2/28/17

Michel Leiris pursues his heroine, Aurora, through a visionary landscape shot through with catastrophes — and his lucid yet baroque language, with its incredible descriptions and ever more extravagant metaphors, is only just able to keep pace.


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Michel Leiris, Aurora and Cardinal Point, Trans. by Anna Warby, Terry Hale. Introduced by Anna Warby. Atlas Press, 2014. [1925.]



This volume collects two classics of Surrealist fiction, both long out of print, by the writer and ethnographer Michel Leiris (1901–1990). Close to Georges Bataille, Picasso, Jean-Paul Sartre and Francis Bacon, and a director of the Musée de l’Homme in Paris, Leiris was a pivotal figure in postwar France. He wrote important works in the fields of ethnology and anthropology, as well as a sequence of autobiographical works regarded as classics of modern French literature (most famously Manhood [1939]). "There is scarcely a literary opus today that can compare in authenticity and stature to that of Michel Leiris," Maurice Nadeau wrote of him. In Aurora, Leiris pursues his eponymous heroine through a visionary landscape shot through with catastrophe. His lucid yet baroque language, with its rich descriptions and ever more extravagant metaphors, is only just able to keep pace. Looking back on this novel, Leiris described its tone: "despite the ‘black’ or ‘frenetic’ style of its blustering prose, what I like about this work is the appetite it expresses for an unattainable purity, the faith it places in the untamed imagination, the horror it manifests with regard to any kind of fixity." Cardinal Point is Leiris’ first prose work. Written in 1925, soon after he had joined the Surrealist movement, it employs "automatic writing" to excavate the hidden meanings of ordinary words, a procedure that was to underpin his most vital future works.


In a novel of extremes, whose disgust with “things as they are” includes the whole idea of “novels”, Michel Leiris pursues his heroine, Aurora, through a visionary landscape shot through with catastrophes — and his lucid yet baroque language, with its incredible descriptions and ever more extravagant metaphors, is only just able to keep pace. Leiris himself, looking back on this novel from his youth, exactly described its tone:
… despite the “black” or “frenetic” style of its blustering prose, what I like about this work is the appetite it expresses for an unattainable purity, the faith it places in the untamed imagination, the horror it manifests with regard to any kind of fixity — in fact, the way almost every page of it refuses to accept that human condition against which some will never cease to rebel, however reasonably society may be ordered.
Aurora is one of the high-points of literary Surrealism, and Leiris was an early member of the group. Close to Georges Bataille, Picasso and Jean-Paul Sartre, he was a pivotal figure in post-war Paris. A director of the Musée de l’Homme, Leiris wrote important studies in the fields of ethnology and anthropology, as well as a sequence of autobiographical works regarded as classics of modern French literature.
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Michel Leiris, Nights as Day, Days as Night, Trans. by Richard Sieburth, with a foreword by Maurice Blanchot. Spurl Editions, 2017.
Excerpts




Hailed as an "important literary document and contemporary pleasure" by Lydia Davis, NIGHTS AS DAY, DAYS AS NIGHT is a chronicle of Michel Leiris's dreams. But it is also an exceptional autobiography, a distorted vision of twentieth-century France, a surrealist collage, a collection of prose poems. Leiris, author of the seminal autobiography Manhood, here disrupts the line between being asleep and awake, between being and non-being. He captures the profound strangeness of the dreamer's identity: that anonymous creature who stirs awake at night to experience a warped version of waking life.

Whatever the setting (from circus shows to brothels, from the streets of Paris to Hollywood silent films), Leiris concentrates on estranging the familiar, on unsettling the commonplace. Beautifully translated by Richard Sieburth, these dream records often read like an outsider's view of Leiris's life and epoch. This outsider is the dreamer, Leiris's nocturnal double, whose incisors grow as large as a street, who describes the terror he feels at being executed by the Nazis, and who can say in all seriousness, "I am dead." It is an alternate life, with its own logic, its own paradoxes, and its own horrors, which becomes alienating and intimate at once. With hints of Kafka, Pirandello, and Nerval, NIGHTS AS DAY, DAYS AS NIGHT is one of Leiris's finest works of self-portraiture.

"Both timeless and located in the years and places of the dreaming, this forty-year-long collection of tiny, bizarre moments and longer weird narratives displays what happens at night inside the unfettered imagination of the highly cultivated, emotional, and sensuous man that was Michel Leiris. They are strange, almost unclassifiable literary creations—part involuntary, part consciously arranged—which take as their material not only himself and his friends but also the figures and works of other writers and artists, and blend the realistic and the fantastical with an occasional leavening of pure comedy. Rendered in natural, living English by Richard Sieburth and infused with his vigilant intelligence, this is an extremely welcome re-publication, as both important literary document and contemporary pleasure."—Lydia Davis





Michel Leiris had been dreaming at least since 1923, if we believe the first date noted in his collection of dream journals Nuits sans nuit et quelques jours sans jour*. Before 1923 however, the collection opens with an undated text labelled as ‘Very Old Dream’, shifting back the beginning of Leiris’ dreamwriting to a much less clear origin, suggesting hazier chronological and perceptual limits for his project. Where do dreams begin, and when? Do they begin at the edge of writing, or is the writing of dreams a translucent surface that allows them to be perceived in spite of words and through and beyond them?
It is certain that they often end with a scream, a device for Leiris to temporarily, if only formally, conclude an experience which actually never comes to a close, but allows the dream into the day and morphs its language into that of the night: turn the page and there’s a new dream, in the end, another scream. Hushed in words, a scream is the potentially sonorous yet silenced mark that signals the ineffable quality of the materials, visions and emotions from which it is torn. A scream is of the body and reaches beyond it as it’s written, physical and ephemeral, to transform the stuff of dreams into daytime. A scream, conveyed in words and words only, which will never be heard but whose imaginary acoustic reach rips off the fabric of dream only to stitch it again, to dream again. Hushed: the near-absence of voice in the form of croup, slight speechlessness, inability to articulate words despite a drive to utter, is another aspect in Leiris’ dreams that denotes sound as the liminal medium par excellence—at once present and hallucinatory—allowing the transitions, infiltrations and transformations to and from the oneiric realm.
In writing the dream in and out of a scream, Leiris holds on to its borders, to the hypnagogic and the awakening conditions. There is no better clue to prove the fluidity between states in this dreamwriting project than its title. In French, Nuits sans nuit et quelques jours sans jour is a sonorous and sensuous string of words (the sound of words, the sensuous aspect of letters, was always crucial for Leiris to generate writing and sustain it): it suggests a much less clear dichotomy than the English Nights as Day, Days as Night, a more unstable border between the two dimensions, and tempts the reader to locate these texts in a space of metamorphosis. These are not dreams as such, not just life, but one is ceaselessly reflected into the other, and back, in transit. Writing, for Leiris, is precisely that state. That is, the state of poetry.
Nights as Day, Days as Night is not a dream journal: Leiris considered it a collection of prose poems, as Sieburth highlights in his translator’s note. The sort of poetry only he could he write: obsessive and hilarious, not of the emotion recollected in tranquility type, rather, of euphoria and estrangement dissected in immobility. A palpable turmoil underlies these texts, along with a lively sense of invention as play, where arrangements and derangements of words establish their own materiality and tangibility. It is a poetry of the present tense—‘my efforts always take place in the present’, Leiris once wrote, and his dreams are all written in the present because they’re not standing for what was, but what is, in words, as they re-tune each and every now, as they enchant, perplex, and alarm now. Present dreams at the edges of a language, from within language, where being is so close to begin, where the oneiric substance is utterance, and can only start to be manifested as utterance. Language, to quote Leiris from the first volume of his autobiography Scratches, is not ‘a coded telegram holding absolute truths to decipher’, but complex living material reborn every time, playing ‘the human role of an instrument’, ‘the equipment of a toolbox’: it transforms sensations into words and allows these to revert into senses. The Shakespearean ‘dreamers lie and they dream things true’ rings loud in these texts—impossible to untie the fictional from the actual. When the two meet on the page and in reading, can you imagine the spell?
The writing of the dream is not the dream. The sense of presence obtained through words is strong, even when these visions cannot be fully held. In these pages language is felt and perceived as it brushes images, as it thrusts at them: Leiris’ words don’t hold an external truth but set up their own, yet what exceeds them is present and vital.
James Hilllman wrote in The Dream and The Underworld: ‘For dreams are not only “natural phenomena”; they are above all imaginative products. They are elaborations, linguistic and imagistic complexities, attesting to what Freud called “dream-work”.’ Except, in Leiris’s case, very little is concerned with work, a lot with play.
These are not only dreams, but literary operations that enable a poetic experiment precariously balanced on the fragility of its subject matter. And the (dreaming, writing) subject matters too: this is autobiography at its most acute, shaped by mirroring and framing rather than by digging or logic, as the subject’s slightest motions are articulated from within the experience of dream—night as day, into, with, despite and through. Leiris does not ask questions of his dreams: he writes them, not of them. The question is not about recording a dream as other, but how words can become other, and how otherness in turn seeps into and shapes the subject. Leiris’s boundless autobiographical project deploys the dream journal as a reflecting and porous surface, allowing him to look inside and outside the self with all the illusions and tricks of light and perspective that such position can attain. And for Leiris, the ‘I’ has a homophonic twin in ‘game’ (je/jeu, in the title of his autobiography La règle du jeu): the rules of the ‘I’ are the rules of the game, with all the potential for misunderstanding and slippages that such coexistence entails.
James Clifford has written at length, in The Predicament of Culture, of Leiris’ refusal of narration as linear and concluded trajectory, and of his leaning toward the chronicle and its possibilities for dead ends, and repetitions and wasted efforts: writing ‘as is’. Language gets in the way though, as the claims of tel quel give way to the pressure of the moods and atmospheres that deform his words, rhythms, pauses. There is no chronicle of dream as such, but what erodes it and therefore shapes it. No return to the dream, but notes and reinventions of dreams in the now of every instance of writing. It is only in between ‘the clenched gesture of writing’ and ‘the relaxed posture of dreaming’—to quote his own notes in Scratches—that Leiris can capture ‘the strange series of sonorous vibrations whose vague perception fascinates me.’
From the gleeful account of Leiris and Masson flying in the air ‘like gymnasiarchs’, dropping into a concave hemisphere, unwilling to ever come back to earth, to the irony in a vision of Desnos turning into a stack of plates while being lectured by Breton; from the mystery in a dream of de Chirico and misunderstanding through misplaced vowels, to a dream of the writer ‘exteriorised’, his head pressing ‘against the very substance of my mind’, to a manuscript that turns into streetcar rails… there isn’t much magic around these dreams, rather, visions and visual puns in their absurd truth. Not having the French version in front of me, I wonder how many of these eccentric images might actually be generated from within word play or assonance, as often is the case with Leiris’s writing.
Sometimes they are written with irresistible flippancy, at others a phosphoric consciousness shines through with dark wisdom. Dreams, if we so wish to continue calling them, or prose-poems that out-torture Mirbeau, out-oneirise de Nerval, and out-epaté Baudelaire. Funny, dreadful, serious, deadpan and delirious. From openings such as ‘In need of money, I hire myself out as a bull in a corrida’ to petrifying tales of possession that tempt to reverse the expression ‘I had a dream’ to ‘a dream had me’; dreams in which the recurring presence of fellow artists and authors suggests another way for literary criticism made by tangents and illicit similarities; recurring dreams of suppressed erotic desire, sexual phobias and inhibitions, fearful dreams of being captured and killed by the Nazis during the war; circular dreams of void and dead time, when the scariest inversion of the process of awakening precipitates the dreamer into death. In the process of self understanding enacted through the writing of dreams—that Blanchot, in the foreword of this book, calls neutral vigilance at the gathering point of the night—Leiris asks how the self can be plural. He continues to operate in the lunar, lucid landscape of de Nerval, wondering what happens when ‘I’ continues to exist under another form, not as Rimbaudian solemn other but as many unpredictable, deceiving, irreverent, sinister, or tormenting others.
Held in a book that begins with de Nerval, and ends at every turn of the page and off them into each of our dreamwriting selves, psyches, and senses, these dreams are not escapes but adjustments in perception: they demand we assume a sidelined position, to experience enchantment, to tear apart and reshape the contours of what is known for certain, between childlike levity and exhilarated despair. - Daniela Cascella




