« Every Death is a Birth »: discover Simon Johannin’s exclusive short story for Antidote

Article publié le 22 décembre 2021

Text by Simon Johannin taken from Antidote’s « Karma » Issue (Winter 2021-2022). Stylist: Yann Weber. Casting director: Alexandre Junior Cyprien. Production: Thomas Delage. Fashion coordinator: Nikita Radelet. Make-up: Thierry Do Nascimento R. Nail artist: Lora De Sousa.

Simon Johannin, the 28-year-old French author known for his novels L’Été des charognes [The Summer of carrions] (2017) and Nino dans la nuit [Nino at night] (2019) – co-authored with his wife, Capucine Johannin – as well as for his collection of poetry, Nous sommes maintenant nos êtres chers [We are now our loved ones] (2020), pens an unpublished and very personal text, which recounts the sudden resurgence of a forgotten trauma at the edges of his consciousness. This serves as the starting point for a spiritual reflection, which leads him to push beyond the framework of rationality in order to better apprehend both the human soul and the world in all their forms, including their darkest ones.

The universe is a force in which we participate, a force which we tap into and out of throughout our lives. If, in the great story of humanity, souls have travelled from one incarnation to another, from one body to another, in order to grow, to accomplish their missions, and to further the expansion of something that is beyond us, that is inconceivable because its truth is too powerful for us, we are nevertheless agents of our own destinies. Though their lines may have been drawn by the influence of the stars, by heritage, or paths outlined by possible futures, we can act or not according to the signs life places on our path, or, to say it more plainly, we can act according to our own intuitions.
I have experienced, as others have these past few months, an awakening. I’ve walked on a path whose meaning is still obscure, but which has revealed an invisible part of the world, as well as an unknown part of myself. To put it more concretely, I have established a powerful, indestructible bond with what we could call the beyond. I would describe the beyond as that share of dreams that are not dreams, wherein the world we go to represents the dark side of our own, in which dangers exist and from which we return laden with something, sometimes wounded in body, in spirit, or in both. My connection to the beyond has existed since childhood: with a power and energy that our human eyes could only describe as eminently evil, something marked me then, one night, and over the course of my life, I have encountered the possessed glances of strangers displaying information and secrets, which I understood, and which spurred in me actions that remained decisive for the rest of my life. Yet, it is only recently, in fact since the spring of 2019, that my body and my mind have both started to feel this other part of the world, for a reason which, to this day, I have yet to fully understand. I lost my brother around that time, and his entry into death, his departure from life and from the world of the animate to join that vast and unknown one to which one goes when one’s destiny has been fulfilled, had the strongest of effects on me.
When he died, my brother gifted me something from the other shore. A transmission occurred, without which I would not have survived. It could, of course, have taken me a long time to die, but I would not have escaped the grip of suicide, madness, or damnation. His death was, in a way and it is very strange for me to say this the beginning of my life’s awakening.
From that space where, after life, one can access all the knowledge of the world, he glimpsed something about me, and drew on his strength to make me see it in turn. My brother died in Paris, at the same time as Notre-Dame went up in a thousand flames just a few miles away. This wasn’t incidental, as the terrible feeling of his disappearance was appeased by the awareness of that sacrifice History was making to celebrate his own. Life does not offer just anyone the conflagration of a consecrated building where people have been praying for more than 800 years in thanks for having chosen such a courageous destiny.
At least that’s what I like to tell myself that my brother chose this destiny, sacrificing a happy life, so that I could be fulfilled in mine. I can no longer retrace the exact train of thought I had at the time, but I remember very clearly despite the degrees of alcohol, the molecules of chemistry coursing through my body having resurfaced a memory or a trace of sexual abuse, of a childhood ransacked, even though I could remember no such thing at the time, not even the inkling of a memory. No faces, no names, no places. Words passed through me though I know with certainty that they weren’t there, that I possessed nothing of them before they came out of my mouth.

“I have experienced, as others have these past few months, an awakening. I’ve walked on a path whose meaning is still obscure, but which has revealed an invisible part of the world, as well as an unknown part of myself.”

