Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Books and Pictures

The Picture of Dorian Gray—the picture acts as a “magic mirror” (as in the story of Snow White), absorbing Dorian Gray’s spiritual ugliness while he remains young and handsome. “In Godard’s A Bout de Souffle Jean Seberg pretends to be happy and insouciant, but, pinned to the wall, just behind her head, life-size photographs of herself looking sad and thoughtful give the game away,” writes Raymond Durgnat (Films and Feelings). Thus pictures, rather like so-called “Freudian slips”—slips of the tongue—give a person away, betraying the actual reality hidden behind the mask, the disjunction between image and reality. It is also possible for pictures within movies to attack characters in a similar fashion: in Hitchcock’s Blackmail, for instance, a laughing clown points his finger at Anny Ondra as she, knife in hand, backs away from a corpse. While pictures can incite the imagination (as in The Who’s “Pictures of Lily,” or the J. Geils Band’s “Centerfold”), pictures can also hide or conceal actuality: in Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange (1971), Alex attacks the cat lady with a large plastic sculpture of male genitalia, crushing her skull with it as the camera cuts away to the garish contemporary paintings on the walls. But pictures of the lost object of desire also serve up painful memories of loss, serving as a constant reminder of one’s current singular situation—the Reality Principle. A picture of one’s self can function merely to increase one’s own intense loneliness and isolation, as in George Jones’s romantic ballad, “A Picture of Me (Without You).”

“Who wrote the Book of Love?” a famous song wants to know, and, of course, there is no answer. Books, archives of wisdom and repositories of cultural knowledge, cannot be read—it’s as if they were written in a foreign language. Proclaiming to make the world legible, books, paradoxically, are often indecipherable. “Tell me where the answer lies,” sings Neil Young in “Speakin’ Out.” “Is it in the notebook behind your eyes?” Books also supplement one’s memory—they are the place where things are written down, where lists are compiled, where experiential narratives are recorded, serving as reminders of what to do—or warning of behaviors to avoid. Thousands of words have been written about pictures, and books contain thousands of words; the lyrics to songs about books and pictures are frequently about both the failure of language and of the discrepancy between thought and action.

Books And Pictures A-Z:
ABC – The Look Of Love
The Beatles – Paperback Writer
Elvis Costello and the Attractions – Everyday I Write The Book
Deep Purple – The Book of Taliesyn
Echo and the Bunnymen – Pictures On My Wall/Read It In Books
Filter – Take A Picture
The J. Geils Band – Centerfold
Hüsker Dü – Books About UFOs
The Incredible String Band – Antoine
George Jones – A Picture of Me (Without You)
The Kinks – Picture Book
Love – My Little Red Book
The Monotones – The Book of Love
Nazareth – Why Don’t You Read the Book
Alan O’Day – Undercover Angel
The Police – Don’t Stand So Close to Me
? and the Mysterians – Ten O’Clock
Rod Stewart – Every Picture Tells A Story
Status Quo – Pictures of Matchstick Men
Talking Heads – The Book I Read
U2 – When I Look At the World
Son Volt – Out of the Picture
The Who – Pictures of Lily
XTC – Books Are Burning
Neil Young – Southern Man
The Zombies – Imagine The Swan

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