Posts Tagged ‘experimental fiction’
Oil on wood, 96 x 130 cm
Venice, Peggy Guggenheim collection
JG Ballard: The Atrocity Exhibition (1970): Chapter Four: ‘You: Coma: Marilyn Monroe’:
At noon, when she woke, Tallis was sitting on the metal chair beside the bed, his shoulders pressed to the wall as if trying to place the greatest possible distance between himself and the sunlight waiting on the balcony like a trap. In the three days since their meeting at the beach planetarium he had done nothing but pace out the dimensions of the apartment, constructing some labyrinth from within. She sat up, aware of the absence of any sounds or movement in the apartment. He had brought with him an immense quiet. Through this glaciated silence the white walls of the apartment fixed arbitrary planes. She began to dress, aware of his eyes staring at her body.
Ballard’s annotation (1990):
The Robing of the Bride.
The title of one of Max Ernst’s most mysterious paintings. An unseen woman is being prepared by two attendants for her marriage, and is dressed in an immense gown of red plumage that transforms her into a beautiful and threatening bird. Behind her, as if in a mirror, is a fossilized version of herself, fashioned from archaic red coral. All my respect and admiration of women is prompted by this painting, which I last saw at Peggy Guggenheim’s museum in Venice, stared at by bored students. Leaving them, I strayed into a private corridor of the palazzo, and a maid emerging through a door with a vacuum cleaner gave me a glimpse into a bedroom overlooking the Grand Canal. Sitting rather sadly on the bed was Miss Guggenheim herself, sometime Alice at the surrealist tea-party, a former wife of Max Ernst, and by then an old woman. As she stared at the window I half-expected to see the bird costume on the floor beside her. She was certainly entitled to wear it.
The eye follows the paths that have
been laid down for it in the work
(Paul Klee, Pädagogisches Skizzenbuch)
To begin with, the art of jigsaw puzzles seems of little substance, easily exhausted, wholly dealt with by a basic introduction to Gestalt: the perceived object — we may be dealing with a perceptual act, the acquisition of a skill, a physiological system, or, as in the present case, a wooden jigsaw puzzle — is not a sum of elements to be distinguished from each other and analysed discretely, but a pattern, that is to say a form, a structure: the element’s existence does not precede the existence of the whole, it comes neither before nor after it, for the parts do not determine the pattern, but the pattern determines the parts: knowledge of the pattern and of its laws, of the set and its structure, could not possibly be derived from discrete knowledge of the elements that compose it. That means that you can look at a piece of a puzzle for three whole days, you can believe that you know all there is to know about its colouring and shape, and be no further on than when you started. The only thing that counts is the ability to link this piece to other pieces, and in that sense the art of the jigsaw puzzle has something in common with the art of go. The pieces are readable, take on a sense, only when assembled; in isolation, a puzzle piece means nothing — just an impossible question, an opaque challenge. But as soon as you have succeeded, after minutes of trial and error, or after a prodigious half-second flash of inspiration, in fitting it into one of its neighbours, the piece disappears, ceases to exist as a piece. The intense difficulty preceding this link-up — which the English word puzzle indicates so well — not only loses its raison d’être, it seems never to have had any reason, so obvious does the solution appear. The two pieces so miraculously conjoined are henceforth one, which in its turn will be a source of error, hesitation, dismay, and expectation.
……….The role of the puzzle-maker is hard to define. In most cases — and in particular in all cardboard jigsaws — the pzzles are machine made, and the lines of cutting are entirely arbitrary: a blanking die, set up once and for all, cuts the sheets of cardboard along identical lines every time. But such jigsaws are eschewed by the true puzzle-lover, not just because they are made of cardboard instead of wood, nor because the solutions are printed on the boxes they come in, but because this type of cut destroys the specific nature of jigsaw puzzles. Contrary to a widely and firmly held belief, it does not really matter whether the initial image is easy (or something taken to be easy — a genre scene in the style of Vermeer, for example, or a colour photograph of an Austrian castle) or difficult (a Jackson Pollock, a Pissarro, or the poor paradox of a blank puzzle). It’s not the subject of the picture, or the painter’s technique, which makes a puzzle more or less difficult, but the greater or lesser subtlety of the way it has been cut; and an arbitrary cutting pattern will necessarily produce an arbitrary degree of difficulty, ranging from the extreme of easiness — for edge pieces, patches of light, well-defined objects, lines, transitions — to the tiresome awkwardness of all the other pieces (cloudless skies, sand, meadow, ploughed land, shaded areas, etc.).
……….Pieces in a puzzle of this kind come in classes of which the best-known are
and once the edges have been put together, the detail pieces put in place — the very light, almost whitish yellow fringe on the carpet on the table holding the lectern with an open book, the rich edging of the mirror, the lute, the woman’s red dress — and the bulk of the background pieces parcelled out according to their shade of grey, brown, white, or sky blue, then solving the puzzle consists simply of trying all the plausible combinations one by one.
