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The Conspiracy of Art
It feels good to be in love with my old novel project again. It also feels right.
Two things happened recently, both of which gave me that magical feeling that my project is chasing me and not the other way around.
1: A few weeks ago I listened to this interview with Idra Novey on the podcast So Many Damned Books and she recommended the teeny tiny book On Contemporary Art by César Aira. I remember exactly where I was: on the B103 traveling from Gowanus to Flatbush. I wanted to read the book immediately and pulled up the Libby app on my phone to see if I could borrow it from the library. No luck.
Then I forgot about it until a week later, when someone very coincidentally mentioned César Aira, which reminded me that I wanted to read this book. I ordered a copy.
The book arrived and I opened it on the subway. I don’t remember where I was going this time. But I opened it and was faced with, on the very first page, Aira’s description of his first encounter with his subject, contemporary art:
It was in 1967, in a bookstore in Buenos Aires, when I bought the book Marchand du Sel, the first compilation of the writings of Marcel Duchamp, edited by Michael Sanouillet. This book, published in 1959 by Éric Losfeld of Le Terrain Vague, contained a transparent foldout of a photograph of The Large Glass (1915-1923)…
In November of 2021, as part of my research for this novel, I went to Philadelphia to see The Large Glass, aka The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even, in person. (Surely, I thought today, I must have written about this for the newsletter back then. Surely I took at least took a photo in the museum. But apparently I did not, just as I seemingly did not write about my research reading at the time, which included the book Part-Architecture by Emma Cheatle, a wild text that looks at The Large Glass and the Maison de Verre in the context of one another. I did, in June of 2021, write about my newfound love for the Maison de Verre. I don’t know why some things make it here and some things don’t. Some weeks I am tired by Sunday.
Anyway, The Large Glass is a project touchstone, and to see it there on page one of this book that I almost didn’t order felt like the universe telling me that I am on the right track, back to the heart of the novel.
2. I was looking for something to cook for dinner. I navigated to the “Saved” section of my Instagram, where I sometimes bookmark recipes. Searching for a vegetable dish that wouldn’t require a trip to the grocery store, I scrolled and scrolled and scrolled until a face stopped me.
Apparently Jerry Saltz shared a photo of this painting in summer 2018. And apparently I saved it.
This was two years before I began the novel. But there is a character in the novel named Lotte who meets the architect in 1927 and if you asked me to paint her (and I had any sort of painting ability), she would look exactly like this. I don’t remember seeing this post or saving it. I don’t follow Jerry Saltz. And I didn’t remember seeing the work of Christian Schad in the past, but when I looked him up today I had seen every painting before and they all came flooding back, especially this one, which I swear I have seen in person, though I’m not sure that’s possible given its exhibition history. Brains are so strange!
I was wondering this week if Lotte really needed to be in the novel, and now I have my answer. Look at her face. She is saying, “If you cut me from this novel, I will cut you.” She is dead serious.
It all feels like some sort of wonderful conspiracy. My job is to say yes, okay.