Les Comètes

The inner lives of stars

Leanne Shapton
Sheila Heti

The following is a collaborative work, with images by Leanne Shapton and text by Sheila Heti.

Black and white watercolor of a comet, bearing the words "Les Comètes"

Comet Brian was a little one, held in the bowels of the universe and told never to stray far from home. But the first moment the universe turned its head, Brian raced to explore the sky.

Comet in black and white

Trixie had always had bad digestion. There was an unfeelingness to life, and a vast unfairness. Her perceptions were clouded always by the ache deep inside. She didn’t believe in joy when she heard of it.

Comet in black and white

Alexis wandered magnificently, alone, and was the friendliest and most flirtatious of the comets. Her playfulness made her somewhat resented. Beauty can be a little hard to take.

Comet in black and white

And what becomes of the intellectuals? Who wants to hear what they’ve figured out? Who is patient enough to listen? Only those who are moved by their theories and drawn to live differently as a result.

Comet in black and white

And then sometimes it happens that, in their perfect loneliness, God gives them something extra. Something to live by. A star, a hope, mathematics, dance. She drew aside the curtains and her life began.

Comet in black and white

Comet Julia had no one to blame but herself. Ever so slowly, ever more alone. On earth, in a petri dish, scholars re-­created the same conditions. And even the one who was sweeping the floor outside the lab found reproduced in her life the same result: she grew more and more alone.

Comet in black and white

When scholars invented the world, they wanted to make room for plants, the sky, and feelings they had never felt, like love and admiration and wistfulness and mourning. Nothing should be left out, they said. Everything must be welcomed in.

Comet in black and white

Comet Manju was the last one to come. She buried herself deep inside herself and set out in hope and fear. It seemed as though not a single moment had passed between deciding that she would take the journey and finding herself midway through it.

Comet in black and white

On other planets they have different words for comets. Trans­lations might come to sea-­of-­the-­sky and forever-­in-­the-­woods. For they are as common a sight as the sea and the woods. Their passing is not even written down in books.

Black and white watercolor of two comets

Early astronomers took the sight of a comet as a reason to get married. Marriage, like comets, brings two things together, those early astronomers reasoned, putting on their dresses and pulling down their veils and stepping into the darkness, unsure of what awaited.

Comet in black and white
Leanne Shapton is an author, artist, and publisher based in New York. She is currently the art editor at The New York Review of Books.
Sheila Heti is the author of eleven books, including the novels Pure Colour, Motherhood, and How Should a Person Be?
Originally published:
May 19, 2021


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