Tag Archives: fantastique

Drawing the contours of the ‘American fantastique’

The Eye of the Beholder” (1960) is an episode of the American television anthology series The Twilight Zone. Its theme is aesthetic relativism.

It is a prime example of the American fantastique, the fantastique being a sensibility which is a sibling of horror, fantasy and SF, and child of speculative fiction.

You can watch the full episode (only about twenty minutes) here[1].

I previously mentioned this episode here[2].

10/10

“By Allah, this story is my story and this case is my case”

Currently reading  De Zahir.

I’m currently reading  De Zahir.

One sentence in “The Garden of Forking Paths” by Jorge Luis Borges caught my attention.

“I remembered too that night which is at the middle of the Thousand and One Nights when Scheherazade (through a magical oversight of the copyist) begins to relate word for word the story of the Thousand and One Nights, establishing the risk of coming once again to the night when she must repeat it, and thus on to infinity…”

Marina Warner in Stranger Magic points to “Readings and Re-Readings of Night 602” by Evelyn Fishburn which identifies the night Borges refers to as the “Tale of the Two kings and the Wazir’s Daughters“.

“By Allah, this story is my story and this case is my case,” shouts the king when he finds out that Scheherazade is telling him his frame tale.

Again in the words of Borges (from “Magias parciales del Quijote“) in which he calls that night a “magic night among the nights”:

“The King hears his own story from the Queen’s mouth. He hears the beginning of the story, which embraces all the others as well as – monstrously – itself. Does the reader really understand the vast possibilities of that interpolation, the curious danger – that the Queen may persist and the Sultan, immobile, will hear forever the truncated story of A Thousand and One Nights, now infinite and circular?”[1]

This passage illustrates the concepts of infinite regress, the Droste effect and metafiction.

I am a god in the deepest core of my thoughts

A Pilgrimage to San Isidro (1819–23) by Francisco de Goya

Detail of A Pilgrimage to San Isidro (1819–23) by Francisco de Goya

I’m a stickler for firsts and origins, almost childishly so, or at least obsessively.

While researching Goya I stumbled on a letter by Goya to Bernardo de Iriarte dated January 4, 1794, in which I read:

I have devoted myself to painting a group of pictures in which I have succeeded in making observations for which there is normally no opportunity in commissioned works, which give no scope for fantasy and invention.” (tr. Enriqueta Harris)

Goya’s insistence on his artistic freedom (key to the notion of “romantic originality“) in making art with ‘fantasy‘ and ‘invention‘ “for which there is normally no opportunity in commissioned works” makes this dictum one of the candidates for a Manifesto of Romanticism.

Other dicta which emphasize the egomaniac (wording by Nordau) importance the Romantics placed on untrammelled feeling is the remark of the German painter Caspar David Friedrich that “the artist’s feeling is his law” and William Wordsworth‘s ascertainment that “all good poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings“.

In the Dutch language, the poet Willem Kloos said “I am a god in the deepest core of my thoughts,” giving voice to the Romantic conception of the artist.

Goya was a god too (and perhaps the first Romantic painter) though not a god that sought to please, soothe, nor comfort.

Illustration: A Pilgrimage to San Isidro, one of the black paintings by Goya

In praise of artificial ruins

 

A cross section of the Broken Column House at the Désert de Retz as recorded in Les jardins anglo-chinois by Georges-Louis Le Rouge, 1785 [1]

A cross section of the Broken Column House at the Désert de Retz as recorded in Les jardins anglo-chinois by Georges-Louis Le Rouge, 1785

A cross section of the Broken Column House as recorded in Les jardins anglo-chinois by Georges-Louis Le Rouge, 1785 [1].

The Broken Column House (the “colonne brisée”, or ruined column) is an artificial ruin in the French landscape garden Désert de Retz.

The ‘fantastique naturel’: the weird axolotl

 

The Weird (2012) – [Amazon.com] [FR] [DE] [UK]

I’m into weird stuff and anthologies. So I’m happy with the new book The Weird, dedicated to 20th century literature in the category weird fiction, a book I discovered while researching Dino Buzzati (check out this [1] and this [2]). It was put together by Jeff VanderMeer and his wife Ann.

But…

Yes, there is a but.

The cover of this anthology is ugly beyond belief.

Beyond belief is perhaps putting it too strongly and I don’t like negative criticism without at least providing an alternative.

So why not have put an axolotl on the cover? A good choice since there is also a short story by my favourite author Julio Cortázar in the anthology titled “Axolotl” and the axolotl is a creature like the star-nosed mole and the baby armadillo by Dora Maar which belongs in the category ‘fantastique naturel‘ and the fantastique is the natural precursor of weird fiction.

The fascinating and revolting love lives of gastropoda

Having recently seen the documentary film Microcosmos (to be viewed in its entirety on Vimeo here[1]), I’d like to share these two pictures of snails mating.

These images are instances of zoological horror or the zoological fantastique, depending on your view.

Both horror and the fantastique are just as much rooted in fascination as in revulsion, ergo in ambiguity of emotions. And what could be more ambivalent and cause more ‘mixed feelings’ than slimy slugs and snails ‘getting it on’, an act which may involve hermaphroditism, firing love darts (a source of the Cupid myth, state some sources), apophallation (gnawing at stuck penises) and even sexual cannibalism?

Of course, the attentive reader will have noticed that in the photo of ‘Courtship in the edible snail, Helix pomatia’ the soft bodies of the snails look exactly like the labia majora of an adult female human mammal.

It needs not to be said that the whole field of animal sexuality is highly fascinating and has been represented in art not often enough. Apart from Microcosmos, there has been Green Porno and the magnificent films of Jean Painlevé (Acera, or the Witches’ Dance[2] comes to mind).

The anthropomorphic landscapes of Joos de Momper

The Four Seasons are a series of four paintings by Joos de Momper, allegorically depicting spring, summer, autumn and winter in the form of anthropomorphic landscapes. As of 2013, all four of these paintings are in private collections. At least one of them is believed to be in the collection of Robert Lebel. I saw all four of them over the weekend in Lille, France at the superb exhibition Flemish Landscape Fables. This weekend is your last chance to get a look at them.

Spring

Summer

Autumn

Winter

See also

Ornamental print of a zoomorphic vase by Enea Vico

An antique vase with handle formed by a dog by Enea Vico is an ornamental print from the series Romae ab antiquo repertum MDXXXXIII.

It is somewhat similar to this unidentified zoomorphic Art Nouveau pitcher[2], see zoomorphism.

Important ‘ornemanistes’, as the French call artists practising the art of the ornament, include:In Italy, Giovanni Battista Piranesi (1720 – 1778); in England Thomas Chippendale (1718 – 1779); in France Jean Bérain the Elder (1640 – 1711), Pierre Lepautre (1648-1716), Claude Audran III (1658 – 1734), Pierre Le Gros the Younger (1666 – 1719), Gilles-Marie Oppenordt (1672 – 1742), Antoine Watteau (1684 – 1721), Alexis Peyrotte (1699 – 1769), Juste Aurèle Meissonier (1695 – 1750), Gabriel Huquier (1695 – 1772), Ennemond Alexandre Petitot (1720–1772) and Juste-Nathan François Boucher (1736-1782). In the Low Countries there are the precursors and major artists of the genre: Cornelis Floris (1514–1575) and Hans Vredeman de Vries (1527 – c. 1607). In Germany the names Daniel Hopfer (1470 – 1536), Peter Flötner (1490 – 1546) , Wendel Dietterlin (c.1550–1599) and Christoph Jamnitzer (1563 – 1618) need to be mentioned.