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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 239

old tenements and other architectural
eyesores, so that his capital
has a realistically nightmare quality of
dejla-vu that precludes its ever appearing
truly Utopian. As for the city's
imported inhabitants who have been
mysteriously selected, invited and brought
here to live as in a Nazi
concentration-camp from which
there can be no escape except in death, they
all wear, like some members of
our Hippy communities, the cast-off
finery of the past. As in Erewhon, the Dream
Kingdom's ruler "cherishes a profound
aversion for all forms of progress."
In real life, Kubin expressed moreover an
analogous distaste for novelty:
nearly all his original drawings are executed
on old or antique papers that he took
great trouble to collect in second-hand
bookstores and from dealers in waste paper.
Kubin's Dream Kingdom gradually turns
out to be, as we slowly explore it with his
hero, an even more ambivalent Utopia
than Butler's Erewhon, in fact
as disturbing a Dystopia as Kafka's world
or as the mythical primitive
empire ruled by Rider Haggard's
She-who-must-be-obeyed. Kubin's hero
finally escapes from Patera's
dictatorial realm only after an apocalyptic
collapse of the whole Dream Kingdom;
its disintegration culminates in a
supernatural scene when
Patera dies or merely disappears
in an underground temple lit only by
a strange naphta altar-flame,
indeed in circumstances very similar to
those in which Rider Haggard's She
is released from the curse of her
eternal youth.
As one reads The Other Side, one becomes
increasingly aware of the disturbed
and disturbing quality of Kubin's
imagination and style of writing. Like
Kafka, he writes a matter-of-fact style, but
with the visionary urgency
of a prophet of doom.  On the
one hand, he presents us a nightmare
version of the real-life stagnancy
and decay of the institutions of the
crumbling and creaking Austro-Hungarian
Empire, threatened at its core both
by Socialism and by Pan-Germanism, and on
all its marches by the national
liberation movements of its many subject
peoples. On the other, Kubin
already seems to visualize, as if in
a clairvoyant's crystal ball, the
macabre parodies of a kind of old-world
Germanic Disneyland that some half-mad
Kommandants of Nazi extermination-camps
later forced their victims to build
hurriedly as a facade to deceive squeamish
higher-echelon visitors. But Kafka's
allegorical visions are more mild and
masochistic, those of a resigned
victim, whereas Kubin's often
suggest a streak of mischievous
and infantile sadism; in his descriptions of
the strife, the orgies and the
catastrophes that finally exterminate
almost all the inhabitants of the
Dream Kingdom, Kubin vies
with Lautrdamont's rhapsodic Chants de
Maldoror rather than with any of
Kafka's allegorical fiction. Patera's Dream
Kingdom thus falls apart in a welter
of absurd but apocalyptic disasters that all
appear to have been directly
or indirectly caused by his own double
and rival, a mysterious American who
has appeared in the Dream Kingdom's
capital to spread "progressive" or
subversive ideas in order to
save its citizens from themselves or from
Patera's dictatorship; but the American
then destroys them while seeking to save
them, much as America may now be
corrupting and destroying the
people of Vietnam in order to save it
from Communism.
Reprinted several times in Germany since
its first publication some fifty years ago,
The Other Side is the only full-length
novel of an Austrian painter and
writer who also deserves to be better known
in America as one of the more prominent
artists of the famous Munich Blue Rider
group. Though Kubin's fantastic
or satirical drawings never influenced
Kandinsky or Jawlensky, one
can detect his characteristic fusion
of humor and horror in some of
the earlier and more fantastically
caricatural work of Klee and of Feininger.
As a writer, Kubin remains moreover,
even more strikingly than Robert Walser,
the prototype of a whole school of
later German allegorical writers among
whom one can now include, in addition to
Kafka and Elias Canetti, such
varied types as Fritz von
Herzmanovsky-Orlando, Hermann Kasack,
Ernst Junger, Werner Kraus, Ernst

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