a charming book by enrique vila-matas, consisting entirely of footnotes about writers of the No: that is, all the writers who have decided it was better – for whatever reason – not to write.
fn 9) If Plato thought that life was a forgetting of the idea, Clément Cadou spent his whole life forgetting that he once had the idea of wanting to be a writer.
His strange attitude – to forget about writing, he would spend his whole life considering himself a piece of furniture – has similarities to the no less strange biography of FÃ©licien Marboeuf, a writer of the No I discovered in Artistes sans oeuvres, an ingenious book by Jean-Yves Jouannais on the subject of creators who chose not to create.
Cadou was fifteen years old when his parents invited Witold Gombrowicz to their house for dinner. It was only a few months (this was at the end of April 1963) since the Polish writer had embarked from Buenos Aires for the last time and, having paid a lightning visit to Barcelona, had come to Paris, where, among many other things, he had accepted the invitation to dine with the Cadous, old friends of his from the fifties in Buenos Aires.
The young Cadou had aspirations to be a writer. In fact he had already dedicated months to preparing for it. His parents were delighted and, unlike many others, had placed every facility at his disposal so that he could be a writer. They were thrilled that their son might one day be transformed into a brilliant star of the French literary firmament. The boy was not lacking in talent, he was a voracious reader of all kinds of books and he worked conscientiously to become an admired writer in the shortest time possible.
At his tender age, the young Cadou was reasonably familiar with Gombrowicz’s work, which had impressed him a great deal and which led him sometimes to recite whole paragraphs from the Polish writer’s novels in front of his parents.
And so the parents’ satisfaction at inviting Gombrowicz to dinner was twofold. They were excited at the prospect of their young son having direct contact, in the comfort of their own home, with the genius of the great Polish author.
But something very unexpected occurred. The young Cadou was so awestruck on seeing Gombrowicz within the four walls of his parents’ home that he hardly said a word all evening and ended up – something similar had befallen the young Marboeuf when he saw Flaubert in his parents’ home – feeling literally like a piece of furniture in the drawing room where they had dinner.
As a result of this domestic metamorphosis, the young Cadou saw how his aspirations to become a writer were permanently rescinded.
But Cadou’s case differs from that of Marboeuf in the frenetic artistic activity which, from the age of seventeen, he undertook to fill the gap left in him by his irreversible decision not to write. Unlike Marboeuf, Cadou did not merely see himself as a piece of furniture all his brief life (he died young), but at least he painted. And of course he painted furniture. It was his way of slowly forgetting that he had once wanted to write.
All his paintings centred exclusively on a piece of furniture and they all bore the same enigmatic and repetitive title: Self-Portrait.
“The thing is, I feel like a piece of furniture, and pieces of furniture, to the best of my knowledge, don’t write,” Cadou would say in his defense when reminded that as a boy he had wanted to be a writer.