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  • Singularity and Collision: Aimé Césaire, Pablo Picasso, Corps perdu
  • Timothy Mathews


There is a black face emerging in a flat black print on a white page. It looks like black markings on a pane of glass, or like a window-pane going opaque in the rain. There are two versions, with or without a word, in the book there is the word. Perhaps because of the word in the middle, other features begin to emerge, perhaps hair on the top, perhaps eyebrows in the shape of a flat-topped cross, or a spanner. To see them means looking up and down, not flat as though from above or straight on; and looking up and down means not to be seeing the black footprint or hand-print. In looking at the print I see it is fractured. Looking at a mirror is the only way of seeing in both ways at once: up and down, and straight on. But it freezes the two together: hold the mirror in front of you or below you, you look in the same way and see the same thing.1

The word in the picture is “word,” “Mot.” It appears in black from the white space in the black flat smudging, it provides the interaction but not the merging of up-down looking and looking from above or straight on. But it does not do it on its own, the word does not assert its own perspective. The word is in the same colour as the shapes from which it emerges. In the other version, not in the book, it does not appear at all. First a picture with the word, then the picture without: the sequence begins to blur. With the word on the forehead, the word right above the eyes, a face in the book does appear: eyebrows, eyes, and a nose. Perhaps it was always there, even if invisible, in the print without the word. When did I begin to understand the word? In that time of seeing and recognising, relation begins, perhaps, to part from assimilation.

Perhaps. But this is a book of intense artistic vigilance as much as energy, and who knows where anyone will start to see differently, and not just something different. The title of the book, Corps perdu, sounds like an abbreviated allusion to “à corps perdu,” “headlong,” and the book sails along on the lightness in the body that comes after orgasm. Picasso’s design for the title is a continuous line, which writes the words and wraps itself around them at the same time and gives rise to a bird in flight. The line meanders and loops, it writes the words and pushes the words out of the words. Handwriting turns into etching and the drawn line but not quite, the free osmosis and non-meeting of the two keep the line open as it travels around in this little moment of [End Page 134] visual touching and evading. But the book is not made in this open enclosure, word and line never meet again, even on the opening pages of each chapter, the first of which is “Mot.” The proximity of poetry and etching is made in the distance between them, each follows the other.


Parmi moi j’aurai chance hors du labyrinthe

Amongst myself I’ll have a chance beyond the labyrinth

I have hopped from the first line, “parmi moi,” to a later one in the poem, which is the first poem in the book. I am following the submerged syntax I sense in the whole poem, its appeal to allusion and quick thinking, which is also thickness in thought and feeling, and not just lightness. In translating and arranging the lines in English as I have, I am listening to the tension of a breaking point.

What “labyrinth” is this? Opposite, Picasso’s lines of sex are both organic and vegetal. There are interruptions in the movement, or the appearance of movement possible in lines on a page, but there is also the assumption of movement, allowing you to follow it. There are two lines that you can follow and imagine a hand taking the lines for a walk...


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pp. 134-151
Launched on MUSE
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