Dialectics of Desire

Ithell Colquhoun
Ithell Colquhoun

If only the big combo
Could come together
Become fused, merging
Into something other:
A magic orderly, precise,
Science raggedy, unruly,
An art exquisite yet raw
To fashion a language
With the suppleness of silence:
What vantage this vista
Would provide with a view
To die for, to kill for,
Into the realm of the marvellous:
Causing old habits of thoughts
To be sloughed like so many snakes-skins,
We would construct clouds into castles
And turn castles into cumulus clouds:
We would be welcome in a world
Where the everyday so-and–such
Glows with the sheen of the miraculous
Where a glance, the merest touch,
Opens up opportunities,
With all the divine hazards,
And dream chances,
Of a new dialectics of desire.

The Surreal World: Papua New Guinea

Andre Breton Apartment , 42 Rue Fontane
Andre Breton Atelier , 42 Rue Fontane-Gilles Ehrmann 1968

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.

ULI

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.

Andre Breton 1948

Uli-previously of the collection of Andre Breton
Uli-Previously of the collection of Andre Breton
Uli-Central New Ireland Papua New Guinea
Uli-Central New Ireland Papua New Guinea
Uli Statue-Central New Ireland Papua New Guinea
Uli Statue-Central New Ireland Papua New Guinea
Statuettes Uli
Uli Statues

Angels in the Smoking Mirror

Obsidian Aztec Mirror and other objects in the possession of Dr John Dee
Obsidian Aztec Mirror and other objects in the possession of Dr John Dee

There are more things in heaven and Earth, Horatio, Than are dreamt of in your philosophy-Hamlet-William Shakespeare

For all his polymathic achievements and influence upon Elizabethan England and beyond, Dr John Dee is best known for the Angelic Conversations he conducted in conjuration with his scryer, the alchemist and convicted counterfeiter Edward Kelley.

These ‘actions’ as Dee called them, were made with the aid of an obsidian Aztec mirror that had come into his possession.

Tezcatlipoca Smoking Mirror Skull
Tezcatlipoca Smoking Mirror Skull

Mirrors were an attribution of Tezcatlipoca (Nahuatl: Smoking Mirror), the God of the Night Sky, Obsidian and Sorcery. The mirror had made its way into Europe some time after Cortes’s conquest of Mexico in 1530. 

After  a period of rigorous fasting, abstinence and prayer Kelley would gaze into the ‘shew-stone’ and report his visions of the spirits within the mirror while Dee dutifully recorded the conversations, some of which were in Enochian, the divine language supposedly spoken by prelapsarian humanity. For a period of many years in Dee’s house in Mortlake and later in Bohemia at the court of the Holy Roman Emperor Rudolf II, Dee and Kelley would converse with a myriad  of spirits, mostly angelic but occasionally demonic which resulted in hundreds of recorded conversations.

The conversations came to an end soon after the infamous wife-swapping episode. At the urging of an insistent angel named Madimi, Dee and Kelley swapped their wives Jane and Joanne for one night. Afterwards Madimi reportedly appeared and said, ‘B hold you are become free: Do that which most pleaseth you.’

Among Dee’s other claims to fame is that he is the person responsible for first coining the term ‘British Empire’; he was also the inspiration behind the magician Prospero in Shakespeare’s The Tempest. Legend has it that at the behest of Queen Elizabeth I he destroyed the Spanish Armada with his magical powers, an event that decisively effected the balance of power within Europe and the New World.

John Dee-The Holy Table
John Dee-The Holy Table

 

Arcane Gestures

Claude Cahun-1929-1930
Claude Cahun-1929-1930

Following the arcane gestures of your hands
That replicates and duplicates the movement
Of your swaying rolling hips against my pelvis
I stare long and hard into your glittering eyes
Focused on the middle distance chasing down
An ecstasy among the chimeras and paradoxes
The beauty of your distracted expression
Is a provocation, an exhalation of pure spirit
A command from above that I dare not refuse
For you alone can take me there to where I belong
Drenched with colour and drowning in sound
Overwhelmed by sensation and alive in love

Thoth

Thoth Tarot-Lady Frieda Harris with instruction by Aleister Crowley 1938-1943 published 1969

One of the most notorious of Tarot decks due to its association with the infamous Aleister Crowley, the Thoth Tarot was designed and painted by Lady Frieda Harris under instruction from the Great Beast. In addition to referencing Crowley’s new religion of Thelema,  (Do what you wilt shall be the whole of the Law. Love is the law, love under will), Lady Harris includes elements of Goethe’s theory of colour and Rudolf Steiner’s Anthroposophy in the execution of the project.

In 1937 Crowley had asked his friend the playwright Clifford Bax to find an artist to realise his longstanding ambition of re-designing the Tarot deck along Thelemic lines After two artists failed to show Bax invited Lady Frieda, then aged 60, to met Crowley. Third time around indeed proved to be a charm and they worked together on the deck for 5 years. Crowley initiated Lady Frieda into his mystical order the A∴A∴ and Lady Frieda Harris persuaded Crowley to break somewhat with Tarot tradition in the Thoth deck. Surprisingly Crowley seemed to develop a genuine affection for Harris and she in turn was devoted to him up to and during his last difficult days in a Hastings boarding house.

Crowley re-named several of the Major Arcana from the Rider-Waite-Smith, for instance Trump XI Strength becomes Lust and Trump XX Judgement becomes The Æon. Naturally the Hebrew letter and astrological correspondences are changed because no two occultists have ever agreed on such matters. The astrological significance of the Minor Arcana is very comprehensively outlined in the accompanying Book of Thoth written by Crowley.