Thursday, September 3, 2015

Tinsel and the Torture-Net Artifice


The photographs that follow are patently not “authentic,” nor indeed are they photographs.  Both are fictional devices set in place to give the fiction itself the veneer of authenticity.  As far as characterization is concerned, the villains are pantomime cut-outs, and the hero’s only attributes are strength, good looks, compassion, and moral principles that prompt him to take a stand against injustice.  That is as complicated as it gets.  The hero, pitted against ever more morally corrupt antagonists and placed in ever more tangled and ambiguous situations, remains impossibly strong.  You know the type:  you might even, in your more honest moments, detect a strain of it in yourself.  He delights in “doubling.”  The medium can turn things into language and language into a thing.  Mirages, hollow signs of the heat-glow, are taken for objects and people; objects and people are taken for mirages.  The casting and consuming of voices are sometimes done by mouths and ears alone, but mostly they are done through technology.   He has no past, no sexual identity, no complexities.  Their real content may still remain invisible, hiding in the light. 


The argument may seem stunningly naïve.  Things are never that neat and tidy.  Politics is present, but it is treated with disdain.  What could they have to tell him about the revolution anyway?  All it has meant for them is a change of name on the placard beside their hovels and of the uniform worn by the police who swing their truncheon at them.  Friendship may bring about emotional awakening and cultural enlightenment, but politically it brings cynicism.  The authority may be grounded in the divine, but it is established and consolidated through technology.  Terrified at first, he eventually digs up the floorboards and finds a record player.  The holy world of spirits collapses once we see the mechanisms at work behind it.  But overall these are rearguard actions in a larger losing battle.  The enforcers of the prohibition law get drunk.  Blood falls from the animals not as a libation, but rather “to be made into I don’t know what—food, drugs, jewels, explosives.”  Sometimes the interruptions are innocuous; sometimes they are not.  Full and empty spectacle make move and counter-move against one another, but the empty wins out in the long run.  Too right. 


He seems drawn to these places like a dowser’s stick to subterranean water.  Even spaces not designed for burial turn into tombs when he steps into them.  At best this relationship is fraught; at worst it goes disastrously wrong.  In whose name?  Whose legacy demands this?  The secret, once more, has been disguised in a name and transplanted across the world to throw its pursuers off the fact that it was right at home the whole time.  This is the pattern set by the crypt, pulsed out in its coded broadcasts.  To keep it safe he buries it inside his crypt and carries it around for all his life, showing and hiding it, saying it without saying it.  Radio messages shuttle back and forth:  from rocket to moon-surface to ground control and back again.  Here, too, time zones are overlaid.  Here, too, the sun is intensely scrutinized.  Here, too, is abandonment.  We should learn something from this.  What?  Who knows where the signals will end up, or what they will end up meaning?


Let’s believe this for now.   It is as though language, like the microphone, were shying away from the message it is carrying.  The relations here are complex, to say the least.  Those who can discern the rhythms can step into them and operate in their blind spots.  In his zone of near-silence, he injects language into a flower.   It is constructed with a rocket scientist’s skill for routing, plotting elliptical paths of departure and return.  It stacks up layers of meaning like so many pancakes, toy bricks, sheets of acetate.  And yet, as they were last time, they will be disappointed.  The event field is unconsummated; and language fails to deliver.  The voice that carries the secret remains inaudible even as it is amplified.  It may terrorize the heroes, burn their ears, but it stops short of destroying their world by naming the event as event.  The scene is ridiculous and totally implausible.  This stage set sacrifices him on its hollow altar, leaving him trapped inside an empty, perforated drum.  Naming him, her voice removes his name.  Perhaps she is not wrong.


Let’s start where we left off:  he is killed.  What happens next?  What became of the original we do not find out.  The home he returns to was not the home he left.  These gifts are all poisoned, booby-trapped.  He may get away with it, but its specter will haunt his line for generations.  Their departures and returns follow the path of time.  It is in his blood.  He must sweat it, because even animals pick it up.  While doing this, he is hit by a car.  “My good deed for the day,” he tells himself.  They decline, but he insists.  The volcano eventually erupts, blowing into the sky a column of smoke more than thirty thousand feet high.  Their memories of it have been absolutely wiped, erased.  Where is this new detour through secrets and sunflowers leading us?  My artifice is as good as nature.  My artifice is better than nature, he is saying now.  For him, everything is a copy.  What lies at its core? 


