Homo Bulla Est (2018) 

It began with this image from 1466 in which a boy stands with one foot on a bubble that is resting on a clamshell that is floating on the ocean’s surface. When I was searching for an image that described seeing planetary influences play themselves out in little dramas on the streets of Athens, I found this image and combined it with an image of two grasshopper carcasses sitting on either side of a crystal on my mother’s bathroom vanity mirror. The planetary aspects apply to this single day in Athens with the perspective of the narrator shifting in and out of different personas.

Textures of Time: Conchylomania in 17th Century Holland (2019)

This was written for an art history class in Amsterdam. We spent every class in a gallery in The Hague writing about the paintings. I first saw two small paintings of seashells and could hardly look at anything else.

The Long Body (2020)

These are diary entries from a trip to visit my mother in which I receive craniosacral therapy and contemplate birth.

Tweets From Amber (2021)

Later, there was a book of images—a visual anthology about women in the age of electricity. I wrote about the images and thought of them as tweets from Amber (a woman named Amber but also the substance that preserves dinosaur DNA).

Homo Bulla Est

The object forces us to listen to it, not by reference, but just as it is, in all the reality of its substance.
As it doesn’t say much, and certainly not what we would like it to say, once we have heard it, it makes us fall silent. In this silence we perceive new disturbances.

Pierre Schaeffer, In Search of a Concrete Music.

Greetings and welcome to Homo Bulla Est. You may place the cone in your ear to better tune into the report. The main aspects are written inside the cone. This report is for Saturday, April 14th, 2018, in Athens, Greece brought to you by Beyond Human Impulses Performance Festival. Today, the sun, moon, and mercury are like the lost parts of you hiding in other people.

Jupiter is conjunct psyche today.

A boy places his foot on the bubble resting on the shell floating on the ocean of a world picture in 1466. Below the ocean, the husks of two dead grasshoppers still incredibly bright green sit next to the quartz on the cabinet.

Mars is sextile Neptune today.

Trolley carts brimming full of strawberries are oracular enough for an echo chamber. People on their lunch breaks drink iced coffee while watching the traffic go by. Couples are sitting together; older couples are aged together and aged well together.

Mars is conjunct with Lilith today.

There is an owl looking down at us. ID and passport photos, copies and scans. Motors roaring by with the puttering stutter of tons of motors. A mother and her daughter watch a window screen through a glass shop front.

Jupiter is trine Neptune today.

People stand on corners watching up and down the street, considering the endless feelings when looking up and down an avenue. Does the feeling die when we die or does it just clasp onto someone else like a virus?

Jupiter is sextile Mars today.

Shining banks are on some corners. Some jumbled corners are full of sleeping bags and tired bodies. Men stand in a circle and pass around an iphone7 in a brand new box. A yellow taxi cab turns a sharp corner. A man in a beautiful blue painter’s onesie knocks on a window. A ittle girl stands in front of a window display full of soap dispensers while her mother smokes behind her.

Jupiter is sextile Pluto today.

The city lies open and slightly broken with everyone agreeing on the broken foundation as togetherness enough and the air feels very warm.

Jupiter is trine Chiron and Juno today.

A couple walks hand in hand, somehow orthodox in their togetherness, as though one can continue in life and still shed layers instead of gaining layers as you get closer to the center of the thing in a simplicity that gathers together like a climate, like these pigeons gathered together at this pole. Kendall and Kylie Jenner stand on the signpost like some holy sister divinity.

Pluto is sextile Juno today.

Bricks are crumbled under a doorway. There is the green globe of a pharmacy sign. What is the sublime that reaches out to us on a screen of oceanic presence from what used to be only comprehensible in nature? Some awe-inspiring force that was terrible and great and totally beyond us that we now can’t even fathom? Was it transformed into technology like a hypertext? Hunting rainbow trout in Utah is no longer a utopia.

Venus is opposite Jupiter today.

She was just beginning to enjoy the simple pleasures of grass and sunshine and that kind of sensuality she could sink her teeth into. She was deep in that part of a relationship where it feels like you have licked all the sweetness from each other that there is possible to uncover on the surface and all that is rest are the bones or perhaps one of you go on a long trip and verything is totally different when you return, as in deciding between the rhubarb pie or the eggs Benedict.

Venus is trine Saturn today.

Romantic love is posing on a cliff at sunset, hair and face bright in the sunlight though you are almost blind. You tell yourself that you should not trust someone who just does peyote in the desert for a few days because they are curious unless it creates a story or funny phone call or poem that could be positively referenced throughout the rest of the relationship.

Venus is trine Mars today.

Friedrich Hölderlin, who used to live in Athens, holds a Greek statue in his hand but it is also the hand of Fatima, bestower of good luck and protection. The story he tells is about the failure of virtual reality. The young Arabic teacher gives his students lessons about the alphabet and then they play video games together, his character swimming deep under the ocean and banging his head against a brick wall continuously, unable to finagle a centimeter between reality’s fingers and the microcosm of up, down, right, left. He arrives in Bordeaux, where Hölderlin also lived, to teach Arabic to a family, but his aspirations are confused when he makes a curious discovery on the river banks. Under the distant gaze of a mysterious and reclusive man, he is lost in a series of strange and alienating visions. He is a young writer in search of recognition. He writes because it is anarchy. He writes to die before he dies. He writes so he doesn’t go insane. He writes with the spirit with which he writes. He writes the limits of his writing which are the limits of his world. He writes without knowing. He writes his own history, suspending himself.

Venus is trine Pluto today.

“She sold her soul to the devil but the devil gave his heart to God,” Caetano Veloso tells her through the headphones. She sold it in the middle of the street in front of Hadrian’s Library on the way towards the little café in the corner with lots of trees shading it.

Venus is sextile Neptune today.

Mercury is retrograde, but even retrograde is beautiful at a Morton Feldman concert with a jar of artichokes in your purse. It is like the bones are digging new score notches on which to rest and withstand the coming age and all the scenes that have taken place in front of the Third Ephorate of Ancient Antiquities.

Uranus is square Mars today.

She lies on her belly writing by candlelight. She feels the flute spreading out her flesh with its uneven sentences like stones spreading out farther and farther apart as she walks over them, where they sit deep in the ocean, or across a shallow stream. All this happens under the statue of Lord Byron.

Uranus is conjunct the Sun today.

He arrived like something too bright to stare at directly, so it was only possible to stare directly at something else and only glance dimly when he spoke and believed in every word where they met for an iced coffee on Filopappos Hill.

Uranus is square Saturn today.

Remember all the ways there are to be a human being—sitting, lying, sleeping, freaking out. Light bulbs on a string; candle in a wine glass. Since Saturn is now grinding down Saturn, there is beauty in the void and also when looking out from the Acropolis under which a crowded bar blares Girls Just Want to Have Fun.

Neptune is sextile Pluto today.

