Fanned to sleep

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“The fact is that every writer creates his own precursors. His work modifies our conception of the past, as it will modify the future.” — Jorge Luis Borges

As with writers, so with other artists. Post-Surrealism, and especially post-Max Ernst, we view these kinds of pictures through different eyes. In 1874 this was merely a fanciful illustration in The Ladies’ Floral Cabinet, a magazine that peppers its cultivation and arrangement advice with sentimental images of childhood. “Fanned to sleep” says the subtitle, although it might be “Fanned to Eternal Rest” given that Death’s-head hawkmoth hovering over the child’s head. The Internet Archive has several thousand pages of this particular journal so I’ve yet to see anything similar, but the engraved illustrations are all high quality, and may be ones I find myself ransacking in the future. Via @MlleGhoul.

Elsewhere on { feuilleton }
The etching and engraving archive

Weekend links 527

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Poster art by Bob Peak.

• Sidney Lumet’s 1977 film of Peter Shaffer’s Equus receives a limited blu-ray release by the BFI in August. Richard Burton’s performance has always received a mixed response (I’ve never been in the anti-Burton camp) but the film is serious and well-made. And, as with The Offence (1973), there’s the thrill of seeing Lumet turn his attention away from his beloved New York City to examine British lives.

• “Astronomer claims to have pinpointed date of Vermeer’s View of Delft.” Yes, but how long did it take Vermeer paint the view? Speaking as someone who used to paint a lot, I’d say two or three days at least. Then there’s that awkward thing known as “artistic licence”…

• “I was taken aback by the antic side of Borges. He was irreverent, funny, insistent on his ways, and brilliantly talkative.” Jay Parini on Jorge Luis Borges, and his experience as the writer’s chauffeur in the Scottish Highlands.

• Strange Islands: Benjamin Welton on a favourite cinematic micro-genre I explored here a few years ago: the mysterious tropical island that’s a home to fearsome beasts and outsized (often deranged) personalities.

Greydogtales on The Sapphire Goddess of Nictzin Dyalhis, the Weird Tales writer with a name like a character from one of his stories.

• “I came for the giant phalluses and stayed for the joy of being a gay person.” Eight artists on the influence of Tom of Finland.

Tamsin Cleary on Nobuhiko Obayashi’s House (1977) which she calls “the world’s most demented haunted house film”. It really is.

The Gone Away, a short film by Sean Reynard for the forthcoming album from Belbury Poly.

Moorcography: the beginnings of an online Michael Moorcock bibliography.

• “Our sound engineer got a death threat”: Andrew Male on Olivia, a lesbian record label.

Bajo el Signo de Libra explores the art of Aubrey Beardsley.

• At Dennis Cooper’s: Hans-Jürgen Syberberg Day.

The secret drawings of Great Britain’s UFO Desk.

Wyrd Daze Lvl.4 is here.

The Four Horsemen (1971) by Aphrodite’s Child | All The Pretty Little Horses (2004) by Coil | When The Horses Were Shorn Of Their Hooves (2018) by Dylan Carlson

Borges on Ulysses

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Random House offering readers a guide to the labyrinth in 1934.

I’ve not done a Bloomsday post for the past couple of years so here you go. Via Jorge Luis Borges: Selected Non-Fictions (1999), edited by Eliot Weinberger.

A total reality teems vociferously in the pages of Ulysses, and not the mediocre reality of those who notice in the world only the abstract operations of the mind and its ambitious fear of not being able to overcome death, nor that other reality that enters only our senses, juxtaposing our flesh and the streets, the moon and the well. The duality of existence dwells within this book, an ontological anxiety that is amazed not merely at being, but at being in this particular world where there are entranceways and words and playing cards and electric writing upon the translucence of the night. In no other book (except perhaps those written by Gómez de la Serna) do we witness the actual presence of things with such convincing firmness. All things are latent, and the diction of any voice is capable of making them emerge and of leading the reader down their avenue. De Quincey recounts that it was enough to name the Roman consul in his dreams to set off fiery visions of flying banners and military splendor. In the fifteenth chapter of his work, Joyce sketches a delirious brothel scene, and the chance conjuring of any loose phrase or idea ushers in hundreds—the sum is not an exaggeration but exact—of absurd speakers and impossible events.

(1925; translated by Suzanne Jill Levene.)

Plenitude and indigence coexist in Joyce. Lacking the capacity to construct (which his gods did not bestow on him, and which he was forced to make up for with arduous symmetries and labyrinths), he enjoyed a gift for words, a felicitous verbal omnipotence that can without exaggeration or imprecision be likened to Hamlet or the Urn BurialUlysses (as everyone knows) is the story of a single day, within the perimeter of a single city. In this voluntary limitation, it is legitimate to perceive something more than an Aristotelian elegance: it can legitimately be inferred that for Joyce every day was in some secret way the irreparable Day of Judgment; every place, Hell or Purgatory.

(1941; translated by Esther Allen.)

Previously on { feuilleton }
A Portrait of the Author
The Labyrinth
The Duc de Joyeux
Dubliners
Covering Joyce
James Joyce in Reverbstorm
Joyce in Time
Happy Bloomsday
Passages from James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake
Books for Bloomsday

Picturing On Land

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The ruined tower of All Saints Church, Dunwich, 1919.

