The blog of author Dennis Cooper

Spotlight on … Unica Zürn Dark Spring (1967)



‘One of the things that always troubled me about the fascination with madness and the intertwined eroticism and death that always pervaded the Romantic and Surrealistic sensibilities was that they were almost always expressed by people who seemed to be celebrating those things without having known their cost in personal suffering. I’m not trying to apply some kind of politically-correct standard to the appreciation of such works, just pointing out that while some were idolizing the dark underbelly of the human psyche, others were helpless to it, and found nothing remotely romantic about the experience.

‘Unica Zürn seems to have been one of the victims. From 1953 until her death in 1970 she was close to one of the most important Surrealists, Hans Bellmer, living with him in Paris and posing for some of his notoriously disturbing pictures. She came to become dependent on him, and not long after he was hospitalized for a stroke and broke off their relationship (he believed he could no longer care for her in his condition), she threw herself out of the window of the sixth-story apartment they shared. She had been suffering from her own decline for some time: not long after meeting fellow artist Henri Michaux in 1957, she began to experience one shattering episode of mental upset after another that culminated in her self-destruction.

‘Michaux himself played a central part in these breakdowns: there was something about him which reminded her of a childhood fantasy that she had entertained, and his presence fueled the writing of two works: The Man of Jasmine, most explicitly about the Michaux-image, and Dark Spring. The latter has been described as a kind of erotic autobiography: a portrait of the artist as a young girl, and also a young corpse. Zürn killed herself not long after writing it, and in a manner so strongly redolent of the death of the girl within it that it became hard to see the story as little more than a kind of fictionalized suicide note. And yet at the same time it is more than that: it can be read entirely outside of the context of her life, and it has a stark power that stays with you even when removed from that context.

‘What makes it work, oddly enough, is that it is a remarkably short and compact story — barely 115 pages of large type — but the details that make up the story are so sharp and well-chosen that there scarcely seems to be anything more to add. It presents us with the life, and death, of a young girl — barely pubescent but with an erotic haze suffusing everything in her life, including her obsessive devotion to her father. Her mother is insufferable; her brother subjects her to various sexual torments and eventually rapes her; gradually, she recedes inwards and finds greater satisfaction in fantasy worlds than in her daily life. The fantasies themselves reek of depravity and torment — but at least a kind of depravity and torment that are of her own creation.

When she finally does turn her erotic obsessions back outwards, they fixate on a handsome young man — an adult, where she is still really only a child to the rest of the world — whom she encounters at a public swimming pool. There is nothing outwardly sinister about him, but again, he is an adult, and she is not, and from that comes a wall that she finds impossible to surmount. And from that rebuff her thoughts turn inwards once again, to find what consummation she can in fantasies of enacting her death for real. The last scene in the book has been widely compared to Zürn’s own suicide, although she seemed less to be “rehearsing” anything than admitting she was helpless in the face of what was, in her mind, a foregone conclusion about her life.

‘If the book is so relentlessly bleak and ends on such a phenomenally closed-ended and nihilistic note, why read it at all? For one, the compactness of the story alone makes it into quite an achievement: it’s a little exhilarating to see Zürn pack so much about her character into so few words, to make one sentence do the work of a paragraph, and to evoke this girl so sharply without needing more space than she does. The other reason is more general than that: we might want to read such things for the same reasons that people are compelled to write them — because places like this do exist within us, and if someone can not only talk about them but do justice to them, then the results are aesthetically exhilarating even if they imply ghastly things. That was after all a large component of what the Surrealist mission was: to dive into the unconscious, rescue the things that might normally be thrown away by the waking mind, and make them into the substance of their art. What makes Dark Spring so hard to put out of mind is that it shows Zürn diving into her dreamworld and coming up with nothing less than her own cenotaph.’ — Serdar


Hans Bellmer’s photographs of Unica Zürn

‘Perhaps the best-known collaborations between the artist Hans Bellmer and Zürn are the works where he tied her up tight so that her body greatly resembled a scored piece of meat, also resembling his dolls’ appendages. She was also the star of several pornographic photographs, many that made their way into Geoges Batatille’s illustrated version of Story of the Eye.

