Jean-Pierre Brisset’s false etymologies: proto-Derrida, demented fun

Xavier (check his crazy blog, Le dicon) in an interesting comment has introduced me to Jean-Pierre Brisset. Brisset is interesting because he anticipates Derrida (différance) by taking a a lexical trick that works only in French and using it as the basis for universal theory, despite most of us not having been blessed with an intimate command of the language of the empire. However, where Jacques made of this patent idiocy a sterile dogma with which a generation of smart students were beaten into incoherence, Jean-Pierre turns it into surreal brilliance. First here’s a summary of Brisset’s Wikiography:

  • 1852 Aged 15, leaves his parents Lower Normandy farm to work as an apprentice pastry cook in Paris.
  • 1855 Joins the army and leaves for the Crimea.
  • 1859 Learns Italian while fighting against Austria
  • 1870 Learns German as a POW in Magdeburg.
  • 1871 Publishes Swimming, or the art of swimming learnt in less than an hour [La natation ou l’art de nager appris seul en moins d’une heure]. Patents inflatable swimming girdle, a commercial failure.
  • 1874 Publishes a French method in Magdeburg.
  • 1876 Back in the army, patents a planchette calligraphique, which I take to be some kind of early stencilling tool.
  • 1877 Leaves the army for the last time but unable to obtain employment as a language teacher in Parisian schools for lack of a Latin diploma.
  • 1878 Publishes Logical grammar, or a theory of a new mathematical analysis [La grammaire logique ou théorie d’une nouvelle analyse mathématique].
  • 1879 Starts work as a railway station supervisor in Orchies, a small town on the Belgian border.
  • 1883 Around the time of the publication of the second edition of his Grammar, and while working at a station in Angers, realises one day that man is born in water, his ancestor is the frog, and that the latter can be proved by the analysis of human languages.
  • 1890 Publishes The mystery of God accomplished [Le mystère de Dieu est accompli] from his home in Saint-Serge station, Angers.
  • 1891 The mayor of Angers and the owner of the circus-theatre refuse to allow him to hold talks on their premises, so he speaks in several bars in Paris, including the Turkish café opposite which he had trained to make croissants.
  • 1900 Having terminated his railway career without signal success, he has the Parisian criers distribute a sheet advertising the appearance of The science of God, or the creation of man [La Science de Dieu ou la création de l’homme].
  • 1906 Publishes The prophecies accomplished (Daniel and the Apocalypse) [Les Prophéties accomplies (Daniel et l’Apocalypse)]
  • 1913 Elected Prince of Thinkers by admirers, gives speech at celebratory dinner. Dies several months later, having refused the last rites. His grave is lost.
  • ???? Made a pataphysic saint.

And here’s an excerpt from The science of God, quoted in Jean-Jacques Thomas & Steven Winspur, Poeticized Language: The Foundations of Contemporary French Poetry:

J’ai un l’eau, je mans [I have the water, I ea(t)], which became j’ai un logement [I have a home], shows us that the first home was in water and that people ate there. L’eau j’ai, our ancestors were lodged (logé); l’auge j’ai = I have my auge (pig trough). The first trough was a pond (mare à boue [mud pond] or marabout [Moslem saint]), which became the first site for worship. A l’eau berge (at the water bank; also, at the inn [à l’auberge]), on the bank of the waters; dans les eaux t’es (in the waters you are) = dans les hôtels (in the hotels). […] Consequently, our ancestors lived in the waters, ponds, and marshes. Since grenouille and reinette are but one and the same (reinette: little queen of the water banks) it has to be (il faut = il f’eau = il f’aux = [I am lying]: such is the subtlety of the lying ancestor: when he wanted to pounce on his victim, he pretended to eat a tree-frog–reinette–which gave him confidence) that grenouille and pomme come together in a sauce: en sauce y étaient (in sauce were they), they were in society (en societé) […]. The two fishermen wanted it that way, the big men (les grosnouille) used to eat the small ones (reinette) and good folks continue to celebrate this fact: “pomme de reinette et pomme d’api” (pippin apple and lady apple). Api, just like grenouille tapie (a frog hiding) in the waters and waiting for its victim.

There’s much more on this site. I’ve been performing bits of Kurt Schwitters and other crazies for years, so it’s quite distressing to realise that Brisset’s been out of my sight, out of his mind, all that time. Because he is God, actually.

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