I became interested in inventing places for sounds. I often listen to music and get a picture of a certain time of day, a certain type of light. I did that with On Land: for each piece I had an image of a time of day. On Land is specifically dedicated to the idea of creating places in music. — Brian Eno

My recent reading has included a couple of novels by the Strugatsky Brothers, and The Rings of Saturn (1995) by WG Sebald, a book I’d been intending to read for many years. The Sebald is a semi-fictionalised account of the author’s walking tour through Suffolk in the early 1990s, an account interleaved with extended detours into personal memory, history and literature, with the text being augmented by grainy and often indistinct pictures or photographs. The book has acquired something of a cult reputation in recent years, and its digressions touch on a couple of cult areas of my own, notably Jorge Luis Borges (via his story, Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius) and, less directly, the music group Coil, whose Batwings (A Limnal Hymn) is evoked via a description of Thomas Browne’s catalogue of imagined objects, the Musaeum Clausum. Coincidentally, Thomas Browne is mentioned in the Borges story although Sebald cleverly leaves this as something for the curious reader to discover.

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Suffolk is itself a curious county, in the sense of being strange, verging on the weird. The place is rich in British history—its situation on England’s eastern shore made it a site of various invasions—and weird enough to almost be considered Weird in the literary sense, even without fictional resonances from MR James (“Oh, Whistle, and I’ll Come to You, My Lad”, A Warning to the Curious), Robert Aickman (Ringing the Changes) and, tangentially, HP Lovecraft, who took the name of the sea-devoured town of Dunwich for one of his Massachusetts settings.

Sebald doesn’t mention weird fiction and he also doesn’t mention (and quite possibly never heard of) Brian Eno, but Eno’s fourth album in his Ambient series, On Land, was continually in my mind while reading, owing to the intersection of the places that Sebald visits with the titles of several of Eno’s pieces. The most obvious of these is the last track on the album, Dunwich Beach, Autumn, 1960, but equally Suffolkian are Lantern Marsh, and Unfamiliar Wind (Leeks Hills), the latter being a wood situated between Woodbridge and Melton, two of the places that Sebald passes through. Eno was born in Woodbridge, and On Land is as much concerned with unreliable (or semi-fictional) memories as The Rings of Saturn, something that Eno compares in his notes to Fellini’s semi-fictional film about his own childhood, Amarcord. Sebald’s descriptions sent me searching for pictures of Eno’s localities, especially the less familiar ones like Lantern Marsh and Leeks Hill. (Suffolk’s Dunwich is much more familiar to Britons owing to its long history of being eaten away by coastal erosion.) This in turn gave me the idea of trying to find a collection of suitably Sebaldian pictures for each track on the album, pictures that would be generally accurate but might equally be vague enough to suggest something more than the place or (in the case of painter Pierre Tal-Coat) the person in question.

Continue reading “Picturing On Land”

Double weird

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Two of the books whose covers I was working on late last year have been announced so here they are. This is more work for PS Publishing where wraparound covers are the standard, so once again I was able to work in a pictorial, landscape format. (PS also do their design in-house so I only did the art this time. Click on the pictures below for larger views.)

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Apostles of the Weird is a collection of contemporary weird fiction edited by ST Joshi:

Weird fiction is an incredibly rich and varied genre, running the gamut from supernatural horror to imaginary-world fantasy to psychological terror. This anthology seeks to exhibit the wide range of themes, motifs, and imagery that weird fiction allows, as embodied in the work of some of the leading contemporary writers in the field. (more)

“Weird” is indeed a very broad category so rather than try and create something that represented a single genre I opted for a weird view instead. The idea was to do something like Borges’s Library of Babel in a space that was a hybrid of Piranesi and MC Escher. I was hoping originally to make this more Escher-like, with a number of gravity-defying staircases, but the underlying drawing took so long that I didn’t have time.

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His Own Most Fantastic Creation: Stories About HP Lovecraft is also edited by ST Joshi:

HP Lovecraft (1890–1937), the pioneering writer of weird fiction, has himself become an icon in popular culture. Stories, novels, and other works featuring the gaunt, lantern-jawed gentleman from Providence, Rhode Island, have proliferated. These works have been triggered by the incredible amount of knowledge we have on the writer—his family, his friends, his idiosyncrasies and eccentricities—as found in his thousands of surviving letters. (more)

This was much easier to achieve since HP Lovecraft is familiar territory. The idea here was to do a portrait of Lovecraft situated in a Lovecraftian zone, a colossal idol of a type that might be found in some of his Cyclopean ruins. Lovecraft and his Weird Tales colleagues had a habit of referring to each other in their stories and letters as though they were ancient priests or sorcerers so portraying Lovecraft in this manner is fitting. The combination of perspective and lighting worked against creating an accurate likeness, however—it doesn’t help that Lovecraft’s features are weird in themselves—so the “HPL” icon is there to affirm the identity.

Both books will be published next month if Great Cthulhu hasn’t risen from the depths by then.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Something from Below