Some books have a special impact from their very existence, their being in the world; by not having a standardized presentation, a conventional exterior structure, become objects of fascination even before they are opened. Some present a strange, shocking or extraordinary cover illustration, this image being its source of magnetism more evident and concrete. Thus, the French translation by François Rivière of the J. G. Ballard’s novel The Atrocity Exhibition (1970), entitled La Foire aux Atrocités, published in 1976 by Editions Champ Libre – for the collection Chute Libre (“free fall”) – presents one of these extraordinarily picture with some striking layers. It is a kind of portrait, in the form of an illustration whose authorship is unknown, in which we have a face (female, probably) obliterated by blindfold and gag. The colors of the image (deep red, green, light brown, black that creates violent contrasts) are powerfully evocative, though the image itself has little to do with the content of the book, rounding the sex, yes, but not that way. Another more complex way for a book to express its potency in itself is by its volume, the way its outward structure is presented to the reader – in this sense, the recent collections Booklore and The Whore is This Temple are magnificent in a peculiar way. The first one, evoking the multiplicity of a library by its conflict between format and content; the second, because it is a kind of impossible object, a contemporary grimoire for personal rituals although it is not that, in fact, but a collection of narratives and poetic creations.
Astronautilia is close to these two trends, but in a very unique way, because their impact happens in successive waves, that plays with expectations of the reader from one seemingly surpassed fright to another, culminating in a very own final decisive impact. In its dust cover, with a strong blue tone, a suggestive illustration by Václav Pazourek, the first image of the book and its real gateway: a portrait, in profile, quite colorful (the style suggests a vaguely primitivist expressionism) of what appears to be a warrior of the past, probably a hoplite of Ancient Greece. It is possible to identify in the image the shield, the helmet, the spear that this soldier holds. But the illustration, however, escapes this determination of meaning by a trait of technological futurism that runs through it – the white space between the face and the background of the image suggest an astronaut's helmet, adapted for use in sidereal space; the elaborate arabesques in the helmet suggest a civilization and a history that are not entirely human; the eye of the hoplite, at last, with a stylizedly almondlike shape and multiplied (by lenses? Or it’s an alien eye, in fact?) by the subtle effects used by the illustrator, a secure support for the odd strangeness. This extraordinary image covers and contrasts with the hard cover, much more austere – gently marbled dark blue, with the Greek part of the title engraved in silvery tones while the Czech part is in low relief – which refers to collections such as translations of classical and bilingual (Greek and Latin, of course) works published by publishers such as Éditions Les Belles Lettres.
But the impact of the dust cover rich imagery, the fastness of the cover, and even the volume of this reasonably thick book constitute the first moment, preparing for the still greater impact with what we might call the linguistic discovery of its contents. For in the very first pages the reader is threw in a confusio linguarum of considerable proportions: there are texts in English, Latin, Czech – but all this is only the preparation to the poem, thousands of hexameters in glorious Homeric Greek handwritten.
There are certain books that do not seem to exist-or rather, they seem to exist only as a fictional creation, a kind of imaginary interaction. Since Rabelais, whose giant Pantagruel spent his time in reading imaginary masterpieces that included a safe guide to public flatulence, written by a certain Magister Noster Ortuinus, not a few authors have populated their fiction, their personal universe with some shared elements with the continuum seem as common reality, with fictional, impossible books. These are volumes that, if they existed (something unlikely, an unfeasible technical achievement), would be like the lost volume of the Encyclopedia Britannica found by Jorge Luis Borges and Adolfo Bioy Casares in the tale "Tlön, Uqbar, orales Tertius" – part of a conspiracy against the foundations of our reality. But at certain moments we come across these imaginary books; our touch recognizes its textures, the softness of its pages and the graceful smoothness of its cover. Yes, this book exists, it’s not only a hallucination or a tricky that deceived our senses. But, still, we are not absolutely sure about that. The moment we find imaginary books (or that could be imaginary) is as if we find a breach in the continuity of a daily, systematic, prosaic, immanent reality. I can say that sometimes in my life I found these semi-imaginary volumes in the most common and uncommon places – libraries, small and large bookstores, second-hand bookstores, virtual bookshops, small publishers' websites (part of these books, incidentally, were reviewed here, in this blog, which came to life because of them).
