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BLAISE CENDRARS, CA. 1907, PHOTOGRAPH BY AUGUST MONBARON.
This week at The Paris Review, we’re looking in the mirror. Read on for Blaise Cendrars’s Art of Fiction interview, Shruti Swami’s short story “A House Is a Body,” Sharon Olds’s poem “I Cannot Forget the Woman in the Mirror,” and Melissa Febos’s essay “The Mirror Test,” paired with a selection of photographs by Francesca Woodman.
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Blaise Cendrars, The Art of Fiction No. 38
Issue no. 37 (Spring 1966)
A writer should never install himself before a panorama, however grandiose it may be. Like Saint Jerome, a writer should work in his cell. Turn the back. Writing is a view of the spirit. “The world is my representation.” Humanity lives in its fiction. This is why a conqueror always wants to transform the face of the world into his image. Today, I even veil the mirrors.
UNTITLED, 1975-6, BLACK-AND-WHITE PHOTOGRAPH, 4 ¾” X 4 ¾”.
A House Is a Body
By Shruti Swamy
Issue no. 225 (Summer 2018)
She stood in front of the mirror. He had changed her, she wanted to see it. Her features were the same, but they had a different meaning now, she looked older and sour, and she saw the lines on either side of her mouth and traced them with her finger. The lines of her mother, her mother’s sourness. Oh God. And then she turned away from the mirror with a clenching, a balling up, for once her tears began to form she would not be able to stop them, for days she would live in a red and swollen mind, stuffed up as if by cold, eyes leaking in betrayal.
SELF DECEIT #1, 1978, BLACK-AND-WHITE PHOTOGRAPH, 3 ½” X 3½”. FROM THE SERIES “SELF DECEIT,” 1978.
I Cannot Forget the Woman in the Mirror
By Sharon Olds
Issue no. 96 (Summer 1985)
Backwards and upside down in the twilight, that
woman on all fours, her head
dangling and suffused, her lean
haunches, the area of darkness, the flanks and
ass narrow and pale as a deer’s and those
breasts hanging down toward the center of the earth like plummets, when I
swayed from side to side they swayed, it was
so dark I couldn’t tell if they were gold or
plum or rose …
SELF DECEIT #2, 1978, BLACK-AND-WHITE PHOTOGRAPH, 3 ½” X 3 ⅝”. FROM THE SERIES “SELF DECEIT,” 1978.
The Mirror Test
By Melissa Febos
Issue no. 235 (Winter 2020)
Here’s the thing: they were calling me a slut before they ever said the word, before I let any boy touch me. They saw the mark on me and though I didn’t see it, I came to believe it was there. People can be mirrors, too. With hindsight, I understand the instinctive shame girls feel at this kind of treatment. The story of us has been revised to include the thing that warrants humiliation. Even when we know it’s not true, or at least not right, a part of us believes it. We are not ashamed of being humiliated, but of what we have become. To tell my mother that they called me a slut would have been to reveal that I was one.
SELF DECEIT #7, 1978, BLACK-AND-WHITE PHOTOGRAPH, 3 ⅝” X 3 ⅝”. FROM THE SERIES “SELF DECEIT,” 1978.
By Francesca Woodman
Issue no. 208 (Spring 2014)
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