The collaboration between poet Paul Eluard and photographer Man Ray, Facile is a unique collection. Both the poems and the photographs are inspired by Eluard’s second wife, the glorious Nusch ( see Dreams of Desire 14 (Nusch by Dora Maar) and Dreams of Desire 15 (Nusch by Man Ray) ) with the poems both figuratively and literally caressing her naked figure. In Facile the body is actually text. The ground-breaking layout has influenced generations of photographers and it still remains one of the finest examples of joint Surrealist artistic endeavour as well as being a beautiful, erotically charged declaration of love.
On James Joyce’s 40th birthday, February 2nd 1922, the Paris based American owner of Shakespeare and Company Sylvia Beach published Joyce’s controversial novel Ulysses, excerpts of which had already been the subject of obscenity trials in the United States. It was immediately banned in both the US and the UK, a ban that was to remain in force for over a decade. However in France, where the book was printed and published, Ulysses was freely available as the French authorities had decided that they couldn’t possibly rule on the possible obscenity and artistic merits of a book in a foreign language.
Jack Kahane, born into a wealthy industrialist family of Jewish origin in Manchester, England and living in Paris with his French wife saw a business opportunity. Kahane was himself a novelist of mildly racy lightweight novels, however he had bigger ambitions and so he founded the Obelisk Press (with a suitably phallic logo).The business model was simple; he would buy out the rights of a novel that was encountering legal difficulties at a bargain basement price and then issue his own edition, with half the cover emblazoned with a BANNED IN…thus ensuring healthy sales from the prurient and/or curious travellers passing through Paris. Mixed in with the heavyweight avant-garde novels that included works by Cyril Connolly, Lawrence Durrell, Anais Nin and re-issues of D.H Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover and Radclyffe Hall’s early lesbian novel The Well of Loneliness were novels of a much more dubious literary pedigree, in other words pornography. Kahane’s greatest succes de scandale however was undoubtedly the publication in 1934 of Henry Miller’s Tropic of Cancer, with its bold language and sexually explicit descriptions.
Kahane whose health was ruined by his experiences in WWI died on the day that WWII was declared. His son Maurice stayed in Paris and changed his name from the Jewish Kahane to his mother’s maiden name Girodias and took over the family business of publishing DBs (dirty books). It is not sure how he survived the war in occupied Paris, though it was probably a combination of his wily charm and his instincts as a born survivor, instincts that there were to serve him well in his eventful and strife-filled life.
After the war Girodias expanded operations of the Obelisk Press, however the publication of Henry Miller’s Sexus set off a storm of outrage in France that resulted in obscenity trials and imprisonment. Although he managed to get out of jail Girodias was bankrupt and he had to surrender control of Obelisk. This setback, however, only spurred Girodias on and soon he was launching a new venture entitled Olympia Press, so-called because of its similarity to the name of his father’s Obelisk Press and the famous Manet painting of 1863 (see above) of a courtesan whose bold stare confronts the viewer that caused such a sensation on its first showing.
After a particularly cold and difficult winter Girodias came across a group of hungry British and American expatriates writers for the literary review Merlin. He suggested that the best way for them to earn a crust was to write DBs (under preposterous pseudoymns) for his new series the Traveller’s Companion. The group included the brilliant Scottish writer and later Situationist Alexander Trocchi, John Stevenson, Iris Owens and Christopher Logue. Girodias would pay $500 upfront and a further $300 if the title was reprinted. There was no question of the author getting royalties.
Following in the tradition established by his father Girodias also published avant-garde fiction. As well as works by Henry Miller he published Samuel Beckett, Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita, William Burrough’s The Naked Lunch, Pauline Reage’s (pseudonym of Sadean scholar Jean Paulhan’s lover Anne Desclos) The Story of O which is undoubtedly the classic text of sado-masochism, Terry Southern and Mason Hoffenberg’s erotic romp Candy, Jean De Berg’s (a pseudoymn of Catherine Robbe-Grillet, wife of the founder of the nouvelle roman Alain Robbe-Grillet) The Image. The Olympia Press also commissioned the first English translations of De Sade’ s 120 Days in Sodom and Philosophy in the Boudoir.
Unsurprisingly, given the incendiary, explicit and subversive nature of the work published and Girodias’s unfortunate habit of failing to pay his authors, resulted in numerous, ruinous legal difficulties. He was involved in protracted disputes with Nabokov, Terry Southern and the author of The Ginger Man, J.P Donleavy who eventually brought the Olympia Press after a twenty year legal battle in a supposedly closed auction. The collusion of the French, British and American authorities led to his prosecution in 1964 for publishing The Story of O that led to a year in prison, a $20,000 fine and a ban from publishing for twenty years, the most severe penalty ever imposed in France.
