The recent publication of Bruno Jasieński’s The Legs of Izolda Morgan offers another strong argument that Twisted Spoon Press is publishing some of the most fascinating—and most beautiful—books available today. Clothbound and handsomely printed, Izolda Morgan collects several of Jasieński’s futurist manifestos, an essay, stories, and satires.
Considered the enfant terrible of the Polish avant-garde, lauded by critics and scorned by the public, Bruno Jasieński suddenly declared the end of Futurism in Poland soon after his short “novel” The Legs of Izolda Morgan appeared in 1923. An extraordinary example of Futurist prose, this fantastic tale cautions against the machine supplanting the human while the human body is disaggregated into fetishized constituent parts. As central to Jasieński’s oeuvre, the text is situated here between two seminal manifestoes and the important essay “Polish Futurism,” which signaled the movement’s end in the context of its confused reception in Poland, the towering influence of Mayakovsky, and what set it apart from the futurisms of Italy and Russia. The condensed story “Keys” displays Jasieński’s turn toward satire to lambaste the hypocrisies pervasive in powerful institutions, and this is further developed in the two longer grotesques from his time in the Soviet Union in the 1930s. Translated into English from the Russian for the first time, these two late stories expose the nefarious absurdity of racial persecution and warmongering and the lengths social and political structures will go to underpin them.
Bruno Jasieński was one of the leaders of the Polish Futurist movement, and his novel I Burn Paris looks fascinating. It’s also a beautiful looking book — publisher Twisted Spoon has done a lovely job here — an embossed hardback with no superfluous jacket, and even a nice lace bookmark (doesn’t show up in my photo). There are also illustrations by Cristian Opris.
I’m hoping to get into this this weekend, but for now, here’s publisher Twisted Spoon’s description:
I Burn Paris has remained one of Poland’s most uncomfortable masterstrokes of literature since its initial and controversial serialization by Henri Barbusse in 1928 inL’Humanité (for which Jasienski was deported for disseminating subversive literature). It tells the story of a disgruntled factory worker who, finding himself on the streets, takes the opportunity to poison Paris’s water supply. With the deaths piling up, we encounter Chinese communists, rabbis, disillusioned scientists, embittered Russian émigrés, French communards and royalists, American millionaires and a host of others as the city sections off into ethnic enclaves and everyone plots their route of escape. At the heart of the cosmopolitan city is a deep-rooted xenophobia and hatred — the one thread that binds all these groups together. As Paris is brought to ruin, Jasienski issues a rallying cry to the downtrodden of the world, mixing strains of “The Internationale” with a broadcast of popular music.
With its montage strategies reminiscent of early avant-garde cinema and fist-to-the-gut metaphors, I Burn Parishas lost none of its vitality and vigor. Ruthlessly dissecting various utopian fantasies, Jasienski is out to disorient, and he has a seemingly limitless ability to transform the Parisian landscape into the product of disease-addled minds. An exquisite example of literary Futurism and Catastrophism, the novel presents a filthy, degenerated world where factories and machines have replaced the human and economic relationships have turned just about everyone into a prostitute. Yet rather than cliché and simplistic propaganda, there is an immediacy to the writing, and the modern metropolis is starkly depicted as only superficially cosmopolitan, as hostile and animalistic at its core.
This English translation of I Burn Paris fills a major gap in the availability of works from the interwar Polish avant-garde, an artistic phenomenon receiving growing attention with recent publications such as Caviar and Ashes.