Xavier de Maistre – Voyage autour de ma chambre, 1794 Voyage Around My Room

x de maistre madame elisabeth vigee lebrun

Chapter 7

Doesn’t that seem clear enough to you? Here’s another example:

One day last summer, I was making my way on foot to court. I had spent the whole morning painting, and my soul, enjoying its meditations on painting, left it to the beast to transport me to the Kings’s Palace.

“What a sublime art is painting!” my soul was thinking. “Happy is the man who has been touched by the spectacle of nature, who is not obliged to paint pictures for a living, and who does not paint merely as a pastime, but is struck by the majesty of a beautiful physiognomy and the admirable play of the light that suffuses the human face with a thousand subtle hues! He attempts to approach in his works the sublime effects of nature. Happy too is the painter whom the love of landscape leads out on solitary excursions, who is able to express on canvas the feeling of melancholy inspired in him by a gloomy wood or a deserted countryside! His productions imitate and reproduce nature; he creates new dark seas and dark caves on which the sun has never shone: at his order, green copses emerge from nothingness, and the blue of the sky is reflected in his pictures; he knows the art of fanning the breezes and making the tempests roar. At other times, he offers to the eye of the bewitched spectator the delightful landscapes of ancient Sicily: you can see panic-stricken nymphs taking flight through the reeds from some satyr in hot pursuit; temples of majestic build raise their proud heads above the sacred forest that encloses them: the imagination loses itself along the silent roads of this ideal country; the blue horizons merge gently into the sky, and the whole landscape, mirrored in the waters of a tranquil river, forms a spectacle that no lagoon can describe.”

As my soul was reflecting thus, the other kept right on going – God knows where! Instead of making its way to court, as it had been ordered to, it drifted away so far leftwards that, by the time my soul had caught up with it, it was already at the door of Mme de Hautcastel, half a mile away from the royal palace.

I will leave it to the reader to imagine what would have happened if the other had entered all by itself the home of such a beautiful lady.

——-

Chapter 10

Don’t get the idea that, instead of keeping my word and giving a description of my journey around my room, I am merely beating about the bush and evading the issue; you’d be quite wrong. No, my journey is really and truly continuing; and while my soul, withdrawing into itself, was in the last chapter exploring the tangled and twisted paths of metaphysics, I was in my armchair, in which I had leant back so that its two front legs were raised two inches above the ground; and by leaning forward, I had imperceptibly come right up to the wall – this is the way I travel when I’m not in any hurry. Here my hand had mechanically taken down the portrait of Mme de Hautcastel, and the other was diverting itself by breathing off the dust with which the portrait was covered. This occupation gave it a tranquil pleasure, and this pleasure communicated itself to my soul, even though the latter was lost in the best plains of the sky. It is worth noting observing in this respect that, when the spirit travels thus through space, it is still attached to the senses by some secret link; as a result, without being distracted from its occupations, it can participate in the joys and pleasures of the other, but if this pleasure increases to a certain degree, or if it is struck by some unexpected sight, the soul immediately reassumes her place as quick as a flash of lightening.

This is just what happened to me as I was cleaning the portrait.

As the cloth wiped the dust away and revealed curls of blond hair, and the garland of roses that crown them, my soul, although far away in the sun to which she had transported herself, felt a slight quiver in her heart, and emphatically shared the pleasure of my heart. This pleasure became less indistinct and more intense when the cloth, in one single sweep, laid bare the gleaning forehead of that enchanting physiognomy; my soul was on the point of leaving the heavens to come and enjoy the spectacle. But if she had been at the Champs- Élysées, or attending a concert of cherubs, she wouldn’t have stayed there for even half a second, when her companion, taking an increasing interest in her work, decided to seize a wet sponge that was handed to her and immediately proceeded to draw it over the eyebrows and the eyes – over the nose – over the cheeks – over the mouth – ah, God! How my heart beats! – over the chin, over the breast: it took no more than a minute; the whole face seemed to be reborn and to emerge from nothingness. My soul came sweeping down from heaven like a falling star; she found the other in a state of enraptured ecstasy, and succeeded in increasing its bliss by sharing it. This strange and unforeseen situation made time and space disappear for me. I existed for a moment in the past, and I grew again, against the order of nature. Yes, here she is, that adored woman, it really is her, I can see her smiling; she’s going to speak, she’s going to tell me she loves me. What a gaze! Come, let me press you to my heart, soul of my life, my second existence! Come and share my exaltation and my happiness! – This moment was brief, but it was ravishing: frigid Reason soon regained control, and in the space of the twinkling of an eye, I grew a whole year older: my heart became cold and frozen, and I found myself on the same level as that host of indifferent people who weigh down the globe.

Xavier de Maistre, 1763-1852            Voyage autour de ma chambre, 1794 Voyage Around My Room. Translation by Andrew Brown. Published by Hesperus Press Ltd, 2004.

