Weekend links 628

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Collage art by Alex Eckman-Lawn at Unquiet Things.

• “…I love those niches and fringes in the creative world. I believe they deserve our support. But in most instances, this support must be driven by our generosity, philanthropy, and commitment to our core values—and not merely by profit seeking. Because as soon as profit maximization enters the picture, these outliers on the distribution curve don’t make the cut.” Ted Gioia explores the myth of “the Long Tail”.

• “Here we were, an Italian, an Englishman and an American in Munich, three foreigners in a foreign land—it was an accident we got together in the first place.” Pete Bellotte talking to Jude Rogers about the recording of I Feel Love by Donna Summer, a cult item in these quarters. Most of the history is very familiar but I didn’t know that Bellotte is a Mervyn Peake obsessive.

The radical, revolutionary homoerotic art of Sadao Hasegawa. Writing about the artist in 2007 I said that “a decent collection of his work for a western audience is long overdue”; we finally have such a thing courtesy of Baron Books.

• At Wormwoodiana: Undefined Boundary: The Journal of Psychick Albion, a magazine by the creators of the Coil zine, Man is the Animal, that “aims to celebrate the visionary, psychedelic and numinous in Britain”.

Dennis Cooper’s favourite fiction, poetry, non-fiction, film, art, and internet of 2022 so far. Thanks again for the link here!

• New music: Devotional by The Lord + Petra Haden, Dreamtides by Field Lines Cartographer.

Fall Into Sleep by K Of Arc.

Psychic Fire (1975) by Master Wilburn Burchette | The Psychic (1995) by David Toop | Psychic Wounds (2020) by Trees Speak

Goodfellow and Borges

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Last week’s story search had me looking through this handful of Penguin volumes again, all of which have cover illustrations by Peter Goodfellow. These were the first Borges books I bought, beginning with the Labyrinths collection in 1985. The Book of Sand is two volumes in one—The Book of Sand and a late poetry collection, The Gold of the Tigers—with cover art suitable for both. I used to think that the covers of the other books were pastiching or quoting well-known artists but now I’m not so sure. Two of them definitely are quotes or pastiches: The Book of Imaginary Beings is a play on the weird growths you find in Hieronymus Bosch, while Doctor Brodie‘s contemplative skeleton is from the famous anatomical engravings in De Humani Corporis Fabrica by Andreas Vesalius, with some Chinese or Japanese landscape details added to the background.

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Two positive artistic references suggested that the other covers might follow suit, so I used to take the Labyrinths cover as a vague reference to the anomalies that Salvador Dalí would situate in his desert vistas, while A Universal History of Infamy was de Chirico, perhaps, although this no longer seems certain at all. Those columns look like Bernini’s double colonnade from Saint Peter’s Square in Rome, not a Turin arcade, and the picture lacks the disjunctive perspectives you find in de Chirico’s “Metaphysical” paintings. The pastiche thesis is further diluted when you discover that Goodfellow had been quoting from Bosch as far back as his cover for Ursula Le Guin’s Rocannon’s World in 1972, while he borrowed another skeleton from Vesalius for Structures by JE Gordon. Sometimes you can reach too far for meaningful connections.

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The Bosch-like cover does seem to have had an enduring influence, however. When Penguin published the Collected Fictions in the UK in 1999 they used a detail from Bosch’s Garden of Earthly Delights for the artwork. Bosch details turned up on a later edition of A Universal History of Infamy, and have subsequently appeared on a series of Turkish Borges editions. Not a bad choice for a writer whose fictions offer universes of possibility.

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Elsewhere on { feuilleton }
The book covers archive
The illustrators archive

Previously on { feuilleton }
The Rejected Sorcerer
The Immortal by Jorge Luis Borges
Borges on Ulysses
Borges in the firing line
La Bibliothèque de Babel
Borges and the cats
Invasion, a film by Hugo Santiago
Spiderweb, a film by Paul Miller
Books Borges never wrote
Borges and I
Borges documentary
Borges in Performance

Art on film: Space is the Place

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Mescaline Woods (1969) by Gage Taylor.

Continuing an occasional series about artworks in feature films. This is more of a trivial example than the epic study of Providence but it seems worth mentioning when the art and the film in question aren’t so familiar.

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Encounter (1971) by Gage Taylor.

Last week my friend Jay Babcock was asking on his Substack newsletter for other examples of the utopian hippy landscape art that flourished in the 1970s. I recommended the paintings of Gage Taylor (1942–2000), an artist who was part of the loose movement known as the Californian Visionaries during that decade; paintings by the group were showcased in the Visions book published by Pomegranate in 1977, and shortly thereafter could be found in the early issues of OMNI magazine. Taylor was a prime exponent of slightly fantastic, idealised landscapes with titles like Mescaline Woods, painted in a style which, for the most part, he managed to prevent from becoming too saccharine. Encounter is a typical example: a quartet of naked hippies wandering through an Arcadian scene bordered by decorative cannabis leaves. The painting is definitely utopian in asking us to accept a clothes-free hike along a trail with no concern for sharp stones or injurious plants and animals.

