The contemporary artist Anna Di Mezza, whose artwork I have featured several times,(Evolution, Questions & Answers with Anna Di Mezza and Double Take) has acknowledged in interviews her admiration for the Italian painter Giorgio De Chirico, whose ground-breaking Metaphysical paintings profoundly influenced the Surrealists. Anna’s latest works are firmly situated in this metaphysical tradition, where the primary focus is to raise questions regarding identity, reality and the creative process.
Transience also possesses elements of Anna’s characteristic Twilight Zone style sensibility. Toward the extreme right side of the painting a portion of a glamorous female face can be seen taking shape, emerging into being. The darker stripe of paint that converges towards the pupil is suggestive of a pencil. The eyebrow is also subject to this effect, though appropriately more reminiscent of a mascara wand. Looking at this painting I get the uncanny feeling that this is a preliminary sketch for an android; that the artist is showing this ersatz figure coming to life before our very eyes. However the reality of images is always fleeting and transitory, fading away when we stop looking, returning only as fragments that haunt our dreams.
Voluptuaries of all ages, of every sex, it is to you only that I offer this work; nourish yourselves upon its principles: they favour your passions, whereof coldly insipid moralists put you in fear, are naught but the means Nature employs to bring man to the ends she prescribes to him; hearken only to these delicious Promptings, for no voice save that of the passions can conduct you to happiness.
Lewd women, let the voluptuous Saint-Ange be your model; after her example, be heedless of all that contradicts pleasure’s divine laws, by which all her life she was enchained.
You young maidens, too long constrained by a fanciful Virtue’s absurd and dangerous bonds and by those of a disgusting religion, imitate the fiery Eugenie; be as quick as she to destroy, to spurn all those ridiculous precepts inculcated in you by imbecile parents.
And you, amiable debauchees, you who since youth have known no limits but those of your desires and who have been governed by your caprices alone, study the cynical Dolmance, proceed like him and go as far as he if you too would travel the length of those flowered ways your lechery prepares for you; in Dolmance’s academy be at last convinced it is only by exploring and enlarging the sphere of his tastes and whims, it is only by sacrificing everything to senses pleasure that this individual, who never asked to be cast into this universe of woe, that this poor creature who goes under the name of Man, may be able to sow a smattering of roses atop the thorny path of life.
Marquis De Sade-Philosophy in the Boudoir 1795
I have included the above dedication to Philosophy in the Boudoir in full (see The Moment for further information concerning the libertine tradition that it is the culmination of) to give a taste of the style and concerns of the Divine Marquis (see Citizen Sade,Yet Another Effort, and The Passionate Philosopher)As the title suggests, Philosophy in the Boudoir features a lot of sex and philosophical conversation yet it remains the most accessible of his major works, with very little physical cruelty (well, at least until the shocking, Grand Guignol ending) and contains many examples of fine, though somewhat, black humour. However it is the Marquis De Sade, so it is not for the squeamish as the language is frequently coarse and crude, while it contains vivid descriptions of sexual practises that are still shocking today, over 220 years after its initial publication.
Philosophy in the Boudoir describes in seven dialogues, the sexual and very unsentimental education of Eugenie (as critics have noted, the very name is chosen with care) over two days by a group of libertines: Madame De Saint-Ange (though they is nothing remotely saintly or angelic about her) whose boudoir is the setting of the piece, Saint-Ange’s younger brother Le Chevalier (who is involved in an incestuous relationship with his sister) and the archetypal libertine Dolmance., who is often thought to be somewhat of a self portrait of the Marquis himself.
All the characters, as is often the case in De Sade, are bisexual by principle. Dolmance provides most of the philosophy, stating that religion, morality, modesty and compassion are all absurd notions that stand in the way of the ultimate and only goal of human existence: pleasure. Saint-Ange and Dolmance further elaborates to Eugenie that it is impossible to feel true pleasure without pain. Sex without pain is like food without taste for De Sade.
