Blind Date

Dorothea Tanning-Children's Games 1942
Dorothea Tanning-Children’s Games 1942

The multi-talented Dorothea Tanning is primarily known for her paintings and sculpture, however she was also an excellent poet and writer. Below is a piece first published in 1943 in the American Surrealist magazine VVV.

Blind Date

It must have been a very bleak winter that year.  I have no recollection of the weather, only the marvellous and relentless order in which everything occurred.  It was the time that the sewing machine broke loose; nothing could have been more inopportune or diabolically calculated-the leaves had been carefully gathered and stored and now they were to be sewn together. They were particularly good leaves, I remember, sere and thin, each with the track of the snail on its under side, exactly the kind of leaf for a birthday. And now the sewing machine had gone, fled without a word of warning. Chagrined, unnerved, and with an inexplicable feeling of portent, it was I who set out in hopeless search. The month was November but the day had no date.

You, casket of the terrible jewel, cove of the silent finless fish, empty socket of the absent eye, today you shall encounter your mirrored image unaware. But you must know that at the moment of occurrence you shall be absorbed utterly, utterly and finally. Speak not of will. Your will is a frail delusion. Once confronted by the image you are like a beam which is projected and withdrawn by the flame. If it is the true, the inconceivable image, then the veil is irreparably rent, and you have achieved the incomparable.

Rain, a gray steady soaking rain. And this demoniacal wind! It heaves and subsides, raves, moans and vomits and then, remembering something, screams. We meet in the street, in a block of elegantly respectable residences, houses inspired by Beckford and those inconsequential romantics who built “ruins” of brownstone and golden oak. And in this flange of dreary facades is one drearier than the rest, because it is the most idiotic in design and because it is abandoned. The rain beats at our raincoats, trickles down between our breasts and up between our toes, and we run up the curving flight of abandoned steps. Here is not simply a momentary shelter, for the door swings open and we are upon the threshold.

Approach, my child, my diabolical daughter of the veiled eye. Reach into that cunning reticule of yours, give me the onerous instrument. You open your eyes so wide, your eyes with the veil lying on them? Do you pretend you have not disposed of the beautiful beloved, the beautiful ones and the dull? Draw nearer, my child of the fateful mouth . . . .

We push our way through a tangled paludine growth which is rooted in the sweating ceiling of the foyer. The rooms are bare, the doors ajar. The silence breathes on our faces, draws blood from our ears and I am aware of a numbing melancholy, that wide featureless melancholy that includes everything and explains nothing. Hand in hand, then, (because that is how such things are done) we traverse the silent empty rooms and, nearing the end, we encounter a sleeping gray-faced man in a panama hat. He is a little like Sasha Guitry, the same bloated look, the same gash for a mouth, the same watch-chain, only instead of the soft belly he has embedded just under his diaphragm, an aquarium.   It is filled with a thick slime, pale yellow, in which writhes our runaway sewing machine. Quickly, I thrust my hand into the warm ooze and withdraw the gasping object.

“Listen to me; have I not already told you what to do here?” says the gray-faced man, waking up “How extraordinary!”

Without further hesitance I reach into my robe for the beautiful shining implement and, with one hand, perform my inevitable task. A final glance at the tangled heap of vine-twisted human wreckage and I perceive that I am now completely and finally alone. That is as it should be. Too late now for the leaves; they have shrivelled and ignited. There will be no sewing now, for the landscape is laid waste, burnt to a cinder, cratered and truncated as far as they eye can see.

Woman, when you lie with the cat who grins obscenely, the red-eyed dog with the hairless human arms, when you gaze with your veiled eyes at the many-armed calamary and helplessly desire him, when you swoon at the thought of the exquisite wound carved in the light of a phosphorous moon, do you then imagine you are sleeping? Is it possible each night to embark on that motionless viscious lake, to roam the interstices of that melancholy, monster-ridden park and still refuse to accept the name that guides your steps? Beware the sickly nobility of conscious will! Beware, my hard-eyed hard-eyed daughter, of the definitive hypodermic!

Arriving at the last room, I feel no pain.  The white tossing foam of my sensations covers and intoxicates me like some inexhaustible nepenthe. (How innocent is black as compared to that arch-color, white!) I see, calmly now, that the trap is set. The paralytic moment has come and I am to lose my castle or my king. But, as always in this precious instance, there is no choice. I am one vast fiery wound, closed and healed with a hardness impossible to the untouched. There is only a marvellous kind of synaesthesic awareness that the wallpaper is singing to me. And this is the song of the wallpaper.

