The Book of Elaborations
New Directions Publishing
Each of the essays in this collection opens with one of Oscar Mandel’s own poems, and flows from that source into a complex of meditations suggested by the poem—memories, beginning with his childhood in Antwerp, and thoughts concerning a myriad subjects upon which he has had occasion to reflect: the political life, religion, literature and the other arts, man and woman, moral problems, boredom, crime, consciousness, technology……..
From The Artist as Pierrot
.....Few artists mention the products of science and
industry without a point of sarcasm in their voices—the pauper’s
sarcasm for the tycoon. Not I. I cannot bring myself to use my electric
typewriter for sermons against the age of electric typewriters. I
would rather know what makes it work tham mumble elegiacally about
quills. Obscenely impotent and ignorant myself, I admire that foaming
torrent of creation. I take my hat off to a flashlight battery. I
salute a transistorized circuit. And do so without knowing to what
I have made my bow; pronouncing the word—transistorized!—the
way the old women in black shawls murmur mysterious Latin in church.
They do not resent the officiating priest. They know their places;
and I know mine. This human fertility astonishes and delights me.
Fabulous digital computers! Splendid hurls into space! Cunning glass
filaments where speech travels as light! I well remember as a child
standing by the railway tracks in Antwerp’s Central Station,
a terminal in the grandest Iron Age style, and gazing dumb with admiration
at the wheels of the steam locomotive. I was a dwarf to each wheel,
but that was nothing: I could not believe that human beings had invented
and assembled that methodical jungle of hoops, pistons, spokes, rods
and ratchets, and quid non? I saw thousands of pieces, each interlocked
with every other, and each doing its appointed work at precisely the
right moment, when, responding to the whistle’s signal, the
hissing, the heaving, and the tugging began, and that colossal metallic
mass, pulling a dozen contemptibly passive coaches, yearned its bulk
out of the station. Never, never, I realized, would a dunce like me
invent so many mannikins, much less Napoleonize them into a marching
These locomotives were good instructors, for they showed the machinery to the naked eye. I know that they were primitive toys compared to our space shuttles today. But for a child, at any rate, the space crafts, and even the jet airliners, conceal their secrets; they are smooth shells and discreetly enclose their incredible viscera. They cannot astonish a ten-year-old boy like those ostentatious mastodons.
As for the evil which all these manufactured beasts have inflicted—the pollution, the ugliness, the violence—why, if I can be nostalgic for the Middle Ages in spite of the bubonic plague (and I am), I can also pay homage to my six-cylinder in spite of the noxious emissions (and I do). I do not feel the need to rush into the unpolluted wilderness. Wildernesses bore me....Welcome children of the human intellect!