They passed through me. They were driven by something that operated outside of me, and I was able to express a truth that, just moments before,
I knew nothing of.
A set of terrible questions proliferated; they wanted to catch up with this memory I was ashamed of without yet knowing why, a memory like a stain one carries from not having been human, at least no more human than a piece of furniture which has been manipulated at will, its drawers opened and closed for the unique purpose of claiming ownership over it and asserting that one will do as one pleases with it.
Then came the burning, arid desert of a world where neither my body nor its memories belonged to me, but where slowly, unbeknownst to me, and because I had welcomed it, the sense of a new becoming took form.
It was the middle of August, the end of a strange summer, when, naked in the sea, facing the rocks of the Levant Island, I felt in me the premonition of a shift yet to come.
For the first time, I would draw the Magician the first card in the Tarot of Marseille just before my arrival on the island. It is the card of unity, of learning, of symbolic birth, of the first impulse on the path toward transcendence.
Paul L : Pull, veste et jupe, Louis Vuitton.
Life changing encounters would occur on a night when the moon was full, and I would embrace a force in myself until then unknown, a very physical force, closing my eyes to all the things my unconscious could surmise. I experienced that autumn and its embracing light without knowing that it would be the calm before the ferocious storm.
I have flashes, reminiscences. Smells, breaths come back to me. I dream of this place more and more, of the play of light and shadow on the leaves through the window. I dream of the stagnant water that makes the meadow grounds spongy and foul-smelling. I dream of death, of the state of the world, and, little by little, I remember things.
But when powerful bonds were undone as the truth tore through, from the depths of my childhood nights I was attacked by that which would have preferred to see me lost forever. Any attempt to recount, in a rational way, what exceeds the framework of reason, would be absurd here, so I would like to use an excerpt from a forthcoming text to shed light on the darkness of that which sometimes also inhabits the world.
– There are several of them. When they put on animal masks, when the ram, the fox, and the killer whale inhabit their heads, they transfer to them the infinite cruelty of a nature that does not know itself. Prohibitions do not exist, only the limitless violence of a world where gods die. In this space where nothing human remains, they gather, like smooth, black, indestructible stones, all of their cruelty.
– What do they want?
– They want my pain, they want to pour the absolute darkness of their souls into me through their still and evil eyes. They are at the threshold of what is beyond death, and beyond death begins that which cannot be conceived.
– Are you in pain?
– Yes, I feel the strength of their fingers entering my body and the pain is so strong, it is only equaled by the pleasure they derive from it. But that’s not all, they are not alone.
– What do you mean?
They are but agents of a deeper evil, an evil consciousness so powerful that nothing can survive it. It wants me. It follows me.
– Does it have a name, a shape?
– I don’t know its name, but I know its cry. It has pierced through my nights. It has pierced through my body with needles of torture and fear. It speaks the language of terror, it speaks beyond death, from a place where even death refuses to go. It is as strong as a storm, as vicious as aging, which takes hold of the body and corrupts it until it caves in. It takes different shapes in order to reach those it seeks to reach. It is so powerfully evil that even the air it circulates seems vicious. It is teeming with all that teems in the ground, and its essence is that of a magma of foul-smelling gases. The first time it manifested itself, I felt how much pleasure it derived from my fear when it revealed its presence. It came to me and impressed me with its ageless cry, ripping open my soul and slipping inside it the seed of its darkness. It is not the devil, and its power far exceeds that of all demons. It is the essence of a land where too much blood has been spilled, where there has been too much fear, too much heartbreak, where too much has been annihilated by the movement of life itself without being destroyed.
It has fed off of distress and carcasses that have piled up over time. Perhaps one day I unearthed it. Perhaps it has come from the deep past of this forest where childhood was ruptured. I don’t know what it is exactly, or if others perceive it. But I do know what it is looking for: it is looking for the wound, for madness, for loss, and for the whirlwind of ashes damaging the souls it feeds on. It enjoys suffering. It is evil incarnate, that is all it is and it cannot be reversed.
– Is it chasing you?
– Yes, it has chased me for so long that I sometimes feel its presence behind me, but I pay it no mind. I used to be so afraid that I could feel the thick waters of madness climb up my ankles. Now, I have realized something.
– What have you realized?
