Weekend links 722

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Desert Sunrise (no date) by Kay Robinson.

• RIP Richard Horowitz, a composer and musician whose soundtrack work makes the headlines but who I’ve always known best via his appearances on albums by Jon Hassell and others, and his collaborations with his partner, Sussan Deyhim. Majoun (1996) is my favourite among the Horowitz and Deyhim albums but it’s one of those releases that received little attention at the time and hasn’t been reissued since. Related: Revisiting Morocco, Magic, Majoun, Horowitz and Deyhim: Robert Phoenix talks to Horowitz and Deyhim for the final issue of Mondo 2000. | Desert Equations (For Brion Gysin) (1986).

• “A typeface is like an orchestra, and the type designer is its conductor.” Dr Nadine Chahine on the music of type design.

• At Colossal: Flip through more than 5,000 pages of this sprawling 19th-century atlas of natural history.

• At Unquiet Things: Become one with the moss, mushrooms, and magic in the art of Brett Manning.

• At Public Domain Review: Annie Besant and Charles Leadbeater’s Occult Chemistry (1908).

• New music: Reality Engine by 36, and Transformation Sonor by Hannes Strobl.

Photos of undersea life for the Smithsonian Magazine Photo Contest.

• Mix of the week: DreamScenes – April 2024 at Ambientblog.

• At Dennis Cooper’s: Book.

The Blue Flame (1981) by David Byrne (with Richard Horowitz) | Ravinia/Vancouver (1987) by Jon Hassell (with Richard Horowitz) | Bade Saba (The Wind Of Saba) (2000) by Sussan Deyhim (with Richard Horowitz)

Ballard’s sextet

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Cover artist unknown.

A selection by JG Ballard of six favourite Surrealist paintings, or five Surrealist ones and a Metaphysical picture if you want to be strict about the definitions. These were described but not shown in an essay, “The Coming of the Unconscious”, that Ballard wrote for issue 164 of New Worlds magazine in 1966, something I was re-reading yesterday. I have quite a few of the Moorcock-edited Compact editions of New Worlds, being paperback-sized they used to be a common sight in secondhand bookshops. Issue 164 also includes a guest editorial from Ballard which he fills with a report from his recent viewing of La Jetée, the influential time-travel short by Chris Marker which was receiving its first London screenings.

Ballard’s essay is ostensibly a review of two books about Surrealist art but he doesn’t really bother with these, being more concerned with exploring his own thoughts about the paintings which inform so much of his early fiction. It’s a very good piece, especially for the way it interleaves Surrealist theory with the Ballardian concerns found in the “condensed novels” that were eventually published together (with Dalí cover art) as The Atrocity Exhibition in 1970. The following list comes near the end of the piece, and shouldn’t be taken as a definitive selection on Ballard’s part. There’s no Yves Tanguy, for example, even though Tanguy’s art is referred to in The Drought. And no Paul Delvaux either, an artist who Ballard liked enough to commission Brigid Marlin to recreate the two Delvaux paintings that were destroyed in the Second World War. A still-extant Delvaux painting, The Echo, is mentioned in The Day of Forever, a story that Ballard was probably writing around this time and which was published in New Worlds 170.

“The Coming of the Unconscious” was reprinted several times after this: in a story collection, The Overloaded Man (1967), in the first RE/Search Ballard book in 1984, and in the essay and reviews collection A User’s Guide to the Millennium (1996).


The Disquieting Muses (1916–1918) by Giorgio de Chirico

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“These mannequins are human beings from whom all transitional time has been eroded, they have been reduced to the essence of their own geometries.”

I’m guessing that this is the original painting. De Chirico was perpetually frustrated that everyone preferred his “Metaphysical” paintings of the 1910s to the endless self-portraits and other dull works he insisted on producing in his later years. In order to keep the income flowing he painted many copies of his older pictures, at least 18 of which are versions of this one, with several backdated to the time of the original. As Robert Hughes put it: “Italian art dealers used to say the Maestro’s bed was six feet off the ground, to hold all the ‘early work’ he kept ‘discovering’ beneath it.”