Stitch the leaves then, stitch them carefully and with regard for the isolated time-beat.  Tremble a little upon the threshold. One feigned tremor flung magnanimously to that enormous sloth which is legion.  Today you have been born, out of abysmal sorrow and knowledge, out of warnings, wounds, pestilence, obscene, spasms, defilements; out of hates, and holocausts, guts and gothic grandeurs, frenzy, crimes, visions, scorpions, secretions, love and the devil.  Today you shall be married to your future.

Dorothea Tanning 1943

Lunar Baedeker

Richard Oelze
Richard Oelze

The poet, trail-blazing feminist and legendary gadfly of the avant-garde, Mina Loy, first collection of poetry was published in 1923 as Lunar Baedecker: the very title, a reference to the immensely popular Baedeker travel guides, was misspelled. Although admired by T.S Eliot, Ezra Pound and Gertrude Stein,  among others, Loy disappeared somewhat from view until being posthumously resurrected in the 1990’s as a unjustly neglected pioneer of both Modernism and Feminism, when a number of critical editions and previously unpublished works, including her novel Insel, detailing her relationship with the Surrealist Richard Oelze, saw the light of day.

Below is the title poem of the collection (spelled correctly), which employs a jewelled, archaic and Symbolist vocabulary to successfully skewer the sterile affectations of the aesthetes and dandies of the art and literary worlds that she knew so well.

Lunar Baedeker

A silver Lucifer
serves
cocaine in cornucopia

To some somnambulists
of adolescent thighs
draped
in satirical draperies

Peris in livery
prepare
Lethe
for posthumous parvenues

Delirious Avenues
lit
with the chandelier souls
of infusoria
from Pharoah’s tombstones

lead
to mercurial doomsdays
Odious oasis
in furrowed phosphorous—

the eye-white sky-light
white-light district
of lunar lusts

—Stellectric signs
“Wing shows on Starway”
“Zodiac carrousel”

Cyclones
of ecstatic dust
and ashes whirl
crusaders
from hallucinatory citadels
of shattered glass
into evacuate craters

A flock of dreams
browse on Necropolis

From the shores
of oval oceans
in the oxidized Orient

Onyx-eyed Odalisques
and ornithologists
observe
the flight
of Eros obsolete

And “Immortality”
mildews…
in the museums of the moon

“Nocturnal cyclops”
“Crystal concubine”
——-
Pocked with personification
the fossil virgin of the skies
waxes and wanes—-

Mina Loy 1923

The Fantasies of Mr Seabrook

Lee Miller-William Seabrook-Man Ray 1930
Lee Miller & William Seabrook-Man Ray 1930

One of the most disturbing articles in the provocative Surrealist magazine Documents is Michel Leiris essay The ‘Caput Mortuum’ or the Alchemist’s Wife, which details Leiris encounter with the American Lost Generation travel writer and occultist William Buehler Seabrook.

Leiris had favourably reviewed Seabrook’s book on Haiti, The Magic Island for Documents and he readily agreed to a meetingLeiris was very impressed with Seabrook, who narrated a story about a man who had come face to face with God. Shortly afterwards  Leiris received some startling photographs from Seabrook of a woman in a leather mask. Leiris meditations on the photographs form the body of the essay which raises disquieting questions regarding identity and desire.

The American photographer Man Ray also met Seabrook in Paris around the same period and Man Ray tells several anecdotes concerning Seabrook in his autobiography Self Portrait. Man Ray shot several photographs of tableaux arranged by Seabrook, as well as the photographs of Seabrook with the marvellous Lee Miller.

The Fantasies of Mr Seabrook-Man Ray ca 1930
The Fantasies of Mr Seabrook-Man Ray ca 1930
The Fantasies of Mr Seabrook-Man Ray ca 1930
The Fantasies of Mr Seabrook-Man Ray ca 1930
The Fantasies of Mr Seabrook-Man Ray ca 1930
The Fantasies of Mr Seabrook-Man Ray ca 1930
Documents-1930 attributed J.A Boiffard?
Documents-1930 attributed J.A Boiffard?
Lee Miller & William Seabrook-Man Ray 1930
Lee Miller & William Seabrook-Man Ray 1930