Thursday, 31 May 2018

That space the Evil One abstracted . . . and attention gained with forked tongue . . .

This morning I was awakened by the ‘tsk-tsk!’ of a stonechat. In Provence or thereabouts they call the bird Le Tarier pâtre (the Shepherd’s Auger because it sounds like persistently abraded rock). When I hear it, I always imagine a spectral sculptor in the hills chipping away at an invisible statue of Demeter, the goddess of grain.

‘Tsk-tsk!’ It’s an imagined space with a qualitative volume.


The substance of shadow.

‘We see least with borrowed eyes,’ my art mistress once said with emphatic earnestness in my last term at school, and I’d vowed then to always question the witness of my own sight, particularly as a favoured elementary visual exercise of hers was the study of ‘counter-shapes’, that is, those structural underpinnings that give substance to a figurative composition, such as the interstices between limbs or objects and their interplay with shadows.

Perception Psychology test card.

This concern for close compositional observation very often finds expression in my fiction. Take this sentence from my narrative, Dispossession, an account of a vulnerable woman’s banishment from her family home and of her feverish scheming to revenge herself of the treacheries of her younger brother (Sister Morphine, Salt, 2008). She confesses:

            I felt neglected and vulnerable, held together weakly by will alone, 
            like a house shored up by its own shadow. 

In this case, of course, the shadow – not the house – is the powerful counter-shape that’s representative of the lost domain.

So I continue to brood on the latent power amassed in certain undiscovered counter-shapes and sometimes I’m rewarded when the art of an Old Master, when viewed afresh, unexpectedly yields – with the delayed action of a time bomb – a revelation whose explosive force is the greater for being granted five centuries after the device was primed.


Hidden emblemata revealed.

I need write little more in explanation when the subject of my recent discoveries (this past Monday) is shown to be Albrecht Dürer, hero of the German Renaissance, and when the once hidden emblemata can be seen exposed here on this page in the two drawings I’ve presumed to deconstruct, stumbled upon while riffling through a catalogue of the Dürer oeuvre.

You can see the shadowy interstices here that Dürer identified when he subtly assays the conflict between Piety and Sin – Good and Evil – for in each case the interstice of the ubiquitous Serpent appears, insinuating evil into the devotional duties of knelt prayer and priestly injunction (the First Commandment). 

Is there truly a subliminal message in these interspaces of Dürer’s art? A century and a half after these images were made, the tremendous words of John Milton in Paradise Lost told of the Great Adversary whose stratagems as Tempter to suborn mankind resounded as an ordained truth . . . so, in this consideration of the latent potency of counter-shapes in religious art I think it apposite to conjoin those words with Dürer’s prophetic images, for surely they are precursors of ‘that space the Evil One abstracted’ perceived by the blind poet from out of his own darkness. 

‘. . . the brute Serpent in whose shape Man I deceived:
that which to me belongs is enmity . . . between Me and Mankind;
I am to bruise his heel. . .’

‘That space the Evil One abstracted stood from his own evil . . .
To me shall be the glory sole among the Infernal Powers . . .’


Catherine Eisner believes passionately in plot-driven suspense fiction, a devotion to literary craft that draws on studies in psychoanalytical criminology and psychoactive pharmacology to explore the dark side of motivation, and ignite plot twists with unexpected outcomes. Within these disciplines Eisner’s fictions seek to explore variant literary forms derived from psychotherapy and criminology to trace the traumas of characters in extremis. Compulsive recurring sub-themes in her narratives examine sibling rivalry, rivalrous cousinhood, pathological imposture, financial chicanery, and the effects of non-familial male pheromones on pubescence, 
see Eisner’s Sister Morphine (2008)

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