Art

by

Yasmina Reza

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Serge Character Analysis

Serge, a well-to-do dermatologist who is divorced from his wife and is only occasionally allowed to see his children, has relied for years on his close friendship with Marc and, to a lesser degree, Yvan, to provide him with company and comfort. When Serge, influenced by Marc’s aesthetic obsessions but desirous of making a statement about his artistic tastes that is entirely his own, purchases a two-hundred-and-twenty-thousand-franc all-white painting by the obscure artist Antrios, he (perhaps unknowingly) sets up an enormous test, which it seems his and Marc’s friendship may not pass. Marc is disgusted by the Antrios, seeing its confusing blankness and even more confusing expensiveness as an egregious slap in the face of art itself. Serge himself seems privately unsure about the painting, but once Marc begins railing against it, Serge finds himself doing everything he can to defend his prized possession and his grand statement about his aesthetic values—which seem unclear to everyone but Serge, and which he does not really bother to elucidate. After a long, drawn-out fight that escalates from verbal abuse into physical violence, the meek Yvan succeeds at last in calming his two friends down enough that they can see the cruelties they are inflicting on each other. Serge, understanding how low the two have sunk, invites Marc to use one of Yvan’s felt-tipped pens to defile the Antrios by drawing on it. Marc draws a tiny skier in a woolly hat, and then, without much discussion about the defacement, the three of them go out to dinner. After the meal, Marc and Serge work together to clean the painting, and Serge reveals in a monologue to the audience that he knew all along that the pen was washable—Marc, however, did not. Serge, who has burned his oldest friendship to the ground in order to build it back up again, now knows that the new era in their friendship is beginning on an act of self-sacrifice that wasn’t self-sacrifice at all; it was simply a lie.

Serge Quotes in Art

The Art quotes below are all either spoken by Serge or refer to Serge. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Art and Meaning Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Farrar, Straus and Giroux edition of Art published in 1997.
Scene 1: At Serge’s Quotes

SERGE: My friend Marc’s an intelligent enough fellow, I’ve always valued our relationship, he has a good job, but he’s one of those new-style intellectuals, who are not only enemies of modernism, but seem to take some sort of incomprehensible pride in running it down… In recent years, these nostalgia-merchants have become quite breathtakingly arrogant.

Related Characters: Serge (speaker), Marc
Page Number: 3
Explanation and Analysis:

MARC: It’s a complete mystery to me, Serge buying this painting. It’s unsettled me, it’s filled me with some indefinable unease. When I left his place, I had to take three capsules of Gelsemium 9X which Paula recommended because I couldn’t begin to understand how Serge, my friend, could have bought that picture. Two hundred thousand francs! He’s comfortably off, but he’s hardly rolling in money. Comfortable, no more, just comfortable. And he spends two hundred grand on a white painting. I must go and see Yvan, he’s a friend of ours, I have to discuss this with Yvan. Mind you, Yvan’s a very tolerant bloke, which of course, when it comes to relationships, is the worst thing you can be. Yvan’s very tolerant because he couldn’t care less. If Yvan tolerates the fact that Serge has spent two hundred grand on some piece of white shit, it’s because he couldn’t care less about Serge. Obviously.

Related Characters: Marc (speaker), Serge, Yvan
Related Symbols: The Antrios Painting
Page Number: 4-5
Explanation and Analysis:
Scene 2: At Yvan’s Quotes

YVAN: As long as it’s not doing any harm to anyone else…

MARC: But it is. It’s doing harm to me! I’m disturbed, I’m disturbed, more than that, I’m hurt, yes, I am, I’m fond of Serge, and to see him let himself be ripped off and lose every ounce of discernment through sheer snobbery.

Related Characters: Marc (speaker), Yvan (speaker), Serge
Related Symbols: The Antrios Painting
Page Number: 10
Explanation and Analysis:
Scene 3: At Serge’s Quotes

SERGE: You know Marc’s seen this painting.

YVAN: Oh?

