Once Upon A Time – Life: the entry so narrow; the exit so wide as to be everywhere around… the ‘utopias’ of ‘never again,’ Houellebecq on Houellebecq on William Morris: a fairy tale (illustrated by some of the Morris-like works of David Mabb painted by Rajendra Sharma)

– from the painting Blue Engineering Object by David Mabb (2001). Painted by Rajendra Sharma. [here]

People’s voices never change, no more than the expressions in their eyes. Amid the generalised physical collapse that is old age, the voice and the eyes bear painfully indisputable witness to the persistence of character, aspirations, and desires, everything that constitutes a human personality.

– Michel Houellebecq, The Map and the Territory, trans. Gavin Bowd, Heinemann, London, 2011, p. 152

    A few seconds can be enough to decide a life, or at least to reveal its main direction.

    – Ibid., p. 158

    – based on a Photograph by Mikhail Kaufman, David Mabb in William Morris Fruit Suit, photograph by Robin Forster (2002). Painted by Rajendra Sharma. [here]

      ‘It’s the market,’ Pernaut said with a wide, beaming, rancourless smile, going so far as to pat him on the shoulder.

      – Ibid., p. 159

      – from the painting Fruit by David Mabb (2000). Painted by Rajendra Sharma. [here]

        Sexuality is a fragile thing: it is difficult to enter, and easy to leave.

        – Ibid., p. 163

        – from the painting Morris Blue Willow/Popova Untitled by David Mabb (2005). Painted by Rajendra Sharma. [here]

          ‘William Morris, according to all we know about him, was someone quite extraordinary.’

          ‘William Morris didn’t lead a very happy life, according to the usual criteria,’ Houellebecq continued. ‘However, all the accounts show him to be joyful, optimistic, and active. At the age of twenty-three he met Jane Burden, who was eighteen and worked as a painter’s model. He married her two years later, and considered going into painting himself before giving up this idea, not feeling gifted enough – he respected painting above all else. He built a house according to his own plans, in Upton, on the banks of the Thames, and decorated it to live there with his wife and their two young daughters. His wife was, according to all those who met her, a great beauty; but she wasn’t faithful. In particular she had a liaison with Dante Gabriel Rossetti, the head of the Pre-Raphaelite movement. William Morris had a lot of admiration for him as a painter. At the end he came to live with them, and basically supplanted Morris in the conjugal bed. Morris then made the journey to Iceland, learned the language, and started translating the sagas. After a few years he came back, and decided to have it out with them. Rossetti agreed to leave, but something had broken, and never again was there any real carnal intimacy between the couple. He was already involved in several social movements, but he left the Social Democratic Federation, which appeared to him too moderate, to create the Socialist League, which openly defended communist positions, and right until his death he gave all his energy to the communist cause, with countless articles, lectures, and meetings.’

          ‘He wanted to abolish school, thinking that children would learn better in an atmosphere of total freedom; he wanted to abolish prisons, thinking that remorse would be sufficient punishment for the criminal. It’s difficult to read all those absurdities without a mixture of compassion and dismay. And yet, and yet … ‘ Houellebecq hesitated, searching for his words.

          – from the carpet design United Colours of Benetton by David Mabb (2005). Painted by Rajendra Sharma. [here]

          ‘Paradoxically, he had a certain success on the practical level. To put into practice his ideas on the return to artisanal production, very early on he created a firm for decoration and furniture; his employees worked much less than those in the factories of the time, which were nothing other than labour camps, but above all they worked freely and each was responsible for his task from start to finish. The essential principle of William Morris was that design and execution should never be separated, no more than they were in the Middle Ages. According to all the reports, the working conditions were idyllic: well-lit, well-aired workshops on the bank of a river.

          – from the montage Transitional Monument by David Mabb (2004). Painted by Rajendra Sharma. [here]

          All the profits were redistributed to the workers, except a small percentage which served to finance socialist propaganda. Well, against all expectations, success was immediate, including on the commercial level. After carpentery they became interested in jewellery, leatherwork, then stained-glass windows, cloth and tapestries, always with the same success: the firm Morris & Co. was constantly in profit, throughout its existence. This was achieved by none of the workers’ cooperatives that proliferated in the nineteenth century, be they the Fourierist phalansteries or Cabet’s Icarian community: not one of them managed to organise the efficient production of goods and foodstuffs. With the exception of the firm founded by William Morris you can only cite a succession of failures. Not to mention the communist societies that came later …’

          – from the painting Head of a Peasant by David Mabb (2002) based on Kazimir Malevich’s Head of a Peasant. Painted by Rajendra Sharma. [here]

          ‘What can undoubtedly be said is that the model of society proposed by William Morris certainly would not be utopian in a world where all men were like William Morris.’

          – Ibid., pp. 173-175

          – from the carpet design Lietuva by David Mabb (2005). Painted by Rajendra Sharma. [here]

            I was reading Houellebecq speaking through his character Houellebecq when William Morris came up in a completely different context. Adam Curtis, the film-maker responsible for All Watched Over By Machines of Loving Grace, mentions Morris. But where? Is it in reference to Fourier in his blog article “Dream On” [here], or in the second of the Little Atoms audio interviews conducted with Curtis following the release of All Watched Over By Machines of Loving Grace [here]?

            And I am sure William Morris’s name came up a third time, in the same time frame, in connection with Félix Guattari.

            I did find this Independent article by Sheila Rowbotham, however, which, along with having her delightful name to recommend it, contains the excellent phrase: “Both men reach out to the edge beyond what Morris called “Nowhere”.” [here]