Three flowers

Looking at these photos it’s strange to know that these are actually flowers – three different sorts of tulips. I like the abstract quality of these images, the petals look like swirls and splashes of some ‘substance’ – there’s nothing sweet or pretty about them. Writing this I just remembered a certain passage from ‘Au rebours’ where Des Essaints muses about his  love for the plants that don’t look like ‘real’ plants – ‘His purpose was achieved. Not one single specimen seemed real; the cloth, paper, porcelain and metal seemed to have been loaned by man to nature to enable her to create her monstrosities. When unable to imitate man’s handiwork, nature had been reduced to copying the inner membranes of animals, to borrowing the vivid tints of their rotting flesh, their magnificent corruptions.’

I shut my eyes and all the world drops dead

‘Mad girl’s love song’ – a poem by Sylvia Plath:

I shut my eyes and all the world drops dead;
I lift my lids and all is born again.
(I think I made you up inside my head.)

The stars go waltzing out in blue and red,
And arbitrary blackness gallops in:
I shut my eyes and all the world drops dead.

I dreamed that you bewitched me into bed
And sung me moon-struck, kissed me quite insane.
(I think I made you up inside my head.)

God topples from the sky, hell’s fires fade:
Exit seraphim and Satan’s men:
I shut my eyes and all the world drops dead.

I fancied you’d return the way you said,
But I grow old and I forget your name.
(I think I made you up inside my head.)

I should have loved a thunderbird instead;
At least when spring comes they roar back again.
I shut my eyes and all the world drops dead.
(I think I made you up inside my head.)

Let it come with all its horrors

I just remembered a book I read a few years ago when doing a research for my graduate collection. It’s a novel by swedish writer Karin Boye called ‘Kallocain’. Of all the things I read and watched back then this one perhaps made the strongest impression on me. Two and a half years ago I quoted in my sketchbook:

“I have wondered for years where that place might be. If we will reach it after we have devoured our neighbor-state, or the neighbor-state has devoured us? Will roads then spring up as easily between human beings as they grow between cities and districts? Let it come soon then! Let it come – come with all its horrors! Or wouldn’t even that be enough? Will the armored tank have grown so strong before that time that it no longer can be transformed from a god into a tool? Can ever a god, even if he is the deadest of all gods, surrender his power voluntarily? – I wanted so to believe there was a green depth in the human being, a sea of undefiled growing-power that melted all dead remnants in its crucible and healed and created in eternity. . . .  But I have not seen it. What I do know is that by sick parents and sick teachers still sicker children are being brought up, until the sick has now become the norm and the healthy a horror. From lone beings are born even lonelier, from the frightened come more frightened ones. . . .  Where might even one seed of health be hiding away, that could grow and burst through the armor? . . .  Those poor people whom we called lunatics played with their symbols. It was at least something, at least they knew there was something they missed. As long as they knew what they were doing at least something was left. But it doesn’t lead anywhere! Where can anything lead! If I should shout at a Metro station when the multitudes emerge, or at a great festival with a loudspeaker in front of me – yet my shouts would only reach a few eardrums in the million-mile Worldstate, and would bounce back as a vacuous sound. I am a cog. I am a being who has been robbed of life. . . . And yet: just now I know it is not the truth. It must be the Kallocain, I guess, that makes me unreasonably hopeful – everything seems easy and clear and peaceful. I am still alive – in spite of all they have robbed me of – and just     now I know that what I am goes somewhere. I have seen the powers of death spread through the world in ever widening waves – but then must not the powers of life also have their waves, even though I have been unable to discern them? . . .  Oh well – I know it is the effect of the Kallocain, but even so – why couldn’t it be the truth?”

CPU

re-reading (and not for the first time) ‘Pattern recognition’:

‘ CPUs. Cayce Pollard Units. That’s what Damien calls the clothing she wears. CPUs are either black, white, or gray, and ideally seem to have come into this world without human intervention.

What people take for relentless minimalism is a side effect of too much exposure to the reactor-cores of fashion. This has resulted in a remorseless paring-down of what she can and will wear. She is, literally, allergic to fashion. She can only tolerate things that could have been worn, to a general lack of comment, during any year between 1945 and 2000. She’s a design-free zone, a one-woman school of anti whose very austerity periodically threatens to spawn its own cult.’

