Apart from these daily assaults on all things holy, there were more grandiose obscenities as well. And in Chapter 4, a flurry of them was presented to the reader, the more striking of which I include here.
For six weeks straight, starting in June 1920, Torma kept his bidet stocked with a dozen piranhas stolen from the Stazione Zoologica Anton Dohrn and fed them on decaying mincemeat. Finally he compounded this rancid diet with the top half of his own left index finger, sunk into the water in a spirit of idle perversity and consumed directly off the bone.
On August 23rd he was accused of trying to feed a baby absinthe inside the Bois de Vincennes park while an anonymous accomplice engaged its mother in conversation.
December 3rd he shat in a Caroline Reboux hat box. On December 5th he presented the hat box in person to Andre Gide at the Café de Flore.
March 2nd, 1921, Torma procured a sheep’s carcass from Les Halles before dragging it along with him to a private members’ club, introducing the rotting hulk as Marjorie LaClappe, a syphilitic from Pigalle to whom he remained betrothed despite his family’s protestations. Ejected from Les Troglodytes, Torma attended midnight mass at the Church of Saint-Merri with “Marjorie” in tow. When confronted by an astonished clergyman, he defended the right of dead sheep to attend the service, contending that it was a venerable Christian tradition. The very crux of their miserable faith.
Then there were other incidents which the author granted less provenance, consigning them to the realm of borderline fancy. It was said that Julien Torma had been implicated in the murder of a dyspeptic obituarist named Robert Miradique. That he had supported himself by stealing corpses from Passy graveyard. That he had taken up with a mysterious foreigner, Franklin Ahoy, in the Spring of 1923 and fallen profoundly under his influence. That he spent six months as an apprentice taxidermist at the famous Deyrolle at the beginning of 1924.
What was incontestable, according to his biographer, was that all the while Torma continued to perfect the art of baiting people, overcoming any resistance to his maniacal nihilism in an effort to replicate this same deadness of soul. To which end he would keep on at a person until he’d located their Achilles heel – that which they held most dear, no matter how improbable – then he would set about flaying it with his tongue until any attempt to bat these ministrations away with good cheer, or simple fortitude, proved impossible. Instead the victim was left with a simple choice of walking away, grievously offended (and in truth, profoundly downcast) or else venting their baleful rage.
According to those who had been subjected to one of Torma’s onslaughts at this time, it led to a depression which stayed with them for days, weeks, even months. In a letter to Robert Desnos on April 3rd 1924, Torma began to talk of these intense provocations as the birth of a new science. Although there are elements of divination to this enterprise, it has much in common with modern surgery: I discover what ails these grinning monkeys – the seat of their rancid optimism – and then I close in on it, guided by the stench. My aim then, ultimately, is to locate the root of a person’s well-being, that which grants them their daily sustenance, and then excise it once and for all.