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Looking through Visions again, and at this painting in particular, I was struck by the foreground group of floating alien creatures which I belatedly realised are the origin of the aliens from the opening scenes of Space is the Place (1974), the Sun Ra feature film directed by John Coney. And after watching those scenes again, details from Taylor’s paintings (including Mescaline Woods) turn up as brief establishing shots of the planet where Sun Ra has landed his spacecraft, something I’d missed entirely. Taylor is credited as one of the set decorators so I’d guess he made the alien creatures himself. I’d have been happy with more of the cosmic weirdness and less of the Blaxploitation clichés that pad out the later scenes but with films as unlikely as this we have to be thankful they exist at all. At its best Space is the Place approaches the delirium of The Holy Mountain, albeit on a much lower budget; Sun Ra and the villainous Overseer even play a game to decide the fate of the Earth using a unique pack of Tarot cards.

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Another more obvious external reference in the opening scenes is the cowled and mirror-faced individual that Sun Ra talks to, a figure taken from Maya Deren’s Meshes of the Afternoon. Deren’s film in 1974 wasn’t the cult item that it is today so this is an opportunistic swipe on the part of the film-makers, but the borrowing allows us to regard Mirror-face as the same character in both films. Watch them together.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Art on film: Providence
Art on film: The Beast
Meshes of the Afternoon by Maya Deren

Weekend links 627

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Cover art by Alan Aldridge for The Secret Life of Plants, 1975. Via.

• At Aquarium Drunkard: Alice Coltrane and band in a furious live performance at the Berkeley Community Theatre, 1972. The audio is on YouTube, and was also released on (unofficial) vinyl a couple of years ago, but you can download the whole set at Dimeadozen. (Free membership required.)

• “Black Square is tragic; it’s absurd; it can be bewildering or funny; it’s certainly metaphysical; and now it serves as a precursor for works and projects yet to be imagined.” Andrew Spira on the precursors of Black Square by Kazimir Malevich.

• “The possibility of plant consciousness cuts two ways, depending on whether you see plants as friend or foe, benevolent or threatening.” Elvia Wilk on the secret lives of plants.

• New/old music: Robot Riot by Stereolab. A previously unreleased recording from the mid-90s which will appear on the fifth instalment in the Switched-On compilation series.

• “Dare’s good, but Love And Dancing broke the mould and kicked off the whole modern dance scene.” Ian Wade on 40 years of remix albums.

• Coming soon from Strange Attractor: Arik Roper: Vision of The Hawk.

• At Unquiet Things: Deborah Turbeville’s unseen Versailles.

• “Thinking like a scientist will make you happier”.

• At Dennis Cooper’s: Karel Zeman Day.

Plantasia (1976) by Mort Garson | Musik Of The Trees (1978) by Steve Hillage | The Secret Life Of Plants (1979) by Stevie Wonder

The Rejected Sorcerer

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Cover art by Ed Emshwiller.

More Borges. While checking the details of yesterday’s post I discovered this oddity, an American SF magazine that published a two-page Borges story in March 1960, and put the author’s name on the cover even though few of the magazine’s readers would have heard of him at the time. The issue, which turned out to be the final one, lacks an editorial page so there’s no indication as to how the story found its way there. The story itself concerns an encounter in modern-day Spain between two men, one of them an established magician (in the occult sense), the other a neophyte hoping to gain similar powers. The piece is as much a moral fable as a work of fantasy, and as such appears out of place in a magazine with flying-saucer artwork on its exterior and a Virgil Finlay illustration inside (not for the Borges, unfortunately).

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I thought at first that I might not have read this one before, the title wasn’t familiar but the story was one I recognised immediately. I was also surprised to find that I have it in four different collections under different titles, and with two of the printings appearing at first to disguise the author. In Black Water: An Anthology of Fantastic Literature (1983), edited by Alberto Manguel, the story appears as The Wizard Postponed, with the writer given as “Juan Manuel”; in The Book of Fantasy (1988), an updated version of the Antología de la Literatura Fantástica edited in 1940 by Borges, Adolfo Bioy Casares and Silvina Ocampo, the same piece appears as The Wizard Passed Over, with the author credited as “Don Juan Manuel”. The latter turns out to be the original author, a medieval Spanish writer, although “original” here is a debatable term when the story is Manuel’s adaptation of a piece he found in a book of Arabian tales. Borges rewrote this together with several other short reworkings which appear in the Etcetera section at the end of A Universal History of Infamy, its third appearance on my shelves (once again as The Wizard Postponed).

The fourth appearance is in the Collected Fictions (1998), or the cursed volume as I tend to think of it. I often feel bad about traducing the efforts of translator Andrew Hurley every time Borges is mentioned here but this story provides a good example of why his work is so unsatisfying to readers familiar with the stories from older editions. In its original Spanish the story is El brujo postergado, a short title for which The Wizard Postponed or The Wizard Passed Over would seem like reasonable analogues. Hurley expands this to The Wizard That Was Made to Wait, a lumbering, graceless phrase that’s typical of the lumbering gracelessness elsewhere in Collected Fictions. These tin-eared translations are the ones approved by the Borges estate so they’re present in all the reprints of the past 20 years. Fortunately for readers, most of Borges’ books were widely reprinted in English translations that the author approved, and some of which he even assisted with. Reject the conjurations of maladroit sorcerers, that’s my advice.

Previously on { feuilleton }
The Immortal by Jorge Luis Borges
Borges on Ulysses
Borges in the firing line
La Bibliothèque de Babel
Borges and the cats
Invasion, a film by Hugo Santiago
Spiderweb, a film by Paul Miller
Books Borges never wrote
Borges and I
Borges documentary
Borges in Performance