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Wednesday, November 07, 2007

A Sendak Riddle?

In advance of the May 2008 opening of There’s a Mystery There: Sendak on Sendak—the Rosenbach’s very large exhibition of the work of Maurice Sendak—I thought it might be fun to get the ball rolling on this blog and provide a few sneak peeks of the exhibit while also opening up discussion of Sendak’s work. What better way to begin than with a riddle, a mystery? So here’s a question to ponder:

Which of Maurice Sendak’s well-known books resembles treatises on alchemy?

Not well-read on your late-Renaissance alchemical manifestos? You don’t need to be. Perhaps you can picture the overly-mythologized alchemist’s laboratory—bearded men mixing pastes and potions amid bubbling chemicals in alembics and glass beakers, trying to create the Philosopher’s Stone, or at the very least turn base matter into gold. The stuff of legend, referenced in Harry Potter, Dan Brown and his ilk, and in so many other modern myths. If anyone has read John Cech’s monograph Angels and Wild Things: The Archetypal Poetics of Maurice Sendak (Penn State University Press, 1995), you’ll know that Cech draws parallels between alchemical imagery on the one hand and on the deeply rooted intellectual and cultural traditions referenced—perhaps only unconsciously—in Sendak’s work. My aim is not to foment conspiracy theories around Sendak’s pictures or his intentions behind them, but to kick off a discussion of how to read and source his layered imagery within a variety of traditions. Any guesses?