TOTALLY SECRETIVE MAN-LIFTING WAR KITE - Samuel Franklin Cody, 1901
So, the notion of sky-spying isn’t a new one. There’ve been a variety of intriguing inventions specifically purported to quietly convey a passenger into a dangerous viewing zone. In this case, these kites were invented to bring a man within spying distance of various wicked things, including artillery.
Or, failing that, cause him to crash spectacularly into said wicked things, depending on the wind.
The Man-Lifting War Kite was created by Samuel Franklin Cody (not his real name - he changed it from Cowdery, because he was a fan of Wild Bill Cody) a one-time Wild-West show performer within Forepaugh’s Circus.
It was first patented in 1901, and offered to the British War Office for spotting services in the Second Boer War. He also developed a motorized kite, which he wanted to turn into an airplane, and was on the testing team of British Army Dirigible No. 1, the Nulli Secundus (England’s first powered airship.) Ultimately, Cody flew the first official flight of a piloted “heavier than air” machine in Britain.
Here’s a terrific article about Cody.
Here’s a photo of Cody’s common law wife, Lela Cody, the first woman in Great Britain to fly, in 1902 (or so?). I mean, look at this lovely shot, and the following, showing her skirt tied to preserve modesty…
See here for more on Cody’s kites - and some wonderful museum photos of one of them.
Even more bizarre than these - and kind of lovely, too - is the below, Samuel F. Perkins riff on the same theme. In the top right corner, there is a “lead kite” which was flown first to test wind conditions. Then additional kites were raised one at a time, until there were enough kites aloft to lift a man with them. The pilot was reeled in and out via a winch on the ground.
- Edward Steichen. MELPOMENE - Landon Rives. 1904-05. Gum bichromate over platinum print
This photo of amateur photographer/painter/sometimes socialite, Sarah Landon Rives (born 1874, which makes her around 30 in the above and below portraits) of Virginia has always haunted me. It’s Melpomene, originally the Muse of Singing, who evolved into the Muse of Tragedy. I went hunting to see if I could find out anything of interest, and I did, a bit.
She was photographed in startlingly modern fashion by both Steichen and Coburn (below) - and her image, which I assume to be something she chose, given the fact that she hired Coburn to set up a darkroom at her home, was completely contradictory to the typical Gibson girl look. In both these portraits, she looks directly and unromantically at the camera. These were taken the year after her father, Alfred Landon Rives (a Confederate engineer) died. She seems never to have married.
She and her sister were the last of the Rives family to inhabit Castle Hill, their Virginia plantation. Amélie Rives Troubetzkoy (a novelist, poet and playwright who wrote 24 books, Broadway plays, an erotic novel called The Quick and the Dead? which was about the hot passions of a new widow) had an extremely colorful life of her own, which included her second husband, the penniless and possibly not really a prince Prince Troubetzkoy being introduced to her by Oscar Wilde - um, goddamn. I knew nothing about her til this research wander, but she’s pretty unapologetically wild herself. See: The Temptress of Castle Hill and here, Francine Prose reviewing a book about Amelie and Archie Chandler, Amelie’s first husband and a scion of the Astor family, because why not. Amelie was married several times, and did really kind of whatever she wanted to do.
Then look at this photo of her younger sister, because. Well.
-Alvin Langdon Coburn, Study: Miss R. 1904. Gum bichromate over platinum print
“The portrait’s subject, Sarah “Landon” Rives, presented a singular challenge to Coburn, whom she hired to set up a darkroom on the grounds of her historic plantation home of Castle Hill, in Virginia. Her gaunt face, tousled hair, and uncompromising stare emerge from the dark ochres of the pigmented print, intent on countering the vestigial ideal of passive femininity so common in the concoctions of Pictorialist photographers of the day.”
(Metropolitan Museum of Art, Alfred Steiglitz Collection, 1933.)
A more typical portrait of Landon Rives:
Frances Benjamin Johnston, Landon Rives.
And see this: a self-portrait of Amelie Rives. Because, damn. Kind of irresistible, but absolutely the opposite sort of siren. She apparently made copies of this and gave them out.
THE MOVEMENTS OF THE SPHERES - Paul Nougé, La Jongleuse, 1929
The poet and philosopher, Paul Nougé (1895-1967) was an influential (though now fairly obscure) member of the Belgian Surrealist school, and a cohort of René Magritte. He was a founding member of the Belgian Communist party in 1921. Also a photographer, his images are pretty great. If inclined, you might wish to listen to this song, A New Way of Juggling, by Portland band Print (the) Seas, inspired by the image above.
