Monday, June 27, 2016

For the Love of Old Books (Part 2) - The Poètes Maudits & an Artiste Maudit

(From left to right) Das törichte Herz - Vier Erzählungen (The Foolish Heart - A Collection of Essays) by Paul Zech, paperback,1925; Une Saison en Enfer  (A Season in Hell) by Arthur Rimbaud - galley proof (uncut), 1944; Les Fleurs Du Mal - Les Épaves (The Flowers of Evil - The Scraps) by Charles Baudelaire - galley proof (uncut), illustrated by Maurice Mixi-Bérel, 1945.
(All images in this post can be clicked-on for enlarged views.)

"Symbolism was a late nineteenth-century art movement of French, Russian and Belgian origin in poetry and other arts. In literature, the style originates with the 1857 publication of Charles Baudelaire's Les Fleurs du mal. The works of Edgar Allan Poe, which Baudelaire admired greatly and translated into French, were a significant influence and the source of many stock tropes and images. The aesthetic was developed by Stéphane Mallarmé and Paul Verlaine during the 1860s and 1870s. In the 1880s, the aesthetic was articulated by a series of manifestos and attracted a generation of writers. The name "symbolist" itself was first applied by the critic Jean Moréas, who invented the term to distinguish the symbolists from the related decadents of literature and of art.

Distinct from, but related to, the style of literature, symbolism of art is related to the gothic component of Romanticism."

- Introduction for the Wiki entry regarding the Symbolists.

"If there is one central tenet held by Symbolist artists, it is that life is fundamentally mysterious, and the artist must respect and preserve this mystery. Thus they insisted on suggestion rather than explicitness, symbols or equivalents rather than description, in both painting and poetry. Choosing music as their model, Symbolists found the creation of a mood to be as important as the transmission of information, and sought to engage the entire mind and personality of the viewer by appealing to the viewer's emotions and unconscious mind as well as intellect. The recognition that there was a major portion of mental activity that is closed to the conscious mind confirmed the Symbolists conviction that there was more to life than could be explained through positivist science."

- Excerpt from the New World Encyclopedia regarding the Symbolist philosophy.

"In terms of specific subject matter, the Symbolists combined religious mysticism, the perverse, the erotic, and the decadent. Symbolist subject matter is typically characterized by an interest in the occult, the morbid, the dream world, melancholy, evil, and death."

- Excerpt found on the following Art Story "Symbolist" page. For information about Symbolist literature in Spain, Germany and America try here (in English only).

"My originality consists in bringing to life, in a human way, improbable beings and making them live according to the laws of probability, by putting - as far as possible - the logic of the visible world at the service of the invisible."

- Quote attributed to French Symbolist painter, Odilon Redon.

Coquille - pastel - 1912, Odilon Redon (Musée d'Orsay)


It's been hot and humid in New Mexico for over a week now, but without a drop of rain in my general vicinity. While there may have been flooding elsewhere on the planet in recent months (including the States), in the American southwest the threat is fire - uncontrollable fires. Happily, my neighborhood has not had to evacuate, but if the dryness continues... well.

But, I can clearly remember the summer's day I bought the three paperbacks shown above. It was a sunny day, possibly in June, but much cooler. I was, after all, still living in New England at the time, and had just been bitten by the antiquated-book-collecting bug. So, when I heard about a book sale being sponsored by a nearby retirement community, well, it was a no-brainer; off I went. 

The books were sitting in a small box on the ground under a tent with other books in foreign languages... dejectedly, as if they were considered less desirable than the American titles lined up on the folding tables above them. I think the first title I saw was Les Fleurs Du Mal, and my heart skipped a beat; Baudelaire (inset, right), Godfather of the Symbolist poètes maudits! And, lying right beside the work of the master, was an inconspicuous (and fragile) little paperback by Rimbaud - the younger of the "accursed" poets - who would have been honored to have his Une Saison en Enfer side by side with Les Fleurs Du Mal. It was too magical; I couldn't believe my luck.  Because, as it was, my first, and most sacred influences as a young artist (and, secretly, a poet) were the Symbolist artists and writers of the turn of the (last) century.

