Jindřich Štyrský - Surrealist, erotic literature and illustration from 1930s.: objects are always looking back at us, returning our gaze with eyes of their own


Jindřich Štyrský, Vitezslav Nezval, Edition 69, Trans. by Jed Slast, Twisted Spoon Press, 2004.

"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."

"Selections from the original six volumes of surrealist, erotic literature and illustration from 1931 available for the first time. Because of censorship laws, Edition 69 series was never for sale, nor was it made available to libraries. The books were exclusively for subscribers, collectors, and a circle of friends, the Czech avant-garde investigating the taboos of bourgeois culture."

"[Edition 69] is an absolute gem, offering for the first time in English a pair of linguistically innovative works that proved more than 70 years ago what our world has only recently come to understand: The best national interpretation is, above all, a personal interpretation." — Czech Business Weekly

"Erotic writings of the highest order." — John Taylor
"While the visual arts of Czech Surrealism have attracted increasing attention recently, very little Czech Surrealist literature has been translated, and from that perspective the present book is a welcome corrective. ... and especially by providing what is, as far as I am aware, the first translation of any text by the fascinating and under-recognized writer Bohuslav Brouk, this volume provides a valuable service." — Peter Zusi
"... worth seeking out by anyone with a taste for a kind of writing that is distinctively middle European: intellectual, graphic and surreal.— Nicholas Clee

"The publication of Edition 69 in Slast's graceful translation is a landmark event in itself, in that it effectively brings together all of the various movements (Poetism, Surrealism, Constructivism) occupying the Czech interwar avant-garde into one accessible, not to mention beautiful, volume." — Think again


"Primordial ancestor, universal life force, sinister mimic, signpost on the road to modernism and symbol of the working class: for three-quarters of a century, living matter fulfilled a range of roles in that area of culture where the aspirations of science merge with the dreams of art. Bruno Schulz’s fictions take part in this current, but they also stand outside it. Through the myths engendered by Victorian pseudoscience, Schulz shares a genetic link with Lovecraft, Čapek and Mann. But the closest analogue that I can find to the fevered materiality of his work is in the photography of the Czech Surrealist Jindřich Štyrský.
A member of the Devětsil Group and a leading figure in the interwar Czech avant-garde, Štyrský worked as a poet, painter, graphic artist and essayist. If he is remembered at all today, though, it is for his photography. In high-surrealist mode, his first exhibit was devoted to panoramas of the Marquis De Sade’s castle in southern France. Then in 1934, just as Schulz was publishing his first collection of stories, Štyrský abruptly changed course. He began traveling around the small towns of Bohemia and Moravia, photographing shop windows and carnival advertisements, fair booths, signs, broken statues, stained walls and fragments of graffiti, and arranged these pictures in two cycles, Frog Man and the Man with Blinkers over His Eyes.
The two collections are made up almost entirely of objects and street scenes. Anthropomorphism and decay, recorded in accumulations of dust and cobwebs, cracked varnishes and spreading water stains, are the guiding impulses behind Štyrský’s pictures. Aside from the faint reflection of the photographer in a window or the glimpsed profile of a fez-wearing circus performer, they contain no human beings — but human forms are everywhere: in masks and prosthetic limbs, silhouettes etched on walls with chalk, tailors’ dummies, dancing dolls, crumbling funeral monuments and wooden cutouts of tortured saints. Together, they form an enclosed world, one that is silent, melancholy, and oddly sinister.
In Štyrský’s photographs, objects are always looking back at us, returning our gaze with eyes of their own. The bald head of a baby peers with a look of exaggerated surprise from a shop window offering toothpaste and Dr. Dralle’s birch water. A mannequin in the exact shape of an armless Clark Kent shows off its orthopedic socks. A hand painted sign promises a pair of children dancing the American two-step. They seem to wince with embarrassment, both at the ridiculous cowboy costumes they have to wear and at their own shoddy workmanship. Armless Edith and 250-kilogram Anita share none of these reservations, while the Frog man, really just a boy, surrounded by a ring of doctors, looks out at his audience with sly complicity as if to say, “You see, they do it to me too.”
Štyrský’s world is sui generis, but it isn’t completely singular. It has a direct predecessor in Eugène Atget’s shop windows and hushed streetscapes, and a descendant in Emila Medková’s assemblages and landscapes of disfigured plaster. His stained walls return as the metaphysical backdrop to Jan Saudek’s erotic tableaux. Genealogically, if Štyrský’s work is a tree limb, Walker Evans’s tattered road signs and polaroids of trash are its trunk. But something does set it apart.
In Camera Lucida, Roland Barthes claimed that in the texture of a dirt road, in a photograph of a blind violinist by André Kertész, he could recognize with his whole body the straggling villages in Hungary and Romania he had passed through many years before. Looking at Štyrský’s haphazardly painted signs and decrepit martyrs, I feel that the same thing is true: His photographs could only come from Central Europe. But with a minor difference — they come from a world of small towns teetering on the edge of a slapdash, second-rate modernity, like Schulz’s Drohobycz, whose few concessions to metropolitan corruption only make it seem like a “paper imitation, a montage of illustrations cut out from last year’s moldering newspapers.” This is a world that came into existence sometime toward the end of the nineteenth century with the arrival of the avatars of portable modernity — the light bulb, safety bicycle and cinematograph — and lasted until the eve of the Second World War. It is a world of stasis, in which even new things appear ruined, and decay is the only measure of time.
Štyrský’s photographs seem to say: Decay is one of the ways in which dead things live. In Schulz’s stories, too, it’s the main way. Things breathe their own air and persist past their obsolescence. Living matter in Schulz turns out to be the furthest thing from Haeckel’s oceans of animate protoplasm. Haeckel and his descendants searched for a vitalizing principle in matter, a way in which dead matter could cross over into life and become an infinitely malleable instrument in human hands. Schulz created a world in which everything is already alive. Matter isn’t the missing link to life but its parody, and because it isn’t serious, it isn’t mortal." - Jacob Mikanowski



