The Green Child


I read Herbert Read's The Green Child (1935; in print from New Directions) about 12 years ago. Recently I learned that the famous graphic designer Alvin Lustig had created a jacket for it, and after considerable effort I tracked down this chipped and stained beauty. Lustig worked for New Directions from 1945 to 1952, and died in 1955. The copy I have is undated, so '45 to '52 is my best guess for publication date. Undated books can be damn hard to track down. (Update: This post appeared 6/1/2008. There are now some books on Lustig, such as Born Modern.)


I remember the last 40 pages of the book—which seem to have little to do with the first 150 pages—making a big impression. Here's a paragraph:

"It must now be explained that the people of this country had notions of immortality diametrically opposed to those prevalent on earth. Perhaps because instead of an open and impalpable sky they had solid rock above them; because they believed their universe to be limited in extent and human beings to be numerable—for whatever cause, they regarded the organic and vital elements of their bodies as disgusting and deplorable. Everything soft and labile filled them with a species of horror, and above all the human breath was the symptom of an original curse which could only be eradicated after death. Death itself was no horror to them, but nothing exceeded their dread of corruption and decay: that, to them, was a return to the soft and gaseous, to the very element of their weakness and disgrace. Their sole desire was to become solid—as solid and perdurable as the rocks about them. They therefore practiced the rites of petrifaction. When the hated breath at last left the human body, that body was carried to special caves, and there laid in troughs filled with the petrous water that dripped from roof and walls. There it remained until the body turned white and hard, until the eyes were glazed under their vitreous lids, and the hair of the head became like crisp snail-shells, the beard like a few jagged icicles. But this process was merely a long purgatory, for when the body was finally petrified it was removed from its watery trough and carried like a recumbent statue to the halls of the dead—caves in which the alabaster bodies were stacked, one above the other in dense rows, to wait for their final beatitude, crystallisation. When the body, no longer recognisably human, but rather a pillar of salt, took on the mathematical precision and perfect structure of crystal, then it was judged to have attained its final immortality."


I think I read the book about the time I discovered The Writing of Stones . . . and the West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band's version of Zappa's 'Help, I'm A Rock'! I'm surprised I didn't become a geologist.


Here's another Lustig cover (New Directions, 1947):





More on Herbert Read—I just learned about his relationship with anarchism.


June 21 2008 update: why don't I google these things. Here's a gorgeous gallery of Lustig's work, including a cleaner image of his Green Child cover.