I was yet to realize the books were galley proofs; I just grabbed them, along with a few others - including a German paperback with a bold red and black graphic on the jacket - paid for my treasures, and left. Cradling the books in my arms as I walked to my car was an almost religious experience. Imagine finding such foreign treasures under a tent in Connecticut on a summer day! I drove home in a daze...

Sunday, June 12, 2016

For the Love of Old Books (Part 1)

(Left to right) A Window in Thrums by J.M. Barrie, no date; The Origin of Freemasonry: The 1717 Theory Exploded by Brother Chalmers Izett Paton, 1871; La Sœur De Gribouille by La Comtesse De Ségur, Illustrated by H. Castelli, 1914 (French); The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne, 1906.
(All photographs can be clicked for enlarged views)

"When the English publishers read "A Window in Thrums" in manuscript they thought it unbearably sad and begged me to alter the end. They warned me that the public do not like sad books. Well, the older I grow and the sadder the things I see, the more do I wish my books to be bright and hopeful, but an author may not always interfere with his story, and if I had altered the end of "A Window in Thrums" I think I should never have had any more respect for myself..."
- Excerpt from the introduction to A Window in Thrums, by J.M. Barrie (included in the photo above).


It's already summer here in New Mexico; most days are dry and dusty, the others oppressively humid. But, I'm not complaining really. Considering all the recent flooding in Europe and all the freak meteorological occurrences elsewhere - and all the misfortune and mayhem "natural disasters" entail -  the weather here is the least of my concerns. (Blessed Be, however, to those of you who have struggled and are still struggling with the effects of Mother Nature. Try to remember that our Mother is sick now; she can't help it.)

And, so it's summer... I've yet to see any (beloved) hummingbirds, but, every now and then I see a lizard darting across the wall out back. I've also recently detected a certain singular high-pitched, drill-like sound in the air outside my window: one lone cicada calling out in its weird, mysterious language; like some tiny ambassador from another planet attempting to arouse its extraterrestrial brethren who still lie submerged underground... as they have been for many years! Now, there's a seed for a science fiction story in search of an author.

Well, okay, it's probably already been written... as have so very many other things; written down and published, in some way or another, only to be irretrievably lost or discarded, burnt or buried... left rotting in some basement... or (even) sunken and dissolving at the bottom of a salty sea. Those are the less fortunate fates of many of the world's books. But, there are happier tales; that is, there are some unsung humans who passionately strive to save them. No, we're not bona fide Book Collectors with a regiment of criteria regarding what is deemed "valuable" or not-so-valuable... we're just people who love the look, feel, and smell of an old book between our paws... love the magic of an antiquated embellishment or illustration... and the history inherent in each and every printed word, regardless of its foreign origin.

(Left to right) Frankenstein or The Modern Prometheus by "Mrs. Shelley" (in one volume), 
no dates apart from the October 15,1831 preface; Gartenlaube Kalender (Garden Arbor Calendar) 1910illustrated with graphics, engravings & photographs, (German);
Little Folks Astray by Sophie May, illustrated,1871. 

As it happens - and the reason this post appears here - I've spent the last week or so reacquainting myself with my own humble collection; a collection which has spent the last few years secreted away in stacks of boxes. In reality, I have nowhere else to put them. And, finally, It occurred to me - and, no, this was not a pleasant realization - I may never have a place to put them. Moreover, they are presently my only "assets." All (misfortunate) things considered - and, trust me, I will spare you all of that - it likewise occurred to me that the time has come, perhaps, to "liquidate."

No, I've not, as of yet, made any decisions. But, as I haven't had the presence of mind to mentally do much else these days - apart from ruminate (i.e., worry) - I decided I might fill the gap with another "interlude" post, which, at the same time, might serve as a visual - and personal - record...