‘In true Surrealist fashion, she is treated as an object and not as a woman, a headless body readied for manipulation. Her pleasure from this, though, speaks to her being very free, even feminist in the face of a movement and a time where that was rare and criticized. The fact she writes about these things makes her even more of a trailblazer, a forerunner of the movement actually doing what many of the male Surrealists could only inflict.’ — DOLL WORK












‘A STONE FOR UNICA ZURN’, by Gary Indiana
‘The Hallucinatory Terror of Unica Zürn’, by Blake Butler
The Chimeras of Unica Zurn
Unica Zürn, Bellmer et Perec
Unica Zurn, Solfege and Spectacle
Unica Zürn: Nine Anagrammatic Poems
Unica Zürn @ goodreads
Book: ‘Unica Zurn: Art, Writing and Post-War Surrealism’
Audio: À la recherche d’Unica Zurn
The automatic drawings of Unica Zurn. (1916-1970)
The Semiotics of Schizophrenia: Unica Zürn’s Artistry and Illness
An Interview with the Lovely, Yet Deceased, Unica Zürn
MAD WOMEN: Hedda Gabler, Unica Zürn and Leonora Carrington
French Surrealist Unica Zürn’s The Trumpets of Jericho is a powerful tale of maternity and depression
Fragmentos de la vida y obra de Unica Zürn
The Syntax of Anxiety: Unica Zürn’s Novella
About what: Unica Zurn
Buy ‘Dark Spring’



Unica Zürn by theakky04movies



Runa Kvalsund les Unica Zürn: Mørk vår


Last Notes



“The last “notes” of German author and painter Unica Zurn, written in 1970 some months before her suicide, confront the “family curse.” Already in childhood she seemed to know that she too would end her life like her mad uncle Fallada and her adored stepmother Orla Holm. Writing, in “The Whiteness with the Red Spot” (1958), “This life has not become my life,” she formulated a motif of both her drawing and writing. Her autobiographical texts are never written in the first person, but always in the third. Like a camera, she takes a picture of her actions, writes about herself as though about some nameless, enigmatic, other woman. Always loyal to the inner difference between “I” and “she,” Zurn never attempted to smooth over her strange, singular distance regarding herself and her life. “Impressions From a Mental Illness,” an account of her illness and sojourns in psychiatric hospitals published in 1967, is recorded in the tone of a distanced witness. At the same time, she claimed not to have written one sentence that did not correspond to her life. In the end, in 1970, she wrote: “How poor has her life become”. At this point, after the separation from Hans Bellmer, her companion since 1953, and after she decided to separate from a life that had become resolutely aimless, she nevertheless seemed to catch a glimpse of the possibility of a final breakthrough. Faced with a self-imposed deadline of several months, she succeeded in producing a narrative that broke with her former concept and proceeded to follow another order, one born of poverty. She goes back to untold coordinates in a language that documents her ever-beckoning erasure. The last notes, which leave off with her voluntary death, before extension and interweaving could take over, reveal memory to be a seldom functioning machine that, faced with a deadline, wants to tell the untold in the form of intransitive images. These images seek to cross over into oblivion or toward the prospect of yet being experienced in the future.

Zurn’s body of work opens up the interior of a perceptual system of madness. The texts are located at an intersection, a point of transfer. Madness becomes the supplier of literature, literature transports madness. Both drawings and texts show the “image processes” (Zurn) or hallucinations haunting her. “I’m haunted as though I were the only home for something unknown”. It is not she who writes or draws, as images “stream in” or “arise”. A dictation she feels compelled to take down circumvents “sublimated elaboration” (Kristeva). For Zurn, some thing or other–what Lacan calls extimacy (“extimite,” a foreign body, composed of what is intimate)–seems to take charge in the missing place of authorship and sublimation. She is remote-controlled and the rote observer of a delirium that runs on ahead like a movie. She writes down what can be caught. The notes resist, as pure record, the inaccessibility of madness.

There can be no doubt, however, that madness has a method. Even the smallest task becomes cryptography.

‘She asks the daughter to get the box with the money
and to count the money; she herself is not able. One
looks at her in amazement. In the meantime the nurse
comes back and she goes into the kitchen and looks at
the enormous, fat leeks rising up from a casserole
dish that’s too small, in which there is only a little
water. This meal will never be ready and she feels herself
incapable of cutting the vegetable into pieces. This problem
grows so monstrous and is so unsolvable that she, overwhelmed
by vertigo, goes back to the bedroom, starts to stagger and falls
to the ground.’

In other words, changes of dimension foreground inconspicuous things. The world of things spreads out. Proportions distort themselves in a surreal way. The transformation of material reality serves to close the narrator off from her surroundings.

The texts preceding her last notes move along the edge of a psychotic discourse, and can be described, following Kristeva’s Pouvoirs de l’horreurs (1980), as speech based on foreclosure, the virulence of which dislocates the opposition between consciousness and the unconscious. “The unconscious contents remain locked out here but in a bizarre manner: not radical enough to allow a solid differentiation between subject and object and not with sufficient selectivity for the unfolding of a position of defense, refusal, but also sublimating elaboration. The contents, which are normally unconscious for the neurotic, become explicit now.”

