Another beautiful volume from Twisted Spoon: A Gothic Soul by Jiří Karásek ze Lvovic, translated from the Czech by Kirsten Lodge, featuring prints by Sascha Schneider.
I dipped my toe in this weekend—strange, brooding stuff. More to come.
A Gothic Soul is the most acclaimed work of Czech Decadent prose. Expressing concerns that are unique to the Czech movement while alluding creatively and ironically to Joris-Karl Huysman’s Against Nature, the novella is set in Prague, which is portrayed as a dead city, a city peopled by shades, who, like the protagonist — a nihilist and the “last scion of a noble line” — are only a dim reflection of the city’s medieval splendor. The man lives in a dreamworld, the labyrinth of his soul giving rise to visions. In his quest for meaning, he walks the city, often hallucinating, while pondering questions of religious fervor and loss of faith, the vanity of life, his own sense of social alienation, human identity and its relationship to a “nation,” the miserable situation of the Czechs under Habsburg rule, and Prague’s loss of its soul on the cusp of modernity as old sections, such as much of the squalid Jewish Quarter, are demolished to make way for gaudy new buildings and streets. With a history of madness running in the family and afraid the same fate awaits him, he ultimately retreats into seclusion, preferring the monastic way of life as the epitome of unity and wholeness and a tonic to present-day fragmentation. Yet Karásek eschews the mawkish, opting instead for darker tones that play with the tropes and motifs of Decadence while conflating the same-sex desires of his protagonist, the fatalism and futility of such an existence within the social construct of the day, with concerns for the dual fates of his nation and city.
Given his importance for Czech literature and for European Decadence, very little of Karásek’s work has been translated into English. Kirsten Lodge included translations of his poetry in Solitude, Vanity, Night: An Anthology of Czech Decadent Poetry, and we have made available her translations of some of his shorter prose here and here. This is the first time A Gothic Soul, or any full-length work of Karásek’s prose, has been translated into English.