Shane Haddad is a writer. In 2021, at the age of 24, as a recent graduate of a creative writing masters at Le Havre, she published her first novel with P.O.L : Toni tout court (Just Toni), 24 hours in the life of a woman called Toni, a rebel who has lost her way. It was a revelation. Shane Haddad has invented a taut, direct, consistent voice. She plays with words, mixes direct and indirect speech, first - and third - person narrative, creating a rhythm that grabs hold of you. She has given us at Exhibition a text which is every bit as intense, inspired by a mysterious photo taken on a winter’s evening, at dusk, on the outskirts of Le Havre.
But it’s as if you’re sleeping.
It’s not that your eyes are closing. It’s not that you’re struggling.
It’s not that the steering wheel slips or the car accelerates. You are driving with concentration. There is no doubt, you feel it. But it’s as if you’re sleeping. Because your body is heavy. Because you are looking ahead of you, attentive to the elements which move and which advance, but you do not feel, deep down, up to speed with the world as it is at that precise moment. You process only simple information. You must change lanes. Put your foot on the brake. Activate the windscreen wipers. You do not speak. You no longer have time. You are a machine operating another machine. It’s as if you were sleeping. It’s as if you didn’t know, despite the fact that you are completely immersed in it, that there is fog all around you. That it is enveloping the machine. Fog all around which does not touch the ground. Fog which levitates, which waits. It’s as if you didn’t feel the weight of the machine slicing through the milky matter. It’s as if you didn’t feel it caressing your skin, leaving its dampness under your nostrils. You are just driving. You are a machine at the wheel of a machine and you are not aware of it. You are nothing more than one with the machine. A machine which is, with no hesitation whatsoever, crossing through this thick mist. You are driving. Only, in an unexpected, indeed, unforeseeable movement, you turn your head. You turn your head with a slight movement. Your eyes keep staring ahead, but you feel the rotation from the nape of your neck, you feel the weight of your chin which is searching else where. And your eyes, which did not want to follow, your docile eyes which stayed in place, your eyes which had up until now the authority to keep you alert despite the silence of your thoughts, your eyes finally turn away. Your hands remain in place on the steering wheel; your eyes are looking at something you never saw before, never, absolutely never, and those are the first words that make themselves heard inside, those never have I seens, I had never, never had I seen that never ever, absolutely never I had never seen, seen that, these words take shape make themselves heard, repeating repeating but your eyes, because your hands tell them to, return to the path of reason and the direction of the drive. You are back on track. But this time, as if the drops of a stormy sea were spattering your skin, you seethe density encircling you, you see the curves and the clumps of fog chased away by your headlights. You feel this cold vapour wrap itself around you like a dead woman’s shroud and you are astonished by it. Astonished without entirely managing to feel to measure the subtlety of this astonishment, a subtlety which covers something else, perhaps the feeling of being subjugated by the strange quality of all this matter. Whilst your eyes and your body seem to have discovered a certain balance, you feel coming into being within you fragments, sounds, notes that struggle to the surface. You feel the matter of your steering wheel beneath your fingers, you feel the road stretching out in front of you and you feel these notes, these things, these sounds taking possession of your body. These notes, these things, these sounds are telling you, suddenly, without it being distinct, but so that nonetheless you understand clearly, that you have to look elsewhere. Elsewhere. And asif you were seized by a force, you turn your head once more, this time your eyes follow with noresistance, you turn your head and find what you had neverseen before. You had neverseen it before. You had never seen the blue trails and the white splashes intermingled like that.
