Monday, January 30, 2006

"The Facts of Winter" at MJT...

(Soviet space dog paintings by M.A. Peers)

This new offering from McSweeney's seems interesting. Sarah and I saw the author/"translator", Paul La Farge, read passages from it the other night at the Museum of Jurassic Technology (their heartbreaking shrine to Soviet space dogs pictured here, in part) a place that just gets better and better with each visit. "How did such a great treasure trove end up on the most desolate stretch of Venice Boulevard?" I always wonder. Of course, anywhere else would be a disappointment.

The venue was appropriate since the book, like the museum, walks a line between fact and fiction that is so blurry, neither camp seems to matter any more. Actually, this type of line is always very carefully drawn, then covered with leaves and candy wrappers and a final glazing of ultra-believable historical detritus so the ruse is made passable, though playfully detectable.

"The Facts of Winter" was written by "tiny metaphysician" Paul Poissel, who according to the blurb, "was not born in 1848. As a young man, he did not set out to become the greatest Turkish architect in Paris. He did not fail to become the greatest Turkish architect in Paris. He never became a poet, or invented puzzles for an illustrated magazine. In 1904, he did not write the book, The Facts of Winter." A thought that makes La Farge's translation skills all the more commendable. What he has translated (from the original French) are dreams all dreamed by people in and around Paris in 1881.

In one memorable dream, someone, imagining themself to be the prefect of Paris, takes over the Municipal Department of Seasons, a domain that includes a gigantic warehouse where the seasons and their various props are stored. In this new post, this person puts into place two new seasons: "Fammer - a long, hot spell of gray fog suitable for committing murders" and "Sprall" whose exact definition escapes memory. The book is full of this sort of wild playfulness set in the deadpan of dream logic. I decided not to talk with Mr. La Farge after his reading, partially because I have a history of being jealous of anything associated with McSweeney's, but mostly for fear of breaking an otherworldly spell and finding just another human being. Another magic trick ruined.

The doubious biography and artifacts business is an alltime favorite industry of mine. Two great instances that pop to mind are this Bowie-generated ruse, and the book The Motel of Mysteries, a perennial favorite by David Macaulay, about a distant future where amateur scientists mistake a buried motel as a great lost temple and burial complex from our time. I can't think of anything more worthwhile than throwing future historians into apoplexisms of doubt and despair. Where can I (and my pith helmet) invest in archeological digs through fictional history?

(photo by Paul Gachot)


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