SERGE: Devastated.

YVAN: Oh?

SERGE: He told me it was shit. A completely inappropriate description.

YVAN: Absolutely.

SERGE: You can’t call this shit.

YVAN: No.

SERGE: You can say, I don’t get it, I can’t grasp it, you can’t say “it’s shit.”

YVAN: You’ve seen his place.

SERGE: Nothing to see. It’s like yours, it’s… what I mean is, you couldn’t care less.

Related Characters: Serge (speaker), Yvan (speaker), Marc
Related Symbols: The Antrios Painting
Page Number: 14
Explanation and Analysis:

SERGE: I don't blame him for not responding to this painting, he hasn't the training, there's a whole apprenticeship you have to go through, which he hasn't, either because he's never wanted to or because he has no particular instinct for it, none of that matters, no, what I blame him for is his tone of voice, his complacency, his tactlessness. I blame him for his insensitivity. I don't blame him for not being interested in modern Art, I couldn’t give a toss about that, I like him for other reasons . . .

YVAN: And he likes you!

SERGE: No, no, no, no, I felt it the other day, a kind of . . . a kind of condescension . . . contempt with a really bitter edge...

YVAN: No, surely not!

SERGE: Oh, yes! Don’t keep trying to smooth things over. Where d'you get this urge to be the great reconciler of the human race?! Why don't you admit that Marc is atrophying? If he hasn't already atrophied.

Related Characters: Serge (speaker), Yvan (speaker), Marc
Related Symbols: The Antrios Painting
Page Number: 15
Explanation and Analysis:
Scene 4: At Marc’s Quotes

MARC: He wasn't laughing because his painting is ridiculous, you and he weren't laughing for the same reasons, you were laughing at the painting and he was laughing to ingratiate himself, to put himself on your wavelength, to show you that on top of being an aesthete who can spend more on a painting than you earn in a year, he's still your same old subversive mate who likes a good laugh.

YVAN: Mm hm… You know. . .

MARC: Yes...

YVAN: This is going to amaze you…

MARC: Go on. . .

YVAN: I didn't like the painting . . . but I didn't actually hate it.

MARC: Well, of course. You can’t hate what's invisible, you can't hate nothing.

YVAN: No, no, it has something . . .

MARC: What do you mean?

YVAN: It has something. It's not nothing.

Related Characters: Marc (speaker), Yvan (speaker), Serge
Related Symbols: The Antrios Painting
Page Number: 17
Explanation and Analysis:

MARC: Why do I have to be so categorical? What possible difference can it make to me, if Serge lets himself be taken in by modern Art? I mean, it is a serious matter. But I could have found some other way to put it to him. I could have taken a less aggressive tone. Even if it makes me physically ill that my best friend has bought a white painting, all the same I ought to avoid attacking him about it. I ought to be nice to him. From now on, I’m on my best behavior.

Related Characters: Marc (speaker), Serge
Related Symbols: The Antrios Painting
Page Number: 20
Explanation and Analysis:
Scene 5: At Serge’s Quotes

SERGE: He is getting on my nerves. It's true. He's getting on my nerves. It's this ingratiating tone of voice. A little smile behind every word. It's as if he's forcing himself to be pleasant. Don't be pleasant, whatever you do, don't be pleasant! Could it be buying the Antrios? . . . Could buying the Antrios have triggered off this feeling of constraint between us? Buying something. . . without his backing? . . . Well, bugger his backing! Bugger your backing, Marc!

Related Characters: Serge (speaker), Marc
Related Symbols: The Antrios Painting
Page Number: 26
Explanation and Analysis:

MARC: Could it be the Antrios, buying the Antrios? No—It started some time ago… To be precise, it started on the day we were discussing some work of art and you uttered, quite seriously, the word deconstruction. It wasn’t so much the word deconstruction which upset me, it was the air of solemnity you imbued it with. You said, humorlessly, unapologetically, without a trace of irony, the word deconstruction, you, my friend. I wasn’t sure how best to deal with the situation, so I made this throwaway remark, and I said I think I must be getting intolerant, and you answered, who do you think you are?

