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To what extent is it helpful to consider 'La Machine Infernale' as a surrealist work of art? Illustrate your essay with specific examples.

<p>Many critics have stated the relationship between Jean Cocteau and artists of surrealist works, such as Pablo Picasso, as having a direct influence on his work. Patrick Mauriès (1998) states that Cocteau was &lsquo;evidently influenced by Picasso, juggling with Surrealist notions of the <em>objet trouvé,</em>&rsquo; (p18) However, Cocteau himself, in the introduction to his autobiographical work <em>Portraits-Souvenir</em> (1935) is at pains to point out that &lsquo;What is the point of telling a story that does not carry within itself the inimitable weight of truth?&rsquo; (p14). Whilst it is undoubtedly true that there are surrealist elements contained within <em>La Machine Infernale</em>, particularly with regard to the Second Act, where Oedipe meets the Sphinx, whom he is later to kill, it is untrue that the entire work can be seen as such.</p>
<p>In surrealist art, the physical shapes and colours that one sees with one&rsquo;s eyes are less important than what the artist perceives to be there and blindness, both physical and figurative, features very strongly in <em>La Machine Infernale</em>. From Act I, where Jocaste and Tirésias stumble towards the location of the two soldiers and before the two characters even make an entrance, Jocaste&rsquo;s voice can be heard to say &lsquo;On n&rsquo;y voit rien! Où sommes-nous?&rsquo; (p39). Tirésias himself replies &lsquo;Je suis presque aveugle&rsquo; (p40). When the ghost of Laïus appears, it is the only the audience who can see him in the presence of Jocaste and Tirésias and only when these exit does the apparition become visible to the young soldier who observed him in the first place. Although Jocaste professes a desire to see her husband once again, &lsquo;Je sens, là… que Laïus souffre et qu&rsquo;il veut se plaindre,&rsquo; (p43) it is only those who do not have such a strong emotional connection with Laïus to whom the ghost can appear. Indeed, this scene, which may have been an opportunity for a degree of pathos if there had been a face-to-face meeting between Jocaste and the deceased Laïus, turns into one of frustration and irony. Nothing is quite what it seems, dressed up behind the slightly comic activities of the soldiers, their boss and the rather bumbling, and physically visually impaired, Tirésias. If the first act contains surrealist elements, then those within the second act are even more pronounced. </p>
<p>The mythical nature of the Sphinx, being not from even Ancient Greek, but Egyptian mythology, is exploited by Cocteau to impressive effect in Act II, and the prevailing theme of blindness continues. Mauriès (1998) speaks of Cocteau&rsquo;s friend Christian Bérard decorating the walls of an apartment that he owned in 1932, &lsquo;with an image of the symbolic encounter of Oedipus and the Sphinx&rsquo; (p10). This appears to cement the scene as being one of the most important which Cocteau ever depicted, going as far as he did to change the décor of his house in order to represent it, and it is certainly a turning point for Oedipus, who subsequently marries his own mother. At this point that Oedipe appears to be a somewhat immature character, &lsquo;Je rêvais de gloire&rsquo; (p75), who wishes to ignore what he has been told by the Oracle at Delphi &lsquo;&lt;&lt;Tu assassineras ton père et tu épouseras ta mere&gt;&gt;&rsquo; (p76). Even when the Sphinx confronts him with the reality of what may be if the prophecy is entirely fulfilled, &lsquo;Une femme qui pourrait être votre mere!&rsquo; (p75), Oedipe appears unconcerned. Here, at the crux of the play, is what Mauriès (1998) calls:</p>
<p>&lsquo;A tragedy of unknowingness, focusing on the tension between the knowing and the desire not to know, the apprehension of a fundamental misapprehension - the &lsquo;unconscious&rsquo; blindness of the mother matched by the deliberate blindness of the son.&rsquo; (p10)</p>
