The lassitude at the journey’s end
More tired now than before we left
Over there thoughts tend towards
The infinite, the eternal, the ineffable,
The sky and sleep, the deep and dreams,
Although we observe fleeting impressions
We cannot see things in their totality
We hear but we cannot comprehend
Once I was briefly mistaken for a native
But I am a true citizen of Nowhere
Resident only of wholly imaginary cities
Shimmered reflections in the mirror
Of the lake surrounded by mountains
An agent dealing in unreal estates,
The pregnant stillness before the flash,
The languid ease of definite uncertainty,
Hovering between three distinct stages
That could in the commotion and confusion
Of false memories and vanishing places
Merge and flow together inseparable.
Everybody loves the limpid sunlight
Causing the motes and angels to dance
But close the blinds, shut out beyond
And in the gloom come over to me,
Maybe we can step into that river again?
Andre Breton’s apartment at Rue Fontane, above the strip clubs and clip joints of the Pigalle red light district was by most accounts almost a work of art in its own right. In 2003 the French auctioneers Calmels Cohen put over 5,300 lots under the hammer from Breton’s vast collection of books, manuscripts, works of art and objects at Drouot-Richelieu; the catalogue alone extends to 8 volumes. The sale included 150 items of Oceanic art, the most important being the magnificent Uli statue from Central New Ireland, Papua New Guinea that graced his desk for many years.
Once again it is instructive to look at the Surrealist Map of the World (reference my previous post Redraw the Map, Re-Write History and Re-Invent Reality) to see the importance official Surrealism attached to the islands of the Pacific. In this idealised rendering of how the world should be according to the Surrealists, Papua New Guinea and the Bismarck Archipelago is centrally located and larger than both Europe and Africa and truly dwarfs Australia.
Central to Papua New Guinea artistic reputation within Surrealist circles were the Uli, ancestor figures used for rites and endowed with immense magical powers. When a chieftain died his skull was buried and a tree planted on top of the burial place. After the tree had matured it was then cut down and the Uli was fashioned from the wood. The Uli are often bearded with protruding jaw and phallus to represent the traditional masculine attributes of strength and protection, while also possessing breasts as the ideal chieftain must maternally nurture and provide. When the Uli wasn’t participating in fertility, initiation and funerary rituals it would be kept in its own special enclosure away from prying eyes.
Breton was very taken with the Uli, naming a beloved Skye terrier Uli and dedicating a poem which I have included below. I have also included photographs for some of the most outstanding examples of this figure that Breton calls Grand Dieu, as well as the Future Sound of London’s seminal dance track Papua New Guinea, the video of which doesn’t include either the Uli or Papua New Guinea much as far as I can see, but does have some magic squares.
Surely you are a great god
I have seen you with my own eyes like no one else has
You are still covered with earth and blood you have just created
You are an old peasant who knows nothing
To recover you have eaten like a pig
You are covered with the stains of man
One sees that you have stuffed yourself to the ears
You listen no more
You leer at us from the bottom of a seashell
Your creation tells you hands up, and you still threaten
You frighten, you astonish.
Eyes to the sky but noses ground down
Right coming up soon another year 2020
Visibility is poor it’s not getting any clearer
Skies are overcast the deluge is approaching
The water is rising temperature climbing
We can dream of a Third Summer of Love
But it will be just another Festival of Hate
Ah well fuck it anything to release energy
A force field of unruly total abandon
In time we will have to beat a hasty retreat
Escape and fortify the cave in the cliff-face
Welcome to my world girl you’re in my hut now
Grunt grunt a little louder I can’t hear you
Jump jump a little higher how low can you go
Down on your knees but please don’t pray
Though I would like to be in your thoughts
As much as you pollute my dreams phantasies
There is no salvation up above only submission
But we can strike on thru to the other side
Storm paradise and lay siege to pleasure
It is impossible to overestimate the influence of Charles Baudelaire upon modernity. The entire Symbolism/Decadent movement that so dominated the 19th Century fin-de-siecle in Europe owed its very existence to Baudelaire.