Here, before, the bulb breaks in front of the Tower of the Winds. With a crick in his neck, the sounds of forests in his memories are becoming rounded by living and loving and the pain takes shapes like vegetables and zoo animals, organic to the core.

Uranus is square Pluto today.

He is forming a treatise with the future flesh that builds and gives and breathes down his neck. That way was okay—the secure fountain of a flautist playing a dead composer—listening to the playback when in doubt and looking at the whole story. Playback in the kitchen after everyone has gone to sleep. Drinking a beer at the Temple of Hephaestus.

Sun is square Mars today.

The Sun is an eager young man today. He is wearing sunglasses and a red t-shirt with an ice hockey team logo on it, and biding time at the park while waiting for his mother or girlfriend to finish running errands around Syntagma Square.

Sun is square Saturn today.

The Sun is making a moody glare towards Saturn, Mars and Pluto. They’re all piled up together, not very comfortably. It’s like at a baby shower, watching the mother unwrap diaper bags and toys, holding tea cups patiently. I say this because they’re all sitting in the house of home and family, but also the womb and the tomb, so perhaps they’re all sitting there waiting until they can get down to discussing the real issues at hand with the mother to be, like the fact that she is going to feel unhappy before she feels happy again.

Sun is square Pluto today.

She learned to drive in a Pontiac Firebird Transam on frequent trips down the coast. The Transam belonged to her father who had bought it from a friend who had died a few months before her father died, but he had already sold the Transam back to him by then.

Moon is conjunct with Mercury today.

I think of you by the window of white mountains and cotton candy hues. In the future, these pitiful devices will fail us and our powers will surpass them. Our voices will recognize who sings by the fire, what the waves say, and the oracular nature of disappearances. I won’t know who you are becoming while I am the moon’s secretary. The white wave crashing on the little island rock no matter how large or small. “The day unfolds around the needle of a steeple like the stamen inside a flower,” wrote Hölderlin who lived here in Athens before living in a tower for the last 36 years of his life.

Moon is trine Ceres today.

I hear the chorus of people crying that I have never met even if it is just theater, just theater, one of many ancient theaters.

Moon is conjunct with Chiron today.

They say healing is found through the wound, a function of our own design that has gradually been offshored. Consider the process of mellification: when you feel like death is approaching, you retreat to the mountains and begin to consume only honey. After two weeks you will begin to sweat honey, cry honey, piss honey, shit honey, until you dissolve into honey and your corpse becomes a living healing ointment that can mend bones and soothe burns.

Moon is square Mars today.

He would step into some fire to meet the gaze again and burn his eyelashes and eyebrows and even then go grocery shopping, smelling fringed and sang and would not care because he would feel so privileged.

Moon is square Saturn today.

They existed at a hushed instance behind closed doors at the end of eternity, but not right now.

Neptune sextile Lilith today.

I didn’t know I would cross a border to meet one. I didn’t know I would cross an ocean to make a world picture. Making a dream line to your fiery face that my hands have doused in the arrangement of flesh, the plans and dates that are like gestures of an unkempt bed where lay the images of death masks, like a good girl proving herself right or wrong, worthy or unworthy.

Mercury is trine Ceres today.

It is like a waiting room at a funeral parlor, overdressed, exhausted, passing time, eternal corridors between the moments. She is unsettled here like the whole island. Like hyper speed at the moment right before it changes speeds and you catch your face in some window reflection of-a chandelier shop window on a corner in Kypseli.

Mars is conjunct Saturn today

The father wants the son to come home more often but the son is deep in a love affair in the first six months of love and all of his identity is wrapped in the unfolding of his feelings for this woman, who is feeling the same about him. She is the moon and she is also on fire, but mostly at the mouth and in her twitter and emailing, whereas he is on fire in his dreams, every night he dreams he arrives at himself on fire, the bedroom door opens and he greets himself.

He walked up the hill to the house he remembered and believed to disbelieve that he would not find the same decay there. A handmade bench and careful rows of flowers lined his feet as he walked, getting more and more out of breath and tasting this own metallic iron of rapid exchange on his tongue. Now at the house, the looming presence of it disappeared. Hearing a noise from some unseen thing, he hides behind a tree. An orange cat appears from around a corner, sliding through the grass as cats do.

Saturn is trine Venus today.

I’m lying in bed. The door to the bedroom opens and I see myself standing in the door frame. We stare at each other. I have an anxious feeling like I am in the wrong place at the wrong time. I see myself step into the room and walk over to the bed and crawl into bed with me, removing her socks and shoes first. Gender seems innocuous.

Saturn is sextile Jupiter today.

I crawl into bed with myself and we embrace each other like two lost children. We have backs of heads in the crooks of elbows and we can smell each other’s scent and I am reminded of deep undergrowth where mushrooms germinate. There is this uncanny feeling like my hair might be plastic and my skin made of wax and my eyes made of marbles but I don’t know what to do except embrace this other.

Saturn is sextile Neptune today.

We hold each other there and it feels like the center of the bedrock of the universe, like huge heavy-hitting planets grinding down each other’s bones. It is, of course, something perverse and wrong about it, like looking into my own brain while I’m thinking in there. Is this just some kind of dissociation? What is she thinking of me? Do I also smell of mushroom terra to her?

Saturn is conjunct Pluto today.

Alchemically, there is something wrong, like one of us was dug up from deep within an earth layer that wasn’t ready to be exposed to daylight yet, but is nevertheless happening anyway. The alchemical reaction begins and before either of us are aware of it, the little dancing sparks of combustion have been shaking hands and popping out of place and into place and the boiling has begun. We don’t know it yet but the boiling is getting more intense as we lay there in each other’s arms, like it is absolutely the only thing to do in these circumstances. What would someone who loved themselves do?

Saturn is conjunct with Lilith today.

Suddenly, they gaze into each other’s eyes because a quick jolt has been felt—the spark has been alighted against a stone and has spread to the surface. They are aware of what is happening now in this moment and all they can do is stare each other in the face, into honey eyes, like mellification. Eyes for eternity, downloading all.

Pluto is trine Venus today.

They both sense it because of the smell and because of the smell they sense the rainbow of colors that they have begun glowing inside. The heat erupts and without a boiling pretense, the flames begin from some unknown center source like they have always been there invisibly. Two magnetic poles forced at an unlikely horizon line. There is nothing to do but hold the steady gaze between selves as long as gazing can gaze, back to before gazing, before the gaze, which slowly turns into a fine ash.

Texture of Time: Conchylomania in 17th Century Holland

Looking at this seashell, in which I seem to see evidence of “construction” and, as it were, the work of a hand not operating by “chance,” I am perplexed. I wonder: Who made this? My first stir of thought has been to think of makingBut soon my question undergoes a transformation. It takes a short step forward along the path of my naïveté, and I begin to inquire by what sign we recognize that a given object is or is not made by a man?