– That if it seeks me out so, it is because I carry in me a threat, and being threatened frightens this evil force. It didn’t get to me in childhood, it didn’t reach me in that moment of chaos when the body awakens, its only effect is a few aberrations. Its cruelty has overshadowed its malice, and with each blow, it gives me more ammunition to fight with. I alone encompass all the blades that the magic forges make; the more it attacks me the less it can get to me. But two things have been born of this struggle in which it entraps me, even when I turn my back on it.
– What are these things?
– The first is fatigue. This evil force has made it so dark around me that it is difficult to keep it at bay, so my gaze does not always transpierce it enough, and then its clouds hover closer to my eyes. So much sadness can befall me that the idea of death settles in, and in this gaping wound the evil force creates inside my head, it whispers to me that I have no other option but to kill myself. But even in the midst of its darkest night, I draw strength, because since childhood, I have been driven to take up the challenge of never satisfying it. This evil force cannot possibly win, it would be impossible. It is so dark. It wants me to lose myself so much that through this desire it has rendered my will more ferocious than a storm. So, it cannot get to me, and if it cannot do so, that is because nothing else can.
– That is why you are so strong, so detached, and why your gaze embraces the world so widely, why you can muster a smile even amidst the most vivid pain, which you pick delicately, just as one would pick a tender fruit. Now tell me, what is the second thing?
– The second thing is the true heart of its curse. For there are consequences to its power, it radiates around me and burns the flesh of those I love. I have been the focus of so much violence, so much intent to destroy me has been projected onto me that it now bounces off, displaced onto those I love around me. Though I know how to do good, how to give birth to as many gardens as this earth can hold, drawing from a strength made of love, I also carry all the torment that has been directed at me, which cannot hurt me. Echoing against the walls of my heart, the evil force is diminished, but only dies as it clings to the people around me. Some have gone mad, overtaken by evil spells to the point that I can no longer see them. They have become evil’s fools, for their hearts have welcomed its darkness as one welcomes a friend. They have married this evil force, seeking through the love that cloaks their now darkened souls to push me towards death, insanity, or injury. Their love became another force with which to attack me, and I was sad to learn of the weakness of these hearts that thought themselves so strong, and now are lost forever. But they were not pure, they came from some cesspool, some cave, which cultivated a kind of cowardice whose mouth covered that of a morbid authority. They never had the courage to live for themselves, that’s why they would have done anything to get to me; now they survive with the hatred of what they think they love. And then there are the pure ones.
Paul L : Chemise, pull et jupe, Burberry.
– Who are the pure ones?
– They are those who fight and suffer alongside me. Those that the evil force will never have, even in madness, even in death. They are those for whom my presence can cause just as much good as it can cause pain, because their bodies receive the poison arrows that were destined for me but did not reach me. Their love is a sacrifice that I must dismember if I want them to live. Their love for me takes them on the most difficult path, and this path never ends. It is an experience of suffering that awakens their awareness, above all, of the mysteries of life. But this awareness has a price, which I refuse to see them pay for too long. So sometimes, at the height of love, I distance myself to ensure that they can continue to live in full possession of a body and mind that nothing can come in the way of, as it should be if you are pure.
– But then you are alone.
And in this solitude I move forward. My path is drawn under my own basket of stars, at the crossroads of others’ paths and the secrets we sometimes reveal to each other. There are things that pass through us, that travel through us as they move towards others. There are other things that are within us, but that only contact, alchemy, or an encounter can reveal to ourselves. We are what lives and what dies, what will never live and what will never die.
If it does not destroy us, trauma can be the root of a pair of wings whose span gives us the strength to experience everything, to move through the most opaque regions of the world and of ourselves. Thus, the obscurity we have roamed through, however dark it may be, is at base nothing but the space where the light of the world still evades us too quickly for us to be able to feel it, to perceive it.
The fact is that the path remains to be walked. We must not cry or wallow in misery but rather kiss the mouth of that which we do not know and which frightens us, to suck up all the fear and make of it the ray of light that will guide us where we must go.
Since then, sometimes, rarely, a presence takes shape. Protection or threat surround me, just as they surround those who know them.
We do not arrive on earth charged with an energy that is more or less dense without reason. We are here for something greater than surviving the misfortunes of existence, and while insurmountably strong obstacles may appear, we should not forget that, whether visible or not, the dead keep watch on the living, so long as we take the time to watch over them too. 

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