After seeing the Tegu by Maria Sibylla Merian at The Morgan Library & Museum the other day, I was gripped by an acquisitive frenzy, and went off to Argosy Books in Manhattan in search of representations of lizards. Ms. Merian’s prints fetch upwards of $3,000 – the Tegu goes for over $8,000 where I’ve seen it – so I settled for a charming plate by her father, part of large publication on natural history, available in full, online here. Click the print for a large image of the plate at top.
Here in this dehumanizing machine known as Manhattan, there’s a lot to be seen on one’s lunch hour – a slack work-ethic helps.
I went to the Morgan Library to see its exhibit on animals in art, music, and literature. Yes, there were some bestiaries devoted to the theme of love. I hope Santorum is alerted.
I was drawn to the show by the magnificent Tegu lizard in the newspaper review: I love that pose!
The Grandeville satire below is typical of his sly work, which always shows French bourgeois mores in an animal light. Here a boring teacher drills his students who parrot his words and respond to his demands for conjugation with the fresh lines: “we are tired; you tire us.”
James Gillray’s early work was filled with animals because that was a very long tradition in satirical caricature, and because, how could he resist?, one of his principal subjects was James Fox, always referred to as Monsieur Reynard. This print, lacking his later complexity and pizzazz, nevertheless packs a lot into its simple composition. Note the understated slyness of the fox’s expression, peering down his long muzzle and over his paunch, and the attitudes of the rat-headed retainers. Art Spiegelman comes to mind, of course.
I love serial small images on paper. This page is titled, Affordable Animals, and was a cheap Dutch production intended for instructing young children.
Paddy Chayefsky had no business being angry about the treatment given to his screenplay for the movie Altered States directed by Ken Russell in 1980. Reportedly, he was angry about the way his beautifully crafted dialog was treated. Here’s a rant by whiz kid scientist Jessup (William Hurt) delivered while he’s raging drunk:
“What dignifies the Yogic practices is that the belief system itself is not truly religious. There is no Buddhist God per se. It is the Self, the individual Mind, that contains immortality and ultimate truth.”
Not far from the truth, but an absurd piece of dialog, in context. All the characters speak in this stilted, intellectual way, which, along with the deadpan treatment of the action, gives the film a comic-ironic dimension. Apparently, Paddy took the ideas dead seriously, but this story is ridiculous, and what redeems the film is Russell’s usual over-the-top imagery, in this case perfectly in sync with the psychedelic freakout ethos of this post 60s romp that seems trapped in Strawberry Fields. Religious, mythic, erotic, pop-cultural, oh that Ken, he’s something else!
In this series of images from Jessup’s mushroom induced hallucinations with rural Mexican Indians, Russell recreates the craziness of pharmaceutical mirages and seems to be paying homage to that milestone of surrealism, An Andalusian Dog.
As I said, the plot and the ideas driving it are laughable: it includes an extended interlude in which Jessup regresses, physically, to a primitive hominoid state, nearly kills some security guards, and finds peace only after breaking into a zoo and devouring a sheep raw. I wanted nothing but to survive that night, to eat, to sleep. Italo Calvino treats the same ideas, the bliss of pre-cultural consciousness, in his wry and funny piece, Interview with a Neanderthal Man, but, as I said, the screenplay of this film plays it straight.
During Jessup’s final trip, there are some nice images, and more homages to films, I think:
Could be Kiss Me Deadly. What’s in the damn box?
This definitely recalls 2001: A Space Odyssey.
The Love Goddess saves the day!