Hanuman Books are sweet strawberries covered in the most delicious creamy chocolate in the feast of literature. They are petite and firm, exotic and very, very sexy little items, guaranteed to add secret glamor and sophisticated depth to even the most shallow of pockets. Yes No, by “dadaist” and painter Francis Picabia, is 47 discerning, midget pages of evanescent aphorisms. Gems of cynicism, melancholy observation and caustic comment worthy of any aspiring, or asp-like, queen’s tiara of wit. The brief messages, warnings and considerations are drawn from his journals and notebooks dating from 1939 through 1957.
“Beauty is relative to the amount of interest it arouses”—Picabia
This is an anthology from the revered lineage that includes the dandyish sublimity of Oscar Wilde; the fastidious camp of Quentin Crisp, or even the more obscure English Edwardians like James Bertram and F. Russell, whose Victorian misogyny and skepticism were illustrated more exquisitely than the “corpse” itself by Austin Osman Spare in The Starlit Mire. Yes, aphorisms are a justly grand tradition of which one can only approve, given that one is a reasonable person. And—in this age of advertising slogans and soundbites, bumper stickers and designer corporate logos as street fashion—a reminder of the priceless art of word games, the contradiction, collision and collusion in fresh revelation “to see what they really say,” as Brion Gysin so prophetically indicated in his cut-ups.
“Art is the cult of error”—Picabia
We are to savor the menu of resident connoisseur Picabia’s palette of human tinctures and emotional flavors. As you have rightly guessed, dear reader, all is artifice, contrivance, and bouquet.
“Serious people have a slight odor of carrion”—Picabia
Yes No is sublime evidence for one of the essential conclusions of any intelligent 20th century culture: that “art” has been distilled repeatedly and thoroughly until it may quite rightly be perceived and defined as an attitude of and to Life (yes, complete with an “if” right there in the middle).
“Many artists devote their time to their painting, I ask myself why are these people so fond of bad company?”—Picabia
There are strong arguments to suggest that “art” is merely an expression of a neurosis given space in our personae by the luxury of free time thanks to the advent of tools, technology and overt or covert economic systems of slavery and privilege. “Art” has no biological source, no survival imperative. What was once a “craft” for making functional and magical “things” is now a dubious and unnecessary postexistentialist requirement of taste. Nothing more than that. Just an obsolete but amusing symbol of a fantasy of neurological superiority.
“Art is a pharmaceutical product for idiots.”—Picabia
By the way, don’t worry if the word “art” never enters your vocabulary! This simply means that you are extremely culturally healthy, and/or blissfully and justifiably elsewhere. So, at that next soiree, or opening, or dreadfully dull social occasion, nip into the bathroom, sneak out your well-worn copy of Yes No and just try substituting any old power word or enemy’s name for that tired old word “art” and you will be surprised at the good time you shall have. GPO
Paperback: 57 pages