(“Man and the Sea Shell.” In Paul Valéry: An Anthology, translated by J. Mathews and edited by J. R. Lawler, 108–135. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.)

While seashells were a common vanitas theme in 17th century Dutch paintings, their imagery as symbols of a shift in 17th century Dutch consciousness has perhaps been overlooked. More specifically, shifts in consciousness related to how time was felt and theorized, influenced by the invention of the pendulum clock in Holland in 1656 and the writings of the Dutch philosopher, Baruch Spinoza, who was famously condemned for his philosophy of a pantheistic god. Dutch Golden Age painters were masters at the imitation and reflection of nature, revealing through reflection the way in which representation is always a construction told through myriad surface effects. If the painter can portray the artifice of representation itself through paint, then perhaps the representation of time as being absolute is also a construction.

The fact that the symbolism of seashells is both stable and unstable and that can be ambiguous or even contradictory is especially fitting for their representation of shifting notions of time. Seashells hold connotations to the birth of Venus as she was birthed into art history from a seashell by Botticelli, and therefore correlating the seashell to the place where our standard of beauty is arrived from. There are also connotations to Poseidon, the god of the sea, and the maritime activity taking place at the time in which the ocean was a place of danger, war, and encounters with the unknown.

Seashells were common in curiosity cabinets of the day, representing wealth and ownership, as well as the far reach of the Dutch East India company. With the invention of the pendulum clock, time could be told in absolutes, creating the first standard for time, a crucial element in global trade and navigating the ocean. The Dutch East India company established itself in Southeast Asia in 1602 and remained for roughly the next 350 years. It is from this period that many tradesmen brought the desirable shells back to Europe. Marsely Kehoe, art historian and specialists in Nautilus cups of the Dutch Golden Age, considers the Nautilus cup’s nature of being an amalgamation of Indonesian shells and metal from the Americas made into a collector’s item in Holland demonstrates the unification and therefore reinforcement of the domestic and the foreign into a collective identity for the Dutch.2Kehoe suggests that for the early modern Dutch, the domestic and global worlds were seen as separate, non-dependent scenes of action, however, in material culture such as the Nautilus cup, as well as in the still life paintings in which they were portrayed, this is not the case.3In Pronk Still Life with Holbein Bowl, Nautilus Cup, Glass Goblet and Fruit Dish (1678), Willem Kalf portrays the vanitas theme in a few objects rich in the symbolism of the day including the Nautilus cup (fig. I).


Figure I. Kalf, Willem, Pronk Still Life with Holbein Bowl, Nautilus Cup, Glass Goblet, and Fruit Dish, painting on panel, 1678, Statens Museum for Kunst Collection, Copenhagen, Wikipedia Commons.

Willem Kalf was born in Rotterdam in 1619 and died in Amsterdam in 1693. An art dealer and painter, Kalf had many collectible items to paint including seashells, Chinese porcelain, marble furniture, and Turkish carpets. He was well known for mastering the pronkstilleven from the word pronk, Dutch for “ostentation.”4When the style became popular in the 1650s, Kalf’s work came even more into the public spotlight as his ability to combine a chiaroscuro with a sense of color harmonies created representations of objects that made the objects pale in comparison.5This is especially significant for the era as the world image was shifting greatly and painters were becoming increasingly prolific at creating representation and perhaps coming to terms with a philosophical understanding that everything could be represented, including time.

Figure II. Kalf, Willem, Still Life with Seashell and Coral, painting on panel, 1690, Mauritshuis, The Hague,  

In the two paintings from 1690 by Kalf, Still Life with Shells and Coral and Still Life with Shells, a close study of natural objects is made (fig. II and III). While Kalf also painted nautilus cups which represent a more amalgamated object of human craftwork and non-human instinct, the seashells and coral represented in these relatively small paintings are noticeably raw and focus on the textures and surfaces of each specimen, especially in their variety. The paintings do not allow for much color as it is set in an extremely dark atmosphere. In this way, what little color hue variation is shown goes a long way to describing the texture of the seashells.

Figure III. Kalf, Willem, Still Life with Seashells, painting on panel, 1690, Mauritshuis, The Hague,

The spindly orange shell to the far right in the painting without coral is given the most color out of all the shells and coral in both of the paintings. The colors make it almost fleshy and part of living biology, significant of life and blood and a functioning life organ. It is reptilian and otherworldly, as a bright thing that arrives from the ocean and is already fully aesthetically its own form, and yet is still a mysterious thing to be later identified as a species of Spondylus known in English as “spiny oyster.” The orange shell brings up many questions about the knowledge the painter had about how the shells and coral were formed and what was known about them in general at that time in the late 17th century.

The shell’s texture is described with shades of burnt umber, brown, beige, salmon, peach, and tangerine. The tips that spindle outward like little crab claws caught in stillness are described with the brightest hue. In this way, the colors camouflage life forms. The burnt orange is lifted to the shell’s ridges by a sandy color and its low points are outlined by dark orange, almost brown. It is difficult to tell what the texture of the spindling pieces are at the tips as they appear softer, brighter, smoother, and able to flagellate in ocean currents. The longer you look, your eyes adjust to the darkness and the mute color palette becomes more varied. The orange shell is allowed to undulate because of the color variations. It is also inner organ-like, as though the red tips were blood vessels taken from their network of ocean coral. The burnt tones next to the mollusk shell’s pearly sheen of white and muted gray make the contrast between the seashells’ texture and ontology even greater. Keeping in mind that the softer and smoother the shell, the longer it has been tumbled in the ocean, the contrast between the spiky orange shell and the smooth mollusk next to it speaks strongly of time. Color is used to take us to the origins of the shells, a tool for time travel that is remarkable for making it so obvious the intricate way in which the shells were born. The entire object is so unique that it already stretches out a very long time and speaks of many natural processes interacting over time. How does it grow and why is it this color? The smooth mollusk next to it almost reflects a painter in profile; a reflection through all the questions the shells bring up. In the digitized version of the paintings, the viewer can see more clearly that the surface upon which the shells and coral sit is accompanied by a dark teal fabric that is reminiscent of silk in the way it is folded and layered almost as though the painter made the arrangement with a faux beach scene in mind. The dark teal color contrasts with the bright and myriad glints to be found in the shells and coral, acting as an absorbent space that refracts the source of light back onto the shells and coral, making the subdued palette even richer and seemingly aglow from within. The two small paintings of seashells and coral give the impression of having arrived from a great depth, perhaps because of their ability to seemingly glow in the surrounding darkness. The shells are glistening as though they were wet and having just been birthed from the ocean. Their shape and otherworldly structure give the feeling that they do not belong in this outer terrestrial world and that their structure was built for inhabiting a wholly different world altogether. The alien shapes and glistening surfaces of the paintings, as well as the knowledge of the oceanic sound that arrives when you put the conch shell to your ear, gives the painting an almost aural quality.

