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• • • Being a journal by artist and designer John Coulthart, cataloguing interests, obsessions and passing enthusiasms.


 

Nights as Day, Days as Night by Michel Leiris

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“Le rêve est une seconde vie,” says Gérard de Nerval in the epigraph to the dream journal of Michel Leiris, a collection of oneiric texts published as Nuits sans nuit et quelques jours sans jour in 1961, and which appears this week in a new translation—Nights as Day, Days as Night—from Spurl Editions.

If dreams for Nerval were a second life, for the Surrealists they were a life as important as the waking one, their significance distilled in the declared desire of Max Ernst to keep one eye open on the wake world while the other remained closed and fixed upon the interior. Michel Leiris was a friend of André Masson, and was involved with the Surrealists in the early days until a falling out with André Breton saw him expelled from the “official” ranks. The fatuously doctrinaire Breton seemed to fall out with everyone at some point, and Leiris wasn’t alone in being undeterred by any tinpot Stalinism. Nights as Day, Days as Night is a major Surrealist text, a journal covering the years 1923 to 1960 which may be read as a straightforward transcription of one person’s dream life, or as a series of fragmented narratives, anecdotes and fantasies many of which, in their brevity, operate like condensed fictions. Dreams as raw material for fiction have a long history but are seldom presented en masse in an undiluted form. One problem is that a naked description of a dream is unlikely to be interesting to anyone other than the dreamer unless the description is artfully presented. In his lecture on nightmares, Jorge Luis Borges describes his most terrifying dream—an old Norwegian king appearing at the foot of his bed—which he says was terrifying not because of the appearance of a spectral presence but because of the atmosphere in the room, an atmosphere he found impossible to convey to others.

This quality of incommunicability (or a general lack of interest, since “strange dreams” are universal) may be sidestepped if the dreamer is already noteworthy, as with the case of William Burroughs whose My Education: A Book of Dreams is the most obvious equivalent to Leiris’s collection. Burroughs had been mining his dreams for years, however, so the contents of My Education were already very familiar to his readers when the book appeared in 1995. Leiris has the advantage of novelty, and even more than Burroughs he works consciously to make his dreams interesting to a reader. (There’s also some intersection in the Parisian locations; Burroughs included Paris as one of the omnipresent zones in his personal dream landscape.) As with Burroughs, there seem to be occasions when the transcription turns into outright fictioneering. I’ve tried keeping a dream journal myself a few times, and found it difficult to recall anything more than the merest fragments of most dreams. Leiris is selective—many of the entries are separated by several months—but many of his selections run over several pages, and contain detailed descriptions of sequential events. Unless you’re blessed with exceptional recall, some elaboration would seem inevitable given the elusive nature of dreams and their tendency to quickly evaporate in the bleary-eyed morning. From a Surrealist perspective (a non-doctrinaire one, naturally), any subsequent embellishment might be regarded as a literary parallel to the Ernst intention of keeping one eye open while the other remains closed; the dreams become Surrealist texts collaged from Leiris’s dream life and whatever enhancement he applies to the raw transcription. Many of the shorter transcriptions remain faithful to the abrupt disjunctions of the dream state, replete with sudden changes of location, personality and even reversals from subject to object. Literature has the ability to convey these disjunctions much more accurately than other media. Painting, drawing and collage only ever create a single, static image; film has the advantage of movement but, like other visual media, can’t help but make everything seem all too tangible. In film, animation comes the closest to dreams but still lacks the ability to put you inside the consciousness of the dreamer the way that Leiris’s texts do, fictional or otherwise.

Spurl’s Nights as Day, Days as Night is translated by Richard Sieburth, and features a foreword by Maurice Blanchot. Order it here.

 


Weekend links 352

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Table-Tipping Workshop at Rev. Jane’s House, Erie, Pennsylvania, 2014 by Shannon Taggart.

• Canadian electronic musician Sarah Davachi talks to Erik Davis about analogue synthesizers, reverberating cathedrals, attention spans, and her ambient drone album All My Circles Run.

• Orson Welles’ The Other Side of the Wind may now be released by Netflix. (I’m restraining my excitement for the moment since this one has been a long time arriving.)

• Mixes of the week: VF Mix 86: Jah Shaka by Roly Porter, Secret Thirteen Mix 215 by Twins, and What Good Is God? (1:11:11.111 Melon Collie Mix) by Gregg Hermetech.

• Making sense of The Weird and the Eerie: Roger Luckhurst reviews the final book from the late Mark Fisher.

• Pye Corner Audio has been very productive this year (I’m not complaining); the latest release is The Spiral.

• “I don’t like acceptance,” says Cosi Fanni Tutti, “it makes me think I’ve done something wrong.”

• Jon Brooks on the Continental inspiration for his next album, Autres Directions.

Séance: Spiritualist Ritual and the Search for Ectoplasm by Shannon Taggart.

• Corny and clichéd: Matthew Bown on bad painting in the twentieth century.

