January 17, 2011

Gisele Prassinos

January 17, 2011
I am in love. Over the holidays I went to Another World, a brilliant Surrealist exhibition in Edinburgh's Dean Gallery. Whilst wandering around I was struck by a mention of a young writer named Gisele Prassinos who was something of a literary prodigy and became the muse of both Breton and Man Ray in the 1930s. Now the Surrealists were a bit lecherous at the best of times, particularly where young girls were concerned, so I figured she was probably just really attractive but not really very talented. Still, when I got home, I Googled her and swiftly came to the conclusion that I couldn't possibly have been more wrong. I haven't been able to get my hands on much of her work, but I've read a few short pieces and they are MAGNIFICENT. She's utterly mad, in the best possible way. Her first novel, La Sauterelle Arthritique (The Arthritic Grasshopper), was published when she was just fifteen. The following story, from 1934, is entitled Journoir (Blackday).
One day, it was cold. Over the river spread a white sheet, hiding the uniformly somber hues of that day. When night fell, a man came up out of the water. He made for a hollow in the stone, where already a dog had taken refuge. In the light from a luminous corner of the sky, I could make the man out: he wore on his head an immense funnel of string, delicately worked and adorned with sharp pebbles, which he had had a tinker friend make, in exchange for a ball of red thread. He seemed laden down with unrusted scrap iron for which no doubt he would go searching under the water, to sell it on the bank and take in sand.

When he became aware of the dog's presence - so far as I could tell in the dark - I think his mustache, which stuck out a long way, spread even further and took on a V shape. Terrified by this change, the dog turned its eyes to the wall and felt the end of its tail stick to the stone sides of the hole. But, seeing the stranger calm the irritability of his hair with a feverish start, it was reassured and went to curl up in a corner so as not to witness its bedfellow's prayers.

The man put down his load. He thought this was the best thing to do and, kneeling on the wet paving stones, he invoked the solitude of the poet. During this time, the dog, which was foraging as deep as it could in its external intestines, kept its eye half-closed, the better to watch over the silence. But, seeing by its side the still, cold bulk of the crouching man, it fell asleep, not able to put up with things any longer. The water flowed on, its scrap iron at the bottom of its bed, awaiting only the man with his load in order to stop. There were only small waves, formed by the mechanical ebb and flow of the heavy clouds.

Day appeared with its light and its dark. The man got up, his hat on his waist and his soft moustache hardened by the night. He went off, swept down upon the river bank and disappeared in the deep waters to look for new things. But the dog, still young, stayed where it was.

MAD! AND BRILLIANT! If it turns out that you too are seduced, you can read about Gisele and some of her other work here.

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