One of the last encounters with these books that seem to make the fabric of reality thinner and easier to crack - to break and become a mutated piece of imagery - was with the astonishing Astronautilia / Hvězdoplavba, by the Czech polygrapher Jan Křesadlo (In fact, the pseudonym of Václav Pinkava), published by Ivo Železný, an editor famous for his work of popularizing Esperanto. It is an amazing book that came from this distant land (at least from my point of view, a pedestrian in the southern hemisphere), which dissolves into an equally imaginary haze, from a small town whose curious sonority of the name, to a Portuguese speaker, sounds at once poetic and fairylike, the land of the Golem and Kafka, the Czech Republic. As I opened the package, I found a huge tome in a solid cardboard box. This case, at once rustic and functional, skillfully done, showed in its cover only the author's signature, in a convulsive calligraphy – a sure anticipation of the contents of the case, already visible in the spine of the book that such arrangement had exposed. For indeed, this content would be even more surprising.
An exquisite book in more ways than one, Astronautilia / Hvězdoplavba will be the target, the first one, of a series of small bibliophagic videos and commentaries, which will open a new methodology of our blog. I hope it will please everyone (in any case, please send comments on this and other issues, if necessary).
"One after another all these earths are submerged in renovatory flames, to be re-born there and to fall into them again, the monotonous flowing of an hourglass that eternally turns and empties itself. It is something new that is always old; something old that is always new."
(Eternity Through the Stars, by Louis-Auguste Blanqui)
After a long time of development, the crowdfunding project of the adaptation of the tale "The Extinction Hymnbook" – present in the startling collections The Gift of the Kos'mos Cometh! A Homage to Night and Kosmos and Lanterns of the Old Night – for a graphic novel, illustrated by young and talented Fabio Laoviahn, is ready and consummate. Some drawings can be seen in the gallery and the link to the campaign is available at the link below.
Extinction: a Graphic Novel Project
"Every poem, in time, becomes an elegy. (…) There are no other paradises besides the lost ones."
Jorge Luis Borges, “Posesión del Ayer” (The Possession of Yesterday)
There are certain moments in our existence in which we plunge into some kind of abysmal contemplation, into the pure despair in the search for complex, definitive senses. These are the moments when, awake, we seem to have just emerged from a nightmare, those richly ornamented with sinister details of which we retain only a small part, which allows our awakening to be bitter, a rather poor relief. In these moments we think of certain abstractions, perhaps of our mortality (or the mortality of all beings, or of those we eventually love), but our thoughts are focused, with special acuteness, on the fortuitous character of existence and a certain notion of justice, and logic. Chaotic causality appears, in our eyes, as diabolical; because we seek an understanding that escapes from our hands, ruthlessly, so that a new world rises on our horizon, a world more sad and rough. We would like the world to obey the most beneficial arrangement possible, but this happy thought is just that: a ghost generated by anxiety in controlling the devastation of our grief. I can say that this dizzying sensation, so tricky to define and that seems to lead our consciousness to continuous dead ends, was that I felt at the knowledge of the death of Avalon Brantley, brilliant young talent who was not limited to the universe Literary that the French call littérature fantastique, but which expanded in a complex way by multiple and diversified landscapes.
