Sunday, March 8, 2009

The Passive Vampire by Ghérasim Luca (a review)

The Passive Vampire
4 out of 5: The Passive Vampire by Ghérasim Luca was originally published in French in 1945 by Les Éditions de l'Oubli in Bucharest. Thanks to Twisted Spoon Press and translator Krzysztof Fijalkowski, this important work of surrealist literature is now available in English in a beautifully designed edition, including 18 full-page photographs of Luca's Objectively Offered Objects (surrealist sculptures comprising strange combinations of symbolic objects).

In Fijalkowski's informative introduction, he explains that the Romanian Surrealist Group, which existed from 1940 until 1947 and of which Luca was a key member, stood for "a reinvention of the surrealist imagination" through:

a critical approach to dreams, the eroticisation of the proletariat, the poetic appropriation of quantum physics, and the perpetual re-evaluation of surrealism through the negation of negation.
The Passive Vampire falls squarely within these professed values and is divided into two halves: The Objectively Offered Object and The Passive Vampire. In the first half of the book, Luca explores how his gift of an object transforms his relationship with the recipient:

When offering an object to someone, external causality responds more rapidly to internal necessities. Erotic relations between myself and other individuals are more quickly established though the mediation of the object.
In the case of an object Luca intended to offer to André Breton, the object

began to murmur a black-magical language between myself and Breton, one that was very close to dream and to primordial language. This secret and mysterious communication lasted uninterrupted for several days.
In creating his objects, Luca chose his materials based on their inner meanings and their harmony with subconscious emotions. The actual substance of his materials was unimportant: "In the world of dreams where I choose to operate, celluloid is flesh and paper is water."

The second half of the book is a poetic evocation of Luca's surrealist philosophies and imaginative visions. The imagery in this section is dark, brooding, and often very strange:

I close my eyes, as active as a vampire, I open them within myself, as passive as a vampire, and between the blood that arrives, the blood that leaves, and the blood already inside me there occurs an exchange of images like an engagement of daggers.
In this half of the book, Luca reveals his pessimistic view of humanity:

It is dawning on [the people] at last that they have long since ceased to live, that the corpses they show to the outside world, having taken the form of the useful, the beautiful, and the goo, have transformed the magnificent rotation of the Earth around the Sun into the funereal procession of a slowly decaying hearse as it approaches the ruins of a cemetery.
The Passive Vampire ends with a love story, but it's a gloomy love story that only "darkened the darkness" for Luca. Though challenging to decipher, this segment of the book is beautifully and powerfully written.

The Passive Vampire had an original print run of only 460 copies, and, until its recent reissue, Fijalkowski explains it had become "something of a lost legend within surrealist literature, rarely referred to and almost never seen other than in jealously guarded private libraries." We are lucky to have access to this "lost legend" in English, which will surely become a rediscovered classic and a "must read" for anyone interested in surrealism.

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