This process is dark, sometimes shocking, in many respects catastrophic.  It is certainly sad.  When there is duplication, comedy results.  A person being manipulated like an automaton by another person is funny.  Repetition takes place in the field of time.  Here, though, the fall has become more than simply a pratfall.  Time and again he turns his head to tell people to look where they are going and then crashes into whatever is in his path.  That he is always falling, relapsing, messing up, is a sign of his awkward relationship not only with the material world but also with the divine one.  Gravity, like repetition, opens up the dimension of time.  In comedy this option is removed.  An awareness of one’s own fakeness can have disastrous consequences.  The meeting was never going to happen.  Eventually, it gets played out in the field of art, the most self-conscious of all environments.  To turn water into wine would be a miracle.  Some peace and quiet to smoke his pipe would be nice.


Even when parchments have been overlaid and treasure unearthed, significant portions of it remain uncovered.  It divides into three parts which circulate through time and space.  This is more than simply an extended plot device, of course.  “Tomorrow I shall be famous!” he cries.  What about his other descendants?  He had three sons.  This is extremely dubious practice, to say the least.  All literature is pirated.  Every act of reading is its own kind of remaking of a work.  The second scene moves at a quicker pace. 

(after Tom McCarthy)

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

The origins of the term "graphic novel"--a thread rescued from the old Comics Journal Message Board

I just found this among my files.  It dates from November, 2003. I don't think I saved the entire thread, but there's quite a lot here, and it's probably still the best source of information for the origins of the term.  I'm posting it because I think it's an important part of the history of comics scholarship, and the old TCJ Message Board no longer exist.  If any participant, however, prefers not to have their comments re-posted here, please contact me and I will delete them.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Viewer in the Painting, lecture 1, part 1, raw (more or less) transcript. Mainly about four minutes in "Mary Poppins"

[Note:  what follows is a pretty raw transcript of my first lecture for my class, "The Viewer in the Painting."  I edited it occasionally as I was transcribing it, skipping mutterings about malfunctioning equipment, occasionally finding a more felicitous term than the one I had used in class, or fixing my syntax.  But I did all this just as I was typing, and I have not gone back over the text to revise it.]

Here are four images, by Edward Burne-Jones, telling the story of Pygmalion.  As you know, Pygmalion is a classical story best known from the Latin poet Ovid’s Metamorphoses—a long poem about, well, things turning into other things.  In this case, a statue turns into a real woman, it comes to life.  Pygmalion, the sculptor who makes beautiful statues but is otherwise unhappy with the women in his city, is enthralled by his own statue and invokes Venus, the goddess of love, to bring his own statue to life.  Venus shows up, brings the statue to life, he falls in love with the woman she now is, and so on.

What is interesting is that the story of the statue coming to life is pervasive through popular culture, in fantastic stories, myths, films,  opera.  It has become one of the ways in which not only our culture, but cultures for millennia have encoded our relationship to a kind of work of art, sculptures, and specifically statues of people.  We can all think of other examples:  if you have ever seen a stage performance of Don Juan, or a staging of Don Giovanni, the opera by Mozart, you have seen another statue coming to life.  Don Giovanni, the infamous seducer, is punished for his evil deeds by  a statue—a statue come to life-- of the father of one of the women he has seduced.

Other examples can be found in the pages of fantasy books, episodes of the Twilight Zone, and so on.
This fantasy seems to have a connection to the atavistic notion of art as being something beyond, or before, the aesthetic—where the aesthetic sees art as just something to be appreciated formally, or intellectually, etc.  It has something to do more with cult statues, inhabited by gods, or with the icon in Greek Orthodox or Catholic worship, which is prayed to—and even when short of idolatry, seems to have a kind of power, it looks back at you, it’s more than a simple representation of a saint or a divinity.  

This is one of the myths that encodes one kind of relationship we have with statues, with works of art.  Another such myth is the notion of the portrait whose eyes follow you around the room.  You may all have heard that.  If you go for example to a house museum, the tour guide or the docent may point you to a painting of an ancestor and direct you to walk around the room, to notice how, wherever you are, the figure in the painting is looking at you.  