But, perhaps, this feeling that I have tried to describe above, in this case, can be classified as just an indiscretion on my part. For indeed, I was not a close or dear friend to Avalon Brantley. I have not even met her in person: our communication can be summed up by the exchange of electronic messages – some of them related to her participation in the Booklore collection – and an excellent interview that she gave me and which is published on my blog. It is necessary to emphasize that this meagre direct communication gave me the impression that Avalon was a person of good will, sensitive and of kind-hearted. In any case, I know little of her physical appearance, personal tastes, political choices or daily dramas. I was not part of her inner circle of friends and family, nor was I aware of the pain of the members of that circle, especially when they discovered her death. However, in fact, there was a possible connection, the only one in such cases, that established itself from a remote or recent past, between the creator of a story and the one who appreciates that work. For the extraordinary writings of Avalon enable an incredible experience to the reader – therefore a peculiar and intense communion. I remember the vivid impression of reading what I consider – from my point of view as a reader – to be Avalon's first masterpiece, coincidently her first published work, the Aornos tragedy, published in 2013. I hold dearest memories of the little books in this series, of the few that I have acquired, so precious and beautiful, and which were fundamental in many later decisions of my life. But I must return to Aornos: it is a tragedy, a play but, in fact, it goes directly to the reader who flips through its ardent pages, proposing an extremely exquisite and daring experience, a visionary form of Theater for the mind, so complex in evoking its elements and in the effect of its irony. The flow of the mythological and religious elements of antiquity is intoxicating; It seems that we are facing some lost and particularly perverse creation by some author of ancient Greece. It is very difficult to escape the sense of destructive inevitability of fate when, at the end of the play, we find ourselves like that chorus of cicadas conjuring the presence of a fearsome female in a catastrophe nourished by true love.
That was only the first book by Avalon, her spectacular presentation to the world; other creations would emerge, both materialized in books and contributions to collections. Unfortunately, I do not own all these works – I am not a consummate collector, specializing in completing a given collection of literary butterflies, such as those editors chosen to preface the complete editions of certain authors in the series “Bibliothèque de la Pléiade”. But some of them, which deserve mention, I had the pleasure and honor to read. All these works point out a secure fluidity between different genres, formats and conceptions – some of extreme radicalism – but also an acute perception of the ironic, cruel traps of fate that the author had already so well represented in Aornos from the tragic perception of existence nurtured in antiquity. Thus, shortly after Aornos, we have a collection of short stories, Descended Suns Resuscitate. The golden cover has a marbled texture that is extraordinarily tactile, while a small circular hole points to the symbolic and photographic clue to certain elements of the book, notably a certain atmosphere of inevitable, painful nostalgia. The tales, set in floating historical landscapes, are dominated at the same time by the overwhelming perception of fate and a really exquisite sense of humor. In this sense, it is worth mentioning a narrative like "The Last Sheaf”, which presents a balance between these two poles that were obsessively revisited by the author. The final tale, called "Kali-Yuga", presents this visionary characterization that already transpired in Aornos and that would grow in terms of conceptual sophistication in her later writings. Apparently dissatisfied with the tragic closure offered by fate in its cunning configurations, she would seek in the image of creation/destruction, increasingly freed from its limitations, new syntheses.
Thus, the next release would be Transcensience, the penultimate full book of Avalon, written in collaboration with Locket Hollis. The book jacket in neutral, icy, creamy color, revealing Egon Schiele's fine incisive features and the initials of the author and co-author on the spine, just AB/LH. In the frontispiece, very appropriately, a frame of the film Le Sang d'un poete, by Jean Cocteau. In the book, brief narratives, poems and poetry in prose alternating, making the book unstable, a challenge to this perennial search by every reader for something near to the sense of fullness and harmony, the security of stability in literary terms. But instability isn’t the same as inconsistency, the fragility hidden by the mask of certain formal dances; on the contrary, the book presents a thematic identity around the idea of death, of the passage, of the threshold, of the ineluctable. In this sense, there is a constant fluctuation in the approach of these concepts, between poetic subjectivity and narrative objectivity, between the pathos of poetry and the necessity of verisimilitude eventually imposed by the narrative. The heart of the book is precisely the brief narrative "The Far Rest", a title that carries a anagrammatic game with the threatening "forest" that haunts the whole tale. By breaking the boundaries between poetic subjectivity and narrative objectivity, Avalon reaches the paroxysm of despair in this brief narrative, culminating in an utterly visceral longing – which is expressed by a fragmented language – by a lovely, immense potential god. It is a deepening and subversion of what we have seen so far in Avalon, from Aornos; for it, at the same time, has subverted the general boundaries between narrative and poetics in the same way that it recovers some of the deepest yearnings and anxieties of the literature of the past. What she had done with the Greek tragedy, she accomplished, in Transcensience, with the romantic poetry of the nineteenth century. But the truth is that the deepening imagery and the increasingly direct narrative formulation of despair showed, indirectly perhaps, her suffering, a suffering that threatened to isolate her subjectivity definitively, with the ultimate abandonment of writing.