Madness constantly deciphers itself within a realm of unintelligibility. Although Zurn’s writing and drawing border conceptually on automatic writing and drawing, she nevertheless also developed a certain competence for selection. Cutouts of inner images are edited from a continuum we will never get to know. A natural metonymy is replaced with an artificial montage. With the montage, there appears attribution of meanings. But no pure, immediate mimesis results, but rather a simulation and translation of inner “image processes.” Zurn’s alleged female “non-authorship”–the conversation of another agency through her, the dictation of her illness–is also a rhetorical trick that is supposed to withhold from the reader the difference between madness and literature. Madness is neither told from the perspective of rationalism nor does it speak with its own voice. As the manuscripts show, there are decisions made in advance, revisions, deletions, several versions, as well as a general orientation toward the program of surrealism. Regarding the best pages, one gets the impression of an unfolding signifying chain, a mad externalization of memory, without any obstacle getting in the way.

In contrast to Zurn’s best-known texts from the 1950s and ’60s (The Witches’ Texts, the “Anagrams,” and The Man of Jasmine), the last notes perform a realization of separation. Zurn seems in the end to break with the surrealist concept of a blending of boundaries between madness and reality. The prospect of their amalgamation has been withdrawn. The posthumously published leftovers bear the marks of a violent erasure that will not be ignored. Whatever is able to grab us as hallucination, promise, fiction, has vanished. With the separation from Bellmer, her “other” or “symptom,” and with the decision at the same time to end her life, the (Lacanian) real as the nothing of the other becomes manifest, one of whose signs is the separation of tenses and times. Present, past, and future, which were once used interchangeably in the world of hallucination, are assigned different places. It is this process of separating out that distinguishes the last notes from all preceding texts. Now the emptiness can be represented, not sublimated. The former delusion of signification, which functioned to screen this emptiness, leaves off. What is registered now is what was missing before: the empty reality that is no longer modulated by any fiction or alienation. But in Zurn’s late, nearly dispassionate narrative style, which departs both from the art of interpretation and from madness, there remains a kind of consolation.

They smoke – the smoke becomes thicker and thicker around them. The surroundings disappear, only their two pale, tired faces are still visible. Suddenly they are the only two remaining in this world of pain. Nobody is there – the house, the world – everything is emptied out, gone are the living and the dead. An endless solitude and probably an eternal night without a morning to follow. They are silent and smoke. It is deathly still in the house, in the world. What sadness life – what solitude – death.

She has left the space of madness and accepted instead the place of the dead.

In the process she comes up with divisions that she had previously rejected. She cuts her life into pieces–her time in Paris, her time in Berlin, her encounter with Bellmer – and attempts to maintain a simple verbal construction of life and time. She resists the dictation of madness, the hallucinations and paralysis, and permits herself access to individual memories, which, once again but from a different standpoint, refer back to the origins of her system of madness.

The last fragments return to particular situations in her life that signified an original break. A few untold memory-images detach themselves from the emptiness that encloses the memories. With the deadline, tightening condensation sets in. “At the end of one’s life”–as Benjamin writes in “The Storyteller” (1936)–“a sequence of pictures is set into motion, unfolding views of oneself, in which one has, without knowing it, encountered oneself.” Benjamin conceived the emergence of memory-images as a form of “self-encounter.” “To the highest degree, it bears the stamp of the critical, dangerous moment”.

Without question, the memory of the sight of a five-month-old “embryo” is this image of horror. In the early 1960s, after a series of failed attempts to abort the far too developed fetus, a physician in Berlin gives her “a box of quinine.”

‘At the climax of pain, she goes to the toilet and gives birth at this sad place to a big embryo. No blood flows. She holds with horror and at the same time with admiration this unfinished being in her hand that looks like a very old, nearly Aztecan object. Horrible picture how this solemn and strange-looking being sinks into the darkness of stinking, subterranean canals.’

What is nearly impossible for her to narrate – the unnamable violence against bodies–comes to be told in one of the last possible moments. The dynamics of the writing process is, in the end, a “retouching” of irreversible separations, here in sight of the “incomplete,” “solemn and foreign-looking being.” In the end she seems to cease merely receiving dictation and works with her own suffering, grants it discourse. No longer in an autoerotic or self-enclosed way as during the phases of recording hallucinations, her discourse reaches another type of image, another psychic layer. It seizes a moment of crisis and emphasizes the separating line as a leftover set aside for writing.

For Zurn, there is one motif that always returns. It refers back to the origin of her system of delusion in her most fundamental operation: the splitting apart of face and body. In the context of her individual mythology, she dates or mystifies the “beginning” of her system of madness back to the fixation on the “solemn and foreign-looking,” yet beautiful face of a man. She calls this apparition the “man of jasmine.” The first time she sees him, in a “vision,” she is six years old, and she will go on encountering him again and again, now in a movie (Jean-Louis Barrault in the 1945 film Les enfants du paradis), now in reality: it is the face of Bellmer, the face she follows to Paris. As she remarks, she has grown ever more like this face herself. In Dark Spring (1967), Zurn relates how she, as a twelve-year-old girl, eats the photograph of a young man to keep the grownups from discovering it.

