Casey – Museum Audio Guide

“Welcome to the Marcel Mauss Portrait Gallery, designed by George Albert Battle and completed in 1957. On our tour today we will hear from artists, architects, curators and historians about the history of this remarkable building.

You should now be on the top floor, just below the domed skylight.  Look out over the central void of the atrium. A quarter mile of concrete ramps spiral around the perimeter of the atrium, descending at an angle of three degrees. The ramps create a continuous floor space from the rotunda to the terrazzo floor, 96 feet below you.  

Mauss asked Battle to design the museum as a gallery for  the large collection of portraits that had fallen into Marcel Mauss’s possession in the wake of the second world war. Art historian Sylvia Lowry explains:

Well you see at that time, in the late 40s, many museums in Europe were remodeling and desperately in need of money. They had accumulated all these portraits that they had no place to store and were of no interest to the public. So they figured, great, we’ll pawn them off on the Americans. And so the Mauss family was able to purchase, in bulk as it were, nearly 130,000 portraits–of shipbrokers, courtiers, society beauties, zoologists, Sultans and Maharajas, Jesuit missionaries, and thousands, quite literally thousands, of European aristocrats.….though naturally, after that infamous party on opening night, there are now not quite so many.

Battle’s grandson,  Henry Battle, an apprentice during the time of the museum’s construction, recalls the party:

The night before we opened to the public, Marcel had decided to throw this lavish banquet. The guests were all seated at a single table, a quarter mile long, that ran the whole length of the ramp and followed its natural curve down to the center of the spiral, ending in one small circular table. Marcel sat on one end of the little table, and my grandfather on the other.

No one has ever understood  how it happened, or why.  But at one point I looked out over the railing and saw that down on the floor Marcel had stood up from the table and was now stabbing away with his steak knife at a portrait of the Fifth Marquess of Bath, while my grandfather rammed his cane through the freshly plastered walls.  Then Marcel, steak knife still in hand, began to ascend the ramp, slashing away at the paintings on the walls behind the guests, while my grandfather strode about wrenching the knobs off the water fountains, chipping the marble, scratching the wood.  Naturally the guests all got upset, but no one did anything to intervene. I couldn’t tell you why we didn’t try to stop them.  Maybe because everything they were breaking was theirs to destroy. Or maybe because the frenzy of destruction was simply so fascinating, in a primitive sort of way.  In any event, it wasn’t until  Marcel had destroyed a 16th-century portrait of the bearded Dutchwoman–his most valuable acquisition–that my grandfather finally stopped trying to shatter the glass skylights he had designed, and whose installment he had supervised so carefully the week before.”

J. Rodolfo Wilcock – Chaos

Ever since that night when the truth was revealed to me, my profound teleological faith had transformed into a religion of Chaos, of which I now considered myself, along with the power of my riches and the prestige of my house, something of a High Priest. To administer chance, to introduce it, impose it, implant it, to spread like a missionary the respect and the devotion that it deserved, was my vocation and my destiny.

It was then that I decided to organize my first really chaotic party. To begin with, the footman were not to lead the guests straight to the Grand Foyer, but rather to random locations all over my estate, each guest to be dropped off in a different place: in the lamproom, the kitchen, a maid’s bedroom up in the attic, the chapel, the henhouse. There they were to be left, to handle the situation as best they could. For those who, in spite of everything, managed to reach the Grand Foyer—where neither myself nor anyone in my family would be waiting to greet them– the orchestra was to play dance numbers that began normally only to gradually become slower and slower, until it was no longer possible to dance at all. Delicious-looking appetizers, passed round by servants on the traditional silver platters, would turn out to be–but not always, for then it would not have produced the same effect–worm sandwiches, sawdust meatballs, petit-fours of serpent flesh. And all the while in every room a great multitude of construction workers were to labor without ceasing, repairing the doors, the ceilings, the walls and the furniture, and never once acknowledging the presence of the creme de la creme of our society.

That particular party was a great hit; once the initial moment of confusion had passed, the guests set out to explore the chaos with renewed energy and–with the exception of the old people and the hypocrites, who left immediately–everyone enjoyed themselves so much that it was daylight by the time I could chase them away with hoses and watering cans, for they refused to go home.

I was unsatisfied: it seemed to me that I had only managed to throw a particularly  exciting party, nothing more. Nothing that could really be compared with true chaos. I had to refine my methods, apply my genius on a much greater scale; above all, I had to convert the unbelievers: it was not acceptable that the guests simply go home, to continue their orderly every day existence.

As soon as I landed upon a method, the rest was easy. My method consisted in neither more nor less than organizing a rather confusing imitation of life: if the only reality of life was chance–that is to say, insignificance, confusion, the constant dissolution of forms into nothing to give rise to new forms likewise destined to dissolution–I need not wrack my brain devising ingenious little fictions.  I had only to offer my guests a passable representation of the world that surrounds us, with just a bit more disorder than usual, for them all to be submerged into True Chaos.

(Translated from Spanish by Casey)

Hannah – The World of ‘If’

Once up, Wilder’s face was crotch-level to the man across the train car.  He didn’t like the view.  But train commutes were invariably faster for Wilder than walking.  And he couldn’t drive in the world of “Is.”  A baby cried.  Comfortable enough, he sipped his coffee and pretended, like the other commuters, not to notice the baby or it’s loudly shushing mother or Wilder’s own crotch.  His flaccid penis bulged under his slacks like a giant rubber dreidel, pushing past his knees and slumping towards the floor.

