Thursday, October 2, 2014

Membra Disjecta Enigmatica

Oh my goodness, so serious
My time "en bibliothèque" is drawing to a close for a while (more work from home and in the field) but not before a conférence tomorrow on "Les transferts artistiques dans l'Europe gothique" - it's a "rencontre-débat" (meeting-debate) about the transfer of artistic ideas and styles within Europe during the Gothic period (here defined between the 12th and 16th centuries). I can't wait! Should be a great way to take my leave for a bit (and next time, yes, I promise lots of pictures of the splendid space that is, l'INHA!). In the meantime...

What's in a name?
... I'd like to do a quick romp through images and ideas that have flickered past and stayed in my mind, pressing to be written about. All of these deserve more, much more, but I'm feeling them slip through my fingers and so must seize what I can. First and foremost, wouldn't you like to have a species name "enigmaticus"? Oh my goodness I know I would. This little guy was signaled in one of the cooler cave passages of the Musée National d'Histoire Naturelle (which will get many a blog post in the future - it is a wondrous place). I had to look it up. Well, the creature is so enigmatic that I can't even understand the first thing about any of the words used to describe Pliciloricus Enigmaticus. I'm sorry to tell you that the only sentence whose words (but, to be honest, not even whose meaning) I understood was "The anus is terminal." Does it have any other enigmatic family members, this pliciloricus enigmaticus? Is it enigmatic alone? Would it be more enigmatic in company? I hope to find out more - and also what makes a scientist, presumably in 1986, give the name "enigmaticus."

Suspended animation
How about asking that "Is it a crocodile or an alligator" question in mid-air? The MNHN has a well preserved series of enigmas, mostly from one Duke of Orléan's collection (my favorite is of a tiger attacking and climbing an elephant). Here is an enormous alligator (I think) with an enormous snake and others suspended in mid-air, poised and ready to freak you out. When Iris and I were there last, e discovered that the entire museum was shut down in 1969 because it was considered a public hazard. Over the next years, the entire place fell apart, animals were several damaged or rotted, any taxidermist's illusion wiped away. In then in 1986, the museum was reinvigorated, decisions were made to save it, and it opened again, the animals re-taxidermied, the space glittering and lucid, the exhibits splendid. But these old guys (and my other favorite, the Hall of Endangered and Extinct species) are just wonderful, hanging from the ceiling like that.

Animated suspense
 We'll stick with animals for just a bit longer - this time a fluid octopus upon an early Greek vase, Mycenaean. The kids couldn't get enough of it (it's at the Louvre) and though I know of other examples from books, seeing one up close like this was just the best. All tentacles and patterns and flow. And great big eyes to stare you down. I think of rounding my hands around the curve of this shape, gripping the handles and wielding the stilled creature (oh and if I knew my early vases better I could tell you if this was for olive oil or wine or...). It's vaguely an amphora. But definitely an octopus.

Very, very still
I've long known and loved teaching Kleobis and Biton (thanks to the brilliant writing of Nigel Spivey) and while the two statues thought to be (i.e. debated to be) Kleobis and Biton themselves are in Delphi, these beautiful examples of Archaic statuary in the Argive style at the Louvre. There's a terseness to their bodies that I dearly love - their thin waists and straight backs, their chests barely amplified by breath. They are in wait and ready and yet somehow seem incredibly vulnerable to me. They don't know that contrapposto and its heroics are coming, that Hercules and Apollo will set the standards, the bodies will be beholden to epic narratives. No, they wait, ever ready and promising and somehow (and I don't understand this visually yet) deferential. Maybe it was because the Lady of Auxerre was not so far from them, and she certainly commands deference. The ultimate enigma: how this Archaic Greek statuary found its way to a storage vault in Auxerre (Burgundy!) is a mystery. And it's almost as if these two have been given the secret to keep.

Oh blighted beast! Oh loud, groaning thing! How I love thee! And to hear the organ at Saint Sulpice is most sublime. Reputed to be amongst the most powerful, best, and best played in all the world, the organ at Saint Sulpice is musical, architectural, and sculptural. The clip starts with Oliver chomping away on his gum, drawing a gaggle of goblins that could hop around madly to the music being played. As happens during hour-long concerts in a church with a minimal hand-out, we lost our place, so this might or might not be Charles-Marie Widor - he whose "Toccata" from the Symphony No. 5 was the recessional at our wedding (still the only piece that can bring a tear to my eye instantly - check), he who was the official organist of Saint Sulpice for years and years. In any case, with the wonders of technology and a turn of the wrist, I can give you the ceiling of Saint Sulpice and its outrageously muscular stretches and throw all my membra disjecta enigmatica into perpetual echo among its vaults.


  1. Thanks, Anne! By the way, the octopus on the jar is Late Helladic IIIc, that is a Mycenenan version of the Minoan octopi, which are several hundred years earlier, and more free-flowing. But we all love the Lady of Auxerre, from that Gallic chiefly burial....

  2. Oh cool! Thanks for the info - I want to get my octopus precisely located! And yes, the Lady.