Some of the shells have ridges and spiky spindles that are reptilian and even reminiscent of a Jurassic era, an incredible comment on the nature of time, and especially the deep time of nature of which humans existed only a fraction. The shells also have an affinity to human biological organs, like the spiral of the outer ear and the shell’s labial structure of having an exterior protecting a smooth interior layer. The perfect spiral of the nautilus and the delicate waves of the coral seem to be saying that the root of our standards of beauty arrives not only from distant classical origins in time, but form distance depths as well. Time is not only linear but also deep, the shells seem to say. Knowing the origins of the shells make us arrive at a deeper timescale and one altogether outside of ours.

In the work of another prevalent Dutch Golden Age painter, Adriaen Coorte (1665–1707), the art historian Hanneke Grootenboer writes about the effect of Coorte’s paintings and how they seem to create a void as though they are a window into a dark room. In Kalf’s seashells, there is a similar void that feels as though you have to look intently to see what is inside as though the seashells themselves were seeking their presence to be known by making themselves visible through the glinting sheen on their shells.

Figure IV. Coorte, Adriaen, Three Medlars with a Butterfly, 1705, oil on paper mounted on panel, Private collection, Wikipedia Commons.

Similar to Coorte’s Three Medlars and a Butterfly(1705) lying on a cracked ledge which seemingly lose their familiarity as food, Kalf’s seashells make unfamiliar alien, monstrous forms out of what we thought we knew as objects to be found on the beach (fig. IV). Or, in many cases, as an object whose personal origins are a complete mystery with the only knowledge likely being that they came from somewhere in Southeast Asia. Kalf’s seashells, like Coorte’s Medlars, lie somehow as though on the cusp of a quickening, or as Grootenboer says, “They do not lie there quietly but threaten to plunge into the depths of the image…”6 Similarly the seashells do not lie quietly but seem to have an aural quality as though onomatopoeia could be made with the eyes when they land on a glistening curve of the shell, in the same way a word can utter the same sound implied in the word’s meaning. The aural quality of the shells is likewise amplified by the knowledge of the sound that arrives to the ear when it is placed to the ear, a sensation that is enhanced in Coorte’s Still Life with Shells (1697) (fig. V).

Figure V. Coorte, Adriaen, Still Life with Seashells, 1697, paper on panel, Noortman Maastricht, Maastricht,

Following the vanitas theme of meticulously rendering nature, Kalf’s seashells can be seen “ … as vanitas images or interpreted in a religious or spiritual context, whereby, for instance, the meticulously painted Medlars celebrate nature as a second Bible … ‘7In Kalf’s seashells, the placement of rough next to smooth shapes could be read as a symbol of the juxtaposition of order and chaos in the universe. The je ne sais quoi of Coorte’s paintings that Grootenboer attempts to define as coming from ‘an unsettling quality that nonetheless fascinated [viewers] and urged them to return to these images time and again.’8 Seashells can be seen as being a similar element in the vanitas oeuvre in general, especially the use of darkness, the meticulous rendering, and the symbol itself which stretches to antiquity as a sign of birth, beauty, mystery, home, as well as the death implied by the loss of the creature who lived in the shell. Kalf’s gaze seems to penetrate through the outlandish surface of the shells into the meaning they hide, as witnessed by the proportions of the shells in relation to the dark background of the painting. The seashells, had they been left in the ocean sediment, would have been part of fossilization, but instead, they were taken (unnaturally?) out of the natural process and preserved in paint instead of sedimentation.

Spinoza famously was condemned in the 17th century for his idea written in his Ethics that the entire universe was a single physically embodied materialism and everything in it was an interconnected aspect of the entirety of the universe. Perhaps the notion was not propagated widely in Holland in the 17th century as Spinoza became synonymous with amoral and atheist, but it was not until after the 19th century that his ideas would become increasingly influential. It is the commentary on nature and origins of the seashell renderings that evokes Spinoza’s writings on God and nature, or God as nature. While Kalf’s seashells may not illustrate Spinoza’s writings, perhaps his writings may have been able to put into words the 17th century fascination with seashells and the vanitas theme in general.

In Karel van Mander’s Schilder-boeck of 1604, the eye’s exploration of the field of the painting provides the first basis for art literature.9In Kalf’s Still Life with Seashells, there is a not only engagement of the eye looking upon the objects, but the luminosity adjustment that the eye must make as the painting is in a very dark color range. Van Mander’s proposed categories for a beautiful picture includes the skill of creating optical engagement through netticheyt, for example, the meticulousness of execution which is especially helpful in compelling the eye to look repeatedly over the surface of the painting.10In Kalf’s paintings, there is an activation of the eye to look beyond the surface of the painting. While the viewer sees upon first look that it is what it is portended to be, a small still life of seashells arranged closely together, Kalf uses the simple composition to invite visual curiosity. It is then that the viewer notices the play of light in the painting’s many reflective surfaces both natural and artificial. In the background of the seashells without the white coral, one can see the gilded frame of an image obscured in darkness. Although at first glance, the image seems to be another painting with the bare composition of forms coming to the surface, upon further looking, one notices that the composition of the forms mirrors the seashell composition in the foreground. This revelation brings a completely new dimension to the painting, namely, a third dimension. In the mollusk shell of the same painting, there can be seen the slight mirror image of a man’s profile, the painter himself, a common self-portrait technique of the era. The man’s profile can be seen showing the left side as he faces towards the source of light, as well as from the front with a hand under the chin—such is the subtle, almost hallucinatory effect of light on a shiny surface that Kalf has mastered. With the mirroring effects of these two surfaces or mirror and shell creating a depth to the painting that is wholly reliant on the abilities of the painter to allow us to see them, the viewer is triangulated into the space. The effect is not unlike a hyper-real excursion to Kalf’s Amsterdam studio. 

Kalf’s paintings portray just what the Dutch were so expert at perfecting during this time, the play of light and shadow on reflective surfaces to create “ … a meta-pictorial discourse … that comments upon representation itself.”11In writing on reflexy-konst, art historian Lisa Pincus turns Van Mander’s term for the study of light and its reflection on different surfaces into a study of obscuring the laws of cause and effect, “diminish[ing] the perception of pictorial depth rendering the image unpredictable and disorienting.”12In Kalf’s reflexy-konst, his ability to imitate nature goes above and beyond. Pincus argues that if reflection is “nature making a picture” then the painter must create an imitation of nature as well as the reflection of nature, revealing through reflection the way in which representation is always a construction told through myriad surface effects.13If the painter can portray the artifice of representation itself through paint, then perhaps the representation of time being absolute is also a construction.