- Paul Nougé, Woman Frightened By A Ball of String, 1929-30
My research - admittedly annoying flawed, oh, internet, you have such gaps when it comes to the women of Surrealism - tells me that the woman in the photos above is Paul’s wife, Martha Nougé (or at least, this is how she’s credited in other group photos of the Belgian Surrealists) who otherwise has little in the way of visible biography. However…
Here is a poem by Paul about Martha, translated (by William Kulik) and published long after both of their deaths, in 2006.
It’s got echoes of Joyce’s Nora letters, I warn you, if you’re easily offended by graphic - and it also has some insight into the way a man such as Nouge might look at his wife (as well as other women - woefully). And the way she might look at him. There’s something desperately intimate, and blind as well, in this narrative.
This blank page scares me because I've got to fill it with so many signs because I haven't lost a single drop of the life I've shared with you The drops of your life or if you like or even if you don't those delicate everlasting periods So I'll get right down to the sunlight of our days When did I see you for that famous FIRST TIME? I don't picture you the whole you any more only your lower lip trembling your incredibly white forehead the yellow Poiret coat and the odor of Jiky that male scent That lesbian perfume I remember you saying (how I love the rich resonance of your voice) you wanted to know if you could sit on the mantel I watched your hands that barely moved your lovely tapering finger and your nails Now I have to tell about the celebrated skin-tight white dress your breasts sticking out and what you knew that I didn't about your period Then you smoked a cigarette and started to cry speaking of S ... that you wanted to continue to make love to him then we were at it again Martha don't forget the rue de la Tulipe and the little street that opens onto the Galeries Saint-Hubert where we came so many times And remember while I had you my finger was inside you and yours in me --your nails glittered-- while you beat me with your heel between my cheeks Don't forget Odilon-Jean Pierre who surprised us by candlelight And rue De Tabora The banister and the staircase were so beautiful Where you aborted by coincidence on Bastille Day I remember Achille Burgoignie ogling your honeypot I remember we started making love again much too soon I remember your lovely shadow moving along the wall your belly in pain my father at the door bringing I'm not sure what concoction the picture of your brother I didn't even know yet your family portraits and the mother you had to be tactful with You recall my jealousy you unquestionably suffered from more than I did true I made you wear a bra because I wanted to hide your breasts from everyone which I can't recall without getting a lump in my throat or rue St-Jean entered by a huge slanting sun around six in the evening opposite the shop window of Monsieur Brin Gaubast where you saw yourself and told me at long last that you wore a little too much makeup Funny how I show no respect for sequence pressed by so many images Where was I? And who will I prey on now? On you Martha for certain For, as many have said, life's a funny thing I'm skipping years now I'm on rue Franklin thinking of that filmed procession of that New Year's Eve when we made love beside the radio which gave us the news of the horrible war in Spain --I still have the mark of your teeth on my penis-- and I instantly recall the first time I had you from behind You were kneeling on the edge of the bed and in my mind's eye I still have the image of your back more lovely than a grand sunset and the look on your face when you turned to see us one more time in the mirror (We don't need to fear repetition we never tire of that phrase "make love" repeated over and over in the mind like the magic tom-tom of impenetrable forests like Ravel's Bolero) The night is over it's starting to get cold think of the ballet you danced with your fingertips on the bare wooden table of the opening bars of the Toselli serenade (And why be afraid of the intimate reference to personal despair the knowing winks too bad for those who will not understand) Now I understand --and through what mental twists and turns-- the suffering I put you through I had you blindfolded cheated on you from the start You were called Paulette There was Jeanne Crickboom and Billy with her shiny nose There was that girl Breuer loved so much that wound up-- through what mystery of the telephone?-- being connected with me There was weeping Claude always in someone's arms There was Jenny Poteau with her saggy tits and her wide-open ass There was Jeanne Abel who we share memories of that may still be circulating on rue Markelbach There are so many things plus the horde of little maids and old ones (The exegete who later dives into this poem will not find swimming easy) There's also the cafe on avenue Cortenberg where you gave me Duchamp's address on rue Campagne-Premiere where you told me you made love to him "just one time" And Yvonne George who I loved so much who taught you to piss in a toilet the two of you watching the whore across the street turn a trick Yvonne who went down on you --I went down on her too-- poor little fool a great life wasted
- Paul Nouge, 1953
- Rene Magritte, Portrait of Paul Nouge, 1927
BEASTS OF THE DEVIL - Maria Sybilla Merian, Lizard from “Metamorphasibus Insectorum Surinamensium”, 1705.