You had never seen inert masses, rigid masses like it. You had never seen these giants’ bodies. You recognize all around you the cotton of the fog rolled out on the ground, you recognize the green stretch, you recognize the sky that has not yet risen, and all those known things surround you as if there were nothing more logical, the silence of giants. All of a sudden, you understand that your eyes do not reach high enough, your imagination does not grow quickly enough to understand, to apprehend, to sum up the elements accumulating in front of you. Something, you feel it, is escaping you. It seizes you by the throat. A kind of beauty, a kind of beauty, you feel that it’s that, a beauty in this landscape that you had never seen, this atmosphere that had never before been created in front of your eyes, these masses and this matter which had never come together before you before. You suddenly feel the engine of your car vibrating in your feet. You suddenly feel the weight of the machine moving under you. You force your eyes to detach from the landscape at your right. You look quickly at the road. But you cannot keep on looking at the ribbon in front of you, you cannot continue to live as you were living a few moments ago, you have been subjugated, you have been struck, you must take advantage of what you had never seen before because there are things that you can’t look away from. You turn your head once more. And it is as if, by letting your gaze lingeron what is before you, you have stopped sleeping. And it is as if your eyes were opening for the first time, the eyes inside you, as if they were discovering exactly what it means to see, to see right to the heart of things. You look at the firmaments, the lines pierced there, you let the crazy heaps of bones take possession of your vision. You look at the cylinders placed on the ground, the cylinders that are not yet finished, cylinders that look like funnels, funnels whose structure you can still see and you find it incredible to see the giant unfinished funnels, still foetal, embryonic in this vast world. And by looking more closely you feel without wanting to admit it something like an exhaustion of the spectacular, you feel that it’s so incredible that all this, it has to be said, it has to be dared, all this is unbelievable, impossible, it is inconceivable that this building lying on the water is here next to these sleeping giants, that this crowd of immense and disproportionate things, made from burnt, broken, twisted material could have existed before your eyes in such a fleeting moment, so quickly to be forgotten. You take a closer look and you see that the firmaments and the mystery of the fog and the spreading green patch on the ground have a weird quality, an unreal quality. You blink, you find the road once more, then you turn back to the landscape, then you perform the same movements, once, twice, and no, you have the sense that everything is unreal but everything is real, you are really here, your hands are on the steering wheel, the inert masses are still there, but now some details catch the light. Some of the giant funnels look like they are pressing into the ground, sinking into the earth subsiding beneath their feet, it looks like the ground, which just a moment earlier was a simple, innocent lawn, has become in no time at all, too quickly for words, muddy earth, raw earth, flayed earth. And you feel a kind of pain inside, a kind of pain which you had not known before and which warms you up. Pain for the earth. And you feel that the beauty which subjugates is not a beauty which subjugates, but a kind of enchantment. And you feel that the enchantment, deep down, manages the fear. You would like to stop this machine that is suddenly moving forward for no reason and you would like to set foot on this ankylosed earth and put your ear to the cold and the damp and rub your hands against the cold and the damp and roll forward into this cold and this damp to be forgiven for having been as if asleep while the earth was there beside you. You would like to stop this machine and all those in the distance, that aren’t even looking your way, that you don’t even interest, that don’t even know that you exist, that you are passing by that way, that you are present at their creation, their birth, are present as they become air. You are still looking at what you had never seen before but this time your gaze is no longer caressing, you are simply looking, you are simply looking because it is no longer, you now realize, no longer the time for a satisfied body softly to awaken. You look. You look at the insolent association of the recumbent building with its pierced lines, you look at the heaps of metallic bones and the concrete structures that are nothing other than what they are. The metallic bones and the concrete structures and the reclining building are accumulations of mechanisms to set other accumulations of mechanisms in motion. You look and you feel a release in your body. You realize that those light, fine bubbles coming to the surface, those notes those things those sounds, were not an awakening to the world but an awakening to nausea. A nausea that all of a sudden makes your heart dilate, just for a moment, nothing to worry about, a release of emotion, a release from common sense. You feel like those notes those things those sounds came to the surface only to fall back down. And despite the mildness of your heart’s dilation, it feels to you like your heart has fallen several storeys, it feels like the void opened up beneath your feet, the void was in your organs, the void was in the palm of your hands, the complete impossibility of finding something to hang on to as you fell. You are driving but you are falling. You are falling before the concrete rising in front of you, rising in your place. You are falling before the incomprehensible silence of these stopped machines which will soon be turned on again, which will soon respond, docile, as buttons are pushed, as wheels are turned, under the confident eyes of those just like you, who will be driving but really sleeping
Emma & Sara Bielecki
Emma & Sara Bielecki