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Manual of Painting and Calligraphy


Manual of Painting and Calligraphy Cover




On revient de loin. La formation bourgeoise,

lorgueil intellectuel.

La nécessité de se réviser à tout moment.

Les liens qui subsistent.

La sentimentalité.

Lempoisonnement de la culture orientée.

— Paul Vaillant-Couturier

I shall go on painting the second picture but I know it will never be finished. I have tried without success and there is no clearer proof of my failure and frustration than this sheet of paper on which I am starting to write. Sooner or later I shall move from the first picture to the second and then turn to my writing, or I shall skip the intermediate stage or stop in the middle of a word to apply another brushstroke to the portrait commissioned by S. or to that other portrait alongside it which S. will never see. When that day comes I shall know no more than I know today (namely, that both pictures are worthless). But I shall be able to decide whether I was right to allow myself to be tempted by a form of expression which is not mine, although this same temptation may mean in the end that the form of expression I have been using as carefully as if I were following the fixed rules of some manual was not mine either. For the moment I prefer not to think about what I shall do if this writing comes to nothing; if, from now on, my white canvases and blank sheets of paper become a world orbiting thousands of light-years away where I shall not be able to leave the slightest trace. If, in a word, it was dishonest to pick up a brush or pen or if, once more in a word (the first time I did not succeed), I must deny myself the right to communicate or express myself, because I shall have tried and failed and there will be no further opportunities.

   My clients appreciate me as a painter. No one else. The critics used to say (during the brief period many years ago when they still discussed my work) that I am at least fifty years behind the times, which, strictly speaking, means that I am in that larval state between conception and birth: a fragile and precarious human hypothesis, a bitter and ironic interrogation as to what awaits me. “Unborn.” I have sometimes paused to reflect on this situation, which, transitory for most people, has become definitive in my case, and to my surprise I find it painful yet stimulating and agreeable, the blade of a knife one handles cautiously while the thrill of this challenge makes us press the living flesh of our fingers against the certainty of that cutting edge. This is what I vaguely feel (without either blade or living flesh) when I start on a new picture. The smooth white canvas waiting to be prepared, a birth certificate to be filled in, where I (the clerk of a civil register without archives) believe I can write in new dates and different relationships which might spare me once and for all, or at least for an hour, this incongruity of not being born. I wet my brush and bring it close to the canvas, torn between the reassuring rules learned from the manual and my hesitation as to what I shall choose in order to be. Then, certainly confused, firmly trapped in the condition of being who I am (not being) for so many years, I apply the first brushstroke, and at that very moment I am incriminated in my own eyes. As in that celebrated drawing by Brueghel (Pieter), there appears behind me a profile carved out with a cutting tool, and I can hear a voice telling me once more that I am not yet born. Thinking it over carefully, I am honest enough to dispense with the opinions of critics, experts and connoisseurs. As I meticulously transpose the proportions of the model onto the canvas, I can hear an inner voice insisting that painting bears no relationship whatsoever to what I am doing. As I change my brush and take two steps backward in order to focus more clearly and work out the distinctive features of this face I am about “to portray,” I reply inwardly, “I know,” and carry on reconstituting an indispensable blue, some landscape or other, white strokes to provide the light I shall never be able to capture. None of this gives me any satisfaction, because I am merely observing the rules, protected by the indifference which critics have used like a cordon sanitaire to isolate me; protected, too, by the oblivion into which I have gradually fallen, and because I know that this picture will never be exhibited in any gallery. It will pass directly from the easel into the hands of the buyer, for this is how I do business, by playing safe and demanding payment in cash. There is no lack of work. I paint the portraits of people who have enough self-esteem to commission them and hang them in the foyer, office, lounge or boardroom. I can guarantee durability; I do not guarantee art, nor do they ask for it even if I were able to oblige. A flattering resemblance is as much as they expect. And since we are in agreement here, no one is disappointed. But what I am doing cannot be called painting.

   Yet, prepared as I am to confess to these deficiencies, I have always known that no portrait is ever faithful. I would go further: I have always thought myself capable (a secondary symptom of schizophrenia) of painting a true portrait but always forced myself to remain silent (or assumed that I was forcing myself to remain silent, thus deluding myself and becoming an accomplice) before the defenseless model who patiently sat there, feeling nervous or pretending to be relaxed, certain only of the money he would pay me but foolishly intimidated by the invisible forces which slowly swirled between the surface of the canvas and my eyes. I alone knew that the picture was already finished before the first sitting and that my task would be to conceal what could not be shown. As for the eyes, they were blind. The painter and his model always look terrified and ridiculous when confronted with a white canvas, the one because he is frightened of being incriminated, the other because he knows himself incapable of making any accusation, or, worse still, tells himself — with the presumption of the castrated demiurge who boasts of his virility — that he will refrain from doing so only out of indifference or compassion for the model.

