Monday, December 14, 2009
NEW ARRIVALS: New Twisted Spoon Arrivals & Restocks
Valerie and Her Week of Wonders
Written in 1935 at the height of Czech Surrealism but not published until 1945, Valerie and Her Week of Wonders is a bizarre erotic fantasy of a young girl's maturation into womanhood on the night of her first menstruation. Referencing Matthew Lewis's The Monk, Marquis de Sade's Justine, K. H. Macha's May, F. W. Murnau's film Nosferatu, Nezval employs the language of the pulp serial novel to construct a lyrical, menacing dream of sexual awakening involving a vampire with an insatiable appetite for chicken blood, changelings, lecherous priests, a malicious grandmother, and an androgynous merging of brother with sister.
In his Foreword Nezval states: "I wrote this novel out of a love of the mystique in those ancient tales, superstitions and romances, printed in Gothic script, which used to flit before my eyes and declined to convey to me their content." Part fairy tale, part Gothic horror, Valerie and Her Week of Wonders is a meditation on youth and age, sexuality and death — an exploration of the grotesque that juxtaposes high and low genres, with shifting registers of language and moods that was a trademark of the Czech avant-garde. The 1970 film version is considered one of the outstanding achievements of Czech new-wave cinema.
This edition includes the first edition's original six black-and-white illustrations from Kamil Lhotak, a member of Group 42.
illustrated by the author and Jan Svankmajer (collages)
Baradla Cave is a novel by the Czech Surrealist Eva Svankmajerová, who is perhaps best known for her paintings and collaboration with her husband Jan Svankmajer on a number of films. Originally published in samizdat in the 1980s, the book was republished in 1995 by Edice Analogon, having lost none of the force of its social critique and wit. Baradla is a living organism, both place (Prague) and person (a woman), and the novel explores maternity and femininity while offering a satirical look at the overweening mother-state and consumer society. As the language shifts between psuedo-scientific jargon, common vernacular, and metaphoric stream, scenes of episodic sexual violence alternate with humorous reflections on various ingrained habits and customs. Svankmajerova's sense of the absurd is seemingly without limit, fingering here practically everything having to do with modern urban existence: drug addiction, murder, sex crimes, corruption, and dysfunctional family relationships.
Severin's journey into the dark
First published in 1914, this acclaimed novel is set in Prague, a city of darkened walls and strange decay which forms the backdrop of Severin's erotic adventures and fateful encounters — a world of femmes fatales, Russian anarchists, dabblers in the occult and denizens of decadent salons.
Signs & Symptoms
Called "the Czech Cioran" by Andrei Codrescu, Róbert Gál is one of the freshest voices to come from Prague over the past few years. His writing is a mix of philosophy and prose poetry that explores the tenuousness of one's identity and existence. Ironical in his outlook, Gál's aim with this volume is to bring the great Romanian philosopher E. M. Cioran into the present in the same way that John Zorn, whose music provided the impetus for writing this book, brought Ornette Coleman into the present. The volume includes aphorisms and longer and shorter "philosophical" fragments. The photographs by Lucia Nimcová were taken specifically for this collection. As aptly described by well-known psychiatrist/publisher Ales Pech, Nimcová's nude self-portraits act as a "counterpoint to the philosophical denuding that is the book's basic premise."
Blaugast: A Novel of Decline
Blaugast is a tale of ruin. A bored clerk, Klaudius Blaugast, pursues his desires down a path spiraling into complete degradation. Homeless and destitute, having lost everything to the evil prostitute Wanda, he seeks redemption in a Prague that has become sybaritic and uncaring — a city in which he has become an outcast among the outcasts. Flashbacks to incidents in his past, hallucinatory revelations of the meaning of events long forgotten, point to the seeds of his eventual downfall.
Leppin's final novel, which he never saw published (the typescript languished for decades after his death in the archives in Prague), Blaugast is an indictment of the despotic and vulgar, an exploration of the sadistic tendencies found amongst the "moral" and "respectable." Max Brod's depiction of Leppin as "a poet of eternal disillusionment, at once a servant of the Devil and an adorer of the Madonna" nowhere rings more true than here.
