Mise en abyme


This is a set of Matryoshka dolls, or Russian nesting dolls, I bought recently at the craft fair in Galway (they are from Minsk). I’ve always wanted at least one set, because there is something about the self-similarity aspect of the dolls that appeal to me a great deal.

I was introduced to the concept of fractals by Martin, quite soon after we met. Martin was an engineering student at the time, and loved the elegance of fractal mathematics and the Mandelbrot set in particular. When I saw the recursive patterns printed as images it immediately reminded me of the artwork by M.C. Escher. When I was a kid a book of Escher’s drawings was regularly on loan from the library in our house. I now own the same copy, and look at Escher’s lithographs often.

Mise en abyme (or Mise-en-abîme) is a term that means “placing into infinity” or “placing into the abyss”. It’s used in the visual arts and creative writing field to describe when an image contains a smaller copy of itself. In literature it can describe Chinese-box stories, or when central concepts or images are replicated within the text.

A master of this kind of work was Jorge Luis Borges. I love his meticulous prose, his fantastical themes and imagery. If you enjoy short stories it would be a crime not to read some of his work.

Of course I have read Borges translated: his words filtered through another person to fizz another tongue.

Blogging is a kind of popular meta-fiction: writing pieces about your life and experiences for a wider audience while being aware of the reader’s observation, and often courting commentary upon the work. it’s outwardly a confessional, yet the audience is never aware if it is facts, fiction, or a hybrid of both.

A degree of trust evolves between the blogger and the reader and on some level the reader decides, arbitrarily if s/he believes the blogger.

These are words put together in a form to please the reader. Selection, editing and adjustment occur all the time. Just as we magnify or occult events when retelling a story around the water cooler to entertain our peers.

Did I ever borrow an Escher book from the library when I was a child?

Пять is five in Russian, a web site tells me. I check the reference and it appears correct. I trust it.

Have I ever read a Borges story?

I’m fascinated by the simplification of design on the Matryoshka dolls. It’s an artifact of the limitation of space as the dolls diminish in size.

Do I know what is memory and what is invention?

The littlest doll’s eyes are black blobs with no ‘glint’ drawn on them. They are the abyss.

I’m blind in my right eye. It has no glint either.

Do you believe me?

I pick up the smallest Matryoshka doll, the core within its sisters, the whole, unbroken piece. I lid my dead eye and look at its pupiless dots.

What do I see with one eye?

Light enters the eye, passes through the cornea, pupil and lens, and an inverted image is projected onto the retina. Photoreceptive cells send neural impulses to the primary and secondary visual cortex of the brain, which translates what I see. I trust my translator.

Even if it translates half.

Doll-zero smiles at me with painted-on cheer.

The light in my office glints off its right eye. The other is flat.

Seeing Escher


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