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Visual Representation of the "Black Sun"

[Written for a 1977 showing of the Harry and Caresse Crosby archives of the Black Sun Press at Southern Illinois University, Carbondale, this excerpt from the catalogue introduces a number of items that were on display that indicated Crosby’s intense relationship to the iconography of the sun.]

Shelley Cox

"Harry’s Black Sun"

As a teenaged ambulance driver on the French battle fields in World War I, Harry Crosby had narrowly escaped death, but in a sense, found himself dead inside. To fill the void, he began to evolve a bizarre personal religion, based on a conventional sun-worship coupled with his own idea of a prepared, not random death. These two themes were fused in his image of a black sun, a sun of madness and death, which demanded a "sun-death" at a specified time so that the soul might ascend into the sun. At one point, Harry and Caresse agreed to fly a plane into the sun and it was to this end, as well as for his interest in flying and speed as sexual metaphors, that he received his solo pilot’s license in 1929. Sun, speed, blackness and death, and his highly personal interpretation of them, increasingly obsess and obscure the writings of his later years, and extend even to works of art which he commissioned.

[A list of some items on display follows:]

Geoffrey Wolff

On Crosby’s "Sun"

… As an object of worship the sun is various and slippery, and in his rush toward a coherent system of belief and symbolic representation, Harry confused unity with totality, so that he attempted to absorb within his belief every aspect and atom of the sun that man in his wisdom or silliness had ever found cause to venerate. The sun – all-seeing eye, blinding light, source of life, killer of Icarus and Phaethon, masculine principle, creative principle, godhead and the eye of the godhead – is at once more comprehensive and a paradigm of ambiguity. To use its mythology and manifestations as material for literature or belief was to be drawn irrevocably into the sun’s orbit, for the only way Harry could reconcile the paradoxes inherent in the sun was to worship it in toto. So he did, bringing to his worship a hotchpotch of Christian faith in an afterlife and pagan rituals, adding to his stew every scrap he could find left over from the Aztecs or Pharaohs, the Greeks or Romans, Goethe or D. H. Lawrence, Rimbaud or the tarot pack.

From Geoffrey Wolff, Black Sun: The Brief Transit and Violent Eclipse of Harry Crosby (New York: Random House, 1976), 194.

Examples of Crosby’s Black Suns

[Crosby typically signed his name to a work of writing or a photograph by punctuating it with a drawing of a black sun – a drawing that was liable to take on a number of different shapes. While always resembling a "black sun," the mark could also look like a cosmic eye or an airplane propellor or the point of rest in a storm. That Crosby was aware that the image could generate a shifting significance seems evident from his reaction – a series of exclamation points – to one of the drawings as jotted down in a vest-pocket address notebook that he carried with him on a 1928 trip to America.]

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A typical Harry Crosby signature as punctuated with the black sun (enlarged)


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Crosby's "sun" in evolution: eye? Propeller?


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A signature with only an initial and a sun. The typescript is an unpublished, uncollected poem (c. 1928-1929) from a group under the collective title "Comme Poems."

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Entry from a very small (vest-pocket size) address notebook used by Crosby on his November-December 1928 visit to New York and Boston, registering a discovery about this sun that nonetheless remains private. The scrawled lines possibly read: "The office of / the gate of / Heaven / Cemetery / Mistress or Cerebus[?]" These lines reappear as a description of billboards glimpsed from a train on the way to the Harvard-Yale game on the October 24, 1928, diary entry constructed for Shadows of the Sun (Second Series).


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The Black Sun as mark of approval, underlining phrases in an essay on an America in which the future is still to be realized, and the past and present are dramatically at odds. This new interest in the contradictions of America emerged in Crosby’s last years. The essay appeared in Transition 14 (Fall 1928).

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