Two new(ish) graphic novels from Nobrow, Vincent Mahé’s 750 Years in Paris and Victor Hussenot’s The Spectators, showcase Paris as an enduring site of progression, turbulence, and renewal, both in culture and consciousness. Mahé’s 750 Years in Paris is a time-machine, putting its viewer in a stationary position to observe the dramatic changes in one building—and French society and culture—over the course of nearly a millennium. Hussenot’s The Spectators is a dream-machine, shuttling its characters through different skins, faces, and eyes. The titular spectators transcend not only time and space, but mind. Both books attest to the power of transformation while subtly noting the various forces that shape identity.
Vincent Mahé’s 750 Years in Paris begins in 1265 and moves its viewer through time to 2015. The book takes us through the Black Death Plague and the 100 Years War, the reigns of Louis XIV and IV, the storming of the Bastille and the Reign of Terror, Napoleon and Hausmann, a grand Metro and a terrible Flood. The second shot in this chronology shows us a Knights Templar procession in 1270. The crusaders remind us that Western history is inextricably bound in violence, religion, and territorial expansion—but also in the exchange of ideas, information, and knowledge. We get to May 1968 with a strong visual context for France’s history of intellectual turbulence.
The book ends in 2015; I’ll let Mahé’s image speak for itself:
750 Years in Paris shows us that Paris not only survives drastic change, but progresses in the face of violence. When we see, for example, that a winch has been used to hang a Protestant during the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre of 1572—
—it’s worth noting that on the next page, neighbors help each other during a terrible fire. The winch remains in the picture, a visual motif of progress, of building up.
Like every Nobrow title I’ve read, Victor Hussenot’s The Spectators is better experienced than described. Its aesthetic is its narrative and its narrative is its aesthetic, flowing from a lovely dream-logic of identity shifts. Who shall I be today?, the book asks.
The titular spectators try on different skins, wear different hats, look through different eyes. Paris’s metro becomes a labyrinth dream-lab, where the spectators create the world anew by synthesizing known with unknown:
This vision of synthesis carries the narrative through a poetic examination of individuality and society. How much of me is me? Hussenot frames his characters in the geometry of picture puzzles, only to blur the borders that would constrain them.
It’s possible to imagine the spectators of Hussenot’s book gazing on Mahé’s ever-changing Paris building. Or, conversely, we can take Mahé’s building as one of Hussenot’s spectators—another shapeshifter in a city of shapeshifters.
I’ll close with an image from The Spectators that points towards a dream of synthesis, of infinite perspective, of unity. We have here not just a dream, but a vision of progress:
From Thomas Firminger Thiselton-Dyer’s indispensable volume Folk-lore in Shakespeare:
Easter. According to a popular superstition, it is considered unlucky to omit wearing new clothes on Easter Day, to which Shakespeare no doubt alludes in “Romeo and Juliet” (iii. 1), when he makes Mercutio ask Benvolio whether he did “not fall out with a tailor for wearing his new doublet before Easter.” In East Yorkshire, on Easter Eve, young folks go to the nearest market-town to buy some new article of dress or personal adornment to wear for the first time on Easter Day, as otherwise they believe that birds—notably rooks or “crakes”—will spoil their clothes. In “Poor Robin’s Almanac” we are told: “At Easter let your clothes be new, Or else be sure you will it rue.” Some think that the custom of “clacking” at Easter—which is not quite obsolete in some counties—is incidentally alluded to in “Measure for Measure” (iii. 2) by Lucio: “his use was, to put a ducat in her clack-dish.”  The clack or clap dish was a wooden dish with a movable cover, formerly carried by beggars, which they clacked and clattered to show that it was empty. In this they received the alms. Lepers and other paupers deemed infectious originally used it, that the sound might give warning not to approach too near, and alms be given without touching the person. A popular name for Easter Monday was Black Monday, so called, says Stow, because “in the 34th of Edward III. (1360), the 14th of April, and the morrow after Easter Day, King Edward, with his host, lay before the city of Paris; which day was full dark of mist and hail, and so bitter cold, that many men died on their horses’ backs with the cold. Wherefore unto this day it hath been call’d the Blacke Monday.” Thus, in the “Merchant of Venice” (ii. 5), Launcelot says, “it was not for nothing that my nose fell a-bleeding on Black Monday last at six o’clock i’ the morning.”
