Automatic Mechanisms that Deliver Chocolate
In this world of apparitions, shadows become flesh, they can be loved and photographed like the phenomenon of the split personality found in clairvoyance.
As the title implies, Ghérasim Luca’s The Passive Vampire is a work of fiction about opposites and contradictions, about sex, death, obsession, and transgression – with a dash of mathematics thrown in for good measure. Written in 1941 and first published in Bucharest in 1945 by Les Éditions de l’Oubli, the book has two parts. The Objectively Offered Object serves as a kind treatise in which Luca says he wants to create “a new objective possibility for resolving dialectically the conflict between interior and exterior worlds.” For Luca, these two worlds are bridged through the creation and use of certain kinds of objects, objects that can lead to “obsessional and delirious contact.” Such objects permit an “active collective unconscious into conscious and direct relationships between individuals, relations that even an elementary interpretation would illuminate to be as subversive, strange, and revealing as those of dreams.”
The second part is the “story” of The Passive Vampire, a plotless, incantatory ode, if you will, to these special objects and how they come to serve as “a new language.”
Objects, these mysterious suits of armour beneath which desire awaits us, nocturnal and laid bare, these snares made of velvet, of bronze, of gossamer that we throw at ourselves with each step we take; …we reintroduce the walking stick, the bicycle with odd wheels, the timepiece, the airship, keeping the siphon, the telephone receiver, the shower head, the lift, the automatic mechanisms that deliver chocolate when numbered buttons are pressed; objects, this catalepsy, this steady spasm, this “stream one never steps into twice” and into which we plunge as into a photograph; objects, those philosopher’s stones that discover, transform, hallucinate, communicate our screaming…
It’s instructive to compare The Passive Vampire with Andre Breton’s two Surrealist novels , both similarly containing embedded photographs: Nadja (which is directly referenced in Luca’s book) and Mad Love. Luca seems determined to take both theory and practice to the next level. Through the existing works of other Surrealists, Luca says, “we still approach the world of phantoms as we would a reality lying outside this world.” Luca wants to eliminate this dichotomy, this lingering sense that the phantom world is still an other world. “In the world in which I like to breathe,” he writes, “a box can take on the same psychic content of a beloved woman….Because of the multiple possibilities for symbolisation that an impulse might assume, tomorrow’s world will be given a quality that corresponds to our inner delirium.”
I would like to be a killer in a white velvet costume, at an operating table or leaning over a child’s pram. At another operating table, stands the handsome, silent vampire. In evening dress, his lips glued to a bared neck like a bird, now he resembles a flautist playing pulses of blood on living instruments. At slightly increasing intervals the drops flow from the instrument to his lips. Each gulp is held for a while in his mouth to let the scent reach his nostrils, to intoxicate his breath. Like a fiery whip across the breast, the drink passes swiftly through the digestive system. Tottering, growing increasingly pale, every more solitary, the handsome vampire swallows another gulp of blood. Dressed in white velvet, I’d like to vivisect a child, from time to time looking up at the vampire by the window, moonlight streaking his face.
Sexuality permeates everything in Luca’s world and permits all boundaries to be erased.
I refuse all forms, all categories, all acts, all plans, all laws, all your castrating scents. I eat, breathe, drink, think, rejects, dress myself and move aphrodisiacally. I keep every cell of my being in a state of permanent excitation, excited and exciting at the same time, the zones traversing my being are genital and pregenital, erotic and criminal, black, ferocious, satanic.
What Luca proposes is an erotics of objects, and lest the reader proceed unaware of what kind of object he is writing about, he reproduce a number of these sculptures or assemblages as “figures” in his text. It will come as no surprise that many of the objects shown in photographs deal with the bodies of dolls and have blatent sexual and violent overtones. While we don’t know who made the objects (perhaps Luca himself?), but, according to translator Krzysztof Fijalkowski, the uncredited photographs were made by Theodore Brauner, brother of the Surrealist painter Victor Brauner, both, like Luca, from Bucharest.
It’s hard to look at the doll images in The Passive Vampire and not think of Hans Bellmer’s equally eerie and transgressive photographs of mangled and mashed-up dolls La Poupee (the link is to an excellent article on Bellmer by Sue Taylor at the Art Institute of Chicago website).
The Passive Vampire has been published by Twisted Spoon Press, a Prague-based company with a wonderful list of books to its credit.