"The Geometry of Shadows" is not just the name of an episode in the sci-fi TV series aboard a space station called "Babylon 5," it's also the title of a new Book about Surrealist painter Giorgio de Chirico's poems translated by Stefania Heim.

Wrong angle

But while the poems are getting rave reviews - Publishers Weekly extols the painter for his sense of history and humanity - the book title doesn't fit his pictures or poetry. The long shadows he cast down on empty streets have nothing to do with math and everything to do with the mysterious. De Chirico's deserted plazas are too puzzling, too obscure, to be thought of in mathematical terms.

The logic of geometry doesn't enter into his secret scenes. In reviewing the book the Nigerian news app "What's Up Naija" doesn't fault the book title, but it does allow that De Chirico's work, so often borrowed from, has been long lost to cliche.

Original art

Even so, the news app hails Heim's translation of De Chirico's poems for capturing his original vitality, and of this, I can agree. And, as James Gibsons points out in his review for Hyperallergic, the poems suggest what the metaphysical meant to the artist and it wasn't conscious. His work, said Gibbons, was something that refused finite meaning. Which is why I wonder why more book reviewers don't notice that the poetry in "The Geometry of Shadows" is not a matter of logic.

De Chirico said it himself: "Painting is the magical art, is the fire lit by the last rays in the windows of the fancy hotel as in those of the humble shack before the setting sun, is the long mark, the wet mark, the fluent and firm mark that the dying wave presses on the hot sand, is the dart of the immortal lizard on the rock sizzling in the midday heat ….” And as you surely must agree, there's no math in any of that.

Haunting imagery

It's notable that Gibbons was mindful of "a cluster of adjectives: haunting, enigmatic, evocative, poetic," not geometry. But he had complaints about the book in another way, saying that even though the pages span several decades, they're "pocked with large chronological gaps due to de Chirico’s sporadic output in Italian." Likely, he went on to say, the painter's writings reflect the ups and downs of his painting career - "the puzzling free fall that ensued after an initial period of astonishing brilliance."

De Chirico gets the last word

But all the commentaries aside, you don't have to wonder what De Chirico thought about painting or poeticizing As he wrote, "Art must escape all human limits: logic and common sense will only interfere. But once these barriers are broken, it will enter the regions of childhood visions and dreams.” Clearly, the title "Geometry of Shadows" is a mistake.