Alan Furst’s Mission to Paris is new in trade paperback this month. Publisher Random House’s blurb:
Late summer, 1938. Hollywood film star Fredric Stahl is on his way to Paris to make a movie. The Nazis know he’s coming—a secret bureau within the Reich has been waging political warfare against France, and for their purposes, Fredric Stahl is a perfect agent of influence. What they don’t know is that Stahl, horrified by the Nazi war on Jews and intellectuals, has become part of an informal spy service run out of the American embassy. Mission to Paris is filled with heart-stopping tension, beautifully drawn scenes of romance, and extraordinarily alive characters: foreign assassins; a glamorous Russian actress-turned-spy; and the women in Stahl’s life. At the center of the novel is the city of Paris—its bistros, hotels grand and anonymous, and the Parisians, living every night as though it were their last. Alan Furst brings to life both a dark time in history and the passion of the human hearts that fought to survive it.
The largest art theft in world history occurred in Boston on March 18, 1990 when thieves stole 13 pieces from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum.
Collectively worth $300 million.
At least $500 million.
Among the pieces stolen was Vermeer’s The Concert, which is considered to be the most valuable stolen painting in the world.
Also among the pieces stolen: Landscape with an Obelisk, which previously was attributed to Rembrandt.
Having achieved youthful success as a portrait painter, Rembrandt’s later years were marked by personal tragedy and financial hardships.
He died within a year of his son, on October 4, 1669 in Amsterdam, and was buried in an unmarked grave in the Westerkerk.
More than half the subjects of Rembrandt’s etchings are portraits and studies of the human figure; about one-quarter are scriptural or religious. There are two dozen landscapes, and the remainder are allegorical and fancy compositions.
Rembrandt was his own most frequent model.
At least 40 paintings and 31 etchings. Maybe 60. Maybe 70.
Frida Kahlo produced 143 paintings, 55 of which are self-portraits.
Because I am so often alone.
Because I am the subject I know best.
The most acclaimed self-portrait of Leonardo da Vinci is critically, irreparably damaged.
The portrait has got blotches, stains and spots, a condition called foxing.
Leonardo’s self-portrait measures 33.5 by 21.6 centimetres (13.2 by 8.5 inches).
Any list of most famous paintings would be incomplete without the mention of the Mona Lisa by Leonardo da Vinci.
This infamous portrait of Lisa del Giocondo was completed some time between 1503-1519 and currently on display at the Musee du Louvre in Paris.
Leonardo used a pyramid design to place the woman simply and calmly in the space of the painting.
Between 1851 and 1880, artists who visited the Louvre copied Mona Lisa roughly half as many times as certain works by Bartolomé Esteban Murillo, Antonio da Correggio, Paolo Veronese, Titian, Jean-Baptiste Greuze and Pierre-Paul Prud’hon.
And in 1911, Louis Béroud.
The Mona Lisa’s fame was emphasized when it was stolen on 21 August 1911.
On 22 August 1911, Louis Béroud walked into the Louvre and went to the Salon Carré where the Mona Lisa had been on display for five years. However, where the Mona Lisa should have stood, he found four iron pegs.
French poet Guillaume Apollinaire, who had once called for the Louvre to be “burnt down,” came under suspicion; he was arrested and put in jail. Apollinaire tried to implicate his friend Pablo Picasso, who was also brought in for questioning, but both were later exonerated.
(In 1900 Apollinaire would write his first pornographic novel, Mirely, ou le petit trou pas cher, which was eventually lost).
The 1991 film Hudson Hawk (1991) centers on a cat burglar who is forced to steal Da Vinci works of art for a world domination plot.
A colossally sour and ill-conceived misfire.
In 1812 France was devastated when its invasion of Russia turned out to be a colossal failure in which scores of soldiers in Napoleon’s Grand Army were killed or badly wounded.