Nights as Day, Days as Night is essentially a dream-diary, collecting, chronologically, generally very brief descriptions of some of author Michel Leiris' dreams (and a few 'real-life' experiences) from between 1923 (or before: the first dream is presented merely as a: 'Very Old Dream') and 1960. It is by no means exhaustive -- and, fortunately, at less than two hundred pages, far from exhausting. Dream-collections can quickly become tiresome, but this one remains surprisingly fresh pretty much throughout.
       Leiris' first entry -- that 'Very Old Dream' -- is the perfect introductory one:
In front of a crowd of gawking spectators -- of whom I am one -- a series of executions is being carried out, and this rivets my attention. Up until the moment when the executioner and his attendants direct themselves toward me because it is my turn now. Which comes as a complete and terrifying surprise.
       It is this surely universally familiar dream-quality -- the focused, voyeuristic interiority, and then the sudden turn on itself (or rather, on the dreamer) -- that is a significant part of what fascinates about dreams, the unexpected turns our mind makes, and the question of what is in and what is out of our control. Are we witness or are we actors ? And, as Leiris comes to realize in another dream -- staring into the abyss -- "I am actually gazing into myself".
       Leiris' real world often filters into his dreams, with figures -- often familiar ones -- frequently playing roles. In some cases, Leiris completely re-imagines himself: "I am the actor Jean Yonnel and I am declaiming a Racinian srt of tragedy", one dream begins.
       Among the most beautiful pieces, a dream perfectly mirroring (sur)reality reads:
I observe the following bit of dialogue between André Breton and Robert Desnos, or I read it as if it were a fragment of a play with stage directions:
       A.B. (to Robert Desnos). The seismoteric tradition ...
       R.D. (turns into a stack of plates).

       Like bizarre thought-experiments of the subconscious, the dreams can be repeatedly revealing -- and also pack a nice narrative punch:
Sidled up to a woman named Nadia -- to whom I am drawn by very tender feelings -- I am at the edge of the sea, a shore on the order of Palm Beach, a Hollywood beach. Playfully, just to scare me and to ascertain how hard I would take her death, Nadia, an excellent swimmer, pretends she is drowning. In fact, she does drown, and her lifeless body is brought to me. I begin to weep until the wordplay "Nadia, drowned naiad" [Nadia, naïade noyée] -- which comes to me just as I am waking -- appears to be both an explanation and a consolation.
       Some of the revealed mind-workings are wonderful -- "I am going on a trip, so I have to move all the books in my library from one room to another" -- and even the seemingly simplest suggest a great deal even without much actually happening:
I walk along a beach and risk being engulfed by the waves. I am wearing a top hat crowned by flames that seems to be a Pentecostal fire. And I have long hair.
       Leiris occasionally searches for meaning, or connections, often upon waking, but generally is cautious, allowing the dreams to stand on their own. He suggests, about one attempt:
But perhaps this kind of analysis offers the means, as it were, to solidify the dream by providing it a certain logic and by erasing the gap between life and dream through the discovery of their common roots
       For the most part, however, Nights as Day, Days as Night doesn't dig too deep into the connections: this is the dream-volume, a supplementary one of sorts to his life-project, specifically the autobiographical volumes of 'The Rules of the Game', suggesting yet another way of seeing, and integrating experience into this larger picture-of-the-person.
       Leiris even offers the perfect image -- complete with ambiguity, of whether he sees himself in it or not:
On a tomb (mine ?) someone has affixed a sign providing an epitaph that condensed the life of the deceased into a few lines. The sign is entitled "ARGUMENT."
       While particularly of interest as piece of Leiris' larger life-project, Nights as Day, Days as Night stands quite fine on its own, a lively, enjoyable, and often sharp collection with a surprising range. - M.A.Orthofer




