Friday, August 04, 2006

Connections Week (#6): Look Closer (The Ultimate Edition)

Recently I noticed the curious proximity of similarly titled books in a mini-stack perched on one shelf: Kafka's The Trial and The Castle, The Apprentice (Jacques Pépin's memoir), and John Crowley's The Translator. One shelf up, I saw The Crossing resting beneath The Ultimate; on another bookcase I spied The Cave, The Double, The Point, and The King.

Another book that follows this austere titling plan is Scott Smith's new novel, The Ruins, in which things get very bad very fast for a group of young American tourists in Mexico.

Back on the street: Plastered everywhere I turn, the poster for the movie The Descent spooks me because it recalls the descent in The Ruins (in which one person after another goes into a pit, a disastrous rescue mission).

Visually it's a disturbing poster, too—the figures of the women (most of whom do not face the camera) are arranged so that they form a skull.

5. This of course recalls the death's-head moth in the center of the famous poster for The Silence of the Lambs. (Sometimes the moth is placed over Jodie Foster's mouth, other times over Anthony Hopkins's.) Upon closer inspection, we can see that the "skull" is constructed of seven nude women (one more than in The Descent).

There are dizzying degrees of mimickry and deception at play here—a moth hides a human shape (skull) which itself hides human bodies. (I couldn't find a graphic large enough, but this site, from which I'm borrowing the image below, fingers the locus classicus: Phillipe Halsman portrait of Dalí—itself directly inspired by a painting, Female Bodies as a Skull.)

Part of the haunting nature of skulls is what's absent: The absence of a covering is shorthand for the absence of life. (Though with these skulls, the grim irony is that they are in fact made of flesh.) And the sockets—the absence of eyes—telegraphs the utter darkness of death.

The reverse of this would be eyes without a face. I'm reminded not of the Franju film, however, but (more happily) of the paperback Great Gatsby I read in high school, with its Jazz Age–redolent cover art. A flapper's eyes (and lips*) float above a swarm of street lights. These peepers are a flipped-gender version of the book's famous "eyes of T.J. Eckleburg," which peer from an optometrist's billboard ad.

But look closer: Inside this lady's eyes swim tiny, tadpole-like nude bodies.

Wow: Just remembered—en route to school every day, my father and I would drive past a consignment store (?) on Main Street in which these Gatsby eyes were painted on the sign. What was the store?! (Buffalonians familiar with the stretch of Main Street near the university, ca. the early/mid-’80s, are encouraged to rack their brains and help me out.) It's quite possible—it's in fact very likely—that I saw these eyes a few years before I read Gatsby.

Figures in eyes: I always like to peer into large portrait photos and see if I can discern the photographer's sillhouette reflected—captured—in the subject's eyes. (Doesn't something like this happen in the Twin Peaks pilot?)(UPDATE: Yes—see image below.)

Which brings me to . . . Cats (wha—?!). In the posters and other assorted signage relating to this T.S. Eliot–inspired brouhaha, shadowy feline folk dance within the amber eyes floating at the top.

I think I have no way to end this—after all, where does one go when the mental wiring leads you to Cats? When one's automatic jukebox starts playing "Memory"?

But wait!

What are these "Connections" except vigorously accessed memories, rallied as evidence of some sort of aesthetic or psychic continuity? (And it's appropriate that the mysterious unidentified Buffalo store—a place I haven't thought of in decades—has emerged after a long cat-nap to gnaw at the edges of my mind...)

Coda, a/k/a snapshot of me, post-blogging: Those are pearls that were his eyes. Look! (Eliot, "The Waste Land")

* * *

*shades of Man Ray's L'Heure de L'Observatoire, which appears on the cover of Lawrence Weschler's Everything That Rises, a collection of his amazing convergences. These connections of mine are partly inspired by Weschler, James Burke (who used to write a column for Scientific American—called, I think, "Connections"), and the webwork spirit of Harry Stephen Keeler.

* * *

I'm going to take a break from blogging for a while, on the advice of my life coach, but keep watching this space: Several terrific guest bloggers will be taking over—including R. Emmet Sweeney of Termite Art fame, Hua Hsu of Palace of Electricity fame, and Izzy Grinspan of Izzy Grinspan fame, who I realize actually has the power to turn this blog into . . . The Izzies.


Blogger Jenny D said...

I had that Gatsby too--but you left out Bridget Jones!

9:22 AM  
Blogger Ed said...

As Bridget would say: Gaah!

9:28 AM  
Blogger Matt Singer said...

I can't believe Emmet is leaving me for you. I am emotionally devastated. This aggression shall not stand, man.

6:17 PM  

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