Napoleon’s conquests in Europe were followed by a systematic attempt, later more tentatively echoed by Hitler, to take the finest works of art of conquered nations back to the Louvre in Paris for a grand central museum of all Europe.
We will now have all that is beautiful in Italy except for a few objects in Turin and Naples.
The contents of nearly all the tombs of the Pharaohs were already completely looted by grave robbers before the invasion of Egypt by Alexander the Great in 332 BCE.
Rome was sacked seven times.
King Shishak of Egypt attacked Jerusalem and took away the treasures of the Lord’s temple and of the royal palace. He took everything, including the gold shields that Solomon had made.
In the Book of Jeremiah 15:11 the Lord says:
Jerusalem, I will surely send you away for your own good. I will surely bring the enemy upon you in a time of trouble and distress. I will give away your wealth and your treasures as plunder. I will give it away free of charge for the sins you have committed throughout your land.
Sack of Constantinople by the Fourth Crusade, 1204.
The Sack of Baghdad, 1258.
Hernán Cortés and the looting of the Aztec gold.
Adolf Hitler was an unsuccessful artist who was denied admission to the Vienna Academy of Fine Arts.
The Third Reich amassed hundreds of thousands of objects from occupied nations and stored them in several key locations, such as Musée Jeu de Paume in Paris and the Nazi headquarters in Munich.
Later, storing the artworks in salt mines and caves for protection from Allied bombing raids.
These mines and caves offered the appropriate humidity and temperature conditions for artworks.
Raphael’s Portrait of a Young Man was confiscated from a Polish family by the Nazis in 1939 for Hitler’s Führermuseum in Linz.
It disappeared in 1945 shortly before the end of the Second World War.
On 1 August 2012, the Polish Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced that the painting had been found in a bank vault in an undisclosed location.
Thirty years after it was stolen, Camille Pissarro’s Le Marche aux Poissons was returned to the French.
Authorities believe they know who stole art from Boston’s Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in the largest art heist in U.S. history.
Eventually they will resurface. Somebody will rat somebody else out. It’s really only a matter of time.
A drawing stolen from an ice cream shop is now back in the hands of its creator.
“Two Friends” — Guy de Maupassant
Besieged Paris was in the throes of famine. Even the sparrows on the roofs and the rats in the sewers were growing scarce. People were eating anything they could get.
As Monsieur Morissot, watchmaker by profession and idler for the nonce, was strolling along the boulevard one bright January morning, his hands in his trousers pockets and stomach empty, he suddenly came face to face with an acquaintance—Monsieur Sauvage, a fishing chum.
Before the war broke out Morissot had been in the habit, every Sunday morning, of setting forth with a bamboo rod in his hand and a tin box on his back. He took the Argenteuil train, got out at Colombes, and walked thence to the Ile Marante. The moment he arrived at this place of his dreams he began fishing, and fished till nightfall.
Every Sunday he met in this very spot Monsieur Sauvage, a stout, jolly, little man, a draper in the Rue Notre Dame de Lorette, and also an ardent fisherman. They often spent half the day side by side, rod in hand and feet dangling over the water, and a warm friendship had sprung up between the two.
Some days they did not speak; at other times they chatted; but they understood each other perfectly without the aid of words, having similar tastes and feelings.
In the spring, about ten o’clock in the morning, when the early sun caused a light mist to float on the water and gently warmed the backs of the two enthusiastic anglers, Morissot would occasionally remark to his neighbor:
“My, but it’s pleasant here.”
To which the other would reply:
“I can’t imagine anything better!”
And these few words sufficed to make them understand and appreciate each other.
In the autumn, toward the close of day, when the setting sun shed a blood-red glow over the western sky, and the reflection of the crimson clouds tinged the whole river with red, brought a glow to the faces of the two friends, and gilded the trees, whose leaves were already turning at the first chill touch of winter, Monsieur Sauvage would sometimes smile at Morissot, and say:
“What a glorious spectacle!”
And Morissot would answer, without taking his eyes from his float:
“This is much better than the boulevard, isn’t it?”
As soon as they recognized each other they shook hands cordially, affected at the thought of meeting under such changed circumstances.
Monsieur Sauvage, with a sigh, murmured:
“These are sad times!”
