Oh, it’s you

I was searching for images of Duchamp’s Nude Descending A Staircase painting that had inspired Marco Brambilla’s animation, when Google showed me this photo.

A flash of recognition! I had seen it before, on that cover of The Third Policeman by Flann O’Brien. I hadn’t realised who it was at the time, just thought it was some spooky old man.

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Victor Obsatz’s portrait of Marcel Duchamp
In March 1953, the Greenwich Village gallery owner Michael Freilich (RoKo Gallery) asked 28 year-old Victor Obsatz to photograph Marcel Duchamp in his apartment on West 14th Street. The resulting double-exposure print pleased Duchamp very much, as he chose it especially for the front and back covers of Robert Lebel’s 1959 catalogue raisonné.

The work has since become one of the most popular and sought-after images of the artist, and has been reproduced in a number of well-known texts on Duchamp, Dada, Surrealism, and recently in the The National Portrait Gallery’s 2009 exhibition “Inventing Marcel Duchamp, The Dynamics of Portraiture.”

It’s certainly a striking image of a very peculiar man, a great choice for a very peculiar book.

The Two Duchamps
He is known as the godfather of conceptual art, yet Marcel Duchamp was also a great admirer of the Pre-Raphaelites, and had strong affinities for their craftsman-like approach and their ‘tortured explorations of sex, chastity and desire’

Sad ending

Like many others, I’m sure, I raced through The Third Policeman in the sixth form. I’ve read it a few times since, and recently found the nerve to tackle At Swim-Two-Birds, fearful of its reputation. I shouldn’t have waited so long. Very funny-haha as well as very funny-peculiar, though I’ll have to re-read it again before I could tell you what it was all about.

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I know very little about Flann O’Brien, though. Maybe that’s for the best. According to this collection of his letters and correspondence, drink turned him into quite an unpleasant and angry man in his later years.

Yours severely: the collected letters of Flann O’Brien
In a book full of crackpottery, one of the strangest moments comes in 1965, when O’Brien suggests that the French edition of At Swim-Two-Birds be translated back into English by a serving French Foreign Legionnaire and used to replace O’Brien’s original text, which he had come to detest. In its daft way, the suggestion is a perfect example of O’Brien’s estranged relationship with language – language in general but also the language of his artistic prime, as surveyed from the wreckage of his final years.

[…]

Might a non-drinking O’Brien have been a happier and more savoury human being? Almost certainly. Might a happier and better-adjusted O’Brien have ever written anything? Impossible to say. As it is, our reaction to the unhappy soul captured in these letters will probably be, in the words of a 1965 letter, ‘halfway between a guffaw and a puke’.

By the way, At Swim-Two-Birds was very nearly a film, if you can imagine that.

Brendan Gleeson secures funds for Flann O’Brien film
Actor Brendan Gleeson has secured funding to make a film of Irish writer Flann O’Brien’s masterpiece At Swim Two Birds. Gabriel Byrne, Colin Farrell and Cillian Murphy have all been linked to the new film.

Though that now seems doubtful.

Gleeson’s doubts over Two Birds
Domhnall Gleeson has revealed his doubts over the At Swim Two Birds film. His father Brendan Gleeson is planning to make his directorial debut with the big-screen adaptation of Flann O’Brien’s novel, which Colin Farrell, Gabriel Byrne and Cillian Murphy have been attached to. It was originally set for release in 2010, with 14 drafts of the script already written by the actor, but has yet to start shooting.

I think I will re-read the book, though, just in case.