Literary breaks

Those who Remain

Don Giovanni and the others

By Alice Zeniter 19 June 2021


© Charles Duprat / OnP

Etienne Dupuis (Don Giovanni) et Philippe Sly (Leporello), Palais Garnier, 2019

Those who Remain

What is it Don Giovanni is blamed for? For taking too much pleasure in love and seduction, women and meeting others? Alice Zeniter has taken up Mozart and Da Ponte’s narrative, producing a contemporary fiction in a political rereading. A few centuries later, there is yet more conformism and even less humanism. Are we for ourselves or for others, the debate has rarely resonated with so much relevance.

He says he rejects the values that prop up the lives of everyone around him and that no one can judge him because there is nothing left in the name of which to judge him. Respect, fidelity, promises, obligations, they don’t exist for him, he says, it’s hot air, I refuse to conform to hot air. He says he is like a country that has seceded and in the little portion of land that is him, only his law prevails and that is the absence of law.

It’s difficult to work with him, to work for him, in these conditions. Frankly, I think I stay out of habit, in fact I’m not used to the rest of the world and society anymore and it would be just too hard to have to learn it all again.

Sometimes, in the evening, when we roll up our jackets under our heads and make a fire to warm ourselves, we talk about what remains if we reject the values of others. Why should we be afraid of the void, he says. And I reply that we’re not made for it, that’s all. He says we can progress, that there aren’t many things that mankind does today that were within his capabilities at the beginning. He says he’s not afraid of the void, that it’s up to him to lean right over to see what’s there, that it’s almost a duty, I don’t think so, since it’s easy for him? Yes, yes, you’re right if you want, after all it’s not my business. I can’t answer him every time. It wears me out.

Sometimes I tell him he behaves badly just because he can and that if he was in my situation, if he was a nobody, from nowhere, he’d behave a bit better, he’d toe the line. I tell him his anti-conformism, it’s a sort of conformism for the upper crust. He’s lived in luxury, he can play the tough guy. When he’s in a good mood, I get away with it. He laughs. He says: “Okay, Leporello, but how do you expect me to come from anywhere but where I do come from? My childhood dreams come from a bourgeois childhood, okay, but I didn’t have any other childhood. You can’t really reproach me for that.”

Sometimes, I also tell him that his fantasy about him being a country, it only works if he doesn’t approach other people. As soon as he touches another body, there’s a problem with frontiers, invasions and all that. I say, We’re getting into international law. It’s not the same laws. He laughs at me, he asks: “So you’ve read the Geneva Convention, have you?” And it’s true, I ain’t read it. But all the same.

I haven’t slept properly for the last two nights. It’s always like that. It gets into him, he calls, I say no and then I get up. It’s like agency work only better paid. It’s not as if I really had the choice.

If I had a house like he does, I wouldn’t sleep rough like a dog, sniffing and snooping around. I’d take it easy on my sofa with a wide screen and I’d have my mates round, even if I haven’t got many left after all these years working with Giovanni, I ain’t been back to the village very often, and I’ve missed too many evenings with the lads to get their jokes when I go back. I’ve told him that if he wasn’t going to doing anything with the place, he could just give it to me. He said: “Why not ... anyway, it’s in the middle of nowhere.” He’s talking about going to America, or Berlin or Thailand. Every day, it’s a new idea. At the beginning, I told myself it was crap. Now, I reckon he’s got so many guys after him that he’ll have a job doing anything else. Chicks as well but the chicks after a while, they give up. It’s not that they’re less tenacious, they’re just less stupid. You’ve got to be a guy to tell yourself that it’s worth chasing someone for weeks on end for questions of honour. As if it hadn’t already stuffed up your life enough finding out your wife’s cheated on you, you blow everything you got left to go running after the culprit. At first, I admit, I was more on their side. I said to Giovanni: “Obviously they’re after your hide, you got to understand them.” But when I see just how grimly determined they are... If they’ve got nothing better to do with their lives, then their lives don’t amount to much. I have trouble feeling any sympathy for them, and I have no respect, that’s for sure.

At least Giovanni, he tries stuff. I can’t say I agree with everything but there’s something impressive about it. In my old gang, lots of them have settled down because they’re fed up with looking for someone. They’ve found a girl or a guy that’s passable and they stay because it’s there, it’s on tap. As soon as the other person has their back turned, they’re dishing the dirt: he drives me mad, she drives me mad, he’s a moron, she’s hysterical. Giovanni, he’s off as soon as he sees it’s not going to work. He doesn’t hang around complaining. If it’s not nirvana, it’s ciao and give my love to your family. Sometimes people say that he’s a horndog. That it’s an illness at this stage. People say this, they don’t know shit. He doesn’t screw as much as all that, in fact. He spends too much time trying to convince the girls. Here, for instance, what are we doing? Screwing? Screwing my arse. We wait until the girl comes out. And when she does come out, she sends him packing because she’s going to get married soon and who does he think he is. He tells her that he’s camping in front of her house to admire her beauty, she tells him that he’s a tramp. We’re looking at another night in the park. It takes ages, his game. One day he said to me:

Leporello, if it was just a matter of having sex, then clearly I’d have more opportunities to do it if I was in a couple. Imagine it? If I had a girlfriend, a woman worthy of me, we’d have the whole house to jump on top of each other in and every hour of the day and night to devour each other, it would be a feast. We wouldn’t even count any more. We’d get out of bed just to get something to eat or a glass of water. We wouldn’t answer the phone. I said that sounded like the good life, what he was describing. He said: Yeah ... you fuck a lot when you’re in a couple, everyone one pretends not to know that. You fuck a lot but you meet a lot fewer people. It’s strange that meeting others interests so few people.

It wasn’t to make himself look good that he said that. I’ll witness to that. If one day, they put him inside, I’ll tell them. I’ll go to the tribunal with a smart jacket, to look serious, and I’ll tell them things that only I know about Giovanni. It’s not rubbish, his stuff about meeting people. It’s not “dating” like on the web sites. People, they’re not just dates. I’ll tell them what I’ve seen over the years. How he approaches everyone as if something could really happen between them. Men, women, old, young, whatever. He goes for it as if, inside, there could be an answer for him. The answer to what, I don’t know. Perhaps he doesn’t know either. An answer to a question that hasn’t been asked yet. And if it isn’t there, well, it doesn’t matter, we go on to the next one, thanks for trying. I’ll tell them that Giovanni’s problem is just that he doesn’t understand that other people don’t want to have tried, they want to have succeeded. They don’t necessarily know at what; they don’t know the game either, they don’t know the rules, but at the end of the day, they want to be told that they’ve won the match. The problem with Giovanni, it’s not Giovanni. It’s people.    


L'Opéra chez soi

What is this flame that compels Don Giovanni to seduce, subjugate and conquer women one after the other, with the fervour and cold indifference of a predator securing his prey; to pursue through his conquests some obscure and ever‑elusive objective?

This article is also available in the folder Don Giovanni

Subscribe to the magazine

Sign up to receive news from
Octave Magazine by email.


Back to top