The Legs of Izolda Morgan
Soren A. Gauger, Guy Torr,
(Twisted Spoon Press)
In 1921, Bruno Jasieński and his friends issued a manifesto for Poland. They called themselves Futurists, and called their document "A Manifesto on the Immediate Futurization of Life."
It's an odd bit of writing, as most of these post-WWI manifestos tend to be --- and being Polish, it runs its own national course.
Yet like most of its kin, it all comes back to art, the usual drear picture of a national culture stuck in a hole. It declared "We are through with being a menagerie nation producing mummies and relics."
We, a people of deep lungs and broad shoulders, are choking from the rank stench of your archaic messianism; we propose a new messianism, unique, modern, insane.
In keeping with the semi-self-deflating air of these tropes, their first demand is: More sunshine. "We are throwing away our umbrellas, hats, and bowlers, we will go with heads bare. Bare necks. Let everyone tan their skins."
Houses will be constructed with glass walls to the south. More light, air, and space. If the Polish parliament met outside we would have a much sunnier constitution.
It calls for art everywhere, poem-concerts and concerts "in trains, trams, canteens, factories, caés, squares, stations, halls etc. at all times of day and night. Art must be unexpected and all-pervasive, it must knock you off your feet."
The new technology is seen as another art, "just like painting, sculpture, and architecture:" In forty-point type, it proclaims,A good machine is a model and
the summit of the work of art . . .
Morse's telegraph apparatus is a masterwork
1,000-times greater than
Byron's Don Juan.The authors let us know that women are to be considered equal, "Woman is an untapped force, remarkable in her influence. We demand absolute equality for women in all spheres of life, both private and public."
Above all ---
equality in erotic and
§ § §The manifesto makes for wonderful reading, with its intermix of formalistic demands, "We call on women --- as the physically more robust and stronger sex --- to take the initiative," mixed with disgust at the puerile state of present-day art: "Today's viewer openly yawns at Macbeth and feels a vague stab in the appendix watching the Eaglet's demise." As usual, all of these statements are intermix of comic overstatement, "If a century and a half of enslavement has not sucked all the juice from your spines, if you are indeed the nation of tomorrow and not a parasite nation --- join us." It then ends with a half-mystical statement of innate power:
Fate has outlived its usefulness and died. From this point on, everyone can create his own life and life-as-such.
This was not the only Polish manifesto of the day; we have here another, from shortly after, called the "2nd Phuturist Pamflet" It is much shorter than the first, but one that is as close as possible in language to the original. It is here called "Nife in the Gutt." The translator calls the wording "foundational to the Polish Futurist movement" as it "display[s] the phonetic, "barbatic" approach to spelling.
I have attempted to render Jasieńsk's phoneticizations and deliberate misspellings into a reasonable English equivalent that is nevertheless, hopefully, intelligible."
To this reader, he has succeeded, making the deconstruction of language (and all formalisms) an integral part of Futurism. It calls for everyone to "paynt yerselvz and yer wifz and childrin!"
30,000 kopies of the phuturist maniphesto --- distributed around poland over forteen daze. gowged with this nife in the gutt, the slumbering kattel of polish art began to holler. the woond pyooked up the lava of phuturism. sityzens, help us tare the phlaid skin from yer bones. stop dragging about yer party slowgans like: "god and nayshun." the red polish phlag has long ben a red nosewipe. demokrats --- raze the phlags with the werds of our swiss phrients: we want to piss
in a raynbow of kolors! § § §
The bulk of this volume is taken up with four stories, plus Jasieński's own "accounting" of Futurism in Poland, its history through his eyes, in which reports "We wrote a lot of bad poems, produced a lot of bad paintings --- [but] history will forgive us," he writes kindly. He concludes that "nonsense is dynamite" . . . which might have been a fitting momento mori for dadaism as well.
There is, too, one of his stories, a take-off on Gogol's "Nose," which was written after Jasieński had moved to Russia. He survived, though some miracle, the Terrors of 1930s Stalinism.
Far better --- best of them all, in my opinion --- is a short-short story titled "Keys." It tells of the priest in an unnamed village, who was "stern and dogmatic . . . miserly and penny-pinching." The priest is a malevolent figure, but here he is but a minor character. The center of focus is a crucifix, which was "six hundred years old" and hung in the entrance to the church's vestibule.
"It depicted a blackened and withered Christ, fastened to the cross with three massive hobnails."
The most fascinating thing was Christ's face --- it in no way resembled those pious faces the Renaissance painters gave him on their canvases. It was a face of a thug, horridly ugly, with black, sunken eye sockets; a terrible expression etched onto his ample, bestial jaws, a face that smacked more of blasphemy than sainthood.
The story, a bare ten pages long, makes us begin to think of Jasieński as a Polish Kafka, and its force, especially the powerful ending, makes one wish that this Futurist had abandoned his various manifestos (and his ultimately degrading flirtation with Stalinism), and had stuck to writing fiction.
The authority of this story --- as is true with all great short stories --- lies in the author's ability to pare things down to the absolutely essential, concentrate on the tale to be told. It becomes a paean to a writer who was able to evoke, in a very few words, the essential paradoxes of Christianity: its use, its misuse, and finally, the ultimate self-destructive payoff for those who ignore Christianity's core message.
Those of us who are fond of Polish art, and these many splinter "-isms" that rounded out the War to End All Wars, will find much to pique them in this sketch of some mad artists (and jokesters) out of 1920s Poland.--- Stanisław Młodożeniec