Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Pantagruel II

"Afterwards I wiped my tail with a hen, with a cock, with a pullet, with a calf's skin, with a hare, with a pigeon, with a cormorant, with an attorney's bag, with a montero, with a coif, with a falconer's lure. But, to conclude, I say and maintain, that of all torcheculs, arsewisps, bumfodders, tail-napkins, bunghole cleansers, and wipe-breeches, there is none in the world comparable to the neck of a goose, that is well downed, if you hold her head betwixt your legs.

And believe me therein upon mine honour, for you will thereby feel in your nockhole a most wonderful pleasure, both in regard of the softness of the said down and of the temporate heat of the goose, which is easily communicated to the bum-gut and the rest the inwards, in so far as to come even to the regions of the heart and brains."















Franciscan friar, doctor, traveller, model for the Thelemic magickal writings of Aleister Crowley, humanist, Benedictine monk, alchemist, teacher, leader of the French renaissance, heretic, greek scholar and groundbreaking satirical writer, François Rabelais (?1483/1493-1553) issued his magnum opus 'The life of Gargantua and Pantagruel' as a five book series over 20 years up to 1564.

The books chart the humorous adventures of giants Gargantua and his son, Pantagruel in a scatalogical and often bawdy manner. Rabelais wrote in the epic tradition of Homer, and beyond the burlesque, there is an underlying serious examination of society, politics, education and philosophy whilst introducing 500 new words to the french lanugage. It is regarded as one of the great masterpieces of literature.

The images here and in the previous post come from a 1565 publication called 'Les Songes Drolatiques de Pantagruel, ou sont contenues plusieurs figures de l’invention de maistre François Rabelais : & derniere oeuvre d’iceluy, pour la recreation des bons esprits'.
Online translation: 'The drolatic Dreams of Pantagruel, or are contained several figures of the invention of maistre François Rabelais: & derniere work of iceluy, for the recreation of the good spirits.'

It is strongly believed that, although the original publication advertises the series of 120 woodcut grotesqueries as having been drawn by Rabelais himself, it was far likelier that this was a marketing ploy, seeking to capitalize on Rabelais' fame following his death. There is a pitiful amount of information online but the consensus is, partly based on the style of illustration seen in a previous post, Verisimilitude, that these eccentric, surreal and fantastical figures were produced by François Desprez. I even went so far as to go to the local library (first time for everything!) in a futile attempt to seek a bit more information. These absurdist woodcuts are for me the best find of the month year.

That there is any information at all online touching upon Desprez is due in no small part to (no great surprise) Salvador Dali having produed a series of 25 lithographic renderings of Desprez's work which have featured in exhibitions in recent times.

20 comments:

xenmate said...

These are fantastic. Excellent find pk, and thanks for sharing them.

misteraitch said...

It looks like there have been a few reprints of the Songes, the most recent of which can be had for a more reasonable 26 Swiss Francs.

jmorrison said...

And believe me therein upon mine honour I love these. Love love love. First thought was of individual characters from the furthest reaches of some fetid and flaming Bosch catastrophy getting the up-close and personal treatment they each so richly deserve. Thanks Pk.

aeron said...

Thanks so much for finding these. What an amazing selection of abominations.

genevieve said...

Superbe. Merci beaucoup.

I will enjoy traversing those Rabelais links when my son is at his formal tomorrow evening and I'm waiting to get him from the after party.
Some interesting points, depending on your point of view (and jotted down hastily):
Regarding: Les Songes Drolatiques de Pantagruel, ou sont contenues plusieurs figures de l’invention de maistre François Rabelais : & derniere oeuvre d’iceluy, pour la recreation des bons esprits'.
Bear with me retranslating this as I don't get to use my Renaissance French that often - try instead 'The Droll (drolatic?)Dreams of Pantagruel, where are contained several characters ( images?)created by M. Francois Rabelais: and the last work of same, for the recreation of good souls.'(iceluy reading as 'that one there' or modern French 'celui').

