Weekend links 75

darde.jpg

Eternal Pain (1913) by Paul Dardé. (And also here)

Rain Taxi caused a stir this week with its savaging of Hamlet’s Father by science fiction writer Orson Scott Card. The book is another of Card’s blatherings about the hell of being homosexual dressed in garments stolen from the unfortunate William Shakespeare. Rain Taxi made the obvious point about many of Shakespeare’s sonnets being homoerotic. For my part I was more appalled by the quoted extract which reduced one of the greatest plays in the language to that lifeless, cardboard-character-speak which is endemic in bad genre writing. News of the travesty quickly spread to gay news blogs, The Outer Alliance and elsewhere, ensuring that what’s left of Card’s reputation continues to spiral down a Mel Gibson-shaped black hole.

• “Sounds only like itself, like no one before or after.” Julian Cope on Tago Mago by Can which will be reissued in a new edition in November. Nice to see the return of the original sleeve design, something I saw once in a record shop then didn’t see again for years. For a long time I thought I’d imagined it. Related: two German art exhibitions inspired by the group.

The Responsive Eye (1965), a catalogue for the MoMA exhibition that launched Op Art. Also at Ubuweb: La femme 100 têtes, a film by Eric Duvivier based on the collage work by Max Ernst.

• More apocalyptic art: William Feaver on John Martin whose exhibition will be opening at Tate Britain later this month. There’s a trailer here.

Borges and I, an essay by Nandini Ramachandran. Related: Buenos Aires: Las Calles de Borges, a short film by Ian Ruschel.

• “Who was JG Ballard? Don’t ask his first biographer,” says Robert McCrum.

Biologically-inspired fabric and material design by Neri Oxman.

• Cross-pollinating subgenres: “Steampunk ambient” at Disquiet.

In the Shadow of Saturn, a photo by the Cassini spacecraft.

• The art and fashion designs of Alia Penner.

Fleet of hybrid airships to conquer Arctic.

• RIP Jordan Belson, filmmaker.

• Ten years of Ladytron whose new album is released on the 12th of September: Playgirl (2001), Seventeen (2002), Destroy Everything You Touch (2005), Sugar (2005), Ghosts (2008), Ace Of Hz (2011).

Wildeana 6

robinson1.jpg

“The rich making merry in their beautiful houses, while the beggars were sitting at the gates.” Above and below: illustrations by Charles Robinson from The Happy Prince and Other Tales, an edition from 1920.

Continuing an occasional series. I’ve yet to see a copy of the recent annotated and unexpurgated edition of The Picture of Dorian Gray but Alex Ross wrote a marvellous essay for the New Yorker about the novel, its creation, its public reception, and Wilde’s decision to tone down the overt homoeroticism of its earlier drafts. This is one of the best pieces I’ve seen for a while about Wilde, replete with choice detail:

The gay strain in Wilde’s work is part of a larger war on convention. In the 1889 story “The Portrait of Mr. W. H.,” a pseudo-scholarly, metafictional investigation of Shakespeare’s sonnets to a boy, Wilde slyly suggests that the pillar of British literature was something other than an ordinary family man. In the 1891 play “Salomé,” Wilde expands a Biblical anecdote into a sumptuous panorama of decadence. Anarchists of the fin de siècle, especially in Germany, considered Wilde one of their own: Gustav Landauer hailed Wilde as the English Nietzsche. Thomas Mann expanded on the analogy, observing that various lines of Wilde might have come from Nietzsche (“There is no reality in things apart from their experiences”) and that various lines of Nietzsche might have come from Wilde (“We are basically inclined to maintain that the falsest judgments are the most indispensable to us”). Nietzsche and Wilde were, in Mann’s view, “rebels in the name of beauty.”

As for the novel, I’m feeling rather Dorian Grayed-out at the moment, having recently completed ten illustrations based on the story for a forthcoming anthology. More about that later.

Elsewhere, the William Andrews Clarke Memorial Library in Los Angeles has been running an exhibition, Oscar Wilde & the Visual Art(ists) of the Fin-de-Siecle, since July, and will continue to do so until the end of September. No word about what’s on display but this page on their website has details of their collection of Wilde materials which they say is the most comprehensive in the world.

Finally, the majority of visits to these pages in recent days have come from this post about Ivan Albright’s astonishing Dorian Gray painting in the Art Institute of Chicago. The post links to an earlier one of mine about the paintings used in Albert Lewin’s 1945 film of the book.

robinson2.jpg

Elsewhere on { feuilleton }
The Oscar Wilde archive

Mister Jarman, Mister Moore and Doctor Dee

tempest.jpg

Prospero (Heathcote Williams) and Miranda (Toyah Willcox), The Tempest (1979).

