My Ogre Book, Shadow Theater, Midnight
Translated by Elizabeth Zuba with Maria Gilissen Broodthaers
hardback, 6 × 7.75 in.
160 pages, 80 color and bw illustrations
Out of print
Bid on a copy at the fundraising auction for Fence
This intimate and gorgeously produced book pairs Belgian artist-poet Marcel Broodthaers’s earliest collections of poetry My Ogre Book (1957) and Midnight (1960)—both previously unpublished in English—with an eighty-image projection work Shadow Theater (1973-74) made toward the end of his too brief life. Together these works reveal a dizzyingly prodigious interplay between the images and texts—particularly illuminating Broodthaers’s use of the oblique and dark fairytale framework within (and against) which he plays with reflections and reproductions, inversions and fictions, body and shadow, decor and violence.
My Ogre Book (Mon livre d’ogre) and Midnight (Minuit) served as an archetypal wellspring for Broodthaers’s later visual works: he continuously drew from their source, recycled and reworked them into new schemata in his installations, films, sculptures and paintings. Both are wildly cinematic books that perform like a fictional theater set (or museum) for a dark fable of which we are only dimly aware. In this vein Shadow Theater (Ombres chinoises), published in full for the first time here, creates a fantastical poetic landscape of semblance and sleights of hand. The silhouettes, isolated cartoon frames, and appropriated illustrations embody an artificial and topical cosmogony—images of images, whose resemblance to “the real” is twice removed and even caricatured. The three works are published together to provide the reader with an unprecedented opportunity to read Broodthaers in both language and image.
Coedited by Richard Kraft, Lisa Pearson and Elizabeth Zuba
At the Adventure
“If you look at yourself too much in the glass,” my mother said, “you will see the devil and become just like him.”
Along the beveled edges of the mirror, I saw two times two eyes supine heading out over a glass raft.
My mother is off in the distance now. Seated on the small and large sandbanks, the blue of her apron and garnet of her stockings merge with the water’s colors.
Over the brilliant waves, I traverse the present day mirror toward the world of the morning.
I dream. I go along.
about the author
Born in Brussels, Marcel Broodthaers (1924–1976) was the recent subject of a major retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art, New York (2016), and the Reina Sofia, Madrid (2016-17). Embracing poetry, fiction, art, and cinema, Broodthaers’s highly interdisciplinary practice was deeply innovative in its inimitable concatenations of child-like play and institutional critique, deadpan humor and investigation into the nature of meaning (and meaninglessness). Influenced by Renee Magritte, Stéphane Mallarmé and Charles Baudelaire, Broodthaers’s visual work, made in the 1960s and 70s, now wields its own extraordinary influence on contemporary art and writing. From books of poetry transformed into unreadable objects, to sculptures made of eggshells and mussels, to his dense and sprawling Musée d’Art Moderne, Département des Aigles, Broodthaers’s work persists in its challenge and relevancy. —EZ
Broodthaers’s archaism, which according to his translator extends to his use of anachronistic phrasing in the original French, was also deeply personal, providing him with a means to map his inner geography in ways both distanced and intimate. These wintry tableaux offer the poet’s sense of his own narcissism, his attraction-repulsion to violence and the irrational—he seems to imagine himself both ogre and ogre-slayer—and his feeling that true vision still lies beyond his grasp: “I make myself a cardboard Head / to the window-forbidden world.”
The poems in Midnight largely continue in the folkloric vein of Broodthaers’s first collection, but they feel lighter, more buoyant and less inward looking. Vast temporal expanses open up and are domesticated for the poet—“The centuries are lined up in a box of matches. / I’ll buy.”—and we’re offered glimpses of revelatory beauty, or at least intensity: “Lady Nature takes off her robe / and dreams of the lights where the wolves pass.” The surfaces of the poems are also more given to playful manipulation. My Ogre Book alludes to card games and chess, but these references fit with the hothouse artificiality of the book’s figures and conceits; in Midnight Broodthaers collages sound-words (“Tic Tac Tic Tac Tic”) and strings of spelled-out numbers into his poems, so that the page not only records the poetic utterance but becomes a visual field to be worked upon, played with…
There’s a restlessness on display in Broodthaers’s poetry that reveals something integral about what he achieved through his career’s varied projects. The poems seem to come from a radically different place than the later visual and conceptual work, but what unites all of it is an emphasis on renewal, reinvention, moving onward in the wake of what one has brought to completion … It’s an irresolvable question whether Broodthaers ever ceased being a poet, because the answer depends on what one thinks a poet is and does: with words, with ideas, with life itself. Paul Valéry once remarked (in the rather free translation later cited by Auden) that a poem is never finished, only abandoned. Broodthaers reminds us how abandonment can keep alive the poetic impulse, and carry it through to unsuspected places.
—James Gibbons, Hyperallergic
✼ natalie’s upstate weather report:
september 22, 2023 — Every day blue skies, 71 degrees, and a slight, saltine breeze. Away from the ocean, into the city: heat that melts tar and soaks the concrete while waiting for a bus that seems to have evaporated. And then the ascension up the hill above the slow ooze of traffic on I-405 to the Getty Research Center where—shoed, socked and sweatered—our publisher delves into the Jean Brown Archive, a wholly other climate.[...]