‘She puts the photograph in her mouth, chews it up carefully and swallows it’.

She incorporates the man as her imaginary double image. Bellmer followed this curve:

‘She carries the picture of Hans in her eyes, ears, hair, and in her body and in her soul: he was omnipresent to her – she was under his spell – wherever she walked’

In Paris, she meets the mystery man also in the incarnation of Henri Michaux:

‘Later she experiences the first miracle of her life: in a room in Paris, she faced the man of jasmine. The shock of this meeting was so powerful that she could not recover from it. From that day on, she begins ever so slowly to lose her mind’.

It is a face associated with something inscrutable, an image with a staying power that can’t be exhausted. As Benjamin once put it, “For everyone there exists an image over which the whole world disappears… for how many does it arise out of an old box of toys?”. The evocation of many images gives way to their condensation in one inscrutable image that replaces all the others and lets them go. The mystery of the face in Zurn’s poetic system–twice identified as a “Chinese face” -signals the narrator’s preferred mode of love: adoration, love at a distance, that of the bodiless kind. The man of jasmine is paralyzed; he sits in a wheelchair. His image always arises in a specific constellation that repeats itself in a nearly somnambulist manner. The mask of the esoteric love is a screen image, a screen memory, which points to something behind it or invisibly connected to it. “Object” and “abject” are inextricably entwined. On the first page of The Man of Jasmine, the narrator, immediately before mentioning the “vision,” recounts a dream involving a well-known surrealist motif: the dreaming woman walks through a mirror on the wall. She passes through and finally stands in front of a table. On the table is a small white card. “As she picks up the card to read the name on it, she wakes up”. The dreamer knows that there is a name written on the card, but this name, this attribute, stays inaccessible to her. The decipherment fails. Shortly afterwards, we read:

‘Filled this morning with an inexplicable loneliness, she enters her mother’s room in order to get into her bed and return, if possible, to the place where she came from–so as to see nothing more. Suddenly, a mountain of lukewarm flesh, enclosing this woman’s impure spirit, rolls over on the horrified child, and she flees forever from the mother, the woman, the spider! She is deeply
wounded. ‘

The next sentence:

‘Then her vision appears to her for the first time: the man of jasmine! Never-ending consolation! Sighing with relief, she sits down opposite him and studies him. He is paralyzed. What luck! He never leaves his seat in the garden where the jasmine blooms even in wintertime.’

The violation of boundaries identified with the mother immediately precedes the first appearance of the hallucination. From this point onward, the “screen” with the face of the other will always be called up whenever an unbinding of affects breaks through the protective layers. The visual sense protects against the memory of the body and the affects it holds in store. The “face” occupies the threshold between image space and body space, and splits them apart. The screen solution is activated whenever there is a repetition of the sense of being overwhelmed. Although the two scenes always follow one another, the gap between them and their necessary connection is suspended, disassociated. There is no passage to the zero degree of meaning. Through the symbol of the face, the text gains a figure, a facade–and hides a radical moment of loss, the eclipse of signification.

One of Zurn’s psychiatrists, Rabain, who worked at St. Anne in Paris, remarks likewise: “Violent breaking into a body, which is under attack by a bizarre object, invested with intolerable emotions – an obscene and dangerous object like the mother tongue.” The transgression, traced by the protagonist to her sixth year, destroys and contaminates the body’s frontiers – at the level of incest – and becomes the catalyst for biography, work, and the system of delusion. One will never know if this scene is the “origin” of schizophrenia or already part of the system of madness (as an inner image). Traumatization is often missing its origin in time. One finds oneself constantly before or after the beginning. What happens, or is said to, can also always be a consequence, and again a consequence of consequences, until the chain loses itself in the horizon of the “too early.” Even if the violation, as reported in the text, took place “in the sixth year,” it is already mediatized in passing through the memory. And so the question remains: how could this event take on such importance, such doggedness?

