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Kamarck, Edward (ed.) / Arts in society: confrontation between art and technology

Roditi, Edouard
[Book reviews: allegory and alienation],   pp. [236]-[243] PDF (9.2 MB)

Page 238

as Richard Burton and Mungo Park.
Kubin, however, takes for granted
that his readers can no longer be fooled
as easily. Instead of abolishing any stylistic
distinction between the real and the
unreal by describing both the known and
the unknown with equally plausible
precision, his hero disposes of
his journey from Munich, through
Russian Central Asia, to his Dream Kingdom
set in the Chinese Turkestan, in the
most banal terms: "What an Oriental city
looks like is, I assume, known to
everyone. It is exactly the same as one
of our cities, only Oriental."
After that, Kubin's autobiographical hero
plunges us in medias res, to flounder
with him and his wife, as soon as we reach
its grimly fortified frontier, among
the disturbing absurdities of the Dream
Kingdom to which one obtains admission
only by a special invitation from its
founder and ruler, the mysterious and
fabulously wealthy and powerful
Claus Patera, a long-lost schoolfriend of
Kubin's hero.
Thirdly, Kubin's exploration of a
Dream Kingdom almost entirely peopled by
238     dropouts will surely stimulate the
imaginations of our expanding
Hippy reading-public. Its author and
illustrator can indeed be said to describe
and depict here, with a great wealth
of detail, his experience of a "trip" that he
took without having first had recourse
to any psychedelic nostrum.
Like His Holiness the Maharishi,
Kubin "didn't have it necessary," as one
says it on New York's West End Avenue.
Nor did the average citizen of his
Dream Kingdom, most of whom appeared to
be egocentrics, afflicted with idees fixes
that were "not yet obsessive", and by
a curious reluctance to assume the
responsibilities of parenthood.
In a purely autobiographical narrative that is
now published in full as an appendix
to the American edition of The Other Side,
Kubin offers us discreetly what may
well be the key to the mystery of
his weirdly visionary drawings and writings.
Again and again, he refers to his recurring
fits of depression or melancholia
and even to seizures; more rarely, he
also appears to have experienced the
epileptoid phenomena of Kalopsy or of
Kakopsy, in which his world appeared to
him more beautiful or more repulsive than
usual. All this might also explain
why Kubin's writings and his art rely
to such an extent on equally contradictory
and epileptoid impressions of both
de'jG-vu and self-alienation. Nor would
it then be by mere chance that Kubin chose,
quite clearly in his career as
book-illustrator, to provide drawings
for a magnificent German edition of
Aure'lia, the French poet Gerard de Nerval's
autobiographical account of his
own insanity. Both Nerval and Kubin
had ready access to areas of human
experience which all too many of our
contemporaries now explore on the cheap,
in organized "trips" for which
paper-back guide-books are available.
Yet we can discover, in much of this
literature that ranges from Nerval
and Kubin to Samuel Butler and even
Rider Haggard, a certain number
of constant themes or of Jungian archetypes
that tend to suggest how little freedom
human madness, hallucination
and fantasy really enjoy. To list them all
systematically would unfortunately lead
us very far. For instance, unlike
Butler's Erewhon, Kubin's
Dream Kingdom is not only "cut off from
the surrounding world" by the natural
barriers of its geographical remoteness or
inaccessibility, but is also
jealously enclosed within monumental
walls and fortifications that its
founder, Claus Patera, has had built, like
the Great Wall of China that also
fired Kafka's imagination.
Patera's Kingdom is moreover intended
to be "a place of asylum for those who are
disgusted with modern culture;"
all its institutions and invited inhabitants,
with the exception of a small and
mysterious aboriginal tribe of blue-eyed
Mongolians, are housed in ancient
or merely dilapidated buildings which have
been purchased at great expense
in distant Europe, to be transported
and reassembled here with as much care
as William Randolph Hearst
once devoted to adorning San Simeon
with architectural masterpieces of the
past. But Patera, like the more
sociologically-minded curators of some
Scandinavian open-air museums
of architecture of the past, has also been
careful to endow his Dream Kingdom with
a suitable number of tumbledown

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