Morissot shook his head mournfully.
“And such weather! This is the first fine day of the year.”
The sky was, in fact, of a bright, cloudless blue.
They walked along, side by side, reflective and sad.
“And to think of the fishing!” said Morissot. “What good times we used to have!”
“When shall we be able to fish again?” asked Monsieur Sauvage.
They entered a small cafe and took an absinthe together, then resumed their walk along the pavement.
Morissot stopped suddenly.
“Shall we have another absinthe?” he said.
“If you like,” agreed Monsieur Sauvage.
And they entered another wine shop. Continue reading ““Two Friends” — Guy de Maupassant”
“The Masters of Cubism” by César Vallejo (translated by Jason Weiss) is part of a forthcoming collection Selected Writings by César Vallejo, edited by Joseph Mulligan. You can read more selections translated by Weiss at Itineraries of a Hummingbird.
The Masters of Cubism
The Pythagoras of Painting
The greatest contemporary painter is a Spaniard from Málaga: Picasso. Next to Picasso and embracing a no less powerful artistic personality is another Spaniard from Madrid: Juan Gris. In Paris, the fame of both, at least among the elites of the vanguard, has helped in large part to impose the new painting which under the name of Cubism offers now figures so towering as Braque, Derain, Matisse, Marcoussis, whose works are being celebrated far and wide, that they can almost be considered classics already. I’ve just now finished reading an article by Sabord where he tells of his surprise on seeing how the cubist revolutionaries are starting to enjoy a popular and absolute consecration, as if they weren’t such revolutionaries. Every show of decorative models from Parisian shops is currently dominated by the motifs and drawings of Braque, Matisse, Gris, and naturally, Picasso himself. Generally, starting with the International Exposition of Decorative Arts in 1925, cubism has invaded the world of commerce to a resounding degree. Cubism has spread to furniture design, luxury goods, architecture, posters, the theater, etc. The famous and dazzling concert hall the Salle Pleyel has the most old-school polygons. The ads for the Cook Agency on locomotives haul along entire squads of geometry from les fauves. People get all caught up trying to locate the characters from Doctor Caligari among the truncated pyramids and the loony bin’s lack of perspective, etc, etc. The year 1923 marks the apex of Muscovite influence on decorative art in Paris. Upon this Russian prevalence of taste and heights followed the cubist prevalence of taste and depth, which has now reached its greatest scope. Okay, fine. To this irradiation of a new art, profoundly human and, above all, of its time, Picasso and Gris have contributed with ideas and works of the highest order. An overly patriotic Spaniard might claim that the current cubist prevalence in the Paris fashion industry is in the end a Spanish triumph, since cubism has Picasso and Gris for leaders.
But that’s not why one could think that cubism, on getting around and put within reach of commercial taste, is on the threshold of passing into the domain of the vulgar, that is, by that road it’s on the point of going up in smoke and disappearing, due to the superficiality and coarseness of its trajectory. The spread of cubism proves only that there breathes a broadly human content, a universal vitality. This spread is, at the same time, natural and logical. The great esthetic currents of history have had equal luck and the same consecration. The works of Picasso and his friends, like the marvels of the Renaissance, will pass into the category of celebrities, not for having descended to the majority of people but rather for having educated those people to the point of making them ascend toward the works and for enclosing there a cosmic rhythm. We must not forget that there is celebrity and celebrity. One thing is Paul de Kock and another is Victor Hugo.
Among the first creators of cubism, Gris has toiled away heroically. Hero against the recalcitrant public and hero against many sectarians of the school itself. Since his first paintings, Gris has shown a rigorous, mathematical sense of art, against the reigning celestinesque metaphysics. Gris paints in numbers. His canvases are real top-grade creations, brilliantly resolved. Beside other cubists more or less wavering from capitulation or disbelief, Gris preaches and carries out, from the dawn of the new esthetic, around 1908, an intransigent, red, vertical belief. Nothing of Bergsonism nor of empirical rationalism. Gris preaches and carries out a conscientious and scientific knowledge of painting. He wants the painter to know conscientiously what he is painting and to avail himself of a wise technique and vigilant practice, by which he may properly make use of his natural gifts. His work, in this way, is made of precision, of pure certainty, of Goethean infallibility. Without sinking in any narrow scholasticism. Gris always adjusts himself, like the sainted hermit Popes, to the severe and apostolic numbers. Because of that, the critics have called him the Pythagoras of painting and proclaimed him the initiator of what could be called “pure painting,” like the “pure poetry” of abbé Brémond. Such appreciations spring up of their own from the serene contemplation of his work, where he strictly practiced the doctrine upheld, shortly before his death, in his conference at the Sorbonne.