For her, there remains the saving clause of a distant father, who travels a great deal. The adoration of an inscrutable face remains in her imagination, like the body bound to a wheelchair, unchangeably situated in the same place, in white jasmine. A delegate of the father without a body, someone whose face counts for her – who cannot leave her, dependent as he is, like herself, on assistance–becomes the model of love she holds up to the diffuse body of the mother, a model that won’t permit the regression. This image is always called forth whenever a return to the merger with the mother’s body, which has never completely broken away, takes place. The advantage of this inner splitting is that another solution doesn’t have to take place: the slow, step-by-step separation from the mother. The connection as well as the break with her couldn’t be integrated; the mother survives, internalized, as an overpowering, contaminated being, as the one who dictates. The logic of this traumatic “break-in” determines the quality of Zurn’s psychiatric institutionalizations. In the hospitals she is surrounded by the polymorphous-perverse female bodies she always described in her texts about her hospital stays, and which she drew (with Chinese ink) as overlapping, interchangeable bodies. The hospitals connect her atmospherically with the unconscious image of the mother. The corridors are lined with the openings of a memory-less memory. In one of the last letters to Herta Hausmann, she writes from Chesnailles: “Weather fine – [in French] as for me, the melancholy resulting from that dismal sojourn in the belly of Helene Helly-Zurn, my mother, still remains …”. She spends her last ten years divided between two places or scenes, the contour-less, regressive place of the mother (Wittenau, St. Anne, Maison Blanche, Chesnailles) and Bellmer’s Parisian apartment, home to one of the many bearers of the “Chinese face.”

The singular image of this face would seem to be without history. That would be its protective function. But the texts show that the timelessness of the face is marked from the beginning by withdrawal. It is the discrete sign of the destruction and of the wish for destruction that has inscribed itself in Zurn’s body. Overwhelming, excessive, overlapping, never graspable by the one thus seized, the body is disturbed or destroyed at its borders, which never seem functional or protective. To the very end, Unica Zurn’s memoirs (for which she contrived the neologism “Memorien”) represent a solitary attempt to re-inscribe her own bodily contours with repetition, narration, and drawing–but the countervailing forces were so much stronger.” — Rike Felka


2 manuscript pages



51hjgdaeil-_sx361_bo1204203200_ Unica Zürn Dark Spring
Exact Change

Dark Spring is an autobiographical coming-of-age novel that reads more like an exorcism than a memoir. In it author Unica Zurn traces the roots of her obsessions: The exotic father she idealized, the “impure” mother she detested, the masochistic fantasies and onanistic rituals which she said described “the erotic life of a little girl based on my own childhood.” Dark Spring is the story of a young girl’s simultaneous introduction to sexuality and mental illness, revealing a different aspect of the “mad love” so romanticized by the (predominantly male) Surrealists. Unica Zurn (1916-1970) emigrated in 1953 from her native Berlin to Paris in order to live with the artist Hans Bellmer. There she exhibited drawings as a member of the Surrealist group and collaborated with Bellmer on a series of notorious photographs of her nude torso bound with string. In 1957, a fateful encounter with the poet and painter Henri Michaux led to the first of what would become a series of mental crises, some of which she documented in her writings. She committed suicide in 1970–an act foretold in this, her last completed work.’ — Exact Change


Each time, she finds herself tormented by her terrible fear of the rattling skeleton of a huge gorilla, which she believes inhabits the house at night. The sole purpose of his existence is to strangle her to death. In passing, she looks, as she does every night, at the large Rubens painting depicting “The Rape of the Sabine Women.” These two naked, rotund women remind her of her mother and fill her with loathing. But she adores the two dark, handsome robbers, who lift the women onto their rearing horses. She implores them to protect her from the gorilla. She idolizes a whole series of fictional heroes who return her gaze from the old, dark paintings that hang throughout the house. One of them reminds her of Douglas Fairbanks, whom she adored as a pirate and as the “Thief of Baghdad” in the movie theater at school. She is sorry she must be a girl. She wants to be a man, in his prime, with a black beard and flaming black eyes. But she is only a little girl whose body is bathed in sweat from fear of discovering the terrible gorilla in her room, under her bed. She is tortured by fears of the invisible.

Who knows whether or not the skeleton will crawl up the twines of ivy that grow on the wall below her window, and then slip into her room. His mass of hard and pointed bones will simply crush her inside her bed. Her fear turns into a catastrophe when she accidentally bumps into the sabers, which fall off the wall with a clatter in the dark. She runs to her room as fast as she can and slams the door shut behind her. She turns the key and bolts the door. One again, she has come out of this alive. Who knows what will happen tomorrow night? . . .