However that was not what happened. I mentioned Avalon's various contributions to collections published by small publishers in 2016 and early 2017, a “particularly productive year” in Avalon's own words. They are small jewels not only in the sense of the astounding quality of this material but also by the altruistic nobility expressed in her will to expose the demons themselves, to exorcise them, to sublimate them into literary works, for the scrutiny of the public, that she sensed perhaps sensitive. Among these material, I would like to highlight three extraordinary creations whose analytical reading could indeed feed into academic research if it were not so far removed from the more vanguardist reality of literature by the compact walls of self-complacency. The first of them is "Nocternity", which presents the most visionary side of Avalon already in its title, a strange fusion between "Nocturnal" and "Eternity". The tendencies of Transcensience become even more radical: the alternation between verse and prose builds less a dance between poetry and prose and much more a kind of liturgical hymn, the multilayered evocation of new and old gods. That is, a unique construction because of its intricacy, which plunges the reader into myth directly, abandoning the usual conventions of literary genre. But this diving would be the prelude to an even more ambitious work: "Corpus". According to the author herself, the inspiration for "Corpus" (the very significant subtitle is "A Mandala of Anatomy and Metaphysiology") came from certain works by Andrei Biely, such as Kotik Letaev and Glossolalia. It is the author's version of the biblical Genesis, a union between the broad perspective of the universe and the intimate development of consciousness in a unique form of synchrony, in which language fragments into pieces corresponding to sensations, to the potential link between the boundless and most profoundly personal. The editors perceived the importance of this piece, so original: in fact, “Corpus” not only follows a unique format within the collection (in two columns), but is the only one immediately illustrated. In a way, it is the apex of visionary work and the subversion of literary forms and genres by Avalon. It would be expected that the author would later adopt more and more radical forms of disruption with narrative and poetic structures and even with language. But behold, the multifaceted personality of Avalon arises and presses into another, somewhat surprising, way. It is a path subtly indicated by herself at the end of her extraordinary mandala, when she states "god left the house”.
This path begins to be indicated in the third piece I selected, "A Dead Man's House”. After experiments in the borders of language and the subversion of the usual literary structures, Avalon returns to the fantastic tale, a genre that she has approached so skillfully in her Descended Suns Resuscitate. "A Dead Man's House” is a tale about the potential existence of books considered lost, with astounding developments and speculation. The reader's imagination is spurred on by the imaginary reconstruction of such vanished volumes which, in the end, receive a fateful and liberating destiny, a spectacular auto-de-fé in the same vein of previous rituals performed by Elias Canetti in Die Blendung and Jakob Wasserman in Das Gänsemännchen. This renewed return to narrative sources, on the other hand, marks the last book of Avalon, the novel The House of Silence. It is, at first glance, a tribute to William Hope Hodgson, especially to his The House of the Borderland. But the last story (which, curiously, would be her first novel) of Avalon is much more than that; a visionary narrative, although quite simple, that takes up with great freedom the tropes of the weird and horror genre. The visionary radicalism of the author's earlier works, which seek a break in the relationship between language and objective/subjective reality, still manifests itself here (there was also something of this breakdown in the narrator's role in "A Dead Man's House") but in a subtle and controlled way. It is in the dream universe and in the sensory perceptions (even the simplest) of the protagonist and of the other characters that one realizes the potentiality of this break in the fabric of the real. Revealing to the reader the horror of the limits of perception and rationality in a cadenced rhythm, by its perceptible edges, Avalon revealed an extraordinary awareness in the construction of this long and fascinating narrative – her last one, unfortunately.
