The Immortal by Jorge Luis Borges

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“This City” (I thought) “is so horrible that its mere existence and perdurance, though in the midst of a secret desert, contaminates the past and the future and in some way even jeopardizes the stars.”

This is the kind of thing I love to find: a BBC adaptation of a story by Jorge Luis Borges which I didn’t even know existed until this week. The Immortal was written in 1947 and published in the fourth collection of the writer’s fiction, El Aleph, in 1949. Anglophone readers will be more familiar with the story from Labyrinths, the most popular Borges collection, and the book I always recommend to those curious about his work. (And with the usual nagging proviso: avoid the Andrew Hurley translations if you can.)

Borges’ immortal is a Roman soldier during the reign of Diocletian whose life is recounted via a manuscript discovered in 1929 inside a volume of poetry. (The volume is Pope’s translation of The Iliad; Homer is never far away in Borges-land, especially in this story.) Disappointed by his military career, the soldier leaves his legion to go in search of the legendary City of the Immortals which is reputed to lie somewhere in the African desert; he finds the city, of course, and also (inevitably) receives more than he bargained for. Borges’ other fictions are seldom as traditionally fantastic as this, although the story’s philosophical musings are enough to set it apart from similar tales, as is the author’s habit of owning up to his recondite literary borrowings, like a magician revealing the secret of a trick at the end of a performance. Even so, The Immortal was generic enough to turn up in an American paperback collection in 1967, New Worlds of Fantasy edited by Terry Carr, along with stories by Roger Zelazny, John Brunner, JG Ballard and others. The Ballard story, The Lost Leonardo, is an uncharacteristic piece about another immortal character, Ahasuerus, the Wandering Jew, cursed to roam the world until the Second Coming of Christ. Ahasuerus was a popular character in the 19th century, whose legend and predicament was enough to sustain Eugène Sue for 1400 pages in a ten-volume historical saga, Le Juif Errant. Borges alludes to Ahasuerus via the name “Joseph Cartaphilus” although this is one obscure reference that he doesn’t explain for the reader. By contrast with the logorrhoeic Monsieur Sue, Borges requires a mere 15 pages to deal with 2000 years of history.

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Given the challenges of staging a complex historical drama on a TV budget Carlos Pasini’s film is little more than a 22-minute sketch of its source material, but Borges adaptations are scarce enough that there’s a thrill in seeing the material presented at all, as with the brief dramatisations in the Arena documentary, Borges and I. The Immortal was given a single broadcast on 20th November, 1970, as part of a now-forgotten BBC 2 arts programme, Review, where it was intended as an introduction to the author’s writing following the UK publication of The Book of Imaginary Beings. Mark Edwards plays the Roman soldier whose narration is taken verbatim from the story. Borges’ international reputation had reached a plateau of popularity at this time, after growing steadily during the 1960s. 1970 was also the year that Donald Cammell & Nicolas Roeg’s Performance was released, a film that quotes verbally and visually Borges’ Personal Anthology while also featuring a photo of the man himself. A year later, Michael Moorcock’s first Jerry Cornelius collection, The Nature of the Catastrophe, included the dedication “For Borges”; Jerry Cornelius is another immortal (or timeless) character, one of whose progenitors may be “Joseph Cartaphilus”. Pasini’s adaptation can’t compete with these heavyweights but as a taster of Borgesian prose and ideas it serves its purpose. The director has made it available for viewing here.

Previously on { feuilleton }
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
The Library of Babel by Érik Desmazières
Books Borges never wrote
Borges and I
Borges documentary
Borges in Performance

Kenneth Anger’s Maldoror

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Kenneth Anger, Topanga Canyon, Composite with Gustave Doré Engraving (1954) by Edmund Teske.

Les Chants de Maldoror, 1951–1952.
16mm; black and white; filmed in Paris and Deauville.

With a hand-held 16mm camera I shot my first series of short haiku. This was my apprenticeship in the marvels that surround us, waiting to be discovered, awake to knowledge and life and whose magical essence is revealed by selection. At 17, I composed my first long poem, a 15 minute suite of images, my black tanka: Fireworks.

I had seen this drama entirely on the screen of my dreams. This vision was uniquely amenable to the instrument that awaited it. With three lights, a black cloth as décor, the greatest economy of means and enormous inner concentration, Fireworks was made in three days.

An example of the direct transfer of a spontaneous inspiration, this film reveals the possibilities of automatic writing on the screen, of a new language that reveals thought; it allows the triumph of the dream.