Set in Prague, The Maimed relates the story of a highly neurotic, socially inept bank clerk who is eventually impelled by his widowed landlady into servicing her sexual appetites. At the same time he must witness the steady physical and mental deterioration of his lifelong friend who is suffering from an unnamed disease. Part psychological farce, Ungar tells a dark, ironic tale of chaos overtaking one's meticulously ordered life. One of only two novels Ungar wrote, this translation marks the first time his work has appeared in English. His novellas and short stories are collected in Boys & Murderers
Boys & Murderers
Boys & Murderers is the first complete collection of novellas and stories in English from Hermann Ungar, author of the highly-acclaimed novel The Maimed. A writer of unique talent whose life was prematurely ended by illness, he was much admired by Thomas Mann, who prefaces this volume, and known as the "Moravian Dostoevsky" for his analysis of the human psyche. In fiction that is often grotesque and comical, Ungar explores the depravities of the heart and delusions of the mind. Taking Prague as well as his hometown of Boskovice for his settings, he can be located in that illustrious tradition of both Prague German writers (he was associated with Max Brod in the Prague Circle) and Jewish writers of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, such as Joseph Roth.
The Passive Vampire
Originally published in 1945 by Les Éditions de l'Oubli in Bucharest, The Passive Vampire caught the attention of the French Surrealists when an excerpt appeared in 1947 alongside texts by Jabès and Michaux in Georges Henein's magazine La part du sable. Luca, whose work was admired by Gilles Deleuze, attempts here to transmit the "shudder" evoked by some Surrealist texts, such as André Breton's Nadja and Mad Love, probing with acerbic humor the fragile boundary between "objective chance" and delirium.
Impossible to define, The Passive Vampire is a mixture of theoretical treatise and breathless poetic prose, personal confession and scientific investigation — it is 18 photographs of "objectively offered objects," a category created by Luca to occupy the space opened up by Breton. At times taking shape as assemblages, these objects are meant to capture chance in its dynamic and dramatic forms by externalizing the ambivalence of our drives and bringing to light the nearly continual equivalence between our love-hate tendencies and the world of things.
In these letters written to April Gifford between 1989 and 1991 but never sent, Bohumil Hrabal (1914-1997) chronicles the momentous events of those years as seen, more often than not, from the windows of his favorite pubs. In his palavering style that has marked him as one of the major writers and innovators of post-war European literature, Hrabal gives a humorous and at times moving account of life in Prague under Nazi occupation, communism, and the brief euphoria following the revolution of 1989 when anything seemed possible, even pink tanks. Interspersed are fragmented memories of trips taken to Britain — as he attempted to track down every location mentioned in Eliot's "The Waste Land" — and the United States, where he ends up in one of Dylan Thomas's haunts comparing the waitresses to ones he knew in Prague. The result is a masterful blend of personal history and poetic prose.
The works of the Czech Symbolist Otokar Brezina (1868-1929), a writer twice nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature, influenced an entire generation of artists in Bohemia and Moravia. Hidden History (published posthumously in 1935) is one of the most important works of 20th century Czech prose and represents the apotheosis of Brezina's endeavors in the essay form. I n this finely crafted collection, he discusses the role of art as a vanguard of developments in science and as a force for social change. These essays also contribute to an understanding of Brezina's poetry, for which he is better known. They comprise the most systematic exposition of his aesthetic creed, which served to inspire the Czech writers and literary critics who followed in his footsteps.
Toward the end of his life Leppin wrote: "Prague remains my deepest experience. Its conflict, its mystery, its rat-catcher's beauty have ever provided my poetic efforts with new inspiration and meaning." Others' Paradise represents one of the most intense expressions of this experience. Beginning with the highly imagistic "The Doors of Life," the eight stories contained in this volume detail the contours of the lives and visions of a collection of Prague inhabitants, from a prostitute bound to the decay of the old Jewish quarter, to a man caught in the memory of a lost love, and a shoemaker whose knowledge of the world has been constricted to the view from the window of his cellar workroom. Amidst their differing circumstances what these characters share is an intense desire for lasting human contact and the fated disappointment of all such aspirations. Binding their personal histories, woven into their most intimate details, is Prague itself, the city whose nature, mythical and yet all-too-real, gives shape and force to their desires while simultaneously determining their frustrations.
Karel Hynek Macha SOLD OUT!
