~bestiarum vocabulum~

April 10th, 2010

Chaumière de Dolmancé

“(Swinburne is) a braggart in matters of vice, who has done everything he could to convince his fellow citizens of his homosexuality and bestiality without being in the slightest degree a homosexual or a bestializer.”

Damn, Oscar Wilde, throw down the decadent gauntlet! Nevermind Wilde himself was derided by Edmond de Goncourt as lifting his poncy mannerisms from Verlaine and Swinburne–his senior by 17 years (to say nothing of Lord Byron!). Let’s not trouble ourselves with jealous measure of addiction or love of boys and velvet short pants.

Let’s instead agree that British poet and inventor of the roundel form, Algernon Charles Swinburne (pictured below), was an epileptic, masochist, drunkard or he wasn’t. Perhaps he did in fact (as he himself claimed, most likely in sardonic response to less implicating rumors) engage in bestiality with a monkey which he later ate.

It may be that Guy de Maupassant–protégé of Flaubert, father of the short story–rescued Swinburne from the waters off the coast of Étretat at Normandy, or perhaps not. One could imagine that Swinburne was “dead drunk” (Maupassant’s words) at 10am on that day, but who can really say?

3276184176_e30faf7af7_oWhat is known with some certainty is that the two men shared lunch (along with their host, folklorist George Powell) over three autumn afternoons in 1868.

After being plied with strong spirits, shown numerous portfolios of erotic photographs (of men), and a treasured talisman: a flayed human hand (reported to have it’s fingers sucked by Powell, which begins to enter a certain folklore domain itself), possibly eating monkey, certainly seeing one hung by noose from a tree in the yard of a cottage christened Chaumière-de-Dolmancé in homage to the libertine hero of de Sade’s La Philosophie dans le Boudoir, Maupassant described Swinburne as “singularly original, remarkable and bizarre…a genius…a poet of exalted and frenzied lyricism…” And then apparently, never saw him again.

All this to say: After three months of nose to the grindstone precluding most other pleasures, we have finally taken in Bestiarium, a show of Walton Ford’s incredible watercolors now up at Hamburger Bahnhof (splendid modern art museum in one of Germany’s oldest remaining train stations, built 1846). The story described above served as inspiration for one of Ford’s large scale, emphatically not Audubon-ish (tho borrowing from the trope), macabre, funny, moving ethnographic allegories of man and beast, Chaumière-de-Dolmancé pictured above (note noose, photos, and hand). Below is The Sensorium.

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