Gabriel Josipovici – The Big Glass,1991

the-bride-stripped-bare-by-her-bachelors-the-large-glass-1915-23-duchamp-1407355562_b

All those people wear me out. Nothing but running around and organizing. Organizing, he wrote. When the history of our times comes to be written, They Organized Themselves to Death will be the only possible epitaph. No doubt they mean well where the arts are concerned, he wrote, but for that reason they are the biggest menace. No doubt thay think they have the interests of the artist at heart, he wrote, but for that reason they must be avoided like the plague. No doubt they see themselves as devoted middlewomen, bringing the truly important work of the time to the avid masses, but all they are really doing, wrote Harsnet (typed Goldberg) is fucking up the lives of both sets of people. They bring time into what is essentially timeless, he wote. They bring anxiety about venues and dates into what is essentially a calm and anxiety-free activity. They try to ram down the throat of the public what the public quite rightly does not want. The Arts Council should be abolished, he wrote. And the Royal Arts Fund. And the Royal Literary Society. And the Royal Ballet. And the Royal Academy. Especially the Royal Academy, he wrote, with its Presidents and its Private Views and its Signed Goblets and its Concerts of Spanish music to go with the Murillo exhibition and its Concerts of Russian music to go with its Tatlin exhibition and its Concerts of Dutch music to go with its De Hooch exhibition, and its Silk-screened Scarves and its Special Offers and its Jigsaws of the Raft of the Medusa and La Grande Jatte and its Good Taste and its Tondo and its Education Department and its Restaurant with its Tasty Snacks and its Cold Buffet and its Glass of Wine and its Napkins Designed by a Living Artist, and its Proximity to Cork Street, with its Galleries and their Private Views and their Favoured Clients and their Phone Calls to New York and their Summer Shows and their Autumn Shows and their Winter Shows and their Embossed Invitations and their Highly Polished Floors. There is no end to it all, wrote Harsnet (typed Goldberg). When you begin to think about it you grow dizzy, your stomach turns over, not just at the commercialism of it all, but at the aestheticism of it all, not just at the chequebooks but at the Intellligent Conversations, not just at the fifty percent but at the Sensitive Responses, not just at the winks and nods but at the Hushed Silence in the Presence of Art. Our civilization will be destroyed, he wrote, not by the Bomb but by its reverence for the Creative Spirit. Better never enter a church, he wrote, than enter in a spirit of false awe. Churches and art galleries, he wrote. That funereal atmosphere. False awe in the face of death, he wrote. No one knowing how to react, all speaking in low tones with solemn faces. It is the same with art, he wrote. Now even artists work with awed expressions, he wrote. Talk in whispers. Ape the critics. Ape the dealers. Ape the organizers. True art as a release from Art, he wrote. The glass as freedom, not constraint. As a mirror of reality, not Monument to Creativity.

Gabriel Josipovici, born 1940. The Big Glass,1991. pp 92-93

Publisher: Carcanet Press Ltd, 1991, 119pp

Image: Marcel Duchamp, 1887-1968, La mariée mise à nu par ses célibataires, même, 1915–23 (The Bride Stripped Bare by her Bachelors, Even) also known as La Grand Verre (The Large Glass), 1915-1923; oil, varnish, lead foil, lead wire, and dust on two glass panels; 277.5 x 175.9 cm (109.25 x 69.25 inches). Collection: Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia

Image: Man Ray,1890-1976. Dust Breeding,1920, Gelatin silver Print, 23.9 x 30.4 cm (9 7/16 x 12 inches), Collection: The Metropolitan Museum of Art