What gives you the right to set yourself apart, Serge answered in the bloodiest possible way. And quite unexpectedly. You’re just Marc, what makes you think you’re so special? That day, I should have punched him in the mouth. And when he was lying there on the ground, half-dead, I should have said to him, what sort of friend are you, Serge, if you don’t think your friends are special?

Related Characters: Marc (speaker), Serge
Related Symbols: The Antrios Painting
Page Number: 27
Explanation and Analysis:

SERGE: There’s no problem, except for you, because you take pride in your desire to shut yourself off from humanity. And you’ll never manage it. It’s like you’re in quicksand, the more you struggle to get out of it, the deeper you sink.

Related Characters: Serge (speaker), Marc
Related Symbols: The Antrios Painting
Page Number: 38
Explanation and Analysis:

YVAN: “If I’m who I am because I’m who I am and you’re who you are because you’re who you are, then I’m who I am and you’re who you are. If, on the other hand, I’m who I am because you’re who you are, and if you’re who you are because I am who I am, then I’m not who I am and you’re not who you are…” You see why I had to write it down.

Related Characters: Yvan (speaker), Marc, Serge
Page Number: 41-42
Explanation and Analysis:

MARC: It’s true I can’t imagine you genuinely loving that painting.

YVAN: But why?

MARC: Because I love Serge and I can’t love the Serge who’s capable of buying that painting.

SERGE: Why do you say buying, why don’t you say loving?

MARC: Because I can’t say loving, I can’t believe loving.

SERGE: So why would I buy it, if I didn’t love it?

MARC: That’s the nub of the question.

SERGE: (to YVAN) See how smug he is! All I’m doing is teasing him, and his answer is this serenely pompous heavy hint! And it never crossed your mind, [Marc,] for a second, however improbably it might seem, that I might really love it and that your vicious, inflexible opinions and your disgusting assumption[s] might be hurtful to me?

MARC: No.

Related Characters: Marc (speaker), Serge (speaker), Yvan (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Antrios Painting
Page Number: 45
Explanation and Analysis:

MARC: Do you think what you just said about Paula?

SERGE: Worse, actually.

MARC: Worse, Serge? Worse than repellent?

SERGE: Aha! When it’s something that concerns you personally, I see words can bite a little deeper!

MARC: Serge, will you explain how someone can be worse than repellent…

SERGE: No need to take that frosty tone. Perhaps it’s—let me try and answer you—perhaps it’s the way she waves away cigarette smoke. What appears to you a gesture of no significance, what you think of as a harmless gesture is in fact the opposite, and the way she waves away cigarette smoke sits right at the heart of her repellentness.

Related Characters: Marc (speaker), Serge (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Antrios Painting
Page Number: 46
Explanation and Analysis:

MARC: There was a time you were proud to be my friend… You congratulated yourself on my peculiarity, on my taste for standing apart. You enjoyed exhibiting me untamed to your circle, you, whose life was so normal. I was your alibi. But…eventually, I supposed, that sort of affection dries up… Belatedly, you claim your independence. But I detest your independence. Its violence. You’ve abandoned me. I’ve been betrayed. As far as I’m concerned, you’re a traitor.

SERGE (to YVAN): If I understand correctly, he was my mentor! And if I loved you as my mentor…what was the nature of your feelings?

MARC: I enjoyed your admiration. I was flattered. I was always grateful to you for thinking of me as a man apart. I even thought being a man apart was a somehow superior condition, until one day you pointed out to me that it wasn’t.

SERGE: This is very alarming.

MARC: It’s the truth.

Related Characters: Marc (speaker), Serge (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Antrios Painting
Page Number: 52
Explanation and Analysis:

SERGE: Why can’t you learn to love people for themselves, Marc?

MARC: What does that mean, for themselves?

SERGE: For what they are.

