The Disquieting Muses

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Giorgio De Chirico-The Disquieting Muses-1918
A superbly disturbing painting by De Chirico that had an immeasurable impact upon the Surrealists, The Disquieting Muses presents us with the proverbial riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma. But is there a key? If so, do we really want to open the blue box (a version of which is at the heart of the conundrum in David Lynch’s Mulholland Dr, see Dreams of Desire 6 (Mulholland Dr.), for fear of what it may be contained inside?

Painted during WWI in the Italian town of Ferrara where De Chirico lived, it features a piazza bordered by the imposing medieval fortress of the Castello Estense and industrial brick chimneys. The only figures within the square are faceless mannequins; the muses of tragedy and comedy, Melpomene and Thalia with their traditional attributes scattered around, and the God Apollo on a pedestal in the shadow. The perspective and the long shadows add to the air of frozen stillness and uneasiness.

Several Surrealists were directly inspired by exposure to De Chirico’s early metaphysical work including Max Ernst (see the series of posts starting with A Week of Max Ernst: Sunday), Yves Tanguy (Time and Again), and Kay Sage (Surrealist Women: Kay Sage). Sylvia Plath also wrote a poem of the same name that was inspired (in part) by the painting and which is included below.

 

The Disquieting Muses

Mother, mother, what illbred aunt
Or what disfigured and unsightly
Cousin did you so unwisely keep
Unasked to my christening, that she
Sent these ladies in her stead
With heads like darning-eggs to nod
And nod and nod at foot and head
And at the left side of my crib?

Mother, who made to order stories
Of Mixie Blackshort the heroic bear,
Mother, whose witches always, always,
Got baked into gingerbread, I wonder
Whether you saw them, whether you said
Words to rid me of those three ladies
Nodding by night around my bed,
Mouthless, eyeless, with stitched bald head.

In the hurricane, when father’s twelve
Study windows bellied in
Like bubbles about to break, you fed
My brother and me cookies and Ovaltine
And helped the two of us to choir:
“Thor is angry: boom boom boom!
Thor is angry: we don’t care!”
But those ladies broke the panes.

When on tiptoe the schoolgirls danced,
Blinking flashlights like fireflies
And singing the glowworm song, I could
Not lift a foot in the twinkle-dress
But, heavy-footed, stood aside
In the shadow cast by my dismal-headed
Godmothers, and you cried and cried:
And the shadow stretched, the lights went out.

Mother, you sent me to piano lessons
And praised my arabesques and trills
Although each teacher found my touch
Oddly wooden in spite of scales
And the hours of practicing, my ear
Tone-deaf and yes, unteachable.
I learned, I learned, I learned elsewhere,
From muses unhired by you, dear mother,

I woke one day to see you, mother,
Floating above me in bluest air
On a green balloon bright with a million
Flowers and bluebirds that never were
Never, never, found anywhere.
But the little planet bobbed away
Like a soap-bubble as you called: Come here!
And I faced my traveling companions.

Day now, night now, at head, side, feet,
They stand their vigil in gowns of stone,
Faces blank as the day I was born,
Their shadows long in the setting sun
That never brightens or goes down.
And this is the kingdom you bore me to,
Mother, mother. But no frown of mine
Will betray the company I keep.

Sylvia Plath

Possession

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Toyen-Eclipse 1968

It’s been a long time
Since I last saw you
But I don’t care where you’ve been
Cause you ain’t felt anything
Until you’ve been with me
So come here
This very instance
For tonight’s the night
That I’m going to be with you.

My love is like theft
A redistribution of assets
You always possessed
So many fine things
While I such little.
You’re a sensitive girl
You know it’s not fair
You know it’s not right
Isn’t it about time
That you aided and abetted
Become my accomplice
My partner in crime
Tell me it is just so
By opening the gates
Spreading your legs wide
Lying bare your defences
So that I may plunder
All the treasures buried within
Despoil the sacred sanctuaries
Until you admit defeat
Capitulate utterly
And surrender possession
Of yourself in all entirety.

Love is an assassination
An elimination of identity
Now I do not know
Where I finish and you begin
Is it your mouth or mine
That forms the words
That remain forever unsaid?

Hexentexte

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Hexentexte-Unica Zurn 1954
In 1953 the German writer and artist Unica Zurn met a fellow German artist who was intimately connected with the Surrealists, Hans Bellmer. Ominously Bellmer reportedly remarked on first seeing Zurn, “Here is the doll,” a reference to the extremely disturbing series of photographs Bellmer had taken during the thirties and forties of an articulated mannequin of his own creation. The image of the Doll appear to be more of a crime scene reconstruction of some imaginary act of horrific violation than traditional works of art.