Gris has been perhaps the most rebellious painter in Paris. He was not the sort of artist who compromises out of hunger, or love of fame, or out of “lousy doubts,” as Apollinaire would say. Gris is always Gris, against aces and queens, even against time and against himself. And through this rigorous spirit of artistic austerity and through the scientific possession of his creative forces, without unconfessable fog or elaborate and complicit mysteries, Juan Gris will remain the most representative painter of our time.
[Variedades 1069. Lima, 25 August 1928.]
The kind people of Paris Press were good enough to send me a reader copy of their 10th anniversary edition of Virginia Woolf’s essay “On Being Ill,” which they’ve collected with “Notes from Sick Rooms,” an essay by Julia Stephen—Woolf’s mother. Paris Press’s blurb:
Published together for the first time, Woolf and Stephen create a literary conversation between parent and child, patient and care giver, from the vantage points each experience in the world of illness. Originally published by Paris Press in 2002, this new edition doubles the length of the original book and includes a new introduction to Notes from Sick Rooms by eminent Woolf scholar Mark Hussey, and a new afterword by Rita Charon, founder and director of the Narrative Medicine program at Columbia University, along with the original introduction to On Being Ill by Hermione Lee, Woolf’s biographer.
Lee’s introduction seems to be an expansion of a piece she wrote for The Guardian in 2004; in that piece she wrote:
The story of the body’s life, and the part the body has to play in our lives, is one of Virginia Woolf’s great subjects. Far from being an ethereal, chill, disembodied writer, she is always transforming thoughts and feelings and ideas into bodily metaphors. She writes with acute – often extremely troubling – precision about how the body mediates and controls our life stories. Body parts are strewn all over her pages. Rage and embarrassment are felt in the thighs; a headache can turn into a whole autobiography; dressing up the body is an epic ordeal; and a clenched fist, feet in a pair of boots, the flash of a dress or the fingertip feel of a creature in a salt-water pool, can speak volumes.
Nowhere is her attention to body parts more eloquent and intense than in the essay “On Being Ill”. It is one of Woolf’s most daring, strange and original short pieces of writing, and it has more subjects than its title suggests. Like the clouds that its sick watcher, “lying recumbent”, sees changing shapes and ringing curtains up and down, this is a shape-changing essay.
Woolf announces her theme in a long, winding opening sentence that showcases some of the “shape-shifting” Lee alludes to:
Considering how common illness is, how tremendous the spiritual change that it brings, how astonishing, when the lights of health go down, the undiscovered countries that are then disclosed, what wastes and deserts of the soul a slight attack of influenza brings to view, what precipices and lawns sprinkled with bright flowers a little rise of temperature reveals, what ancient and obdurate oaks are uprooted in us by the act of sickness, how we go down in the pit of death and feel the waters of annihilation close above our heads and wake thinking to find ourselves in the presence of the angels and the harpers when we have a tooth out and come to the surface in the dentist’s arm-chair and confuse his “Rinse the mouth-rinse the mouth” with the greeting of the Deity stooping from the floor of Heaven to welcome us – when we think of this, as we are so frequently forced to think of it, it becomes strange indeed that illness has not taken its place with love and battle and jealousy among the prime themes of literature.