MARC: But what are they?! What are they?! Apart from my faith in them I’m desperate to find a friend who has some kind of prior existence. So far, I’ve had no luck. I’ve had to mold you… But you see, it never works. There comes a day when your creature goes off and buys a white painting.

Related Characters: Marc (speaker), Serge (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Antrios Painting
Page Number: 54
Explanation and Analysis:

YVAN: I’m not like you, I don’t want to be an authority figure, I don’t want to be a point of reference, I don’t want to be self-sufficient, I just want to be your friend Yvan the joker! Yvan the joker!

SERGE: Could we try to steer clear of pathos?

YVAN: I’ve finished. Haven’t you got any nibbles? Anything, just to stop from passing out.

SERGE: I have some olives.

YVAN: Hand them over.

Serge reaches for a little bowl of olives and hands it to him.

SERGE (to MARC): Want some?

Marc nods. Yvan hands him the bowl. They eat olives.

Related Characters: Marc (speaker), Serge (speaker), Yvan (speaker)
Page Number: 59
Explanation and Analysis:
Scene 6: At Serge’s Quotes

YVAN: The day after the wedding, at the Montparnasse cemetery Catherine put a bouquet and a bag of sugared almonds on her mother’s grave. In the evening, thinking about this tribute, I started sobbing in my bed. I absolutely must speak to Finkelzohn about my tendency to cry, I cry all the time, it’s not normal for someone my age. It started, or at least revealed itself at Serge’s, the evening of the white painting. After Serge, in an act of pure madness, had demonstrated to Marc that he cared more about him than he did about his painting, we went and had dinner. Over dinner, Serge and Marc took the decision to try to rebuild a relationship destroyed by word and deed. One of them used to expression “trial period” and I burst into tears. I can no longer bear any kind of rational argument, nothing formative in the world, nothing great or beautiful in the world has ever been born of rational argument.

Related Characters: Yvan (speaker), Marc, Serge
Related Symbols: The Antrios Painting
Page Number: 61-62
Explanation and Analysis:

SERGE: When Marc and I succeeded in obliterating the skier, with the aid of Swiss soap with added ox gall, recommended by Paula, I looked at the Antrios and turned to Marc:

“Did you know ink from felt-tips was washable?”

“No,” Marc said… “No, did you?”

“No,” I said, very fast, lying. I came within an inch of saying yes, I did know. But how could I have launched our trial period with such a disappointing admission? On the other hand, was it right to start with a lie? A lie! Let’s be reasonable. Why am I so absurdly virtuous? Why does my relationship with Marc have to be so complicated?

Related Characters: Serge (speaker), Marc
Related Symbols: The Antrios Painting
Page Number: 62-63
Explanation and Analysis:

MARC: Under the white clouds, the snow is falling. You can’t see the white clouds, or the snow. Or the cold, or the white glow of the earth. A solitary man glides downhill on his skis. The snow is falling. It falls until the man disappears back into the landscape.

My friend Serge, who’s one of my oldest friends, has bought a painting. It’s a canvas about five foot by four. It represents a man who moves across a space and disappears.

Related Characters: Marc (speaker), Serge
Related Symbols: The Antrios Painting
Page Number: 63
Explanation and Analysis:
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Serge Character Timeline in Art

