This self is the sun, the very center of man’s personal solar system, around which revolves his whole existence. The understanding of self causes all the other worlds of human experience to assume an orderly relationship.
Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews Paul Gauguin’s Intimate Journals (aka The Intimate Journals of Paul Gauguin) [Amazon (Routledge), Amazon (Art/Books), Amazon (Dover), Bookshop (Dover), Bookshop (Art/Books), Bookshop (Routledge), Publisher (Dover), Publisher (Art/Books), Publisher (Routledge), Local Library] by Paul Gauguin.
Paul Gauguin’s second prose work was called by him Avant et Aprés, and saw its first publication posthumously as a bound facsimile of the manuscript in 1918. These so-called Intimate Journals are the English translation, first published in 1921 with a preface by Gauguin’s son Emil. It would be reasonable to suspect that the shorter Noa Noa, subtitled The Tahitian Journal, was an excerpt from this Intimate Journals work, but they are entirely distinct. Emil Gauguin writes that this later work better captured his father’s spirit than did the more heavily edited Noa Noa; I certainly found it a livelier and more entertaining read.
The English title doesn’t really do justice to the text, the last of which was written in the last year of Gauguin’s life, while he was living in the Marquesas. To call it digressive would suggest a central course that is missing from a work that is “not a book,” as Gauguin declares at the outset and repeats many times. “I could exist without writing this; but then, why should I not write it?–since I have no other aim than to amuse myself” (161). The book wanders through reminiscences and anecdotes, offers opinions, philosophizes, and cracks wise by turns. Gauguin recounts high points from his personal experiences with Vincent van Gogh, he vituperates against the Catholic Church, he discusses fencing and boxing, he gives vent to his animus against Denmark, he tells stories of his youth and family, he criticizes the colonial police of French Polynesia, and he praises the lost arts of the Marquesans.
The book includes drawings and sketches reproduced from the manuscript, along with a variety of black-and-white reproductions of Gauguin paintings from the holdings of various museums. Inserted by Gauguin into the flow of the text are various letters and articles: one from August Strindberg declining to contribute to an exhibit catalog for Gauguin (42-49), one by Achille Delaroche “Concerning the painter Paul Gauguin, from an aesthetic point of view” (49-55), and several letters by Gauguin himself to the colonial authorities.
“I believe that life has no meaning unless one lives it with a will, at least to the limit of one’s will. … No one is good; no one is evil; everyone is both, in the same way and in different ways. It would be needless to point this out if the unscrupulous were not always saying the opposite.” (240)
How fascinating! I, a human, was not aware that humans engaged in such behavior! I must consider how can I help my human friend, who I love as a human, using the twin marvels of science and technology!
If only to keep the supply of food and books flowing in, I would have to fake some sort of participation in a human environment that had never really made much sense.
Barbara Ehrenreich, Living With a Wild God: A Nonbeliever’s Search for the Truth About Everything [Amazon, Bookshop, Publisher, Local Library]
The Tindalos Asset is the third and likely final slender novel in Kiernan’s Tinfoil Dossier series. It introduces a new central character, while pulling along several from the earlier books. This character Ellison Nicodemo is the “asset” of the title, a subordinate agent of the deep black intelligence directorate referred to as “Albany” in this series. Usage in this book shows that the “Dreamland” of the previous volume’s title does also denominate this same outfit. (I had noted its ambiguity there.)
I was startled that the title of the first chapter was a quote from Leah Hirsig–but Kiernan seems to have received it via its use as a song title by Coil: “Paint me as a dead soul.” In the appended author’s note, they list all the music that was integral to the composition of the story (168). It’s no secret that these books are built around neo-Lovecraftian yog-sothothery, and this one is as much as anything an updated and re-imagined “Call of Cthulhu,” with generous bits of “Dagon” and “The Shadow over Innsmouth.” Frank Belknap Long’s “The Hounds of Tindalos” is of course a significant source as well, and Kiernan ties its notions to the Manhattan Project, among other space-time problems.
Following the precedent in Black Helicopters, this book’s chapters are episodes presented under dates that are not in linear sequence, ranging from 1956 to 2151. The chronological core of the story is in January 2018, around the time it was written. This sort of time-loose montage effect has a self-similar relationship to the entire Tinfoil Dossier series, and I think the books could be read with enjoyment in any order. Indeed there seems to be some confusion among readers about the sequence of the first two books, since Black Helicopters, the one Kiernan calls “first,” was expanded and re-published as a series element after Agents of Dreamland.
Looking back on the series as a whole, its mixture of the weird horror Lovecraft canon with espionage and a certain measure of sympathy for the “monsters” is a common ground with other recent/current series: the Laundry Files of Charles Stross and the Innsmouth Legacy of Ruthanna Emrys. Kiernan’s more experimental style definitely makes these books distinctive, though. There really aren’t any of the comedic elements that Stross uses, and there’s more of a high-tragic sensibility despite the fact that the Tinfoil Dossier books are much shorter than their comparanda.
This work is rife with extra-textual and inter-textual allusions, which supply a lot of the enjoyment. Given its manageable size and convoluted presentation, I think there is a good chance I could return to it in the future for a profitable re-read.
Most pornography—the books discussed here cannot be excepted—points to something more general than even sexual damage. I mean the traumatic failure of modern capitalist society to provide authentic outlets for the perennial human flair for high-temperature visionary obsessions, to satisfy the appetite for exalted self-transcending modes of concentration and seriousness. The need of human beings to transcend “the personal” is no less profound than the need to be a person, an individual. But this society serves that need poorly. It provides mainly demonic vocabularies in which to situate that need and from which to initiate action and construct rites of behavior.