The Elephant Celebes (1921) by Max Ernst

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“Ernst’s wise machine, hot cauldron of time and myth, is the tutelary deity of inner space, the benign minotaur of the labyrinth.”


The Annunciation (1930) by René Magritte

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“This terrifying structure is a neuronic totem, its rounded and connected forms are a fragment of our own nervous systems, perhaps an insoluble code that contains the operating formulae for our own passage through time and space.”

An interesting choice mainly because Ballard didn’t usually mention Magritte; Dalí, Delvaux and Ernst were the painters he returned to the most. It’s typical, however, for him to choose a landscape.


The Persistence of Memory (1931) by Salvador Dalí

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“The empty beach with its fused sand is a symbol of utter psychic alienation, of a final stasis of the soul.”

The one painting that even Dalí’s many detractors tend to like. Ballard, like Dawn Ades and a handful of others, developed his own opinions about Dalí’s oeuvre instead of following the consensus opinion (which often seems more like an unexamined prejudice) that everything the artist did after the 1930s was of little value.


Decalcomania by Óscar Domínguez

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“These coded terrains are models of the organic landscapes enshrined in our nervous systems.”

Decalcomania is a process, not a picture, an addition by Domínguez to the many techniques of pictorial automatism (frottage, grattage, fumage, etc) developed by the Surrealists. With this entry you can make your own selection from the Domínguez paintings that use the technique. I chose Untitled (1936).


The Eye of Silence (1943–44) by Max Ernst

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“The real landscapes of our world are seen for what they are—the palaces of flesh and bone that are the living façades enclosing our own subliminal consciousness.”

My favourite Max Ernst painting, and also a definite Ballard favourite. The Crystal World had just been published when this essay appeared, and both the UK and US editions used this painting on their dustjackets. Panther books followed suit when the UK paperback appeared two years later.

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Elsewhere on { feuilleton }
The Surrealism archive

Previously on { feuilleton }
Echoes of de Chirico
Max Ernst’s favourites
Ballard and the painters

The Japanese Sandman, a film by Ed Buhr

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I upgraded my DVD of David Cronenberg’s Naked Lunch to blu-ray recently. The film is one of my favourites in the Cronenberg oeuvre even though its connection to the novel is minimal at best. After watching it again I was thinking (not for the first time) that one way to adapt either Naked Lunch or any of the books in the “Nova Trilogy”—The Soft Machine, The Ticket That Exploded, Nova Express—would be to commission ten or twenty very different film-makers to adapt portions of the novel in whatever manner they chose. The resulting short films could either be run in sequence or cut together to make a meta-film which, if nothing else, would be closer to the disjointed structure of William Burroughs’ early novels than the semi-biographical narrative that Cronenberg delivered .

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Which brings us to The Japanese Sandman, a 12-minute film made by Ed Buhr in 2008 which turned up recently on YouTube. Buhr’s short is a dramatisation of passages from the letters that Burroughs wrote to Allen Ginsberg in 1953, in which Burroughs recounts his experiences in Panama while searching for the yage vine, a plant which yields the hallucinogen known as ayahuasca. Narrator John Fleck is a decent Burroughs mimic (although the real Burroughs pronounced “Panama” with a distinct drawl at the end, more like “Panamawww”), and since Burroughs’ own words provide the text of the piece the film is closer to Burroughs’ books than many other short films. Black-and-white scenes in Panama rooms alternate with a colour sequence where Burroughs recalls a doomed love affair with a boy in the St Louis of the 1930s. It’s gratifying to see someone draw attention to an aspect of Burroughs’ writing that’s often ignored, the persistent thread of melancholy and regret for lost time/lost people which runs through so many of his novels. It’s a side of the fiction that would also have to be accounted for in any longer adaptation of Burroughs’ work.

Elsewhere on { feuilleton }
The William Burroughs archive

Weekend links 720

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The Poet and the Siren (1893) by Gustave Moreau.

