Lazy Suzie

Suzanne Doppelt (trans. Cole Swensen)

Litmus Press


Tuesday, November 10th, 2015

Lazy Suzie is an ecstatic, often surreal exploration of the eye’s ability to turn about, to travel out the window, into a painting, through the telescope, over the hills, through the images of a magic lantern or camera obsura, and off mirrors. Not only the eye itself, but perhaps more importantly, the mind’s eye as it conjures up history, fantasies and dreams. On each new page attention seems to gather loosely around a subject, but the text just flows on from one page to the next; a reader is pulled along encouraged to stay with it though one sitting. It is like being caught in a whirlwind, flying from fragment to fragment as objects cohere and then dissolve, come into view and then float away:

the ray emerges like an antenna, from the eyes, here, from the eyes, and propagates in a straight line or leaps without swerving from thing to thing or bounces back and forth and in between, vertiginous dazzle, the eye is a darkroom with a lens on one side and a screen on the other.

Because of the freedom of the mind’s eye, however, one doesn’t have to bother with vehicles or tickets or cash, but can begin flight by starting with a small hole pierced in the wall that “lets the dense, luminous rays slip through onto any object, a chair stretched till it becomes a bench, statues, cities, and forests.” Interspersed black and white photographs also invite a reader’s imagination to open up enigmatic images or gray rectangles labeled in specific italics: amour et psyché, la chaise, les 2 ambassadeurs. These images, although never illustrative, occasionally play with the adjacent or distant text as in the stretched chair/ la chaise, but more frequently stand as separate images to enjoy or unpack: a blurry landscape with two trees overlaid by a grid juxtaposed to a wallpaper-like graphic design.

The pronoun “I” is mostly missing from the small book. Without a guiding persona a reader is plunged into the journey itself as each page shifts perspectives and as each photograph adds another aspect to see. A reader is immersed in the immediate vertiginous experience, seeing new transmogrifications everywhere: “it’s a magic circle that picks up speed, making you dizzy, a turning disk on which all sounds and precise shapes are remade by chance.” The “you” seems to include both the reader and the guide: “And if you look closely at an old wall, you’ll see valleys and spongy rocks, a flattened fly, sleeping waters, moving feathers, the dream of a painting of distinct shapes or else one of a film of a road in the fog, the rough sketch is always a scattering of spots, light or dark masses, jumbled streaks and curves.”

Staying with the text demands absolute attention in order to follow as fully as possible the intricate transformations and tensions. There are multiple patterns and repetitions, blank rectangles as blank pages to fill, and also instruction for new ways to see; and it is only with re-reading that some of them emerge. Just for one example: a playful dialogue runs throughout between visual scenes and geometric shapes or extending lines and curls, as if one could map the globe or create an entire garden by beginning with straight lines and curves, curls and coils:

a verdant room closed in by high hedges in which images file by and painting follows painting at every step: trees pruned to parasols, the sun multiplied through the branches, the rocks, works of art, the flowerbed tiled or embroidered—they’re drawn as one might write a sonnet, squares, circles, cones, decorative waters and machines that imitate birdsong.

As the text moves forward it also addresses illusions, those created by moving through fog and mists, others by magic lanterns or telescopes and automata. Scientific and artistic innovators are pulled into the text to remind us of all the ways seeing has been elaborated: da Vinci, Kepler, Kircher, Francois de Paule, Erhard Shön and his anamorphic wood cuts. The central role of the mirror is emphasized by photographs of mirrors that don’t reflect, and a reversed page that can be read only by using a mirror. Magic shows, sleights of hand, and various tricks the eye plays also contribute to the confusions and wonders of seeing.

