Saturday, January 31, 2009

ALLEGORIES FOR READING PYNCHON (and a tangent into the work of Niki de Saint Phalle)

I'm probably not the first person to remark that interpreting one of Thomas Pynchon's long novels is like trying to nail mercury to a wall or pour gasoline into a styrofoam cup. On second thought, I probably am the first person to use that last analogy, so let's milk it. Interpreting a Pynchon novel is like pouring gasoline into a styrofoam cup. Not only will the interpretation (the cup) fail to capture the entire work, but the work (the petrol) will eat through the interpretation, dissolving it in conflicting levels of meaning, multiple ironies, a narrative pluralism that subverts any univocal interpretation. The petrol of the text eats through the interpretive cup, rendering it useless.

My best metaphor for Pynchon, though, is the Tinguely machine. His novels are like those incredibly complex Rube Goldberg contraptions built by the artist Jean Tinguely, labyrinthine machines made out of random junk and designed to break apart the moment they are set in motion. Pynchon's novels are Tinguely machines that elaborately deconstruct themselves during attentive reading.

Thinking about Tinguely led me to the Oxford Dictionary of Art & Artists (one of my favorite desk references) where the entry on Tinguely's partner Niki de Saint Phalle describes her sculpture She, a 25 meter-long, hollow reclining figure of a woman which visitors could walk through. Visitors entered through the vagina and paused for refreshments at a milk bar in the breasts. It was constructed at the Moderna Museet in Stockholm in 1963, and since the dictionary describes it in past tense, I assume the work no longer exists. Quel dommage! The work was a collaboration With Tinguely. I want to see pictures of it.


Unfortunately the only pics online are old newsphotos showing the enormous figure lying on its back with knees up and legs spread while a crowd lines up to enter the vagina--a surreal spectacle in itself, especially the two men near the end of the line who read newspapers as they wait. Ah, that great European blase! I would like to see some interior photos, a side view, a cross-section. The Dictionary describes the interior environment as a "fun fair", which connotes carnival: games, barkers, rides (a curving slide through the colon?) Was there a house of mirrors in the skull? (I'm making things up to fill the documentary void. I'd like to see a fully-illustrated book devoted solely to this work.)


NCAF said...
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NCAF said...

The sculpture/exhibition was actually a collaboration between Niki de Saint Phalle, Jean Tinguely and Swedish artist Per-Olof Ultvedt. Two publications exist from its time, but unfortunately, they do not visualize the interior in as much detail either:
hon. en katedral byggd av: Niki de Saint Phalle, Jean Tinguely, Per Olof Ultvedt, 1966
Hon - en historia, 1967

It is described in the Swiss newspaper TAT from July 1966:
a milk-bar with sandwich vending machine in one breast, a cinema with Greta Garbo movies in the other, a lover's corner in one leg, a mechanical uterus by JT (they describe it as a 'Heureka' machine), a slide (looks more like a ramp that children cheeringly used) , a terrace on top of the belly and an art salon in the toes.
There exists film footage of the construction, the exhibition and destruction. Your best bet is to request info from the Moderna Museet in Stockholm.

Happy researching!