Sunday, June 18, 2006
This weekend I joined an excursion to see the Fontainbleau Sandstone, an Oligocene age (30 million year old) formation of the Paris Basin. While on the trip, I discovered the concretions that Roger Caillois had written about in a poem which I had translated some time ago and posted on Connaissances. I have since removed it from the site, so here it is again, posted below. The concretions really are fabulous to behold, and after a search of the internet, I think I can say they are probably the most fabulous in the world. These concretions are known as 'Gogottes'.
The most amazing example I have found is housed in the National Museum of Natural History at Smithsonian Institution, Washington DC. There is a good photograph of it here. However, there are not that many examples illustrated on the internet as far as I can tell.
I also posted my interpretation of the poem as part of a long article entitled 'Do Scientists Use Metaphor?'
after the French of Roger Caillois
In the Ile-de-France, in a sand pit, halfway up a quarry face, lie concretions of silicified sand. They have the appearance of palms or palm leaves, of half-open hands, of crumpled petals. Irregularly spaced, oriented in the same sense, they are aligned in a sort of discontinuous horizontal bed.
The longest concretions seem made of a flowing or crumbling substance, suddenly hardened by ice, then holed here and there by a stubborn wearing away which has hollowed out one part or another, surfaces offering themselves to be pierced at their weakest points. A game of forces which have the time for accumulating and altering, thickening and thinning the mysterious and perfect masses which make public their laws, sign and authenticate their needs.
Other volumes, more powerfully curved, hold up an efficient shield to invisible pressure. These are the ones which are slow to thin or fold themselves, the opposite of lazy they are fashioned by a long evasiveness.
An underground current filters through the sand to slowly form these great tears of stone fixed in a flight which is forever headlong, forever immobile. For it is the water which flees. And, fleeing day after day, century after century, it entrains a fine substance and deposits it on any poor obstacle, never ceasing from cloaking, expanding, changing it into some immortal form. Many of the most beautiful modern sculptures have been found in this sheltering place. They have been there for twenty-five million years.