In front of a crowd of gawking spectators — of whom I am one — a series of executions is being carried out, and this rivets my attention. Up until the moment when the executioner and his attendants direct themselves toward me because it is my turn now. Which comes as a complete and terrifying surprise.”
A few weeks ago I reviewed Spurl Editions’s new translation of Jean Lorrain’s novella Monsieur de Bougrelon (1897) — about two Frenchman on a strange vacation in Amsterdam, led by the enigmatic Bougrelon, which takes them through brothels and seedy bars — and one of their upcoming releases would make a perfect follow up: Michel Leiris’s Nuits sans Nuit et quelques Jours sans Jour (Nights as Day, Days as Night, 1961). A book that largely resists classification, this is a combination of surrealist autobiography (literally, in the sense that is was written by a leading Surrealist and figuratively in the sense that it is predictably and wonderful surreal), prose poem (which is how translator Richard Sieburth refers to it), and dream journal. Anyone who has a fascination with the Surrealists or 20th century Paris will find much to love and the work’s appealing strangeness certainly lingers in the memory — I can’t stop thinking about it.
Leiris may be remembered as one of the more minor personalities of Surrealism, but he is a fascinating figure, as is evidenced by Nuits sans Nuit et quelques Jours sans Jour. It’s as if Leiris has cracked open his own heads and strewn the contents across the page; despite its oneiric and disjointed subject matter, the vignette-like work touches upon many different aspects of his life. He was introduced to Surrealist circles by artist André Masson, though he also counted figures like Robert Desnos and Max Jacob among his friends; many of them briefly appear throughout these dream sketches. Like seemingly everyone in France in the ‘20s, he had a falling out with Surrealist leader Breton, before going on to collaborate on Georges Bataille’s Documents magazine (which Spurl should add to their list of future translations). In the sense that these figures and fragments of memories appear in the journal, Nuits sans Nuit et quelques Jours sans Jour is reminiscent of Paul Bowles’ collection of short fiction, Points in Time (1982), inspired by Bowles’ years on the African continent and his anthropological (and musicological) study of its many cultures.
Like Bowles, Leiris traveled to Africa, where he became an anthropologist, though he continued his surreal writing experiments. His 1934 book, L’Afrique fantôme, led to his position at the Musée de l’Homme, one he would hold for the next 30 years. He visited the country again and became passionately involved in the protest against the Algerian War. War creeps into Nuits sans Nuit et quelques Jours sans Jour, and it becomes the most personal and visceral when Leiris reveals his fears about being tortured or executed in WWII; the book was written — or rather compiled — across several decades and thus details a fascinating shift in both his writing style and thematic concerns. There is something genuinely unselfconscious about Nuits sans Nuit et quelques Jours sans Jour, and in particular Leiris excels at portraying the ordinary as exotic; it is impossible not to be drawn into his world despite (or perhaps because of) the frequent terror and anxiety that possesses both his dreams and waking thoughts.
In addition to violence, erotic fixations constantly reappear and this text transcends the Surrealist fascination with automatic writing for something divine and deeply personal that captures the feeling of lucid dreaming in literary form. In her introduction to one of Leiris’s masterworks, L’age d’homme (known as Manhood: A Journey from Childhood into the Fierce Order of Virility in English), Susan Sontag writes,
In 1929, Leiris suffered a severe mental crisis, which included becoming impotent, and underwent a year or so of psychiatric treatment. […] His character, too, is described under the aspect of limitation: Leiris presents it as ‘corroded’ with morbid and aggressive fantasies concerning the flesh in general and women in particular. Manhood is a manual of abjection — anecdotes and fantasies and verbal associations and dreams set down in the tones of a man, partly anesthetized, curiously fingering his own wounds.”
Man Ray’s portrait of Leiris (1930).
This self-analysis is a major feature of Nuits sans Nuit et quelques Jours sans Jour and in it Leiris regularly attempts to analyze his own dreams. He writes of “nocturnal disturbances” that possess and obsess him. His wife, Louise Gordon — known only as “Z” (for her nickname Zette) in the book — appears as a figure of romantic and erotic love, as well as a balm for his fears. His dreams include many sex scenes between the two of them, including one of my favorite moments, when he describes a tryst with her that takes place in front of a painting authored by Leiris’s close friend and collaborator, Bataille. Other writers known for their own erotic obsessions figure into the book; Nerval is referenced often — along with Baudelaire, though less so — and the persistent yet subtly perverse sense of eroticism evokes Bataille. But Leiris also writes of attraction to (and possible affairs with) other women, which he writes about with guilt and anxiety.
But his greatest anxiety seems to come from the dreams where he realizes — with horror — that he is dreaming and is either slipping into the void, or has lost control over his own consciousness. He writes, “The dream I’m in the middle of begins to resemble a state of waking that is about to end: unable to resist falling asleep in the dream itself, I sense that this dream is about to conclude, not with a return to reality, but with a plunge into the void of unconsciousness.” As with L’age d’homme, his fixations are just as physical as they are abstract and damage to or invasion of bodies is a persistent theme.
Perhaps my favorite of the longer chapters details a dream where he and Z enter into a torture museum. Leiris writes:
“Everywhere I see racks, torture boots, gibbets, corpses splayed on wheels, pillories, stairways littered with dismembered limbs, and every conceivable type of torture device or other contraption reminiscent of Piranesi’s Prisons. In the first hall, torturers wearing white smocks are engaged in human vivisection.”
It is this sort of vivid detail that explodes throughout the book and though a relatively short work at less than 200 pages, many of them comprised of “chapters” that are single paragraphs, Nuits sans Nuit et quelques Jours sans Jour is a compelling example of Leiris’s power as a writer and is certainly proof that he deserves as much attention as some of his colleagues (and arguably more attention than, say, Breton).
Speaking of colleagues, French philosopher and writer Maurice Blanchot provided a worthy introduction that crystallizes many of the book’s themes, while also brilliantly (in his way) examining dreams themselves. Blanchot writes,
Dreams are sites of similitude, mediums saturated with resemblances, in which some neutral power of similarity, existing prior to any particular designation, is constantly on the lookout for a figure whom, if need be, it might activate into a likeness. It is Faust’s mirror, and what he sees in this mirror is neither the young girl nor the likeness of her face, but rather resemblance itself, the undefined power of similarity, the infinite scintillation of reflection.”
The figures and events within Nuits sans Nuit et quelques Jours sans Jour is made up of a series of mirror images and reflections. Leiris’s preoccupations, fears, and desires begin to resemble each other as we become acquainted with him and, through them, he becomes a strangely charismatic figure. Sympathetic, introspective, and perhaps doomed, Leiris’s powers of observation of his own dreams are every bit as potent as any anthropological writing and I hope that this volume introduces many new readers to his charms and powers. Spurl’s new volume captures the poetry, absurdity, and beauty of Leiris’s book thanks to a translation from Richard Sieburth. A comparative literature professor at New York University, Sieburth specializes in writing about and translating German and French literature; perhaps I’m biased, because he has translated a number of some of my favorite authors, from Walter Benjamin and Georg Büchner to Henri Michaux, as well as Nerval, and I suspect his knowledge of the latter assisted him here. Regardless, he does Leiris proud. - Samm Deighan


“Le rêve est une seconde vie,” says Gérard de Nerval in the epigraph to the dream journal of Michel Leiris, a collection of oneiric texts published as Nuits sans nuit et quelques jours sans jour in 1961, and which appears this week in a new translation—Nights as Day, Days as Night—from Spurl Editions.
If dreams for Nerval were a second life, for the Surrealists they were a life as important as the waking one, their significance distilled in the declared desire of Max Ernst to keep one eye open on the wake world while the other remained closed and fixed upon the interior. Michel Leiris was a friend of André Masson, and was involved with the Surrealists in the early days until a falling out with André Breton saw him expelled from the “official” ranks. The fatuously doctrinaire Breton seemed to fall out with everyone at some point, and Leiris wasn’t alone in being undeterred by any tinpot Stalinism. Nights as Day, Days as Night is a major Surrealist text, a journal covering the years 1923 to 1960 which may be read as a straightforward transcription of one person’s dream life, or as a series of fragmented narratives, anecdotes and fantasies many of which, in their brevity, operate like condensed fictions. Dreams as raw material for fiction have a long history but are seldom presented en masse in an undiluted form. One problem is that a naked description of a dream is unlikely to be interesting to anyone other than the dreamer unless the description is artfully presented. In his lecture on nightmares, Jorge Luis Borges describes his most terrifying dream—an old Norwegian king appearing at the foot of his bed—which he says was terrifying not because of the appearance of a spectral presence but because of the atmosphere in the room, an atmosphere he found impossible to convey to others.
This quality of incommunicability (or a general lack of interest, since “strange dreams” are universal) may be sidestepped if the dreamer is already noteworthy, as with the case of William Burroughs whose My Education: A Book of Dreams is the most obvious equivalent to Leiris’s collection. Burroughs had been mining his dreams for years, however, so the contents of My Education were already very familiar to his readers when the book appeared in 1995. Leiris has the advantage of novelty, and even more than Burroughs he works consciously to make his dreams interesting to a reader. (There’s also some intersection in the Parisian locations; Burroughs included Paris as one of the omnipresent zones in his personal dream landscape.) As with Burroughs, there seem to be occasions when the transcription turns into outright fictioneering. I’ve tried keeping a dream journal myself a few times, and found it difficult to recall anything more than the merest fragments of most dreams. Leiris is selective—many of the entries are separated by several months—but many of his selections run over several pages, and contain detailed descriptions of sequential events. Unless you’re blessed with exceptional recall, some elaboration would seem inevitable given the elusive nature of dreams and their tendency to quickly evaporate in the bleary-eyed morning. From a Surrealist perspective (a non-doctrinaire one, naturally), any subsequent embellishment might be regarded as a literary parallel to the Ernst intention of keeping one eye open while the other remains closed; the dreams become Surrealist texts collaged from Leiris’s dream life and whatever enhancement he applies to the raw transcription. Many of the shorter transcriptions remain faithful to the abrupt disjunctions of the dream state, replete with sudden changes of location, personality and even reversals from subject to object. Literature has the ability to convey these disjunctions much more accurately than other media. Painting, drawing and collage only ever create a single, static image; film has the advantage of movement but, like other visual media, can’t help but make everything seem all too tangible. In film, animation comes the closest to dreams but still lacks the ability to put you inside the consciousness of the dreamer the way that Leiris’s texts do, fictional or otherwise. - John Coulthart