The Large Glass, and the accompanying notes, The Green Box, are an iconic work of Modern Art and contemporary art theory. Duchamp’s art presents enigmatic interpretations on the meaning and interpretation of an art object creating an ambiguous abstract narrative and proposing conceptual ideas of time, delay, and action in a work that questions the values of traditional retinal painting. Josipovicis text is a continuous, paragraphless meditation on art and its creation, in the form of a series of notes by the artist Harsnet on the making of Big Glass, based on Marcel Duchamp’s Large Glass and its accompanying notes. Harsnet is a wit and a prankster, and his notes record much of his life at the time in the form of a continuous stream of information and reflection that indiscriminately incorporates shopping lists and other mundane details of his life. The reader sees part of the plot through the marginal notations and explanatory writings of a former fellow artist, Goldberg, now turned critic and teacher, who is transcribing the notes.” The characters, Harsnet and Golding, suggest the artist Richard Hamilton, 1922-2011, who reconstructed the Large Glass in 1965-66, now at Tate, London, and John Golding, 1929-2012, artist and critic, who published a monograph, Duchamp – The Bride Stripped Bare by her Bachelors, 1973. Josipovici acknowledges Octavio Paz’s Marcel Duchamp or the Castle of Purity as a source of inspiration.

Gabriel Josipovici has published more than a dozen novels, three volumes of short stories, several books of criticism, and plays. He is Research Professor in the Graduate School of Humanities, University of Sussex and an admired thinker and writer on the subject of modernism.

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V.S. Naipaul – The Enigma of Arrival,1987

the-enigma-of-the-arrival-and-the-afternoon-1912PART TWO. THE JOURNEY

TO WRITE ABOUT JACK and his cottage and his garden it was necessary for me to have lived a second life in the valley and to have had a second awakening to the natural world there. But a version of that story — a version — came to me just days after I came to the valley, to the cottage in the manor grounds.

The cottage at that time still had the books and some of the furniture of the people who had been there before. Among the books was one that was very small, a paperback booklet, smaller in format than the average small paperback and with only a few pages. The booklet, from a series called ‘The Little Library of Art’, was about the early paintings of Giorgio de Chirico. There were about a dozen reproductions of his early surrealist paintings. Technically, in these very small reproductions, the paintings did not seem interesting; they seemed flat, facile. And their content was not profound either: arbitrary assemblages, in semi-classical, semi-modern settings, of unrelated motifs — aqueducts, trains, arcades, gloves, fruit, statues — with an occasional applied touch of easy mystery: in one painting, for instance, an over-large shadow of a hidden figure approaching from round a corner.

But among these paintings there was one which, perhaps because of its title, caught my attention: ‘The Enigma of Arrival’. I felt that in an indirect, poetical way the title referred to something in my own experience; and later I was to learn that the titles of these surrealist paintings of Chirico’s hadn’t been given by the painter, but by the poet Apollinaire, who died young in 1918, from influenza following a war wound, to the great grief of Picasso and others.

What was interesting about the painting itself, ‘The Enigma of Arrival’, was that — again perhaps because of the title — it changed in my memory. The original (or the reproduction in the ‘Little Library of Art’ booklet) was always a surprise. A classical scene, Mediterranean, ancient-Roman — or so I saw it. A wharf; in the background, beyond walls and gateways (like cut-outs), there is the top of the mast of an antique vessel; on an otherwise deserted street in the foreground there are two figures, both muffled, one perhaps the person who has arrived, the other perhaps a native of the port. The scene is of desolation and mystery: it speaks of the mystery of arrival. It spoke to me of that, as it had spoken to Apollinaire.

And in the winter gray of the manor grounds in Wiltshire, in those first four days of mist and rain, when so little was clear to me, an idea — floating lightly above the book I was working on — came to me of a story I might one day write about that scene in the Chirico picture.

My story was to be set in classical times, in the Mediterranean. My narrator would write plainly, without any attempt at period style or historical explanation of his period. He would arrive — for a reason I had yet to work out — at that classical port with the walls and gateways like cut-outs. He would walk past that muffled figure on the quayside. He would move from that silence and desolation, that blankness, to a gateway or door. He would enter there and be swallowed by the life and noise of a crowded city (I imagined something like an Indian bazaar scene). The mission he had come on — family business, study, religious initiation — would give him encounters and adventures. He would enter interiors, of houses and temples. Gradually there would come to him a feeling that he was getting nowhere; he would lose his sense of mission; he would begin to know only that he was lost. His feeling of adventure would give way to panic. He would want to escape, to get back to the quayside and his ship. But he wouldn’t know how. I imagined some religious ritual in which, led on by kindly people, he would unwittingly take part and find himself the intended victim. At the moment of crisis he would come upon a door, open it, and find himself back on the quayside of arrival. He has been saved; the world is as he remembered it. Only one thing is missing now. Above the cut-out walls and buildings there is no mast, no sail. The antique ship has gone. The traveller has lived out his life.

