My fourth (and final, well for the moment anyway) recording from my recently published collection Motion No. 69. My other recordings The Answer, My Evil is Stronger and Curvature can be heard by following the links. Of course to get the full works you will have to buy the collection available from Amazon.
Happy Christmas and Holiday Season to all my lovely, loyal readers.
More Beautiful Still
You are the bride
stripped bare by the
vestal bachelors, even.
I would strip you down
to the very bone,
to burn myself
on the upside-down flame
that is your heart.
For you, to me
are as beautiful as
a lipstick-stained cigarette
held between trembling fingers;
More beautiful still
than the parted legs
of an architect’s divider
bisecting a wearying,
unwavering straight line.
Even more beautiful
than a roiling dark cloud
pregnant with heavy rain.
As beautiful as
a string of zeros and O’s.
Still more beautiful
than the city in summer—
festering like an open wound.
Still as beautiful, even
as the angle
between two walls.
Will the conjunction
in the heavenly zones
between your beauty
and my uncertain,
result in a happy ending?
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 posts Redraw the Map, Re-Write History and Re-Invent Reality or Rapa Nui) 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.
As I noted in a previous post, Redraw the Map, Re-Write History and Re-Invent Reality concerning the Surrealist Map of the World, Easter Island and its mysterious, magnificent moai held a special place in the Surrealist imagination. The Pope of Surrealism, Andre Breton began collecting Easter Island moai kavakava (small wooden statuettes) and masks from the age of 15 and had amassed a major collection by the time of his death. The heads of the moai featured in the Thursday section of Max Ernst’s collage novel Une Semaine de Bonte, which also feature prominently bird-headed humans. Given Ernst’s marked obsession with birds and hybrid birds figures, (Loplop, Superior of Birds) it is tempting to think that he was familiar with the Rapa Nui’s Birdman cult and its representations found in petroglyphs across the island.
Easter Island also featured in Surrealist literature, not least this deceptive tale of longing and imagination by Jean Ferry (see Kafka, Or “The Secret Society”) that is included below, as well as examples of Rapa Nui art and selections from Une Semaine de Bonte. The header image is by S.R of Blackpenart, of a moai that has seemingly lost its way and ended up in a tree-lined city park in Germany.
I reached Easter Island on February 13th 1937. For thirty years, I have been waiting for this moment; for thirty years of my life and times I have been thinking of my immense desire to see Easter Island, I thought I’d never get to go, that it was too difficult, that it was a wild dream. And since things must be desired so stubbornly that they come true, on that day- February 13th 1937 – I set foot on the soil of Easter Island.
Since I had been thinking about it for thirty years, you would think I’d worked out my schedule in advance. Besides, I had no time to lose, as the Chilean training ship that had brought me was only putting in at port for two days. I am not lying when I say I was trembling with emotion under a strange, pale sun; I had a very hard time convincing myself this wasn’t the same old dream again, the dream where I dream I’ve reached Easter Island, trembling with emotion under a strange, pale sun. But no, it was all real; the wind, the black cliff, the three rippling volcanoes. There really were no trees, no springs. And, faithful to a date set at the dawn of time, the great statues awaited me on the slopes of Rano Raraku.
I know that at this point, to avoid disappointing anyone, I should describe the dreadful bitterness of dead desire, desire fulfilled. I should say that, face to face with the sisters of Hoa Hakananai’s, I realised that it wasn’t worth waiting so long, coming so far for something so simple, so real. I should complain about the insects, the Rapa Nui who kept pushing on me hollow-bellied statuettes clearly made the night before. Too bad for those born to despair. Who I was in the depth of the crater is nobody’s business but my own. Quite simply, I knew why I was there, why for thirty years I’d so stubbornly wanted to be here someday. And I was. At last…
Not a line of the above is true, except that for thirty years, I’ve wanted to go to Easter Island, where something awaits me. But I’ve never yet been, and I probably never will.
After the scandal and subsequent prosecution that attended the publication of Les Fleurs Du Mal (see The Flowers of Evil: Litanies Of Satan), the decadent writer and theorist of Dandyism, Barbey D’Aurevilly told his friend Charles Baudelaire that after such a book it only remains for him to choose between the muzzle of the pistol and the foot of the cross.