I know I have an enemy

‘Somewhere in the world I have an implacable enemy although I do not know his name. I do not know what he looks like either…

The fact that I know absolutely nothing about him makes life intolerable, for  I am obliged to look upon everybody with equal suspicion. There is literally not a soul whom I can trust. As the days go past I find that I am becoming more and more preoccupied with this wretched problem; indeed, it has become an obsession with me. Whenever I speak to anyone I catch myself scrutinizing him with secret attention, searching for some sign that would betray the traitor who is determined to ruin me. I cannot concentrate on my work because I am always debating in my mind the question of my enemy’s identity and the cause of his hate. What act of mine can possibly have given rise to such a relentless persecution? I go over and over my past life without finding any clue. But perhaps the situation has arisen through no fault of my own but merely on account of some fortuitous circumstances that I know nothing about. Perhaps I am the victim of some mysterious political, religious or financial machination – some vast and shadowy plot, whose ramifications are so obscure as to appear to the uninitiated to be quite outside reason, requiring, for instance, something as apparently senseless as the destruction of everybody with red hair or with a mole on his left leg.

Because of this persecution my private life is already practically in ruins. My friends and family are alienated, my creative work is at a standstill, my manner has become nervous, gloomy and irritable, I am unsure of myself, even my voice has grown hesitating and indistinct.

You would think that my enemy might take pity on me now; that, seeing the miserable plight to which he has reduced me, he would be content with his vengeance and leave me in peace. But no, I know perfectly well that he will never relent. He will never be satisfied until he has destroyed me utterly…

…I am only writing this down so that when you do not see me any more you will know that my enemy has finally triumphed.’

fragments of ‘The Enemy’ from ‘Asylum piece’ by Anna Kavan

Basic shapes & systematic forms

‘Crystalline form, sphere, plane, rod and strip, screw and cone, those are the basic technical shapes of the whole world. These are enough for all events of the whole world process, to lead  them to their optimum. All things that exists are combinations of these seven primal forms, but never more than the holy number seven. Nature has produced nothing else, and the human spirit may do whatever it wants, but it will always only result in combinations and variations of these seven basic shapes.’

‘… for every thing, whether it is an object or a thought, there is only one systematic form that corresponds to the essence of the thing and which, if it is changed does not cause the position of repose, but which causes processes. These processes work compulsively, systematically by continually renewed disruption of form, until the optimal, essential position of repose has again been reached and form and essence are again one.’

Laszlo Moholy-Nagy

Friedrich Nietzsche and women’s fashions of 1870

from Hermann Hesse’s ‘The Glass bead game’

‘Thus those struggles for the “freedom” of the human intellect likewise “happened,” and subsequently, in the course of the aforementioned Age of the Feuilleton, men came to enjoy an incredible degree of intellectual freedom, more than they could stand. For while they had overthrown the tutelage of the Church completely, and that of the State partially, they had not succeeded in formulating an authentic law they could respect, a genuinely new authority and legitimacy. Ziegenhalss recounts some truly astonishing examples of the intellect’s debasement, venality, and self-betrayal during that period.

We must confess that we cannot provide an unequivocal definition of those products from which the age takes its name, the feuilletons. They seem to have formed an uncommonly popular section of the daily newspapers, were produced by the millions, and were a major source of mental pabulum for the reader in want of culture. They reported on, or rather “chatted” about, a thousand-and-one items of knowledge. It would seem, moreover, that the cleverer among the writers of them poked fun at their own work. Ziegenhalss, at any rate, contends that many such pieces are so incomprehensible that they can only be viewed as self-persiflage on the part of the authors. Quite possibly these manufactured articles do indeed contain a quantity of irony and self-mockery which cannot be understood until the key is found again. The producers of these trivia were in some cases attached to the staffs of the newspapers; in other cases they were free-lance scriveners. Frequently they enjoyed the high-sounding title of “writer,” but a great many of them seem to have belonged to the scholar class. Quite a few were celebrated university professors.

Among the favorite subjects of such essays were anecdotes taken from the lives or correspondence of famous men and women. They bore such titles as “Friedrich Nietzsche and Women’s Fashions of 1870,” or “The Composer Rossini’s Favorite Dishes,” or “The Role of the Lapdog in the Lives of Great Courtesans,” and so on. Another popular type of article was the historical background piece on what was currently being talked about among the well-to-do, such as “The Dream of Creating Gold Through the Centuries,” or “Physico-chemical Experiments in Influencing the Weather,” and hundreds of similar subjects. When we look at the titles that Ziegenhalss cites, we feel surprise that there should have been people who devoured such chitchat for their daily reading; but what astonishes us far more is that authors of repute and of decent education should have helped to “service” this gigantic consumption of empty whimsies. Significantly, “service” was the expression used; it was also the word denoting the relationship of man to the machine at that time.

