Max Jacob (1876-1944) was a French painter, poet and writer and became the leader of the avant-garde scene in Paris in the early years of the 20th century. He was a close friend of Picasso in those years, they were roommates and shared a studio. He also practiced astrology, cast charts for friends and acquaintances, intrigued by the richness he found there to portray a character.
In his study ‘Flim Flam’, 1920, he tried to give a new twist to the challenge of creating a ‘portrait’ of a person, basically just seen as a detailed character sketch: he let his protagonists introduce and reveal themselves with their own words and mannerisms. Jacob based his method on astrology and the ancient theory of the four elements. He organized the letters of his correspondents according to their birth dates and recorded their distinctive vocabulary. He was convinced that the words used would reveal both astral sign and element: water is gliding, earth weighty , fire brilliant, air gentle. He perfected this technique with his own comments, seeing himself as a ‘field observer’ of human behavior. (Shaw’s professor Higgins comes to mind.)
The characters of his protagonists were not constructed by the author but came to life by display of their idiosyncratic manners and expressions. Jacob created a magical kaleidoscope of human follies by combining astrological distinctions with his passion for words and language and his curiosity in all forms of human affairs. He was a humorist, preferring the playful mode, the ironic gaze, and embraced the role of jester and magician. His book ‘Mirror of Astrology’ is another example of his whimsical approach.