03 September 2011

From Pablo Picasso: Epigraph 3.2 - That Worrisome Picnic

Since this is, in the U.S., a weekend for picnics--and since we all take our inspiration where we can--I thought this might be a good time to return to talking about the epigraphs that introduce sections of A Kiss Before You Leave Me and to focus on the one that refers to the real-life painting that anticipates (and perhaps triggers) so much in the plot of the novel.

Edouard Manet, 'Le déjeuner sur l'herbe' (1862-63)
The epigraph is surprisingly innocent, in part perhaps precisely because it warns rather than reassures. Its import is approximately: When I, Pablo Picasso, look at Manet's 'Luncheon on the Grass', I know that it will spell trouble for me down the road. This is the sense in which Picasso's French sentence is usually translated, and it is (correctly, I believe) taken as an admission by the Picasso of the 1930s of a certain 'anxiety of influence' that he would not resolve until he did his own (very Picasso-esque versions of) 'Luncheon on the Grass' decades later. When I was translating the sentence for use as an epigraph in my novel, I granted myself the translator's license of rendering Picasso's intuition more general, so that it could also apply to dangers awaiting (a) Manet and his famous model Victorine Meurent and (b) the fictitious artists and models in A Kiss Before You Leave Me who, like Picasso, go on picnics (in the 1920s and in the present, respectively) that are inspired by Manet's but take different turns. So the epigraph reads, 'When I see "Luncheon on the Grass", I think: there are trials and tribulations still to come.'

Today, I googled 'CMNF' and got 2 million hits. This may not prove unequivocally that images of clothed males with naked females are no longer taboo--but it does indicate a major shift since 1863, when Manet's painting was refused by the Paris Salon. It was one of the most controversial paintings of the 19th century--and is of course today considered one of the greatest.

I find myself in the familiar situation of being unable to spell out the connections between Manet's painting and my novel without giving away far too much. But let me note, just in passing, in addition to what I've said here and what is repeated everywhere about the painting, that (a) the group of figures in the foreground is a threesome and (b) there is a fourth figure in the background, whom we neglect at our peril.

Now! Enjoy your picnic!

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