And what of Stephen’s essay? It’s a practical, concrete, and mostly pragmatic approach to caring for sick people. Some parts compel more than others, as when Stephen discusses the absurd flights of fancy that might afflict the ill. In his introduction to “Notes from Sick Rooms,” Mark Hussey tries to amplify connections between the two texts that are either obvious (the texts share a common subject) or speculative (Stephen’s essay “foreshadows the wit and sharp observation that is characteristic of her famous daughter’s style”). Hussey’s comments are best when they provide basic context and don’t try to force the reader into making connections. There’s also an afterward by Rita Charon, an internist, who again tries to synthesize the two texts. I suppose context is important, but there’s a sense of inflation here that I’m not entirely sure either essay (Woolf’s or Stephen’s) necessarily merits.
“An Uncomfortable Bed” by Guy de Maupassant:
One autumn I went to stay for the hunting season with some friends in a chateau in Picardy.
My friends were fond of practical joking, as all my friends are. I do not care to know any other sort of people.
When I arrived, they gave me a princely reception, which at once aroused distrust in my breast. We had some capital shooting. They embraced me, they cajoled me, as if they expected to have great fun at my expense.
I said to myself:
“Look out, old ferret! They have something in preparation for you.”
During the dinner, the mirth was excessive, far too great, in fact. I thought: “Here are people who take a double share of amusement, and apparently without reason. They must be looking out in their own minds for some good bit of fun. Assuredly I am to be the victim of the joke. Attention!”
During the entire evening, everyone laughed in an exaggerated fashion. I smelled a practical joke in the air, as a dog smells game. But what was it? I was watchful, restless. I did not let a word or a meaning or a gesture escape me. Everyone seemed to me an object of suspicion, and I even looked distrustfully at the faces of the servants.
The hour rang for going to bed, and the whole household came to escort me to my room. Why? They called to me: “Good night.” I entered the apartment, shut the door, and remained standing, without moving a single step, holding the wax candle in my hand.
I heard laughter and whispering in the corridor. Without doubt they were spying on me. I cast a glance around the walls, the furniture, the ceiling, the hangings, the floor. I saw nothing to justify suspicion. I heard persons moving about outside my door. I had no doubt they were looking through the keyhole.
An idea came into my head: “My candle may suddenly go out, and leave me in darkness.”
Then I went across to the mantelpiece, and lighted all the wax candles that were on it. After that, I cast another glance around me without discovering anything. I advanced with short steps, carefully examining the apartment. Nothing. I inspected every article one after the other. Still nothing. I went over to the window. The shutters, large wooden shutters, were open. I shut them with great care, and then drew the curtains, enormous velvet curtains, and I placed a chair in front of them, so as to have nothing to fear from without.
Then I cautiously sat down. The armchair was solid. I did not venture to get into the bed. However, time was flying; and I ended by coming to the conclusion that I was ridiculous. If they were spying on me, as I supposed, they must, while waiting for the success of the joke they had been preparing for me, have been laughing enormously at my terror. So I made up my mind to go to bed. But the bed was particularly suspicious-looking. I pulled at the curtains. They seemed to be secure. All the same, there was danger. I was going perhaps to receive a cold shower-bath from overhead, or perhaps, the moment I stretched myself out, to find myself sinking under the floor with my mattress. I searched in my memory for all the practical jokes of which I ever had experience. And I did not want to be caught. Ah! certainly not! certainly not! Then I suddenly bethought myself of a precaution which I consider one of extreme efficacy: I caught hold of the side of the mattress gingerly, and very slowly drew it toward me. It came away, followed by the sheet and the rest of the bedclothes. I dragged all these objects into the very middle of the room, facing the entrance door. I made my bed over again as best I could at some distance from the suspected bedstead and the corner which had filled me with such anxiety. Then, I extinguished all the candles, and, groping my way, I slipped under the bedclothes.
For at least another hour, I remained awake, starting at the slightest sound. Everything seemed quiet in the chateau. I fell asleep.
I must have been in a deep sleep for a long time, but all of a sudden, I was awakened with a start by the fall of a heavy body tumbling right on top of my own body, and, at the same time, I received on my face, on my neck, and on my chest a burning liquid which made me utter a howl of pain. And a dreadful noise, as if a sideboard laden with plates and dishes had fallen down, penetrated my ears.
I felt myself suffocating under the weight that was crushing me and preventing me from moving. I stretched out my hand to find out what was the nature of this object. I felt a face, a nose, and whiskers. Then with all my strength I launched out a blow over this face. But I immediately received a hail of cuffings which made me jump straight out of the soaked sheets, and rush in my nightshirt into the corridor, the door of which I found open.