The project as I grasp it is to compose relationships between seeing and something along the lines of what it might mean to see and then to see differently, expansively, philosophically—as the specular leads to speculation—both in terms of thinking and as a kind of magical fantasizing, an effort to connect the specific and abstract, the object and the idea. One italicized insertion (these occur at random throughout) reads:

who can deny the troubled relationship between metaphysics and perspective? For that is the true magic, and it runs many marvelous experiments. For that is the true magic, and it runs many marvelous experiments, everything true appears false and seems to be other than it is, it just needs a little retouching, a bit added or something cut, the square becomes a diamond, the circle, an oval, and the view goes right on through

In part, then, the book seems an exercise in various imaginative endeavors through an evocative and playful language akin to the movements of film, a way to get at “reality” in whatever ways one can, through both vision and the visionary: “Reality is just a matter of fine-tuning, the reduced passage from one world, a gigantic painting, to another by simple rotation.” One can see more clearly from the side, by means of geometry or through the warping of eyes filled with tears. In the section on gardens reality is specifically identified as a relation:

reality is perhaps a relation and the gardener is also a painter, the genius of the place when he plants whereas nature reveals, for example suzie soaking wet and offered up for view on a turning platter. And many other scenes as well, cities and countries, the great north, etna erupting, the trip to Dieppe and the interior of china, behind an illustrious and milky figure, the wide-open window, which disappears out the back of the painting, a cosmorama

Very occasionally, an italicized line utilizing “I” appears and perhaps suggests a glimpse of the more personal: once I lost everything, you must settle for what you see, reality is perhaps a relation, I was happy just once under an umbrella, Why is your mouth open so wide that it makes a hole in the landscape? Perhaps, however, these are more of a tease as the title suggests, playing off the name of “Suzanne” as well as comparing the eye’s mobility to the turning Lazy Susan device, or “suzie soaking wet.” Often the leaps in the text are seemingly off-the-wall, utilizing wit to push a new way of seeing or even hearing as in the page that plays with sounds for a dance reminiscent of “Susie”: suï-suï-louz, zué-sous-lu and so forth. My favorite is the pun, “all seeing is seeing things.”

Given the instability of relations between object and reflection, depth and surface, whole and part, inside and outside, ordinary sight and enhanced sight, one feels immersed in an enchanted universe which seems to suggest a quest for a hidden secret, a code hidden in the mirrored text, something lost, the disappeared garden, the mysterious “he” who “returns furtively to the room, through its legs, the table trembles, carried away and held back…a kind of dance as it works up torque for a final spin.” Or the undisclosed in one of the gray rectangles or the photographic process:

When sunlight penetrates a closed space, it brings with it a multitude of particles, points that dance in the luminous sheaves, that alight on a sheet, sensitive or not, and there sketch a face barely seen, an astral body via trickery, a statue of clay and chalk before it all falls to dust, it’s a colorless image behind a thousand pulverized grains, magic powdered and sacred

Lazy Susie raises a central question of all ekphrastic poetry: how to find words for visual images, and how to address its given failure to bridge the gap between them. Many poets since Homer’s shield of Achilles and famously including Keats’s “Ode on a Grecian Urn” and John Ashbery’s “Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror” have provided wondrous examples, and critics such as W.J.T. Mitchell have emphasized the way in which ekphrastic poetry must “conjure” by means of special and magical language. Dopplet’s version is highly imaginative, freewheeling, witty and focused directly on the verbal/visual complex, amplified by the inclusion of her own photographs. For me there is a special and long standing pleasure in both the intellectual issues involved in such questioning and in the frisson of crossing boundaries; and I am certain that any reader would take immediately to the lush images and elaborate flights through time and space. But it is also a world on the page, not on the screen of our digital devices to which we have all become accustomed if not addicted. Lazy Susie, therefore, may be experienced as demanding of one’s own “mind’s eye” and of the need for absorbed attention from beginning to end. As both a photographer and a writer, Suzanne Doppelt has invented what has been called a picto-literary style, unsettled, extravagant, questioning, and to our benefit, her translator, Cole Swensen, is both gifted and shares her interest in the visual, photography, and ghosts. Lazy Susie ends with three images, a drawing of an eye and two collages that seem to suggest according to the rules of the witty game: now it’s your turn. What do you see?

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2 Responses to “Lazy Suzie”

  1. Avital Ronell Says:

    Stunningly exacting review, sensitive and on point, worthy of the work turned in by Suzanne Doppelt and Cole Swensen: bravo!

  2. Matt Says:

    Beautiful. Wonderful. Thank you for telling me about this book!


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