member of:Observers of the Interdependence of Domestic Objects and Their Influence on Everyday Life

This group has been active for a long time and has already made some remarkable assertions which render life simpler from the practical point of view. For example, I move a pot of green color five centimeters to the right, I push in the thumbtack beside the comb and if Mr. A (another adherent like me) at this moment puts his volume about bee-keeping beside a pattern for cutting out vests, I am sure to meet on the sidewalk of the avenida Madero a woman who intrigues me and whose origin and address I never could have known...
--Remedios Varo

(Slideshow is of Artwork by Remedios Varo)
By believing passionately in something that still does not exist, we create it. The nonexistent is whatever we have not sufficiently desired.
--Franz Kafka

Saturday, January 25, 2014

The Reincarnation of Remedios

"Still Life Reviving," by Remedios Varo

Among the notes, stories, and letters that she never published is a letter Remedios Varo wrote to --if it was in her usual manner-- someone whose address she picked out of the phone book, probably for his very interesting name, or the very interesting name of his street, or some other significant detail. In this letter, she presents herself as the reincarnated spirit of someone he once knew:

“My dear sir,
I have allowed a prudent amount of time to pass, and now I see--that is--I feel certain that your spirit is in an advantageous state for communicating with me. I am a reincarnation of a girlfriend you had long ago. She was not exceptionally favored, speaking in terms of physical appearance: large nose, freckled skin, red hair, and a bit underweight. Fortunately, my current incarnation has only conserved the red hair as a physical feature. The friend, hot stuff! Greek nose, seductive curves-- without being fat, I benefit from unparalleled abundances and, bottom I have a few wrinkles? An insignificant detail equivalent to the noble patina that all objects of good quality attain.
This reincarnation wasn’t simple.  After traveling first through the body of a cat, then through an unknown creature belonging to the world of speed--that is to say, one of those who pass through us at more than 300,000 km/second (which is why we don’t see them), then my spirit poured itself, unexplainably, into the heart of a piece of quartz. Thanks to an abominable storm, the electrical phenomena turned in my favor and lightning struck said piece of quartz, rescuing my spirit, which spiraled out to rest in the body of a woman of ample flesh who happened to be around. I am satisfied with my current circumstance, so I am taking a chance, writing you with the hopes that you haven’t forgotten me.[...]” (my translation)

Note that she passes through all these lives while the guy she’s writing to is still hanging around in his one, unchanging (unevolving) mind-body--her travels through life have been so extraordinary that she is no longer the same person at all, though physically it might seem that all she's done is gain a few pounds and a few wrinkles...

“The Immured,” by Remedios Varo; Maybe the atoms of the people who lived there before now form part of the wall; maybe their human forms are not complete because they still shed atoms, some forming the bird, others growing into a yellow flower, watered by the umbrella someone left behind which will now--won’t it--carry some piece of the couple with it when it is next taken somewhere else..

Bill Bryson starts out his Brief History of Nearly Everything  in a manner reminiscent of Varo’s letter:
“Welcome. And congratulations. I am delighted that you could make it. Getting here wasn’t easy, I know. In fact, I suspect it was a little tougher than you realize.
To begin with, for you to be here now trillions of drifting atoms had somehow to assemble in an intricate and curiously obliging manner to create you. It’s an arrangement so specialized and particular that it has never been tried before and will only exist this once.”

He goes on to say something that suggests Varo’s following the right path:
“The average species on Earth lasts for only about four million years, so if you wish to be around for billions of years, you must be as fickle as the atoms that made you. You must be prepared to change everything about yourself--shape, size, colour, species affiliation, everything--and to do so repeatedly....So at various periods over the last 3.8 billion years you have abhorred oxygen and then doted on it, grown fins and limbs and jaunty sails, laid eggs, flicked the air with a forked tongue, been sleek, been furry, lived underground, lived in trees, been as big as a deer and as small as a mouse, and a million things more.”

So, spend time understanding cat-hood, upping your velocity, and experiencing yourself as the jewel you have actually been and still, in some sense, are--because you need to be ready. (And all this practice is great for developing a wider perspective, which might just allow you to see the necessary steps to your next evolution more clearly.)

by Remedios Varo
In The Book of Barely-Imagined Beings, a 21st century bestiary in which he describes the impossibility of living beings we know actually exist and the amazing ways in which those creatures interact with the same universe we do, Caspar Henderson says of the Sponge:

“But perhaps the greatest wonder is the insight sponges offer into how animal and human life as we know it came to be. The story starts with the discovery, first reported in 1907, that some species can be strained through a mesh so fine that only individual cells pass through and yet – in the right circumstances – form a new, fully functioning animal. And it continues with the realization that choanocytes, the cells central to a sponge’s functioning, closely resemble single-celled animals called choanoflagellates. 

Choanoflagellates are plankton: tiny protozoans that feed on even tinier bacteria. Thousands or even millions will be in a bucket of water hauled from coastal seas. They often thrive on their own but they also tend to form colonies of cells that are all alike but benefit by sticking together. This characteristic is far from unique; many bacteria and single-celled organisms do the same. What is unique is that the genes choanoflagellates use to manufacture proteins that stick their cells together are very like the genes found in all multicellular animals for the same purpose. Indeed, the match is so close that it seems almost certain that we evolved from them.”

So: divide the whole into all its little parts and then....create a new whole. Fully functioning, there it is. And humans developed from the same basic parts. So, if you were, like me, snorting with laughter as you read her letter to her estimable remembered “friend,” think again. Maybe you, too, have a cat tail .

Simpatía, by Remedios Varo: She has *several* cat tails.


  1. ces peintures sont très étranges et extraordinaires!
    une belle découverte d'artiste!

  2. I think the thing I am finding the most enthralling and compelling about Unexpected Journeys, is her vulnerability and yet her passionate quest for self. I am reading it for the second time, immersing myself in the images, and reading Kaplans descriptive and narratives of what she or Remedios shares about the images themselves. The beauty of art, her art is the feminine that seems to speak in layers. I think my favorite, at this crossing is " to be reborn" I keep coming back to it.
    Thank you for sharing this treasure with me..

    1. ah, i'm very, very pleased that you're enjoying it, that book is something i turn to often. i agree, the direct passion seems impossible to pair with the vulnerability, and yet there it is, and the combination makes its own magic. i feel that her images always convey a sense of mystery, sly motion, or surprise at some mystery or sly motion. they act as half-open doorways for me.
      and kaplan's writing is so perfectly paired! i always end up disappointed by other books about her.