It is hard to ascribe a genre to Michel Leiris' "Nights as Day, Days as Night" ("Nuits sans Nuit et quelques Jours sans Jour" in the original French). It is a book made up of dream episodes, and a few waking reveries, which have been compiled over almost 40 years of a man's life. But is it an autobiography? Are these dream episodes really surrealist prose poems in disguise? Is it a history of the French imagination from the early '20s until the early '60s, including the Nazi occupation? The fact that it is all of these simultaneously, and many other things as well, is what makes this book so fascinating.
One of the early defectors from the original surrealist group headed by Andre Breton, Michel Leiris in some ways stayed more faithful to the original precepts of surrealism than those who stayed in the group much longer than he did. He scorned the traditional forms of the novel and poetry. He believed that the recollection of and meditation on dreams constituted a kind of serious scientific research--and he maintained this notion, as this book testifies, throughout his life. But what he actually does with these dreams is as difficult to define as the genre of the total work. He sometimes offers them to us as "prose poems," occasionally with dazzling virtuosity. For instance, consider this dream from 1954:
"In need of money, I hire myself out as a bull in a corrida. As the papers are being signed, the impresario insists that I undergo an inspection to make sure that I indeed have the five horns stipulated by the contract; he has after all guaranteed that he will furnish a 'bull with five horns.' Two of these horns are supposedly on my head; two more are protrusions of my shoulder blades which the impresario verifies by touching them. My wife is present, and I tell her it gives me the chills to be touched there, just below my nape, on the very spot where the death-blow will fall. She says to me: 'It's just a lousy morning you'll have to get through. Once it's all over, you'll feel fine. . . .' I get incensed. 'Once it's over, I'll be dead!' Beside myself with rage, I shout at both of them: 'I'm not going to fall for this!' And I add: 'I'd rather take my chances as a bullfighter!' The contract will not be signed and the dream ends there.
"Almost everybody to whom I have recounted this dream has asked me where my fifth horn was located."
The combination of the ludicrous (but fatal) situation, the mystery of the creature he has become, and the emotional narrative (with its wonderful final turn) make for a richly evocative piece. This has the profundity and ineffable quality of great surrealist art.
However, most of the dreams are not in this form. The typical format, if it can be said there is one, since there is so much variety, is the recounting of the dream and a few words of analysis. Although Leiris, like all the surrealists, was well-versed in Freudian psychology, he refuses, with the exception of one dream, to indulge in such analysis. He retains (and values) the mystery of the dream world, its coexistence on an equal footing with the world of waking reason. Many of these dreams seem to have the weight of political prophesy, or of second sight, or "objective change," as Breton termed it. And yet Leiris makes no total statement. He simply recounts and analyzes or elaborates on these dream-texts, as if they were separate cultural objects, like the artifacts he studied as a professional ethnographer. What results is much less unified and dramatic than the visions of Breton in "Nadja" and Aragon in "Paysan de Paris"; the poetic fireworks of the unconscious are missing. But Leiris' scientific distance makes these texts appear less self-consciously literary, less contrived, and finally more real and mysterious.
Above all, "Nights as Day, Days as Night" stands as a companion piece to Leiris' great work, his memoirs ("L'age d'Homme"). The existence of both books establishes a stunning assertion, that the dream life of a person is as valid and telling as the more usual memoirs. In fact, Leiris seems to be suggesting that only when the unconscious mind and the conscious mind are seen together, and the network of connections between politics, sexuality, fear, the exotic and the mundane, is reconstructed in all of its mystery, can the person begin to be known. Somewhere we begin to see the total life of a person come into view, like the metamorphic vision of a paradisal dream city that recurs throughout this book. It is the surrealist New Jerusalem, where the rational and irrational come together to produce the "supreme point," the place of final knowing. - Lawrence R. Smith
Image result for Michel Leiris, Aurora and Cardinal Point
Michel Leiris, Manhood: A Journey from Childhood into the Fierce Order of Virility, Trans. by Richard Howard, The University of Chicago Press, 1992.


"Not only one of the frankest of autobiographies, but also a brilliantly written book, Leiris' Manhood mingles memories, philosophic reflections, sexual revelation, meditations on bullfighting, and the life-long progress of self-discovery."—Washington Post Book World

"Leiris writes to appall, and thereby to receive from his readers the gift of a strong emotion—the emotion needed to defend himself against the indignation and disgust he expects to arouse in his readers."—Susan Sontag
Image result for Michel Leiris, Rules of the Game I: Scratches.

Michel Leiris, Rules of the Game I: Scratches. Tranas by Lydia Davis, Paragon House Publishers,1991.

"For me his work is not only a document that enriches our knowledge of man, but also a personal testament that touches me deeply."--Francis BaconScratches is the first volume in Michel Leiris's monumental four-volume autobiography, Rules of the Game. In this volume, the celebrated French writer examines his inventory of memories, explores the language of his childhood, weaves anecdotes from his private life with his old and recent ideas. In the end, he so mercilessly scrutinizes what was familiar that its familiarity drops away and it blossoms into something exotic.
As Leiris recollects his childhood, his father's recording machine becomes a miraculous object and the letters of the alphabet--from A (or the double ladder of a house painter) to I (a soldier standing at attention) to X (the cross one makes on something whose secret one will never penetrate)--come magically to life. Also here are evocations of Paris under the occupation, his journey to Africa, and meditations on his fear of death, which he tried to exorcise through his autobiographical writings.







2/23/17

Nat Baldwin - The blades, the rust, the dirt, the mouth, the meat, the blood, the sun, the glass, the skin, the word, the lake, the graves; it's a pristine and elemental form of fiction that Nat Baldwin renders, distilling language and image to its most primal animation

The Red Barn


Nat Baldwin, The Red Barn, Calamari Archive, Ink., 2017.








excerpts:
Fanzine
The Spectacle
Alice Blue
Timber 
Deluge
Pank
Sleepingfish




"In THE RED BARN, Nat Baldwin decomposes narrative's safe spaces. The symbols in the nightmare landscape are nothing other than themselves. Nails. Boards. Tubs. Chains. Buckets. Teeth. A story of boys is stripped sentence by sentence. What's left is the brutal music of language laid bare."—Joanna Ruocco



"The blades, the rust, the dirt, the mouth, the meat, the blood, the sun, the glass, the skin, the word, the lake, the graves; it's a pristine and elemental form of fiction that Nat Baldwin renders, distilling language and image to its most primal animation. Like seeing slides of color pass before your face in darkness. Like remembering how to read." —Blake Butler

2/22/17

Jane Wong - Animal, vegetable, mineral, mothers, grandmothers, continents, bugs and blood and guts—the poems in Overpour are bodies of vibrant and vibrating matter that constellate across biography, family history, and geography




Jane Wong, Overpour, Action Books, 2016.
janewong.tumblr.com/




Jane Wong’s first collection makes a brilliant entrance. Animal, vegetable, mineral, mothers, grandmothers, continents, bugs and blood and guts—the poems in Overpour are bodies of vibrant and vibrating matter that constellate across biography, family history, and geography. They see widely and feel deeply and subtly; they tumble out with a wondrous, now-reverent, now-frenetic, ever-keen sense of the sense-memories that carry us.




