FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Unica Zürn, Reporting

“The universe continues to remain in the present tense”

– Ibn ‘Arabi

Unica Zürn was devoted to an absurd heresy: she refused to recognize more than one dimension. She existed in Flatland both in mind and body and brought back several artifacts from this level mathematical plane. Best known today as the muse for Hans Bellmer and sometime associate of the Surrealists, Ms. Zürn wrote several books, as well as some bewitching poetry and drawings. The Trumpets of Jericho, the latest to be translated into English, owes at least two things to her countryman Jakob Grimm: linguistics and fairy tales.

The Trumpets of Jericho is a game of anagrams that pushes meaning out like ripples over the bare letters (“Shudders that break the nonsense”). Words are jammed together either by rearranging their atomic parts or by rhyming in a sort of hopscotch morphology.

Here is a simple example, German/English:  Beil (hatchet) into Lieb (love) and Leib (body).

A longer series of such rhyming words and particles yields:

The wiggle-sand grunts to Wurst-Louise: water-clock, sugar-coin, dust drops to the root. If you want it, pick it up, run to the wall and hay-ho back again, if you want a hundred hay-hos, eat wonder-sugar.

Alliteration and rhyme begin to govern meaning. A real, if witchy, way of telling does appear, fleeting and often absurd. Someone once called Glenn Gould a ‘willfully idiotic genius’ and his recordings of The Goldberg Variations share the same jittery game of roots and progressions. Christina Svendson works some real magic in her English translation of the whole trick. Her Zürn is an eerie brew of pseudo-Bashō and revolution:

But, just wait, slut-father. Your downfall on the level of our city is nigh. Weapon-lice are beginning to stream through all the streets. The population arms itself secretly.

The feathers rustle. Sleep is over. The cliff refreshes nobility of the eye. I greet the old one, the feather, the moth, the boundary between dread and pleasure, and the spirit of the bottle…

“Fly, my arrow room, the fog sweeps icily in the tea. You unfiddle the elf in the bosom. Find, incline, beloved Muse, the bloody end cowardly in the sea. The lying limbs go stiffly around in circle…”

The book begins in what we are told is a tower surrounded by ravens.  We are then given an account of the birth of the narrator’s unwanted child, a horrible nativity which resembles a Punch and Judy show in a medical amphitheater. The narrator (who may also be the father of her own hairy child) then tells us that the whole thing was a lie or perhaps a fantasy. From then on, odd Black Forrest fairy tales full of limpid ponds, birds and buzzing insects ripple up. Moloch and Tristan get cameos, backed by the two World Wars. Childhood flows in and out as if it were a current senility. The anagram device starts in fits and then increasingly absorbs the narrator (or she starts to absorb it), until there is a second birth, the work of Uncle Falada (Grimm again, the name of a talking horse in one of the Tales).  The whole crazy tale comes across like a trumpetsjerichodisturbance in an arctic broadcast: static and busy at the same time. The finale is a singular or universal suicide: dust, earth, everlasting winter, howling wind.

There are also several examples of her line drawings, which resemble alien taxonomic renderings. The sketches of her friend and obsession Henri Michaux give off a similar impression, but he describes land and mind and not arthropods. The sure line drew her in; haze and indistinct zones were vulgar and probably perilous. Her pictures are the expression of a stranger entirely, a silent partner who must keep his means and total project a secret.

In the devoutly materialist view of Unica Zürn, all things exist in a state of potential or constant metamorphosis. The insect is the perfect form in the chain of life because its body can be added to, subtracted from and rearranged in endless combinations. Her classic book of anagrammic poems and drawings is entitled Hexentexte (1954). Häxan is Old German for witch (as in hex). The word also suggests the number 6 (hexa as in hexagon; sex in Latin). In entomology, insects make up the subphylum hexapoda (six-legged): fly, mosquito, butterfly, beetle, praying mantis etc. Hexen also recalls the Greek-Anatolian Goddess Hecate (Shakespeare has Hekat), dark mistress of crossroads, the Moon, witchcraft, necromancy and the art of herbs and poisons. The photos of her trussed and bound in Hans Bellmer’s famous book The Doll recall the casement of the beetle and the pedipalps of the scorpion.

There is an obsession with concrete, rooms, daylight and time spent waiting throughout the pages of The Trumpets of Jericho. One of its many obscene missions is to make boredom hypnotic because nothing really happens except boredom and finally, only perhaps, oblivion. There are some outright clues: “Are you afraid? Have I achieved what I wanted? You’ll believe any stupid thing! …Are you thoroughly bored with my story? I promise you I am as bored as you are while I am writing this.”  Despite the Gothic elementals and coiled beasts in the corner, her revelations always occur in broad daylight. This is a trap: the harsh glare of a daylight interrogation is far more corrupt than the night.