Eugenie proves to be a quick and enthusiastic learner. In the middle of the fifth dialogue all the characters take a break to listen to Dolmance read out a pamphlet he found in the street, the famous Yet Another Effort, Frenchman, If You Would Become Republicans, which is a distillation of De Sade’s philosophy and hopes for Revolutionary France. De Sade devotes a lot of time to beseeching the Republic, now that it has deposed of the tyrant on the throne to banish forever the worship of God. Only then can they truly become Republicans. Once the dead hand of religion has been lifted, then morality surely has to follow. De Sade argues that theft should be applauded as private property is a source of evil. Prostitution will be encouraged and adultery by both sexes is permitted. There should be no law against homosexuality as it both natural and normal. The death penalty must be abolished. Basically De Sade upends every moral precept of the age and declares the less laws a State has, the better. He then goes on to warn that if these innovations are not followed then France will relapse and become a monarchical society again (he was right on this point).
After this lengthy discourse, the narrative resumes towards its jaw dropping denouement, and the reader is left to ponder the radical and horrific nature of De Sade’s thought. I will leave the last word to the man himself, who, for all his many faults and inconsistencies, possessed a lucid self-awareness.
“Either kill me or take me as I am, because I’ll be damned if I ever change.”
I have chosen for the third in the series of Surrealist short stories (the others in the series can be found here and here) a deliciously macabre tale by the wonderful English artist, writer and eccentric Leonora Carrington, who was also the subject of Max Ernst’s masterpiece, The Robing of the Bride.
In a reversal of a classic fairy tale theme, The Debutante tells of the lengths our heroine is prepared to go to in order to not attend a ball.
WHEN I was a debutante I often went to the zoo. I went so often that I knew the animals better than I knew girls of my own age. Indeed, it was in order to get away from people that I found myself each day at the zoo. The animal I got to know best was a young hyena. She knew me too. She was extremely intelligent, I taught her French and she, in return, taught me her language. In this way we passed many pleasant hours.
My mother was arranging a ball in my honour on the first of May. During this time I was in great distress for whole nights. I’ve always detested balls, especially when they are given in my honour.
On the morning of the first of May, 1934, very early, I went to visit the hyena.
“What a bloody nuisance,” I told her. “I’ve got to go to my ball tonight.”
“You’re very lucky,” she said. “I would love to go. I do not know how to dance, but at least I could make small talk.”
“There’ll be a great many different things to eat,” I told her. “I’ve seen truckloads of food delivered to our house.”
“And you complain!” replied the hyena, disgusted. “Just think of me, I eat once a day, and you can’t imagine what a heap of bloody rubbish I’m given!”
I had a audacious idea, and I almost laughed. “All you have to do is to go instead of me!”
“We do not resemble each other enough, otherwise I’d gladly go,” said the hyena, rather sadly.
“Listen,” I said. “No one sees too well in the evening light. If you disguise yourself, no one will notice you in the crowd. Besides, we are practically the same size. You are my only friend, I beg you to do this for me.”
She thought this over, and I knew that she really wanted to accept.
“Done,” she said all of a sudden.
There weren’t many keepers about, it was so early in the morning. Quickly I opened the cage and in a moment we were in the street. I hailed a taxi; at home, everyone was still in bed. In my room, I brought out the dress I was to wear that evening. It was a little long, and the hyena found it difficult to walk in my high-heeled shoes. I found some gloves to hide her hands which were too hairy to look like mine. By the time the sun was shining into my room, she was able to make her way around the room several times—walking more or less upright. We were so busy that my mother almost opened the door to say good morning before the hyena had hidden under my bed.
“There’s a bad smell in your room,” said my mother, opening the window. “You must have a scented bath before tonight, with my new bath salts.”
“Certainly,” I said.
She did not stay long. I believe the smell was too strong for her.
“Don’t be late for breakfast,” she said and left the room.