It's interesting that Crowley, although he borrowed the name of Rabelais' anti-monastery Thélème, did not really understand the need for freedom from meaningless restriction celebrated therein. He rewrote the law of the Abbey,
Fay ce que voudra (Do what you will) as, "Do what you will shall be the whole of the law." This alarming discrepancy was noted by (among others) his biographer Symonds.

pk said...

Thanks all. I was soooo tempted to dole out an image a day and not tell anyone who/where they came from. I had thought of having a contest for book and artist name. Oh well. But I just got too excited and had to post them.

Genevieve thanks for that. I didn't know about the iceluy=celui trope. I would have thought in english it would best come off with "The amusing dreams..." or less likely "The drole thoughts.." -- hence I left it with the babelfish mess.

And I nearly put: 'Do What Thou Wilt Shall Be The Whole of the Law' as a heading quote ---lots of people know of its use in the esoteric arts --- but it really is just a footnote to the more important Rabelais/Desprez. Crowley seems to have coopted elements without great regard for their original intention.

Oh, Aeron posted a link on his great site, Monsterbrains to all the Dali~Pantagruel images -- I got lazy with the googlepictures link (I much prefer the originals meself).

genevieve said...

You would definitely have picked up some occult Googlers that way,PK - this is more to our tastes I am sure. I had a copy of Gargantua and Pantagruel for fourth year French language - unfortunately I only borrowed it and had to give it back. I have been meaning to repurchase for many years, so thanks for the kick.
They are magnificent pictures, thanks again.

shun-liang chao said...

This is the best blog I've ever come across. Thanks a lot!!!

peacay said...

Shun-liang chao, you are too kind by half. And inaccurate. Have you ever encountered Giornale Nuovo?

And now that I've seen your c.v. and skimmed a paper you wrote, my ego is even further embiggened by your flattery. You should probably get to know Karla (Czech surrealism PhD near-completed student).

Karla said...

I'll have to settle down and read Shun-Liang Chao's papers (or one of them, at least) so as not to be at a grave disadvantage. One so rarely meets other surrealist specialists, at least in the US.

The Rabelais images, of course, are highly entertaining!

shun-liang chao said...

To peacay,
Thanks a lot for introducing me to other fantastic websites. Not that I wanted to flatter you, but you absolutely deserve it.

To Karla,
Great to learn that you work on surrealism. You must have come across this Centre: http://www.surrealismcentre.ac.uk/

shun-liang chao said...

Dear Peacay,

Do you know by any chance how to clear the reproduction rights of these illustrations by François Desprez? I'd like to use one of the Desprez's images in my book to be published by Legenda / Modern Humanities Research Association, but I have no idea how to clear its rights. Thanks so much in advance.

Best,
Shun-liang Chao

peacay said...

For anyone interested, the response I gave to shun-liang chao was that they would need to contact BVH, the hosting site. When I published my book that included some of these Desprez images BVH had me contact the regional library (Lyons was it?? - can't recall offhand) to get their permission also because they owned the physical book. All in all a complicated and timeconsuming venture.

Caligula00 said...

Astonishing. Thank you

Jim Stewart said...

I'm a bit late to the discussion here, but I don't see a mention of the 1995 Dover publication "Curious and Fantastic Creatures" which has all these. They don't claim any copyright on them (just not use more than 10 in one work)

peacay said...

Jim, it was mentioned in the comments in Pantagruel I.

Gio Clairval said...

I have a reproduction of the real book, printed on parchment in the fifties or sixties (it's in a box and I can't open it right now).

The cover, embossed on parchment, too, is encased in a red-velvet case.

peacay said...

I am more than a little bit jealous Gio. Good for you!

Gio Clairval said...

:) It's a limited edition of one hundred copies.

peacay said...

Well if you're ever overcome by the need to share some photos/scans of your precious edition, please upload and link us all up!

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