V.S. Naipaul, born 1932. The Enigma of Arrival,1987. Publisher: Penguin Books,1987 

Image: Giorgio de Chirico, 1888-1978. el enigma de la llegada y la tarde, 1912 The Enigma of the Arrival and the Afternoon. Oil on canvas 70 x 86cm, private collection.

Richard Aldington – Death of a Hero,1929

Guild of Handicraft

“The Simple-Lifers? Oh, yes, I remember. Well, there was a set of people down there, who had fled from the horrors of the mechanical age—you know, the usual art-y sort, Ruskin-cum-William Morris . . .“

“Handlooms, vegetable diet, long embroidered frocks, with home-spun tweed trousers from the Hebrides? I know them. ‘News from Nowhere’ people. What a gospel to lead nowhither!”

“Yes. Well they were to lead the simple life, work with their hands part of the time, and do arts and craft and write the rest of the time. They were also to show the world an example of perfect community life. They used to make the farm-girls dance round a Maypole—the boys wouldn’t come, they stood in the lane and jeered.”

“And what happened?”

“Well, those who hadn’t private incomes got very hard up, and were always borrowing money off the two or three members who had money. The arts and crafts didn’t sell, and the toiling on the land had very meagre results. Then they got themselves somehow into two or three cliques, talking scandal about them, and saying they were ruining everything by their selfish behaviour. Then the wife of one of the rich members ran away with one of the men, and the other rich members were so scandalised that they went away too, and the whole community broke up. The village was very glad when they went. The farmers and gentry were furious because they talked Socialism and the ideal State to the labourers. And all the labourers’ wives were furious because the Simple-Life women tried to brighten up their lives and make them furnish their cottages ‘artistically’ . . .”

Richard Aldington, 1892-1962. Death of a Hero, 1929

Fiona MacCarthy described the Simple Life as “a rethinking of aesthetics. ‘the absence of things’…”. Utopian artistic communities developed globally in the 19th century as an alternative to the industrialisation of society and the mass production of art and design. Aldington here satirises the radical beliefs and activities of the Arts and Crafts Movement, and the individual artist-craftworkers who adopted the rural life and revived old craft techniques. The Simple Lifers were a British community of artists and craftsmen and women who: “In the spring of 1902, when the back-to-the-land movement was at its height, an exodus began to Chipping Campden in the Cotswolds. East End London workmen – jewellers, silversmiths, enamellers, cavers, modellers, blacksmiths, cabinet-makers, book-binders and printers – fled from the rushed and crowded life of the big city to a rural idyll of craftsmanship and husbandry which was, at the time, all good socialists’ dream. This extraordinary idealistic movement was to have a lasting impact not only on the lives of the 150 London immigrants and their leader, the architect, Charles Robert Ashbee, but also on the nature of the little town they occupied. The Guild of Handicraft had been formed in Whitechapel in 1888. It blended an attitude to art, design and manufacture with a view of how society might be changed for the better. This book traces its fortunes and misfortunes, hilarious and grave, and the many eccentrics, idealists and men of letters and the arts who were involved, including William Morris, Roger Fry, Mrs Patrick Campbell, Edward Carpenter, Holman Hunt, Frank Lloyd Wright, Lowes Dickinson and Sidney and Beatrice Webb. Set in the heart of the Cotswolds, Fiona MacCarthy’s account of this attempt to resolve the dilemma faced by artists and craftsmen working in a mass-produced society, documents one delightful and intriguing experiment in utopian social history. Fiona MacCarthy – The Simple Life: C. R. Ashbee in the Cotswolds, Faber and Faber, 2011

Image: Guild of Handicraft, Chipping Campden, 1902-1908

See Also:

https://artinfiction.wordpress.com/2016/02/28/richard-aldington-death-of-a-hero1929/

https://artinfiction.wordpress.com/2016/02/29/richard-aldington-death-of-a-hero1929-2/