Les Chants de Maldoror by Shûji Terayama

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27 minutes of experimental video from 1977 in which director Shûji Terayama retrieves some predictably unorthodox images from the bottomless pit of Lautréamont’s text. The preoccupations here seem to belong as much to the director’s mind as to that of Isidore Ducasse, what with the emphasis on various forms of bondage and unusual erotics. (Not that Maldoror lacks sexual material but what there is adopts a different guise.) With a score that sounds like outtakes from a Clock DVA studio session it’s very much a product of its time, but not without interest. Terayama was (among other things) the director of Emperor Tomato Ketchup (1971), a film whose title was later swiped by Stereolab. Les Chants de Maldoror may be viewed at Ubuweb.

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Previously on {feuilleton }
Polypodes
Ulysses versus Maldoror
Maldoror
Books of blood
Magritte’s Maldoror
Frans De Geetere’s illustrated Maldoror
Maldoror illustrated

Polypodes

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Sepia (no date) by Gao Jianfu.

Quelquefois, dans une nuit d’orage, pendant que des légions de poulpes ailés, ressemblant de loin à des corbeaux, planent au-dessus des nuages, en se dirigeant d’une rame raide vers les cités des humains, avec la mission de les avertir de changer de conduite, le caillou, à l’œil sombre, voit deux êtres passer à la lueur de l’éclair, l’un derrière l’autre; et, essuyant une furtive larme de compassion, qui coule de sa paupière glacée, il s’écrie: «Certes, il le mérite; et ce n’est que justice.» Après avoir dit cela, il se replace dans son attitude farouche, et continue de regarder, avec un tremblement nerveux, la chasse à l’homme, et les grandes lèvres du vagin d’ombre, d’où découlent, sans cesse, comme un fleuve, d’immenses spermatozoïdes ténébreux qui prennent leur essor dans l’éther lugubre, en cachant, avec le vaste déploiement de leurs ailes de chauve-souris, la nature entière, et les légions solitaires de poulpes, devenues mornes à l’aspect de ces fulgurations sourdes et inexprimables.

Les Chants de Maldoror (1869) by the Comte de Lautréamont.

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Sometimes on a stormy night while legions of winged squids (at a distance resembling crows) float above the clouds and scud stiffly towards the cities of the humans, their mission to warn men to change their ways—the gloomy-eyed pebble perceives amid flashes of lightning two beings pass by, one behind the other, and, wiping away a furtive tear of compassion that trickles from its frozen eye, cries: “Certainly he deserves it; it’s only justice.” Having spoken thus it reverts to its timid pose and trembling nervously, continues to watch the manhunt and the vast lips of the vagina of darkness whence flow incessantly, like a river, immense shadowy spermatozoa that take flight into the dismal aether, the vast spread of their bat’s wings obscuring the whole of nature and the lonely legions of squids—grown downcast viewing these ineffable and muffled fulgurations.

Translation by Alexis Lykiard, 1970.

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The Mask of Cthulhu, 1976 paperback reprint. Cover art by Bruce Pennington.

Above these apparent hieroglyphics was a figure of evidently pictorial intent, though its impressionistic execution forbade a very clear idea of its nature. It seemed to be a sort of monster, or symbol representing a monster, of a form which only a diseased fancy could conceive. If I say that my somewhat extravagant imagination yielded simultaneous pictures of an octopus, a dragon, and a human caricature, I shall not be unfaithful to the spirit of the thing. A pulpy, tentacled head surmounted a grotesque and scaly body with rudimentary wings; but it was the general outline of the whole which made it most shockingly frightful. Behind the figure was a vague suggestion of a Cyclopean architectural background.

The Call of Cthulhu (1928) by HP Lovecraft.

Previously on {feuilleton }
Ulysses versus Maldoror
Maldoror
Vampyroteuthis Infernalis by Vilém Flusser
Books of blood
Magritte’s Maldoror
Frans De Geetere’s illustrated Maldoror
Maldoror illustrated

Ulysses versus Maldoror

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Ulysses (1934), designed by Ernst Reichl; Complete Works of Isidore Ducasse (1967), designed by Pierre Faucheux.

On the design front, that is, not the writing one. Ernst Reichl’s design for the 1934 Random House edition of James Joyce’s Ulysses (the first US edition) has a cover which isn’t so different to the many Art Deco-style bindings from around this time. Inside, however, there’s a significant innovation with his title spread, and the dramatic imposition of a huge capital letter. Random House was presenting Ulysses as a major artistic statement, a quality which Reichl’s design reinforces when the page-filling capitals recur at the openings of each of the novel’s three sections.

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I encountered the huge S on the opening page in a book about Joyce shortly after I’d started reading the novel for the first time, and for years was under the impression that this had been a specific instruction of the author’s, a typographic flourish to add to the rest of the formal manipulations. I’d suggest—insist, even—that all editions of Ulysses should adopt Reichl’s design. Martha Scotford at Design Observer looks at the book in more detail.

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Les chants de Maldoror-Poésies-Lettres (1950) by Lautréamont. Le club français du livre.

Pierre Faucheux went one further with his grandiose opening for Les chants de Maldoror-Poésies-Lettres by filling the opening of the book with Didot capitals which spell out M-A-L-D-O-R-O-R on each page before the title is reached. This is the design equivalent of shouting in the reader’s face when the book is opened; given the nature of the text I can imagine the author approving. I’ve no idea whether the idea was borrowed from Reichl but Faucheux was a very inventive designer who was quite capable of arriving at such a layout on his own. His cover for a 1967 reprint of the book (above) spells out the title by tearing up the earlier Didot capitals. Rick Poynor at Design Observer (again) looked at more of Faucheux’s covers for the Livre de Poche imprint, while at Eye magazine there’s an essay by Richard Hollis about Faucheux’s innovations.

Continue reading “Ulysses versus Maldoror”

Maldoror

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Lautréamont’s Les Chants de Maldoror continues to provoke attempts at visual illustration. B. Oliver-White’s brief Super-8 film borrows some text from the Fourth Canto which is complemented by vague and grainy shots resembling outtakes from Eraserhead. Given the difficulties of fixing Maldoror‘s shifting terrain this seems a better approach than more literal depictions. Watch it here.

Previously on {feuilleton }
Books of blood
Magritte’s Maldoror
Frans De Geetere’s illustrated Maldoror
Maldoror illustrated

Books of blood

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Artist Nick Kushner writes to alert me that his 2010 painting Maldoror: Satan Seated Upon His Throne has been used on the cover of a recent Russian edition of Lautréamont’s novel. Kushner uses his own blood to create his paintings, and the cover below has been created using the same material. Maldoror himself would no doubt demand that proper homage be paid by binding the volume in human skin. That’s something publisher Provocateurs’ Club can maybe try for the special edition.

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This news has reminded me that I had a mail last month from another American artist, Robert Sherer, concerning a book collection of his own blood paintings. Sherer also uses the blood of friends both HIV-negative and HIV-positive. Blood Works: The Sanguineous Art of Robert Sherer is published by Kennesaw State University Press.

Previously on {feuilleton }
Magritte’s Maldoror
Frans De Geetere’s illustrated Maldoror
The art of Robert Sherer
Maldoror illustrated