As the Dutch were experts at optical perspective and the revealing of the construction of perspective through paint, it seems plausible that other non-material elements of reality such as time, could also be portrayed in an object. What better subject than the seashell to represent what the invention of the pendulum clock contributed to the illusion that time is absolute and linear. Just as the invention itself came about because of the need for a regular timekeeper in ocean navigation to find the longitude of the earth, further contributing to the global trade that brought seashells back to Holland to be painted. In this case, the impact of time itself seems to create a loop that feeds into its own meaning in an infinite circuitry of epic proportions.

Part of this loop of symbolic meaning wrapped into the seashell is the detailed account of how the pendulum clock was invented by Dutch astronomer Christiaan Huygens (1629–1695) in 1656 based on research by Galileo (1564–1642) into isochronism, the notion that the oscillation of a pendulum’s swing is constant in time, even in the presence of friction14.This style of clock, which was able to tell the most accurate time up to date, would be the standard clock for measuring absolute time for the next 300 years until the invention of the quartz clock and would literally usher in the Industrial Revolution, such was its monumental impact.

In the introduction to Horologium (1658), Huygens elaborates on how his invention was inspired by Galileo, inspiring him to invent a new clock to find a more accurate way of keeping time as existing mechanical clocks varied widely in accuracy.15 Huygens notes that it was Galileo’s astronomical observations based on measuring the eclipses using the increments of a pendulum’s swing that inspired him and incidentally, would keep Huygens occupied for the rest of his life. 16

The invention of the pendulum clock was closely linked to the ongoing effort to determine the longitude at sea, which Huygens and Galileo saw as being only possibly through the perfection of the clock as a navigation instrument.17This was especially important for the Dutch Republic’s global trading network that drove the economy. The perfection of the clock was important for determining the longitude at sea because Galileo’s method was based on the position of the satellites of Jupiter.18His time-dependent understanding of Jupiter’s satellites was also place determined, meaning he needed a superior telescope and a way to tell accurate time at sea. 19

After Huygens’s pendulum clock was made public, there were many philosophers who applied the device to their philosophy, most notably Spinoza. The Dutch philosopher used the clock as an analogy for his idea of the harmony between things including the way in which complex bodies and simple bodies interact, as outlined in his Ethics (1677). 20 According to Buyse, Huygens’s realization that two pendulum clocks sitting next to each other would eventually synchronize may have inspired Spinoza’s philosophy of a synchronistic universe.21 While seashells originate from deep inside the ocean, the mirror opposite of celestial outer space, the fact that astronomers at the time were navigating the ocean using celestial bodies, creates a link between the seashells and contemplation of where man fit into the cosmos. As the scale of the world was changing, our conception of our body in relationship to time and space was also in flux.22

The Long Body


She walked on the beach with the morning sun on her back. She passed women in groups exercising together, people walking dogs, people stretching, people walking themselves. She found a bench under a pier for people to walk on without hindrance over the dense underbrush to the soft sandy part. She sat and wrote with the sun on the right side of her face. In between writing her own passages, she took breaks to read In an Antique Land by Amitav Ghosh.

I have to write to prove that I exist, she wrote. Otherwise, I will disappear completely.

I have to write myself into existence; how else would I know how I arrive in the future, or had arrived in the past?

She made a small calendar on the edge of the paper to see how many more days before she went back to Berlin.

Later that evening, she was having a session on craniosacral therapy by a friend of her mother’s. she would meet her in an upstairs room by the beach for two hours. Her mother had recommended it because she thought something traumatic happened when she was born and that it left residual stress in her body—an explanation for the despondency she sensed in her daughter. Indeed, she had swallowed the meconium in the womb, and exited without breathing, lungs full of liquid, a gulp-full of her own first excrement. The midwife sucked the liquid from a tube.

Tonight, the “axis” at the top of her spine would be reset.

A crow had decided to give evenly timed squawks from a perch on a garbage can to her left. I-I-I-I_I_I-I-I-I-I_I-I-I_ I-I-I_ I-I-I_ I-I-I- I-I-I_ I-I-I_ Was it a Morse code?

I-I-I-I_I_I-I-I-I-I_I-I-I_ I-I-I_ I-I-I_ I-I-I- I-I-I-I_I_I-I-I-I-I_I-I-I_ I-I-I_ I-I-I_ I-I-I

She watched a surfer paddle out to sea ahead to wait for waves. This morning over breakfast, her mom commented on the pancake she had made for her calling it “continuumesque” the way the burn marks made patterns.

I-I-I-I_I_I-I-I-I-I_I-I-I_ I-I-I_ I-I-I_ I-I-I- I-I-I-I_I_I-I-I-I-I_I-I-I_ I-I-I_ I-I-I_ I-I-I

They were there at the beach for her mother’s meditation sessions with a group of friends—they called the sessions, ’dives.’ During the lunch break, she will meet her for a sandwich across the street.

She walked along the beach. Something about seeing her mother appear in the sand and mist of the beach, walking towards her made her feel like she was in a film score—they embraced and she hiccuped a little, with tears. They let go of each other and continued walking the way the mother had come.

So, how was it? ?

We watched videos of microtubules and cells, she said, stepping over dried jellyfish and cigarette butts, and we processed how movement is a recapitulation of gel, soul, and fluid within cells, and within the embryo.

That’s a lot, the daughter said.

Then we started this primordial breathing—a breath that takes us to preverbal, pre-language states. I felt like we were all witches over a cauldron. I looked at one of my schoolteachers and said, I don’t think the education system is ready for this.

What does it sound like? The daughter asked.

Like a pre-guttural gagging, it’s like this:

Then she opened her mouth wide and made a throaty hissing sound like a nest of snakes.

They continued walking. The mother climbed illegally onto some sand dunes to find the house of her friend, and a guy in a lawn chair waved at her to get down.

You could get a fine for that, the daughter said.

They continued walking down the beach and turned left away from the shore and climbed the steps into the street lined with a little bundle of cafes and shops that was the center of the small town—they ate sandwiches at an “Asian fusion” café and drank iced coffee. The mother ate some chips from a bag and was self-conscious about chewing them because she knew how much her chewing made the daughter insane.

Then the mother left for the afternoon session, a session with an eye doctor, who claimed to have a method for getting the eyes to talk to each other.

The daughter walked back across the wooden planks to the beach. A fog had set in creating little foggy black silhouettes out of all the beach walkers—the fog was a fine mist that made her clothes drenched all of a sudden. The tide was receding and suddenly she could only see the dense fog all around her.

She thought of science fiction scenarios. She thought especially of the fog that the oceanic alien creatures from the movie Arrivals swam in during their English lessons. She always thought that had been the best portrayal of creatures from outer space, as some kind of non-bipedal octopus, instead of these large-headed bipedal things. She walked towards the receding tide, getting the hems of her plum-colored pants wet. She started to sing a song to herself about Miranda rights.

