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Salvador Volatile

Today I finished reading Norman Douglas's 'South Wind', and I am very sorry indeed to say goodbye to it! It is definitely one of those stories I wish I could have written, and there are not too many of those. The place (the isle of Nepenthe, which is sort of Capri in disguise) and the people, too, will stay with me. Mr Keith, you can show me your cannas (the scented or the unscented ones) any time, you dear man. :-) (Mr Keith could not, I think, join the ranks of 'fictional characters the Emy could marry' - really there is only Professor Fen, or perhaps Charlie Mortdecai - but he goes straight to the top of the list marked 'Potential Wicked Uncles'.)

The natural sequel to this would be 'Vestal Fire' by Compton Mackenzie - published ten years later, treating on more expatriate adventures on that shore. I do very much want to read that, but not yet, I think. Here I will perhaps invoke a prandial metaphor - "time for a palate-cleanser, a sorbet" - but you know what, 'South Wind' is a sorbet, a dainty delicacy. Ah me, yes, 'herbaceous in character' (that phrase again - I seem to want to say it daily!).

Well, anyway, what I mean is, you can't follow a sorbet with more sorbet, so I'm thinking it is time for something carnivorous. Funeral Baked Meats - om nom nom! ;-) Now, it is hard for me to enjoy anything without finding it slightly ridiculous, and when someone manages to be floridly carnivorous they had better be ridiculous too, or really, what's the point? With the above in mind, I've plotted out a route straight into a Black Forest filled with Venus Flytraps. (Yeehaw, have at it, Dr Freud!!)

So, first of all, 'Hidden Faces', the only novel written by Salvador Dalí. It's rather an unlikely thought, somehow, Mr Dalí writing a novel - the act seems unnecessary, in one whose life in practice WAS a novel. (Having said that, necessary unnecessities are the stock in trade of surrealists, so perhaps it was inevitable after all.) Predictably enough, reviews seem mixed, expressed in tones ranging from the pseudy to the silly (for example, one comedian on Goodreads.com is moved to say "Imagine Hemingway was gay and always feeding you acid before he began reading to you on one of the hottest days of the summer" - to which my instinctive reply is "No."), but I'm intrigued and want to read it. A bound copy is on its way from the far reaches of the Amazon.

[Aside: like many, for years I batted away the notion of interesting myself in such a one as our Salvador - too obvious, too irritating, all the usual reasons. But then I went to the Surrealism exhibition at the Tate Modern, and when you stand before one of his original paintings (rather than some poster that has been blutacked to the wall in someone's rooms as a stand-in for actual taste, or to cover a stain), you can see the fineness of the paintwork - as smooth as glass, barely any visible brushwork, as if painted with fairies' eyelashes - and you can sense the level of artistic obsession that is infused there. I found I could feel very ok about him after that. He's one of those figures whom it is easy to dismiss for being trite, annoying and narcissistic, but... I do find that fascinating, that vainglory, that clotted tangle of good-and-bad-taste. It's a similar mode of liking to how I like Frank Zappa. Plus, as I've said before (and, given the subject matter, is it not entirely appropriate for me to quote myself at this point?!), I am eternally drawn to the transgressive. ;-) Not going to struggle against that tide: mayhap I may float with it to Nepenthe...]

Meanwhile, whilst I await the arrival of the dugout canoe bearing packages from (and doubtless made from) the rainforest (oh irony!), I can pass the time with a free ebook of 'A rebours' (which tends to be translated as 'Against the Grain', but why not render it as 'Transgression' - ooh, umm, developin' a theme, innit!!). Nope, I'm not reading it in the original French (although that too is available for zero dollars, so it's a risk-free punt even for the unlettered anglophone!). I have no idea whether it's a 'good translation' or not, but I'm finding it a far easier and more amusing read than I thought it would be. The idea of 'decadent literature' gives an impression of needing to haul in special furniture for the use of (a chaise longue, upholstered in the correct shade of purple?), not to mention keeping a well-stocked dictionary at one's elbow (along with Parma violets, or sal volatile... or hot cocoa). But I like it fine so far. Lesson learned: only an amateur would bother to gild the lily when he might bejewel a tortoise. ;-)

Yeah... 'A rebours' is one of 'those' books - read at nineteen you'd probably take it seriously, read at 34 you can still absolutely enjoy and respect its merits, but you can also giggle freely (nonetheless rueing yer own bourgeois mediocrity, naturally!). Another such work is 'Les Chants de Maldoror'. Really, it waxes frighteningly adolescent. The author styled himself a Count, quite possibly plagiarised parts of the work (according to some reviewers anyway), and even had the unmitigated audacity to die in mysterious circumstances, aged 24 (what, join 'the 27 club'? How stiflingly ordinary!!). The writing, I am told, is filled with material put there only to shock. In short: the kind of book boys (and I suppose girls) read on trains to make a point. Oh dear, I would very much like to read it too. (Thought: if I'm making a point, I have no idea what it is, but still... oh, here's one: the surrealists worshipped this book - required reading?) However, I'm in a quandary here, because there is no free ebook in English (or at least, I haven't found one) and when I enquire of the Entirenet about my best bet when paying for a bound copy, all I find is snippy catfighting over whose translation sucks the least. (Nobody, apparently, gets to be the 'best' - the poor thing is, like all of us, flawed in each incarnation, doomed to be reborn!) At this point, analysis paralysis sets in and I don't want to part with my money. So: what do you think? Have you read this monstrosity? Whose translation really does suck the least?!

