Further introduction

In the Constantin Brancusi archive at the Centre Pompidou, the image linked here is captioned “Erik Satie, John Quinn, Brancusi et Henri-Pierre Roché, golf de Fontainebleau” and dated September 25, 1923.

https://www.centrepompidou.fr/en/ressources/oeuvre/cLrbRob

Satie and Brancusi are the composer and the sculptor. History has decided on their behalf that they need no further introduction. Differing from each other as to hat and beard, they partake differently of their culture, but they occupy the hat-and-beard part of it in common. A century afterward, you too can know what they were doing with their hatted and bearded selves outside the image, and what that meant then and means now. There’s no need to ask permission; the request was made and granted before you were born.

But unless you’re a specialist, Quinn will need to be introduced. A lawyer who hated his work but made it useful to some modernist artists whose work he loved, he lives on in history honorably but secondarily, only as an annotation. Speaking not Quinn’s language but history’s, Quinn’s specialist footnote will say to us, “Quinn was one of the patrons who made James Joyce’s language possible.” It’s an explanation not worth trying to understand unless you already know James Joyce’s language.

And the tall man on the right? To the extent that Henri-Pierre Roché, 1879-1959, may be known outside France, he will be probably be known as the author of Jules et Jim, ostensibly a novel with a title seen at speed as a historically famous movie’s credits roll. But in its pages offscreen, Jules et Jim is less a fiction than a fairy-autobiography: an aesthetic construction about the more or less actual Roché, the more or less actual German writer Franz Hessel, and the woman they both loved.

https://i1.wp.com/images-na.ssl-images-amazon.com/images/I/51PMFULRrhL._SX304_BO1,204,203,200_.jpg?resize=306%2C499&ssl=1

By contrast, the words embedded in this dust jacket demonstrate that their own tale (subtitled “The Woman who Loved Jules and Jim”) isn’t a story of a more or less actual Helen Hessel (“Helen, die Frau”) but instead a story of a Helen-image projected optically onto a screen. According to that story, the words Jules und Jim printed on their paper are only indices referring statically to a picture seeming to move.

https://www.wikiwand.com/fr/Henri-Pierre_Roch%C3%A9

But of course the moving picture has a soundtrack vocabulary, and a vocabulary is a multiplex always undergoing changes of the words through which it means. Franz Hessel’s parents were Jews who converted to Lutheranism, but that change reversed itself when the time came for their son to die in a Vichy concentration camp. Conversely, you and I probably wouldn’t be reading about Henri-Pierre Roché now if François Truffaut hadn’t happened to supplement our language in consequence of picking up a copy of Jules et Jim in a second-hand bookstore (Mary Blume, “The Secret Lives of Jules and Jim,” New York Times 25 April 2003, https://www.nytimes.com/2003/04/25/style/IHT-the-secret-lives-of-jules-and-jim.html). And history can’t do a thing about any of that beyond turning up the lights in the archive, more or less at random.

But at least Photoshop is good about sliding the dimmers. So may I ask you to move to the bright side of the room for a moment and look with me at this Photoshop-renewed picture of a sex athlete standing head and shoulders above Erik Satie and Constantin Brancusi? In the image, he is in his own moment once again, and the story about the image is that when it’s annotated with words it seems to have been, just a moment ago, moving. The sense of movement will be an optical illusion, but while it lasts its Once upon a time words reverse themselves and seem to say what they once did say. Above us, once more, towers Henri-Pierre Roché in the knickered mode of 1923, and for him and for us the illusion is a word seeming to mean Now.

Snapshot photography: a facility of transit connecting to Flowerville

Just before dawn on June 17, 1904, home at last at 7 Eccles Street, Leopold Bloom thinks forward in time to an ideal Ithaca. Made ampler by the rich knowledge gained on June 16, the log of his adventures will now include these further chapters.

 

Simultaneously, in James Joyce’s Trieste, a ship named for the city of Bloom is setting forth. It already exists in a state of snapshot photography. From now on, as long as English or Greek is spoken, setting forth on the tide for Flowerville will always be what happens on the Adriatic coast of time.

 

Trieste, between 1915 and 1918, https://www.europeana.eu/en/item/20480101/365953. Contrast and detail restored. Adjacent images at this site show that the ship is boarding Austrian soldiers. A peacetime image of the ship is at https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Leopolis.jpg.

H. Rumbold wonders whether Miss Douce or Miss Kennedy would like to meet his client

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(Non-majors: in the “Cyclops” episode of Ulysses, the men in the bar pass around a letter from a hangman offering his services to the High Sheriff of Dublin. The letter ends, “i have a special nack of putting the noose once in he can’t get out hoping to be favoured i remain, honoured sir, my terms is five ginnees.” Then, with the capital letters firmly in place, comes the signature: “H. Rumbold, Master Barber.”

(In the “Sirens” episode a pretty part of the decor is “Bronze by gold, miss Douce’s head by miss Kennedy’s head” — that is, in a different bar, the heads of two flirtatious barmaids, redheaded Miss Douce and blonde Miss Kennedy.

(And one more joke, about the real H. Rumbold, is spelled out for the historical record in the preface to Tom Stoppard’s Travesties.)

 

 

No remedies, all

Published in 1888 for the Cotton Bale Medicine Company of Helena, Arkansas, this pair of store display cards, each one measuring about 11 by 14 inches, is housed in the Library of Congress in relic state: faded and damaged and mounted for preservation on a backing sheet. In 1888 it wouldn’t have been seen this way. To imagine it as it was then, we probably won’t be able to escape our education. I, at least, find myself imagining literarily. When I display the poster before my mind’s eye, I find myself thinking it into a setting like Jason’s store in The Sound and the Fury, smelling of pine and heat.

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Library of Congress, https://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/2005687684/

But I also have the photoresources to reconstruct it physically, without regard to any shelfspace it may fill in the library of the imaginary.

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I look at what I have done and I think I have helped something made of pictures and words escape from time. That thought turns out to be the consequence of an optical illusion, however. The illusion has enabled me to think I can now move in close to “Merit and Success” and read again the fine-print phrase “free to all,” but of course I can’t. When I teach Ulysses in the years that have followed its day in 1904, I have to bracket a word into the text to make sure the class reads Poldy’s throwaway in “Lestrygonians” as a constative, not an imperative: “All [are] heartily welcome.” All used to be understood to mean everybody, but that sense seems to have gone obsolete. Rhetoric has lost something that sounded somehow grander than everybody: not restricted to the mere body or the mere human but universal.

And of course the fine print in the lexicon of the Remedies also says free.

I have reconstructed that word too, but reconstructed it in a time when the people of the bales can read it and write memos of their own. In 1888 that word on this page wouldn’t have been read as ironic by the readership for which it was intended, but it turns out that reading takes place now across a different spectrum. I have also reconstructed the page’s 1888 colors, but even that purely spectral act turns out to be complicated by words. Post-1888 terms that we have to know now when we read this page, for instance, include not just color but also colored and the colored.

And in the sky, cottony clouds . . .

Metaphor too has undergone a change of clothes. There are no remedies for this ceaselessness. Language, it turns out, never was color-fast.