Look at the date. 1705. Yes, thank you. Maria Sybilla Merian (1647-1717) was a fabulous naturalist and scientific illustrator. Everything she did was beautiful, but also odd. The above lizard, for example?
In her time, insects, her particular interest, were viewed as “beasts of the devil”
Merian was intrigued by metamorphosis, beginning with butterflies, and moving on to life stages of insects, with a lot of side interest in lizards, and various other creatures. Her early work was often used as patterns for embroidery - but clearly, she was interested in science as well as beauty.
- Branch of guava tree with leafcutter ants, army ants, pink-toed tarantulas, c. 1701-5
Daughter to Matthaus Merian the Elder, who was a noted Swiss engraver and publisher, she was also stepdaughter to Jacob Marrel, a still-life painter. Clearly, both traditions moved through her work. When she was eleven, she engraved her first copperplate for illustration. She married her father’s apprentice in 1665, when she was 18, and had two daughters with him. (Though interestingly, she seems not to have ever changed her surname.)
- Surinam Caiman Fighting a South American False Coral Snake 1699-1703
In 1686, she moved to the Netherlands with her mother and daughters, and in 1690 divorced her husband.
In 1699, the now 52-year-old Merian - having resided in the home of the Governor of the Dutch colony of Suriname and observed his tropical specimens (I have no idea quite how this happened - was there romantic involvement? Maybe?) Merian sold most of her belongings in order to travel to Surinam with her youngest daughter Dorothea. The result was the extraordinary Metamorphasibus Insectorum Surinamensium.
She says - rather amusingly, given her clear passion for same:
“So I was goaded to undertake a huge and costly trip, traveling to Suriname in America, a hot and humid land where swarms of insects are there for the capture.”
She spent two years in Surinam, before returning to the Netherlands due to malaria.
I BITE THE LOVELIES - Jiří Anderle, Il Sorriso, after Baldovinetti. From the cycle Portraits in the Passage of Time. Colored Pencil, Drypoint, Mezzotint, Unique Print. 1978.
I love the middle one, where her mouth opens suddenly - you don’t see it at first, and then… And the way the plants on her sleeve have a rather talon-ed aspect. (See below this next photo for another Anderle riff on the mouth. It’s gorgeous. And scary.)
The original Alesso Baldevinetti painting, Portrait of a Lady in Yellow, from the mid 1400’s, is here.
And here’s another magnificent Anderle drawing, I Am Vexed By Anxiety, from 1983. Look at the toothy jaw in the bottom left - it’s reminiscent of the woman’s mouth in Il Sorriso above - though much less pleasant.
MOUTHFUL OF MONSTERS - Tamara Feijoo, Mariposa. Drawing.
Scary pretty funny weird things from Galician artist Tamara Feijoo, whose humans are tiny and whose insects are ambitious.
(This last one because I recently wrote a scary slash funny story about giant worms. It’s coming out in Lightspeed in May.)
MISERABLE MIRACLE - Henri Michaux’s Mescaline Drawings & Writings. 1956.
It’s always been clear to me that literature of drug-possession, ought to belong in a category if not entwined with speculative fiction, adjacent to it.
Michaux (1899-1984), a lifelong teetotaler, took up mescaline after losing his wife in an accident. The drawings and texts he created are - or should be - classed with fantastical literature. Miserable Miracle is the first of three (astonishingly) illustrated books about Michaux’s experiences.
This piece may or may not relate to a section regarding browsing through a zoological text mid-hallucination in Miseable Miracle. There’s a wonderful bit about giraffes in there…
This piece, about color, is pretty great too.
“On one of my frontiers (I had at first called it my “Spitsberg”) an impossibly immense area of colored bulbs inundates me.
Not a single color. As if “It” no longer had the strength to be color.
* * *
It’s come back, it’s beginning again. The mechanism is once more running : Green!
* * *
Green. Did I see it? Too fugitively seen. I know that there is green, that there is going to be green, that there is an expectation of green, that there is green frantically straining toward existence, a green that couldn’t be greener. It does not exist, and there is any amount of it ( !).
* * *
Here it comes ! It has emerged. Completely.
