The Emblems of Inanity are vivid, blindingly so. Gold leaf is used sparingly. Most, but not all, are the work of Ferdinandodooda Gulbenkian Mukherjee, of whom little is known, and that little, spurious. Bird motifs are used sparingly, but not as sparingly as gold leaf. Tremendous splattering is de rigueur. The viewer’s headaches thump and throb.
Mukherjee’s own headaches are one of the few non-spurious things we know of him. There are documents. The gulf between head and ache was sometimes as wide as one of those big expansive seas one finds in the wet parts of the earth. Dust covered some, but not all, of the emblems. One thinks of a jester’s cap and bells.
Hanging where they do, or tacked up with metal tacks, the emblems gain moral heft. Several ditches were emptied of mud. That crocus-scented one has particular significance, though it is one of the emblems Mukherjee denied moulding. It lacks gold leaf, a bird motif, even dust. Always wiped with the same rag.
Frostbitten, the maker or moulder or what you will was bitten by more than frost. One need only examine the pins under a microscope. The apron was baize and bore tremendous splatterings. Its strings may have been those of Mukherjee’s dead mother, bobbed hair preserved in a jar on a shelf, an unsettling memento.
When horsemen came roaring across the plains, these emblems were their purchase. Rough, dun, spelt, and plenty of hammers to pound. We can discern in certain emblems pocks. The juddering of a type of vibrational praxis or bedevilment. This is what Cugat was referring to in the lectures now lost. Swollen blobs of poor ink.
Lupine howling, or awe, as a response, preclude proper digestion. Mukherjee had a special basin for Christ’s sake. Content and context fly at each other, fangs bared. One thinks of the barbarian horsemen. In only one case is the bird motif done in gold leaf. A pretty little chaffinch, a worm dangling from its beak, its beak golden, the worm a pink that nauseates.
Sometimes lamps dazzle rather than illuminate. The viewers’ eyes scrunch and the headaches return. The gulf widens. That sea is wetter than ever. Shoes that had been laced with boggling expertise tread on golden slabs. The cumulative effect is sub rosa, and not just rosa. The deeper the delving, the shabbiness baffles. A torch might be an improvement on the lamp.
What Mukherjee saw was arguably not without airlessness. He may have grown to manhood in an iron lung. There are more documents. Beneath the innocent streets run mile upon mile of tunnels, forlorn and unmapped. Mukherjee’s longings ought not detain the more sombre student of his work, cut to the quick. He had a pet mole.
Pound writes somewhere of Swartest night stretched over wretched men there and it is the “there” that these emblems, at both their best and worst, and middling too, inhabit. More are frankly middling than otherwise. None is swart, unless at a stretch. Fixed to a torturer’s rack, with metal tacks, they could be stretched, if one insisted upon it. Mukherjee did not.
There are times when oars groan in the water, like living things. Suffering is a given. It may be that the nauseating pink worm gnaws at the emblems’ core. Hunter and hunted, in sun or snow. There is a pallid cast to those who shuffle in circles in the prison gang. Look carefully at the more vivid of the emblems and blindness wears a trickster’s hat.
In the end, inanity brooks no lop.