Compared to Byron, Keats, Shelley, and Poe, called Lautreamont's "elder brother" by the Czech Surrealists, Karel Hynek Macha (1810-1836) was the greatest Czech Romantic poet, and arguably the most influential of any poet in the language. May, his epic masterpiece, was published in April 1836, just seven months before his death. Considered the "pearl" of Czech poetry, it is a tale of seduction, revenge, and patricide. A paean as well to his homeland, virtually every Czech student learns to recite the first stanzas of the poem from memory and new editions are still regularly published. The reason for the poem's popularity and longevity is the beauty of its music and its innovative use of language. Scorned at first by the national revivalists of the 19th century for being "un-Czech," he was held up as a "national" poet by later generations, a fate from which the interwar Czech avant-garde, who considered him a precursor, tried to rescue him.
The Sufferings of Prince Sternenhoch
Philosopher, novelist, essayist, madman, no Czech writer has had a greater impact on underground culture than Ladislav Klíma (1878-1928). Mentor to artists as diverse as Bohumil Hrabal and the Plastic People of the Universe, Klíma's approach to philosophy was similar to that of the sages of ancient India: philosophy should not be limited to speaking or writing about it, it should be lived. Adopting Nietzsche as his paragon, he embarked on a lifelong pursuit to become God, or Absolute Will, and he developed his conception of radical subjectivism in numerous essays, aphorisms, prose works, and plays.
The Sufferings of Prince Sternenhoch is the apotheosis of Klíma's philosophy. In a series of journal entries, the novel chronicles the descent into madness of Prince Sternenhoch, the German Empire's foremost aristocrat and favorite of the Kaiser. Having become the "lowliest worm" at the hands of his deceased wife Helga, the Queen of Hells, Sternenhoch eventually attains an ultimate state of bliss and salvation through the most grotesque form of perversion. Klíma explores here the paradoxical nature of pure spirituality with a humor that is as darkly comical as it is obscene. This volume, the first of Klíma's work to appear in English translation, also includes his notorious essay "My Autobiography."
Vitezslav Nezval / Jindrich Styrsky
Launched in 1931 by Jindrich Styrsky, Edition 69 consisted of six volumes of erotic literature and illustration that followed the path marked out by Louis Aragon's Irene's Cunt and Georges Bataille's Story of the Eye. Including the first Czech translation of Marquis de Sade's Justine and Pietro Aretino (both illustrated by Toyen), three volumes were from contemporary Czech avant-garde artists, and these were all illustrated by Styrsky himself, who also contributed the text for the last volume of the series. Because of the censorship laws Styrsky encountered with his illustrations for the first Czech publication of Lautréamont's Maldoror, the Edition 69 series was not for sale in regular retail outlets, nor was it made available to libraries. As the original colophons indicate, the books were exclusively for subscribers, collectors, and a circle of friends, and the original print runs numbered no more than 200 (Styrsky's volume was limited to 69 copies).
This volume brings together English translations of the two most important texts in the series: Nezval's "Sexual Nocturne" and Styrsky's "Emilie Comes to Me in a Dream," which is also supplemented by the original essay from psychoanalyst Bohuslav Brouk, a fellow founding member of The Surrealist Group of Czechoslovakia. Additional texts from Styrsky's dream journal are included as a contextual source. Much influenced by Max Ernst's collage-novels, Andre Masson's illustrations for both Aragon's and Bataille's volumes, as well as the idea of the book-object, Styrsky's illustrations and overall conception for the edition rank among the most important of Surrealist works. Along with the Erotic Review, which he initiated and edited during the same period, Edition 69 represented a sustained attempt by the interwar Czech avant-garde to investigate the taboos of bourgeois culture.
Time Is a Mid-Night Scream
Musician, artist and poet, Pavel Z. was one of the leading figures of the Czech underground that operated outside the official culture imposed by the former communist regime. The trial that sent him and several others associated with the experimental rock group the Plastic People of the Universe to prison for their activities gave rise to the human rights declaration Charter 77. Later exiled, Pavel Z. first lived in Sweden and then in New York City, eventually resettling in Prague in the mid-1990s. Time Is a Mid-Night Scream is his poetic testimony of this period, a time of transformation for both himself and his city.
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