Monday, March 30, 2009

In which I tear myself from the study of mummifed cats to look at Marc Chagall images

I had a wonderful, really excellent, absolutely top notch week on the Yiddish writer S. Ansky planned. But a comment from Neil of the dangerous* Adventures in the Print Trade derailed me, so I'll have to postpone that. Perhaps I will finish S. Ansky week before I devote my life to the study of mummified cats and their importation to England. At some point, I plan to become the world's first full-time mummified cat blogger. But that's in the future.

Wandering around in the secondary work on Yiddish literature, the name of Marc Chagall kept coming up, for obvious enough reasons. At some point, it occurred to me that I didn't really know much about Chagall. Didn't like him much, either, for what that's worth. At a later point, it occurred to me that I could read a book about him. That's my solution to everything.

Ignorant and slothful, I turned where I always do, to the Phaidon "Arts and Ideas" series, Chagall by Monica Bohm-Duchen. There are certainly plenty of other Chagall biographies. Physically, the Phaidon books are marvels, some of my favorites, so I always go there first, and usually last. The Bohm-Duchen book is fine; I certainly learned a lot.

I had no idea that Chagall had such a strong literary connection. The image up and to the left, is Literature itself, somehow, an allegorical image for a theater (there is also Music and Dance). I've adopted this as my Amateur Reader icon, even though it becomes so small that no one can tell what it is.

Beisdes befriending every other French poet and writing poetry himself, Chagall made illustrations for Dead Souls, the Hebrew Bible, the Fables of La Fontaine, the memoir of I. L. Peretz - and I'm forgetting some. The only ones that I've looked at with any real attention are the Bible prints, because they're easily available, in a Dover reprint of the French magazine that originally published them. In 1956 and again in 1960, you could just go to the newstand, I guess, and buy a magazine containing nothing but original Chagall prints. And, financially, you should have. On the right, we see Job in despair. Don't worry, Job, God will give you new cattle. As for your sons, ahem, well, you'll get sons, too, just as good as the other ones.

In theory, I should be the most interested in Chagall's illustrations for Dead Souls, since I admire that novel so much. But I'm missing something. I mean, see left. That's certainly Chagall - is it Gogol? These images all strike me the same way. However interesting they may be, I find it hard to see how they serve the text. Maybe the personality of the artist is too strong for the task. Or maybe if I read an illustrated version of the novel, all would be clear.

Now, over on the right, Chichikov packing his trunk - that's certainly in the right spirit. Chichikov really is that round, and the view of our non-hero is appropriate. Chagall knew the book well, at least.

All right, it's late, so I should stop. And the mummified cats are calling, calling, calling.

* Why dangerous? Because everything he puts on the website is for sale here. If the dollar were a little stronger...


  1. Oh I love Chagall. I had no idea about his literary connections though. I went to a small exhibit of his paintings a few years back. There were plenty of flying people but what I like most about his work is the color.

    Can't wait to hear about mummified cats!

  2. So sorry about the cats! I still haven't tracked down anything more on that.
    So now I have to post my brief poem:

    Overheard in the Musée Chagall

    It may be your lifestyle choice
    but this artist’s name
    is not
    Shag All.

  3. And I really I came on the blog to say, Mark Twain's masterpiece is obviously Huckleberry Finn - the greatest novel any American has written or probably will ever write - but have you read his next-best work, No. 44? This was originally published as The Mysterious Stranger, but you have to be careful to get the full version.

  4. Stefanie, you will probably not be surprised to learn that my enjoyment of Chagall has greatly increased now that I have learned more about him. The colors - that is exactly it.

    Neil, the poem should be canonical. Is that from a actual life? Regardless, hilarious.

    I actually want to do a Twain reading project some time. "No. 44" is one of the reasons I want to do it. Maybe I can slip it in a little earlier, as preparation.

  5. Yes, the poem is as it says, a slice of life overheard - a real found poem, I don't think I altered a word.