Thursday, May 7, 2009

The Envelope, please

Joseph Cornell, Verso of Cassiopeia 1, (1960)

Donald Barthelme on Joseph Cornell (Overnight to Many Distant Cities)

I put a name in an envelope, and sealed the envelope; and put that envelope in another envelope with a spittlebug and some quantity of boric acid; and put that envelope in a still larger envelope which contained also a woman tearing her gloves to tatters; and put that envelope in the mail to Fichtelgebirge. At the Fichtelgebirge Post Office I asked if there was mail for me, with a mysterious smile the clerk said, "Yes," I hurried with the envelope to London, arriving with snow, and put the envelope in the Victoria and Albert Museum, bowing to the curators in the Envelope Room, where the wallpaper hung down in thick strips. I put the Victoria and Albert Museum in a still larger envelope which I placed in the program of the Royal Danish Ballet, in the form of an advertisement for museums, boric acid, wallpaper. I put the program of the Royal Danish Ballet into the North Sea for two weeks. Then, I retrieved it, it was hanging down in thick strips, I sent it to a machine-vask on H. C. Andersen Boulevard, everything came out square and neat, I was overjoyed. I put the square, neat package in a safe place, and put the safe place in a vault designed by Caspar David Friedrich, German romantic landscape painter of the last century. I slipped the vault into a history of art (Insel Verlag, Frankfurt, 1980). But, in a convent library on the side of a hill near a principal city of Montana, it fell out of the history of art into a wastebasket, a thing I could not have predicted. I bound the wastebasket in stone, with a matchwood shroud covering the stone, and placed it in the care of Charles the Good, Charles the Bold, and Charles the Fair. They stand juggling cork balls before the many-times-encased envelope, whispering names which are not the right one. I put the three kings into a new blue suit, it walked away from me most confidently.

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