PRINT December 1989

Stephen Prina

By Barbara Bloom, West Berlin: Berliner Künstlerprogramm des DAAD, 1988, 211 pp., 2 color plates and 134 black and white illustrations.

Somewhere between the title Ghost Writer and the title Und wenn sie nicht gestorhen sind . . . (And if they haven’t died yet . . . ) lies a work of editorial acumen by Barbara Bloom. This second title also bears the most prominent device to guide the work: the ellipsis.

What at first appears to be two versions of a selection of illustrated texts, one in English, the other in German, one at each end of the book, becomes an essay on the mirror image that is imperfect in its refraction: cracked like the broken halves of a plate reassembled tenuously to make a whole, an image that appears in this volume. The list of entries formulates a world drawn across contemporary fiction, love letters, photography and forgery, correspondence, a preface to the first analytic detective story, and a science primer, among others. In fact the procedure of this project is not unlike the choreography of clues necessary to the detective story, and over which one continuously stumbles. Take, for example, the braille that rearticulates a 1930s popular song and a 19th-century lied. My fingers scan these markings, which remain indecipherable to me. I feel them but I cannot know them, in the same way that I “read” the musical notation but cannot “hear” it. Who is prepared to receive these traces? Or consider the replies to Gustave Flaubert’s love letters to Louise Colet, replies that here are written by Bloom. Many lonely populated spaces.

Without breaking stride, Bloom does not overlook the most erotic of bookmaking practices: the tipped-in plate. Upon lifting the only full-color image to be included in this volume—an image that serves as the frontispiece of both “versions,” a photograph of Ray Charles, of a blind musician seated, laughing, at his instrument, an image used in an American Express advertisement—the dedication is discovered: “For M. ‘Melodies bring memories that linger in my heart . . . ’ Ray Charles.” Touched, unmistakably; touching, perhaps; sentimental, I think not, for what our editor understands so well is the conflation of clues that is the world, made up of crossed signals, retractions, suspensions, momentary false starts, in short it is the de-disciplinary movement of the ellipsis that at once acknowledges the center but continues to point away. But, then again, . . .

—Stephen Prina