Raul Ruiz and the Book of Disappearances/the Book of Tractions

By Paul Buck

Few film-makers are able to produce work at a fairly prodigious rate, year after year. Many gain brief attention and then, although they continue to work, are barely recognized. Raul Ruiz does not fit this latter pattern. He is not, of course, a household name. Perhaps it is precisely because he is known only to limited circles that he has been able to weave as he wants for so long. It’s almost impossible to take a momentous journey of deviations through your imagination and keep a wide public in tow.

It is no surprise that books have also become part of his output. Dis Voir in Paris has been responsible for some. Two of them are being reprinted, one being the Poetics of Cinema, a collection of lectures he gave, mainly in America, that presents his vision of filming. Not that he thinks film people only, or even especially, will be interested. “I wrote them with an eye to those who use the cinema as a mirror; that is, as an instrument of speculation and reflection, or as a machine for travel through space and time.”

It is with that sense that we turn to the book in hand, with its double title, The Book of Disappearances & The Book of Tractations, for it is effectively two books in one. Two books that face, or confront each other. One proceeds on the right page, the other one on the left, from the back forwards, and in reverse-image. Thus, to be read, half of it requires the use of the silver card provided to be inserted at each page.

Conceived with his multimedia exhibition, The Expulsion of the Moors, in the United States (Boston) in 1990, it was written in Spanish, though this version is in English. It is a playful dialogue between Moorish and Christian characters in 17th century Spain, told through short fictions that turn around historic concerns, passions and ideas. Each fiction is like a piece on a chess board, creating a game that works on the surface as well as beneath in the labyrinthine world of illusions and mirrors that shapes the space Ruiz creates for his enjoyment and ours. It is a personal history made from whatever has been caught in Ruiz’s trawl though his preoccupations; the art of fiction, the art of play, which has always been Ruiz’s forte. Not to be confused with a surrealism, as some like to tag his work. Ruiz explores through a series of precipices and fault-lines, geological terms that might be fairly basic in terms of the structure of our world but, when applied to art practice, are often regarded as confrontational. Perhaps Ruiz is one of the few people who easily can proceed with one narrative and then find himself developing another that he eventually shifts onto and departs with.

This book, with its dialogue between two peoples, has a further hidden element, in the cryptic message that has to be deciphered by writing out the bold letters throughout, in order to determine the plight of the captive girl from Marrakech, which echoes that of the prostitute Trajana who represented Spain in Velázquez’s painting, The Expulsion of the Moors, now lost, probably destroyed in the royal palace fire of 1734 – a linking narrative caught between the pages, the lines, between fiction and reality.


The Book of Disappearances / The Book of Tractations by Raul Ruiz (Dis Voir, 2005, £17.50 distributed by Art Data).

Paul Buck is a poet, writer and translator.