In Wilder’s fantasy world, that is, the world of “If” and not “Is”, jungles grew from skyscrapers and he had only to gather a vine in his hands to swing from building to building.  The only time of day was twilight, and the only kind of coffee was dark roast Colombian, and currency operated on a barter system of objects that only started with vowels.

‘Excuse me?’ said the woman with the baby. ‘Can I sit here?’

Wilder dragged his massive hand off the adjacent seat; is thumped onto the floor.  His thin shoulder torqued from the strain.

‘Thank you.’

He nodded.

Operating in the world of “If” simplified a lot of things for Wilder.  He had fewer evolutionary advantages in “Is”.  Only one, in fact, came to mind: his lips, of similar size and shape to a venus fly-trap.  They smacked so loudly when he ate; they had become a source of personal delight. Unfortunately, his tongue was far too large to fit behind them, which prevented other things like clear speech or whistling.

The woman’s baby continued to cry.  It had red hair and a red face. Besides that, it looked very much like Wilder; they were roughly the same size.  Wilder wondered if it was an ugly baby or a pretty baby.    Babies were born much larger in the world of “If,” but without eyes; those did not develop until later.  Other, more important senses developed first, and by the time eyes arrived there were of little use.  For this reason, there was almost no staring in “If”.  Or, if there were, and if they did, it was from heads as bulbous and domed and from eyes as vacant and blue as Wilder’s own.

The baby cooed at Wilder. The woman laughed.

‘Oh, now he’s in a good mood! Do you like the nice man, sweetheart? I’m sorry he is just so cranky in the morning.’

Wilder shrugged, which caused his chin to bump his navel.

‘Oh, but he likes you! Yes, you like the nice man, don’t you?’

The baby burped and it’s eyes flared wide, clear whites around cornflower blue.

Perhaps another traveller from “If”, Wilder considered, returning to his coffee.

Kurt Vonnegut – Slaughterhouse V

Billy had committed himself in the middle of his final year at the Ilium School of Optometry. Nobody else suspected that he was going crazy. Everybody else thought he looked fine and was acting fine. Now he was in the hospital. The doctors agreed: He was going crazy.

The man assigned to the bed next to Billy’s was a former infantry captain named Eliot Rosewater. Rosewater was sick and tired of being drunk all the time. It was Rosewater who introduced Billy to science fiction, and in particular to the writings of Kilgore Trout. Rosewater had a tremendous collection of science-fiction paperbacks under his bed. He had brought them to the hospital in a steamer trunk.

Kilgore Trout became Billy’s favorite living author, and science fiction became the only sort of tales he could read. Rosewater was twice as smart as Billy, but he and Billy were dealing with similar crises in similar ways.

There was a still life on Billy’s bedside table-two pills, an ashtray with three lipstick stained cigarettes in it, one cigarette still burning, and a glass of water. The cigarettes belonged to Billy’s chain-smoking mother. She had sought the ladies’ room. She would be back at any moment now. Billy covered his head with his blanket again. He always covered his head when his mother came to see him in the mental ward-always got much sicker until she went away. It wasn’t that she was ugly, or had bad breath or a bad personality. She was a perfectly nice, standard-issue, brown-haired, white woman with a high-school education. She upset Billy simply by being his mother. She made him feel embarrassed and ungrateful and weak because she had gone to so much trouble to give him life, and to keep that life going, and Billy didn’t really like life at all.

Billy heard Eliot Rosewater come in and lie down. Rosewater’s bedsprings talked a lot about that. Rosewater was a big man, but not very powerful. He looked as though he might be made out of nose putty. And then Billy’s mother came back from the ladies’ room, sat down on a chair between Billy’s and Rosewater’s bed. Rosewater greeted her with melodious warmth, asked how she was today. He seemed delighted to hear that she was fine. He was experimenting with being ardently sympathetic with everybody he met. He thought that might make the world a slightly more pleasant place to live in. He called Billy’s mother ‘dear.’ He was experimenting with calling everybody ‘dear.’

‘Some day’ she promised Rosewater, ‘I’m going to come in here, and Billy is going to uncover his head, and do you know what he’s going to say?’

‘What’s he going to say, dear?’

‘He’s going to say, ‘Hello, Mom,” and he’s going to smile. He’s going to say, ‘Gee, it’s good to see you, Mom. How have you been?”‘

‘Today could be the day.’

‘Every night I pray.’

‘That’s a good thing to do.’

‘People would be surprised if they knew how much in this world was due to prayers.’

‘You never said a truer word, dear.’

‘Does your mother come to see you often?’

‘My mother is dead,’ said Rosewater. So it goes.

‘I’m sorry.’

‘At least she had a happy life as long as it lasted.’

‘That’s a consolation, anyway.’

‘Yes.’

‘Billy’s father is dead, you know,’ said Billy’s mother. So it goes.

‘A boy needs a father.’

And on and on it went–that duet between the dumb, praying lady and the big, hollow man so full of loving echoes. He held a book he wanted to read, but he was much too polite to read and talk, too, easy as it was to give Billy’s mother satisfactory answers. The book was Maniacs in the Fourth Dimension, by Kilgore Trout. It was about people whose mental diseases couldn’t be treated because the causes of the diseases were all in the fourth dimension, and three-dimensional Earthling doctors couldn’t see those causes at all, or even imagine them. One thing Trout said that Rosewater liked very much was that there really were vampires and werewolves and goblins and angels and so on, but that they were in the fourth dimension. So was William Blake, Rosewater’s favorite poet, according to Trout. So were heaven and hell.