Tuesday, June 11, 2024

Materia medica

Harry Mathews, summarizing the medical theories of the "philosopher-dentist" R. King Dri:
The human body, richest of nature’s fruits, is not a single organism made of constituent parts, but an assemblage of entities on whose voluntary collaboration the functioning of the whole depends. “The body is analogous to a political confederation—not to the federation as is normally supposed.” Every entity within the body is endowed with its own psyche, more or less developed in awareness and self-consciousness. Aching teeth can be compared to temperamental six-year-old children; an impotent penis to an adolescent girl who must be cajoled out of her sulkiness. The most developed entity is the heart, which does not govern the body but presides over it with loving persuasiveness, like an experienced but still vigorous father at the center of a household of relatives and pets. Health exists when the various entities are happy, for they then perform their roles properly and co-operate with one another. Disease appears when some member of the organism rejects its vocation. Medicine intervenes to bring the wayward member back to its place in the body’s society. At best the heart makes its own medicine, convincing the rebel of its love by addressing it sympathetically; but a doctor is often needed to encourage the communion of heart and member, and sometimes, when the patient has surrendered to unconsciousness or despair, to speak for the heart itself.

Raymond Roussel:
Paracelsus regarded each component of the human body as a thinking individual with an observing mind of its own, which enabled it to know itself better than anyone else could do. When it became ill, it knew what remedy could cure it and, in order to make its priceless revelation, only awaited questions cleverly put by a shrewd doctor who would wisely limit his true role to this.

Locus Solus
I had read Tlooth many times before picking up Locus Solus, though Mathews always made clear his debt to Roussel. As far as I can tell, the attribution to Paracelsus is spurious, although the Swiss doctor did have some curious (and progressive) ideas. The translation of the Roussel, from 1970, is credited to the mysterious Rupert Copeland Cuningham, evidently a pseudonym. An earlier version of the passage from Tlooth can be found at the website of the Paris Review. The book version incorporates numerous minor changes, most of them clear improvements; the word "communion" in the last line, for example, was originally "communication." The name R. King Dri is probably a pun or anagram of some sort.

Saturday, June 08, 2024

Grand Hotel

For a commonplace book, notes on hotel rooms and the solitary travelers who visit them, sometimes only in the mind. Image: Joseph Cornell, Untitled (Hotel de l'Etoile: Night Skies, Auriga), 1954.

Lynda Roscoe Hartigan, et al.
Cornell traveled primarily only as a child and even then never beyond New England. His ability to evoke the character of a place or period as well as the sense of a traveler's yearning for experiences and sights is uncanny nonetheless. He often described himself as "an armchair voyager" to earlier eras and other countries... Initiated in 1950, the Hotels reflect his impressions of Europe's grand old buildings, poignant all the more for his emphasis on European culture during the postwar era's reconstruction efforts. The organizing motif is the window, which invites us to consider interior and exterior views.

Joseph Cornell: Shadowplay Eterniday
Raymond Roussel:
It was at the end of the eighteenth century that a Norman, Guillaume Cassigneul, had founded the establishment in question, known as the Hôtel de l'Europe, which was still run by his descendants to this day.

For its sign by day and night, he had a broad, high lantern hung over the entrance, bearing on its front, painted upon the glass, a map of Europe in which each land had its special tint – the attractive colour red being reserved for the motherland.

Locus Solus
Pablo Neruda:
I have come again to the solitary bedrooms
to lunch on cold food in the restaurants, and again
I throw my trousers and shirts upon the floor,
there are no coat hangers in my room, no pictures of anyone on the walls.

"The Widower's Tango" (translation by Donald D. Walsh)
Julio Cortázar:
Petrone liked Hotel Cervantes for the same reasons that anyone else would have disliked it. It was solemn, peaceful, almost deserted. A then associate had recommended it to him when he was crossing the river on the Vapor de la Carrera, mentioning that it was located in central Montevideo. Petrone agreed to an en suite room on the second floor, which overlooked the reception area. He knew from the number of keys hanging on the wall in the front desk that there was hardly anyone staying; the keys each had a heavy bronze disk with the number of the room, a naive attempt from the management to prevent clients fitting them in their pockets.

"The Condemned Door" (translation by Rebecca Bourke)

The Icelandic musician KK (Kristján Kristjánsson) performs a song entitled "Grand Hótel"; it appears on his 1995 album Gleðifólkið and also (in a different version) on Lifað og leikið, a 2000 collaboration with Magnús Eiríksson (aka Maggi Eiríks). I understand exactly two words of the lyrics (the title), but the music is suitably haunting, or haunted.

Robert Coover wrote a short book entitled The Grand Hotels (of Joseph Cornell). It's out of print and the publisher (Burning Deck) no longer exists. I haven't been able to track down a copy at a reasonable price.