A WEEK OF KINDNESS: a novel in collage
October 30, 2013 2:17 PM   Subscribe

SUNDAY. Element: Mud. Exemplar: The Lion of Belfort.
MONDAY. Element: Water. Exemplar: Water.
TUESDAY. Element: Fire. Exemplar: The Court of Dragons.
WEDNESDAY. Element: Blood. Exemplar: Œdipus. [Certain images NSFW on account of Victorian prurience]

THURSDAY. Element: Darkness. Exemplars: The Rooster's Laugh & Easter Island.
FRIDAY. Element: Sight. Exemplar: The Interior of Sight (Three Visible Poems).
SATURDAY. Element: [UNKNOWN]. Exemplar: The Key to Songs.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Linked above are almost all the images from Une semaine de bonté (A Week of Kindness), Max Ernst's Surrealist graphic novel of 1934. Each page is a collage assembled with scissors and paste from 19th century illustrations out of encyclopedias, catalogs, a Doré album, and a Jules Mary serial called Les Damnées de Paris.

Ernst divided his Semaine into seven days, and assigned to each a "deadly element" and an exemplary visual motif. Monday's example (for example) is the Lion of Belfort, a monument to a hard-defended siege of the Franco-Prussian war. Ernst's interpretation of the Lion creates a man with a beast's head and dispatches him on a course of reversals and dissipations.

Other days feature sourceless cataracts of water, winged people, dragons, serpents, women with the heads of birds, men with the heads of roosters, and animate Moai. Friday unravels into abstraction, and Saturday is dominated with the image of a woman falling, or about to fall; or, perhaps, about to start from sleep.

I've retained Ernst's organization, themes, and epigraphs. Here's the full image gallery if you want to peruse more freely.
posted by Iridic (7 comments total) 18 users marked this as a favorite

Alas, wikipaintings informs me that “Due to copyright law restrictions some [all] images are not available for your country [the UK]”. I’ll have to play along using my copy of the Dover Press edition of the book, then!
posted by misteraitch at 2:28 PM on October 30, 2013

Dang. Sorry, misteraitch!
posted by Iridic at 2:34 PM on October 30, 2013

How utterly strange! I had never heard of this. Thanks for the links.
posted by BlackLeotardFront at 4:18 PM on October 30, 2013

Une semaine de bontè might be my favorite of the major Surrealist works.

Unlike most of the signature pieces of the movement, its impact hasn't been diluted by three generations' worth of cultural references, riffs, and dilutions. It's accessible in the most literal way -- the pages of the Dover edition reproduce the original book at original size, so you get to experience the work in the way it was intended -- unlike paintings that you'll probably only ever see reproduced at a small fraction of their original size, or as glossy dorm room posters... about which, see the issue about dilution.

But above all, it's intense in a way static visual art can rarely be. The first half of the twentieth century had a surprising number of wordless graphic novels, it seemed to be a thing at the time. (Many of them got reprinted in the 1990s, so you can pick up and enjoy a lot of 'em without having to pay collectors' prices, incidentally -- start with the Wikipedia entry for wordless novels to prepare your shopping list because a lot of them are terrific.) None of them replicate the immersive quality of Une semaine, and none of them share its mad intensity. This might be an inappropriate comparison, since it's hard to tell at times whether Une semaine is intended to be a thematic compilation of images or have any kind of narrative structure -- but to me it seems like a recreation of a dream, fulfilled with both the arbitrary recurring elements and discontinuities that real (heh) dreams often have.

It doesn't possess any of the arrogance, politics, and self-centered navel gazing that characterize dadaism and surrealism, and it's a sit-down-and-read book that doesn't look like one, so it tends to be overlooked in favor of colorful, easy-to-appreciate paintings. Those are its strengths, though -- it's a weirdly accommodating book that you can use as something to be pleasantly befuddled by, something to pick up occasionally and leaf through, or, I dunno, as a trip toy.

I can't find my copy any more, so I'm getting another one.
posted by ardgedee at 4:51 PM on October 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

(I forgot to link La Femme 100 tétes, Ernst's first wordless novel.)
posted by Iridic at 5:59 PM on October 30, 2013

Iridic, did you see the 1967 film adaptation of La Femme 100 Têtes? (previously).
posted by misteraitch at 1:56 AM on October 31, 2013 [1 favorite]

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