The timeline below shows where the character Serge appears in Art. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Scene 1: At Serge’s
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Marc, alone on stage, addresses the audience. He explains that his friend Serge has recently bought a new painting. The canvas is about five feet by four feet,... (full context)
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At Serge’s house, the white painting sits at floor level. Serge looks at it excitedly. Marc looks... (full context)
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Serge asks Marc what he thinks of the painting, but Marc does not answer. Serge suggests... (full context)
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Serge steps forward and addresses the audience. He tells them that Marc is “intelligent enough”—he is... (full context)
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Enraged, Serge asks Marc what he means by “shit.” Marc urges Serge to have a sense of... (full context)
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Serge steps forward again. It’s fine, he says, that Marc doesn’t like the painting, but what... (full context)
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...forward and addresses the audience. He explains that he is both mystified and unsettled by Serge’s having bought such an expensive, ridiculous painting. Marc reveals that when he left Serge’s place,... (full context)
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Marc says that he must go see Yvan, a mutual friend of his and Serge’s, and discuss the painting with him. Marc says that Yvan is more tolerant, but that... (full context)
Scene 2: At Yvan’s
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Marc asks Yvan if he has seen Serge lately. Yvan says he hasn’t, and Marc reveals that he himself just saw Serge yesterday,... (full context)
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...Marc tells Yvan to let him finish, and then asks Yvan how much Yvan thinks Serge paid for the piece. Yvan asks who the painter is, and Marc tells him the... (full context)
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Yvan thinks for a moment, and then says that if the painting makes Serge happy and if he can afford it, then there’s no harm in his having bought... (full context)
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Yvan tells Marc that Serge has always been an exhibition freak. Marc counters that once Serge had a sense of... (full context)
Scene 3: At Serge’s
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Serge and Yvan are together in Serge’s flat. The painting is not on the wall. Yvan... (full context)
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Serge explains that it is a piece from the 1970s, and though the artist is going... (full context)
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Serge tells Yvan conspiratorially that Marc has seen the painting, and was “devastated” by it. He... (full context)
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Serge tells Yvan that he doesn’t blame Marc for not reacting well to the painting—Marc has... (full context)
Scene 4: At Marc’s
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...a window. Yvan and Marc are in the living room discussing Yvan’s recent visit to Serge’s. Yvan tells Marc that the he and Serge had a good laugh over the Antrios,... (full context)
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Marc argues that Serge was not laughing because his painting was ridiculous—he was laughing to “ingratiate” himself to Yvan.... (full context)
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...the older he gets. He berates Yvan for attempting to see something of value in Serge’s painting, and then orders Yvan to describe the feelings he experienced while looking at the... (full context)
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Serge steps forward out of nowhere. He tells the audience that the painting, “objectively speaking,” is... (full context)
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...forward, and, alone in his own monologue, wonders aloud why he is so bothered by Serge being “taken in” by modern art. Marc wishes he had used a less aggressive tone... (full context)
Scene 5: At Serge’s
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Marc and Serge are at Serge’s apartment. Serge tells Marc that Yvan liked the Antrios. Marc asks to... (full context)
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Marc jokes that this is evident from Serge’s choice of a painting that eliminates form and color. Serge teases Marc back about the... (full context)
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Marc points out that he is “capable of being really annoyed” by Serge’s telling him to read Seneca. Serge admits to being superior and obnoxious, but also argues... (full context)
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Marc asks Serge where he is planning to hang the painting. Serge says he hasn’t decided. Marc asks... (full context)
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Marc tells Serge that he thought Serge referred to “the artist” as if he were a god. Serge... (full context)
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Serge steps forward and addresses the audience. He admits that Marc is, in fact, getting on... (full context)
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...too, wonders whether the purchase of the Antrios has driven a wedge between him and Serge. He feels, though, that the rift started some time ago, when the two of them... (full context)
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The doorbell rings. It is twelve minutes past eight—Yvan is over half an hour late. Serge lets Yvan in, and Yvan enters, in crisis mode. In an extended monologue, he describes... (full context)
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Serge asks what happened next. Yvan reveals that nothing happened—nothing has been resolved, and after a... (full context)
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Serge and Marc begin fighting about Serge’s use of the words “masterpiece” and “modern.” Marc takes... (full context)
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...Yvan as to whether he thinks that he, too, has lost his sense of humor. Serge announces that he isn’t even hungry, and offers to give Yvan some advice about his... (full context)