After a brief spell as a nightclub owner he moved operations to New York where he holed up in the Chelsea Hotel (where else) and published Valerie Solanas radical feminist pamphlet the S.C.U.M Manifesto. Solanas became convinced that Girodias and Warhol were in a plot together to screw her out of money and on the day she shot Warhol she first appeared at the Chelsea Hotel intending to shot Girodias, but as he was out she then went in search of Warhol (this is at least Girodias’s account, however as a natural self-promoter and consummate con-man it is not necessarily to be believed).
Girodias was 71 when he suffered a heart attack while giving an interview for Jewish Community Radio in Paris, resulting in Girodias dying on air. Although Girodias undoubtedly was a deeply flawed and somewhat unscrupulous individual, he published books no other publisher would even look at and he dared to take on the courts and the censors. Girodias, carrying on the work of his father changed the cultural landscape of the mid-twentieth century inexorably.
I have been rather coy with actual information regarding the release of my forthcoming collection, Motion No. 69, however there comes a time to quit with the teasing and produce the goods. So I am pleased to announce that after lengthy consultations with a pair of dice, a pack of Tarot Cards and a series of calculations based around prime numbers using Gematria, that Motion No, 69 by Alex Severs (not my real name) and illustrated by T. Kiros will be published on Thursday, the 30th of November 2017 at 3:23PM GMT. If you are interested in reserving a print copy please leave a comment and I will be in contact.
Do you live in fear of Judgement Day? Are you feeling all alone in the face of Armageddon, isolated before the Apocalypse? Do you dream of any of the following:
A). The end of the world by flood
B). The end of the world by famine
C). The end of the world by fire
If the answer is yes to any of the above, do you believe that the causation will be:
1). Nuclear annihilation
2). Ecological catastrophe
3). Divine eschatological judgement
Or is it the case that you are more concerned with the Violent Unknown Event*, or perhaps you can no longer ignore the persistent rumours in your head of the encroaching ice? Maybe it is the ultimate heat death of the universe, as per the Second Law of Thermodynamics (that is, of course, dependent on whether the universe can be considered a closed system), that troubles your peace of mind?
Regardless of the exact nature and cause of Ragnarok, the forthcoming collection Motion No. 69 is perfect material for the End Times. Although even a kabbalistic reading of its dense pages will not yield a definite date (however advance releases do seem to point to it being a Wednesday), it does offer the possibility of a recurrence, this time with feeling.
* Or VUE for short-See Peter Greenaway’s 1980 documentary The Falls.
Do you* ever feel like you are living inside an old noir movie, where it is always night and always fucking raining? Are you haunted by false memories, existential nausea and an unbearable nostalgia for a home you have never visited?
If the above feelings sound familiar, the collection Motion No.69, to be released later this month if the auguries are correct and the stars above are aligned right, might be just the ticket**. After checking in to The Very Heaven Heavenly Hotel and playing a quick game of Shangri-La, you could be one of the fortunate few to visit room 418 on the 4706th Floor, with its spectacular view of the Mariensbad (or is it the Carlsbad?) Palace. Over the immaculate formal gardens the sun never sets and barely ever casts a shadow. You feel like you have been here before, was it last year, yesterday or tomorrow, you can’t quite recollect, but no matter, every amnesiac moment has a vivid freshness.
*The designated You is merely a rhetorical flourish. Any resemblance to any person living or dead, or indeed fictional, imaginary, legendary or mythical, is purely coincidental.
**Purchase of Motion No.69 is not guaranteed to alleviate sadness, angst, despair, night terrors, suicidal ideation or melancholy.
There is a good chance that my collection Motion No. 69 will be published sometime in November, 2017. As well as providing certain recherche pleasures Motion No. 69 will disclose under a close and attentive reading the workings of Shangri-La, that game of total chance that is said to originated in Xanadu but was more probably created in the boardroom of Hilton-Tetragrammaton Pan-Dimensional Inc.
So buy the book* and then maybe you will be able to stake your claim and with the combination of a turn of a card, the spin of a wheel and the throw of the dice make your appointment with destiny. The possibilities are infinite: you could find yourself up above the clouds in the Imperial Suite at The Very Heaven Heavenly Hotel with a bed the size of Hy-Brasil or Cockaigne, sipping from a Jeroboam of Krug Clos d’Ambonnay with your significant other, or if the fates are against you end up down there alone on street level with hell around every corner. Or maybe, even more bizarrely, nothing will change at all.
*Over 18’s only. Terms and Conditions Apply. Strictly pay to play. Please gamble responsibly. And remember, a throw of the dice doesn’t abolish chance.
I would like to invite my dear readers to an assignation in The Very Heaven Heavenly Hotel, which is located somewhere in the stratosphere, just outside the Strip, quite near Paradise. The only possible way to get there at the present time is to buy my forthcoming collection, my first, Motion No. 69, which will be published shortly, details to follow when they become apparent.