In her work, Avalon Brantley demonstrated the limits of language and perception, the misleading separation between the individual microcosm and the collective macrocosm, the subtle and sadistic traps of fate, the abysmal and evocative vertigo of the Vision, this form of apprehension of universal knowledge adopted by Swedenborg or Blake or so many others before herself (and many others later, I hope). The rereading of her work becomes a painful and moving exercise in the light of her death, but we must interpret it further, for death – in more than one sense – is not the end. Pier Paolo Pasolini understood death as a final cut in the long take of life; a final cut that concatenated the previous acts in an edition full of meaning. We could go further (inspired even by Pasolini's own terrible death): the definitive cut in the film of life with the death is in some cases an enigmatic product whose apparently clear sense holds as many possibilities as secrets. Following this line of thought, though the shock of loss may exist, Avalon left a long and enigmatic narrative represented by her works and the mysteries of her sadly short existence. And even though I regret not knowing her better, I know that I can revisit the brilliant, animated by a everlasting fresh existence in her works.
Not by chance, one of Avalon's last testimonies makes it very clear that she, like Blanqui and Nietzsche (or Borges), believed in the infinite plurality of worlds, of existences, of lives. In one of these plural worlds she continues to build her work, sung by aoidos and other vagabonds or poets like the songs of a close brother, Homer.
This piece would not be possible without the generous collaboration, reading and suggestions by Jonas Ploeger and Jonathan Wood.
The Hours of Jeanne D’Evreux (photo by medievalfragments).
A whole new mythology could be developed based on the possible books, those who have been imagined but never written. Or lost forever in one of these History’s plot changes, always cruel to the weakness of the imagination. In this sense, there is a tale by Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges that appears to offer a terribly enticing prospect for any writer. This is "El milagro secreto” (The Scret Miracle) part of the “Artifícios” section in his Ficciones (1944), which tells the story of a poet who, after quick conviction by a Nazi court, is facing a firing squad. He worked in a particularly difficult tragedy and his desire would be finish it before the bullets of his executioners rip apart his body. It was obviously a vain hope, but some divinity heard the poet and awarded him an extra year between the time of shooting and the impact of bullets, so he concluded his work. This was done and as soon as the last fixes were completed, the bullets were put in motion again. The poet, protagonist of the story, did not have time or possibility to realize his definitive work on an appropriate editorial format; only his memory and the deity who heard him would know the content of what was projected in his mind. So the author and narrator, Borges, provides the reader with not a reproduction of this unusual work, inaccessible and not registered, but its uncommon route. In this sense, Mark Valentine offers to the reader the same in his Wraiths – the winding path, unique and complex that never got to take shape or become visible.
The essays of Mark Valentine is vibrant, innovative and suggestive. One aspect of these essays, no doubt, is the approach/recreation of lost, unfinished, invisible literary works. In Wraiths, there are two essays focusing on the specific form of non-existent creation and not materialized potential that entices the imagination of a very specific kind of animal – the bibliophile, a kind of people who nurtures this obsessed, sometimes excruciating, fascination on book as object, form, idea. The first essay, "Wraiths", deals with the poetry books that were probably produced at the turn of the nineteenth to the twentieth century in England, but that apparently does not exist. This time was populated by books of short poems, precious little jewels of the publishing industry, but not all have this essential embodiment, the final book form. The books of imaginary poems described by Valentine are as complicated mirages, whose existence is attested even by witnesses, but that vanished and left no trace. Valentine, in this first essay, use these testimonies, these indirect evidence to handle such invisible corpus; it is an intelligent methodology, because the indirect evocations bring the reader something unusual about the lives of the kind of dematerialized masterpieces creators. This evocation provides, by a paradox of representation, something like a glimpse of the lost poems. Cause, in fact, such non-existent creations go even further than these sparse and vaporous sonnets that Mallarmé wrote for printing on fans. The authors of lost works reached something like the accomplishment of an imagination utopia: the poetic construction as short, soft, sophisticated structure, which is diluted in ominous or happy fragments in the very existence of the poet and his time.