……….The art of jigsaw puzzling begins with wooden puzzles cut by hand, whose maker undertakes to ask himself all the questions the player will have to solve, and, instead of allowing chance to cover his tracks, aims to replace it with cunning, trickery, and subterfuge. All the elements occurring in the image to be reassembled — this armchair covered in gold brocade, that three-pointed black hat with its rather ruined black plume, or that silver-braided bright yellow livery — serve by design as pints of departure for trails that lead to false information. The organised, coherent, structured signifying space of the picture is cut up not only into inert, formless elements containing little information or signifying power, but also into falsified elements, carrying false information; two fragments of cornice made to fit each other perfectly when they belong in fact to two quite separate sections of the ceiling, the belt buckle of a uniform which turns out in extremis to be a metal clasp holding the chandelier, several almost identically cut pieces belonging, for one part, to a dwarf orange tree placed on a mantelpiece and, for the other part, to its scarcely attenuated reflection in a mirror, are classic examples of the types of traps puzzle-lovers come across.
From this, one can make a deduction which is quite certainly the ultimate truth of jigsaw puzzles: despite appearances, puzzling is not a solitary game: every move the puzzler makes, the puzzle-maker has made before; every piece the puzzler picks up, and picks again, and studies and strokes, every combination he tries, and tries a second time, every blunder and every insight, each hope and each discouragement have all been designed, calculated, and decided by the other.
from CHAPTER TWENTY-EIGHT
On the stairs, 3
Who, on seeing a Parisian apartment house, has never thought of it as indestructible? A bomb, a fire, an earthquake, could certainly bring it down, but what else? In the eyes of an individual, of a family, or even a dynasty, a town, street, or house seems unchangeable, untouchable by time, by the ups and downs of human life, to such an extent that we believe we can compare and contrast the fragility of our condition to the invulnerability of stone. But the same fever which around eighteen fifty brought these buildings out of the ground from Batignolles to Clichy, from Ménilmontant to Butte-aux-Cailles, from Balard to Pré Saint-Gervais, will henceforth strive for their destruction.
……….The demolition men will come and their heavy hammers will smash the stucco and the tiles, will punch through the partitions, twist the ironwork, displace the beams and rafters, rip out the breeze blocks and the stone: grotesque images of a building torn down, reduced to piles of raw materials which scrapmerchants in thick gloves will come to quarrel over: lead from the plumbing, marble from the mantelpieces, wood from the structure and the floors, the doors and the skirting boards, brass and cast iron from handles and taps, large mirrors and the gilt of their frames, basin stones, bathtubs, the wrought iron of the stair rail . . .
……….The tireless bulldozers of the site-levellers will come to shovel off the rest: tons and tons of scree and dust.
translated from the French by David Bellos
Version I, 1880, oil on canvas, 111 x 115 cm
Bâle, Öffentliche Kunstsammlung, Kunstmuseum, since 1920
Version II, 1880, oil on board, 74 x 122 cm
New York, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Reisinger Fund, since 1926
Version III, 1883, oil on board, 80 x 150 cm
Berlin, Nationalgalerie, Staatliche Museen Preussischer Kulturbesitz, since 1980
[Photograph of] Version IV, 1884, oil on copper, 81 x 151 cm
Lugano, Sammlung Schlss Rohoncz, destroyed in Rotterdam during WWII
Version V, 1886, oil on board, 80 x 150 cm
Leipzig, Museum der bildenden Künste, since 1886
JG Ballard: The Atrocity Exhibition (1970): Chapter Four: ‘You: Coma: Marilyn Monroe’:
Impressions of Africa. A low shoreline; air glazed like amber; derricks and jetties above brown water; the silver geometry of a petrochemical complex, a Vorticist assemblage of cylinders and cubes superimposed upon the distant plateau of mountains; a single Horton sphere — engimatic balloon tethered to the fused sand by its steel cradles; the unique clarity of the African light: fluted tablelands and jigsaw bastions; the limitless neural geometry of the landscape.
Ballard’s annotation (1990):
Impressions of Africa.
Raymond Roussel (1877 – 1933), author of Impressions of Africa and Locus Solus, travelled with a coffin in which he would lie for a short time each day, preparing himself for death. Graveyards and cemeteries have the same calming effect, the more ornate the better. A visit to Père Lachaise in Paris adds a year to one’s life, and the pyramids in Egypt stare down time itself. It would be intriguing to construct a mausoleum that was an exact replica, in the most funereal stone, of one’s own home, even including the interior furniture (reminiscent of Magritte’s strange stone paintings, with their stone men and women, stone trees and stone birds). One could weekend in this alternate home, and probably soon find oneself stepping out of time.
……….On the mortuary island of San Michele, in the Venice lagoon, a gloomy and threatening place that inspired Arnold Böcklin’s ‘Island of the Dead,’ one comes across an extraordinary parade of ultra-modern bungalows among the graves and tombs, with white walls and wrought iron grilles, like demonstration models of a Spanish-style nightclub waiting shipment to the Costa Del Sol. These are family mausoleums, and it’s touching to see the coffins sitting together in the breakfast rooms.