The Shakespeare who spun The Tempest must have known John Dee; and perhaps through Philip Sidney he met Giordano Bruno in the year when he was writing the Cena di Ceneri—the Ash Wednesday supper in the French Ambassador’s house in the Strand. Prospero’s character and predicament certainly reflect these figures, each of whom in his own way fell victim to reaction. John Dee, with the greatest library in England, skrying for the angels Madimi and Uriel (so nearly Ariel)—all of which is recorded in the Angelic Conversations—ended up, in his old age, penniless in Manchester. Bruno was burnt for heresy.

Ten years of reading in these forgotten writers, together with a study of Jung and his disciples proved vital in my approach to both Jubilee and The Tempest. As for the black magic which David Bowie thought I dabbled in like Kenneth Anger, I’ve never been interested in it. I find Crowley’s work dull and rather tedious. Alchemy, the approach of Marcel Duchamp, interests me much more.

Derek Jarman, Dancing Ledge (1991).

Damon Albarn’s opera Doctor Dee has been all over the news this week following its premier as part of the Manchester International Festival. Last weekend one of the press ads was announcing this as an “untold story”, as though no one had given much thought to the Elizabethan magus prior to Mr Albarn’s arrival. Neither the ads nor anyone associated with the production will be in a hurry to tell you that the idea for the opera came from Alan Moore who’s had a fascination with John Dee’s life and work for many years. Albarn and fellow Gorillaz cohort Jamie Hewlett approached Alan about a collaboration a couple of years ago; Alan agreed to write something on the condition that Gorillaz provide a contribution to Alan’s magazine, Dodgem Logic. They agreed, Alan set to work, having suggested John Dee as a good subject then the whole thing fell apart: Gorillaz said they were too busy to accommodate themselves to the magazine’s generous deadlines so Alan told the pair that he was now too busy to have anything further to do with their opera. This is all old news (and being a Dodgem Logic contributor I have a partisan interest in the story) but it’s worth noting since the opera will be playing elsewhere once it’s finished its Manchester run so we’ll continue to hear about it. The point is that the subject matter was Alan Moore’s choice, not Damon Albarn’s; if Alan had decided to write something about Madame Blavatsky (say) we’d now be reading reviews of Blavatsky: The Opera. Albarn can at least be commended for staying with the subject. Despite John Dee’s exile in Manchester being part of the city’s history (among other things he helped organise the first survey of the streets) you can bet the apes from Oasis have never heard of him.

jubilee.jpg

Richard O’Brien as John Dee in Jubilee (1978).

All of which had me thinking how John Dee, a maverick intelligence of the Elizabethan era, has a tendency to attract equally maverick intelligences in later eras. Derek Jarman’s work returns to John Dee often enough to make the magus a recurrent theme in his films, from the scenes in Jubilee (1978) (part of an earlier script) where he’s portrayed by Richard O’Brien showing Elizabeth I the future of her kingdom, to The Tempest (1979) where Prospero’s wand is modelled on Dee’s Monas Hieroglyphica, to The Angelic Conversation (1987) which borrows its title from Dee’s scrying experiments and finds via the sonnets another connection between John Dee and Shakespeare (Ariel being the contrary spirit whose magic allows a vision of the future in Jubilee). By one of those coincidences which make you think there must have been something in the air during the mid-70s, Michael Moorcock’s novel Gloriana, or The Unfulfill’d Queen was published the year Jubilee premiered, a fantasy in which the Elizabethan court is blended with its fictional counterpart from Spenser’s The Faerie Queen, and which features a Doctor John Dee as the queen’s Councillor of Philosophy. (If you want to stretch the connections further, Jenny Runacre who plays Elizabeth in Jubilee had earlier portrayed Miss Brunner in the film of Moorcock’s The Final Programme.)

mindscape_dee.jpg

My 2009 poster design for The Mindscape of Alan Moore, a documentary by Dez Vylenz. John Dee’s Sigillum Dei Aemeth appears in the film so I used this as the principal motif for the packaging design and DVD interface.