Inventory of the Day: hour of confessions, medical operations, police procedurals, psychiatric evaluations, daydreams, unwanted spasms of memory, childhood play (there is no business more serious), financial transactions, Vermeery light at the windowsill, indistinct outlines, totalen kriegs, ominous lulls in boardrooms, a siesta without spirits, decisions, missing names, clarity, clarity, open streets and open city, clarity.

A good scientist until the end, Miss Zürn’s final investigation into the concrete nature of the world led her to step off her windowsill at the Hotel de l’Espérance, 88 Rue Mouffetard, Paris, on 19 October 1970.

More articles by:

Martin Billheimer lives in Chicago.

September 20, 2018
Michael Hudson
Wasting the Lehman Crisis: What Was Not Saved Was the Economy
John Pilger
Hold the Front Page, the Reporters are Missing
Kenn Orphan
The Power of Language in the Anthropocene
Paul Cox – Stan Cox
Puerto Rico’s Unnatural Disaster Rolls on Into Year Two
Rajan Menon
Yemen’s Descent Into Hell: a Saudi-American War of Terror
Russell Mokhiber
Nick Brana Says Dems Will Again Deny Sanders Presidential Nomination
Nicholas Levis
Three Lessons of Occupy Wall Street, With a Fair Dose of Memory
Steve Martinot
The Constitutionality of Homeless Encampments
Kevin Zeese - Margaret Flowers
The Aftershocks of the Economic Collapse Are Still Being Felt
Jesse Jackson
By Enforcing Climate Change Denial, Trump Puts Us All in Peril
George Wuerthner
Coyote Killing is Counter Productive
Mel Gurtov
On Dealing with China
Dean Baker
How to Reduce Corruption in Medicine: Remove the Money
September 19, 2018
Bruce E. Levine
When Bernie Sold Out His Hero, Anti-Authoritarians Paid
Lawrence Davidson
Political Fragmentation on the Homefront
George Ochenski
How’s That “Chinese Hoax” Treating You, Mr. President?
Cesar Chelala
The Afghan Morass
Chris Wright
Three Cheers for the Decline of the Middle Class
Howard Lisnoff
The Beat Goes On Against Protest in Saudi Arabia
Nomi Prins 
The Donald in Wonderland: Down the Financial Rabbit Hole With Trump
Jack Rasmus
On the 10th Anniversary of Lehman Brothers 2008: Can ‘IT’ Happen Again?
Richard Schuberth
Make Them Suffer Too
Geoff Beckman
Kavanaugh in Extremis
Jonathan Engel
Rather Than Mining in Irreplaceable Wilderness, Why Can’t We Mine Landfills?
Binoy Kampmark
Needled Strawberries: Food Terrorism Down Under
Michael McCaffrey
A Curious Case of Mysterious Attacks, Microwave Weapons and Media Manipulation
Elliot Sperber
Eating the Constitution
September 18, 2018
Conn Hallinan
Britain: the Anti-Semitism Debate
Tamara Pearson
Why Mexico’s Next President is No Friend of Migrants
Richard Moser
Both the Commune and Revolution
Nick Pemberton
Serena 15, Tennis Love
Binoy Kampmark
Inconvenient Realities: Climate Change and the South Pacific
Martin Billheimer
La Grand’Route: Waiting for the Bus
John Kendall Hawkins
Seymour Hersh: a Life of Adversarial Democracy at Work
Faisal Khan
Is Israel a Democracy?
John Feffer
The GOP Wants Trumpism…Without Trump
Kim Ives
The Roots of Haiti’s Movement for PetroCaribe Transparency
Dave Lindorff
We Already Have a Fake Billionaire President; Why Would We want a Real One Running in 2020?
Gerry Brown
Is China Springing Debt Traps or Throwing a Lifeline to Countries in Distress?
Pete Tucker
The Washington Post Really Wants to Stop Ben Jealous
Dean Baker
Getting It Wrong Again: Consumer Spending and the Great Recession
September 17, 2018
Melvin Goodman
What is to be Done?
Rob Urie
American Fascism
Patrick Cockburn
The Adults in the White House Trying to Save the US From Trump Are Just as Dangerous as He Is
Jeffrey St. Clair - Alexander Cockburn
The Long Fall of Bob Woodward: From Nixon’s Nemesis to Cheney’s Savior
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail