The quest for the lost and the beautiful. Cornell-Orpheus in the city of the soul, the invisible city which occupies the same space as New York.
De Nerval said: "Man has little by little destroyed and cut the eternal type of beauty into a thousand little pieces." Cornell found them in the city and reassembled them. What being is for philosophers, beauty is for Cornell. He writes:
All day long, week in-week out, I look across from my studio table at the forbidding drab gray facade of the huge Manhattan Storage and Warehouse building with its symetrical row after row of double metal blinds, every night, promptly at five, uniformed guards appear simultaneously at each of the myriad windows drawing in the ponderous rivet-studded shutters for the night. But this summer evening at the appointed time the ethereal form of Fanny Cerrito, breathlessly resplendent in gossamer of ondine, appears in each casement to perform the chores of the guards. So guilelessly, with such ineffable humility and grace, is the duty discharged as to bring a catch to the throat. Her composure and tender (slow fade-out) glance rebuke regret as she fades from view.
This is extraordinary.
THE OLD MAN TOLD ME
There was a movie theater here once. It played silent films. It was like watching the world through dark glasses on a rainy evening.
One night the piano player mysteriously disappeared. We were left with the storming sea that made no sound, and a beautiful woman on a long, empty beach whose tears rolled down silently as she watched me falling asleep in my mother's arms.
THE MAGIC STUDY OF HAPPINESS
In the smallest theater in the world the bread crumbs speak. It's a mystery play on the subject of a lost paradise. Once there was a kitchen with a table on which a few crumbs were left. Through the window you could see your young mother by the fence talking to a neighbor. She was cold and kept hugging her thin dress tighter and tighter. The clouds in the sky sailed on as she threw her head back to laugh.
Where the words can't go any further--there's the hard table. The crumbs are watching you as you in turn watch them. The unknown in you and the unknown in them attract each other. The two unknowns are like illicit lovers when they're exceedingly and unaccountably happy.
- Charles Simic
Dime-Store Alchemy: The Art of Joseph Cornell