Sometimes, when Franz visits, he makes her laugh so hard that she ends up wetting her panties. The smell of it attracts the dog, who puts his head between her legs. This gives her an idea. She goes down to the basement and over to the dog pen, where she lies down on the cold cement floor with her legs spread apart. The dog starts to lick in between her legs. The cold only increases her sense of pleasure. Feeling the ecstasy, she arches her belly towards this patient tongue. Her back hurts from the hard stone. She loves to be in pain while enduring her pleasure. She is greatly aroused, even more so because of the possibility that, at any given moment, someone might come to watch her. Through the door she can hear the sound of her father’s secretary typing. While she yields to the dog’s tongue for hours, her brother discovers something new upstairs. Sitting at his mother’s dressing table, he busies himself with the electric vibrator their mother uses for her beauty care. This vibrator stimulates whichever part of the body it is applied to. The mother massages her face with it; the son puts it into his open pants. When she comes upstairs from the basement, weakened and dizzy, she sees her brother lose his semen, his head thrust back and his eyes closed. The sky has darkened. There is the threat of a thunderstorm and the atmosphere is tense. The adults pay no attention to the two children, who have nothing better to do than to keep experiencing, over and over again, this indescribably powerful feeling.



p.s. Hey. ** New Juche, Hi, Joe! ** H, Hi. Oh, I know, making posts about film/filmmakers is always a lengthy process because I’ll get stuck watching the films. Well, whenever your list is in shape, know that I’m very interested. Today my 2016 buche will be chosen and RSVPed to be picked up tomorrow. It’s down to three finalists among the ones that aren’t yet sold out. ** TomK Hi, Tom. Um, yeah, I think the Bueno bars are related to Kinder Bueno now that you mention it. The packaging is very simpatico. Oh, are there sites that won’t run serials? I’m guessing you already queried Entropy? Hm, I can’t think of sites that either specialize in serials or have a policy against them. Fanzine? Let me forefront your question and see what happens. Everyone, A question from the fine writer and honorable gentlemen Thomas ‘TomK’ Kendall. Any ideas for him? TomK: ‘Quick hive mind question: I’m working on the middle section of a new novel and this middle section is comprised of ostensibly ‘stand alone’ oral histories about a disease and I was thinking it might be fun/ useful/ interesting to try and serialise them somewhere. Does anyone know of a lit website/magazine that could be interested in that? ** The Metaphysician, Hello! What a good name you have. Welcome! Thank you kindly for your thoughts and words. Please come back anytime. ** Jamie, Hey! Ha ha, I actually love Densing Queen. Me, I’m stuck. I just spent thirty seconds trying to figure out how to fuse Jamie with Jar Jar Binks. That’s how stuck I am du jour. The rehearsals went really, really well. We were very happy. Brussels! Gosh, give a wave when you see the Eiffel Tower out your window. If you’re flying. Not that I live close to the Eiffel Tower. But still. I hope the day isn’t too tricky and delayed and all that ‘great’ stuff that comes with cheap tickets. Well, yes, if I don’t get to see you until Xmas is history, have an amazing holiday, and Joyeux Noel to you and to all of yours! Wreathed love, Dennis. ** David Ehrenstein, Ha ha, yes. ** Steevee, Hi. Knowing how much you hated ‘Jackie’, I am particularly looking forward to your review. Everyone, Steve has reviewed the film ‘Jackie’, and it’s his pick for worst film of the year, so it’s almost assuredly a very fun (and more) thing to read. Hop over here And then take another trip to this place to read his best and worst films of 2016. Not to mention his picks of the films that didn’t get theater distribution but deserved it — a list that I’m proud to say includes Zac’s and my ‘Like Cattle Towards Glow’. ** _Black_Acrylic, Hi, Ben! Thank you a million again! It went really well! Woop! ** Dóra Grőber, Hi, Dóra! Well, I’m grateful that my family had/has the artists it did/does. I sometimes wonder if I would even be an artist if it wasn’t for my grandmother who was super creative with me when I was a little kid. Yeah, maybe at some point I can share pix of the location of our film. Only Zac has the photos for now. The rehearsals went really well. The piece made a big leap forward yesterday, which made for a good place to stop since we take a break now until June. Yeah, it was kind of breakthrough day. Nice about your Xmas ritual with your friend. I think my Xmas is going to be the usual almost nonexistent one that has pretty much been the case since I moved over here. Quietness with a short period devoted to buche devouring will probably be it. Are you spending the big day with your family? Do you guys have a particular Xmas thing or ritual you always do? And how was today? ** Kyler, Hi. Ha, thank you for putting that mileage on the ‘LCTG’ DVD. You make the disc sound saintly, and, hey, why not? ** Misanthrope, Hi, G. Oh, right, I remember that you stay in Jersey City. Yeah, close enough. A hop, skip, and jump without the skip. No! That’s sad you had to cancel your trip over here, but yeah, money, yeah. And it’s not like London or Paris are going anywhere. Well, I shouldn’t speak for London. I just hope you get to reschedule asap, duh. Hey, are in touch with Rigby? I was reading on Facebook that something not good is up with him, but I couldn’t figure what’s going on. ** Jeff J, Hi, Jeff! Cool. Ah, Ken! I miss that guy. The process of developing the characters for the dance piece was not so unlike the character development I did for ‘The Ventriloquists Convention’. For the dance piece, we had an initial, multi-day group audition in the early summer, and then a second one with the ‘finalists’ a few months ago. During those, Gisele worked on movement and trajectory ideas, and I observed the individual dancers, seeing what they already did well and what I thought they could do that would work with their faces and bodies and how their particular charisma worked and so on. When the final group of dancers was chosen, I constructed individual characters for them based on my observations and guesses. As I think I said, the piece tales place in a dance club. It starts with people entering the club and ends late that night when the club closes. So, the characters have to reveal themselves in that context. Anyway, the written character sketches were sent to the dancers, and they studied them. When we met up with them again last weekend, I worked with them individually to see if they felt that the assigned characters matched them, how the characters could be refined or altered to better suit who they are. Then, during the week of rehearsals, it was a matter of getting them to ‘perform’ their characters within a movement context and, as importantly, to develop visible relationships between the characters/dancers through which little narratives could be formed. The idea of the piece is that each dancer/character is a clear individual and the viewer can look from one to another in any way/order they want, and they will always find a new story going on that they can follow. And the small narratives intersect to form an overall narrative arc for the group. If that makes sense. It’s very intricate work, but, amazingly, it seems to be working extremely well, due to the fact that dancers are just great to a one. So, is that clear? I can say more, if you want. Thank you for asking about that, man. ** Bill, Hi, Bill. Maybe like you, I used to read Conjunctions regularly, but I haven’t actually picked up a copy in a long time for some reason. That Evenson/Delany interview will get me there. And my favorite Paris bookshop stocks Conjunctions, and I haven’t been to that shop in too long, so perfect. You must be heading off right about now? ** Okay. I realized that I hadn’t made a post about the great Unica Zürn in a long time, so I did a new one. Hope you like. See you tomorrow.