Thinking of this myth, I wondered what, according to the wisdom of the internet, are the paintings that most do that, so I googled it.  The most popular example seems to be the Mona Lisa.  If we imagine her looking around the room, at us, we begin treating her as a person, we are somehow endowing her with subjectivity, yet at the same time we know it’s just a plain old painting, though perhaps the most famous and most expensive painting in the world.  But it’s not a real person.  Nevertheless.  

Looking at these myths, the statue coming to life, the figure in the portrait whose eyes follow you around the room, you realize we begin to develop a different kind of relationship with the work than simply that of viewing subject versus viewed object.  

I looked further in the google results—and I want to emphasize, that these relationships in no way need apply only to elite or famous works of high art, or even things we might objectively think of as good—and here was the next popular result.  On deviant art, art, a digital painting by May Fang Robinson, who seems to do digital paintings of very traditional Chinese women, rendered in a kind of academic/pin-up aesthetic.  And their eyes, supposedly, follow you around the room.  Now, believe it or not, this is not just a myth—there is a specific scientific reason as to why that might seem to be the case, and we’ll discuss it when we get to geometric perspective—but because of that, we begin granting the painting something much more than simple objectness.  And the fact of it being a human face, one to which we can relate, which brings to mind eye-to-eye encounters with real human beings, helps too.

Having said that, I wanted to say that this class is modeled after two models.  On one hand, a professor of English at the University of Rochester, Kenneth Gross, wrote a book in the 1990’s called “The Dream of the Moving Statue.”  It is specifically about this notion of statues coming to life, studied from many varied angles, and gives many more examples than I can give here.  It’s a beautiful, very poetic book, and I found it inspiring me to take a similar look at other myths about the reception of art, specifically those centered around the fantasy of the viewer in the painting.
Secondly, when I was in college, I took a class, primarily to satisfy a requirement, the distribution of which was called “Moral Reasoning” and included philosophy, ethics, and so on.  Taught by a philosophy professor named Stanley Cavell.  Now, I was a film major at the time—film and studio—and this class promised to have a lot of film showings, which is why I took it.  Turned out to be an extraordinary class (which Cavell later turned into a book, called “City of Words”), primarily because it attempted to teach philosophy through popular culture.  For example, Cavell claimed that some of the philosophical ethics of Kant or Emerson could be found in Hollywood comedies or melodramas of the 1930s or 1940s.  He made quite a powerful argument that this was the case and that, indeed, the viewers of those movies somehow absorbed, along with their entertainment, such moral lessons.  

I realized that even in a class on philosophy or theory, the texts studied did not necessarily have to be philosophical expository text, but could be works of fiction, of popular culture within which such philosophy inheres, and from which it could be derived and re-applied.  Those works would not necessarily be studied as aesthetic work in themselves, but as repositories of philosophical thought.  In our case, there is a philosophical component—a  theory of criticism, of viewer reception,  of how we interact with works of art—in the various seemingly fantastic scenarios I have described. 
The other myth, and the main myth that this class is about, is that of being able to enter a painting.  Again, many examples can be found in fiction, in popular culture, some that I will show you today in class, others in Twilight Zone episodes, again, or even more clearly in episodes of Rod Serling’s next show, “The Night Gallery.”  This scenario again encodes, becomes an allegory for a profound relationship we have to the works of art themselves.  I was just looking online last night for a book by a professor of art history, currently at Berkeley, named T.J. Clark; I was looking for something else entirely, when I found this line by him:  “When I am in front of a picture the thing I most want is to enter the picture's world: it is the possibility of doing so that makes pictures worth looking at for me. (p.222)”  So I thought, oh, there is another person who has this dream of entering a painting. 
What we will do in this class is take this notion—begin from popular culture, from these myths—and from there build up a more complex theory of how we respond to images; but it will still remain what we might call a “vernacular” theory of viewer response:  how do we respond to works of art?  How do they affect us emotionally?  And so on.  

And I thought I would begin with a very simple example, that all of you have seen previously.  “Mary Poppins.”  

Here is the question.  How do you enter a painting?  What does Mary Poppins say?  “Bert, why do you always have to complicate things that are really quite simple?”  And, even without Bert’s spell (or, rather, because she didn’t use it) she managed to get them all inside the painting.  Because, you know, she’s magic, a witch or a fairy.  (What is Mary Poppins anyway?)