Continue reading

The Bell jar

‘Piece by piece, I fed my wardrobe to the night wind, and flutteringly, like a loved one’s ashes, the gray scraps were ferried off, to settle here, there, exactly where I would never know, in the dark heart of New York.’

‘ The reason I hadn’t washed my clothes or my hair was because it seemed so silly. I saw the days of the year stretching ahead like a series of bright, white boxes, and separating one box from another was sleep, like a black shade. Only for me, the long perspective of shades that set off one box from the next had suddenly snapped up, and I could see day after day after day glaring ahead of me like a white, broad, infinitely desolate avenue. It seemed silly to wash one day when I would only have to wash again the next. It made me tired just to think of it. I wanted to do everything once and for all and be through with it.’

‘I brought it up next to the smudgy photograph of the dead girl. It matched, mouth for mouth, nose for nose. The only difference was the eyes. The eyes in the snapshot were open, and those in the newspaper photograph were closed. But I knew if the dead girl’s eyes were to be thumbed wide, they would look at me with the same dead, black, vacant expression as the eyes in the snapshot.’

‘I thought the most beautiful thing in the world must be shadow, the million moving shapes and cul-de-sacs of shadow. There was shadow in bureau drawers and closets and suitcases, and shadow under houses and trees and stones, and shadow at the back of people’s eyes and smiles, and shadow, miles and miles and miles of it, on the night side of the earth.’

‘The Bell jar’ Sylvia Plath

We

From ‘We’, by Yevgeny Zamyatin:

‘And then to myself: Why is this beautiful? Why is dance beautiful? Answer: because it is unfree motion, because the whole profound meaning of dance lies precisely in absolute esthetic subordination, in ideal unfreedom. And if it’s true that our forebears abandoned themselves to dance at the most exalted moments of their lives (religious mysteries, military parades), it means only one thing: the instinct of unfreedom is organically inherent in man from time immemorial, and we, in our present life are only consciously… ‘

‘Simply by turning this handle, any of you can produce up to three sonatas an hour. Yet think how much effort this had cost your forebears. They were able to create only by whipping themselves up to fits of ‘inspiration’- an unknown form of epilepsy.’

‘She wore the fantastic costume of the ancient epoch: a closely fitting black dress, which sharply emphasized the whiteness of  her bare shoulders and breast, with that warm shadow, stirring with her breath, between … and the dazzling, almost angry teeth…

A smile- a bite- to us below. Then she sat down and began to play. Something savage, spasmodic, variegated, like their whole life at that time- not a single trace of rational mechanical method…

Yes, epilepsy, a sickness of the spirit, pain… Slow sweet pain- a bite- and you want it still deeper, still more painful. Then, slowly, the sun. Not ours, not that bluish, crystal, even glow through glass bricks, no- a wild, rushing, scorching sun- and off with all your clothing, tear everything to shreds’

‘we, however, know that dreams are a serious psychic disease.’

Medea

‘Medea:
I pray never to have a happy life that is painful to me
nor wealth that eats away at my heart’
‘Messenger:
The royal princess is dead just now
a victim of your poisons and her father, Creon, is dead too.
Medea:
That’s wonderful news. You will have my eternal gratitude and I will call you my friend.’
‘Messenger:
And the poor woman, her eyes glazed over, stirred from her silence
and with a deep groan was trying to get up.
But a twofold trouble was warring against her:
the crown of gold around her head
was spewing out an eerie stream of ravenous fire,
and the fine robes, gifts from your children,
were eating away the poor girl’s beautiful flesh.
She stands up and tries to escape, but she is on fire.
She shakes her head this way and that,
trying to throw off the crown, but all the more tightly
the gold holds its bonds; and the fire — when she shook
her head — burned twice as bright.
Overcome by the disaster she falls to the floor,
unrecognizable to the sight of anyone but a parent.
The condition of her eyes and her once lovely face
were murky, and blood dripped
from the top of her head with fire mixed in,
and the flesh was dripping from her bones like sap
from a pine, through the hidden gnawing of the poisons,
a terrible sight.’

from ‘Medea’ by Euripides

Like a great lily

‘On the calm black water where the stars are sleeping
White Ophelia floats like a great lily;
Floats very slowly, lying in her long veils…
– In the far-off woods you can hear them sound the mort.

For more than a thousand years sad Ophelia
Has passed, a white phantom, down the long black river.
For more than a thousand years her sweet madness
Has murmured its ballad to the evening breeze.