“Jane Wong’s powerful first book weaves together seemingly disparate topics such as war and child’s play, language and exile, debt, animals and nature. By doing so, Wong creates a space between—for the reader to enter. At the same time, by creating this space, she makes a space for possibility… Montage-like, the poems are also a kind of philosophy by which I mean they are curious. They ask questions of the world. Not afraid of being earnest, Wong’s voice is both playful and cerebral, weaving in and out of the world—its wars and its violence, poverty and alienation—making a beautiful and smart, strange and new, word elixir.” – Cynthia Cruz




ctober has been a big month for Seattle poet Jane Wong. Her first full-length book of poems, Overpour, was just released on Indiana's Action Books. The book launch will be held Friday, October 21, at the Hugo House. She also just published an innovative and actually interesting digital dissertation project called The Poetics of Haunting in Asian American Poetry. Wong has been working on these two significant literary projects for years, and they're entering the world within weeks of each other.
Full disclosure: I went to the University of Washington with Wong for two years. We are also friends. But, so long as we're being all honest with each other, Wong and I haven't really hung out much during the last three years. That's because my job makes friendships impossible to manage, but mostly because Wong has been busy doing the slow, daily, time-consuming work of grinding it out in academia and in the literary world.
She's lived in Seattle for the last five years, in which time she's said yes to every opportunity to read her work in public and no to countless social evenings on account of work. She has published poems and chapbooks in literary journals and on small presses, given papers at academic conferences in the US and abroad, racked up national prizes/fellowships/residencies, taught writing at college and primary-school levels, and helped curate a local poetry series called Margin Shift, which promotes writers from traditionally marginalized groups.
Many hustling writers will be familiar with that kind of schedule, but Wong's degree of engagement and accomplishment are rare (some academics take longer to produce a comparable amount of work), and her monetary rewards have been relatively paltry, when they're monetary at all—lots of residencies and retreats, for instance, offer quiet places to continue working. The real reward of poetry lies in the work anyway, and she's given readers lots of fascinating stuff to pore over.
Let's start with her debut book, Overpour. (If you thought I wasn't going to reach for that pun, you vastly underestimate how horrible I am.) A poet's first collection can do a lot of things all at once. Wong's introduces readers to her many selves, pushes forward the ancient poetic conversation about the pastoral, and contributes to a related conversation about "haunting" in Asian American poetics, which is also what her digital dissertation is about, which we'll get to in a second.
If you haven't read much poetry at all, you can enjoy the pleasure of letting Wong's precise and gritty-gorgeous images pass over you one by one like the most intense screen saver you've ever seen. Take this stanza from "And the Place Was Matter:"
and the branches shook the lights out
and the fish to be sold had their heads intact
and the highway expanded into four lanes
and the garlic blossomed in June
and this should not trouble us
Humanitarians who only love poetry for its sounds and rhythms can find a lot of pleasure in the four-beat pulse of those lines, but reading closer you can tell that here and in other poems Wong is obsessed with pairing city images with rural images to show that those two realms are not separate but rather in constant conversation with one another. As Wong says, this shouldn't trouble us, but it does. We want to escape the city for the country and vice versa. And yet, that's impossible. In the country the mountains look like a skyline and in the city the skyline looks like mountains.
The speaker in these poems is simultaneously drawn to and repelled by the beauty of nature, and she's always reminding herself of the pastoral as a self-serving and potentially empty construction. "Returning to nature is a luxury we keep, like this / floral soap I can't bear to clean my filthy face with. / To leave the village, to return to the village in / a better dress," she writes in "Pastoral Power." Earlier on in the poem, she sends up a loafing Walt Whitman and a romantic William Carlos Williams in 1.5 lines: "Each blade of grass presses upon me as I rest too / long, spring and none." And later in the poem, she writes the anthem of 21st century MFA grads: "I might die paying off my loans if they don't / begin accepting dandelions."
Toward the end of the book, she's no longer awash in the urban/rural dialectic. She finds a language that allows her to harness nature's largesse and sublimity. In "Guts," she consumes a whale "one bite at a time" and uses sunny, pastoral honey to summon an army of ants to do her bidding.
To the extent that the book describes a narrative at all, it's one of a woman's rise to power as she comes to terms with her ghosts, many of whom seem to live in the landscape. Early on she "wobbles" around, phantomlike, her eyes "shining with mold." The sun, raccoons, fungi, garbage, ants, and family members in Jersey and China haunt her, sort of like specters but more like just ideas/figures that never leave your mind.
Wong's digital dissertation is a kind of extension of this "haunting" and of her poetics in general. Unlike a digitized monograph or a digital data dump of highly arcane material, or any of the other wonky genres that typify digital humanities projects, Wong's Poetics of Haunting is a simple, gorgeous, public website that you can explore at your leisure.
On the landing page, Wong defines her terms: "A poetics of haunting insists on invocation: a deliberate, powerful, and provocative move toward haunted places. How does history—particularly the history of war, colonialism, and marginalization—impact the work of Asian American poets across time and space? How does language act as a haunting space of intervention and activism?"
Wong spoke with a diverse group of contemporary Asian American writers about these questions, and she arranges their creative responses on the site. There are videos, recorded interviews, striking visual art, and stellar poems from Sally Wen Mao, Monica Sok, and Diana Khoi Nguyen.





Local poet Don Mee Choi offers a somber but stirring poem called "Do You Remember?" as well as a moving recording of a song composed in honor of Korean labor activists. UW professor of creative writing Pimone Triplett adds a poem and a recorded interview with Wong about "hungry ghosts," insatiable entities in the Buddhist tradition that helped shape a manuscript she's working on.
Wong also includes a ghostly, poetic conversation she had/still has with the late, great, and groundbreaking writer Theresa Hak Kyung Cha while researching at the Berkeley Art Museum. The dead are very much alive in Wong's work, and she has a lot to say to them. It's more than worth your time to listen. - Rich Smith












Jane Wong holds an MFA from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and is a former U.S. Fulbright Fellow and Kundiman Fellow. She is the recipient of scholarships from the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, Squaw Valley, and the Fine Arts Work Center. The recipient of The American Poetry Review’s 2016 Stanley Kunitz Memorial Prize, poems have appeared in journals such as Pleiades, The Volta, Third Coast, and the anthologies Best American Poetry 2015 (Scribner), Best New Poets 2012 (The University of Virginia Press) and The Arcadia Project: North American Postmodern Pastoral (Ahsahta Press). Her chapbooks include: Dendrochronology (dancing girl press), Kudzu Does Not Stop (Organic Weapon Arts), and Impossible Map (Fact-Simile). Currently, she is a Visiting Assistant Professor at Pacific Lutheran University.

Soren Melville - It begins with Laura, a barren modern gothic, a vampire story without any vampires, a mystery of misdiagnoses and misgendering in the bleakness of polar night. It ends with Black Sands, a love story lost in time


Soren Melville, S/N/D, Civil Coping Mechanisms, 2017.


excerpt


Soren Melville’s debut is a novella and a novel. It begins with Laura, a barren modern gothic, a vampire story without any vampires, a mystery of misdiagnoses and misgendering in the bleakness of polar night. It ends with Black Sands, a love story lost in time between two people who keep dying and coming back to life. Together they are S/N/D, a world of gentle surrealism and emotional wastelands haunted by undeath and the ever returning tide.




S/N/D is beautiful in its calm. Divvied up into two separate pieces the stories work together to harp upon similar themes. Longing is a prominent theme. The loss of a something pined for and never gotten hurts. People go through it all of the time no matter what the age or setting. Each story works hard to avoid any specific reference to time. Fragments of modernity come through (puffy jackets, glitter, and cars) yet these are mere adornments. Put into a vacuum the stories exist in another realm universe resembling a gentle surrealism.”—Beach Sloth


“Soren Melville is writer who is two writers writing two books that is also one book which is a cool, precise timelapse of death without dying, insanity without chaos, feasting without fuckery. Read it and touch yourself.”—Penny Goring

2/20/17

Orikuchi Shinobu - At once a work of innovative fiction, written in an evocative and poetic style, as well as a remarkably astute recreation of the natural, mental and spiritual world of Japan’s ancient civilization

Image result for Orikuchi Shinobu, The Book of the Dead,
Orikuchi Shinobu, The Book of the Dead, Trans. by Jeffrey Angles, University Of Minnesota Press, 2017.


excerpt (Granta)


First published in 1939 and extensively revised in 1943, The Book of the Dead, loosely inspired by the tale of Isis and Osiris from ancient Egypt, is a sweeping historical romance that tells a gothic tale of love between a noblewoman and a ghost in eighth-century Japan. Its author, Orikuchi Shinobu, was a well-received novelist, distinguished poet, and an esteemed scholar. He is often considered one of the fathers of Japanese folklore studies, and The Book of the Dead is without a doubt the most important novel of Orikuchi’s career—and it is a book like no other.
Here, for the first time, is the complete English translation of Orikuchi’s masterwork, whose vast influence is evidenced by multiple critical studies dedicated to it and by its many adaptations, which include an animated film and a popular manga. This translation features an introduction by award-winning translator Jeffrey Angles discussing the historical background of the work as well as its major themes: the ancient origins of the Japanese nation, the development of religion in a modernizing society, and the devotion necessary to create a masterpiece. Also included are three chapters from The Mandala of Light by Japanese intellectual historian Ando Reiji, who places the novel and Orikuchi’s thought in the broader intellectual context of early twentieth-century Japan.
The Book of the Dead focuses on the power of faith and religious devotion, and can be read as a parable illustrating the suffering an artist must experience to create great art. Readers will soon discover that a great deal lies hidden beneath the surface of the story; the entire text is a modernist mystery waiting to be decoded.