The French writer and critic Charles Saint-Beuve, 1805-1869, admired de Maistre’s technique of storytelling by digression, or “manière de confession d’ailleurs”. In the first chapter de Maistre explains the subject of his story “I have undertaken and completed a forty-two day journey around my room. The interesting observations I have made, and the continual pleasure I experienced en route, filled me with the desire to publish it;…” His journey starts at the armchair, observes the pictures on the wall, walks to his desk and concludes by the fire. That is the physical plot of the novella, but the narrative concerns a love affair with a Madame de Hautcastel. The story resulted from an incident in Turin where he was imprisoned for forty-two days in the citadel in Turin following a duel with a Piedmontese officer. De Maistre admired Lawrence Sterne and the absurdity of the inversion of space and time in the Voyage autour de ma chambre is a parody of the traditional travelogue. De Maistre was an army officer and an aristocrat, and also a painter of miniatures and landscapes with a sophisticated understanding of artistic ideas. Inspired by the ideas of Rousseau, his separation of his physical self, the other, and his emotional self, the soul, illustrates how pictures were perceived as sensitive mirrors of emotional states.

Image: Madame Élisabeth, (Élisabeth of France) (Elisabeth-Philippe-Marie-Hélène) 1764-1794, sister of Louis XVI, was guillotined during the French Revolution. Engraving after a painting of Madame Élisabeth, 1782 by Elisabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun, 1755–1842, Musée National du Château de Versailles

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W M Thackeray – Vanity Fair,1848 Ch XX

 

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Chapter XX. The history of a philosophic vagabond, pursuing novelty, but losing content

‘In this manner I proceeded to Paris, with no design but just to look about me, and then to go forward. The people of Paris are much fonder of strangers that have money, than of those that have wit. As I could not boast much of either, I was no great favourite. After walking about the town four or five days, and seeing the outsides of the best houses, I was preparing to leave this retreat of venal hospitality, when passing through one of the principal streets, whom should I meet but our cousin, to whom you first recommended me. This meeting was very agreeable to me, and I believe not displeasing to him. He enquired into the nature of my journey to Paris, and informed me of his own business there, which was to collect pictures, medals, intaglios, and antiques of all kinds, for a gentleman in London, who had just stept into taste and a large fortune. I was the more surprised at seeing our cousin pitched upon for this office, as he himself had often assured me he knew nothing of the matter. Upon my asking how he had been taught the art of a connoscento so very suddenly, he assured me that nothing was more easy. The whole secret consisted in a strict adherence to two rules: the one always to observe, that the picture might have been better if the painter had taken more pains; and the other, to praise the works of Pietro Perugino. But, says he, as I once taught you how to be an author in London, I’ll now undertake to instruct you in the art of picture buying at Paris.

‘With this proposal I very readily closed, as it was a living, and now all my ambition was to live. I went therefore to his lodgings, improved my dress by his assistance, and after some time, accompanied him to auctions of pictures, where the English gentry were expected to be purchasers. I was not a little surprised at his intimacy with people of the best fashion, who referred themselves to his judgment upon every picture or medal, as to an unerring standard of taste. He made very good use of my assistance upon these occasions; for when asked his opinion, he would gravely take me aside, and ask mine, shrug, look wise, return, and assure the company, that he could give no opinion upon an affair of so much importance. Yet there was sometimes an occasion for a more supported assurance. I remember to have seen him, after giving his opinion that the colouring of a picture was not mellow enough, very deliberately take a brush with brown varnish, that was accidentally lying by, and rub it over the piece with great composure before all the company, and then ask if he had not improved the tints.

W M Thackeray, 1811-1861.       Vanity Fair – A Novel without a Hero, 1848

image: ‘The Saleroom of The Commissaires-priseurs, Paris’, wood engraving illustration from page 73 of ‘L`Illustration’, Vol.9, Paris, France, 1846–7. Museum no. NAL PP 10

 