• “Some books become talismans. Because they are strange, wildly different to the common run of literature; because they are scarce, and only a few precious copies are known to exist; because, perhaps, they liberate by transgressing the moral limits of the day; because their authors are lonely, elusive visionaries; because, sometimes, there is an inexplicable glamour about the book, so that its readers seem to be lured into a preternatural reverie. This book possesses all those attributes.” Mark Valentine in an introduction he wrote for a 1997 reprint of The Book of Jade (1901) by David Park Barnitz. The book’s author was an American writer who died at the age of 23 after publishing this single volume, a collection of poetry inspired by his favourite Decadent writers. Praise from HP Lovecraft, Clark Ashton Smith and Thomas Ligotti has since helped maintain the book’s reputation. The Book of Jade turned up recently at Standard Ebooks, the home of free, high-quality, public-domain texts. Also the home of an increasingly eclectic list of publications.

• At n+1: The Dam and the Bomb by Walker Mimms, a fascinating essay about the entangling of Cormac McCarthy’s personal history with his novels which makes a few connections I didn’t expect to see. Also a reminder that I’ve yet to read McCarthy’s last two books. Soon…

• The latest installation from teamLab is Resonating Life which Continues to Stand, an avenue of illuminated eggs on the Hong Kong waterfront.

• At The Wire: Symphony of sirens: an interview with Aura Satz, David Toop, Elaine Mitchener, Evelyn Glennie and Raven Chacon.

• At Unquiet Things: The Art of Darkness presents The Sleeper May Awaken: Stephen Mackey’s Unrestful Realms.

• RIP Marian Zazeela. There’s a page here with a selection of her beautiful calligraphic poster designs.

• At Spoon & Tamago: Tomona Matsukawa’s realistic paintings reconstruct fragments of everyday life.

• At Public Domain Review: Thom Sliwowski on The Defenestrations of Prague (1419–1997).

Trinity (2024), a short film by Thomas Blanchard. There’s a lot more at his YouTube channel.

• At Dennis Cooper’s: Lotte Reiniger’s Day.

Sirens (1984) by Michael Stearns | Sirens (1988) by Daniel Lanois & Brian Eno | Siren Song (2009) by Bat For Lashes

Weekend links 719

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The Decoy (1948) by Edith Rimmington.

• “Among other things, [Dalí’s] storyboards involved [Ingrid] Bergman turning into a statue that would then break up into ants.” Tim Jonze talks to film scholar John Russell Taylor about the storyboards for Alfred Hitchcock’s films, including the ones for Spellbound which Taylor found in a bric-a-brac sale.

• “Of all the pop acts that proliferated in the early 80s, it was Soft Cell who retained punk’s sharp, provocative edges.” Matthew Lindsay on 40 years of Soft Cell’s This Last Night In Sodom.

• Coming soon from White Rabbit books: Futuromania: Electronic Dreams, Desiring Machines and Tomorrow’s Music Today by Simon Reynolds.

Anathema to many philosophical systems, or perhaps philosophy itself, Lovecraft’s philosophical project fundamentally holds that contemplations of higher reality or the nature of things can never be fully realised. Ultimately, the search for knowledge does not constitute some telos, some purpose, for humankind, but rather leads to the violent dissolution of the self. Higher reality is that which the limited human psyche can never fully comprehend.

Sam Woodward on the cosmic philosophy of HP Lovecraft

• At Public Domain Review: Grotesqueries at Gethsemane: Marcus Gheeraerts’ Passio Verbigenae (c.1580).

• “Here is a remarkable form of popular heraldry.” Mark Valentine on the mystique of old inn signs.

• At Bandcamp: Brad Sanders on where to begin with Lustmord’s cosmic ambient.

• New music: Eleven Fugues For Sodium Pentothal by Adam Wiltzie.

• At Aquarium Drunkard: Jason P. Woodbury talks to Roger Eno.

Gomorrha (1973) by Can | Sodom (1978) by Can | Spellbound (1981) by Siouxsie And The Banshees