Man Ray and the Marquis

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Monument to D.A.F. de Sade (1933).

A slight return to the literary outlaw. Man Ray was more preoccupied by the Marquis de Sade than many of his fellow Surrealists, although he never took his interest as far as the obsessive Jean Benoît. His imaginary portraits were created after Sade scholar Maurice Heine complained that the only surviving picture of the Marquis was a drawing that could be of any other young aristocrat of the time.

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Imaginary Portrait of D.A.F. de Sade (1936).

Man Ray’s portraits ran through several variations, first as drawings, then as two paintings, finally as a bronze. These always seemed to me to be more representations of Sade’s character as it comes through his writing than portraits of the writer himself. The two paintings could easily depict the villainous Duke de Blangis from The 120 Days of Sodom, with the castle of the Bastille standing for the castle where Blangis and his colleagues conduct their murderous games. An earlier photo work, Monument to D.A.F. de Sade (1933), was used by Mary Reynolds in a metal binding she created in 1935 for the first print edition of the 120 Days. Penguin used the same photo on the cover of their new translation of the book in 2016. And it would be remiss of me if I didn’t mention the gay variation designed by Peter Christopherson for the CD release of Scatology by Coil.

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Imaginary Portrait of D.A.F. de Sade (1936).

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Imaginary Portrait of D.A.F. de Sade (1938).

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Weekend links 533

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Cover art by Domenico Gnoli, 1959.

• After decades of ignoring the output of Tangerine Dream it feels strange to be interested in the group once again; musicians you’re compelled to dismiss seldom manage to recapture your attention later on. Stranger still when the group itself is now completely detached from its origins following the death of founder Edgar Froese in 2015. But it was Froese’s departure, and with it the disappearance of many years of poor aesthetic choices, that helped renew my interest. At FACT the group take up the against-the-clock challenge in which musicians are given 10 minutes to create a new piece of music.

• “We were both working at Sounds at the time and we thought that instead of listening to these terrible ’80s records like Haircut 100 we’d go off and look for Montague Summers books, so off we went!” Savage Pencil (Edwin Pouncey) on his enthusiasm for Summers, Austin Spare and Louis Wain.

• At the Paris Review: Valerie Stivers bakes pies for Italo Calvino. I’d like to see someone create a series of dishes based on every location from Invisible Cities. Elsewhere there’s William N. Copley on Joseph Cornell: “No art historian ever prophesied the coming of the box.”

• On the experimental realism of an eccentric Russian Anglophile: “For Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky, strangeness was a matter of perspective,” says Caryl Emerson.

Nova Reperta: John Boardley on a series of 16th-century prints showing new inventions.

• RIP David Graeber. From 2014: “What’s the point if we can’t have fun?

• “Damn your blood”: John Spurr on swearing in early modern English.

• At Wormwoodiana: Mark Valentine maps the esoteric in Britain, 1920.

• At Dennis Cooper’s: Seijun Suzuki Day.

Big Fun/Holly-wuud (Take 3) (1972) by Miles Davis | Funtime (1977) by Iggy Pop | Funny Time Of Year (2002) by Beth Gibbons and Rustin Man

Weekend links 530

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Kami #58 -bloom- (2019) by Momo Yoshino.

• “Set amid the countryside and the beaches of coastal Sussex, They depicts a world in which plundering bands of philistines prowl England destroying art, books, sculpture, musical instruments and scores, punishing those artistically and intellectually inclined outliers who refuse to abide by this new mob rule.” Lucy Scholes on They: A Sequence of Unease (1977) by Kay Dick, which she calls “a lost dystopian masterpiece”. This is revelatory in a minor way since for years I’ve remembered seeing a slim volume with the title They in a bookshop, and which I later thought might have been a Rudyard Kipling book (there’s a Kipling story with the same title). The timing is right, the sighting would have been in 1977 or 78. The combination of that short, one-word title with a stark cover image and a sinister description on the rear was hard to forget but I didn’t take note of the author’s name. (I also didn’t buy the book, opting instead for some inferior work.) A shame that it seems to be resolutely out of print.

• “The threat to civil liberties goes way beyond ‘cancel culture’,” says Leigh Phillips. It makes a change seeing this coming from Jacobin when so much of the left today can find nothing wrong with censorship so long as it’s in a good cause. (Every censor that ever lived believed they were acting in a good cause, were on “the right side of history”, etc, etc.) The piece includes a dismissal of the increasingly common riposte that “only the state can censor”: this would be news to my colleagues at Savoy Books who endured years of police harassment including the seizure and destruction of printed material; the same with the long history of police action against UK rap artists. Related: “Work that’s cancelled for being ‘of its time’ was probably objected to, at the time.” Dorian Lynskey on chronocentrism and “the narcissism of the present”.

• “Cruising baths, bars, and subway toilets, snorting poppers and ‘fist fucking with 40 guys for 14 hours’ (as he recalled in You Got to Burn to Shine, his 1993 collection of prose and poems), he found meaning in a religion of radical eros whose sacrament was anonymous sex.” Mark Dery reviewing Great Demon Kings: A Memoir of Poetry, Sex, Art, Death, and Enlightenment by John Giorno.

Aubrey Powell says his best photograph is the burning man from the cover of Wish You Were Here by Pink Floyd.

• Mixes of the week: Fact mix 770 by Lyra Pramuk, and mr.K’s Kooky Kuts Vol.4 by radioShirley & mr.K.