Édouard Levé – Oeuvres,2002

Oeuvre1. A book describes works that the author has conceived but not brought into being.
72. The eraser residues of all the students in a fine arts institute are collected for a year and reconstituted into a cube.
84. Photographs catalogue an inventory of destroyed works. Once its destruction is complete, what’s left of a piece is rubble and ashes. Damages are classified by type: fire, flood, submersion, earthquake, shock, fall, collapse, bombardment, assault, vandalism, poor conservation . . .
89. Soap bubbles are blown into a space where the temperature is 100°C. Keeping the shape that the cold surprised them in, they are exhibited in a refrigerated aquarium.
95. An artist creates ten paintings on his fingernails. Those on his left hand are painted with those on his right hand, and vice versa. The exhibit takes place in the home of the viewer. He is given a ten-sided die and asked to throw it. The artist shows him the fingernail corresponding to the number on the die for as he long as the viewer wants. He keeps his other fingernails hidden. The exhibition ends after ten throws of the die. The viewer has a chance of thirty-six out of a hundred million to see all ten nails in the same session.
110. The atelier of Frenhofer, the painter in Balzac’s The Unknown Masterpiece, as imagined by four readers, is shown as slideshow projections onto the walls of a room. The readers explain their visual interpretation to an artist, who draws the scene, dutifully complying with each reader’s amendments, in the style of an identikit. These drawings form the basis for the construction of four ateliers that are then photographed, the result showing four real versions of this fictive place.
113. The silhouette of a dog is cut out of a pornographic picture.
142. “POISONWOOD FAIRYLAND” is painted in orange block capitals on canvas woven from flax linen taken from a field peppered with poisonous plants.
143. A labyrinth is painted in skimmed milk on a museum façade is destroyed in bad weather.
179. In an enormous hall lies a valley between two mountainous slopes made out of white Styrofoam. At the far end is a crashed Airbus A 320 made out of kebabs. Smaller parts of the wreck, also made out of kebabs are scattered throughout the valley, making visible the trajectory of the accident. The ensemble is looked upon through a panoramic window piercing the wall.
181. The Aleph. A dull glass sphere floats in the middle of a dark room. Random video images taken from cinema and television archives are projected onto its surface from the inside. Landscapes, houses, animals, automobiles, supermarkets, books, news, images, scenes of family, love, war . . .
212. A naked man, seated on a chair. His testicles are two tiny globes: the one the earth, the other the moon.
228. A misty black ring against a white wall—trace of a motorcycle tailpipe.
238. Places are photographed by their reflections in spit bubbles.
247. The paragraphs of a novel are replaced by black rectangles whose surface area corresponds to the number of letters used in the paragraph. Spaces and line breaks are not counted. The top of each rectangle is aligned with where the corresponding paragraph started. The narrative is reduced to a sequence of geometric paintings.
358. The labels on a sound system—CD, Tape, Tuner, Aux—are replaced with new ones: Love, Break-up, Friendship, Depression.
359. A naked man standing upright is adorned with pockets of colour created by using a syringe to inject ink into the layer of silicone he wears on his skin.
372. The daily sounds made by a family in a house are recorded. The family then moves out and the house is emptied. Only the marks made by their furniture on the floors and walls remain. In each room, the sounds made there while the house was occupied are played back.
378. The paintings in a museum of fine arts are temporarily taken down and replaced by monochrome paintings of identical dimensions. The colour of each monochrome is chosen by a computer that analyses all the brushstrokes of the original painting and comes up with its average colour. With rare exceptions, such as paintings of the sky, or night scenes, the dominant colour is brown.
385. A stream disappears into the earth somewhere in a French park where visitors throw flowers into it. Somewhere in a garden in New Zealand, is a spring where the emerging water contains the same flowers.
449. The letterboxes inside an apartment building bear the names of famous dead writers and artists.
499. A human puddle lies on the floor, halfway between a bearskin and a pool of polyurethane. Head, hands, feet, nipples, genitals, buttocks, elbows, knees, and shoulders poke up here and there out of a shapeless mass of pink silicone.
471. Schopenhauer’s The Art of Being Right is read in the tone of a televised soccer commentary.
512. Museum of the Answering Machine. Chosen at random from the phone book, ten thousand messages left on answering machines are collected. Kept on CD-ROM, they can be consulted using a computer, either by typing in a number between one and ten thousand, or through searching for a keyword corresponding to a type of language or to a word used in the message.
520. A novel is shot with a revolver, resulting in a bullet hole piercing its core. The missing words are found in another copy. A short story called “The Hole” is written, using only these words.
530: A Philip K. Dick story is written in reverse. The last sentence is the first, the second to last is the second, and so on, right up to the first sentence, which is the last.
533. After having published a book describing works he has not brought into being, the author gives public readings. The audience is invited to say the number of the work they wish to have read to them, and the author complies by reading the corresponding description. The reading ends when no one asks him to continue.

Édouard Levé,1965-2007. Oeuvres,2002 Works,2014

Édouard Levé, Oeuvres. Published by P.O.L Editeur, France, 2002.

Édouard Levé, Works. Published by Dalkey Archive Press, 2014. Translation by Jan Steyn.

Édouard Levé’s Oeuvres is modular rather than a narrative literature, describing in the style of a formal catalogue, a potential list of 533 conceptual artworks conceived by the author. Many of the ideas appear odd, banal or ridiculous as isolated conceptual artworks, although they are often closely related to contemporary artists’ statements and projects, and verge on satirizing the content of contemporary art. The first project described in this book, 1. A book describes works that the author has conceived but not brought into being is in fact the book Oeuvres. Some ideas were completed by Levé, in the books Amérique and Pornographie. Oeuvres emerges from the Oulipo group and post-1945 French experimental writing.