The greatest difficulty was to find a way of disguising the hyena’s face. We spent hours and hours looking for a way, but she always rejected my suggestions. At last she said, “I think I’ve found a solution. Have you got a maid?”
“Yes,” I said, puzzled.
“There you are then. Ring for your maid, and when she comes in we’ll pounce upon her and tear off her face. I’ll wear her face this evening instead of mine.”
“That’s not practical,” I said to her. “She will probably die if she hasn’t got a face. Someone will surely find the corpse and we’ll go to prison.”
“I am hungry enough to eat her,” the hyena replied.
“And the bones?”
“As well,” she said. “So, its on?”
“Only if you promise to kill her before tearing off her face. It’ll hurt her too much otherwise.”
“All right. It’s all the same to me.”
Not without a certain amount of nervousness I rang for Mary, my maid. I certainly wouldn’t have done it if I didn’t hate having to go to a ball so much. When Mary came in I turned to the wall so as not to see. I must admit that it didn’t take long. A brief cry, and it was over. While the hyena was eating, I looked out the window. A few minutes later, she said, “I can’t eat anymore. Her two feet are left over still, but if you have a little bag, I’ll eat them later in the day.”
“You’ll find in the wardrobe a bag embroidered with fleurs de lys in the cupboard. Empty out the handkerchiefs you’ll find inside, and take it.” She did as I suggested. Then she said: “Turn around now and look how beautiful I am.”
In front of the mirror, the hyena was admiring herself in Mary’s face. She had nibbled very neatly all around the face so that what was left was exactly what was needed.
“You’ve certainly done that very well,” I said.
Toward evening, when the hyena was all dressed up, she declared: “I really feel in tip-top form. I have the feeling that I shall be a great success this evening.”
When we had heard the music from downstairs for quite some time, I said to her, “Go on down now, and remember, don’t stand next to my mother. She’s bound to realise that it isn’t me. Apart from her I don’t know anybody. Best of luck.” I kissed her as I left her, but she did smell very strong.
Night fell. Tired by the day’s emotions, I took a book and sat down by the open window, giving myself up to peace and quiet. I remember that I was reading Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift. About an hour later, I noticed the first signs of trouble. A bat flew in at the window, uttering little cries. I am terribly afraid of bats, I hid behind a chair, my teeth chattering. I had hardly gone down on my knees when the sound of beating wings was overcome by a great noise at my door. My mother entered, pale with rage.
“We’d just sat down at table,” she said, “when that thing sitting in your place got up and shouted, ‘So I smell a bit strong, what? Well, I don’t eat cakes.’ Whereupon it tore off its face and ate it. And with one great bound, disappeared through the window.”
To judge from the photos of the participants at the ‘Unite the Right’ event in Charlottesville, Virginia it was attended exclusively by two types. One was the usual knuckle dragging good ole boy Klansman and skinhead bovver boys, the kind of people who live for brawling and probably instigate a confrontation with their own shadows when nobody else is around. The other type was the alt-right who are laughably called the intelligentsia of the far right. Aiming for the preppy with white polo shirts these toy soldiers still convey the stench of male adolescent geekiness. It was to the second group that the accused killer of Heather Heyer, James Alex Fields, undoubtedly belonged.
Reading the details of Fields life leads to a depressing feeling of deja vu. All the standard tropes that feature heavily in the biographies of so many psychopaths, school shooters and spree killers are present. Quiet, introverted, kept himself to himself, socially inept, intelligent (but I suspect that they are never as intelligent as they think they are), absent fathers, unsettled childhoods, thwarted desire to serve in the military/police. And, although this remains unsaid, everyone knows to fill in the blanks, an unmitigated disaster with the opposite sex. In other words, real life imitations of Travis Bickle, Robert De Niro’s character in Martin Scorsese’s seminal movie Taxi Driver.