<p> It seems, then, as if Oedipe&rsquo;s blindness is self-inflicted, and he wishes to ignore his horrific situation. The sphinx, prompted by Anubis, would be able to save Oedipe from the fulfillment of the prophecy, but chooses not to. Oedipe may see her as a &lsquo;jeune femme&rsquo; (p74), but she sees herself as a monster against the nineteen year old boy, &lsquo;Je suis un monster!... Pauvre gamin… si je l&rsquo;effraye…&rsquo; (p92). <br />
  In amongst the very real themes of parricide, incest and human fallibility, there are the surreal elements of the Sphinx having conversations about children with the Matrone and the ancient gods being able to influence events (in this case, Anubis). It also becomes apparent within the next two acts that Oedipe is very much still a child and this is depicted in the marriage chamber in Act III, and the revelation to Oedipe. on pages 134-5 that Jocaste is actually his mother. However, Tirésias is still &lsquo;aveugle&rsquo; (p134). The story itself may be mythical, and it is far removed from the 1930s environment within which the play was written, but it still seems to have relevance and pertinence for a modern audience.</p>
<p><em>La Machine Infernale</em> contains some very powerful themes and imagery. The sphinx according to Mauriès (1998), is &lsquo;like some ultimate allegory of knowledge in ignorance, clearsightedness in blindness, one of Cocteau&rsquo;s obsessional themes&rsquo; (p10). These paradoxes can be seen as somewhat surreal elements, for indeed, the play cannot be taken at face value. The image and actions of the sphinx, the Laïus&rsquo; ghost and even Oedipe himself, seem to be far removed from reality. However, within this modern interpretation of a Greek tragedy lie elements of genuine poignancy which reveal much about the human condition, our choice to ignore disaster which can be prevented and the horrific consequences of murder and incest. The reality of such themes cannot be ignored, but in <em>La Machine Infernale</em> they are presented to the audience in such a way as to make their impact seem simultaneously distant and close to home. As R.K. Totton (1972) points out in the introduction to his critical edition of <em>Les Parents Terribles</em>, Cocteau&rsquo;s work can be seen as &lsquo;close to Sartre&rsquo;s existentialist concept&rsquo;. It is thus not helpful to take <em>La Machine Infernale</em> as an entirely surrealist work of art.</p>

<p>Many critics have stated the relationship between Jean Cocteau and artists of surrealist works, such as Pablo Picasso, as having a direct influence on his work. Patrick Mauriès (1998) states that Cocteau was &lsquo;evidently influenced by Picasso, juggling with Surrealist notions of the <em>objet trouvé,</em>&rsquo; (p18) However, Cocteau himself, in the introduction to his autobiographical work <em>Portraits-Souvenir</em> (1935) is at pains to point out that &lsquo;What is the point of telling a story that does not carry within itself the inimitable weight of truth?&rsquo; (p14). Whilst it is undoubtedly true that there are surrealist elements contained within <em>La Machine Infernale</em>, particularly with regard to the Second Act, where Oedipe meets the Sphinx, whom he is later to kill, it is untrue that the entire work can be seen as such.</p>
<p>In surrealist art, the physical shapes and colours that one sees with one&rsquo;s eyes are less important than what the artist perceives to be there and blindness, both physical and figurative, features very strongly in <em>La Machine Infernale</em>. From Act I, where Jocaste and Tirésias stumble towards the location of the two soldiers and before the two characters even make an entrance, Jocaste&rsquo;s voice can be heard to say &lsquo;On n&rsquo;y voit rien! Où sommes-nous?&rsquo; (p39). Tirésias himself replies &lsquo;Je suis presque aveugle&rsquo; (p40). When the ghost of Laïus appears, it is the only the audience who can see him in the presence of Jocaste and Tirésias and only when these exit does the apparition become visible to the young soldier who observed him in the first place. Although Jocaste professes a desire to see her husband once again, &lsquo;Je sens, là… que Laïus souffre et qu&rsquo;il veut se plaindre,&rsquo; (p43) it is only those who do not have such a strong emotional connection with Laïus to whom the ghost can appear. Indeed, this scene, which may have been an opportunity for a degree of pathos if there had been a face-to-face meeting between Jocaste and the deceased Laïus, turns into one of frustration and irony. Nothing is quite what it seems, dressed up behind the slightly comic activities of the soldiers, their boss and the rather bumbling, and physically visually impaired, Tirésias. If the first act contains surrealist elements, then those within the second act are even more pronounced. </p>