"At once a work of innovative fiction, written in an evocative and poetic style, as well as a remarkably astute recreation of the natural, mental and spiritual world of Japan’s ancient civilization, The Book of the Dead, long recognized as a modern classic in that country, is now widely accessible for the first time to readers everywhere, thanks to this eloquent translation by Jeffrey Angles. Orikuchi’s work will prove fascinating to any reader with an attraction to literature, anthropology, psychology, or history. There is no other work quite like it in the whole modern Japanese canon."—J. Thomas Rimer


"Orikuchi has fairly haunted modern Japanese literature, and now Jeffrey Angles, in making his The Book of the Dead available in English, helps us understand why. Set eighth-century Japan, Orikuchi's 1943 historical novel illuminated and challenged Japan's twentieth century with this tale of a past emperor who discarded human lives, a story whose publication amidst a world war makes Orikuchi one of the bravest of all modern Japanese writers. Angles' erudite Introduction and Ando Reiji's critical essays alone make this translation worth its price."—John Whittier Treat


"Jeffrey Angles has given us a smooth, supple translation of this remarkable book, and thanks to him, Orikuchi's glorious evocation of the distant past will live on in our contemporary world. The sounds of the ancient Japanese language may have disappeared, but in this translation, the text has been reborn with all the strength and grandeur of ancient societies everywhere."—Hiromi Ito






A vision is shared among multiple people, some dead.
In this vision, voices proliferate. Names proliferate. Senses bleed into senses in the sense that the lips of a dream lover might smell like their hue, in this case: vermilion. Some, while in the thrall of this vision, might make the leap to cinnabar to sulfides to mercury to poison. Others smell the indescribably beautiful.
Orikuchi Shinobu (1887-1953)—author of this vision: The Book of the Dead—was a man split across time. In his introduction to the book (called “Bring the Dead to Life”), translator Jeffrey Angles describes an author ahead of his time, an author bent toward progressive deconstructionism, sliding criticism of the Japanese imperial institution past the prewar censors by inhabiting voices, names, and knowledge from what was considered ancient past. Ancient is never distant for Orikuchi and the Dead; as Angles notes: “Orikuchi was frequently in motion, wandering throughout Japan and its empire, seeking to understand the ways that premodernity and modernity mingled in actual lived, embodied practice.” The result, this mingled vision, is dense: shell game of analogy and layered allegories. Shared historical memory is in a state of flux, a process of revealing and obscuring and revealing on loop. A reader’s share in this vision might require frequent trips to the back pages where an associative glossary, a collection of essays and commentary by Andō Reiji, and the copious and lucid footnotes by Angles confirm Orikuchi’s notions of a spectre-stuffed world constantly and  blithely projecting its present over its past.
This vision is a lot to take in. A central character, a prince who wakes up from the dead (from whose shining apparitional lips another character detects the scent of vermilion), is a kind of stand-in for the historical prince Ōtsu, something made apparent by a number of poems cited in the book, once this connection is established by the reader (in this publication, with the help of the translator), other characters with associative names or referential backstories build up historical context for just a single allegorical layer. Ultimately, an understanding of the dead prince in the story carries not only the weight of the real Ōtsu’s political intrigue, his character assassination and real-life execution, but also of countless other connections. This vision is a lot to take in, and the impression that the novel is simply allegorical and/or historical fiction is slightly misleading.
The pattern of obfuscation and analogous webs extends to an endlessly astounding figurative compulsion in The Book of the Dead, a compulsion toward sensory bleeding and complex synesthesias. Just as the lips of a dead lover might smell like a hue, one might “hear the moon sliding across the sky” at the same moment that a mountain’s trees “stir noiselessly.” While not quite psychadelic, a constant narrowing of one sense into wild focus and consequently surprising intrusion of another overwhelms the palette of the reader experiencing this vision. The maiden from the Southern Branch of the Fujiwara Clan, arguably the novel’s protagonist, falls seamlessly into a dream with a ghost with white jade fingers and seamlessly awakes only realizing her dream due to the strangeness of reality: “the orbs of the moon were trembling on the ceiling just like before, cast by the oil lamps.” The way in which the fluctuating sensory experience helps characters make meaning in reality guides the reader through both what is strange and what is banal in this vision. Trust is established as a kind of illuminated madness, like the heliotropic tug on a maiden convinced she must spend the daylight following the sun.
Voices intrude just like senses do, in fact and maybe of course: the two are often inseparable. A character’s thoughts, dreams, memories, and dialogue might be interrupted by another character’s speech written in a distinct style which then takes over the text with equally distinct thoughts, dreams, memories, and dialogue. Of course, each of these characters sits at the end of a string of associations of proper names, places, and political history. While each is drawn to the central story (for the most part: the maiden from the Southern Branch of the Fujiwara clan pursuing the vision of the dead prince), each has their own interests and detours.
I remember how I felt the first time I closed The Book of the Dead—from a certain point of view: 338 pages including introductions, sidenotes, footnotes, a novel comprised only in part of prose, lyricisms, borrowed poems, original poems, a glossary of names and places, essays, and acknowledgements either by, about, for, or somehow connected to Orikuchi Shinobu. I felt like I knew very little about Orikuchi, about his writing and life. I felt intrigued and compelled like I have in the past by writers and artists like Franz Kafka, Yoko Tawada, and Abbas Kiarostami to dive deep into an ouevre and everything surrounding and adjacent to that body of work. And however deep one delves, there’s always a feeling of having just scratched the surface of a living, growing brilliance to the visions shared by these and other artists. I want to read everyone they read, watch movies they watched, and read the writing of everyone who has read them in the meantime. This is the start of an artistic addiction and a welcomed new infection.
This is a novel that believes in its own power, the empathic and transportive tricks peculiar to the written word. This is also a novel dedicated to the implications of those powers in an embodied present. In “Language and the Making of Place,” one of many astute turns made by  geographer Yi-Fu Tuan is acknowledging the ways in which even those ignorant of the history of a location can unknowingly shape and be shaped by that inescapable history. He destablized other geographers’ “long-held belief that geography is the description of the earth, and that words which simply describe have no power to bring about change.” Characters in The Book of the Dead have instable relationships with place and history (often reflected in the complex history of the characters’ names). At one point, a narrator describes a double-edged short-sightedness: “In the lives of people who had little relation to the written word, a mere hundred years—a span of time that one might call short in the grand scheme of things—seemed just as far away as the ancient past.” And in another lengthy and fascinating detour from what I keep hesitating to call “the main story” (in part because the atmospheric accumulation of these detours feels so vivid and vital to other parts of the novel), the reader absorbs a complex architectural history concerning stone walls believed to keep out disease-spreading and misfortune-causing demons. As imperial regimes and fashions change over time, the protective stone walls are destroyed, illegally preserved, or transported. These changes leave lasting scars on the psyche of communities: “Those terrible events now felt like a dream to many people. Still, they were burned vividly into the memories of others. For them, the epidemic was all too real and showed how terrible the world could be.” For Orikuchi, historical consciousness and collective memory are just as powerful as they are fragile. This is a novel and a vision shared ever more broadly:  “There are times when multiple people experience the same vision at the same time; sometimes even during the middle of the day. Perhaps what the astonished onlookers saw that day just happened to be one of those visions.” - Jace Brittain




Orikuchi Shinobu (1887-1953) was a Japanese ethnologist, linguist, folklorist, novelist, and poet. As one of the foremost early twentieth-century experts of Japanese folklore and Shinto, he has exerted vast influence over modern intellectual discourse. Many of his novels and collections of poetry are classics of Japanese literature.