The wholly intellectual belief of the “icy masters” of cinema in the supremacy of technique recalls, on the literary level, the analytical essays of a Poe or the methods of a Valéry, who said: “I only write to order. Poetry is an assignment.”

At the opposite pole to these creative systems there is the divine inspiration of a Rimbaud or a Lautréamont, prophets of thought. The cinema has explored the northern regions of impersonal stylization; it should now discover the southern regions of personal lyricism; it should have its prophets.

These prophets will restore faith in a “pure cinema” of sensual revelation. They will re-establish the primacy of the image. They will teach us the principles of their faith: that we participate before evaluating. We will give back to the dream its first state of veneration. We will recall primitive mysteries. The future of film is in the hands of the poet and his camera. Hidden away are the followers of a faith in “pure cinema.” even in this unlikely age. They make their modest “fireworks” in secret, showing them from time to time, they pass unnoticed in the glare of the “silver rain” of the commercial cinema. Maybe one of these sparks will liberate the cinema….

Angels exist. Nature provides “the inexhaustible flow of visions of beauty.” It is for the poet, with his personal vision, to “capture” them.

Kenneth Anger—Modesty and the Art of Film, Cahiers du Cinéma no. 5, September 1951

* * *

Little is known about Anger’s activities during the mid-1950s. By 1958 he still had not been able to complete any films in Paris. He held on to his hope of completing Maldoror. His stack of preproduction notes and sketches had grown larger and he had plans to photograph nudes in a graveyard. Several Parisian Surrealists threatened to hand Anger’s head to him if he shot Maldoror. The book’s fluid, dreamlike imagery had been one of the trailblazers of Surrealism, and his detractors felt that a gauche American with a reputation for pop iconography and bold homosexual statement would debase a sacred text.

Bill Landis—Anger: The Unauthorized Biography of Kenneth Anger, 1995

* * *

I discovered the book when I was quite young. I loved it, put a lot of passion into it. I found people to play the parts. I found settings, gaslit corners, places still had the romantic look of a Second Empire. It was a terrific ambition to make this epic film-poem. I found ways to translate the text’s extraordinary images. I planned to film a mid-nineteenth century story taking place in twentieth century Paris. I filmed “the hymn to the ocean” on the beach at Deauville, with Hightower and members of the Marquis de Cuevas Ballet. They danced in the sea; tables were placed beneath the water line so the dancers could stand on their points. It looked as though they were standing on waves. The people who called themselves “Surrealists” were furious—this group of punks threatened me—they didn’t want a Yank messing round with their sacred text. I just told them to go to hell! I also managed to film the war of the flies and pins. I put bags of pins and dozens of flies into a glass container; revolved the container and filmed in close-up. As the pins dropped the flies zigzagged to escape. In slow motion an impressive image.

Kenneth Anger—Into the Pleasure Dome: The Films of Kenneth Anger, edited by Jayne Pilling & Michael O’Pray, 1989

* * *

The sections of the film that were completed [are] stored in the Cinémathèque Française, but [their] exact whereabouts in the archive is unknown, with no images from the film being currently available for reproduction.

Alice L. Hutchinson—Kenneth Anger, 2004

Previously on { feuilleton }
Donald Cammell and Kenneth Anger, 1972
My Surfing Lucifer by Kenneth Anger
Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome: The Eldorado Edition
Brush of Baphomet by Kenneth Anger
Anger Sees Red
Kenneth Anger’s Hollywood Babylon
Lucifer Rising posters
Missoni by Kenneth Anger
Anger in London
Arabesque for Kenneth Anger by Marie Menken
Edmund Teske
Kenneth Anger on DVD again
Mouse Heaven by Kenneth Anger
The Man We Want to Hang by Kenneth Anger
Relighting the Magick Lantern
Kenneth Anger on DVD…finally

Weekend links 512

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Cover art by Tim White for Weaveworld (1987) by Clive Barker.

• Another week leading with obituaries but that’s where we are just now. Among others, we had film maker Bruce Baillie, cartoonist Mort Drucker, lesbian/gay rights activist Phyllis Lyon, film director Nobuhiko Obayashi, artist Tim White, and music producer Hal Willner. Related to the last: Hal Willner’s Vanishing, Weird New York.

Open Door is a new recording by Roly Porter from his forthcoming album, Kistvaen. I designed the CD and vinyl packaging for this one.