If we study the entire sequence again, though, we can derive a few provisional notions of HOW to enter a painting—or, if you think of that as an allegory, how to relate to it, to respond to it powerfully.  Provisional notions which of course we will rephrase in more scholarly terms, and revise and transform, during the course of this class.  

Notice that, to begin with, the children are going to go with Mary Poppins for a walk in the park.  But of course, Mary being magic, a walk in the park with her cannot be just a walk in the park, as Bert points out.  They will still end up in a park, though, just one that is much, much better.  And notice—this is very obvious, but still needs to be noted—that the painting they will enter is a landscape.  Landscapes are the genre that has most provoked this “viewer in the painting” fantasy.  Why is that?  You could also imagine it happening with other genres—for example, genre paintings, paintings of everyday life, you can imagine a scene of people in a room and you entering, past the frame, to be in their company—but this almost never happens.  It’s always landscapes.  That may be because an important function of landscapes, from the beginning, was to take you somewhere else.  Diderot, an eighteenth-century writer whom we’ll discuss again later on, wrote specifically about how we collect landscape because, caught in the dreary city, we want to be transported to somewhere else, a more beautiful countryside.  The fact that he himself had moved from the country to the city, and still felt nostalgia for the place of his birth, probably had something to do with his view too.  But nostalgia plays an important role here, as we shall see.  

Now, one more thing.  Our very notion of parks, as open to the public—in America it’s a much more modern notion, primarily nineteenth century, but even in England, Hyde Park, which opened in the seventeenth century being one of the earliest there—was a matter of bringing something of the countryside into the city itself.  Artificial countryside, it functioned like landscapes, the way Diderot saw them.  It helped people escaped to a more natural, more beautiful green world than their depressing urban surroundings.  And public parks were based on private parks, in the countryside, around mansions—and the landscaping for that kind of park was based, more often than not, on landscape paintings, especially like those of—and I will now introduce for the first time a name that you will be hearing a lot during this entire course—Claude Lorrain. 

Claude is very important for this class because it is in the commentaries to his work—commentaries that span the period from the seventeenth century to the twentieth, and beyond—that perhaps this desire, this dream to enter the painting is most often articulated.  

Claude’s work is most often associated with the genre of pastoral painting—the depiction of a countryside world imbued with the pleasures of shepherds and shepherdesses who have no worries, no anxieties (gods too may come to visit), they can spend their time singing, playing music, or in amorous dalliance.  This becomes a dream of a more perfect world for much of Western culture. Again, we’ll discuss it at much more length, but keep in mind that it’s the dream behind the creation of parks—and also, even, of the American suburbs.

OK.  Back to Mary Poppins.  So they’re going into the park.   But it has to be a special park.  They’re going on a “Jolly Holiday,” as Bert sings.  An easier life.  The life of the pastoral—where they, too, can sing.  

Bert begins by making-believe.  The magical entering into the painting begins by enacting the poses of the characters in the paintings.  You make believe, even if you don’t really believe, until the magic actually happens.  But, by playing the tightrope walker, the boatsman, in a way he already is in the painting. 

Then the girl, Jane, wants to enter the painting, and Bert draws, with chalk, a way for her into the painting.  Literally, a road, a bridge.  Two things here:  notice that the thing you need, to enter a painting, is imagination.  You have to see in your mind’s eye the fair that you can’t actually see in the painting itself, that is before your eyes.  That is how you build up that world, and give it life.  Then you have to have the road:  the painting has, so to speak, to give you an inroad into itself. 
As I said, this course is about viewer-response theories, and we already see here two kinds.  There are three kinds, really, and perhaps some further subdivisions, but I will only mention two here today.  We’ll build on this schema later.  When you have viewer response, what do you need?  A viewer and a work of art.  Viewer response theories can address each one of these poles.  Focusing on the viewer, you can see what he or she brings to the encounter, to make the image come alive:  what has been called “the beholder’s share.”  The imagination, in this case.  Now you can study this psychologically (though that shades into the third category, that I don’t want to discuss yet), or you can study it empirically, sociologically.  For example, if you want to know how people respond to images, you can do a survey of museum patrons, and see what their backgrounds are, economic, educational, and compare that to which works of art they prefer.  This kind of sociological study has been done by a number of German response theorists (perhaps more when studying literature than art), and by a French sociologist named Pierre Bourdieu.  I will mention this here, because we won’t be doing much of this kind of analysis in this class.