It was nicely put and neatly summarized the dilemma facing the true decadent. D’Aurevilly, like many other decadents, including J.K Huysmans, Leon Bloy (see The Captives of Longjumeau) and Villers de l’isle Adam (see To the Dreamers, To the Deriders) opted for the cross. However the Catholicism re-adopted by the decadents retained more than a whiff of sulphur about it. Often it seems as if they decided to pledge their devotion to God just in order to celebrate Satan and all his works, revelling all the more in the sins of the flesh. Sin gives sensuality an additional flavour. It is no exaggeration to say that the French Symbolists invented themodern conception of Satanism.
D’Aurevilly’s masterpiece is the short story collection Les Diaboliques, a celebration of crime and immorality. No matter how much the bored gentleman dandies try to excel in evil in Les Diaboliques they are no match for the Devil’s representatives on earth, all of whom wear petticoats. Containing such bon-mots as “The Devil teaches women what they are – or they would teach it to the Devil if he did not know” and “Next to the wound, what a woman makes best is the bandage”, D’Aurevilly encapsulated the misogyny of the decadents in glittering, cynical one-liners. The book was illustrated by the Decadent artist par excellence Felicien Rops who also illustrated Les Fleurs Du Mal and whose entire artistic production was dedicated to an expose of the grip that Sin, Death and The Devil holds over the world.
A supremely thought provoking and troubling philosophical painting by the Belgian Surrealist Rene Magritte (see Pleasure, The Object of the Eye, The Human Condition and Subversion of the Image). We are presented with a meretriciously drawn image of a pipe while beneath the neat legend paradoxically informs us that Ceci n’est pas une pipe (This is not a pipe). It seems that before us is less a painting than another one of Magritte’s monstrously banal, and ultimately terrifying, pictorial mysteries.
The pipe drawn with such painstaking exactitude is of course just a representation of a pipe. You cannot hold in your hands, stuff it with tobacco and smoke it, which is surely what is required of a pipe for it to be a pipe. Yet we feel perplexed and somehow obscurely cheated. If it the case that ‘perception always intercedes between reality and ourselves’, then all we can know are images of the world, and images are by their very nature treacherous. All we have is the map, and as everyone knows, the map is not the territory.
If you aren’t already aware, my collection of 69 inter-related poems and short fictions Motion No. 69is available for purchase in both e-book and paperback. Below is the penultimate sample, (one more tease then you are just have to buy it) read by myself.
Just close your eyes,
and open your legs.
of your soft, inner thigh,
leading to the downy, raw hollow
seems to me like a promise—
that the door to paradise will open up
wide enough to swallow whole
my entire being.
Do I dare to enter the void
into which I spent my life staring longingly?
Maybe if I bury myself deep enough inside you,
then a curvature will result
in the seemingly,
inexorable, forward flow of time.
And I can return again
to that place
I never wanted to leave anyway.
Floating in the protective bubble,
in the gloved darkness,
nurtured by your essence.
The curvature of my posture
recapitulates the evolution of every species
as they lose the innocence
of a blessed total symmetry—
the result of a fall of some fashion—
and all the time,
as I forget and remember,
remember and forget,
the curvature of your belly
mirrors the earth
and further still of worlds, galaxies and universes,
until you burst open with the creation
that can no longer be contained.
And I scream my discontent
at my expulsion from Eden,
until I find succour
at the curvature of your breast.
Here is another teaser, read by myself, from my recently published collection Motion No. 69 which can be purchased in both paperback and e-book formats here and across Amazon regional sites. If you want to buy directly from myself just drop me a line signifying your interest and I am sure we can come to some arrangement.
Whatever the question,
I probably have 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’ve ever learned
about want and need,
and about the desire born
in the darkness of a heart
filled with a hate more vast and compelling
than the night before the Last Judgement.
This ravening appetite 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.
Despite the fact that Surrealism was involved in literature, illustration, painting, film, architecture, philosophy and politics, the area where it achieved its greatest impact and subsequent influence is undoubtedly the field of photography (see Dreams of Desire 2, 3, 21, Angel and many others for examples of Surrealist and Surrealist inspired photography).