The wind kisses her breasts and unfolds in a wreath
Her great veils rising and falling with the waters;
The shivering willows weep on her shoulder,
The rushes lean over her wide, dreaming brow…’

Arthur Rimbaud, ‘Ophelia’

Experimental photographer Victor Burgin did a series of photographs based on Alfred Hitchcock’s film ‘Vertigo’, 1958. This shot combinesVertigo and John Everett Millais’s ‘Ophelia’ 1852.

Violets and other flowers

‘He [Elagabalus] loaded his parasites with violets and other flowers in a banqueting room with a reversable ceiling, in such a way that some of them expired when they could not crawl out to the surface.’

Scriptores Historiae Augustae: Antoninus Heliogabalus (XXI.5)

The Roses of Heliogabalus by Lawrence Alma-Tadema, 1888, fragment

‘…a cruelty of a thousand diamonds…’

‘The garments of king’s daughter are of wrought gold.

First, armour heavy, her cloak of yellow plaques;

Each have diff’rent  gravure; chelydri, chimaerae,

Sphinxes joined in battle, lycanthropes in love;

The eyes are jewels, red or green, scales of nacre,

Claws platinum inlaid. It is fringed with sapphires.

Within her dress is one piece crushing her breasts to

Mountains marble with wand’ring veins like blue ore.

It is harsh with a cruelty of a thousand

Diamonds sewn in cusps and volutes and arabesques

Harsher the intimate garments against her skin

Woven in fine gold wire. ( Her skin is like orchid.)

More penitential than the horse-hair shirt. As she

Moves  each point of gold chafes or pierces her white flesh…’

from  ‘The King’s daughter’ by Sherard Vines

Death in Venice

fragment of Thomas Mann’s ‘Death in Venice’ :

‘ Even on a personal level art is a form of heightened living. It gives greater pleasures, it consumes faster. It stamps the features of its servants with the signs of imaginary and spiritual adventures, and it produces, even in the most cloister-like atmosphere, a certain fastidiousness, an over refinement, an exhaustion and curiosity of the nerves, in a way even a life of the most outrageous passions and delights could scarcely effect it.’

‘Torpid smoke’

this fragment of Nabokov’s ‘Torpid smoke’ perfectly describes my current state of mind:

‘To move was, however, incredibly difficult; difficult, because the very form of his being had now lost all distinctive marks, all fixed boundaries. For example, the lane on the other side of the house might be his own arm, while the long skeletal cloud that stretched across the whole sky with a chill of stars in the east might be his backbone. Neither the striped obscurity in his room nor the glass of the parlor door, which was transmuted into nighttime seas shining with golden undulations, offered him a dependable method of measuring and marking himself off…’

‘…with the hair of a wood fire…’

Fragment of Andre Breton’s ‘  Freedom of love’:

My wife with the hair of a wood fire
With the thoughts of heat lightning
With the waist of an hourglass
With the waist of an otter in the teeth of a tiger
My wife with the lips of a cockade and of a bunch of stars of the last magnitude
With the teeth of tracks of white mice on the white earth
With the tongue of rubbed amber and glass
My wife with the tongue of a stabbed host
With the tongue of a doll that opens and closes its eyes
With the tongue of an unbelievable stone
My wife with the eyelashes of strokes of a child’s writing
With brows of the edge of a swallow’s nest
My wife with the brow of slates of a hothouse roof
And of steam on the panes

Continue reading

The Black dinner

One of my favourite parts of Huysmans‘s novel “Against nature” is a description of des Esseintes’s black dinner :

‘… giving famous dinners to men of letters, one of which, a revival of the eighteenth century, celebrating the most futile of his misadventures, was a funeral repast.

In the dining room, hung in black and opening on the transformed garden with its ash-powdered walks, its little pool now bordered with basalt and filled with ink, its clumps of cypresses and pines, the dinner had been served on a table draped in black, adorned with baskets of violets and scabiouses, lit by candelabra from which green flames blazed, and by chandeliers from which wax tapers flared.

To the sound of funeral marches played by a concealed orchestra, nude negresses, wearing slippers and stockings of silver cloth with patterns of tears, served the guests.

Out of black-edged plates they had drunk turtle soup and eaten Russian rye bread, ripe Turkish olives, caviar, smoked Frankfort black pudding, game with sauces that were the color of licorice and blacking, truffle gravy, chocolate cream, puddings, nectarines, grape preserves, mulberries and black-heart cherries; they had sipped, out of dark glasses, wines from Limagne, Roussillon, Tenedos, Val de Penas and Porto, and after the coffee and walnut brandy had partaken of kvas and porter and stout.

The farewell dinner to a temporarily dead virility — this was what he had written on invitation cards designed like bereavement notices…’