Travis Bickle frequently rails against the degradation and filth that he sees all around as he drives through the New York City night and longs for a return to purity (with unstated but definite racialist overtones). Yet we soon begin to have doubts about Bickle, especially as he chooses the night shift himself and spends part of the day watching blue movies. We only begin to fully understand Bickle’s profound disconnect and lack of social mores when he takes the beautiful and classy Betsy (played by Cybill Shepherd) to a hardcore pornographic movie theatre on the first date.
Paul Schrader the screenwriter for Taxi Driver has long acknowledged the debt the movie owes to Existentialism, and Bickle’s alienation bears some resemblance to the classic of Existentialism, Albert Camus L”Etranger (The Stranger), the story of the affectless Meursault who indifferently commits a murder.
Michel Houellebecq, the controversial French novelist and right wing provocateur first novel Extension du domaine de la lutte (literally Extension of the Domain of the Struggle, a parody of the titles of Situationist texts popular during the student uprisings of 1968, translated in English as Whatever) updates and expandsupon The Stranger. Central to Extension and other novels by Houellebecq is his theory regarding the sexual revolution of the 1960’s which he believes resulted in sexual capitalism instead of communism.
In an economic system where unfair dismissal is prohibited, every person more or less manages to find their place. In a sexual system where adultery is prohibited, every person more or less manages to find their bed mate. In a totally liberal economic system certain people accumulate considerable fortunes; others stagnate in unemployment and misery. In a totally liberal sexual system certain people have a varied and exciting erotic life; others are reduced to masturbation and solitude.
This dynamic is given racialist overtones in Houellebecq’s work. According to Houellebecq black men and Asian women are the greatest benefactors of this liberal sexual system while the standard white collar, white male office drone is no longer guaranteed a mate. This would go some length to explaining the alt-right’s obsession with ‘cucking’ and their veneration of Trump, after all here is a white male who was enjoyed a successful sex life and wants to reverse the tide of sexual liberalisation back toward the way things used to be. Trump in return refuses to distance himself from these toxic movements because of deep seated insecurities resulting from his sense of absolute sexual entitlement.
The alt-right’s ugly and incendiary language and actions are a perfect example of Nietzsche’s theory of ressentiment, a reassignment of socially maladjusted inferiority projected onto an external scapegoat. Their inadequacies are not their own fault, it is the fault of other people. Because the typical alt-righter has lost out in the sexual marketplace and cannot get laid, others must suffer.
The French writer Jean Levy, who wrote under his wife’s surname as Jean Ferry worked mainly as a screen-writer for various French directors, including Henri-George Clouzot, the French Hitchcock, and was a pre-eminent expert on the work of that notable Surrealist precursor Raymond Roussel. Ferry only book of fiction, the short story collection The Conductor and Other Tales, was initially published in a limited edition of 100 copies in 1950, then again in 1953 with a very laudatory introduction by The Pope of Surrealism himself, Andre Breton.
The Conductor and Other Tales is an absolute gem of a volume. Every tiny story perfectly conveys Ferry’s unique style that is comprised of equal parts charm, weariness and a subtle terror. As Michael Richardson writes, Ferry never appeared to have convinced himself that the world actually exists.
Andre Breton called Kafka, Or “The Secret Society” a masterpiece. Ferry certainly manages to expand Kafka’s paranoia (an achievement in itself) to dizzying, vertiginous heights with it suggestion of wheels within wheels within wheels… … …
Kafka, Or “The Secret Society”
Joseph K—, around his twentieth year, learned of the existence of a secret, very secret society. Truth be told, it is unlike any association of its kind. some have a very hard time gaining admission. Many who wish ardently to do so will never succeed. Others, however, are members without even knowing it. One is, by the way, never entirely sure whether he is a member, many people believe themselves a part of this secret society when they aren’t at all. Although they have been initiated, they are even less a part of it than many men unaware of its existence. In fact, they were subjected to the trials of a fake initiation, meant to distract those unworthy of actually being initiated. But it is never revealed – not to the most genuine members, not even to those who have reached the highest ranks in this society’s hierarchy – whether their successive initiations are valid or not. It may even happen that a member who has attained, through a series of genuine initiations, an actual rank in the normal fashion, is then subjected without warning only to fake initiations. Whether it is better to be admitted to a low but authentic rank, or to hold an exalted but illusory position, is a subject of endless debate among members. At any rate, none can be sure of the stability of his rank.
