sixty-three

“An illustrious bell-caster, with a long beard and unconditionally an atheist, one day received a visit from two clients. They were dressed in black, and very serious, and showed a swelling on their shoulders, which made it cross the atheist’s mind that that was where their wings might be, as are said to be found on angels; but he paid this thought no attention, since it didn’t align with his convictions. The two gentlemen commissioned a bell of great dimensions – the master had never before made anything similar – and they wanted it cast in an alloy he had never before employed. They explained that the bell would emit a special sound, utterly different from the sound of any other bell. At the moment of departing, the two gentlemen explained, not without a trace of embarrassment, that the bell was to serve for Judgment Day, which by now was imminent. The master bell-maker laughed a friendly laugh, and said that there would never be a Judgment Day, but that all the same he would make the bell as indicated, and within the established time. The two gentlemen paid him a visit every two or three weeks to see how the work was proceeding. They were two gloomy gentlemen, and, despite their admiration for the master’s work, seemed secretly dissatisfied. Then, for a time, they didn’t return. Meanwhile, the master bell-caster had brought to completion the largest bell of his life, and recognized that he was proud of it; and in the secret place of his dreams he could see himself desire that so beautiful a bell, unique throughout the world, be used on the occasion of Judgment Day. When the bell had been finished, and mounted on a great wooden trestle, the two gentlemen reappeared; they looked upon the bell with admiration, and at the very same time with profound despondency. They sighed. Finally, the one who seemed more authoritative turned to the bell-caster and confessed in a low voice, ‘You were right, dear master; there will never be, neither now nor ever, any Judgment Day. There has been a terrible mistake.’ The master bell-maker regarded the two gentlemen, he too with a melancholy air, but his melancholy was happy and benevolent. ‘I’m afraid it’s too late, gentlemen,’ he said with a quiet, steady voice. He pulled the cord, and the great bell swung and sounded, loud and strong, and, as it had to be, the Heavens opened.”

(Giorgio Manganelli, from Centuria: 100 Ouroboric Novels, trans. Henry Martin, pp. 135–6.)

duchamp/roussel/kafka

“210 West 14th Street, New York City          6 Feb. 1950

My dear Carrouges,

Long after your letter I received the text, which I’ve read over several times.

It is true I am indebted to Raymond Roussel for having enabled me, from 1912 on, to think of something else instead of retinal painting (André Breton will enlighten you as to this term, because we have discussed it together), but I must declare that I have not read In the Penal Colony, and only read the Metamorphosis a number of years ago.

Just to let you know the circumstantial events which led me to the Mariée.

So I was astonished at the parallelism which you have so clearly established.

The conclusions you have come to in the sphere of ‘inner significance’ interest me deeply even though I do not subscribe to them (except as far as the glass is concerned).

My intentions as a painter, which have nothing to do with the deep result, of which I cannot be conscious, were aimed at the problems of ‘aesthetic validity’ obtained principally through the abandonment of visual phenomena, both from the retinal and the anecdotal point of view.

As for the rest, I can tell you that the introduction of a ground theme explaining or provoking certain ‘acts’ of the Mariée and the bachelors, never came into my mind – but it is likely that my ancestors made me ‘speak’, like them, of what my grandchildren will also say.

Celibately yours, Marcel Duchamp”

(Quoted on p. 49 of Le macchine celibi/The Bachelor Machines, ed. Jean Clair & Harald Szeemann, following the contribution by Michel Carrouges. This letter appears to have been translated from French to Italian before being put into English.)

august 20–august 25

Books

  • Sarah Manguso, The Two Kinds of Decay
  • Ronald Firbank, The New Rythum and Other Pieces
  • Edmund White, Fanny: A Fiction

Films

  • Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, directed by Mike Nichols
  • Where the Boys Are, dir. Henry Levin
  • The Bad Seed, dir. Mervyn LeRoy

Exhibits

  • “Dormitorium: An Exhibition of Film Decors by the Quay Brothers,” The Sheila C. Johnson Design Center, Parsons

origin of the mullet

“To begin with, the partisans changed the style of their hair to a quite novel fashion, having cut it very differently from the other Romans. They did not touch moustache or beard at all, but were always anxious to let them grow as long as possible, like the Persians. But the hair on the front of the head they cut right back tot he temples, allowing the growth behind to hang down to its full length in a disorderly mass, like the Massagetae. That is why they sometimes called this the Hunnish style.”

(Procopius, The Secret History 7.3, p. 72 in G. A. Williamson’s translation.)

the very notion of jackson heights

“Flitting along the beds, Miss Hancock reached a patch, as yet practically unravished, before which a couple of dames were discussing a forthcoming divorce – an obstinate wife, it seemed, that refused to reside in Jackson Heights. . . . ‘my dear, she swears nothing on God’s earth will make her mount there; she quite hates the neighbourhood; the very notion of Jackson Heights makes her dizzy!’ ”

(Ronald Firbank, The New Rythum and Other Pieces, p. 100.)