Monthly Archives: September 2006

Groeningemuseum, Bruges, Belgium

The Flaying of the Corrupt Judge Sisamnes (1498-99) – Gérard David

Went to Bruges yesterday and visited the Groeningemuseum which houses Bruges’s collection of Flemish Primitives. The primary attraction was Bosch’s triptych of The Last Judgement. The most vivid memory of my (short) visit was Gérard David’s gruesome painting of The Flaying of the Corrupt Judge Sisamnes (1498-99).

According to Herodotos, Sisamnes was a corrupt judge under Cambyses II of Persia. He accepted a bribe and delivered an unjust verdict. As a result, the king had him arrested and flayed alive. His skin was then used to cover the seat in which his son would sit in judgement. Sisamnes was the subject of two paintings by Gerard David, “The Arrestation of Sisamnes” and “Flaying of Sisamnes” both done in 1498. Together they make up the Cambyses diptych. — [Sept 2006]

A similarly themed painting is Apollo Flaying Marsyas (1637) – Jusepe de Ribera

See also: art horrorFlemish Primitives1400s

English criticism of Michel Houellebecq

Stephen Mitchelmore in This Space:

I have yet to read Michel Houellebecq. This is because I asked a friend (with infallible judgement), who had, for an opinion. Shrugging his shoulders and turning his mouth down at the corners, he said: nothing special … and when you have Thomas Bernhard

Ah yes, Thomas Bernhard: the funniest and, indeed, most readable literary iconoclast of European fiction. Odd, I’ve long thought, how the market for Houellebecq’s virulence and extremism doesn’t extend to Bernhard.

But maybe not so odd, I now think, having read John Banville’s Bookforum essay on the French writer, an essay that takes in Houellebecq’s long essay on HP Lovecraft. It seems Lovecraft is the clue to why Bernhard’s name is not read close to Houellebecq’s (except here of course). –Stephen Mitchelmore in This Space

Stephen Mitchelmore goes on to compare Lovecraft unfavourably to Borges.

A digression to Borges and Lovecraft by Bruce Lord:

I had read many of Jorge Luis Borges  short stories several years before discovering Lovecraft, let alone studying the latter seriously, and so the idea of Borges owing any debt to or admitting any influence from HPL was new and somewhat shocking to me when I first encountered it.  While reading “Dreams In The Witch House” for the first time, however, I found it to be quite Borgesian (I didn’t have any problem with taking such an anachronistic view of the relationship, as Borges has based entire stories around such errors).  The story of an increasingly alienated and detached academic who becomes lost in his field of study and ends up transcending the known laws of the universe reminded me of the hapless people caught in “The Library Of Babel.”  In a similar vein, both authors used the technique of referring to fictional literary and scientific sources as well as legitimate ones (often combining the two in lists of books or thinkers) in order to better facilitate their stories  fantastic elements.  –Bruce Lord via Contrasoma.

And here is more by Stephen Mitchelmore on Houellebecq.

Premature burial

Premature Burial (1854) – Antoine Wiertz

“Can you possibly conceive it. The unendurable oppression of the lungs, the stifling fumes of the earth, the rigid embrace of the coffin, the blackness of absolute night and the silence, like an overwhelming sea.” –Guy Carrell in The Premature Burial (1962)


See also: graveasphyxiaE. A. Poe Antoine Wiertz

The praise of folly

My native town has an exhibition with the title The praise of folly (after the book by 16th century Dutch writer Erasmus). It features paintings by Antoine Wiertz, Félicien Rops, Léon Herbo, Armand Rassenfosse, Jan Steen, etc… and write-ups by Belgian writers. The exhibition is divided thematically in

  • Luxuria
  • Avaritia
  • Acedia
  • Ira
  • Invidia
  • Gula
  • Superbia

Google galleries: 1 2 3 4 5

Rosine à sa toilette (1865) – Antoine Wiertz

The Reader of Novels (1853) – Antoine Wiertz

Psyché () – Léon Herbo

Singulier Animal (1893) – Armand Rassenfosse

Couple in the Bedroom () – Jan Steen

Black Trombone (1962) – Serge Gainsbourg

Of all tracks that regularly enter my mind without a particular reason, Black Trombone (1962) is probably the most frequent. I love the power and melancholy of the trombone, the simplicity and honesty of the lyrics and the overall Euro-jazz feel. Question: who plays trombone on this track?

Black trombone
Le trombone
C’est joli
Et bâillonne
Mon ennui


Black trombone
C’est l’automne
De ma vie
Plus personne
Ne m’étonne
C’est fini

This track first appeared on the 10 inch N°4 in 1962. It was written by Gainsbourg and arranged and orchestrated by Alain Goraguer.

It is available on this CD, released by French Mercury records in 1996:

Du Jazz dans le Ravin (1996) – Serge Gainsbourg
[FR] [DE] [UK]

The title is French for Jazz in the Ravine. All the tracks have a jazz, loungy feel and date from the late 1950s, early 1960s period. Serge released his debut single Ça n’vaut pas la peine d’en parler in 1954.

Highly recommended.

See also: 1962Serge GainsbourgAlain Goraguer

Dmitri Shostakovich (1906 – 1975)

Today would have been Russian composer Dmitri Shostakovich’s 100th birthday. Belgian classical radio station Klara is running a special on him and one of the most surprising elements in his biography is that he accompanied silent films during a substantial part of his life. If you listen closely, you can hear this aspect in some of his music. He also scored films. After his death, his music was used in several films including favourites Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut and Patrice Chéreau’s Intimacy. He also set one of my favourite short stories to music: Nikolai Gogol’s The Nose.