And in closing, another question - up the sheer pages of what other embroidered Everests should I be hauling my literature-starved corpse? Recommend me something - something florid, ridiculous. Tortoises and plagiarism optional. I'll uncork the sal volatile in anticipation... :-D


( 11 confidences — Confide in me... )
Apr. 2nd, 2013 11:43 pm (UTC)
Well! I actually have a battered old copy of "Maldoror" here on my shelves--- a Penguin edition I've had since...well...since. And Huysmans, too! When I was somewhere early at high school, I made a list of Books That Would Make Me A Decadent And/Or A Surrealist. I found the list in the attic of my late parents' house six years ago when it was cleared out. I seem to have read most of the books on the list over the years--- but I have no idea where or how I found the titles when I was...maybe fifteen.

I must read Dali's novel. And "South Wind", too. Are you a Firbank fan?

Your letter arrived today! Yay! I love the stationery!
Apr. 5th, 2013 05:57 pm (UTC)
(-: (-: How lovely to find that list! Hello, 15-year-old you. (I am very happily re-engaging with 17-year-old me of late, and very enjoyable it is too!)

Well now, I knew the name of Firbank but didn't know what sort of a writer he was... and now I'm going to have to chase him all around the bookshop! This is *exactly* the kind of thing I'm always looking for - pretty sure I'm going to like it a lot, so thank you very much indeed for mentioning it.

Yay indeed! :-) :-)
Apr. 6th, 2013 01:40 am (UTC)
You're very welcome! I love sharing book recommendations!

15 year old me was...hmmm...an obsessive reader. He was...actually polite and shy. Bad hair, of course, but...alas!...he was out and about in an era when good haircuts weren't happening.

I did love finding the booklist. It's only poetry I wrote in those days that I'd be scared to find...or have others find.
Apr. 7th, 2013 06:27 pm (UTC)
Hooray for bad hair/shyness at fifteen - that's how it should be. ^_^
Apr. 7th, 2013 06:34 pm (UTC)
What was local culture like when you were in your teens?
Apr. 8th, 2013 01:23 pm (UTC)
Hmm... whatever it was like, I wasn't really a part of it! I have an inkling it was a little bland, really... it was the 1990s, but rave culture was on its last legs and indie/Britpop/nostalgia hadn't quite got going yet... but whatever was going on in the world at large, I was stuck in a god-awful private girls' school, hating my life. :-D :-D
Apr. 8th, 2013 06:39 pm (UTC)
At that age, I was at a very small high school in a small town out around Lake Pontchartrain, trying to contrive some way to simultaneously thrown out of school and admitted to a good (and very far away!) university...and reading voraciously to escape my locale.
Apr. 4th, 2013 12:39 pm (UTC)
Somewhat off point - I went to a Surrealism exhibition at the Tate Modern many years ago and it blew my mind. The art was fascinating yes, but they had quotes from the poetry of the French Surrealist poets all around the room and while everyone went from painting I went from quote to quote then raced to the gift shop to buy the collection. I don't think I have ever had such an ecstatic feasting day of words as I had that day. I hope Dali's novel proves to be vainglory-tastic :)
Apr. 5th, 2013 06:03 pm (UTC)
Ooh, I wonder if it was the same exhibish? (Mine was 'Surrealism: Desire Unbound') I remember there was a big room with publications and books etc. as well as all the usual objects and paintings. I also remember feeling extremely light-headed from that point on as the whole thing was much bigger than I'd anticipated and by the time I got through to the end it was about 3 o'clock and I hadn't eaten any lunch... just the right state of mind for that stuff, I guess!

The book is quite good so far (just started it) - it does have that 'translationy' feel (I think he wrote it in French, not his 1st language obviously, and then it's been manhandled into English) but I like how he describes things (there's a good surrealisty bit about people's reflections in the silverware) and he puts his female characters in gowns by named designers! Chanel, Schiaparelli...

...yep, long comment is long. ^_^
Apr. 6th, 2013 01:12 am (UTC)
It was the same exhibish! 2001! I have Mary Anne Caws poetry collection based around the exhibit. I don't know how you focussed on the art - I seriously just went room to room checking out the words, raced down to buy the poetry book, devoured that then went back to look at the art :P By the time I was finished I was hungry too (but I was on a travel holiday and could only afford to eat once a day so hey that was nothing new :P)

If you're going to be in a long gown it should definitely be designer - Dali had the right idea!
Apr. 7th, 2013 06:29 pm (UTC)
Ah well, if you could only eat once a day it was entirely sensible to devour the words! :-D
( 11 confidences — Confide in me... )

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