Roussel revived

So last Saturday I participated in this event, which, in theory, was making some connections between the life and work of Raymond Roussel (and in particular his novel Locus Solus) and the Watermill Center, Robert Wilson's monumental mansion-cum-gallery-cum-residency in Southampton.

The novel features a group of people coming to the estate of the learned scientist Martial Canterel. Canterel takes them on a tour of the assorted ineffably strange oddities and marvels he's collected or invented, after which he tells them the narrative of their provenence, which often involves several parenthetically inserted subnarratives. At the end, the guests all sit down for a meal.

Watermill, which is filled Balinese statues and tortured modernist chairs and an endless supply of urns and vases, seemed like an obvious place to recreate a suitably Rousselian tour around the marvels of Watermill and the various performances, activities, and tableaux that the other collaborators were going to create. At first, I was going to be writing the narratives behind the various experiences our tour, using Roussel's story-generating method. (Roussel would create two nearly-homonymic phrases and then write a story that would get from one phrase to another; "la règle de l'art", the rule for making art, becoming "la règle de lard", the ruler for measuring things made out of bacon.)

Well, for various reasons, this idea got nixed.

The tour ended up being self-guided, with guests invited to go from one room of Watermill to the next, where they would be able to do, see, or hear a variety of things related to Roussel or Watermill or, perhaps, neither. And I wound up mostly reading a few sections from Locus Solus (in the English translation), while other collaborators performed music or showed videos or invited guests to draw on transparencies. It all ended with a twelve course tasting meal.

So, for about two hours on Saturday, I read sections of Locus Solus. One guest actually stopped to listen to me read for a good twenty minutes, hearing almost the entire story of the giant diamond filled with the heavily oxygenated aqua-micans, the long-haired dancer swimming in the water, and the shaved Siamese cat who would put its head in a funnel which then touched the brain of the skinless and boneless head of the French Revolutionary orator Danton and brought him somewhat back to life to move his eyes and lips vigorously, as if trying to recreate his famous speeches.

Locus Solus: It is an odd book.

I feel as though I should say a bit more about Roussel and his methods and his life, but I'm not sure I have anything to say which his various commentators -- most notably Foucault, in his book on Roussel, Death and the Labyrinth -- haven't already said. But, maybe.

I do recommend picking a few sections of Locus Solus out and reading them aloud a dozen times, as it will make all sorts of interesting details in the work much clearer.



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