Sir, Sir, Mr. Photographer, you who are
a man, tell me, does your job of image-hunting make enough to support your
(Already the Pope is rolling backwards, pulled
by a rope, invisible to the audience)
Times are hard. But don't leave. Try to stay,
I'll photograph you.
(anguished) Let it go. The world is full
of sugar cubes. But tell me, tell me: I was 16-years old and I was a shepherd...
the wolves were drinking from my hand, my pockets were overflowing with grasshoppers
(The Pope rolls backwards, blessing the audience.
The Photographer jumps beneath the black veil. There's a flash. It was fated
to happen. From far away, a blare of trumpets. The Pope disappears and the
doors close by themselves)
(after a moment of stupor) It was difficult.
But I got him.
Don't worry about it, my poor friend. You're
wasting your time. In place of a photo, you'll have a sugar cube.
That's ludicrous. So I didn't just see the Pope!
Tell me, was that or was that not the Pope?
(cupping his ear) Listen. Do you hear?
I don't hear anything.
He is crossing the grand vestibule. He...
He? He who?
(slowly) His Holiness. He's coming, carried
softly by clouds, by dust. He glides on felt, on oil. He flows upright, through
vast portals: the Portal of Graced Saints, the Portal of the Lowly, the Portal
of the Highest Perspective, the Portal of the Celestial Kingdom. He enters.
Two halberds strike the flagstones. He will descend the brick stairway. He
will climb three steps, to enter the Hall of Noble Guardsmen...
So then it was the Pope, since you call him
His Holiness. You admit it.
I know it's a question of the Pope, because
he is absent. But, he forgot Song IV of "The Laments of the Pope", and Song
V also. Would you like to hear them?
If it doesn't bore you. And if you know them.
Song IV of "The Laments of the Pope": For Alas,
the worst is yet to be told. For the whole world, for the school children,
for the executioners, for the Greeks, for the Americans, for the pearl divers--but
not for the Russians, God save them!--for the whole world the Pope exists:
a sublime, pale image of Misery, a Leaning Tower of Indulgence and Forgiveness;
a soft flexible Dick dressed in silk; the Aurora Borealis beneath the Italian
sky; Majesty of All Majesties; an actor in drag, a tired Schmuck, fashioned
hard, but tender; for the whole world the Pope exists, but not for me. Everyone
has a Pope. The Pope is for everyone. But for me, who is him, I am deprived
of the Pope. In order to approach him... to attain him for myself... Sir,
don't ask for too many details from me. Just accept this as the end of Song
IV of "The Pastoral Laments".
Ah, but I do understand, and I suffer from it
too. No one can give the apostolic benediction to him. Except me! For I am
Etienne Lewen, the Photographer (yes, I am Jewish). For I am like him. I can
never approach myself, and when...
(interrupting him) And here is Song V of
"The Laments of the Pope": Finally, exhausted by so much effort...
(interrupting the Usher) I know, I know...
So much effort...
(continuing) To rid me of this image...
THE PHOTOGRAPHER and THE USHER
(together) ...which now, could never be
driven away by another, and then, on the extreme edge of death, on the point
of dying, enveloped...
(alone) ...in it, and at the risk of appearing
to future generations with this never-changing snow-white appearance, and
covered in jewels, I withdrew into myself and took off to look for the seeker
in love with wild eyes, and the fog. Alas, when I found him frozen, he was
dead, from sadness, from hunger, and cold. I gave him some blankets, a hot
water bottle, warm milk, and aspirin: but nothing happened. I massaged him:
nothing. Nothing. Nothing. He was frozen. So I recited the Prayer of the Dead.
End of Song V of "The Laments of a Shepherd".
(Long solemn silence)
(holding out a cup of coffee) Drink. This
will lift your spirits. One pope? Or two?
(taking a sugar cube and considering it)
Are you sure the Sovereign Pontiff... But wait, I am a photographer. I am
an image-hunter, as they say, and when...
(interrupting him) When you are beneath
your cloth... (he looks backstage) What are you doing over there?
(Enter another photographer who
looks just like the first one)
So, I'm here, as agreed.
But who told you to come in?
(timid and uneasy) Don't insult him, please,
I can see that he resembles you, but he can't
be you, since you are here and he is there.
(still timidly) This is my official photographer.
He's the one who's in charge of setting up the unforgettable scene, and preserving
(breaking in with irritation) But what scene?
And why, and how did he get in?
The scene in which I'd be in the act of photographing
the Pope. (a long uncomfortable silence)
(Enter the Cardinal, who crosses the stage from
the opposite direction he first came from, and stands between the First Photographer
and the Usher. This time, he has a red cassock on beneath his cape)
So, is the pose finished yet? Hey, two photographers?
(the three men just stand there, silent)
So, aren't you going to greet His Eminence?
(The First Photographer and the Usher bow, while
the Second Photographer goes to work--in a flash of magnesium)
The French noun "poire" (pear) is also slang for sucker, or fool.
2. Here, as well as in all following instances, Genet plays with the phonetic
similarity between "pêcher" (to fish) and "pécher"
3. Though the literal translation of "La rosée du pêcheur
n'est pas la rosée du chasseur" is "The dew of the fisherman
is not the dew of the hunter," Shakespeare's famous rose metaphor ("What's
in a name?...") is also being played upon here. The colloquial noun
"rossée" (a thrashing or beating) can also be noted for
its similarity to "rosée."