Absinthe Literary Review, Book Reviews Spring 2002
B O O K   R E V I E W

Autumn/E&T 2006

Edition 69 by Viteslav Nezval & Jindrich Styrsky

Edition 69
Vitezslav Nezval & Jindrich Styrsky
Twisted Spoon Press, Prague
Hardcover 134 pp. $16.50

Edition 69 from Twisted Spoon Press constitutes an interesting contribution to the historical record as it pertains to the Surrealist movement in Europe. Launched in 1931 by Jindrich Styrsky, whose lurid illustrations adorn the present offering, the original 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.  The present volume offers English translations of the two most important shorts from the original Czech--one by Nezval and one by Styrsky himself. Both were members of an avant garde group of artists known as Devetsil (Nine Forces) and were also founders of the Surrealist movement in Czechoslovakia. The short by Nezval, a friend of Breton and Eluard, owes a bit more to Bataille's Eye than some of the other more free-wheeling Surrealist fare. While the language is mildly surrealistic at times, it is marked more by its assault on the bourgeois sensibility of the time. Nezval's young narrator focuses on that which is considered unspeakable and indecent, especially in the realm of language, becoming fascinated by words like fuck and bordello, and the effect that such words have depending on who's saying them and the circumstances under which they're spoken. The plot of Nezval's story, "Sexual Nocturne," deals with common curiosity of an adolescent male, going through the typical schoolyard antics through his visit to a bordello. In contemporary literature, we're quite familiar with these coming of age passes, but it is prudent to remember just how earth-shattering this kind of material was in its day.  To simply include the word fuck in a story was an illegal act at the time, thus it seems only fit to hail and revere these bold and often crazy artists as the revolutionary forefathers of every modern writer who takes a bit of expletive-slinging for granted. Nezval's character notes the literary expectations of the time by opining that "A writer is expected to make a fool of himself by employing periphrastic expressions while the word "fuck" is nonpareil in conveying sexual intercourse.... FUCK is diamond hard, translucent, a classic." Fuck yeah.         

Styrsky's short, “Emilie Come to Me in a Dream,” is much juicier than Nezval's, containing more the turgidity of image and language that might be expected from a true Surrealist. Jerky and occasionally disjointed, it reads like an artist's dream much more reminiscent of Breton and Artaud in it's appeal to labyrinthine verbiage and expansions of the real. Plot is minimal, and the reader is necessarily afflicted (if such delight can be called an affliction) by Styrsky's weaving of non-sequitur, Morphean excess, casual incest, abstract maxim, and sexual iconography into a breathtaking collage of hanging cloth. Styrsky seems a literary voice worth extensive modern study. His obscene illustrative art suffers a bit by slight resemblance to that of  Terry Gilliam of Monty Python fame (a mistaken comparison since Styrsky predates Python by many decades) yet also summons comparison to sensual works by Beardsley, Dali, and even R. Crumb. It is sufficient to say the sexual Surrealist illustrations fit the text and thus are not fit for young children or the concrete-pantied marchers of the Christian Coalition—but then, what important art, literary or visual, ever is? This volume if important both as history and living art. Highly recommended.  

Editon 69 also contains an essay by Bohuslav Brouk, another founding member of the Czech Surrealists, dealing with the revolutionary character of pornophilia—that is to say that the free artistic consumption of the pornographic in a prudish society is in itself an act of prime rebellion, since porn's appeal to the animalistic is always at odds with society and society's general desire to suppress that which issues from the genitourinary arena. In elevating the purely cerebral and/or spiritual, the social body is weakened, ignoring as it does the strength of animality and the inevitable drive of the sexual being. Brouk's arguments have echoes of Bataille's Erotism in them, in both execution and substance, and they serve as a delightful capper to this amazing piece of literature.  Twisted Spoon Press strikes again. Successfully.