Jindrich Styrsky, Dreamverse, Trans. by Jed Slast, Twisted Spoon Press [forthcoming]



"A dream journal spanning the interwar years composed of prose, sketches, collages, and paintings, Styrsky's Dreams is one of the most stunning achievements of European Surrealism. The present volume includes the complete series as Styrsky conceived it for publication (it came out posthumously), his sole volume of poetry, also published posthumously, as well as a selection of his essays, lectures, manifestoes, and diary entries. The volume presents in English for the first time the broad range of Styrsky's contribution to Surrealism."


Extracts  (scribd)

or here  (html)

The Ever-Shrinking World by Jindřich Štyrský


Jindřich Štyrský: I Built a Box



Jindřich Štyrský, Emilie Comes To Me In A Dream, Ubu Gallery, 1997.

"While in Prague last Spring I found a facsimile reprint of Jindřich Štyrský's Emilie přichází ke mně ve snu (Emilie Comes to Me in a Dream) published by Torst in 2001.

Originally published in 1933, only approximately 20 known copies remain of Emilie přichází ke mně ve snu. Štyrský was a painter, poet, photographer, collage artist and editor. A founding member of The Surrealist Group of Chechoslovakia he edited for the Erotiká Revue that included illustrations by well-known Czech artists and had an imprint called Edice 69 (Edition 69) where Emilie přichází ke mně ve snu appeared as volume 6.
Štyrský was fascinated by dreams and recorded his own through writing, and later, drawings. For him, the dream state was a storehouse of motifs that he would join together in collage and painting until his death in 1942.

Styrsky's imagery is a blurring between the erotic and the morbid. Using hardcore porn clipped from German and English stereo-cards and books, Styrsky disassociates sex from procreation and conceives of it from a purely pleasure giving point of view. The incongruous elements of plant details, a parachute and starry backgrounds emphasize the orgasmic while skeletons, men in gas masks, coffins and disembodied eyes draw a more sinister tone. Styrsky may have been poking fun at puritans who certainly would have been enraged by the montages by including the darker elements. As Bohuslav Brouk wrote in his afterword for Emilie; "People who hide their sexuality despise their innate capabilities without being able to rise above them. They deny their mortality... Any illusion to to their animality, not only in life, but also in science, literature and art, wounds them because it disturbs their day-dreaming."

This reprint brings together 12 photo-montage, the introductory erotic dreamscape written by Styrsky about Emilie, the afterword by Brouk and a modern essay by Karel Srp written in 2001. The original edition included just 10 photomontages, Styrky's story and the Brouk afterword. Two plates from the series which were edited out of the original might have been excluded because of suspected child pornography. Those two have been included here.
The book is printed on paper I imagine was chosen to reflect the original, it is matte in finish and the typesetting seems to also reflect the older edition as well. The original however consisted of the ten plates tipped onto the page and not printed.
Another edition I discovered of Emilie přichází ke mně ve snu was printed for the Ubu Gallery in 1997. This edition features a black cover, is slightly larger in size than the original (only about 1/2 to 3/4 inch in height and width) and is printed on a glossier paper stock. This edition includes the same texts as the original translated into English. The original texts were in Czech. This edition also includes the two additional controversial plates. It was published in an edition of 1000." - 5b4


Against the Current. The Story of the Surrealist Group of Czechoslovakia by Lenka Bydžovská (pdf)


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