Weekend links 584

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Cover for the 1970 US edition of Moonchild by Aleister Crowley. No artist credited (unless you know better…). Update: The artist is Dugald Stewart Walker, and the drawing is from a 1914 edition of Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tales. Thanks to Mr TjZ!

• “…a very mid-Seventies cauldron of Cold War technology, ESP, sociology, black magic and white magic, experimental science and standing stones, secret radar and satanic rituals, whirring aerials and wild moors: a seething potion of Wyndham and Wheatley.” Mark Valentine on The Twelve Maidens, a novel by Stewart Farrar.

• “The line in the song ‘feed your head’ is both about reading and psychedelics. I was talking about feeding your head by paying attention: read some books, pay attention.” Grace Slick explains why those three little words have been attached to these pages since 2006.

Freddie deBoer reposted his “Planet of Cops” polemic, a piece I linked to when it first appeared in 2017, and which used to come to mind all the time before I absented myself from the poisonous sump of negativity that we call social media.

• RIP Charlie Watts. The Rolling Stones’ last moment of psychedelic strangeness is Child Of The Moon, a promo film by Michael Lindsay-Hogg featuring an uncredited Eileen Atkins and Sylvia Coleridge.

• Old music: A live performance by John Coltrane and ensemble of A Love Supreme from Seattle in 1965 that’s somehow managed to remain unreleased until now.

• A short film about Suzanne Cianni which sees her creating electronic sounds and music for the Xenon pinball machine in the early 1980s.

• “I’ll be in another world”: A rediscovered interview with Jorge Luis Borges.

Steven Heller explains why Magnat is his font of the month.

Clive Hicks-Jenkins on the allure of toy theatre.

• New music: Vexed by The Bug ft. Moor Mother.

• At Dennis Cooper’s: Nikola Tesla Festschrift.

Moon Child (1964) by The Ventures | Moonchild (1969) by King Crimson | Moonchild (1992) by Shakespears Sister

George Barbier’s Imaginary Lives

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It’s always satisfying when one perennial subject here connects to another. Imaginary Lives is a story collection by Symbolist writer Marcel Schwob that George Barbier lavishly illustrated in a new edition published in 1929. Wikipedia has a précis which conveniently explains the connection:

Imaginary Lives (original French title: Vies imaginaires) is a collection of twenty-two semi-biographical short stories by Marcel Schwob, first published in book form in 1896. Mixing known and fantastical elements, it was one of the first works in the genre of biographical fiction. The book is an acknowledged influence in Jorge Luis Borges’s first book A Universal History of Infamy (1935). Borges also translated the last story “Burke and Hare, Assassins” into Spanish.

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This is one of the best of Barbier’s illustrated editions, and the only one which allows him to combine his favoured references to the graphic styles of the ancient world with those of later centuries. The nude figures are also more explicitly detailed than in his earlier drawings, something only seen previously in his illustrations for an overtly erotic title, Les Chansons de Bilitis by Pierre Louÿs. The final full-page illustration is a further departure for the generally light-hearted Barbier, a drawing that so closely resembles something from Edgar Allan Poe it makes me wish he might have attempted a Poe edition of his own.

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Empedocles, Supposed God.

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Erostate, Incendiary.

Continue reading “George Barbier’s Imaginary Lives”

Going beyond the zero

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“But it is a curve each of them feels, unmistakably. It is the parabola. They must have guessed, once or twice—guessed and refused to believe—that everything, always, collectively, had been moving toward that purified shape latent in the sky, that shape of no surprise, no second chances, no return. Yet they do move forever under it, reserved for its own black-and-white bad news certainly as if it were the Rainbow, and they its children….”

Reader, I read it. It isn’t an admission of great achievement to announce that you’ve reached the last page of a novel after a handful of stalled attempts, but when it’s taken me 36 years to reach this point it feels worthy of note; and besides which, Gravity’s Rainbow isn’t an ordinary novel. Umberto Eco is partly responsible for my return to Pynchon. I’d just finished The Name of the Rose, a book I’d avoided for years even while reading (and enjoying) a couple of Eco’s other novels, and was wondering what to read next. Maybe it was time to try the Rocket book again? The thick white spine of the Picador edition—760 pages in 10pt type—would accuse me every time I spotted it on the shelf: “Still haven’t made it to page 100, have you?” For many people this happens with novels because a book is “difficult” (which I didn’t think it was), or boring (which it isn’t at all), or simply too long (page count doesn’t put me off). Back in 1985 I was looking for more heavyweight fare after reading Ulysses, something I’ve now done several times, so I wasn’t going to be intimidated by a novel which is misleadingly compared to Ulysses on its back cover. If anything the comparison was an enticing one. Pynchon at the time exerted a gravitational pull (so to speak) for being very mysterious, although this was a decade when most living authors, especially foreign ones, were mysterious to a greater degree than they are today, when so many have their own websites and social media profiles. Pynchon’s works were also referred to in interesting places, unlike his less mysterious contemporaries. I may be misremembering but I seem to recall a mention of the W.A.S.T.E. enigma from The Crying of Lot 49 in Robert Shea & Robert Anton Wilson’s Illuminatus!; if it is there then it’s no surprise that a writer so preoccupied with conspiracy and paranoia would find favour with the authors of the ultimate conspiracy novel. (And that’s not all. I’m surprised now by the amount of coincidental correspondence between Illuminatus! and Gravity’s Rainbow. Both novels were being written at the same time, the late 1960s, yet both refer to the Illuminati, the eye in the pyramid on the dollar bill, Nazi occultism, and the death of John Dillinger. Both novels also acknowledge the precedent of Ishmael Reed’s Mumbo Jumbo, another remarkable conflation of conspiracy, secret history, and wild invention.)

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Pynchon had other connections to the kind of fiction I was already interested in. One of his early short stories, Entropy, had been published in New Worlds magazine in 1969, although editor Michael Moorcock later claimed to have avoided reading any of the novels until much later. And, Pynchon, like Shea & Wilson (and Moorcock…), made pop-culture waves. I think it was Laurie Anderson who put Gravity’s Rainbow in the centre of my radar when she released Mister Heartbreak, an album whose third song, Gravity’s Angel, refers to the novel and is dedicated to its author. As for the novel itself, in the mid-1980s this was still Pynchon’s major work, the one that fully established his reputation. Nothing new had appeared since its publication in 1973; Vineland, and the subsequent acceleration of the authorial production line, was six years away. The final lure was the refusal of the Picador edition to communicate very much of its contents: what was this thick volume actually about? The back cover is filled with praise but doesn’t tell you anything about the novel at all, while the cover illustration by Anita Kunz suggests a scenario connected with the Second World War but little else. (“This was one of the most complicated books I ever read,” says the artist, “and really hard to get the germ of the idea. Pynchon kept going off in tangents. I mixed up the art the same way the writer did and made an image that can be read in all directions.”) It’s only when you start reading the book that you find the connection between the novel’s dominant concerns—the development of the V-2 rockets used by the Nazis to bomb London, and the erotic compulsions of Tyrone Slothrop, an American lieutenant at large in war-ravaged Europe—subtly reflected in the illustration, much more subtly than the cover art on the edition that preceded this one.

Continue reading “Going beyond the zero”

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.

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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