   There are moments when I manage to persuade myself that I am the only portrait painter left and that once I am gone no one will waste any more time on tiresome sittings or trying in vain to achieve some resemblance when photography, which has now become an art form by means of filters and emulsions, seems to be much more successful at penetrating the surface and revealing the first inner layer of a human being. It amuses me to think that I am pursuing an extinct art, thanks to which, because of my fallibility, people believe they can capture a somewhat pleasing image of themselves, organized in terms of certainty, of an eternity which does not only begin when the portrait is finished but was there before, forever, like something that has always existed simply because it exists now, an eternity counted back to zero. In fact, if the client were able or willing to analyze the viscous and amorphous density of his emotions and then find ordinary words to clarify his thoughts and actions, we would know that for the sitter it is as if that portrait of him had always existed, another him, truer than his former self because the latter is no longer visible, whereas the portrait is. This explains why clients are often anxious to resemble the portrait, if it has captured them at a moment when they like and accept themselves. The painter exists to capture that fleeting glance, the sitter lives for that moment which will be the one and only pillar of support for the two branches of an eternity which is forever passing and which human folly (Erasmus) sometimes believes it can mark with the tiniest of knots, an outgrowth capable of scratching this gigantic finger with which time obliterates all traces. I repeat that the best portraits give the impression of always having existed, even though my common sense may tell me, as it is telling me even now, that The Man with Gray Eyes (Titian) is inseparable from that Titian who painted the portrait at a given moment in his own lifetime. For if there is something which participates in eternity at this moment, it is the picture rather than the painter.


Product Details

Saramago, Jose
Mariner Books
Costa, Margaret Jull
Saramago, Jos
Calvino, Italo
Pontiero, Giovanni
McLaughlin, Martin
Literature-A to Z
Edition Description:
Trade Paper
Publication Date:
8.25 x 5.5 in 1 lb

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Manual of Painting and Calligraphy Used Trade Paper
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Product details 256 pages Mariner Books - English 9780547640228 Reviews:
"Publishers Weekly Review" by , "After publication of the late Nobel Prize winner's final novel, Cain, along comes the first English-language translation of his first book. The first-person narrative centers on H., a disgruntled artist who paints flattering yet vapid portraits for wealthy clients while living in 1970s Portugal. H. has a circle of friends that he rarely sees, and midway through the book, his girlfriend breaks up with him. Increasingly alienated and dissatisfied with his painting, H. turns to writing. While he claims that 'life is extremely simple,' H. tends to overthink things and sees himself in everything. The question becomes, will H. find a way to reconcile his art, writing, and philosophy with his relationship to people? Themes that flourish in Saramago's later work — including leftist politics and alternative histories of Christianity — are also present in H.'s diatribes. Saramago's novel succeeds as a meditation on the writing process and a philosophical look at fiction and reality — for Saramago devotees, this is an insightful and meaningful work. Agent: Nicole Witt, Literarische Agentur Mertin." Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
"Synopsis" by , An early example of Saramago's mastery, this novel takes us into the last days of Salazar's dictatorship when a second-rate artist is commissioned by a wealthy client to paint a portrait and the political and intellectual struggles that ensue.
"Synopsis" by ,
Appearing here in its first English translation, Into the War contains three stories drawing on Italo Calvino's memories of the Second World War in Italy.
"Synopsis" by ,
The tale of an elephant named Solomon who travels through sixteenth century Europe, from Lisbon to Vienna.
"Synopsis" by , A delightful, witty tale of friendship and adventure from prize-winning novelist José Saramago


In 1551, King João III of Portugal gave Archduke Maximilian an unusual wedding present: an elephant named Solomon. In José Saramago's remarkable and imaginative retelling, Solomon and his keeper, Subhro, begin in dismal conditions, forgotten in a corner of the palace grounds. When it occurs to the king and queen that an elephant would be an appropriate wedding gift, everyone rushes to get them ready: Subhro is given two new suits of clothes and Solomon a long overdue scrub. Accompanied by the Archduke, his new wife, and the royal guard, these unlikely heroes traverse a continent riven by the Reformation and civil wars, witnessed along the way by scholars, historians, and wide-eyed ordinary people as they make their way through the storied cities of northern Italy; they brave the Alps and the terrifying Isarco and Brenner Passes; across the Mediterranean Sea and up the Inn River; and at last, toward their grand entry into the imperial city.

"Synopsis" by ,
“This book deals both with a transition from adolescence into youth and with a move from peace to war: as for very many other people, for the protagonist of this book ‘entry into life’ and ‘entry into war’ coincide.” — from the Author’s Note

These three stories, set during the summer of 1940, draw on Italo Calvino’s memories of his own adolescence during the Second World War, too young to be forced to fight in Mussolini’s army but old enough to be conscripted into the Italian youth brigades. The callow narrator of these tales observes the mounting unease of a city girding itself for war, the looting of an occupied French town, and nighttime revels during a blackout. Appearing here in its first English translation, Into the War is one of Calvino’s only works of autobiographical fiction. It offers both a glimpse of this writer’s extraordinary life and a distilled dram of his wry, ingenious literary voice.

“All three stories attest to the potentially magical, transformative space of adolescence . . . The seeds of the later Calvino — the fabulist who worked profound moral and ethical points into his narratives — are all here.” — Joseph Luzzi, Times Literary Supplement

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