Confession time: I am a rotten collector. I lack focus, I have very little idea of the true value of the things I own, and I’m not a completist. I sort of flit around finding weird stuff and either buying or not-buying it depending on my mood.
One of the things that makes a book beg to be a part of my collection is its presence as an object. How much does it look like I could be reading forbidden knowledge from its pages? Does it have that great, leathery hand-feel? Is there lurid artwork hiding inside? Blame my time poring over copies of the Time Life “Mysteries of the Unknown” series as a kid, but I have Certain Expectations when it comes to admitting new books onto my shelves.
“Le Musee des Supplices” (translation: “The Torture Museum”) by Roland Villeneuve hit me where I lived. A copy popped up during a search for books with material on surrealist painter Clovis Trouille, and I knew–on an absolutely visceral level–that this book had to belong to me. First off, it looks like a grimoire, and everyone who’s ever seen a movie knows that only excellence comes out of books that look like grimoires.
This book delivers on its aesthetic promise with 363 heavily-illustrated pages dealing with the history, application, culture and art or torture. It’s pretty jarring to see images of historical punishments in the same book as ad mats from exploitation films, but that’s just part of this volume’s charm. I don’t read French, but the flow of images suggest that the author takes a great deal of interest in linking the human history of cruelty with depictions of this type of cruelty in art, literature and film. The chapter on martyrs and heretics employs contemporary woodcuts, religious works, and surrealist paintings to illustrate its contents. This is all enough to make me want to learn French, though if my life is proven anything to me, it’s that I’m better at listing things I’d like to learn than at actually… you know… committing to learning things.
Author Roland Villeneuve has written prolifically on various occult and esoteric topics including witchcraft, cannibalism, vampires and werewolves. I’m having trouble sorting out whether he’s a Montague Summers sort of character (a person with a firmly-held if eccentric belief in the supernatural), or cast more from an Ed and Lorraine Warren mold (the self-described “demonologists” from Connecticut, involved in the Amityville Horror situation among many others), or if he’s of a more scholarly bent. Maybe someone with a better handle on the language could take a peek at his intro to “Dissertation sur les vampires” on Google Books and clue the rest of us in as to the tone of his writing.
You know, the more I tell you guys about my book collection, the more I worry I might start to sound like this:
Till next time–“all documented, all true,” pals.