In fact, the situation is even more complicated, for certain applicants are admitted to the highest ranks without undergoing any trials, and others without ever being so much as notified. Actually, it is not even necessary to apply: some have received very advanced initiations without even knowing the secret society exists.
The powers of its highest members is limitless; they carry within themselves a powerful emanation of the secret society. For instance, even should they not show themselves, their mere presence suffices to turn an innocent gathering like a concert or a birthday dinner into a meeting of the secret society. It is their duty to draw up secret reports on all the meetings they attend, reports pored over by other members of the same rank; thus there is a perpetual exchange of reports among members, which allows the secret society’s highest authorities to keep the situation well in hand.
However high or far an initiation goes, it never goes so far as to reveal the purpose of the secret society to the initiate. Still, there are always traitors, and for some time now it has been no mystery to anyone that this purpose is maintaining secrecy.
Jospeh K— was quite terrified to learn this secret society was so powerful, so many-limbed, that he might easily shake hands with its most powerful member without knowing it. But as bad luck would have it, he lost his first-class metro ticket one morning after a troubled night’s sleep. this misfortune was the first link in a chain of muddled, contradictory circumstances that put him in contact with the secret society. Later, in order to protect himself, he was forced to take the necessary steps towards being admitted to this formidable organisation. All this happened quite some time ago, and how far he has gotten in these attempts remains unknown.
While Surrealism is usually associated with the visual arts, in particular painting, photography, collage and films, the initial impetus was literary. As well as the many manifestos and polemics, Surrealists also produced poetry (translations of which can be found on this site, see Free Union, The Spectral Attitudes, Sleep Spaces,Serpent Sun and I Have So Often Dreamed Of You), and fiction. There are Surrealist novels, but as Andre Breton disapproved of the form as the medium of literary careerists the majority of Surrealist fiction tend to be in the short story format.
As most Surrealist short stories tend to be hidden away in hard to find collections and obscure periodicals, this facet of the Surrealist imagination has been unjustly ignored.
In an effort to remedy this situation, I am pleased to post Alain Joubert’s delightful fable Art, Pleasure and Gardening, the first in a projected series of Surrealist stories. In Art, Pleasure and Gardening, Joubert shows how desire, passion and pleasure can transform the world.
Art, Pleasure and Gardening
He was sick of living within four walls grey with dust in the tiny two-roomed flat with kitchen washbasin and toilet on the landing in the tenth district which a lucky (?) chance (and a little help from his sister) had provided him with the opportunity to invest in a couple of years earlier. While lying in a more or less collapsed spring mattress which was set out on a level with the floor, he let his gaze linger on those miserable grey walls with torn wallpaper on which it was still possible to discern, here and there, a few bunch of grapes trying vainly to serve as decoration, but which had been definitively devoured. In this way the minutes were drawn out and by degrees were turned into hours without the slightest desire having passed through his mind. But suddenly , when twilight had ceased eating away what little light appeared to him through the dirty windows that opened onto another wall without windows (it was six in the evening and February had never been the most cheerful month) he decided that what he would do would be to buy a plant. That was the first day.
On the second day, he went to the flower market on the Ile de la Cite. After some dreadful hesitations and a titanic internal struggle, he finally chose a Monstera deliciosa of the Araceae family, whose leaves, twelve inches long and ten inches across, stretched out in the form of a heart and deeply cut between the secondary veins, threw many strange shadows on his walls when he installed lateral lighting.