  1. _Black_Acrylic

    Dark Spring is up there with my very favourite books so for this to come straight after my Penda’s Fen Day, well it almost feels like Xmas or something. I’ll use today to pick over the analysis of this most perfect of stories.

    Here in Leeds I’m just being looked after and fed too much food ahead of the holiday weekend. There’s a special Joy of ABBA show on the telly tonight which seems ideal festive viewing.

  2. Dóra Grőber


    Yeah, it’s a really interesting question. I mean sometimes I wonder if my writing ambitions could ‘blossom’ because I have artist parents or I would’ve gotten here anyway, too. I like to think we have it in us anyway but maybe some kind of an ‘influence’ or push is useful.
    I’m really curious so when or if you can share some pictures, I’m all for it! It sounds so nice, I’m really glad you can let the dance piece ‘sleep’ for a while after such a breakthrough!
    It must be quite a difficult aspect of living in Paris, away from a lot of people you’re close to. Of course, I don’t want to sound too clever because I obviously don’t know anything about it, it just crossed my mind when I read that you expect to have a quiet Christmas.
    We usually have this ‘ritual’: my brother and I visit our father in the morning, then we (minus our father) have dinner with our mom and grandparents. That’s where and when we give presents, too. And that’s about it. This is my first Christmas since my dog died so it’ll be a bit hard because giving him his present and some Christmas cookies were my favorite parts of Christmas but… I guess I’ll just try not to break my own heart too much.
    It’s not gonna be heartbreaking today, though, because I’m just about to meet a dear friend of mine.
    How’s your day? I hope you have a lovely one!!

  3. David Ehrenstein

    Bellmer’s work is really creepy

    Zorn’s manuscript pages remind me of Cy Twombly

    Here’s my piece on “Silence”

  4. steevee

    This actually interacts interestingly with what I disliked about JACKIE. That film romanticizes grief and depression; Zurn experienced the real, un-glamorous thing.

    Here’s my review of my favorite film of the year, TONI ERDMANN:

  5. Tosh Berman

    Zürn’s work is very powerful. As well as Hans. I’m not super positive, but I think what got me kicked off Facebook for a week, was me reprinting one of their images for my post. I put it on my google blog, and oddly enough, it’s the most popular blog post I think this year. Their work really expresses the mood that is out there at the moment.

  6. Bill

    Hey Dennis, you probably know Zurn is one of my inspirations. Someday I’ll have time to work on some long-simmering ideas more directly related to her work. Sigh.

    Off to the airport soon. Hopefully this rain won’t hold up flights.

  7. Thomas Moronic

    Zurn is awesome. Looking forward to digging into this and catching up on the last couple of posts.

    Yeah, my absence was work related. All good now though as I’ve got a break. Spent the day working on my end of year list, which seems to have turned into a massive sprawling essay about all sorts. Fun to do and think about though. I loved reading your description of the theatre work that’s been happening with the dancers. Exciting/cool to read about. Hope the Buche hunt ended successfully!

