Random & Reviews

Cocteau, the shelf, the lunacy

I start out endeavoring to write about those things I know; those authors I know; those films I know; those artists I know, because the chance of publishing something online and the rest of the world instantly knowing more about it than me simply isn’t weighed in my favor, so I want to start with something I know. Obscurity can work in my favor here. Choosing to review, say, Self Portrait by Man Ray will prove far less disputable than another slant on the terrifying depths of the sentences in Infinite Jest; so I may be wise to look to those lesser-discussed works on my bookshelf considering derision isn’t something I enjoy. Furthermore, and aside from obscurity or the arcane, I’m going to want to focus on the personal elements of the topic as opposed to those more general observations ever-present in every other publication on earth. This isn’t a critique of Mad Men for The New Yorker, this isn’t my attempt to reconcile the efforts of Frank Ocean as measured against the palpitations of James Brown, this is something different, and personality shouldn’t hide away at this most pivotal moment in my life as a hack critic postulating endlessly with cheap literary fiction tricks.

I choose the selection of books on my shelf by Jean Cocteau, but mostly just the journals Past Tense as they were the most affecting and accessible amid copies of The Imposter or Opium or The Holy Terrors—though these feature drawings by Cocteau I dog-eared and revisit frequently. I’d like to discuss the effects of his films on me or his literature as a whole and I recall in the first volume of Past Tense much of his time is taken up either with theater productions or the making of one of his films (part of the Orphic trilogy, if memory serves though it could’ve been La Villa Santo-Sospir). But really I want to focus on the merits of his journals themselves and the narrative depths achieved in a relatively simple manner but with such savvy that I’ve become convinced a part of my life might be devoted to such journaling, though I hardly measure myself as equivalent with Cocteau.

The experience reminds me of reading the notable journals of May Sarton; brief, artful things describing both the internal considerations of an artist nearing the end of his life and the actual creation of paintings, films, and theater productions—a selling point, I’d think, for anyone even moderately intrigued by Cocteau the man. His descriptions of home life, of say reading Dumas or Proust for the umpteenth time leave you breathless and in turn wanting more, wanting to reread certain things yourself and share the experiences with this elusive and vexing figurehead of art; this French devil who flew so deftly under the surface his entire life as to be acknowledged as a great visionary by known artists but in the public treated simply as a staple and artist, with little consideration given beyond that.


November 28th, 2012 / 12:00 pm