Monday, February 25, 2008


"My dear Éric,

Among the books that you have recently sent me, I thank you most particularly for the work of Mario Mercier. I don’t know who this author is, but his invention, in the fascinating world of the fantastique that is so dear to us, is a prodigious wealth. Pushed so far, with such a disposition towards unrealism, insanity becomes a simple value [...] Without waiting for Mario Mercier to become nationally recognized [...], I would like you to know that I admire him. "
-A letter to Eric Losfield from Andre Pieyre de Mandiargues1

Tonight, lying on my bed in the hours after I returned from my banal part-time job in retail, I finished reading Mario Mercier's incomparable novel, Jeanne's Journal. To my knowledge (any digging reveals no further details), it is the only novel of Mercier's that has ever been translated into English, and at that the book is long out of print and often fetches prices of at least 100 USD on used book sites. I lucked out and managed to track a copy down through my university's interlibrary loan system, and I'm very grateful that I was able to.

The book is one of the most fanciful forays into the erotic realm of the fantastique that I've ever encountered--in any medium. At time the book reads like a bizarre sci-fi novel tainted with an optimistic idealism that was prominent during the mid-20th centuries; other times it hearkens Sadean excess, staying strongly full force until the readers imagination is so permeated with impossible excess that the reality of the physical space the reader undoubtedly exists in simply disappears.

The story exists solely within the realm of spectacle, nothing is too fanciful or far-fetched to escape Mercier's transcendent realm; erotically charged throughout, it's a world where dream and reality are equally leveled, neither is easier to swallow. The book tells the tale of the titular Jeanne, who eventually ends up on a quest to rescue her friend Louise from the grips of an evil Baron; Louise being held hostage due to the fact that she humiliated the Baron's wife at a party.

Among the many highlights of the book, I was particularly awed by Mercier's description of the Baron's metaphysical kingdom, which brought to my mind an amalgamation of Verner Panton colors and luminance, viscous fluids floating in the air via a Jordan Belson film, human debasement recalling and overwhelming everything from Andre Pieyre de Mandiargue's Portrait of an Englishman in His Chateau to Bernard Noel's Castle of Communion, all culminating in pseudo-scientific explanation that, bizarrely, have more in common with the magical elevator in Roald Dahl's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory than anything formerly mentioned. An excerpt will help my point:

"We entered a large, circular room containing many pipes of various diameters and running in different directions. A ventilation whir came from a series of small grilles opening in the floor. I looked up and, to my surprise, I saw a number of vividly coloured condensations silhouetting the shape of pieces of furniture.

"Let's go up," the Baron said.

"But there are no stairs," I could not help pointing out.

He began to laugh and, pulling on my leash, proceeded up an imaginary staircase. With amazement, I felt myself rise into the air.

I then realised that this stair case, as well as the floor, was made of concentrated layers of stabilised air, spatially maintained by invisible field forces[...]"2

And from that point on, the spectacle continues, unabated, until the book ends on a remarkably sublime note that perfectly encapsulates the tone and fantasticism of the rest of the book, while allowing a cathartic sense of conclusion, and utter satisfaction.

I can't recommend the enough book, and hope that sometime in the future I am either fluent enough in French myself to read the rest of Mercier's oeuvre, or more of his work becomes available in English. Though I'm assuming I will have to rely on the former.

The book itself encountered trouble with the censors upon it's initial publication in 1969, but Eric Losfields staunch defense of the book meant that eventually it found publication for an unsuspecting public. Mercier went on to write several more books (La cuvée de singes, Le Necrophile) and eventually he directed two feature films.

Though still mostly unknown, Pete Tombs brought some slight attention to the man with his and Cathal Tohill's quintessential Immoral Tales, which had a dedicated review of Mercier's first feature film, La Goulve (which is frequently bootlegged with the English title Erotic Witchcraft). Mercier's second film, La Papesse, has fortunately been released on a rather lackluster DVD by Pathfinder entertainment. Unfortunately the subtitles on the DVD barely match any of the dialogue on screen, so the viewing experience is compromised.

With now having experienced one of Mercier's novel in addition to one of his films, I can firmly declare that the man is remarkably interesting, and I will continue to hope for the opportunity to experience more of his work in the future.

1 Unless noted, all quotes and background information comes from an article on Mario Mercier written by Frederick Durand. A full translation of the article (which Frederick assures me has the most info on Mercier in any language) is forthcoming on the Esotika site, once the wonderful Mandy Hoff finishes the translation and I work with her to clean it up.

2 English translation by Arlette Ryvers, 1972

Monday, February 18, 2008

Alain Robbe-Grillet: August 1922 - February 2008

Despite the turmoil of events that have occurred around me recently (as I've mentioned before, I attend Northern Illinois University which was recently the site of a school shooting on Valentines day) I find myself most affected (in a totally selfish way) by the death of filmmaker and author (among other things), Alain Robbe-Grillet.

I discovered Alain Robbe-Grillet on a whim after seeing Last Year at Marienbad six or seven years ago. After watching more Alain Resnais films I came to the realization that it wasn't Resnais' work that had hit me so hard about the film, but rather Robbe-Grillet's script. This eventually led to me seeking out his novels and films, which I devoured and loved.

I have a lot to say about the man, as his films and books have been a constant source of both awe and inspiration over the years, but I just wanted to drop a quick note expressing my, well, sadness (though that word doesn't contextually seem to be the best fit) over his death. He had recently completely a novel (A Sentimental Novel) that had been a source of controversy in France, and hasn't seen an English translation yet (which is no suprise, considering there are still large chunks of his oeuvre that have yet to see the light of day in English accessible options; namely, most of his filmography as director, 2/3s of his "autobiographical" written trilogy, his collaboration with Irina Ionesco [the text of which was admittedly worked into some of his intertextual novels], and more), but I look forward to reading it whenever I get the opportunity.

His work has forced me to think about narrative in a way that I undoubtedly would have taken a longer time to come across; and his visual-textual collaborations have been particularly pertinent to the development of my own work.

Though I suppose it sounds trite to say, maybe every cloud does have a silver lining, and the death of a great artist will bring enough attention that hopefully more of his work (his films especially) will become available for a larger audience so more people can understand what it is that I personally find so utterly amazing.