O stupor! it was broad daylight. The noise brought my friends hurrying into the apartment, and we found, sprawling over my improvised bed, the dismayed valet, who, while bringing me my morning cup of tea, had tripped over this obstacle in the middle of the floor, and fallen on his stomach, spilling, in spite of himself, my breakfast over my face.
The precautions I had taken in closing the shutters and going to sleep in the middle of the room had only brought about the interlude I had been striving to avoid.
Ah! how they all laughed that day!
RIP French filmmaker Chris Marker, 1921-2012
Like any kid who took way too many film studies courses in college, I was lucky to be introduced to the strange films of Chris Marker, who died at 91 yesterday in Paris. Marker is most famous for his film La jetée, a sci-fi post-apocalyptic meditation shot as a series of still photos (the film was later adapted by Terry Gilliam into 12 Monkeys). Marker’s film San Soleil had a particular impact on me: it’s a beautiful, strange film essay, or travel novel, or I don’t know what you call it. Just find it and see it. Here’s the intro:
A funny section from late in Roberto Bolaño’s novel 2666; lapsus calami is Latin for “slip of the pen,” indicating a mistake or miswriting (although, as the characters discuss later, some of these examples may be purposeful):
. . . . and then they started to talk about lapsus calami, many of them collected in a book published long ago in Paris and fittingly titled Le Musee des erreurs, as well as others selected by Max Sengen, hunter of errata. And one thing led to another and it wasn’t long before the copy editors got out a book (which wasn’t the French Museum of Errors or Sengen’s text), whose title Archimboldi couldn’t see, and began to read aloud a selection of cultured pearls:
“Poor Marie! Whenever she hears the sound of an approaching horse, she is certain that it is I.” Vie de Ranee, Chateaubriand.
“The crew of the ship swallowed up by the waves consisted of twenty-five men, who left hundreds of widows consigned to misery.” Les Cages flottantes, Gaston Leroux.
“With God’s help, the sun will shine again on Poland.” The Deluge, Sienkiewicz.
” ‘Let’s go!’ said Peter, looking for his hat to dry his tears.” Lourdes, Zola.
“The duke appeared followed by his entourage, which preceded him.” Letters from My Mill, Alphonse Daudet.
“With his hands clasped behind his back, Henri strolled about the garden, reading his friend’s novel.” Le Cataclysme, Rosny.
“With one eye he read, with the other he wrote.” On the Banks of the Rhine, Auback.
“Silently the corpse awaited the autopsy.” Luck’s Favorite, Octave Feuillet.
“William couldn’t imagine the heart served for anything other than breathing.” Death, Argibachev.
“This sword of honor is the most beautiful day of my life.” Honneur d’artiste, Octave Feuillet.
“I can hardly see anymore, said the poor blind woman.” Beatrix, Balzac.
“After they cut off his head, they buried him alive.” The Death of Mongomer, Henri Zvedan.
“His hand was as cold as a snake’s.” Ponson du Terrail. And here there was no indication of the source of the lapsus calami.
The following unattributed quotes from Max Sengen’s collection were particularly notable:
“The corpse stared reproachfully at those gathered around him.”
“What can a man do who’s been killed by a lethal bullet?”
“Near the city there were roaming whole packs of solitary bears.”
“Unfortunately, the wedding was delayed fifteen days, during which time the bride fled with the captain and gave birth to eight children.”
“Three- or four-day excursions were a daily occurrence.”
And then came the commentary.
What about your critics? Can you just sum up briefly what you hold against the French press?
First of all, they hate me more than I hate them. What I do reproach them for isn’t bad reviews. It is that they talk about things having nothing to do with my books—my mother or my tax exile—and that they caricature me so that I’ve become a symbol of so many unpleasant things—cynicism, nihilism, misogyny. People have stopped reading my books because they’ve already got their idea about me. To some degree of course, that’s true for everyone. After two or three novels, a writer can’t expect to be read. The critics have made up their minds.
From his Paris Review interview.