Ludic Dreaming - Dreams do not distort reality, so much as they are the reality of that distortion. Ludic Dreaming puts dreams in contact with electronic sounds, and digital devices more generally, in order to trace out the exotic topology of our post-everything society

Media of Ludic Dreaming
Ludic Dreaming: How to Listen Away from Contemporary Technoculture, by David Cecchetto, Marc Couroux, Ted Hiebert, Eldritch Priest, Bloomsbury Academic, 2017.


read it at Google Books


Ludic Dreaming uses (sometimes fictional) dreams as a method for examining sound and contemporary technoculture's esoteric exchanges, refusing both the strictures of visually dominated logic and the celebratory tone that so often characterizes the “sonic turn.” Instead, through a series of eight quasi-analytical essays on the condition of listening, the book forwards a robust engagement with sounds (human and nonhuman alike) that leverages particularity in its full, radical singularity: what is a dream, after all, if not an incipient physics that isn't held to the scientific demand for repeatability? Thus, these studies declare their challenge to the conventions of argumentation and situate themselves at a threshold between theory and fiction, one that encourages reader and writer alike to make lateral connections between otherwise wildly incongruent subjects and states of affairs.
Put differently, Ludic Dreaming is a how-to book for listening away from the seeming fatality of contemporary technologies, which is to say, away from the seeming inevitability of late capitalistic nihilism.




“Dreams have always been ally to artists, allergy to art theorists. The Enlightenment has been burdened by a sun soaked conceit of waking life that suppresses sounds and the earthly orbits of sleep. Here is a bright eared collective who take the full play of light and shadow playfully and theory-ously. Sounds are wrenched from being physical acoustics of soundscapes ported into the head and bilaterally returned to an electrochemical brain domain where they discourse with the "prerogative of sleep" rather than a pejorative of unenlightenment. What's in the water in Canada? They should export it.” –  Douglas Kahn


Ludic Dreaming is provocative and adventurous in thought and style, offering a fresh approach to the thinking of sound, and a whimsical, highly productive, excursion from the field.” –  Frances Dyson, Emeritus Professor in Cinema and Digital Media, University of California, Davis, USA
“The Occulture are the King Crimson of contemporary theoretical pataphysics; and the true inheritors of that special Canadian strain of smart, dark, technically-informed intellectual experimentation represented by McLuhan, Cronenberg, Gibson, and the Krokers. This new collaboration is a playfully serious, mind-bending tour of the current sonic mediascape, and some of the less obvious dream factories which compose it (including, and especially, ourselves). Ludic Dreaming resolders the scattered phantasmagoric fragments of what we might now consider, after reading this collection, the Disunited States of Oneirica.” –  Dominic Pettman


“Dreams do not distort reality, so much as they are the reality of that distortion. Ludic Dreaming puts dreams in contact with electronic sounds, and digital devices more generally, in order to trace out the exotic topology of our post-everything society.” –  Steven Shaviro


“This book is a piece of sound writing. Blurring the boundaries between dream, vision and physics, it stretches the reader's imagination into playful and oneiric realms of sonic materiality. A gift.” –  Deborah A. Kapchan


“If contemporary networked capitalism is built on promissory hallucinations to which we wake in fright, then Ludic Dreaming is both sonic boom and boon for an altogether different reverie. Its essays hum with the aural ludicrousness of technocultural phenomena – from black holes that emit B flat frequencies to new generation ear buds that purport to (almost) playback the voice inside our heads. But in ludically tuning in to our nightmarish technologies, Cecchetto, Couroux, Hiebert and Priest [or The Occulture] concurrently compose a delirious counter-counterpoint accompaniment. And herein lies the remarkable and highly original contribution of this book to cultural theory, media and sound studies, and speculative thought. Affording listening a speculative creativity rather than mere receptive functionality, Ludic Dreaming performs an 'elsewhere' listening; a sounding of novel spectra into existence. You will never want to wake up from Ludic Dreaming!” –  Anna Munster

2/16/17

Louis Levy - Combining elements of the serial film, detective story and gothic horror novel, Kzradock is a surreal foray into psychoanalytic mysticism.

Image result for Louis Levy, Kzradock the Onion Man
Louis Levy, Kzradock the Onion Man and the Spring-Fresh Methuselah: From the Notes of Dr. Renard de Montpensier, Wakefield Press, 2017. 


read it at Google Books


Originally published in Danish in 1910, Kzradock the Onion Man and the Spring-Fresh Methuselah is a fevered pulp novel that reads like nothing else of its time: an anomaly within the tradition of the Danish novel, and one that makes for a startlingly modern read to this day. Combining elements of the serial film, detective story and gothic horror novel, Kzradock is a surreal foray into psychoanalytic mysticism.
Opening in a Parisian insane asylum where Dr. Renard de Montpensier is conducting hypnotic séances with the titular Onion Man, the novel escalates quickly with the introduction of battling detectives, murders and a puma in a hallucinating movie theater before shifting to the chalk cliffs of Brighton. It is there that the narrator must confront a ghost child, a scalped detective, a skeleton, a deaf-mute dog and a manipulative tapeworm in order to properly confront his own sanity and learn the spiritual lesson of the human onion.

When Gershom Scholem read the novel in its 1912 German translation on the recommendation of Walter Benjamin, he concluded: “This is a great book, and it speaks a formidable language … This book lays out the metaphysics of doubt.”


"This immensely great book speaks with a powerful language… (...) This book unfurls the metaphysics of doubt. The terrifying law behind soul's germination -- if one trusts the soul -- is developed explicitly in this detective story. (...) The book's knowledge is legitimate and its artistic unity morally shattering, for its unity arises out of the demonic. Indeed, doubt alone can make the madness in art bearable." - Gershom Scholem


Presented as From the Notes of Dr. Renard de Montpensier -- the director of an insane asylum -- Kzradock begins promising mayhem and confusion:
     What will be related here is a dreadful and bloody mystery, one that is still not entirely understood by the author.
       Kzradock is a patient of the doctor's, though the opening scene certainly isn't one of any traditional psychiatric treatment session: it's of a séance. Whatever is buried in Kzradock's soul -- and the doctor warns that's a lot: "When I began treating him he was on the verge of collapsing under the weight of the burden that he carried in his unconscious" -- apparently can only be reached by both mystical and medical treatment.
       There is murder, of two women, Alice and Yvonne, vividly described ("the carpet is so red that you can hardly tell what is blood and what is carpet"), and with murder and police investigation, Kzradock employs traditional (early-days) detective story devices, twists and all. Yet despite involving the Paris police -- a Monsieur Carbonel -- and an American detective, Mister Wells, the real mystery is on the personal level: Kzradock is a literally soul-searching novel, and it's simplest summing-up would say it is the story of an identity crisis. There's a reason the doctor refers to Kzradock as 'the Onion Man', and there are a lot of layers to peel back here.
       Among the major plot points is one having the inmates taking over the asylum. Apparently setting it on fire, they are able to fool the fire chief into believing that the late-arriving-to-the-scene doctor and Monsieur Carbonel are impostors, escaped patients -- with Monsieur Carbonel then taking advantage when the situation is cleared up to claim that the foreign irritant, Mister Wells, is, in fact, one of the madmen. As it turns out, there apparently is no fire:
     "No fire," replied the fire chief. "But there is a revolution."
       Everywhere the doctor turns, Kzradock is his antagonist. Eventually, he sees:
     Now I understood just what the struggle with Kzradock meant ! It was the struggle between madness and reason. A struggle between his insanity, which wanted to crowd into my circles, and my reason, which felt a curious desire to enter his world.
       And it doesn't come as too much of a surprise that that is very much an internal struggle.
       Using elements of the detctive novel, as well as delving into both mysticism and the subconscious (the psychic and psychoanalytic here both very much of their time), -- with a good dose of the seemingly hallucinatory unreal -- Kzradock is a nicely twisted take on soul-searching, plunging ever-deeper into questions such as:
Is reason only disciplined insanity, an insane hallucination that has taken on form, and under whose influence we all live ? Is reason a dream created by chance, made useable by necessity ?
       The doctor goes through quite some ordeals -- all the way to the cliffs of Brighton. In conclusion, he can't be sure -- "Who knows whether I have truly escaped ..." -- but he's found some of the answers for himself. They include the lesson learned: "You have to doubt your own soul". This too is very much of its time, a worldview informed by the theories (or fads ...) of the day -- but it's nicely mixed up and in by Levy, the doctor's travails and adventures using all of this well in reaching his conclusions. And if it's all a bit overheated -- the action as well as the ideas -- it's certainly quite good fun, especially in its bizarreness.
       Kzradock is the kind of novel that finds the narrator flailing, finding that:
At the edge of the abyss between madness and reason language comes to a stop, and words can no longer explain ....
       But the atmosphere and action Levy conjures up are enough to give the reader some sense of this abyss he explores.
       Likely considerably more haunting in its own time, Kzradock still stands up reasonably well, and both the mind-games Levy plays in it and the contrasting pieces -- ranging from imitation-detective-novel bits to the near-surrealistic -- make for an appealing, bizarre little read. - M.A.Orthofer

Michel de Ghelderode - By turns mystical, macabre and whimsically humorous, and set in the unsettled atmosphere of Brussels, Ostend, Bruges and London, Spells conjures up an uncanny realm of angels, demons, masks, effigies and apparitions, a twilit, oppressed world of diseased gardens, dusty wax mannequins and sinister relics

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Michel de Ghelderode, Spells, Trans. by George MacLennon, Wakefield Press, 2017.

