Allen S. Weiss on En Abîme

When En Abîme was published, I sent a few copies of the book to a number of people and put a different postcard inside each copy. The postcards were a secret hint at other layers in the book, images that had been with me while I wrote it, and that had seeped through my thought processes and in the writing in a less evident way. I was so glad to read the response that Allen S. Weiss wrote to my book, and to see that he did see the postcard as part of the reading experience. Allen’s book Breathless: Sound Recording, Disembodiment, and the Transformation of Lyrical Nostalgia (Wesleyan University Press, 2002) is one of my key references for thinking of listening and recording, the making and unmaking of memory. Here are his words on En Abîme:


Two recent trilogies, of very different types, are particularly inspiring in regard to current considerations of the archive: Orhan Pamuk’s The Museum of Innocence, The Museum of Innocence, The Innocence of Objects – an extraordinary trilogy of novel, museum, catalog; and Daniela Cascella’s fascinating En Abîme: Listening, Reading, Writing, described as an “archival fiction,” where the trilogy is internal to the volume: meditative, discursive, nostalgic. I received En Abîme accompanied by the postcard of Salvator Rosa’s Jacob’s Dreams (1665), one of the most famous representations of the biblical passage (Genesis 28: 10-19) recounting Jacob’s Ladder, the dream that the Patriarch experienced after falling asleep during his flight from Esau. Particularly enticing – for the gastronome and wine-lover that I am – is the wine flask that appears at Jacob’s side, perhaps the efficient cause of this most famous of dreams, as I like to think that this is the earliest example of the aesthetics of intoxication, but I am nevertheless wary of anachronism. Vertically, we see the ladder, with the ascent and descent of angels, a fabulous axis mundi that proffers the very heart of the dream, articulating sleep and wakefulness, reverie and thought, immanence and transcendence, exile and homecoming. Horizontally, opposite the celestial ladder appears a wild landscape – more reminiscent of the terrible beauty of the Apennines than of a biblical topography – a paysage moralisé that distinguishes fantasm and nature, nostalgia and utopia, the autobiographical and the historical, the intimate and the political, the promised land of the biblical dream and the actual site of the painter’s awakening to landscape. But it is a most silent painting, despite undertones of the visibly apparent murmurs of the angels’ prayers, the rustling of leaves, and the breath of the wind. The oppositions, contradictions and paradoxes suggested by this painting offer a veritable allegory of En Abîme, a sort of pictorial epigraph. An irresistible impulse in the context of a book on sound would be to evoke Arnold Schoenberg’s Die Jakobsleiter (the unfinished oratorio of 1917-1921), that fascinating moment when the composer moved from free atonality to dodecaphonic music, from the decomposition of an old musical regime to a new sonic world order. This move from silence to sound suggests the necessary supplement to Cascella’s archival fiction, the archiving of those sounds that inspired her words. Where Pamuk has already written an elegy to Museums of Reading and Writing and created a museum thereof, what we now need is a Museum of Listening.

– Allen S. Weiss, February 2013

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