For anyone interested in this trip and a taste of Cake with a cup of tea, please leave comments below. All enquiries that attract my attention will be answered in a timely fashion.
‘And what is the use of a book, thought Alice, without pictures or conversation?’ Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland
It would indeed be hard to imagine the Alice books without illustrations. Lewis Carroll himself illustrated the original handwritten manuscript of Alice’s Adventures Under Ground that he gifted to Alice Liddell. However for the publication of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland Carroll approached the political cartoonist for Punch, John Tenniel. Tenniel proved to be an inspired choice and his illustrations for Alice’s Adventures and its sequel Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice FoundThere have shaped the perception of Alice in the popular imagination to this day, the only serious rival being the Disney animated movie Alice in Wonderland from 1951.
Although Tenniel’s illustrations are iconic, it hasn’t stopped illustrators and artists in attempting to re-imagine Alice. With the lapsing of British copyright in 1907 saw thirteen editions with newly commissioned illustrations alone. While most did little more than update the dress of Alice to reflect the looser fashions of the day, Arthur Rackham watercolours did genuinely try to break with Tenniel’s imposing precedent.
The Surrealists adopted Alice as a patron saint of the movement. In their radical re-design of the traditional playing card deck Le Jeu de Marseille, Alice is the Siren of Stars. Max Ernst and Dorothea Tanning are among the many Surrealists who produced works obviously inspired by Alice. It is barely an exaggeration to suggest that Balthus‘s entire oeuvre seems to implicitly reference the Alice books. In 1969 Salvador Dali produced 12 heliogravures for the Maecenas Press edition of Alice Adventures in Wonderland, which has since become a highly collectable item.
Among the other notable 20th Century versions of the Alice books is Mervyn Peake’s rather sinister Gothic interpenetration: Ralph Steadman who brings the savage lunacy of Wonderland to the forefront and Tove Jansson’s delightfully whimsical rendition.
In the run-up to the 150th anniversary of the publication of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland there was a fresh slew of editions, the most notable being the British illustrator John Vernon Lord who also illustrated James Joyce’s Finnegan’s Wake, a novel heavily indebted to the Alice books.
Here are some examples of Alice illustrations and other Alice inspired art work. I hope you will find them, as I do, a feast for the eyes and a chance, as Grace Slick so memorably sang, to ‘Feed Your Head’
A little known masterpiece of deadpan absurdity, What A Life! is a delightfully curiosity from 1911 by Edward Verrall Lucas and George Morrow. It has been called a proto-Dadaist satire and would influence Surrealist collage techniques. It was displayed at the landmark MOMA exhibition in New York of 1936 entitled ‘Fantastic Art, Dada and Surrealism’.
The illustrations that the text are built around are taken entirely from the general catalogue of Whiteleys, a fashionable London department store of the time. Below is the entire work for those with a passion for obscure oddities
What a Life!
E. V. L. and G. M.
Illustrated by Whiteley’s
As adventures are to the adventurous, so is romance to the romantic. One man searching the pages of Whiteley’s General Catalogue will find only facts and prices; another will find what we think we have found — a deeply-moving human drama.
E. V. L.
The only extant work of Looking-Glass World literature, Jabberwocky is undoubtedly the masterpiece of nonsense.
After stepping through the mirror and encountering the White King and Queen, Alice discovers a book. While initially mystified by its contents, Alice realises that it is a Looking-Glass Book and to be able to read it she must hold it up to the mirror. Alice’s reaction to the poem is an excellent summation of its abstract power; “Somehow it seems to fill my head with ideas-only I don’t exactly know what they are!”
Later Alice encounters the semantician Humpty Dumpty (see my post Glory for further details on their meeting), who deciphers the more unusual coinages of the first stanza. However, considering Humpty’s cavalier attitude to the exact meaning of words and Alice’s subsequent dismissal of Humpty as most unsatisfactory, combined with the markedly different interpretations that Carroll had previously stated leaves the poem eluding traditional, concrete definition.
Nonsense as a form would be used frequently by various Modernist movements, notably Dada and the Italian Futurists, yet they tend to lack the deftness of touch of either Carroll or Lear.
‘Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.
“Beware the Jabberwock, my son
The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!
Beware the Jubjub bird, and shun
The frumious Bandersnatch!”
He took his vorpal sword in hand;
Long time the manxome foe he sought—
So rested he by the Tumtum tree,
And stood awhile in thought.
And, as in uffish thought he stood,
The Jabberwock, with eyes of flame,
Came whiffling through the tulgey wood,
And burbled as it came!
One, two! One, two! And through and through
The vorpal blade went snicker-snack!
He left it dead, and with its head
He went galumphing back.
“And hast thou slain the Jabberwock?
Come to my arms, my beamish boy!
O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!”
He chortled in his joy.
‘Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.