Hitherto unavailable in English, Spells, by the Belgian dramatist Michel de Ghelderode, ranks among the 20th century’s most noteworthy collections of fantastic tales. Like Ghelderode’s plays, the stories are marked by a powerful imagination and a keen sense of the grotesque, but in these the author speaks to us still more directly. Written at a time of illness and isolation, and conceived as a fresh start, Spells was Ghelderode’s last major creative work, and he claimed it as his most personal and deeply felt one: a set of written spells through which his fears, paranoia and nostalgia found concrete form.By turns mystical, macabre and whimsically humorous, and set in the unsettled atmosphere of Brussels, Ostend, Bruges and London, Spells conjures up an uncanny realm of angels, demons, masks, effigies and apparitions, a twilit, oppressed world of diseased gardens, dusty wax mannequins and sinister relics.Combining the full contents of both the 1941 and 1947 editions, this translation of Spells is the most comprehensive edition yet published.



Michel de Ghelderode, Ghelderode: 3 Plays, The Siege of Ostend, The Actor Makes His Exit and Transfiguration in the Circus. Trans. by David Willinger. Host Publications, 2006.

Michel de Ghelderode (1898-1962) was a Belgian playwright who is generally ranked with Beckett, Brecht, Ionesco, Genet and Pinter in the international avant-garde. Writing most of his plays between 1918 and 1937, he wasn't discovered in Europe until after World War II, where he was hailed as the "Belgian Shakespeare," and in America until the 1960's. Both discoveries led to great, though cult, popularity. In the early 60's not a week went by without a production of one of Ghelderode's plays, somewhere in the United States. Ghelderode's best known plays in English translation are Escural and Pantagleize. This unique volume includes three plays—The Siege of Ostend, The Actor Makes His Exit  and Transfiguration in the Circus—in their first ever English translation.
David Willinger is the outstanding English-language translator of Belgian drama, as well as the leading American authority on Belgian drama and theatre. He has prepared a volume of three of Michel de Ghelderode's major plays, which are important for our understanding of his contribution to twentieth-century dramatic literature. The translations are lively, inventive and eminently stageable, while at the same time remaining true to the spirit and texture of the original. – Daniel Gerould

Michel de Ghelderode, Ghelderode: Seven Plays, Hill & Wang, 1960.

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1965: Chronicles of Hell (Michel de Ghelderode)

Religious faith isn't based on logic; it is fostered by belief in mysterious forces and finds its raison d'etre in miraculous occurrences. A human being who manifests miraculous power threatens the entire structure of organized religion. If such a person cannot be branded a charlatan, condemned as a witch, or perverted into a Satanist, Holy Church may be forced to do its worst... enshrine him as a saint. CHRONICLES OF HELL is about a saint who refuses to die and bares the whole grotesque nightmare of organized religion. - www.sfmt.org/



Michel de Ghelderode (1898 - 1962) was an avant-garde Belgian dramatist, writing in French. He was born on Palm Sunday April 3rd, 1898, as Adh mar-Adolphe-Louis Martens in Ixelles and married in 1924 to Jeanne-Fran oise G rard. He died in Brussels, and is buried in the Laeken cemetery. A prolific writer, he wrote more than sixty plays, a hundred stories, a number of articles on art and folklore and more than 20,000 letters. He is the creator of a fantastic and disturbing, often macabre, grotesque and cruel world filled with mannequins, puppets, devils, masks, skeletons, religious paraphernalia, mysterious old women... etc. His works create an eerie and unsettling atmosphere although they rarely contain anything openly scary. Among his influences are puppet theater, commedia dell'arte and the paintings of fellow Belgian James Ensor. His works often deal with the extremes of human experience, from death and degradation to religious exaltation. His 1934 play La Balade du grand macabre served as inspiration for Gy"rgy Ligeti's opera Le Grand Macabre.

Article about the Grand Macabre, by György Ligeti, an opera with a libretto by Ligeti himself and the famous marionettist Michael Meschke, based on an original play by Michel de Ghelderode. Grand Teatre del Liceu, Barcelona.
Le Grand Macabre
The opera Le Grand Macabre, first performed in Stockholm in April 1978, was presented in a revised version in 1997 in a production by the Fura dels Baus, with stage direction by Àlex Ollé and Valentina Carrasco, and musical direction by Michael Boder.
The reason for an article in Puppetring about this full scale opera is none other than the wish to do justice to a production we consider pure Puppet Theatre in capital letters, and, furthermore, of the most noble kind seen in recent times.
For years now, La Fura dels Baus has regaled us with shows which are fully steeped in so called visual theatre, with a profusion of “plastic” or sculptural elements and a preponderance of images created with supreme care.
Besides the imagination of their directors (Àlex Ollé and Carles Padrissa), the Fura works with a number of close collaborators who approach the image from different perspectives and are highly regarded in their own fields. Roland Olbeeter comes to mind, the scenographer and member of the company responsible for coming up with their most original and sophisticated machinery and gadgets, (among other things he is a nautical engineer). In 2005, Roland’s Orlando Furioso! was presented in the Pocket Opera Festival in Barcelona. In this piece five acoustic, mechanical instruments played themselves, as they moved around the space like robotic puppets, interacting with the singer Claudia Schneider. Or, equally, the video-artist  Franc Aleu, an indispensable presence in most of the Fura’s productions; or the various scenographers who have worked with the company.
In the Le Grand Macabre, the “Fureros” (with a set designed by Alfons Flores) hit the bull’s eye when they came up with the idea of a gigantic puppet which occupies the whole opera theatre’s stage and which centres the action and draws it together.
A puppet, because it has articulated parts (mouth, eyes, head and legs, as well as the body’s natural orifices which open and close as required), because it can turn, and, above all, because it comes to life as a character, thanks in part to the use of video projection which gives it a face with facial movements and multiple body textures, and because at a certain moment we perceive it as its own skeleton, thanks to the translucent nature of the doll’s skin which allows the bones of the inner structure to be seen.
If a production achieves a completely organic relationship between a central element of the set and the other elements of the performance, it can be said that the “dramaturgical bullseye” has been hit; this is something that is extremely difficult to achieve. When it’s succesful, the miracle happens and the show will fly, to the full extent of its potential. This is what happened with the Fura’s version of Le Grand Macabre.
In its day, (the work was premiered as has been said in 1978), Michael Meshke, the illustrious marionette puppeteer, participated in writing the libretto of Le Grand Macabre. This is apparent in the buffonesque style, almost “ubuesque”, of the text, with language which is reminiscent of Jarry’s. Meshke directed Alfred Jarry’s Ubu Roi in 1965, in a production that has entered the anthologies which continued to be performed until 1990, which indicates the importance this work had on the world of the Polish puppeteer. Who is the character, really, of Nekrotzar (Death in Ligeti’s opera) if not a kind of ridiculous and capricious Ubu, laughed at by his own assistants and who, furthermore, at the end discovers he’s afraid of his ex-wife? An Ubu who kills everything he touches but who, at the same time is ridiculous and grotesque, as are all the powerful characters who appear in the work.
All the characters emerge out of the huge doll at the centre of the opera, (modelled on the naked body of Claudia Schneider, who appears in a video at the beginning and end of the production): some from the mouth, others from the eyes or from the vagina, and when the figure is turned round, the buttocks are parted and another space is created which contains the intestines and which, once these have been extracted, even becomes a kind of disco-bar where a party’s going on.
Each scene and each act is marked by the doll’s new position, its movements, and the way the spaces inside, around, or on it are used, in such a way that it can be claimed that it absolutely centres the action and the production itself.
For anyone interested in this prodigious production and some of the comments it has earned, I invite you to visit the Fura’s web page, where you can see images, texts and video, as well as reviews and comments.
Translation – Rebecca Simpson
- www.puppetring.com/

Allegorithms - Oscillating between the algorithmic & the representational, the human agent navigates its environmental niche in a way which is conducive to its further psychological, social, & biological existence

Allegorithms , ed. by Vít Bohal & Dustin  Breitling, Litteraria Pragensia, 2017. Contributors: Alexander R. Galloway, Marco Donnarumma...