<p>The mythical nature of the Sphinx, being not from even Ancient Greek, but Egyptian mythology, is exploited by Cocteau to impressive effect in Act II, and the prevailing theme of blindness continues. Mauriès (1998) speaks of Cocteau&rsquo;s friend Christian Bérard decorating the walls of an apartment that he owned in 1932, &lsquo;with an image of the symbolic encounter of Oedipus and the Sphinx&rsquo; (p10). This appears to cement the scene as being one of the most important which Cocteau ever depicted, going as far as he did to change the décor of his house in order to represent it, and it is certainly a turning point for Oedipus, who subsequently marries his own mother. At this point that Oedipe appears to be a somewhat immature character, &lsquo;Je rêvais de gloire&rsquo; (p75), who wishes to ignore what he has been told by the Oracle at Delphi &lsquo;&lt;&lt;Tu assassineras ton père et tu épouseras ta mere&gt;&gt;&rsquo; (p76). Even when the Sphinx confronts him with the reality of what may be if the prophecy is entirely fulfilled, &lsquo;Une femme qui pourrait être votre mere!&rsquo; (p75), Oedipe appears unconcerned. Here, at the crux of the play, is what Mauriès (1998) calls:</p>
<p>&lsquo;A tragedy of unknowingness, focusing on the tension between the knowing and the desire not to know, the apprehension of a fundamental misapprehension - the &lsquo;unconscious&rsquo; blindness of the mother matched by the deliberate blindness of the son.&rsquo; (p10)</p>
<p> It seems, then, as if Oedipe&rsquo;s blindness is self-inflicted, and he wishes to ignore his horrific situation. The sphinx, prompted by Anubis, would be able to save Oedipe from the fulfillment of the prophecy, but chooses not to. Oedipe may see her as a &lsquo;jeune femme&rsquo; (p74), but she sees herself as a monster against the nineteen year old boy, &lsquo;Je suis un monster!... Pauvre gamin… si je l&rsquo;effraye…&rsquo; (p92). <br />
  In amongst the very real themes of parricide, incest and human fallibility, there are the surreal elements of the Sphinx having conversations about children with the Matrone and the ancient gods being able to influence events (in this case, Anubis). It also becomes apparent within the next two acts that Oedipe is very much still a child and this is depicted in the marriage chamber in Act III, and the revelation to Oedipe. on pages 134-5 that Jocaste is actually his mother. However, Tirésias is still &lsquo;aveugle&rsquo; (p134). The story itself may be mythical, and it is far removed from the 1930s environment within which the play was written, but it still seems to have relevance and pertinence for a modern audience.</p>
<p><em>La Machine Infernale</em> contains some very powerful themes and imagery. The sphinx according to Mauriès (1998), is &lsquo;like some ultimate allegory of knowledge in ignorance, clearsightedness in blindness, one of Cocteau&rsquo;s obsessional themes&rsquo; (p10). These paradoxes can be seen as somewhat surreal elements, for indeed, the play cannot be taken at face value. The image and actions of the sphinx, the Laïus&rsquo; ghost and even Oedipe himself, seem to be far removed from reality. However, within this modern interpretation of a Greek tragedy lie elements of genuine poignancy which reveal much about the human condition, our choice to ignore disaster which can be prevented and the horrific consequences of murder and incest. The reality of such themes cannot be ignored, but in <em>La Machine Infernale</em> they are presented to the audience in such a way as to make their impact seem simultaneously distant and close to home. As R.K. Totton (1972) points out in the introduction to his critical edition of <em>Les Parents Terribles</em>, Cocteau&rsquo;s work can be seen as &lsquo;close to Sartre&rsquo;s existentialist concept&rsquo;. It is thus not helpful to take <em>La Machine Infernale</em> as an entirely surrealist work of art.</p>

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