Zurn who had been barely been able to make ends meet in Berlin as a short story writer re-located to Paris to be with Bellmer. Here she socialised with the Surrealists and other artists who along with Bellmer encouraged and nurtured her writings and drawings, most notably in the anagrammatic poems and automatic drawings of Hexentexte (Witches Writing) from 1954.She also collaborated with Bellmer on a series of explicit sado-masochistic images that featured her tightly bound with rope.

During the sixties Zurn experienced a number of mental breakdowns that led her to be institutionalised. In 1967 her short semi-autobiographical coming of age novel Dark Spring was published. Dark Spring is an unbearably intense novel, astounding in its misogyny and masochism. It also foreshadows her own suicide by jumping out of a window three years later in 1970.

Bellmer died in 1975 and at his request was buried next to Zurn in Pere Lachaise Cemetery in a tomb marked Bellmer-Zurn. Posthumous writings of Zurn include the truly remarkable The Man of Jasmine which is a highly stylised account of her friendship with the writer Henri Michaux (author of the Miserable Miracle).

Below are some examples of her anagrammatic poetry and automatic drawings that Zurn produced throughout her career.

AND IF THEY HAVE NOT DIED

I am yours, otherwise it escapes and
wipes us into death. Sing, burn
Sun, don’t die, sing, turn and
born, to turn and into Nothing is
never. The gone creates sense – or
not died have they and when
and when dead – they are not.

for H.B.Berlin 1956

YOU’LL FIND THE SECRET IN A YOUNG CITY

Youth sings: now the sea is your harbor. Is
dream and hunt, the spirit’s inner feast, that send
him into dark, stony days, yes, you! – and he’s
immune from hand and serious sense – yes, You! Victories are
found forebodings. You travel to the city of Jim-Sing.
Go into the youngest street and find Amin, the Ti.
He says: yes, no, once, never, enemy, courage, it, are, you, D,H,G.
Secret signature? Jade stone? You’ll find the meaning.

Ile de Ré 1964

WILL I MEET YOU SOMETIME?

After three ways in the rain image
when waking your counterimage: he,
the magician. Angels weave you in
the dragonbody. Rings in the way,
long in the rain I become yours.

Ermenonville 1959

The Answer

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Max Ernst-Napoleon in the Wilderness 1941

Whatever the question
I’ve probably got the answer
For I have my tricks
And techniques I know
How to entrance and enthrall
To hypnotize and bewitch
To persuade and seduce
Just come over here
And look into my eyes
Bend down and I will
Whisper softly into your ear
Everything I know
Everything I ever learnt
About want and need
And the desire born
In the darkness
Of a heart filled
With a hate more
Vast and compelling
Than the night before
The last Judgement
And the ravening appetite
That can never be sated
Though I long to return
To the primal source
And its pristine innocence
Drink me and I will eat you,
Consume you and you gorge
On me and my love
For love is rapture
A rupture between
Heaven and Earth
Love is ecstasy
A nerve flaying glimpse
Of dizzying possibilities
Love is an acid
Corroding the identity
Dissolving the ego
Acid is the answer

Other Lives, Different Times

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Nadia Maria-2017

What you dream of will one day
Flare with entropic intensity
I am aware of co-existing
Simultaneously on several planes
Threading the needle
Into alternative dimensions
Parallel co-ordinates
What is, was and will be
Blurring into a single instance
Memories are not to be trusted
That wasn’t me that did that
Not the I that I am now anyway
In this blighted shantytown
Of quantifiable materials
A dark grinding mill with
Ingenious sadistic machinery
Inside this infernal cathedral
A sacrilegious monument
To the eternal devourer
But beyond, maybe
The dancers will dance
To the music of the Spheres
Through to those imprisoned
Within delineated limits
It will only sound of silence
Myself I can hear her
Voice say with a precise
And clear elocution
The date of my summons
For my imminent execution
That is however
Only a matter of indifferent concern
For I have other selves
Existing other lives
In many places
At many different times
And at some point I will reach
The still centre that can
Never be diminished
Where the fictions of the ego,
The hallucination of space time
Vanish into an actuality
Where the divided selves
Fuse and become one
Where what you dream of
Is the source of all light.

Header Image courtesy of www.nadiamaria.com

Idle A-While

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We came out here
To this desolate beach
To idle a-while;
Escape the tyranny
Of ticking clocks
And forget the world
Forget the people
Close your eyes
Go insane
Disappear here
Into the prismatic
Of fading rainbows.