Baudelaire’s importance extends far deeper that the creation of one transitory artistic school however. Although he didn’t invent the concept of dandyism (that honour belongs to Beau Brummel), his example gave it a wider cultural currency that eventually resulted in the carefully constructed persona of the ultimate aesthete and wit, Oscar Wilde. His wanderings around the Parisian streets led to Walter Benjamin formulating a new type of man, the flaneur. The figure of the flaneur recurs frequently in Benjamin’s massive, unfinished magnum opus The Arcades Project. The spirit of the Baudelairean flaneur guided the Surrealists in their impromptu flea-market jaunts and nocturnal adventuring. The Situationist International (see Moving Images) took the flaneur a step further and the central tenets of the SI, Unitary Urbanism and psycho-geography are based upon the needs of this recently evolved city-dweller.
Beyond shaping some of the major artistic and intellectual currents of the 19th and 20th Century, Baudelaire presence can be felt in Punk (with his dried green hair and urgent provocations) and dominated Goth (Dreams of Desire 5 (That Look).
His influential art criticism (and the inspiration he provided to visual artists, see The Sleepers) and his re-definition of the poet as cultural agitator and arbitrator paved the way for Guillaume Apollinaire (In The Zone) and Andre Breton (The Pope of Surrealism).
Baudelaire’s fame largely rests upon his volume of poetry, Le Fleurs Du Mal.First published in 1857 it immediately caused a scandal. Baudelaire’s originality lay not in the versification (which is traditional) but in the explicit, morbid subject matter.
Below is a translation of one of his finest love poems, Le Balcon, inspired by his muse and mistress of twenty years, the ‘Venus Noire’, Jeanne Duval (she was a Creole of Haitian-French heritage).
Mother of memories, mistress of mistresses,
you who are all my pleasures and all my duties,
you will remember the beauty of our caresses,
the sweetness of the hearth, the charm of the evenings,
mother of memories, mistress of mistresses.
On evenings lit by the glowing coal-fire
and evenings on the balcony, veiled with pink mist,
how soft your breast was,
how kind to me was your heart!
Often we said imperishable things
on evenings lit by the glowing coal-fire.
How beautiful the sun is on warm evenings!
How deep is space! How powerful the human heart!
As I leant over you, oh queen of all adored ones,
I thought I was breathing the fragrance of your blood.
How beautiful the sun is on warm evenings!
The night would thicken like a wall around us,
and in the dark my eyes would make out yours,
and I would drink your breath, oh sweetness, oh poison!
And your feet would fall asleep in my brotherly hands.
The night would thicken like a wall around us.
I know how to evoke the moments of happiness,
I relive my past, nestling my head on your lap.
For why would I seek your languid beauties anywhere
except in your dear body and your oh-so-gentle heart?
I know how to evoke the moments of happiness!
Will those sweet words, those perfumes, those infinite kisses
be reborn from a chasm deeper than we may fathom
like suns that rise rejuvenated into the sky
after cleansing themselves in the oceans’ depths?
Oh sweet words, oh perfumes, oh infinite kisses!
Because this is all a game to you
I’m willing to play along this once
Who knows it might be twice
As nice as ever before or since
Yeah wouldn’t that be fair
Wouldn’t that be right tonight
As the weather is heating up
Something fierce something wild
Time to lose that dress stop allow me
Now now isn’t that better I want to
Look at you for a while drink you in
Pour me a measure fill the glass
Let me take a sip savour it slowly
Lets luxuriate in the anticipation
Of our joint venture this enterprise
A combination of hands mouths
The amalgamation of limbs flesh
Are you bored with symmetry
Time to take a different tack
Approach from an acute angle
Map out all the possible routes
Trace the outline of an imagined
Country outside the constricting
Confides of defining destroying
Memories and emotions those
Dead weights of ego and id
I am sick of making sense
Together we can regress
Wouldn’t that be sheer idiot bliss
Reduce everything to the now
Wait serenely for the inevitable