I am honeycombed with alveoli of green. Greens like bright dots on the back of a beetle. It is the zone in me that emits green. I am wrapped in green, immured. I end in green. (A kind of emerald green.)”
“And “White” appears. Absolute white. White whiter than all whiteness. White of the advent of white. White without compromise, by exclusion, by the total eradication of non-white. White, mad, exasperated, shrieking with whiteness. Fanatical, furious, riddling the eyeball. White, atrociously electric, implacable, murderous. White in blasts of white. God of “white.” No, not a god, a howler monkey. (If only my cells don’t burst!)
Cessation of white. I feel that for me, white will have something immoderate about it for a long time to come.”
- Henri Michaux, 1952, Gouache.
The above is not one of pieces of art produced while Michaux was taking mescaline - or it is not, in theory, given the date on it - but it lives happily alongside the color passage from Miserable Miracle. The figures are like cartoons slammed into by speeding vehicles. (Nice large catalogue of Michaux, here.)
Compare the above passage, for example, to a similar kaleidoscopic revelatory sequence from Arthur Machen’s 1904 novella, The White People, which is fantasy-horror lit:
“All these are most secret secrets, and I am glad when I remember what they are, and how many wonderful languages I know, but there are some things that I call the secrets of the secrets of the secrets that I dare not think of unless I am quite alone, and then I shut my eyes, and put my hands over them and whisper the word, and the Alala comes. I only do this at night in my room or in certain woods that I know, but I must not describe them, as they are secret woods. Then there are the Ceremonies, which are all of them important, but some are more delightful than others—there are the White Ceremonies, and the Green Ceremonies, and the Scarlet Ceremonies. The Scarlet Ceremonies are the best, but there is only one place where they can be performed properly, though there is a very nice imitation which I have done in other places. Besides these, I have the dances, and the Comedy, and I have done the Comedy sometimes when the others were looking, and they didn’t understand anything about it. I was very little when I first knew about these things.”
- Henri Michaux, 1961
And here, a beautiful, strange passage from Michaux. Actually the whole book is beautiful and strange.
And so it was with me the last time I delivered my body to it; and the instrument that is called my mind. It was also the time of the gaping fracture, and gaping for a long time just as it may happen with a woman you have possessed but from whom you have nevertheless remaind detached, until one day, through a wave of tenderness, graver by far than love, you surrender yourself and she enters you with the swiftness of a torrent, never to leave again.
And so that day was the day of the great opening. Forgetting the taudry images which as a matter of fact had disappeared, I gave up struggling and let myself be traversed by the fluid which, entering me through the furrow, seemed to be coming from the ends of the earth. .I myself was torrent, I was drowned man, I was navigation. My Hall of the Constitution, my Hall of the Ambassadors, my hall of gifts and of the interchange of gifts, where the stranger is introduced for a first inspection.
- I had lost all my halls and my retainers. I was alone, tumultuously shaken like a dirty thread in an energetic wash. I shone, I was shattered, I shouted to the ends of the earth. I shivered, my shivering was a barking. I pressed forward, I rushed down, I plunged into transparency, I lived crystallinely.
Sometimes a glass stairway, a stairway like a Jacob’s ladder, a stairway with more steps than I could climb in three entire lifetimes, a stairway with ten million steps, a stairway without landings, a stairway up to the sky, the maddest, most monstrous feat since the tower of Babel, rose into the absolute. Suddenly, I could not see it any longer. The stairway had vanished like the bubbles of champagne, and I continued my navigation, struggling not to roll, struggling against suctions and pullings, against infinitely small jumping things, against stretched webs, and arching claws.
At times thousands of little ambulácral tentacles of a gigantic starfish fastened to me so compactly that I could not tell if I was becoming the starfish or if the starfish had become me. I shrank into myself, I made myself watertight and contracted, but everything here that contracts must promptly relax again, even the enemy dissolves like salt in water, and once more I was navigation, navigation first of all, shining with a pure white flame, responding to a thousand cascades, to foaming trenches and to gyratory gougings. What flows cannot inhabit.
In 2011, choreographer Marie Chouinard made a 35-minute dance piece based on Michaux’s short book “Mouvements”, recreating his ink in flesh. I wish I’d seen it!
Michaux’s ink pieces (especially the giraffe one above) remind me of modernist takes on one of my favorite things I’ve posted here: Charles Frederick Soehnee’s bewildering and glorious otherworldly watercolors.