Well what you wish for,
What you dream of
I studied the signs
The seventh symbol
The ninth star
The nth degree
The cruciform sun
That radiates no light
Leeching colour away
While you cried
Over all the waifs
And wayward souls.

Over the centuries
We slowly ossified
While the world
Changed rapidly
Beyond recognition
And now out of touch
And out of time
I stand on the balcony
As the retreating figure
Waves goodbye
Even though she
Never said hello.

Bring On The Night

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Bring on the Night
For the Night is the time
The only time there is
For the likes of you and me
Only in the Night
With its compulsions
And its repetitions
Of obsessive desires
Can we be truly ourselves
Because in the vulgar glare
Of the censorious daylight
We are exposed to the
Prying eyes of simulacra
Of cold unfeeling automata
Bring on the Night
Let the black Sun
That absorbs all radiance
Stay high in the sky
And never set again
So that I can play
My bizarre childish games
While you work away
At your women’s work
For during the night
Magic and Alchemy
Are living realities
First the Alchemy
Of the holy word,
Word into deed,
Deed into actuality
Then the Alchemy of
Our bodies as we turn
Each other inside
Out to transmute
Our base natures into
The stuff of spiritual gold
With the admixture
Of saliva and blood
We will greedily swallow
Each other’s essence
The elixir necessary
To achieve the intensity
Required to slow
This shit right down
So that the sacred
Unholy night never ends.

Halcyon Days

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Halcyon days indeed;
The dragged down moments
The spaced out seconds
Our inert bodies
On the unmade
Mussed up bed
A grimy idyll in a rented flat;
Love without bounds
You bruise so easily
I like that about you,
I’ll smoke and drink incessantly
Nurse you into illness
I prefer you that way
With a haunted look
Around your grey eyes
Fever suffusing your sallow skin
Your breath sweet with distemper
Just for once you will have need of me
Of course I am going
To catch your sickness
Be rendered immobile
By this delirium
We know what is coming next
Once I recover you are gone
Out into the cold
Harsh light of day
Never to return, never to experience
Premonitions of indivisible diversity
Again never no never again
Manners forbade you leave just yet
You have to return
All my favours
Like for like
Wound for wound
I also bruise easily;
You shave me so gently
Watching you watching yourself
In the mirror
I would ask you
To murder me the whole while
Slit me from ear to ear
Give me a second grin
Just like a Cheshire Cat
To die at your hands
Release indeed
What other alternative exists
When you no longer need my love
Whatever hurt I had ever caused
Could never equal the pain
You inflict on me so lovingly
As you walk away forever,
With a smile on your lips
And a kiss on your fingertips.

The Semblance of a Better World

 

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William Blake-Newton 1795

The apple never falls far
We are fashioned in the image
Residents of this sham slum
An unfashionable outlier
Enmeshed in illusions
Deceived by the shadow-play
Made pliable and compliant
By the distant promise
Of transitory pleasures
And the uncertainty
Of imagined Utopias
Even our revelations
Of reality across the universe
Under a more fortunate star
Maybe the twin suns of Arcturus
Led us into a labyrinth
Of cunning devised stage
Settings and funhouse mirrors
A parody of a homage
To the semblance of a better world
That we never really hope for
Anyway for anyone at any time
Instead we only desire
To inflict the affliction
That we suffer onto others
A communication of the virus
Of life and existence
Whose whole and sole purpose
Is to feed the malignant entity
With the accumulation of pain.

My Evil Is Stronger

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That look on your face:
Take it off, wipe it away.
I know you,
You and your kind
Always taking advantage
Of every situation
With a dubious charm,
An uncertain smile
A cheeky grin
But when nobody’s watching
The smile instantly fades
From your too full
Sensual lips licking,
Cat-like in anticipation
Of a kill tonight,
Fresh meat indeed;
Your eyes glazing over
Thousand yard lasered
Hypnotic death stare
Causing electro-magnetic
Disturbances in the immediate
Field of vision and effect;
In the unnerving darkness
Echoes your stoned
Satanic laughter
Yes your evil is strong
You know a thing or two
Read between the lines
Of Faust,
Hold Prometheus
As the burning example,
A dollar store De Sade
With a stable of
Justines and Juliettes
But my evil is stronger
You could never begin
To comprehend the ways
Of me and my kind:
Contractors for the Apocalypse,
Annihilating Angels.
Our ways are
Elemental and pan-universal.
Your evil is strong
No love lost
Within your small black heart
But I am darkness incarnate
The isolate of terror,
My evil is stronger
As you will find out
Right quick,
Unless you take
That damnable look
Off your face.