The second essay, "What Became of Dr. Ludovicus", deals with the creation not performed adventure in a even more intricate level: a lost novel, which was written by four hands between Ernst Dowson and Arthur Moore. It was a "shocker", which was the way the Victorians termed novels with bizarre, disturbing and/or supernatural central elements. The essay follows the production of the novel in the letters exchanged between the two authors; the level of detail of this production process, evoked by Valentine, is quite large, including details such as the use of a notebook with shared writings that both authors employed to write the chapters. The reader thus follows the development (sometimes problematic) of each chapter and the fate of the finished material, systematically rejected wherever the authors try to publish it. Would be a fair rejection, given the quality, editorial or myopia, as often before a interesting material? Valentine leaves this question open, stressing however – with his bibliophile soul – how interesting it would be if the book had been published, knowing its narrative and its creation process, both seemingly rich and tumultuous. This is perhaps the most obvious essence of the Wraiths, the connecting link between the two essays: the desire for the existence of a book, in a way, can make the reader itself (which already became a researcher investigating the tracks of his passion here and there), by a sort of evocative magic, perform this conjuring of a lost book that makes out of nowhere appears something.
As a book, Wraiths is a delicate and precious object, indeed a beautiful tribute to the fin de siècle editorial art. Only the title appears in golden on the cover – a sinuous font seems to mark here at the same time daring and restraint, the only distinctive feature in a rough and gray paper, reminiscent of the stone, a texture little polished but rich in nuances. The two Ronald Balfour illustrations that open the essays seem to evoke in a starkly and not overloaded way the Victorian era. Interestingly, the Mark Valentine book today is partly invisible – the Zagava publisher reports that the print run of 50 copies is already out of print. Although the essays can be found in other books (notably, the excellent collection of essays published by Tartarus Press, Haunted by Books) the preciousness of this little booklet, so slim that could disappear at any moment, it is irreplaceable.
The special edition of Extinction, the Notation Script is finally ready. This edition is in accordion format, with special elongated jacket and two very significant images (those who know the story and this script will understand the meaning of these images). The special edition version will have only ten copies (subsequent copies will be released in more conventional booklet format, with A5 size). These special books are still available at this link (there is also a digital version in epub or PDF format).
(The Martyrdom of Saint Catherine, by Albrecht Dürer)
The wheels for torture were broken with the explosion and death of the executioners, and the sky blasted and roared with a hailstorm, while the earthly fire departed from St. Catherine, she had the neck sliced by iron and thus ended. But there is something more in this picture, or better it most completely written in eternity by the carvings in the wood.
The wheel is the center, a little eccentric, as is the center of a fan, which is full although not round. And there is a crank for moving the wheel and this wheel is double and the two halves rotate in opposite directions, as also opens the fan.
The wheel is the center, a little eccentric, as is the center of a fan, which is full although not drive. And there is a crank for moving the wheel and this wheel is double and the two halves rotate in opposite directions, as in the open fan’s movement.
The flames flow according to this rotation like water from a mill, and the soil’s fragments of the hill rush towards them, which continue them, and the trees above are further stacked in horizontal pieces that go down from the right section, as a cloud, and feed the turning of the wheel.
The rain of heaven falls according to both sides of an isosceles triangle whereupon these horizontal sizes are based; the filled basis folds itself (shaped as a pluviometer) and creates the right arm of the executioner, raising cloak and sword at the right side; the left arm remais covered, as the wind rises his coat from the ventilation fins of the blower wheel, the two ears of a pentagon or reversed kite; and the shape of the triangle is visible too, to signify God: the fire of the Father between co-personnel clouds.
And above the city, which is carried by the wheel, there is a hill that descends from the sky, and drops to the ground where are the dead executioners and recall the leaves around the wheel; and there are three stages in the image, to signify the three worlds. The hill flows harmoniously with the folds of the dress and the beautiful curved line of the gastrocnemius muscles, which are the Dürer's legs.
