Didier Baa is the world’s leading authority on the no-brow movement.
“The first thing to remember about me is that I am never sheepish,” said Didier,
whom we met on the Left Bank in a small café on a gray winter’s day of 2011.
“But you did not come here to listen to me talk about myself. I don’t know how they have done it, but the no-brows have accomplished the feat of being able to go under the low-brows while remaining over the high-brows. They have used the power of nothing, the power of emptiness, to catch both the low-brows and the high-brows in a delicate yet powerful pincer movement. Neither knows quite what has hit them or where it has come from. This is because it has come from nowhere. The no-brows have entirely given up the brow. This has bestowed on them great freedom and great power because they have nothing to lose.”
Didier Baa gestured in a way at once anxious and emphatic.
“You know, what is most remarkable is that you can Google the no-brows and what the search engine finds is absolutely nothing. The no-brows simply do not participate. That is their perfection, that they have no need to participate because they are looking for no reward, no power. They elude the high-brows, the middle-brows, the low-brows, even the search engines. This makes them very powerful.”
“Can I meet one ? I’m very intrigued?”
“Ah, I’m so sorry. It is, how do you say it, a sorrow? But I am the closest that you can get, “ responded Didier, tenting his fingers together.
“Why is that?”
“They are very busy. It is a paradox. They are very busy doing nothing because that is what they do and that is what gives them their claim to superiority/inferiority which is of, course, what makes them so interesting.”
Didier paused and inhaled so that his long and elegant nostrils flared.
“Sometimes I think they don’t even know where they are themselves. They have an escapist genius that even a Marcel Duchamp would have admired. They may have neither position nor momentum. Yet they remain fully responsible and flexibly responsive. This is the genius of their particular synthesis, what I may be forgiven for calling their method, although they are anything but methodical. “
Didier seemed aroused now.
He had a lot of brown hair flecked with gray, suggesting that he was in his middle to late forties. His English was excellent with just a hint of an accent that was not quite French but difficult to place. He was very thin, much thinner than we had grasped on meeting him, also quite long-boned, although no more than six feet tall.
“There is perhaps only one place where you might by chance come across one of them. This place is, however, not really a place. When we speak of encountering something or someone “in yourself,” this is only a manner of speaking, because “in yourself” is a different kind of location than “in this café” or “in Paris.” Excuse me if I betray my background as a professor of philosophy.”
Didier smiled so that his face relaxed and he seemed for the first time appealing and not quite so forbidding.
“Most people are convinced that philosophy is tedium although not all tedium is philosophy. The no-brows have no patience for this kind of argument. They are far past it. That is why they represent such a relief. It is not that they have bad posture. They have no posture at all and no posturing. “
He looked down for a moment, then sipped at his coffee.
“Forgive me, for I digress, a bad habit I am trying to curb. I was starting to say that
I thought it might be possible to meet one of the no-brows at random walking on a sidewalk somewhere in your mind. If you meet one of the no-brows, then it is not hard to engage him or her. Usually the no-brows dress fairly fashionably. It is part of their disguise.”
“Amazing,” he said quietly, “isn’t it, to think there might be a no-brow or possibly even more than one no-brow wandering around inside you, wrapped in self-secretive stealth? You look so well put together, just the way a journalist should look, someone who goes out to find what is new in the world and wrap it up in the tissue of the familiar word and image wrappings. But I suppose appearances can be deceiving.”
“I have heard rumors that they have published a manifesto but that it is very hard to get hold of a copy.”
“Ah, yes, the famous Manifesto of Blank Pages. Or is it stricter than that, the Manifesto of No-Pages? I have not seen a copy. Perhaps they are everywhere and nowhere. I myself lean to the idea that it is the Manifest of No-Pages and also of No-Binding. If it is, it is surely also a non binding manifesto.”
“I know that you have said that the No-Brows have their roots in the cultural traditions of many different nations.”
“Yes, yes, I believe that, even if the influences and confluences are often anything but obvious.”
“So the genealogy of the no-brows includes Americans, too?”
“Yes. Absolutely. Thoreau has moments when he is near there and Mark Twain has the temperament, too, with his capacity simultaneously to stand back and to go forward.”
“What about Garrison Keillor?”
Didier Baa shuddered, “Absolutely not. Maybe Pynchon”
As we were getting up to leave, Didier Baa leaned closer and said. “The last thing to remember about me is that I am never sheepish.”
“I’m not sure there is a story here.”
“So much the better,” said Didier as he receded.