Tuesday, July 20, 2021

the last book I ever read (Utopia Parkway: The Life and Work of Joseph Cornell, excerpt nine)

from Utopia Parkway: The Life and Work of Joseph Cornell by Deborah Solomon:

Acquiring a used bicycle from his brother-in-law, Cornell rode it to work, a string bean of a man peddling leisurely through the tree-lined streets of Queens. Some of his most contented moments that year were spent touring different banlieus – his French appellation for the nearby neighborhoods he saw from the seat of his bicycle. A favorite destination was the “house on the hil” in the waterside community of Malba, where he might scout for driftwood or dried grasses for his boxes, and be equally pleased, as he noted in his journals, “by the fantastic aspect of arriving home almost hidden on the vehicle by the loads piled high.” The relics of the natural world – shells, dead wood, dead grass – satisfied his scavenging passions as much as any antique photo or print he picked up in the city.

Bicycle riding, Cornell felt, allowed for a kind of mental voyaging that other forms of movement inhibited. Walking, he noted in his journals, “inevitably produces fatigue, and the inspiration of initial enthusiasms [is] soon lost.” He never learned how to drive a car and cared little for being a passenger: “Riding by car one takes too much for granted, and personal reactions [are] lessened by conversation.” Bicycle riding, by contrast, provided rich opportunities for daydreaming. On most mornings, riding to the nursery, he would arrive downtown before the stores opened, before shoppers filled the streets. These peaceful early-morning hours made Flushing appear suddenly and startlingly unfamiliar, “a dream place,” as he described it.

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