This dress and these legs are the tail and the dress of a greater Saint beheaded that fills the image, with the croup on the shoulder of the executioner, the navel on the eye of Catherine, the cut in the horizontal terminal line to the pieces of the hill. The severed neck ends according to the hard edge of the a man fleeing radius, in the extension of one of the features with clouded nuance that is more thrusting than sword. And the head and the hair rolled from the city and trees sloping towards the mill wheel, for the new gyration.
Alfred Jarry (Perhinderion, n. 02, June 1896)
Above, as an introduction to the new Raphus Press book series, the translation of a brief review by Alfred Jarry to the expressive, troubled and apocalyptic Dürer's engraving about Saint Catherine last moments. The first book will be a translation of the Jarry's creation to his other imagery magazine, L'Ymagier, plus a introductory piece, a imaginary portrait/exegesis.
A story produces a series of complex effects after appears in some strange way in our universe – especially when that strange way is the book as a medium. The most obvious effects are speculative, in the field of critical rationalization: the essays, reviews the studies. Even the treatises. But there are some less visible effects - truncated ideas, indirect analogies, fictional constructs in the verge of the impossibility. I call imaginary exegesis these less visible effects and they are the object of the first chapbook released by Raphus Press, Bibliophage editorial development, specializing in limited editions, unique and handcrafted works.
Thus, The Ghost of the Western Borders is a small book of imaginary exegeses and visual essays, available in print and electronic (Epub and PDF) form. Visit the Raphus Press homepage for more detailed information.
Just a source of light projected through one lens set toward the blank screen is enough. Along the way, the light passes through a glass plate, bright as a multi-faceted jewel, painted with scenes of daily life, funny or dramatic imagery of a dull daily routine transfigured in a illuminated shape. Alternatively, fantastic scenes of shipwrecks, ghosts, the hell itself full of demons and damned designed in the most gaudy colors possible, in its most aberrant forms. The magic lantern show, available today only through recreations in certain artistic performances or evoked in the narratives of authors like Balzac, in the Swedenborg's visionary theological philosophy and in the patient conceptual reconstruction carried out by historians as Laurent Mannoni, was the imaginary basis of these narratives, glass plates molded from the life and work of unique authors on the fringes of the usual canonization processes that make the Culture something predictable and perhaps unfair.
Such nightly shows were translated into book form by the patient editorial work of Dan Ghetu and by careful revision of the original material by the extraordinary Damian Murphy. In its final form, this show of lights and shadows became something else, a spellbook as imaginary as the phantasmagoria catalog used by Christiaan Huygens to impress some impertinent friends with his latest invention, the magic lantern. With the difference that Lanterns of the Old Night is real.
The photos below were kindly provided by Dan Ghetu. The book starts delivered tomorrow, June 7, 2016.
There is a vertiginous moment that can occur daily or at least once in the life of each one, when we realize that everything around us is hollow, empty, and the life is nothing but a dream. This formulation is of course a cliché – true, but still a cliché. Maybe better reformulates it: our time is motionless. Like the arrow in one of the Zeno of Elea paradox of motion, we live in the perpetual stasis, the permanent immobility. Our gadgets, wars, refugees and everyday problems are only a foam briefly visible in the troubled sea. Thus we still live the time of the artistic avant-gardes. We are driven by the same contradictions, move us the same dramas, and our scandals are ignited by the same épater la bourgeoisie techniques. Perhaps this facts happens because the artists of the early twentieth century avant-garde discovered the secrets about a new narrative and theatrical genre: the universal tragedy – or perhaps, the universal comedy, because the two genres flow in parallel in this new form. The production of this unprecedented genre was unique: a drama, immense and uninterrupted, whose central theme is the annihilation of art.