She took a shower and scrubbed the bottom of her feet, made a coffee, and sat at the kitchen table with a coffee and listened to Julius Eastman. She was trying to find a way to make her life and her mother’s life come together in a way that would carry them forward, a way to be able to find each other in the fog forever, a way to always know where to find the other—and that always began with closing the eyes and diving.

Sometimes when she met her mother after long absences, it felt like the trauma of her birth was always present. It made their meetings tender, very intense, and always a little sad. The daughter had almost not made it—and now she decided to live very far away.

The daughter looked through her mother’s notes on the kitchen table—the notes were about your “prenatal” experience, asking about the details of birth—if there were complications, if the father was present, if any interventions were made, if you felt you wanted to come…

When the daughter read this last sentence, she knew that that was one of the key reasons why her birth had been so difficult—she was on the fence about coming into this existence.


The daughter had craniosacral therapy. She had never felt like her bones were being spoken to as much. Her face was wet clay being molded into a new alignment; the soft palate of her mouth became a sponge through which she could breathe like a snake. She felt like a star bursting in all directions.

The therapist told her that her limbs were way too flexible and her joints were like jello and that this was making her muscles overcompensate to protect them. The therapist told her there was a link between hyper flexibility and depression. She told her about her frontal occipital lobe having a lot of pressure and built up fluid, either from her birth, a concussion, or some other head trauma. She thought about all the times she had the impulse to grasp her forehead with both hands when deep in frustration. She said it caused hormonal changes in her muscles and that this was what caused depression. The daughter told the therapist that her forehead was where she sent all the frustration and anger she felt … when in the throes of it … the therapist said to try to move it down to her feet and out of her body and ground it into the earth.

The therapist told her that she wanted to follow up with more frontal occipital decompression the following day. The mother picked up the daughter afterwards and they drove home, drank some tea and passed out.

She was conscious throughout sleep of the way she held her body and of how the curve of her neck was adjusting to a new setting. She awoke before she was ready and could not fall back to sleep. She read Ghosh on the couch.

She met her mother on the beach during her lunch break, a very sandy, windy, and not at all very pleasant picnic of cucumber sandwiches and Lacroix in a can. She told the daughter about the morning’s practice with an ophthalmologist and that he guided them in a session on getting your eyes to talk to each other.

Cover one eye and ask the other how old it is and if it is married to the other eye. This experiment was made to see how much the eyes work together or not, and often he said, they’re not. The mother looked glaringly at the daughter’s round green glasses as though she were about to say that she thought eyeglass prescriptions were all bullshit.

The daughter biked that morning to a print shop to print a book of poetry and it had gone terribly; the special characters she had chosen on her computer didn’t transfer to the shop’s printer. The mother and daughter walked the beach to the coffee shop and got iced coffees. She went to the afternoon class on vertigo, while the daughter stayed in the café, reading Ghosh under the billowing palm trees.

After listening to her mother’s stories, and how they all seemed to suggest that the water in the body could be manipulated using sound we make with our mouths, sound began to sound different. Each wave of sound arrived at the ears, whether passing cars, distant restaurant chatting, approaching voices on the sidewalk, tires screeching, cicadas calling, bike gears ticking doors shutting, glasses tinkling, wind picking up in the palm trees, its arrival arrived on a wave to the body. It was reminiscent of the body as having a horizon line that Merleau-Ponty used to so fascinate about her.

Notes from the craniosacral therapist:

Neck decompression pillow with pump to decompress neck

Stretch legs back while keeping abs tucked to create movement that is more inward rather than stretching outward

Tennis balls in socks and move around c1, c2, and c3 vertebrates

Make elongating eeeee sounds to open palette and frontal occipital lobe Epsom salt baths

Pressure points at elbow creases and next to nostrils

No adjustments because my joints are hypermobile

Looking into studies being made on hypermobility and anxiety and depression as a hormonal response to the muscles overcompensating to secure the joints

Ground energy through my legs and feet, away from the head and into the earth 22

After the second follow-up session with the craniosacral therapist, she met her mother for dinner. She should have walked home. The session was intense, she felt like a helmet had been taken off her head and the therapist said a jellyfish had been on her face. She still felt floating all through dinner, her mother kept asking her questions. She stared at her ramen.

The next night the mother and daughter were chatting before bed on the couch and the mother was telling her about a dream she had had. They were walking on a beach and in a puddle of seawater that she first thought was an octopus turned out to be a flat rabbit, like it had been run over. Suddenly, in the dream the rabbit got up and started running. Then the dream scene switched and she was inside a living room in a beautiful house with an entire wall made of glass that looked out into a big open lawn. She was inside and saw the rabbit run into the middle of the lawn where there was a table. At the table were 12 dogs of all different kinds of breeds—very distinguished breeds. It was a replica of The Last Supper. The Dalmatian was Paul, the schnauzer was Peter, etc. when they saw the rabbit, they all became wild dogs growling and drooling at the rabbit suddenly in their midst.

She had the dream the night before they went to see the movie Parasite, and in the film, there was a lawn exactly like the one in her dream.

The mother told the daughter that she was trying to run into the fray and try to save the rabbit but then someone held her back and told her it was the natural order of things and there was nothing she could do about it. The daughter wondered if the rabbit represented herself.

She sat the next morning at the kitchen table, cool in the shade but hot in the sunny spots. The temperature had dropped so suddenly and miraculously compared to the day before that it felt unnatural. She drank coffee and read news from the BBC website. She watched joggers and people pushing baby carriages down the street in front of her, and palm trees dancing in the wind, a bamboo wind catcher played nearby.

She tried to think of things that did make her feel most inside her existence. She thought of certain scenarios like when the inexplicable is presented aesthetically: two time periods meet in one reality: something that wasn’t supposed to be there is: when a break in reality happens: an introduction to an alternative timeline: when two worlds overlap. An alien living on a distant star is wearing baroque dresses and listening to Tupac. An Iranian woman singing in Farsi, a basketball star, singing spacey trip hop.

She wasn’t wearing her glasses anymore, especially not that morning as she walked along the beach, letting her eyes drift into the horizon and feel them stretching out, picking up data naturally, only as much as they could handle, not the extra picked up by the glasses.

She thought about her mother while listening to the Iranian singer. The craniosacral therapist had told her some of the reasons why fluid is built up in the occipital frontal lobe and that often it was birth trauma or concussions. She mentioned the vagus nerve on the conception point on my upper gum—that it could also be from trauma that occurred there. She called it the conception point—the place that the idea of us first came into existence.

She thought about what her mother had said about her conception: that she had met a home birthing specialist at a psychic fair and decided then at age 36 that she wanted to have one more child and that it would be a completely natural home birth. Her first two children had been c-sections 7 and 8 years earlier.

She pressed two points on either side of her nostrils, pressure points the craniosacral therapist had shown her for releasing pressure in the frontal occipital lobe. It made her eyes relax. She thought of a sensation during the craniosacral session of having her head full of air and being at a certain depth within water and suddenly rising to the surface very fast and popping out.

