Sunday, June 18, 2006

La Gogotte

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?'


Siliceous Concretions

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.


Andrea said...

soory havent been by for a while
When we were in China we went into this cave somewhere, blaa, and all I could think about was you and this blog!! I kept looking at the rocks and the formations so differently. IT was wild!!!
Thanks for making me look differently at things.

Jonathan Wonham said...

Hello Andrea, nice to hear from you. Great that you thought about me in a cave in China! Did you take any pictures of interesting geological structures? If you have an interesting one, send it to me and I'll add it to my blog with a commentary (send to: wonham@macdotcom where 'dot' is a full stop).

Anonymous said...

This is a new phenomenon for me. Extraordinary! And what an elegant description (& translation).

Jonathan Wonham said...

Thank you Dick. Yes, they are amazing, and not at all easy to explain either.

Anonymous said...

quintessentially French. The development of modern concrete, modern sculpture (Arp's biomorphism) and poetry offers an intriguing resonance. Geology is full of poetry. Must read your article. Thanks.

Jonathan Wonham said...

Hello Richard. Interesting comment. 'Quintissentially French' - yes, absolutely.

When you say 'modern concrete', do you mean that in the sense of construction material?

'Arp's biomorphism' sounds interesting. I'll have to look into that.

I like Arp's motto that I scribbled down while going around the Dada exhibition at the Pompidou in Paris last year: "For nature and against art".

I wonder if he also considered 'geomorphism'?

Anonymous said...

Le Corbusier etc., just being perverse. I think Arp (contemporary of Caillois) must have seen the concretions. 'Human Concretion' is a recurrent title for works echoing the geological forms. His references were anthropic though (still too close to Rodin).