In this new kind of Gesamtkunstwerk unveiled by the avant-gardists, the audience on a global scale is invited to take part in an act in which the artists and their creations are crushed by numerous repressive forces, but still seek desperately to remain alive and conscious, despite all the violence and the temptations that include some souls sales off. The portraits, paintings, images, stories and tragedies vanguards of the twentieth century Avant Gard sucks the audience to the inside of a kind of play without stage, the maelstrom of other and apparently remote era; when we look at a painting like Umberto Boccioni's La città che sale (The City Rises), made in 1910, we have exactly that feeling, even if we ignore its creator or the central theme of the composition. The dynamic forms of men and horses in Boccioni image takes the viewer to a kind of abyss, another time, or better yet, another time possibility, in which the dramatic tension is permanent. So the righteous concerns of our time disappear before the uncertainties of the Bolshevik Revolution, the stylized barbarity of fascism, the terrible hyperinflation everyday, the civil, European and World wars. If we were to christen this genre of a unique work, premiered in the early twentieth century and still pulsating, we could use a synthetic and effective term: perhaps Conflagration, not coincidentally, this is the title of the D. P. Watt new work, published by Ex Occidente Press Bucharest through its new editorial persona, the Mount Abraxas series.
The Watt's new book has a curious format: quadrangular, something that the editor had already employed in L'homme recent series but in a bigger format. The jacket has a continuous illustration (made by Misanthropic Art) as a poster, the image of a black sun at the center, mediating between a hand and eyes of immense and divine proportions in the polar sides, the two fields marked by the presence of human ornamental forms. Given this extraordinary jacket, the minimalist cover, as a default by the publisher, provides an effective counterpoint with his animal fur texture, its low relief and its orange color (the same for the page marker). As soon as we started reading the book (after extraordinary photograph that serves as frontispiece to the book, "Multiple self-portrait in mirrors" by Stanisław Ignacy Witkiewicz) we are surprised by a brochure that shows us the "Instructions for Reading". Such instructions begin as follows: "Please read this text in one sitting, commencing at precisely 7.30pm one evening." This procedure, to guide the hypothetical reader in a recommended reading method according to the author, was used with similar purposes by Julio Cortázar in his experimental novel Rayuela (Hopscotch, in the most recent translation); as in the case of Cortázar, Watt invites us to disobey the rules established by himself, which incidentally we did just like Des Lewis in his excellent review of Conflagration (which can be read here). Soon after that first moment of estrangement, a Dramatis Personae as in a play appears. In this list, there are the names of the various avant-garde innovative theater creators in the twentieth century, from Alfred Jarry to Jean Genet, Bertolt Brecht to Eugene Ionesco, Vsevolod Meyerhold to Samuel Beckett. But the brief texts of the book does not follow the traditional structure of a play adapted to a book format. Brief and fluid narratives, this vignettes are marked by a date and a topographical title, time and an indication of place as "The streets of Trieste" or "Galerie Montaigne, Paris". These small narratives establish themselves on the balance between the abstract, the fantastic, the comic and the tragic. In this sense, the subtitle is revealing: "immoral vignettes", short scenes that could be staged as imaginative and critical (or ironic) commentaries about the contemporary (and historical) drama. Thus Beckett's universe resurfaces in the French countryside devastated by war. Ionesco's La cantatrice chauve materializes as false just in the time of its conception. The tragedy of Meyerhold unfolds clearly before the reader, to its inevitable end decreed by Stalinist orthodoxy. But these are only a few fragments, some of these voracious vignettes that seem to summarize all contemporary history beginning in Braunau am Inn, the April 20, 1899.
In one of these vignettes, "Sprovieri Gallery, Rome", we have a vivid and dynamic description of the Italian Futurist theater. Suddenly, we are told that the images used as background to these presentations, representations of the mechanical vehicles speed and strength based on Neapolitan carnival, "were nothing but the force of speed and the energy of vehicles, the surging of movement and the violence of colour. They depicted only the passion of their own inception." Perhaps, this is the best way to describe this little masterpiece, a description that also fit to characterize the intents and unstable utopias, fragile, decadent and useless contraptions produced by the perpetually fascinating art of the avant garde in the twentieth century – a mist, a stream and a ghost, whose intensity dazzles and impresses all the witnesses by its own infinite driving force.
The first three photos below were kindly provided by the publisher, Dan Ghetu.