She read about different mythological ideas around conception. What a woman has done to conceive:

Eating a heart in the Sicilian folklore, saint oniria. In a Welsh story, a woman ate a grain of wheat that was the shape-shifting body of an enchanted boy. She becomes pregnant, has the baby and throws it into the ocean, but the baby washes up on the shore and is rescued by a prince and grows up to become the famous Welsh poet Taliesin. In Navajo mythology, the sun impregnates a woman with whom she has a child named Monster Slayer, and later the water impregnates her with whom she has a Water Child. Eating a snowflake, eating a spark, eating a flower, putting an almond on your breast, being showered by gold, stepping on a god’s footstep, and a snake sliding into a uterus.

But let me go back to the conception point: what is the trauma at the conception point in the part on the upper lip. What was happening in late November 1988, around the time that I was conceived?

The first thing that came to her mind was all the things that would happen the next year, big things crumbling down: Tiananmen Square, the Berlin Wall, the disassembly of the Soviet Union.

But aesthetically it was the end of the cyberpunk wave, just before ideas of the future became too real to be considered science fiction. The internet existed but didn’t exist to the mass public yet. She read that France was doing ongoing nuclear testing in the South Pacific, specifically one on November 23rd, 1988, at the Mururoa Atoll. In the US elections, Reagan would be replaced by George H. W. Bush. Events that would have far-reaching consequences.

Coming back to this part of the world was for her a melancholic experience. It was arriving at a place she was always trying to escape. Every time she returned, it was torturous the way things had not changed and bizarre in the few ways that it had. She sat in the kitchen at the table eating blueberries and reading about nuclear tests in the South Pacific in the late ’80s.

She had drawn a symbol of the Egyptian goddess Isis on her hand earlier, while researching the goddess who was a counterpart to Persephone, who she sometimes felt modeled the relationship between herself and her mother.

She pressed on the two pressure points between her eyebrows and suddenly remembered meeting someone—it was a strange déjà vu feeling, like waking up from remembering something very important. In the midst of the pressure from her fingers, she could sense a feeling like a ripple dropping onto still water and reverberating outwards. When the ripples cleared, she was looking out over a landscape. It was a way to time travel inside the body.

She came up with questions she wanted to ask her mother and her friends in order to come up with a new lexicon … how to verbalize the nonverbal … through metaphor, through ekphrasis?

1. What new verbal expressions erupt from experiencing the body in the way that the meditation allows?

2. How does it influence your language?

3. How would you describe it?

4. Are there words to describe it or not?

5. What does language feel like afterwards?

6. Does the voice relate to voicing language in a new way?

7. Does the sound you make with your mouth feel like it is the sound for a new language?

8. Do you have any new words that stand for something you have experienced in a dive, especially one that arrives from a sound?

9. Do you speak a language other than English? If so, are there words that describe that better?

10. Do you believe in language?

11. Do you feel restricted by language?

12. If I told you that nonverbal experiences and efforts of being expressed are how poetry is evolved, would you believe in language?

When the daughter returned to Berlin, she continued conversations with her mother. Her mother often told her that she was the only one she felt like she could tell the strange sensations she experienced during the meditations. She said she was lounging by the open fireplace and breathing with her imagined gills dripping with sweat.

Later, she received a seashell gift and realized the textures told another story: that the presence of time contained inside them was actually an alien life force.

After the meditation teacher’s cyborg fluid injection, her teacher, who had also given her the seashells, began to uncover a lost history.

On the surface, the seashell obsession, especially with young ladies, and because of its association with Venus and therefore beauty, appeared to be based on this wealthy, exotic attraction, but there was an underlying force of attraction in that they had been imbued with the cellular structure of an alien life force.

In the final scene, a giant conch shell is a huge pulsating wet vagina just birthed from the ocean. From it emerges the carcass of a deer and the bones of an elephant.

Back in Berlin, she couldn’t keep track of the days.

Tweets From Amber

The tulip, Fallopian, covers the nodes with its hood, dolloping lightly in suspension, little legs, fuzzy, a shaded bonnet cap. The mood is also the study of the early psychology of a state intimate with primeval natural science. Desire generated by a pattern of behavior.

She has arrived in full color, bejeweled with a tax ID number and driving license, wet hair look from a bottle, an alignment at a time near its first stirrings. Baby blue matching set to carry the glance backwards at us, an expressive palindrome to get us out of a certain mess.

Salome is in the middle of her set, catching a breath by bending backward, rolling onto the pedestal, the veils are globes of light descending without gravity, muscles engaged. Alice wearing her sexiest gown at the other end of town, talking to the Victorian mirror.

The conduit is in the shape of a ring, a pinky ring, a married ring finger. Forget about emancipation in the Imperium Romanum. Dream materials light up the vanity mirror in the dressing room behind the stage. Designing light, far more remote than a magic square.

The intern sat at her desk looking for stock images of “embracing ideas” like a wave gone over her head. The Google image stock photo revealed a woman levitating a light bulb aglow without being attached to a socket, her red ankle-length shirt marking the cryptogram.

The embryonic hymn of human ideas is carried forth by Helios on a laurel leaf, crescent moon and shards of lightning spinning the wheel of time, the wheel of industry, the telling of three or more recurrent periods of time, an early harnessed power of elaboration.

Like the daughter of Herodias, she danced with arms floating in the air, a striptease of light, tossing in an Old World vice, gathering the light for the great descent featured at the World’s fair and invented by Oscar Wilde. The veil is a light beam, revealing a jeweled body, wink wink.

A lullaby singing from the iPhone arriving here from all the way back there. Even the little angels are tuned in. Now all heavenly channels can be harnessed by the breast and long curling locks and pale skin from Greek Antiquity. Listen up, cherubs, to an oriental dance number.

We’ve returned to the parlor scene, the land of no return where, in commemoration, we cannot suffer the labyrinthine filters of translation, even after the way you said good night and turned off the lights have worn away and is beyond recall. The palindrome is everlasting. If you read me horizontally, an optical fiber transmits 76,800 messages at the speed of light. Despite the glare of lanterns, you have not recognized my message among the many limbs removed and boiled for a long time, crystallized bowls, fruits and blood on the tongue.

Your eyes shine. I do not know continents from milky aorta, iliac bones from the mons pubis, lilac from the ribs. In the fingertip pressed against Claude glass, the world is picturesque and a glow, operator nymph with thousands of grains of ruby sand. 

The sun is already high above the plateau. You are spread out like your palms turned toward the sun. Hands like stars. Hair like circuit arteries gradually catching fire. Extending in multiples, like the intended use of the recurrent verse as a passage.

