Where do I stand in this light, which does not strictly exist?
chouette was born in January of 2021. On a whim I wanted to make a gravedigger character, someone who dug up and stole the corpses in unattended graveyards just for the hell of it. He was made in tandem with another friend's character, but quickly he became his own thing with his own world. Though no longer a gravedigger, he does still hang around cemeteries.
I never felt the need to go into too much detail with him where lore is concerned. He's a priest, but of what religion? Definitely Christian, but beyond that I haven't settled on anything more specific, though I have drawn him in both explicitly Protestant and Catholic contexts.
His childhood? Probably largely non-descript and normal, in some secluded part of the French countryside. Brought up in an orphanage ran by nuns, somehow someway resolving to become a priest or reverend, and going off to seminary to silently raise havoc.
Because he was so quiet and sullen, as well as slow to react, many people probably assumed he was just dumb or sick (or both). Even as a child there would've been a bit of a reptilian quality to him, a lizard sunning itself on a rock and slowly licking its eyeball with contemptuous lethargy.
Chouette is one of my first completely and genuinely evil characters. Most of my cast tend to be morally grey ne'er-do-wellers, but Chouette is one hundred percent pure malignant nastiness. But you wouldn't know it just to see him, because he seems timid—just a terse and scrupulous young man in the vein of the lead from Diary of a Country Priest by Robert Bresson—but this guy is dangerous.
살인은 흡연과도 같아서 처음만 어렵다.
Killing is like smoking. It's only difficult for the first time.Decision To Leave dir. Park Chanwook
I haven't fully settled on why he's so... like that but he has had delusions of stigmata and similar manias of messianic grandeur. One of the pivotal moments of his life were hallucinations he saw when he was in his mid-twenties, where stigmata appeared on his hands (depicted on the front page of this website). Unironically the late great Terry A. Davis has definitely indirectly inspired me in figuring out Chouette's pathology, both of them being God's-lonely-men-in-arms. In similar veins, so has Alexander Grothendieck and Simone Weil.
I've actually compiled a list of fictional priests that I feel are analogous to Chouette's character. It includes the aforementioned Bressonian country priest as well as Reverend Toller from First Reformed and the stepfather from Fanny and Alexander. Suffering and suffered men of the cloth, etc etc. There is no shortage of them!
Other characters that remind me of, or have inspired ChouetteOutside of priests, there are a few other characters that, inexplicably, remind me of him:
- Both Gustav von Aschenbach and Tadzio from Death in Venice
- Hugo Barrett from The Servant oh man it's just gonna be a bunch of Dirk Bogarde isn't it. Actually Mr. Bogarde's characters are very Chouette to me. I would've included him in The Night Porter here (along with his co-lead of course) for the disturbing contrast between the childish flirting and depraved WWII sado-masochism.
- Song Seo-rae from Decision to Leave
- A little bit of Raskolnikov from Crime and Punishment
Some trivia about him you may find interesting:
- You pronounce his name like "shwet". In IPA, /ʃwet/.
- His favorite animal is the owl, especially barn owls. He has one as a pet, named Modeste.
- His name is of French origin, and it
means "owl", though I've heard it's
also slang meaning "cool" or "trendy", i.e.
c'est très chouette = it's so nice.
- I had another character called Chouette before, she was an assassin. I scrapped her long ago, but she also had an affinity for barn owls.
- He is not in fact French or of any explicit nationality. He probably would have a Nansen passport.
- He has a childhood friend called Poet. (Poet... Chouette... they rhyme.) I drew him/her a couple times and literally never revisited it ever again.
- I think his favorite music genre would be pop-y and a little sardonic, maybe something like Alain Souchon's Foule sentimentale.
- He sort of has a theme song: Evil by Red House Painters from their Bridge album. These lyrics just hit me as being very Chouette:
- Here is the part where I try to field all the basic personality questions:
- Myers-Briggs: INTP-A
- Enneagram: 5w8
- Zodiac: Aquarius
- 찍기/부우기: 찍기
- Blood type: A
- A score of 34 on this autism test, indicating a strong possibility of an autism diagnosis
And when in the night
Your brother turned to me and said,
"God, do you look evil in the dark"
That made me feel good
And when on Sunday
Their daughter turned at me and said,
"Mom and dad, is it a boy or a girl"
"Mom and dad, is it a he or a she"
That made me feel good
Analysis (kind of)
In conclusion? He came about on a whim, but he's managed to be a near-constant presence in my head for almost two years now. I've drawn over thirty finished pieces of him, and countless other doodles on scraps of paper, God knows the number. A big chunk of this website is just dedicated to him. Like I say on the index, he shows up everywhere, simply because I have so many image files of him all stored in a folder.