But, anyway, you have the pole of the viewer, and on the other side of the axis of vision, you have the pole of the artwork itself.  And here we talk about formal theories of response; instead of looking at the viewer, we look at how the painting addresses the viewer.  How does it invite his or her participation?  The painting needs to make itself inviting:  to have that road, that meets the bottom side of the frame and therefore seems to continue into the space of the viewer; to have that bridge that crosses the river.  (And, notice, that once they magically enter the painting, the kids will go into the depths of the painting across that very bridge, along that road.  The drawn bridge becomes an actual bridge in the world of the image.  Imagination has to do something with this, too.)  So you look at what in the picture itself—in its form, but also in the content—accounts for that address, that invitation.  A good example is one-point perspective, through which the painting opens itself up, in depth, and continues the space of the viewer, and also by clearly establishing the axis from the viewer’s eye to the vanishing point, draws him or her into the image, to its very depths—since the vanishing point is at infinity, after all.   
So there are formal structures, in the painting, that address the viewer.  But also, there are structures of content (though, in most cases here, content and form are not so easy to separate), for example the construction of a pastoral paradise—of a more perfect world—that does the inviting.  Because life seems easier there, because everything looks more beautiful there.

Back to the movie.  

Bert:  “All right, I’ll do it myself.”
Mary:  “Do what?”
Bert:  “A bit of magic.”
Michael:  “A bit of magic?”
Bert:  “It’s easy.  Let’s see.  You think; you wink; you do a double blink; you close your eyes, and jump.”
[They jump onto the painting drawn on the sidewalk.]
Jane:  “Is something supposed to happen?”
Mary:  “Bert, what utter nonsense.  [sighs] Why did you always complicate things that are really quite simple?  Give me your hand, please, Michael.  Don’t slouch. One, two…”
They fly up in the air, and get smaller at the same time, to be absorbed into the painting.

Maybe this is stretching it.  But is the exchange between Mary and Bert, when she says “Why did you always complicate things that are really quite simple?” (and notice that it’s “did,” not “do.”  Mary and Bert clearly have more of a history than the movie tells us)—is this exchange about not overthinking, not over-intellectualizing one’s response to the image, so as to be able to be open emotionally to it (which is quite simple, if you don’t think about it too much), to be able to respond to it, make it come to life?  Is it an allegory of those times when—because of a depression, bad mood, etc.—we cannot relate to artworks that, in other, less involved mental states, we respond quite readily?

OK, maybe that’s reading too much.  We’ll see.  

Now they’re in the world of the painting.  Notice that, in the painting itself, the colors are brighter, everything is more beautiful, and even they themselves have changed:  they are more beautifully dressed, in their Sunday best—they’re more ideal versions of themselves, the best versions of the people they can be.   When they’re inside the image.

So, we can build a whole theory out of this.  Out of this four-minute scene, on the sidewalk, from a Disney musical. 

You have all seen “Mary Poppins,” right?  You know what happens next—or, not immediately next, but in the world of the painting, what famous song they sing?  “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious,” of course.  It’s part of the magic of that world.  

Let’s move on.

What’s interesting is that, if Claude is the painter who most invited these fantasies, of entering his world, from the seventeenth through the ninetenth century, the one who seems to have most done so since the twentieth century has been Van Gogh. 

[to be continued...]

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Marivaux on Beauty and the Je Ne Sais Quoi

Pierre Carlet de Marivaux, "The Abodes of Beauty and of the Je Ne Sais Quoi," from Le Cabinet du philosophe, IIe feuille, 1734. Translated by yours truly.

Only rarely can beauty and the je ne sais quoi be found together.

By the
Je ne sais quoi I mean: that charm spread across someone’s face and figure, and which makes a person lovable, without our being able to tell what it owes its effects to [á quoi il tient].

I have read somewhere on this subject a quite interesting tale; it was written by a man who pretended to have found the abodes of Beauty and of the
Je ne sais quoi.

Here is more or less what he said. It’s short, as I will only offer a summary of his tale.

One day—he said—as I was walking in the country, I was lost in thoughts about one of the most beautiful women in the world, whom I had visited for each of the last eight days out there in the countryside where I was staying. The first time I had seen her I had looked on her admiringly; I’d been less touched by her the second time; and I had finally ended up looking at her with indifference, no matter how beautiful I still found her to be, no matter how beautiful she truly was. I wondered why such beauty so worthy of admiration had grown so uninteresting to me, why Beauty in general, even, didn’t inspire longer-lasting feelings.