This influence can be seen in the nudes of the French photographer Lucian Clergue, who at the age of 21 in 1955 struck up a friendship with Picasso that was to last until the great modern master’s death in 1973. Clergue’s nude photographs often feature the zebra effect which creates a distancing coolness and abstraction to the exposed flesh. The model (or models) are defined by the interplay of light and shadow. In other studies the model is placed in natural surroundings where the body merges into the landscape in the manner of Magritte.
Henry Green’s novel are remarkable because every one is notably different in style and thematically (with the possible exception of Nothing and Doting) yet they couldn’t have possibly been written by anyone else other than Henry Green. Green’s seventh novel Concluding, published in 1948 is no exception.
Set in the near future, the events are confided to a single day at an institute (a former country house) for the training of young girls, whose names all alliterate, Mary, Merode, Marion, Maisy, Moira, Muriel, Melissa etc, to become functionaries and official in a bureaucratic and mildly totalitarian state. One of the girls, Mary, has gone missing. Has she ran away from the repressive spinster teachers? Or gone to visit her sick sister? Or is she at the bottom of the lake?
Despite this mystery and its potential for tragedy, Concluding is in fact Green at his most whimsical. Most of the book takes place outdoors and is literally flooded with light:
At this instant, like a woman letting down her mass of hair from a white towel in which she had bound it, the sun came through for a moment, and lit the azaleas on either side before fog, re-descending, blanketted these off again…
It was Green’s own favourite, and he toyed with the idea of turning it into a ballet.
The last two of Green’s novels Nothing and Doting, published in 1950 and 1952 respectively, are both sharp comedy of manners dealing with the romantic entanglements of two generations of upper class Londoners. They are among the most technically accomplished of Green’s novels, composed mainly in dialogue with prolonged, stunning set pieces. Critics have often questioned whether there is anything going besides the pointed, barbed wit, however as L.P Hartley commented on Nothing, “is ‘nothing’ a trifle, a bagatelle, or is it the void, le neant?…I for one found it all too easy to slip through the glittering surface of the comedy into icy and terrifying depths.”
As Doting was his last published novel it is particularly tempting to look for clues to the enigma that was Henry Green/Henry Yorke, and how he viewed writing. At the beginning there is a scene that certainly seems to have a symbolic significance outside of the context of the novel:
The man started with three billiard balls. He flung one up and caught it. He flung it up again then sent a second ball to chase the first. In no time he had three, fountaining from out his hands. And he did not stop at that. He introduced, he insinuated one at a time, one more after another and threw the exact inches higher each time to give six, seven balls room until, to no applause he had a dozen chasing themselves up then down into his two lazy-seeming hands, each ball so precisely placed that it could be thought to follow grooves in violet air.
The next quote could apply to everything Green ever wrote:
“D’you sometimes believe that nothing in the whole wide world matters?”
“Oh Ann, but surely simply everything has supreme importance, if it happens.”
After the publication of Doting Green attempted to write, after he was only 47, but it was beyond him. His last great affair with the much younger Kitty Freud, the estranged wife of the artist Lucian Freud, had ended up as they all did, with the woman marrying another man and becoming friends with both Henry and Dig. His drinking had become a major problem and was affecting his job as Managing Director of Pontifex and Sons. He had always been a diligent industrialist, though he lacked financial acumen. However when it was discovered at a board meeting that, instead of water in his glass it was neat gin, Henry Yorke was sent on holiday and removed as managing director. His older, very eccentric brother Gerald Yorke (a fascinating character in his own right, incredibly academically gifted, a keen sportsman who had done the hippy trail 40 years before the 1960’s, army major and occultist who spent part of every year living in a cave in Wales) was put in charge for an interim period, however as he had no interest in the business, control was passed down to Henry’s 25 year old son, Sebastian.
In Jeremy Treglown’s excellent Romancing, the only biography of Henry Green, the last chapter is entitled Degringolade (Rapid Deterioration) and covers in the last 15 years of his life in 10 pages. Henry Green became increasingly reclusive and eccentric. He also drank a lot, every day from waking at 10 or 11 (if he woke up) until he went to bed or passed out. Perhaps the best indication of his state of mind can be found in his last piece to be published, a short letter in The Spectator in 1963.
…Green tells me he doesn’t believe in anything at all. And perhaps that is not a bad thing. Love your wife, love your cat and stay perfectly quiet, if possible not to leave the house. Because on the street if you are sixty danger threatens.
