Czech Surrealist brought out of hiding
The first solo retrospective of Jindřich Heisler provides a long overdue look at a unique man who created unique art under unique circumstances
Jindřich Heisler: Surrealism under Pressure at Chicago’s Art Institute presents 70 works by the still little-known Czech Surrealist whose work straddles the line between a variety of artistic media. The exhibition also underlines the significant role Prague played as an important outpost of Surrealism, second only to Paris.
Ghérasim Luca reciting one of his poems in 1989.
"Retribution," a short film by Matt Murphy based on a Paul Leppin story from the collection Others’ Paradise.
Matt is a stop-motion animation filmmaker based in Prague who shares our enthusiasm for Leppin’s work. Another short film based on Leppin, Milena, that uses a puppet for the prostitute is here.
video by Jan Strnad.
A short video about Other Air, an exhibition of contemporary Czech and Slovak Surrealists, with a few Surrealists from other countries included as well. The exhibiton runs till April 4. If you’re in town, definitely go see it.
(Toyen : Ani labuť, ani Lůna)Statement by the Czechoslovak Surrealists on the 100th Anniversaryof Karel Hynek Mácha’s Death
We can no longer look on with indifference at this repulsive spectacle, at this grotesque swarm of cunning sextons of official Czech culture, at this parade of orators that brazenly calls itself a celebration of Karel Hynek Mácha!
The nabobs, who unquestionably embody everything most disgusting and degenerate begotten by the high and petty bourgeoisie, representatives of the class whose institutions condemned Baudelaire for offending the slave order they call morality, satraps of a regime that ordered the confiscation of Lautréamont and Heine, and with them the official scriveners known as literary critics and domesticated writers — all those native enemies of poetry and thought — the legitimate progeny of those who a century before declared Mácha anathema to the nation — they have the audacity to organize the celebration of a poet whose work is such a sublime and irrefutable negation of all their popular culture and social order, under whose roof this infamy is now nearing its end.
It is imperative that we state loudly and clearly that Mácha, an outsider in his own land, the leading figures and ideologues of which bow to the throne of European counterrevolution, conflating in an epoch of revolutionary upheavals the national revival with the most malicious reaction, remains, even after these 100 years that have passed over the heads of academic Beauty and Truth, an outcast in a country ruled over by a class whose regime is de facto the enemy of poetry, and the only freedom this regime upholds is the freedom to pay cash.
A century ago the bourgeoisie barred Mácha from the salon of its patriotic idyll; today they have no right to appropriate his legacy, which should not be desecrated by being left in the hands of the present descendants of the Biedermeier intellectuals who showered May with the most dimwitted abuse.
The smoldering revolutionary embers of Mácha’s poetry survived under the ash of a century of conformism to burst into a fantastic flame before the eyes of the revolutionary avant-garde of poetry and thought, whose relationship to contemporary society and its culture is one of hostile confrontation as well. Let this society’s officially sanctioned writers celebrate their academic, religious, and patriotic idols, let the mouthpieces of the bourgeoisie bury their dead : the romantic revolt of Karel Hynek Mácha can never be canonized and neutered. Having been banished from the bourgeois world, Poetry will never again become the property and decoration of their social order.
We who likewise call on our homeland to be, liberty, projected to a future reality, are convinced that at this time of cultural eclipse — of the sun, the moon, and all the stars — a time in which the ruling class with their literati and entire intellectual and moral hangover would tremble if they understood the true, profound import of Mácha’s poetry, and of all genuine poetry, that at this time and in this nation, whose pretensions to morality and private ownership have censored Mácha’s diary, the day has yet come to truly celebrate him.
Indeed, we cannot imagine celebrating Karel Hynek Mácha any other way than by a sovereign act whereby the magnificent gravediggers of that appalling class of “Great Softheads” bequeath the salvaged legacy of poetry to the free members of a society where “poetry must be made by all.”
This ceremonial act we consider an act of vengeance!Konstantin Biebl, Bohuslav Brouk, E.F. Burian, Adolf Hoffmeister, Jindřich Honzl, Jaroslav Ježek, Záviš Kalandra, Vincenc Makovský, Vítězslav Nezval, Laco Novomeský, Jindřich Štyrský, Karel Teige, Toyen1936
Translated from the Czech by Jed Slast © 2012. All rights reserved.
This text originally appeared as the Afterword to Ani labuť ani Lůna. Sborník k stému výročí smrti Karla Hynka Máchy [Neither Swan nor Moon: Anthology for the Centennial of Karel Hynek Mácha’s Death], published by Nová edice in July 1936 in Prague. Edited by Nezval, the volume comprises texts by the Surrealist Group of Czechoslovakia to offer their own interpretation of Mácha, whom they considered a precursor in the same vein as the French Surrealists did Lautréamont (as the two quotes in the penultimate line would indicate). In his Preface, Nezval states : “This volume of essays and performances that we have collected should be considered a protest against the official centennial celebrations of May …”
The Twisted Spoon Press edition of May is here.
We will be publishing an English edition of the Czech Decadent classic A Gothic Soul by Jiří Karásek ze Lvovic (seated above, c. 1930) in an excellent translation by Kirsten Lodge. In the meanwhile, we have posted a couple of his shorter texts in her translation :
A biography and bibliography can be found here.
Czech writers being (re)discovered
The varied world of Czech literature, past and present, contains a vast store of work virtually unknown outside of the Czech Republic
Nothing lasts forever, and the recent losses of Václav Havel and Josef Škvorecký emphasize the finitude of what was probably the greatest generation of Czech writers. Fortunately, there are numerous younger writers whose work is becoming better known at home and abroad, while for English speakers there remain prominent figures in Czech literary history still to be discovered.