Thursday, 23 September 2010

On the Laws that Govern 'Straw and Order'

I’ve been away for a few days. When I got home this evening I found these ‘adapted pants’, pushed through my letterbox. Here, I made a few brief photographs of them, before stuffing them through my next-door-neighbour’s letterbox.
For some reason these unwanted ‘adapted pants’ (Outsider Art, inside my flat?) made me think of the French writer, Raymond Roussel. Roussel's writing often described peculiar artifacts (he invented some very strange objects and garments for which there was no name) - like a statue made from whalebone corset parts that traveled on railroad tracks made from calf's lungs. 
Roussel’s novels’, ‘Locus Solus’ (Lonely Place) and ‘Impressions of Africa’ (it’s not a travel book) have had a great influence on me at one time or another. I first became interested in Roussel when I read that he’d traveled all the way around the world in a very early form of motor home - a motorized ‘roulette’ (gypsy caravan) - from which he only very rarely alighted: to prove once-and-for-all that external reality had very little influence on his writing. Louis Aragon called Roussel, ‘The Emperor of the Republic of Dreams’. 
Roussel committed suicide in 1933, aged 56 (in relative obscurity). Two years later saw the publication of his ‘secret and posthumous’ literary testament’, ‘How I Wrote Certain Of My Books’. Shortly before his death Roussel had produced a text - a bean-spiller - explaining the ‘very special method’ he’d employed, to write such strange and poetic works. Here’s Roussel introducing 'his method':  

I have always been meaning to explain the way in which I came to write certain of my books (Impressions d’Afrique, Locus Solus, L’Etoile au Front and La Poussiere de Soleils).
It involved a very special method. And it seems to me that it is my duty to reveal this method, since I have the feeling that future writers may perhaps be able to exploit it fruitfully.
As a young man I had already written stories of some length employing this method.
I chose two almost identical words (reminiscent of metagrams): for example, billiard (billiard table) and pillard (plunderer). To these I added similar words capable of two different meanings, thus obtaining two almost identical phrases…
As Colin Raff points out: ' Here we perceive Roussel's basic paradigm: an image or idea generating supplemental material, which, through seemingly infinite in scope, will always resolve itself with the original subject'. 
Why am I telling you this? Because I’ve often adopted an adapted version of Roussel’s ‘special method’ when making of my own work. My last blog, ‘Straw and Order’, is an excellent example the ‘Rousselian technique’ – adapted to accommodate photographs - in action.

The Laws that Govern ‘Straw and Order’
I started off with just two initials, PC. I then looked for two opposing PCs, and came up with, Police Constable and Petty Criminal. To this I added similar, rhyming words that were often capable of being related to one another somehow: law and straw, arm and farm and sheep and sleep. Sometimes these word combinations suggested – gave birth to – new words. Restoring became re-strawing, which in turn conceived, thatching. This gave me the storyline; which is basically about, how in order to catch a criminal you have to act like a criminal. I made some linguistic adjustment (discussed above) to what is a very simple plot. ‘To catch a Petty Criminal’ became ‘to thatch a thief’. The actor Cary Grant stared in Hitchcock’s film, ‘To Catch A Thief’. Then I had to find a way of getting both PCs (the Petty Criminal and the Police Constable) into a position where they would ‘grant’ me permission to photograph them ‘clutching’ straw. Cary Grant came in very useful at this point. The straw was contained in a bin-liner – a form of carrier bag. This united Cary with Grant. The criminal and the policeman were thus, both 'carriers' and 'granters'. They were both seen to be literally, and physically, using the Long Arm of the Law, to clutch at straw.
The photographic illustrations were the most difficult part. I had to persuade a policeman, and a criminal, to clutch at the same straw. 

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