JacqueS vachÉ—not a run-of-the-mill adJutant
on Monday January 6th 1919, around 6 p.m., were discovered in a room of the hotel de France, in nantes, the completely naked bodies of two young people. They had succumbed to toxic poisoning through having taken an overdose of opium. one of the victims was called Jacques vaché, 23 years of age, an adjutant in the squadron of the army service corps. This man, who has left practically no written trace of his passing on earth, who, in fact, never had the opportunity of giving his full measure, he whose personality can be imagined only in a sense beyond measure, must be held as one of the most remarkable originators of the Surrealist spirit, of a keen humor, the career of which is only just beginning. an unconscious originator, it goes without saying, since his death preceded by several years the publication of the First Manifesto of Surrealism, and since he always behaved as if nothing of himself was meant to survive and cast light. Some will speak of unpretentiousness and forget all the pride that such a difficult attitude implies. There is in Jacques vaché a great concern to keep himself pure while befouling the world. There is in Jacques vaché a grandiose contempt for self-satisfied literature and litterateurs satisfied with their literature. There is in Jacques vaché a taste, nurtured at great expense, for the gratuitous act, a feel for the gratuitous which leaves lafcadio way behind in his railway carriage. This shooting-star suddenly stopped in motion by its immense reflection in modern poetry is Jacques vaché. This h-less one of pure blood superbly embodied in a single being and remaining faithful to him until his death is Jacques vaché. of his War Letters, published by Sans Pareil in 1919 through the personal attention of his friends, must be spotlighted the admirable design for the future, which constitutes the famous letter of november 14th, 1918.
. . i shall come out of the war slightly, or maybe quite doddering, just like those splendid village-idiots (and i do hope so) . . . or else . . . what a film i shall play in—with crazy motor-cars, you know what i mean, bridges collapsing, and outsize hands groping for i wonder which document . . . with such tragic dialogues, in evening-dress, behind the eavesdropping palm.—and then, of course, Charlie, rictussing unblinkingly. The cop hiding in the trunk, forgotten. and further on this shimmering of un-encountered nostalgias. i shall be just as well a trapper, or a robber, or a prospector, or a hunter, or a miner, or a driller. arizona Bar (Whisky-Gin and Mixed?) and lovely timber-forests, and you know those lovely riding-pants with their six-shooters, going together with being well-shaved, and such lovely hands wearing diamonds. it will all end up with a fire, i tell you, or in a saloon with fortune made. Talking of making fortunes, Jacques vaché once had the touching cynicism of speaking to andré Breton about being successful in the grocery business. But to this mock suicide, it was inevitable that he should come to prefer the real thing. his excess of Umour, for want of a foothold in a valid reality, could lead him nowhere else. . . . My present dream is to wear a red sports-shirt, a red scarf, and high boots—and be a member of a Chinese secret society with no objective in australia. The daily spectacle of the war inspires Jacques vaché with short, dry comments in which the richest vein of alfred Jarry turns up once more. i am with the english soldiers—they have advanced on the enemy staircase a great deal around here. There is a lot of noise—i am very bored behind my glass-monocle, put on khaki and hit the Germans—The brain-blowing machine cranks forward and i have, not far away, a tankstable—quite a unique but joyless animal. and, in conclusion, this categorical declaration: i object to being killed in war-time. it is not for no reason that in his “Confession of Contempt,” one of the most heart-felt texts that Surrealism has ever given us, andré Breton reserves for Jacques vaché pride of place, a high-lighted place. i owe most of all to Jacques vaché . . . without him i should perhaps have become a poet; he thwarted in me this intrigue of dark designs which has one believe in something as absurd as a vocation. i am fortunate, in turn, in not being blind to the fact that many young writers today do not have the slightest literary ambition. They “publish” to search out others, and nothing more. Jacques vaché was not inexperienced in drugs. he knew full well what he was doing on the evening of January 5th, 1919, when he took forty grams of opium at one go. and now that, on both sides of certain sign-posts, the frailty of which will eventually yield to mankind’s desire for fraternity, now that men are once more beginning to serve causes they have not chosen, it is with pleasure that we hail in Jacques vaché the paragon of the objector per se, the apostle of moral obstruction in a chaos, as ignoble as it is uninhabitable,—the coolest and most elegant of the terrorists of the new persuasion.
Cairo, February 1940
Don Quichotte, no. 7 (January 1940); translated by Myrna Bell rochester (original emphasis)