We are lying on a cloth of sand while the Atlantic noon stains the world in light. The heat becomes explosive. It was much the same five years ago, twenty years ago, a century passed. Bobbing about in the mists of Venus, suddenly sinking like a sweet fat grape. Venus is green.

Oiling up the atom blast, we fell through time like a forgotten pitted stone. We let all the creatures loose to live on Venus now that we could see her true colors; someone found the light switch flapping with damp wings on a patch of grass. I have found warm caves in the woods.

I swim far out to sea bearing thousands of seaweeds, enveloping me in a black mass. When I emerge from the water, your white body is spread on the surface of the water, your sea murmurs lightning belling around skin. Light seeks the canals of traces of former orifices.

The letters of Mina Harker unravel from her hands, pearls of letters onto the dusk lying low over Marseilles in the Belle Époque. What wouldn’t Dodie Bellamy say to speak again, to speak again like rain. The phone rings after midnight with a manuscript instead of a kiss.

Is that you Virginia, Martha, Valentine, Sue? I know the new electric corset is making you feel like a battery-operated lollipop (or is it all in your head?) When it rains, you come inside with a damp parasol and turn the switch on the flowers before fainting.

Flame above and electric below, inverting heaven like a palindrome that can be pared down to the center of the earth, which is found through the gaping mouth of the creature which holds up the light fixture: gargoyle crotch of a sprouting demon; gossip of mercury top left.

As though we did not arrive from the island of Sappho with our heads and tails of violets sticking out of the sky and smells of wet grass and leaf-humus and long shudders of lips sliding over cheeks and the haunches of iliac, of lilac bones. Running in leaps and bounds. In another figure, the leaps and bounds retreat into gesticulation and the tremors and convulsions retreat onto the floor in a fetal position with the hammering of fists in excess of adoration and in excess of transformations in a viscera in succession from the grave.

Cell by cell, I spill like a fountain. Hello, is that you great Aunt? The water falls gently, where moisture is not welcome. The medium of storm lightning dials the number slowly and waits. When you place your fingertips against my closed eyes, I see them frenzied.

You run under no current. The ridges of the temples and the shoulder blades of the spine enlarge beneath fingers covered with the globules of enlarged cells thousands of time transgressing the enormous quantities of shining leaping all around the globe.

One can hear the sea, hysterical in her everyday life. Is it any surprise that the history of metaphysics is the history of sound, light, and the voice? Good shampoo, Saussure, and a primitive sign language to talk with in the coffee break room.


On the shell theme, in addition to the dialectics of small and large, the imagination is stimulated by the dialectics of creatures that are free and others that are in fetters: and what can we not expect from those that are unfettered!

To be sure, in real life, a mollusk emerges from its shell indolently, so if we were studying the actual phenomena of snail “behavior,” this behavior would yield to observations with no difficulty. If, however, we were able to recapture absolute naïveté in our observation itself, that is, really to re-experience our initial observation, we should give fresh impetus to the complex of fear and curiosity that accompanies all initial action on the world. We want to see and yet we are afraid to see. This is the perceptible threshold of all knowledge, the threshold upon which interest wavers, falters, then returns. The example at hand for the purpose of indicting the fear and curiosity complex is not a sizable one. Fear of a snail is calmed immediately, it is an old story, it is “insignificant.” But then this study is devoted to insignificant things. Occasionally they reveal strange subtleties. In order to bring them out, I shall place them under the magnifying glass of the imagination.

These undulations of fear and curiosity increase when reality is not there to moderate them, that is, when we are imagining… There is a sign of violence in all these figures in which an overexcited creature emerges from a lifeless shell. Here the artist precipitates his animal daydreams. Since they belong to the same daydreams, we must associate abbreviations of animals that have their heads and tails fastened together—the artist having neglected to show the intermediary parts of their bodies—with these snail shells from which emerge quadrupeds, birds and human beings. To do away with what lies between is, of course, an ideal of speed, and thanks to a sort of acceleration of the imagined vital impulse, the creature that emerges from the ground immediately assumes its physiognomy.

But the obvious dynamism of these extravagant figures lies in the fact that they come alive in the dialectics of what is hidden and what is manifest. A creature that hides and “withdraws into its shell,” is preparing a “way out.” This is true of the entire scale of metaphors, from the resurrection of a man in his grave, to the sudden outburst of one who has long been silent. If we remain at the heart of the image under consideration, we have the impression that, by staying in the motionlessness of its shell, the creature is preparing temporal explosions, not to say whirlwinds, of being. The most dynamic escapes take place in cases of repressed being, and not in the flabby laziness of the lazy creature whose only desire is to go and be lazy elsewhere. If we experience the imaginary paradox of a vigorous mollusk—the engravings in question give us excellent depictions of them—we attain to the most decisive type of aggressiveness, which is postponed aggressiveness, aggressiveness that bides time. Wolves in shells are crueler than stray ones.

Bachelard, G. 1969. The Poetics of Space. Translated by M. Jolas. Boston: Beacon Press. 30


1. Kehoe, “The Nautilus Cup,” 281.

2. Ibid, 283.

3. Ibid.

4. Getty, “Willem Kalf.”

5. Ibid.

6. Grootenboer, “Sublime still life.”

7. Ibid.

8. Ibid.

9. Brusati, “Perspectives in flux,” 909.

10. Ibid.

11. Lisa Pincus, “Painted light,” 149.

12. Ibid.

13. Ibid.

14. Buyse, “Galileo Galilei,” 3.

15. Ibid.

16. Ibid, 4.

17. Ibid, 5.

18. Ibid.

19. Ibid.

20. Ibid, 21.

21. Ibid.

22. Brusati, “Perspectives in flux,” 909.


Brusati, Celeste. “Perspectives in Flux: Viewing Dutch Pictures in Real Time.” Art History. 35, no. 5 (2012): 868-1091.

Buyse, Filip A. A. “Galileo Galilei, Holland and the pendulum clock.” O Que Nos Faz Pensar. 26, no. 41 (2017): 9–43.

Grootenboer, Hanneke. “Sublime Still Life: On Adriaen Coorte, Elias van den Broeck, and the Je ne sais quoi of Painting.” Journal of Historians of Netherlandish Art. 8, no. 2 (2016), DOI: 10.5092/jhna.2016.8.2.10 (December 18, 2018).

J. Paul Getty Trust. Artist page: Willem Kalf. artists/196/willem-kalf-dutch-1619-1693/

Kehoe, Marsely. “The Nautilus Cup Between Foreign and Domestic in the Dutch Golden Age.” Dutch Crossing. 35, no. 3 (2011): 275–285.

Pincus, Lisa. “Painted Light. Artifice and Reflexy-const in the Dutch Seventeenth Century.” Groniek Historisch Tijdschrift.No. 192 (2011): 141–150.

Ce projet a reçu le soutien de l’École Universitaire de Recherche ArTeC portée par la ComUE Université Paris Lumières et du Groupe Stasis