In the Solitude of Cotton Fields (Excerpt) – Koltès

Excerpt from “In the Solitude of Cotton Fields” (Dans la solitude des champs de cotton, 1986) by Bernard-Marie Koltès, translated by Amin Erfani, forthcoming in Bernard-Marie Koatès: Seven Plays, Martin Segal Theater Publishing, 2021.



In any event, I do not have, for your pleasure, any illicit desire. My business, I conduct it at the accredited hours of daytime, in accredited places of business lit by electric light. Maybe I am a whore, if so, my brothel is not of this world; mine operates under legal light and closes its doors at night, stamped by the law and lit by electric light, because even sunlight isn’t trustworthy and shows complicity. What do you expect from a man whose every step is accredited and stamped and lawful and flooded with electric light in every corner? And if I am here, mid-course, delayed, suspended, displaced, offside, off-life, provisional, practically absent, so to speak not here – because, do you say of a man traveling by plane over the Atlantic that he is in Greenland at a given time, and is he really? or in the tumultuous heart of the ocean? – and if I strayed off my path, although the straight line connecting my point of origin to my point of destination had no reason to become crooked all of a sudden, I did so because you blocked my way, while being full of illicit intentions and assumptions about me being full of illicit intentions. But know that what I hate most in this world, even more than illicit intentions, even more than the illicit act itself, is the look that someone gives you assuming that you are full of illicit intentions and so used to them; not just the look itself, although so troubling it muddies the torrents on the mountains, – and you, your look rises up the mud at the bottom of a glass of water – but the sheer weight of your gaze violates my virginity, my innocence turned guilty, and the straight line supposed to bring me from one bright point to another bright point got twisted, because of you, a dark labyrinth in the dark territory where I have lost myself.



You’re trying to slip a thorn underneath the saddle of my horse, so he gets angry and loses control; but if my horse is nervous and wild at times, I hold him by a tight bridle so he doesn’t lose control so easily; a thorn is no blade, and he knows the thickness of his skin, and he can stand the itch. That said, who can really predict the temper of a horse? Sometimes he can take a needle in his flank, sometimes a speck of dust under the harness makes him buck, run in circles, and throw his rider off his back. 

Know then, if I speak to you, at this hour, in this way, gently, perhaps still with respect, it is not the way you do: by necessity, your language shows your fear, one that’s short and sharp, foolish and flagrant, like a child who is scared of a possible beating from his father; me, my language belongs to those who don’t show themselves, it’s the language of this territory and this lapse of time when men pull on their leashes and pigs bang their heads against the fence; me, I hold my tongue by the bridle like a stallion, so he won’t jump on the mare, because if I let the bridle go, if I slightly distended the pressure of my fingers and the traction of my arms, my words would throw me off and race toward the horizon, with the violence of an Arab horse who catches the smell of the desert and, then, nothing can hold him back anymore. 

That is why, without knowing you, I have treated you correctly from the start, from the first step I took toward you, a correct step, humble and respectful, without knowing if anything in you deserves respect, without knowing anything about you and if the comparison between our two states allows me to be humble and you arrogant, I let you have arrogance because of the hour of twilight when we approached each other, because at that twilight hour when you approached me, correction is no longer mandatory, and is therefore necessary, at this hour when nothing is mandatory anymore except savage encounters in the darkness, and I could have fallen on you like a piece of rag falling on a candle flame, I could have grabbed you, by surprise, by the collar of your shirt. And this correction I offered you, however both necessary and arbitrary, binds you to me, if only because I could have stepped on you out of pride like a boot on a dirty paper, because I knew, seeing our respective size, which makes the main difference between us – and at this hour and in this place only size makes the difference -, we both know which one of us is the boot and which, the dirty paper.