• At Wormwoodiana: Douglas A. Anderson on Borges and a forgotten book.

• At the BFI: Samuel Wigley chooses 10 great films set in the jungle.

Jungle Flower (1951) by Les Baxter | Jungle Fever (1973) by The Upsetters | The Jungle Dream (1973–1980) by Patrick Cowley

 


The Eerie Book

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Work-wise, I’m still preoccupied with Edgar Allan Poe so I’ve been delving into the Internet Archive’s stock of scanned books more than usual. I’m not looking now for earlier Poe illustrations but a search last month turned up this collection of horror stories edited by Margaret Armour, and illustrated by William Brown Macdougall. Armour and Macdougall were married, and collaborated on several illustrated books; they also knew Aubrey Beardsley—Macdougall contributed to both The Yellow Book and The Savoy—so many of the illustrations in this volume are in the post-Beardsley manner. As Beardsleyesque drawings go they’re not as successful as, say, those of Will Bradley; some of Macdougall’s faces are rather dopey, and the cross-hatching doesn’t always work with this style of black-and-white art, as Beardsley himself discovered. But Macdougall’s drawing for The Masque of the Red Death is a better illustration than Beardsley’s own, horror not being one of Aubrey’s strengths. The Eerie Book may be browsed in full here.

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The Masque of the Red Death.

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The Iron Coffin.

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The Mother and the Dead Child.

Read the rest of this entry »

 


Weekend links 351

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Herald on Griffin (1516-1518) from The Triumphal Procession of Emperor Maximilian I series by Hans Burgkmair the Elder.

• My design and illustration work for Pirate Utopia by Bruce Sterling continues to gain favourable comments, a novelty when reviewers often pass over the visual component of the books under their consideration. One of the most recent examples is in the latest edition of Locus Magazine; this can only be read in full by subscribers but the Tachyon Tumblr has an extract.

Paul La Farge on the complicated friendship of HP Lovecraft and Robert Barlow. Related: The Night Ocean, a short story by Barlow & Lovecraft. Meanwhile, Lovecraft enthusiasts are still raising money for a Providence statue (spot my art and design work in the photo of the Lovecraft Art and Sciences Council).

• At The Quietus this week: Children Of Alice talk to Patrick Clarke about audio collage and English Surrealism, Lottie Brazier enters The Strange World of Annette Peacock, and Manuel Göttsching tells Robert Barry how Ash Ra Tempel became the loudest band in Berlin.

• “Mind the doors!” Eight reviewers pick ten films featuring the London Underground. Not a bad list but choosing a Doctor Who film while ignoring the great Quatermass and the Pit (1967) is an error.

• Mixes of the week: Swedenborgian Hobos by acephale, Secret Thirteen Mix 214 by Fabio Perletta, and a mix for NTS by Six Organs Of Admittance.

• More Surrealism: Leonor Fini, Surrealist Sorceress, a lecture by Dr Sabina Stent, will take place at Treadwell’s Bookshop, London, on 19th May.

• “Michael Chapman’s road-weary guitar resonates with a new generation,” says Joel Rose.

A Journey Round my Room (1794), a book by Xavier de Maistre.

Lyrical Nitrate (1991), a film by Peter Delpeut.

The Sorcerer (1967) by Miles Davis | Impressions Of Sorcerer (1977) by Tangerine Dream | Venom Sorcerer (2014) by Cultural Apparati

 


The Song of the Dead by Carrie Patel

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Presenting my latest cover for Angry Robot books, and the third cover I’ve done for Carrie Patel. The Song of the Dead is a sequel to Carrie’s two previous novels in the Recoletta series, The Buried Life and Cities and Thrones. For the new volume I maintained continuity by keeping the architectural frame while changing some of the details; the use of green after doing the previous covers in blue and red means that this is now the second series I’ve done for Angry Robot (KW Jeter’s being the first) using a red/green/blue colour scheme. This wasn’t intentional but was the result of choosing colours that differ from each other as much as possible. (Or almost as much: red, blue and yellow are primary colours, green is a secondary colour.) The requirement for the pictorial content was to show a city of disparate architecture but with less of an antique style than that seen on The Buried Life. Almost all the buildings in my palimpsest creation are taken from renderings of unbuilt skyscrapers or views from the early 20th century showing New York “as it will be in the future”. The airship is my own invention, based on the French model of dirigible which favoured pointed ends. The Song of the Dead will be published at the beginning of May.

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And while I’m writing about recent work, it’s worth mentioning that The Thing: Artbook is now available for pre-order from Printed In Blood. This is a 400-page tribute to John Carpenter’s horror masterwork laden with responses and interpretations of Thingery from a wide range of international artists, myself included. The book will be out in July, and copies pre-ordered from the publisher will come with two bonus prints. More about this later.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Things
Two covers

 


 


 

Signed & numbered prints

    Blotter Art prints

 


 

Coulthart Books

    The Haunter of the Dark
    Reverbstorm

 


 

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