Passion then overcame him. an Aechmea fascianta, some Bromeliaceae, a Cissus antartica, some Vitaceae, a Diffenbachia, a Fatshedera, a Peperomia together made their appearance in the flat and something tropical began to rise up from between their foliage. That was the the third day.
On the fourth day, as he scrutinised the hothouse at the Botanical Gardens seeking new species, he had an encounter. In front of a Sciandapus Aursus, which originally came from the Solomon Islands and whose heart-shaped leaves very much intrigued him, his gaze met that of a charming young woman, whose long hair lightly flowed and who appeared to be – like him- fascinated by the plant world. Later, as they lay on the spring mattress, which as discreetly as possible had accompanied their amorous journey, they decided to turn the two-roomed apartment into an enchanted place in which the plants would occupy pride of place in the room as they already did in their lives.
No sooner said than done. They bought a quantity of peat and wood hummus and spread it far and wide over the floor and took the plants they had already brought out of their pots and, after unpotting them, planted them in open ground, together with a good dozen newcomers they had spent the day collecting in more or less the usual way. in the evening, exhausted but happy, they slept together, naked, on a bed of palm leaves after having refreshed themselves with fruits. That was the fifth day.
On the sixth day, they were surprised to see that the plants had sprung up in a way that had nothing natural about it. From morning, a tangle of branches, leaves and liana prevented them from moving about the flat easily and by noon they had to become resigned to tracing out a route with a machete if they wanted to get from one room to the other. They found this extremely poetic and were pleased with the astonishing humid heat which reigned in the rooms, something which encouraged them to dispense with the slightest clothing on their radiant bodies. Water streamed down the walls, serving to complete the illusion but completely ruining the wallpaper! Dozens of birds came in through the window and mingled their songs with the sighs of our two young savages, who were more in love than ever!
The next day passed as if in a dream. Strange and succulent fruits had appeared on some of the plants – which soon turned into trees – and they even saw an iguana, which sprang up from who knows where and took a trip around the room before vanishing into the undergrowth. They spent their time savouring its flow, caressing one another and re-discovering the pleasures of forgotten senses – or the meaning of forgotten pleasures. In short, they weren’t bored! That was the seventh day.
At dawn on the eighth day, there was a knock on the door. an old man with a long white beard, flanked by a tipstaff and a policeman, read out a declaration printed on official paper that announced that they were being evicted forthwith, failing which they would suffer a severe penalty. And this is how they were ignominiously thrown out of Paradise Road for having tried to create it there again! Since then he has worked for the Social Security, while she became a teacher. As for the flat, they say no one has ever been able to get inside, so intensely has the vegetation grown. But then they say so many things.
Another one of the drawings that can be definitely attributed to have come from the hand of the master, The Tree-Man is also a figure that features prominently in the right panel hellscape of the triptych TheGarden of Earthly Delights.
As the date of composition of The Garden of Earthly Delights cannot be determined accurately beyond the range of 1490 to 1510, it is a matter of conjecture as to whether the drawing of The Tree-Man is a preparatory sketch or a later variation on this most memorable, nightmarish character.
Although not situated in hell, the landscape of The Tree-Man is nevertheless rather bleak and blighted. In the centre of the foreground a stunted tree sits near the bank of a river that has inundated a large part of the background land. Various species of birds feature, including a stock, a pair of swimming ducks and an owl.
Dominating the scene is the Tree-Man, a monstrous hybrid of human face, rotting tree stumps, broken eggshell and boats. Inside the hollow cavity of the body a group of people (surely damned) appear to be involved in drinking, gambling and whoring. Also a crescent moon flag juts from this unusual posterior opening. The Tree-Man sports extraordinary headgear on which a large pitcher is balanced. Inside this vessel is a small blurry figure that is pointlessly dangling a fishing line and another man precariously clings onto a ladder while reaching out to a line that is attached to the flag.