I was seeking out the reasons for such things when I noticed I was standing between two gardens, of which one seemed superb, and the other pleasant

The gates to these two gardens were right across from one another.

On that of the superb garden, these words could be read in golden letters: THE ABODE OF BEAUTY.

On that of the pleasant garden was written, in characters in which all sorts of colors were melded together, making a single one that could not be defined: THE ABODE OF THE

The abode of Beauty! I first said to myself; oh, I must see it; for whoever says “Beauty” says something much more impressive than the “
Je ne sais quoi,” something much worthier of being seen.

And so, carried along by the strength of the word, I didn’t hesitate to choose the garden of Beauty, and to leave behind that of the
Je ne sais quoi, which I would return to enjoy later.
As determined as I was in preferring the former, I nevertheless threw another glance at the latter which seemed to me so pleasant, and wished it were possible to see them both at the same time. But apparently no side-by-side comparison could be drawn between the two; so one had to start with the most intriguing
[curieux] one, which is what I did.

As I entered the garden of Beauty, I noticed the footsteps of several people who had walked in, but I also noticed as many belonging to people who’d walked out.

I walk on, and the more I observe, the more I admire.

I will not retell all the beautiful things I saw; the description of those sites is beyond my abilities; but I was astonished, I was struck. Imagine everything grand, superb and magnificent that can be placed in a garden; everything extraordinary that the most exact symmetry and the best thought-out arrangement can create; and you’ll barely picture what I saw.

But how can I describe to you what the palace that I found after walking for a while looked like? I couldn’t even try.

If I had to say something about it, I would tell you about the person I saw there seated on some kind of throne, around which stood several men who, according to what they told me, had only preceded me there by an hour, and who all seemed to be frozen in place, as if in ecstasy upon seeing the woman on the throne.

You be the judge of whether they were wrong: that was Beauty herself, in person, who, every once in a while and as if by chance [négligemment] cast on each of them, as well as on me, glances that made us all cry out: Oh! such beautiful eyes!, then, a moment later, oh! such a beautiful mouth! oh! such a beautiful face! oh! such a beautiful waist!

Upon hearing these exclamations, Beauty smiled and lowered her eyes somewhat, more out of modesty than out of embarrassment; and, without answering, started looking at us again, as if to reinforce
[nous confirmer dans] the feelings of admiration we held for her. Now and then she also raised her head with a certain haughty air, which seemed to tell us: your admiration must be accompanied by respect. That was all she had to say for herself.

For the first quarter of an hour, the pleasure of contemplating her made us forget her silence; by the end of it, however, I began to notice it, and so did the others.

What! we all said, nothing but smiles, nothing but turns of the head, not a single word; that’s hardly enough. Will only our eyes be gratified? Are there no pleasures but the pleasure of sight?

Thereupon, one of us stepped forward to present her with a piece of fruit he’d picked in the garden. She accepted it while smiling all the while, and with the most beautiful hand in the world, but without opening her mouth; and her gesture was the only thanks she offered; we had to content ourselves with watching her.

Apprarently each one of us got tired of this, for, little by little, our group got smaller; I could see my companions walk away; and soon, of all the admirers amongst whom I had found myself, I was the only one left, and I took my leave as well.

As I crossed an alleyway heading back, I met a woman who seemed exceedingly proud, and before whom, as I passed her, I took a deep bow.

Where are you going? she asked me with with an air both disdainful and displeased. I have just admired BEAUTY, I answered, and now I am leaving. Now, now, why leave? she replied. Shouldn’t you be frozen in place before Beauty? What is there left for you to see, after having seen her?

You are doubtlessly right, I told her; but I have seen her long enough; I know her features by heart: they are always the same. It is always the same beautiful visage, over and over again, saying nothing to the spirit, speaking only to the eyes, and always telling them the same thing; thus, I had nothing left to learn from it. If only Beauty engaged her admirers in conversation a little, if only her soul played about her face somewhat, that would render that face less uniform, and more touching; it would please the heart as much as the eyes; but we only see it as beautiful, and don’t feel it to be so. Beauty should take the trouble to speak for herself, and to display her spirit [esprit]; for I don’t think she’s lacking in it.