Reading the reviews it’s impossible to tell how Alan’s libretto might have fared on stage compared to the work which is now showing, the content of which draws on Benjamin Woolley’s excellent biography, The Queen’s Conjuror. Alan and Benjamin Woolley can both be found among the interviewees in a Channel 4 documentary about John Dee broadcast in the Masters of Darkness (sic) series in 2001. For those keen to delve beyond the stage show, Derek Jarman’s films are all on DVD, of course, while fragments of Alan’s libretto can be found in the fourth edition of Strange Attractor along with his notes for the rest of the opera. Charlotte Fell Smith’s life of Dee from 1909, for many years the standard study of the man, can be found online here.

Previously on { feuilleton }
The Tempest illustrated
Robert Anning Bell’s Tempest
In the Shadow of the Sun by Derek Jarman
Designs on Doctor Dee
Derek Jarman at the Serpentine
The Angelic Conversation
The life and work of Derek Jarman

Max Reinhardt’s Dream

mnd1.jpg

In which the great German theatre director goes to Hollywood to show America how to stage Shakespeare. Nearly everyone who was anyone in pre-war German cinema passed through Max Reinhardt’s Deutsches Theater in Berlin so it seemed natural that he’d gravitate eventually to film himself. The 1935 production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream was directed by William Dieterle but it’s very much a Reinhardt production, especially in the fantastic opening of Act II where the fairies dance into the moonlit sky on paths of mist accompanied by Mendelssohn’s music. With its blend of music, dance and lavish production design Dieterle’s film gives us some idea of the harmonising artistry at work in Reinhardt’s stage productions.

mnd2.jpg

There are other reasons to recommend this version over later adaptations, not least James Cagney’s performance as Bottom. A fifteen-year-old Mickey Rooney played Puck although he’s frequently more annoying than mischevious. Then there’s the mystery of whether that’s the young Kenneth Anger uncredited in the role of The Changeling Prince. Anger has always claimed it was him (he was a child actor for a while), Anger biographer Bill Landis agrees but plenty of other people have disputed the claim in recent years. The best viewing I had of the sequence in which the Changeling appears was on a big screen in a season of Kenneth Anger’s films in 1990. Whether Anger played the part or not, the charm of Dieterle’s film subtly invests The Magick Lantern Cycle, from the glittering surfaces in Eaux D’Artifice and the artificial forest in Rabbit’s Moon, to the appearance of Mickey Rooney’s Puck on a TV screen in Scorpio Rising. Anger’s later works were productions of Puck Films, their motto “Lord, what fools these mortals be!”

Ideally the magical opening of Act II would be on YouTube but it seems not. This scene, however, gives an idea of the atmosphere, while Doctor Macro has stills and more information.

Previously on { feuilleton }
The Midsummer Chronophage
Another Midsummer Night
A Midsummer Night’s Dadd
William Heath Robinson’s Midsummer Night’s Dream

The Choise of Valentines, Or the Merie Ballad of Nash His Dildo

nash.jpg

My little dilldo shall suply their kinde:
A knaue, that moues as light as leaues by winde;
That bendeth not, nor fouldeth anie deale,
But stands as stiff as he were made of steele;

A salacious post for chocolate-and-roses day. There’s a degree of confusion around this work and its author, an Elizabethan poet, playwright and pamphleteer. The poem, which was distributed privately, dates from around 1593 and has a variety of titles, while its author is variously credited as Thomas Nashe or Thomas Nash. Despite the bawdy reputation of the Elizabethan era Nash’s contemporaries were sufficiently scandalised by the poem for it to remain unpublished, with the result that it survives imperfectly in a few handwritten copies. It’s a lengthy piece so let’s go to Wikipedia for a précis:

It describes the visit of a young man named “Tomalin” to the brothel where his girlfriend Frances (“Frankie”) is employed. Having paid ten gold pieces for her favours, Tomalin is embarrassed to find that merely lifting her skirts makes him lose his erection. She perseveres in arousing him however and they make love, but to her disappointment he has an orgasm before her. Frankie then decides to take matters into her own hands: hence the informal title by which the poem was known, Nashe’s Dildo.

The Oxford English Dictionary credits Nash with the first appearance in English of the word “dildo”, a term “of obscure origin” we’re told, whose usage here predates John Florio’s Worlde of Wordes (1598), Ben Jonson’s The Alchemist (1610), and Shakespeare’s A Winter’s Tale (1611). Nash’s achievement is something of a cheat since his poem wasn’t actually published until 1899, and then in a private edition. As usual the Internet Archive has the book in question, and it’s their version which follows, albeit without the copious footnotes.

The Renaissance English Literature site has more about Thomas Nash (or Nashe), his life and his work.

Continue reading “The Choise of Valentines, Or the Merie Ballad of Nash His Dildo”