  8. Marilyn Roxie

    Thanks for this post, Dennis, don’t recall hearing about Zürn until now, oddly enough, but that the element of discovery is what is lovely about your blog. The photographs are of particular interest and spark some ideas; was wondering how to convey self-harm scar stories in photos recently and constellation dot and line connections came to mind. Not sure if I’ll do anything with it but those photos made my mind wander back to thinking of how to do this in a way that would be appealing and make sense. I’ve listened to some of your 2016 album picks I had missed. Ended up listening to both of Klara Lewis’ albums and found them very magical; the Surgeon album was pretty excellent as well. Wishing you happy holidays!

  9. Misanthrope

    Dennis, From what I’ve read here, this is a spectacular book. That first paragraph of the post by Serdar expressed so explicitly something I’ve always felt but have never given proper words to in my head. I’m sure it hits home with you, as I know it’s something you’ve thought about before. It’s all about a certain sensitivity that I think people who make the kind of Art you and so many others, myself included, just need to have. The excerpts here are haunting and jarring and they speak to that sensitivity.

    Well, we only stay in Jersey City because of expense. If I were only getting one room on these winter trips, I’d definitely stay in the city. But I get two…Kayla always brings her friend Anna. They get a room, and LPS and I get a room. Besides, I’m a snorer. 😛 Also, they like driving up rather than taking the bus. Parking in Jersey City is only $16 a day instead of the $50-$70 in the city we’d have to pay if we were to drive into the city ourselves.

    I sent you email.

  10. steevee

    I’m thinking about a new writing project. I probably shouldn’t talk too much about it because it began as a joke, and I have no idea if it will ever come to fruition. Trump’s election pretty much killed off the screenplay I was working on – it was inspired by my fears about him and the white nationalists he was empowering, and my fears came true, which wound up paralyzing me. All I could write after the election were further hip-hop lyrics attacking Trump. This idea is another response to the rise of Trump, in a much different way.

  11. Kyler

    Again, another writer I was unfamiliar with. In kindergarten, our across-the-street neighbor killed himself. We were told it was a heart attack, but somehow I never believed that. Years later we were told the truth. I had always known it. So suicide has always been a fascination for me. I was at the first performance of Sarah Kane’s 4:48 Psychosis in London – and boy did we cry. Sarah had told me that she was writing it. And the novel agents are looking at now is largely a tribute to Sarah, opening with the quotation that was in the “program” at her memorial: “Once you have perceived that life is very cruel, the only response is to live with as much humanity, humour, and freedom as you can.” I know that you’ve dealt with this too, Dennis, with your friend George. It’s a deep theme for me, and can’t say I haven’t considered it myself. I think the writing about it will alleviate my occasional desire for it. I recently read Styron’s Lie Down in Darkness: A Memoir of Madness. Excellent. He came very close to suicide himself but never did it. So thanks for this today….

  12. Jeff Coleman

    Dark Spring has long been on my to-read list. Might be time to bump it up near the top.

    I find her obsession with Michaux as “the man of jasmine” rather fascinating. I think because it intuitively strikes me as a sort of genuine paranormal experience. I mean, I have a personal intuition about how things like that actually happen, and certain accounts, like hers, strike me as more true than others. Another example is Aurelia by Gerard de Nerval. When I read it, it “rang true” to me, somehow. Though, it might just be that I find their experiences more interesting than many others paranormal-type experiences I’ve heard about, so I’m biased towards believing in them. I mean, believing that there’s something more going on there than just madness and delusion. Also could be that they are just insane, and I’ve experienced similar madness (albeit of a significantly milder kind), so I’m given to believing people who are delusional in a similar way to myself.

    In any case, I’m not sure I even know what the hell I’m talking about here, so it probably doesn’t matter, ha ha. Cheers, Dennis. Hope you have a good Christmas.

  13. B

    Hi Dennis,

    Just checking in. I wanted to let you know the salon went really well. Attendance wasn’t great, we had probably ten people, but the intimacy really served the pieces. It was also terribly cold that night. We’re going to be doing two more, one in January and one on February. I’ll keep you updated!

    Do you have holiday plans? I don’t really have any myself but I’m certainly looking forward to the free time.

    Hope you’re well, thinking of you!


  14. Bejeezies

    This is a really fabulous post. It’s interesting when critics try to deconstruct the baffling “contents” of mental illness. I’m not sure it ever works, but it’s a respectful approach to an alternative way of “human being.” Schizophrenia is such a hard way to be divorced from the world. It’s so strange that there are commonalities in the visual expression of many schizophrenics (ex., Wolfli, Louis Wain, Zurn). It really hints at similarly structured visual thought processing.

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