Now, now! What does it matter to you whether she has or hasn’t any? asked me that woman then; does she need any, looking as she does? Go on, you don’t understand a thing; were you dealing with an ordinary visage, I would agree with you; it would be to its advantage that spirit animate it; that would enhance it, and make up for the graces that it lacked. But to wish that spirit play across a beautiful face is to wish for the alteration of that face’s charms; spirit may add something to unformed features, but it could only hurt features that are perfectly shaped; it could do nothing but disturb them. A beautiful face is as complete as it can be; it can do no better than to stay just as it is; whatever the movements of the spirit were to add to it would throw it off balance
[en troublerait l’économie], for it is precisely in the state it is supposed to be in, and could not come out of it but to its own detriment. Thus, you criticize without thinking; it is I who tell you so, I who am the unmoved Pride of beautiful people, and the helpmate of Beauty. I never leave her side, and take great care to keep her spirit cold and tranquil, so that her face may stay at rest, and that her noble propriety be not lessened. It is fortunately true that it is not hard for me to temper Beauty’s spirit, which is generally quite peaceful of its own accord, or at least it’s perfectly aware how important it is for it to maintain gravity, and that it cause no disorder in that beautiful visage, whose interests it respects too much to think of its own.

Thus spoke to me the woman; and her words seemed to me so peculiar, that I only answered with a bow and took my leave, then quickly made for the abode of the
Je ne sais quoi, where I caught up with all those who had left me behind in Beauty's dwelling.

There was nothing astonishing in this place, and, what is more, nothing that was purposefully arranged; everything looked as if it had been thrown down haphazardly; disorder, even, reigned there, and yet a disorder in the very best taste, creating a charming effect, and whose cause one could neither have understood
[démêler] nor shown.

In short, nothing was left to be desired, there; and yet it must have been that nothing had been finished, or that not everything that one would have wanted to place there had indeed been placed, for at every moment we could see something new being added.

And, despite the tale that counts only three Graces, there were an infinity of them there, which, as they crossed the grounds, reworked them, retouching them everywhere. I say, "as they crossed," for they did nothing but come and go, but pass before us in quick succession, without allowing us the time to know them well; they were there, but barely could one see them that they disappeared, and that others took their place then passed by in their turn, making space for others yet. In one word, they were all over, and yet settled nowhere; and it was never just one, but a thousand of them, that could be seen.

Well then, gentlemen, said I to those who were with me, this place is charming; I'd willingly spend here my entire life; but he who inhabits it, the
JE NE SAIS QUOI, where is he? Lead me to him, I pray you; for you must have seen him?

Not yet, they answered; and ever since we have been here, we have been seeking him without yet being able to find him; it is true that we seek him at our leisure; for, though we have the greatest desire in the world to lay our eyes on him, we are not in the least impatient to find his whereabouts; and even were we never to find him, we are resolved to seek him out forever.
And yet he must be here, I answered; and barely had I uttered these words, that we heard a voice telling us: Here I am.

We all turned around then, for we perceived nothing before us; and, as much as we kept turning, we still saw nothing.

Where are you then, kindly
JE NE SAIS QUOI? we all asked as one.

Here I am, I tell you, answered the voice again.

And we kept looking around, expecting to see him, and seeing nothing still.

You tell us: here I am, I continued, but you shun our sight.

And yet you see nothing but me, he answered. In this infinite number of graces that pass ceaselessly before your eyes, coming and going, all different and yet all equally lovable, of which some are more virile and some more tender, watch them well, there I am; it's me you see there, always me. In these sights you love so much, in these objects of all kinds that hold for you so many pleasing touches, in the entire extent of the grounds, in all that you perceive here that is simple, fancy-free, unruly even, ornate or not ornate: there I am, I show myself in them, I constitute all their charm, I surround you. In the guise of these graces, I am the Je ne sais quoi that moves you in both sexes; there, the Je ne sais quoi that pleases in architecture, in furnishings, in gardens, in all that can be an object of taste. And yet don't seek me in one form, I have thousands, and yet not one of them that stays ever fixed; that is why one sees me without knowing me, without being able to either grasp me or define me; in seeing me, one loses me from sight, one can sense me and yet not understand
[démêle] me; in short, you see me, and you seek me, and you'll never find me in any other way; therefore you'll never tire of seeing me.