Tuesday, June 08, 2010



"I know all about telling age from the physiognomical lines of the forehead: he is sixteen years and four months old! He is fair as the retractility of the claws of birds of prey; or again, as the uncertainty of the muscular movements in wounds in the soft parts of the lower cervical region; or rather, as that perpetual rat-trap always reset by the trapped animal, which by itself can catch rodents indefinitely and work even when hidden under straw; and above all, as the chance meeting on a dissecting-table of a sewing-machine and an umbrella!" --Lautréamont (Isidore Ducasse)

In 1920, inspired by a now very famous line from Leatréamont's Les Chants de Maldoror, Man Ray took a blanket, tied it around a sewing machine, and took a photograph of it. He called the photo The Enigma of Isidore Ducasse:

man ray enigma ducasse 1920
may ray enigma
(a reconstruction made in 1971 under Man Ray's supervision)

In 1967, perhaps inspired by a now very famous photograph by Man Ray, Luis Buñuel had the patron of a brothel hand a mysterious buzzing box to a prostitute named Séverine; he took thousands of photographs of the encounter and called them Belle de Jour. The box, the contents of which are left up to the viewer's imagination, acts as the blanket that's wrapped around the enigma, and the buzzing sound heard when the box is opened acts as the suggestive shape that's hidden beneath:

belle de jour box

At an unknown time, perhaps inspired by Man Ray, Buñuel, or merely the overcast sky above, an unknown person took a black cover and tied it around their motorcycle, and they -- or someone -- took a photograph of it. And an homage was unwittingly(?) created:

man ray ducasse enigma
The Enigma of T. E. Lawrence?


"From the desk at which he wrote Moby Dick, Herman Melville could gaze upon the forested hills and sloping fields of western Massachusetts' Berkshire Mountains. In the summer of 1850, at age 31, the writer had moved from New York City, 150 miles south, to the outskirts of Pittsfield, then still a village, where he settled into a modest, mustard-yellow farmhouse called Arrowhead — for the Native American artifacts once unearthed on the property. After years of sailing the world aboard New England whaling vessels, Melville was trying his hand at farming; his plan was to harvest corn and potatoes, cabbages and hay. But in winter, the landscape turned his thoughts back toward the mariner's life.

melville arrowhead
"I have a sort of sea-feeling here in the country now that the ground is covered in snow," Melville wrote a friend in 1850, shortly after beginning his 13-year Arrowhead stay. "I look out my window in the morning when I rise as I would out of a port-hole of a ship in the Atlantic. My room seems a ship's cabin; and at nights when I wake up and hear the wind shrieking, I almost fancy there is too much sail on the house, and I had better go on the roof and rig in the chimney."

From Melville's cramped, book-lined study, he could look out at Mount Greylock, the highest elevation in Massachusetts (3,491 feet). For Melville, the brooding mass of wintry Greylock called to mind a great leviathan, emerging from a roiling, white-capped ocean. His neighbor and fellow novelist, Nathaniel Hawthorne, once wrote that Melville spent his days "shaping out the gigantic conception of his white whale" while staring at the snow-covered mountain."

mount greylock melville moby dick
Greylock as seen from Arrowhead

In his novel, Melville would describe Moby Dick as a "grand hooded phantom, like a snow hill in the air."

Another view of Greylock from Arrowhead:

mt. greylock melville whale
Melville dedicated his novel Pierre to "Greylock's Most Excellent Majesty", calling the mountain "my own... sovereign lord and king".


patti smith young
"Patti Smith recounts her first meeting with poet Allen Ginsberg, who immediately expressed great interest, taking her out for a sandwich but then suddenly asking in alarm: Are you a girl?"

ginsberg orlovsky
Allen Ginsberg and Peter Orlovsky


Hectocotylus said...

I'm not 100% certain that the first photograph of the Ducasse Enigma is Man Ray's original.


I found the first photograph of Mt. Greylock here: http://www.thethepoetry.com/2010/05/herman-melville-drinks-your-milkshake/

The text from part two was taken from http://www.smithsonianmag.com/travel/destamer_berkshires.html#ixzz0qEA69mC5 (though I altered some of it), and a few lines from wikipedia as well.

The text from part 3 is from the LA Weekly. "Dreams of Life and Death: Looking Back with Patti Smith" by Steve Appleford.

* * *

I missed the news that Peter Orlovsky passed away on May 30th. I only knew of him through his association with Allen Ginsberg but I suppose now is as good a time as any to seek out some of his poetry.

The Beats were an inspiration for me when I discovered them as a teenager, and they had a fairly big influence on me throughout high school, particularly as a gateway to better reading (they often dropped mysterious names into their poems that I would copy down and seek out). I remember revisiting Ginsberg for the first time a few years ago and finding much of his poetry to be... Well, meandering, to put it kindly.

For the most part the Beat poets exist in my memory. I can still hear Ginsberg reading America in a haunting recording I downloaded off the internet 11 or 12 years ago, and Corso reading Marriage in a voice that was nothing like what I thought a poet was supposed to sound like. And from time to time -- triggered by certain phrases or situations -- lines from Ginsberg's Howl surge out of my mouth (or stop at the tip of my tongue, depending on my company).

Purslane said...

Definitely the correct Man Ray photo.

Tyler said...