Pynchon and Varo


Bordando el Manto Terrestre (Embroidering the Earth’s Mantle) (1961) by Remedios Varo.

Re-reading The Crying of Lot 49 by Thomas Pynchon, this passage near the end of the first chapter stood out:

In Mexico City they somehow wandered into an exhibition of paintings by the beautiful Spanish exile Remedios Varo: in the central painting of a triptych, titled “Bordando el Manto Terrestre,” were a number of frail girls with heart-shaped faces, huge eyes, spun-gold hair, prisoners in the top room of a circular tower, embroidering a kind of tapestry which spilled out the slit windows and into a void, seeking hopelessly to fill the void: for all the other buildings and creatures, all the waves, ships and forests of the earth were contained in this tapestry, and the tapestry was the world. Oedipa, perverse, had stood in front of the painting and cried. No one had noticed; she wore dark green bubble shades. For a moment she’d wondered if the seal around her sockets were tight enough to allow the tears simply to go on and fill up the entire lens space and never dry. She could carry the sadness of the moment with her that way forever, see the world refracted through those tears, those specific tears, as if indices as yet unfound varied in important ways from cry to cry.

My earlier reading was in the mid-1990s, remote enough to have forgotten that Remedios Varo is mentioned twice (there’s another brief reference later on) in a novel otherwise unconcerned with painting. I didn’t remember much at all of the narrative, come to that, apart from the long description of a Jacobean revenge play, and all the post horn business. (And by coincidence—or is it? etc—I was amused to encounter a description of James Clerk Maxwell’s famous demon of entropy only a few days after reading this.) I did know who Varo was but at the time had only seen a couple of her paintings. She turns up in the better books on Surrealist art—one of mine has her filed under “Remedios”—but she didn’t have the connections or the longevity of her friend Leonora Carrington so any mention tended to be brief. In the 1990s it wasn’t possible to easily find a picture of a painting like Bordando el Manto Terrestre unless you worked in a major library or collected exhibition catalogues. Many complaints may be levelled against the internet but I never tire of having instant access to the entire history of art, so of course I had to stop reading for a moment to look for a copy of the picture. If I hadn’t done so I wouldn’t have discovered this lengthy discussion by Bill Brown of both novel and painting, and of the connections between the two. The Crying of Lot 49 is a slight work by Pynchon standards, one that the author disparages in his introduction to Slow Learner. In the same introduction he mentions Surrealism being an important factor in his literary evolution although he doesn’t name any specific influences. Pynchon’s Surrealism is like Varo’s, not the poetry of haphazard collisions but a thing of stylised figures in a world where hidden meanings may be present but also reluctant to reveal themselves. No wonder he liked the painting.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Remedios Varo’s recipe for erotic dreams
Thomas Pynchon – A Journey into the Mind of [P.]

2 thoughts on “Pynchon and Varo”

  1. A part of The Crying of Lot 49 that I like is the brief portrayal of an earlier generation of Silicon Valley libertarians, back when they really made silicon. These crew cut, pocket protector, slide rule wielding guys use the outlaw Trystero postal service to avoid our socialist Postal Service.

  2. Hi Doug. Your comment got caught by the spam filter for some reason. Sorry about that. And, yeah, San Francisco has changed a lot since then.

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