It has been suggested that the Tree-Man’s face in both this drawing and in The Garden of Earthly Delights is a possible self-portrait of Bosch. In the triptych the headgear closely resembles an artist’s palette and the sideways, conspiratorial expression of rueful resignation that greet the viewer do point towards the Tree-Man being an elaborate, knowingly ironic signature.
One of only three drawings that can definitely be attributed to the Dutch master who so influenced the Surrealists, The forest that hears and the field that sees is an excellent example of the strangeness of the late medieval genius that produced the stunning and baffling The Garden of Earthly Delights
I look at you and all I can see
Encased in the feminine form
My long lost imaginary twin
And I know that when you stare
So deeply into me
You are looking
Through a glass darkly
So that when we touch
We make love in a mirror
Dissolving on the other side
The place where all polarities
Are resolved, indeed
Sun and Moon
Female and Male
Day and Night
Cease to exist
And there is no longer
A discrepancy between
Desire and decision
For our bodies
Is a binary code of attraction
A series of
OOOOO’s and IIIII’s
Eyes and oh’s,
Combined to complete
A sequence of absolute pleasure
Breathing the heavy musky scent
A smile of weighted lust
Plays on our devouring lips
As our bodies yield and the flesh merges
Together as identities blur and fade
Into the suggestive sculpture
Of an unmade bed
All mirrors are inherently mysterious and magical. The moment when Narcissus looked into the lake and realized that what he saw reflected was at one and the same time the self and an image was the moment of a great divide, a second Fall, but as certain Gnostic sects argued about the temptation of Eve and the expulsion from the Garden of Eden this recognition was a necessary loss of Innocence. It was the first experience of a mediated reality. All was needed was the technical expertise to manufacture mirrors to disseminate this heightened self-awareness to every individual. And from mirrors it was only a matter of time before the camera and then film which led to the media landscape that envelops and dominates our perception today.
Mirrors are mentioned frequently in myth, folk-lore and religion; not to mention in art and literature. In Corinthians Paul says of our knowledge of the divine ‘For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known’. In Vodou, the syncretic religion practised widely in Haiti that combines elements of West African spirit religion, Catholicism and arguably Mesoamerican traditions, the altars of hounfours (temples) are decorated with mirrors as they are conduits that the houngan use to contact the spirit world. Many cultures at many times held the tradition of covering all mirrors in the house when in mourning, this custom persists today in Judaism. In connection with a heresy held by one of the numerous Gnostic sects Borges states ‘Mirrors and copulation are abominable, since they both multiply the numbers of men.’
In libertine fiction mirrors play a large part as they increase the pleasure of the moment and enables the libertine to view the erotic scene which they are actively participating in. In the sparkling sophisticated jewel of a tale Point de lendemain (No Tomorrow) byVivant Denonthe artful heroine describes to her paramour the delights of her chamber with its reflective glass covering every wall, when he enters he is enchanted to find a ‘a vast cage of mirrors’ and then states that, ‘Desires are reproduced through their image’.
One of the most memorable mentions in fairy-tales of the deceptive nature of the looking-glass is the Magic Mirror of the Evil Queen in Snow White, which is a good illustration of William Blake’s quote ‘A truth told with evil intent beats any lie you could invent.’
However for me the supreme moment for the mirror in literature is when Alice steps through to the other side of the looking glass. Ever since the phrase has been used to describe many different and varying experiences; the transfigured absolute reality glimpsed in insanity; the shifting contours of the nightly dreamscape, the heavens and hells of drug use (the John Tenniel illustration was reproduced on LSD blotters in the sixties) the transcendence achieved in sexual ecstasy, and ultimately death, that unknowing inevitable frontier where we hope that the outward appearance will vanish to be replaced for all eternity by our fundamental essence. For although mirrors are just surface and can deceive, distort and warp, they also always reveal something other than just ourselves.