Tag Archives: surrealism

Companions in Distress

“What shall I do?” I said. “It seems a pity to commit suicide when I have lived for ninety-two years and really haven’t understood anything.”
—Leonora Carrington, The Hearing Trumpet (17)

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Described as a Surrealist novel, the 1974 book, The Hearing Trumpet by Leonora Carrington is nothing if not dreamlike. Where the novel begins bears zero relation from where it ends and the matter-of-fact tone with which Carrington relates the hairpin turns and oddness is exactly like a dream in which things just are and you don’t necessarily question how you know—don’t ask questions! the facts are whatever they appear to be.

Then a terrible thing happened to me. I started to laugh and could not stop. Tears poured down my face and I covered my mouth with my hand, hoping they would think I had a secret sorrow and was weeping and not laughing (45).

The most wonderful thing about the book is the innocently curmudgeon of a protagonist, Marian Leatherby. She is very funny and her friend Carmella is the type of friend we all wish we had:

“I will give you a solution in a few moments,” said Carmella, who was rummaging in a large covered basket that she had brought. “In the meantime I had better give you the chocolate biscuits and the port, before anybody comes” (141).

A woman with priorities! And the one who gives the near-deaf Marian a hearing trumpet which causes her to learn that her odious family, whom she did not in anyway miss hearing, are plotting to send her to a “retirement” home which is where the real adventure begins.

The novel is closer, in my opinion, to a sort of a magical realism in that Carrington does not try ones patience with pseudo-psychological-surrealist imagery. Rather than a deep seeded anxiety, the book has a sort of joyful innocence. Marian is very trusting, and for a fellow-trusting fool like myself, it is nice to root for her.

I leapt right into the boiling soup and stiffened in a moment of intense agony with my companions in distress, one carrot and two onions (176).

*image from L’Encyclopédie ou Dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts et des métiers




Things got out of…hand

My son Marco is in the soon-to-be-released indy film, The Strange Eyes of Dr. Myes. It pleases me excessively to see him in the trailer…


Belonging: An Object Lesson

“Vaguest recall of an elegant cockatoo at dusk 14th St.”
-Joseph Cornell quoted in Dime-Store Alchemy (13), Charles Simic


I think it’s the fact that vague recall of elegant cockatoos is a common enough experience that I couldn’t help immediately connecting with this lovely book. Perhaps it’s not elegant cockatoos for everyone, but that swarming cloud of images and words that materialize or vaporize in the mind is a shared universe of the observant. Charles Simic, who is more than just my favorite poet on ants, is the author of Dime-Store Alchemy, The Art of Joseph Cornell. Cornell was a New York artist born in 1903. In the vignette Where Chance Meets Necessity Simic describes Cornell’s philosophy of art thusly:

Somewhere in the city of New York there are four or five still-unknown objects that belong together. Once together they’ll make a work of art. (14)

I love that idea, and sense, of belonging. Finding the perfect mate, the perfect spot to place something, the perfect book at the right point of your life, the perfect person: it’s a lovely thought and dream that we extend, (some sadly only conferring) to all our objects- If this belongs here, then I belong somewhere too.

Beauty is about the improbable coming true suddenly. (53)

Simic’s use of the word “suddenly” is what rings that sentence with truth. Whenever one first views a piece of art there is a suddenness, the feeling of yes or no that follows is not the same for everyone, but the suddenness is there- it’s the magic of an infinity in an instant. What the artist, and art, gives is that moment  of connection. When Simic says, “The clarity of one’s vision is a work of art,” (20) I think he means the clarity of vision of the artist, but I would apply that succinct thought to both artist and viewer. The click of clarity- Cornell knew what sound to listen for as he let his eye roam the city.

I picked this book up because I enjoy Simic’s work, I confess I knew nothing of Cornell. But, I didn’t have to get very far into it to know that the book belonged in my hand. In the very last sentence of the introduction, Simic touched me with devastating simplicity. Relating the last day of Cornell’s  life in which he died of heart failure, Simic writes, “Earlier that day he told his sister on the phone, ‘I wish I had not been so reserved.'”

I suppose we all end up with our own mountains of regret, but my heart moved a few inches reading that one. It hurts to be your own worst enemy.

*Photographed Box:  “Untitled (Soap Bubble Set),” 1936 by Joseph Cornell
“A soap bubble went to meet infinity. “ (54)