Wednesdays with Romain Gary – Part Twelve

Les oiseaux vont mourir au Pérou. 1962 English title: Birds in Peru.

Les oiseaux vont mourir au Pérou is a collection of short stories and a film directed by Gary himself, starring Jean Seberg. The film is notoriously bad, so don’t bother. I picked this quote from the first short story of the collection:

Il faut espérer que l’âme n’existe pas : la seule façon pour elle de ne pas se laisser prendre. Les savants en calculeront bientôt la masse exacte, la consistance, la vitesse ascensionnelle… Quand on pense à tous les milliards d’âmes envolées depuis le début de l’Histoire, il y a de quoi pleurer. Une prodigieuse énergie gaspillée : en bâtissant des barrages au moment de leur ascension, on aurait eu de quoi éclairer la terre entière. L’homme sera bientôt entièrement utilisable. On lui a déjà pris ses plus beaux rêves pour en faire des guerres et des prisons.

Let’s hope that the soul doesn’t exist, it’s the only way for it not to get caught. Scientists will soon compute its exact mass, its consistency, its rate of climb… When you think about the billions of souls that have ascended since the beginning of times, you have good reason to weep. Such a tremendous amount of energy wasted: if we had built dams at the moment of their ascent, we would have had enough energy to light up the entire planet. Humanity will soon be entirely usable. Their best dreams have already been taken away from them to start wars and build prisons.

Translation reviewed by Erik McDonald.

Gary_LecturesFor me, this quote shows two of Gary’s obsessions. The first one is that everyone should keep their part of mystery. It’s not necessary to know everything, to explain everything with science or rationally. We live better if there’s room for dreams and imagination in our lives. Love isn’t that magical if you think of it in terms of hormones.

The second idea is that humans can’t be disposable goods. He rejects the trend considering that anything is marketable. Not everything is marketable. Humans are not. Wilderness should be protected and also everything related to art. Not every human activity should be evaluated according to its return on investment or its usefulness. I wonder what he’d think of surrogate mothers, fights to exclude films and books from international trade agreements and in general of how money has become the unique compass to assess someone or something’s worth.

  1. April 2, 2014 at 7:01 am

    Nice quote, Emma. Enjoyed reading your commentary on the quote too. It is sad that things are monetized the way they are today – looking at monetary worth or usefulness as the main way of judging a thing’s value – but it is also nice that people are fighting against this trend in their own corners. It is interesting that the story was made into a movie directed by Gary himself and it didn’t come out as well as expected. I sometimes find that brilliant novelists want to make movies and direct it themselves and then they discover that things are not as easy as they thought it would be. The reverse also happens – famous directors or actors / actresses try to write a book or write a song and put it to music, because they think it is the easiest thing to do, but when the work is done, what has come out is not that good.

    • April 2, 2014 at 8:58 pm

      Monetise, that’s the word I was looking for yesterday night. What’s brilliant is that he wrote it early in the 1960s. You’ll find that regularly in his work: he’s sharp. He’s got a good understanding of the world he lives in a d can grab the deep trends.
      Not easy to switch from one art to another. He wasn’t good at directing films, or so I’ve heard.

  2. Bella
    April 2, 2014 at 11:47 am

    The whole idea of evaluating and measuring the worth of things and sadly, people in terms of is so very bad. It’s capitalism at it’s worst.

    • April 2, 2014 at 9:03 pm

      Well, I think it’s inherent to humanity. Capitalism is just very obvious in its doing so. It’s our role to refuse to get too much caught up with it. It starts with not giving money to children to do chores at home. They’re part of a family, of a community and some things must be given for free.

  3. April 3, 2014 at 4:49 pm

    What’s the title of the film? Just curious.

    • April 4, 2014 at 8:12 pm

      Birds in Peru, I think.

  4. May 5, 2014 at 5:24 pm

    I totally agree with you that we do have a choice. And yes seriously, I fail to understand the concept of giving money to children for lending a hand in the house. I get it when they get paid when they work the summer at their uncle’s barn or whatever but daily chores…No way.

    • May 5, 2014 at 10:07 pm

      True, otherwise you just teach them that everything deserves a payback.

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