• From 1995: Peter Wollen on dandyism, decadence and death in Donald Cammell & Nicolas Roeg’s Performance.

• “Fear, bigotry and misinformation—this reminds me of the 1980s AIDS pandemic,” says Edmund White.

David Lynch wants you to meditate, maybe make a lamp during self-isolation.

• “Weird tale” by Secret Garden author Frances Hodgson Burnett discovered.

• Behind the iron curtain, the final frontier: Soviet space art in pictures.

• Mix of the week: Secret Thirteen Mix 301 by Asher Levitas.

• At Dennis Cooper’s: Raymond Queneau, Party Animal.

Oren Ambarchi Archive at Bandcamp.

Japan’s Tourism Poster Awards.

• Hal Willner produces: Juliet Of The Spirits (1981) by Bill Frisell | Apocalypse (1990) by William S. Burroughs | The Masque Of The Red Death (1997) by Gabriel Byrne

Weekend links 439

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Cammell & Roeg’s Performance (1970) was marketed in Italy with all the restraint for which the Italian film industry has long been celebrated.

• “To the good men I offer the hand of friendship, to the foes of our sex I offer resistance and annihilation!” We Women Have no Fatherland (1899), a novel by Ilse Frapan, is the latest title from Rixdorf Editions.

• More Edward Gorey: Mark Derey discusses his biography on the Virtual Memories Show podcast. Related: Edward Gorey’s Calling Cards, a spoiler-heavy investigation.

• “It starts how most horror films end, and it just keeps building and building, crescendo on crescendo…” Ben Cobb on the original (and, for me, only) Suspiria.

• The next compilation release from the excellent Light In The Attic label will be Kankyo Ongaku: Japanese Ambient, Environmental & New Age Music 1980–1990.

Saint Flournoy Lobos-Logos and the Eastern Europe Fetus Taxing Japan Brides in West Coast Places Sucking Alabama Air (1970) is a short film by Will Hindle.

• Film producer Sandy Lieberson and author Jay Glennie on Donald Cammell & Nicolas Roeg’s Performance.

• “Wes Anderson‘s offbeat debut as a curator drove a storied museum’s staff crazy. The results are enchanting.”

Above Water, Inside, a video by James Ginzburg from his recent album, Six Correlations.

• For the LRB Podcast: Iain Sinclair and Patrick Wright discuss living with buildings.

• Not necessarily the best ambient and space music of 2018: a list by Dave Maier.

• “The net is not a good guide to book prices,” says Mark Valentine.

David Bennun on 30 years of the Pet Shop Boys’ Introspective.

• Mix of the week: XLR8R Podcast 568 by Young Marco.

• At Dennis Cooper’s: Chris Marker Day.

Introspection Pt. 1 (1969) by The End | Introspection (1984) by Minimal Compact | Intro-Spectiv (1996) by Chris & Cosey

Weekend links 433

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Cover art for Six Correlations, a solo album by Emptyset’s James Ginzburg which is released later this month. Photo by Clayton Welham.

• “Every single leather S&M club in London was raided by the police at least once, but they couldn’t get any convictions because juries wouldn’t convict us.” Ed Siddons on the death of London’s gay leather scene.

• I’ve been listening to a lot of Stereolab this week so this post from Dangerous Minds last year was useful: “The intriguing origins of ‘Cliff,’ the cartoon character that’s all over Stereolab’s early album art”.

• Available for pre-order: Performance – The Making of a Classic, a book by Jay Glennie celebrating the 50th anniversary of Donald Cammell & Nicolas Roeg’s cult feature film.

• Out later this month from Strange Attractor: The Haunted Writings of Lionel Johnson, the Decadent Era’s Dark Angel, edited by Nina Antonia.

• Mixes of the week: Rosemary Hill – an Autumn Autobiography by cafekaput, and Secret Thirteen Mix 267 by Drew McDowall.

The top 100 albums of The Quietus’ existence, as picked by tQ’s writers.

RC Harvey on the 50th anniversary of (American) underground comix.

• At Haute Macabre: An enigmatic baroness and her collection of skulls.

Miyu Kojima creates miniature replicas of lonely deaths.

Scratches in Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Richard Thompson’s favourite albums.

Wrong Airport Ghost by Sam Slater.

Mark Valentine’s 3 Wyrd Things.

• 4/4 In Leather (1981) by Eurythmics | The Girl With The Patent Leather Face (1981) by Soft Cell | Leather Bound (1982) by Patrick Cowley