• The Alchemical Brothers: Brian Eno & Roger Eno interviewed by Wyndham Wallace.

• Origami-inspired optical illusion oil paintings by Momo Yoshino.

Alexander Larman on the demise of the second-hand bookshop.

• New music: Follow The Road by Yumah, and Röschen by Pole.

• At Dennis Cooper’s: Lighting.

• RIP Linda Manz.

My Boyfriend’s Back (1963) by The Angels | Carnival of the Animals, R. 125: VII. The Aquarium (Camille Saint-Saëns) (1975) by the Württemberg Chamber Orchestra, Heilbronn with Marylene Dosse & Anne Petit, conducted by Jörg Faerber | Kill All Hippies (2000) by Primal Scream

Weekend links 526

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La Cathédrale Engloutie (1952) by Ithell Colquhoun.

• Many of the recent lists of “where to start with the music of [x]” aren’t filling an urgent requirement, but in the case of Sun Ra—whose discography runs to 95 albums—any guide is a useful one: Sean Kitching chooses 10 recordings from the Ra galaxy. I’m not unacquainted with Sun Ra’s music but there’s so much of it that almost all these suggestions are news. Related: Namwali Serpell on the life and work of a cosmic visionary.

• Coming soon from Strange Attractor, Ithell Colquhoun: Genius of The Fern Loved Gulley by Amy Hale, the first book-length study of the life and work of the British Surrealist and occult artist.

• I doubt I’ll get to see it but I’m pleased to know that the prematurely shuttered Aubrey Beardsley exhibition is returning to Tate Britain. You’ll need a Decadent face-mask.

• And speaking of music lists, Alexis Petridis compiles a ranking of all the songs by a little-known post-punk band from Manchester.

The Last Arcadian (Process Mix): more psychotropic nougat from Moon Wiring Club.

• Kill Me Again… Ken Hollings on Ennio Morricone and the music of the future.

Mervyn Peake‘s visual archive has been acquired by the British Library.

Anitra Pavlico on the fantastic world (and music) of Maurice Ravel.

Stanley Stellar‘s photos of the New York gay scene in the 1980s.

• At Dennis Cooper’s: Fetish.

• RIP Judy Dyble.

Wikidelia

Chelsea Morning (1968) by Fairport Convention | I Talk To The Wind (1968) by Giles, Giles & Fripp feat. Judy Dyble | Morning Way (1970) by Trader Horne

Chance encounters on the dissecting table

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In times of great uncertainty about our mission, we often looked at the fixed points of Lautréamont and De Chirico, which sufficed to determine our straight line.

André Breton, Surrealism and Painting, 1928

1: The metaphor, 1869

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You can’t read the history of Surrealism for very long before encountering some variation of the most famous line from Les Chants de Maldoror by the Comte de Lautréamont/Isidore Ducasse: “beautiful as a chance encounter on a dissecting table of a sewing-machine and an umbrella”. Translations vary, as do misquotations; the page above is from the Alexis Lykiard translation where you can also read the surrounding text. The context of the description is seldom mentioned when the quote is used, and reveals that the words are describing the attractiveness of an English schoolboy living with his parents in Paris. The insipid Mervyn is stalked, seduced and finally murdered by the villainous Maldoror. Lautréamont’s metaphor, like so much else in the book, carries a sting in its tail.

2: The Enigma of Isidore Ducasse, 1920

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Man Ray, like Mervyn, was a foreigner living in Paris when he created this artwork. The “enigma” may be taken as referring both to the wrapped object (a sewing machine sans umbrella) as well as to the mysterious author of Les Chants de Maldoror, who died at the age of 24 after writing his explosive prose poem, and about whose life little is known. I first encountered Ducasse’s name in art books showing pictures of this piece which is one of the earliest works of Surrealist art. For a young art enthusiast the enigma was more in the name itself: who was this Ducasse, and why was he enigmatic? The original of Man Ray’s piece was subsequently lost, like many of his pre-war sculptures, but may be seen inside the first issue of La Révolution Surrealiste. Editions of the work that exist today are recreations made in the 1970s.

3: An illustration for Les Chants de Maldoror, 1934

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Salvador Dalí created 30 full-page etchings and 12 vignettes for an illustrated edition of Lautréamont’s work published by Skira in Paris in 1934. Dalí must have seemed an ideal match for a book whose prose descriptions offer copious atrocities and mutations but, as with many of Dalí’s illustrations, the pictures owe more to his obsessions than to Lautréamont’s text, and could easily be used to illustrate something else entirely. Plate 19 does, however, feature a sewing machine.

4: Electrosexual Sewing Machine, 1935

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A Surrealist painting by Oscar Dominguez which emphasises the sexual nature of Lautréamont’s metaphor, or at least the Freudian interpretation of the same. Breton and company took the sewing machine for a female symbol, while the umbrella was male; the dissecting table where their encounter takes place is, of course, a bed.

[In Electrosexual Sewing Machine] the dissection appears to be under way. There is a strange abusive surgery being undertaken, the thread of the sewing machine replaced with blood which is being funnelled onto the woman’s back. The plant itself may even echo de Lautréamont’s umbrella. Domínguez has taken one of the central mantras of Breton’s Surreal universe and has pushed it, through a combination of painterly skill and semi-automatism, in order to create an absorbing and haunting vision that cuts to the quick of the movement’s spirit. (via)

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