…So the whole thing is really not to go out. If one can afford it, the best thing is to stay in one place, which might be bed. Not sex, for sleep.
Almost immediately after the publication of Party Going at the onset of WWII, Henry Green handed over to his publisher the manuscript to Pack My Bag, his ‘interim’ autobiography (at 35), that he had written at top speed in a matter of weeks. After the slow process and completion of Party Going, the gates must have opened. Other contributing factors was Green’s fear of imminent death in the war, hence the title which were the last words of the philosopher F.H Bradley, and the fact that Green was reportedly completely drunk the entire time of the writing process.
In Pack My Bag we find a passage that is as close as Green ever got to stating an artistic credo:
Prose is not to be read aloud but to oneself alone at night, and it is not quick as poetry but rather a gathering web of insinuations which go further than names however shared can ever go. Prose should be a long intimacy between strangers with no direct appeal to what both may have known. It should slowly appeal to feelings unexpressed, it should in the end draw tears out of the stone …
Green volunteered for the London Fire Service during the Blitz, the experience of which formed the basis of his next novel Caught. His wife Dig had moved away from London to the countryside and as the time was one of general ‘unmarriedness’, Green indulged in numerous extra-martial affairs. Dig would tolerant these liaisons, even befriending the women involved.
His next novel Loving was published in 1943 and is Green’s most well know and popular novel. In The Paris Review interview with Terry Southern he describes the genesis of the novel:
I got the idea of Loving from a manservant in the Fire Service during the war. He was serving with me in the ranks, and he told me he had once asked the elderly butler who was over him what the old boy most liked in the world. The reply was: “Lying in bed on a summer morning, with the window open, listening to the church bells, eating buttered toast with cunty fingers.” I saw the book in a flash.
Curiously enough Loving was published at the same time as his friend Evelyn Waugh’s novel Brideshead Revisited, which is also set in a large country house. But whereas Brideshead Revisited is a nostalgic paean to a rapidly vanishing way of life, wistfully conveying a time where everyone knew their place and was grateful for it, from the loyal servants to the obliging lords of the manor, Green was too clear-eyed to be having any of this self-serving sentimentality. His portrayal of down-stairs life resembles Jonathan Swift’s masterful satire Directions To Servants much more than the obsequious, incidental characters offered by Brideshead Revisited or indeed its present day variation that peddles the same insidious fantasy, DowntonAbbey.
In a master stroke, Green’s country estate is set in neutral Ireland, a country he knew well and had great fondness for, owned by Anglo-Irish gentry and staffed entirely with English staff with the important exception of the symbolically incomprehensible Irish lamp-man Paddy O’Conor . This immediately places the narrative in the realm of absurdity. The owners of Kinalty are, appropriately enough, the Tennants. However the novel is much more concerned with life down-stairs, in particularly the over-promoted and unscrupulous butler Charley Raunce and his much younger girlfriend, the housemaid Edith In his usual oblique, off-hand way Green introduces an ambiguous apocalyptic note regarding the future of Kinalty: The Blue Drawing Room is, we are told, ‘the most celebrated eighteenth-century folly in Eire that had still to be burned down.’ However this fear is only vaguely in the background, all the characters, whether up-stairs or down-stairs are too busy pursuing their respective love-interests or lining their pockets and stomachs to spare much thought to all that imperils their precarious paradise, whether it be the war raging back home, the IRA or indeed the intrinsic absurdity of Kinalty, where even the dovecotes are modelled on the Leaning Tower of Pisa.
In 1946 Green published Back, which concerns a wounded war veteran returning to civilian life. It is certainly his most sombre novel, however it contains one of his most sustained passages of lyricism:
…climbing around and up these trees of mourning, was rose after rose after rose, while, here and there, the spray overburdened by the mass of flowers, a live wreath lay fallen on a wreath of stone, or on a box in marble colder than this day, or onto frosted blooms which, under glass, marked each bed of earth wherein the dear departed encouraged life above in the green grass, the cypresses and in those roses gay and bright which, as still as this dark afternoon, stared at whosoever looked, or hung their heads to droop, to grow strained, to die when their turn came.
I will be concluding this series on Henry Green in part three with brief reviews of his last three novels and his later life.