It's funny to think that I've dedicated so much time and effort to something that was created by pure happenstance (and I wince at the thought of the many other characters, created with much more intention and planning than he was, going neglected in the mental cupboard).
He's gone through many iterations, but the core of his design hasn't changed. Namely, the weird grey-ish dishwater blond hair, the freckles, the similarly vaguely-colored eyes, the heavy eyebags, and faint eyebrows, all come together to create an uncanny likeness that's always fun to draw for me, whether he's in a cassock or a high-fashion leotard thing. My friend and I once talked about how off-putting Chouette would look if he were a real person. Downright unpleasant, even.
He's a lot of things to me. He's Kierkegaard's knight of faith, he's the little kid in Le Guin's Omelas, he's the ebola virus personified. He's awful and irredeemable yet a clergy of an infinitely forgiving God.
If you've read all the way down to this point, and still don't really understand what kind of person he is, then great. Me neither. I just realised while writing this that I hadn't mentioned any specifics about what he did, what kind of crimes he committed, why exactly does he deserve to be called evil, aside from the sin of being a little creepy. I don't think I'll ever have a concrete list of it all.
Theologically, he's a mystery too. He doesn't act like a man predestined for hell, but he's definitely not like this because he backslid. Redemption... damnation... he is removed from that binary entirely. Both are out of the question for someone, something like him. Despite everything he is simple, almost childish rather than conniving or manipulative. His bland face reveals little. He seems content to maintain the impression that he is unintelligent. His circulation sucks, so his hands are always cold as ice. They're soft, like a woman's hands. Like Song Seo-rae of Decision to Leave, his very presence is shaded by ulterior motive. Does he even believe in a god? It's hard to say.
내가 그렇게 만만합니까?
Am I that easy (to you)?
내가 그렇게 나쁩니까?
Am I that evil (to you)?Decision To Leave dir. Park Chanwook
Chouette's philosophy (kind of)
Here, since you've scrolled down this far I might as well reward that with an image. Yet another thing I've associated with him is Don DeLillo's Cosmopolis. Here is a sketch page dedicated to this crossover, where Chouette is portrayed as Eric Packard's assassin (bottom-left), his bodyguard, Torvald (top-middle), and Packard himself (right). Both Chouette and Mr. Packard are obsessed with birds, and more broadly, with understanding (and controlling) the world around them.
People think about who they are in the stillest hour of the night. I carry this thought, the child's mystery and the terror of this thought, I feel this immensity in my soul every second of my life.
I have my iron desk that I hauled up three flights of stairs, with ropes and wedges. I have my pencils that I sharpen with a paring knife.
There are dead stars that still shine because their light is trapped in time. Where do I stand in this light, which does not strictly exist?Cosmopolis by Don DeLillo (bold mine)
Both are the ultimate perpetrators of the old Gnostic heresy. To know oneself is to know God. Mr. Packard pays for this with his life, supposedly dying at the hands of his stalker with a bullet wound through his hand, like a post-industrial perversion of stigmata. He learns that nothing is completely knowable, that chaos and mystery always exists not only in the margins of life but rather permeates everything around him, all the way from the rareified heights of the stock market down to the most intimate parts of his own anatomy. (Not even joking, a big plot point is that one of his testicles is skewed.)
But Chouette... does he ever pay?
“Abandon the search for God and the creation and other matters of a similar sort.
Look for him by taking yourself as the starting point.
Learn who it is within you who makes everything his own and says, “My God, my mind, my thought, my soul, my body.”
Learn the sources of sorrow, joy, love, hate...
If you carefully investigate these matters you will find him in yourself."
Monomius in The Gnostic Gospels by Elaine Pagels
When I was foolish enough to write frequent diary entries, I once wrote this down: "Sometimes I sympathize with the Gnostic doctrine that both the material world and the god that made it are evil." It seems that despite my best attempts at making Chouette otherworldly and inexplicable, like some prowling Anton Chigurh or Lorne Malvo, it all circles back to old patterns of thought like a whirlpool forming at a just-unstoppered drain. Well, you know what they say about pets looking like their owners, or is it the other way around?