“A joyous confusion of the mysterious, the unknown, and the miraculous” – Jean Painlevé, Vu 1931


Vu, March 25, 1931 (2011.7.32), p. 420 (photos by André Raymond)

Mysteries and Miracles of Nature
Does the complete understanding of a natural phenomenon strip away its miraculous qualities? It is certainly a risk. But it should at least maintain all of its poetry, for poetry subverts reason and is never dulled by repetition. Besides, a few gaps in our knowledge will always allow for a joyous confusion of the mysterious, the unknown, and the miraculous.

We all seek, more or less consciously, to increase our knowledge of the unknown—if only out of a lazy desire to turn something that once required thought into something that no longer does. We then use this knowledge to predict, from a safe distance, phenomena in a variety of fields and to produce more numerous and more fruitful hypotheses that we hope will finally explain Nature once and for all. It is the preservation of our species that is at stake and incites this eternal curiosity. But compared to Nature, Man’s imagination produces weak revelations… Let us not confuse figments of the mind with actual experience. Instead, let’s distract our insatiable curiosity for a moment with the simple contemplation of natural givens: subjects of wonder, charm, or horror, whose mystery seizes us when we seek to understand and identify with them.

It’s no wonder the casual observer feels unsettled by the lack of order that seemingly rules over the planet’s millions of animals. Our narrow minds need the comfort of carefully crafted logic and clear delineations.


Vu, March 25, 1931 (2011.7.32), p. 421 (photos by Elie Lotar)

But let’s take a quick journey. It will be a disorderly one, but then again so are our subjects. We’ll begin with the obvious observation that from the top of the food chain to the bottom, animals are always being eaten by other animals. We then notice that certain foods, though very similar, seem to be more preferable or more suitable. The same goes for habitat. These subtle variations in food and environment have the power to play endless tricks on us…

But all this action can be distracting and sometimes nothing is as astonishingly splendid as the most static forms of life, which allow us to dream each moment without imposing coherence on us. From the enigmatic fancies of the cat to the sadness of the seahorse that has lost its arms; from the fireworks of a giant fan worm to the dance of the starfish; from the oblique walk of the crab to the balled-up attention of the spider; from the charming games of the otter to the ethereal pulsation of the jellyfish; from the color of butter- flies to the song of birds; from mollusks that cover the sea with veils of blue to animals in the shape of leaves, branches, or flowers; there is an infinite field of magnificent and continual joys that prevents us from completely elucidating the mystery or the miracle.

Vu, 1931

Translation by Jeanine Herman.
Andy Masaki Bellows, Marina McDougall, Brigitte Berg editors. Translation By Jeanine Herman. Science is Fiction: The Films of Jean Painlevé. San Francsico: Brico Press and Cambridge: MIT Press, 2000

Sources: Jean Painlevé Archives, Les Documents Cinématographiques, and Andy Masaki Bellows, Marina McDougall, Brigitte Berg editors. Translation By Jeanine Herman. Science is Fiction: The Films of Jean Painlevé. San Francsico: Brico Press and Cambridge: MIT Press, 2000.


Vu, March 25, 1931 (2011.7.32), p. 1

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