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...job at the stationery business through Catherine’s uncle, who is the owner. Moreover, Yvan tells Serge that Serge, not having had great success in terms of romance, is not the person... (full context)
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Yvan tells Serge that he thought of him yesterday at work, when they printed five hundred posters by... (full context)
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...he needs to stop wanting to control everything—Yvan maintains that he finds the colors touching. Serge tells Marc that Yvan is entitled to his opinion, but Marc replies that he is... (full context)
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Marc and Serge debate what it means to be “a man of one’s time.” Serge argues that a... (full context)
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...up this evening was a bad idea, suggests he himself take his leave as well. Serge tells Marc that he is a coward for attacking Yvan, who is incapable of defending... (full context)
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After a brief silence, Marc apologizes again for upsetting Yvan. Serge reveals that the painting of Yvan’s that Marc insulted was painted by Yvan’s father. Marc... (full context)
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...he took the stairs, all the while thinking about how he’d like to return to Serge’s flat with a gun and blow Marc’s head off for calling him an amoeba. Once... (full context)
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Yvan tells Marc and Serge that just the other day he was discussing the two of them with his therapist,... (full context)
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...sarcastically tells Yvan that he is a “lucky man” to be getting advice from Finkelzohn. Serge, jumping on board with the sarcasm, asks Yvan to make them each a copy of... (full context)
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Serge suggests they all change the subject—he has no interest in discussing the painting any further.... (full context)
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Yvan begs his friends to calm down and get along, but Serge tells Yvan he is only “adding fuel to the fire” by behaving self-righteously. Marc takes... (full context)
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Serge asks Marc what he does give a fuck about, and Marc replies that he cares... (full context)
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Serge asks Marc if he ever considered that Serge truly loved the painting, and that his... (full context)
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Marc asks Serge how someone can be “worse than repellent,” and Serge references the way Marc’s girlfriend Paula... (full context)
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In trying to strike each other, Marc or Serge—it is unclear who—strikes Yvan. Yvan removes himself from the struggle, groaning and clutching his head.... (full context)
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Marc asks Serge why he wouldn’t have told him at the time how much he hated Paula—and why,... (full context)
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Serge points out that while he does not like Paula, he does not resent Marc for... (full context)
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Marc tells Serge that back when he judged things by Marc’s standards, he never would have bought the... (full context)
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Serge asks Marc if Marc thought he was Serge’s mentor—Marc says that he did. If he... (full context)
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...the evening and enjoy one another’s company. Marc admits that the deterioration of his and Serge’s relationship is his own fault—he has pulled away from Serge recently, and allowed Serge to... (full context)
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Serge asks Marc why he can’t just love people for who they are. Marc asks who... (full context)
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Marc tells Yvan that he cannot stand Yvan’s desire to put Marc and Serge on the same level—the two of them are not equal, Marc says, and now Yvan... (full context)
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Serge points out that Yvan is only making “I” statements and only talking about himself. Yvan... (full context)
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...overwhelmed by his friends’ piling on him, says he could burst into tears. Marc and Serge both urge him to go ahead and cry. Marc points out that Yvan has every... (full context)
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...calm down. Yvan says that he cannot. All he wants is to be their friend. Serge asks politely if Yvan wouldn’t mind steering clear of pathos, or unnecessary emotion. (full context)
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...to eat—he is so hungry he feels as if he is about to pass out. Serge points out a bowl of olives on the table. The three men have a silent... (full context)
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Yvan asks if Serge plans to draw on the painting. Serge simply demands the pen once again. Yvan goes... (full context)
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Marc leans toward the painting and draws along one of the faint diagonal lines. Serge does not say or do anything to stop him. On the slope Marc has drawn,... (full context)
Scene 6: At Serge’s
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After dinner, the men are back at Serge’s apartment. The Antrios hangs on the back wall. Marc is in front of it with... (full context)
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Yvan says that after Serge, “in an act of pure madness,” at last proved once and for all that he... (full context)
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Serge dries his hands. He cleans up around the flat, emptying the basin of water and... (full context)
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...on skis and then disappears into the landscape. Marc repeats his first lines: his friend Serge—one of his oldest friends—has bought a painting. The canvas measures about five feet by four.... (full context)