Beyond Words: The Intestinal Alphabet Digests Itself
In January 2008, following Henri Chopin’s death, two suitcases were discovered under his bed that contained 200 previously unknown mixed media collages. Collectively titled Milles Pensées, or A Thousand Thoughts (a reference to Pascal’s seventeenth-century collection of philosophical fragments), most of the collages fuse Chopin’s typewriter poems (which he called dactylopoèmes) with polyphonic overwriting, pasted-on elements, and found objects. Implicit within the Milles Pensées are questions about how the space of the body and the time of the voice are constructed and represented. One collage (at left) is dominated by architectonic structures composed of superimposed blocks of typewritten letters and symbols that evoke the modernist grid, but the accompanying text juxtaposes sonic vibration (“the dancing waves”), bodily metabolism (“the intestinal alphabet digest itself”), and the oral as well as textual importance of the “the Word” in narratives of creation.
Everyday objects, principally those associated with ingestion, digestion, and excretion—steeped tea, coffee grounds, hair—frequently appear. With an ironic flourish, one collage juxtaposes bodily processes and the creative act: a strip of fried bacon is pasted onto a glossy reproduction of another artist’s biomorphic painting. Coffee filters are often layered over typewritten symbols, insisting on the interaction of the shapes and textures of the world with the space of the artwork. Apostrophes also pop up frequently; in musical notation, this symbol signifies a moment when the performer may pause for a breath, while in linguistics, it signals the contraction of two terms. This dual movement of cleaving—into speech and representation, and away from it—is at work throughout the collages.
Chopin deliberately used outmoded technologies, the typewriter first and foremost, to enact these deeply personal reflections. The Milles Pensées form a particular kind of monument: to the inevitable obsolescence of media, but also to the artist himself. As idiosyncratic as they are, these collages affirm Chopin’s belief that the voice is “a response to the sounds of the world. There is no solo: always a chorus.”
from Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library