Max Blecher: Întâmplări din irealitatea imediată (Adventures in Immediate Irreality; later: Occurrence in the Immediate Unreality)
Max Blecher was born in 1909 and went off to medical school in Paris where, in 1928, he was diagnosed with spinal tuberculosis. His parents sent him to a sanatorium but they could not afford to continue the payments so he returned to Romania where he died in 1938, aged twenty-eight. While in Paris, he had met various Surrealists and his writing was clearly influenced by them.
This book was published in 1936, not a good time for a book written by a Jew to be published in Romania, with the Iron Guard taking over, even though Eugène Ionesco gave it a good review. With the German occupation and then the Communists taking over, there was never a good time to publish this book in Romania and it disappeared. It was reissued in 1970 to no acclaim whatsoever and then published in German in 1990 but still without success. Only recently, with three translations into English and translations into other language has it been recognised as a highly original work.
It is, essentially an autobiographical account of Blecher’s own life but what an account! It is full of wonderful, Surrealist-influenced images and an account of an ordinary life made less ordinary. We follow the unnamed boy as he drifts around an unnamed Romanian town, mainly in summer.
Our hero, throughout the book, struggles with the terrible question of who I actually am comes alive in me like a totally new body with unfamiliar skin and organs which requires a lucidity more basic and profound than that of the brain. Ultimately, I have passed through all the certitudes and incertitudes of my existence only to return—painfully and definitively—to my solitude.
He is a solitary boy. We see him go to a small clearing in the park which opened onto a desolate piece of wasteland. There was no sadder or more forsaken place on earth. He is alone. I felt more deeply and painfully that I had nothing to do in this world, nothing to do but saunter through parks, through dusty clearings burnt by the sun, desolate and wild.
It is made worse because he seems somewhat claustrophobic. In closed rooms, however, crises took place with greater ease and frequency. I could not tolerate being alone in a strange room. He feels terrorised by objects, everyday objects he finds in his room. He goes to the doctor who states paludism (i.e. malaria) but the treatment does not seem to help. This is later qualified when he finds his way into a theatre and hides in the prompter’s box. It was the space of my every dream. I remained there for several hours in a state of perfect bliss.
However, he may be different, alone, but he still has sexual feelings. He has two friends, a brother and sister, Clara and Eugen in their sewing machine shop. Clara used to do her toilet in the back of the shop and then come back into the shop, brushing past him. This contact with her definitely aroused him and he looked forward to it every day. Gradually they seem to be getting closer and, eventually, when Eugen is out, they connect. I was, I believe, twelve years old when I first met Clara. But no matter how far back my childhood memories go, they are always linked to sexual awareness. Indeed, his first memory of this sort goes back much earlier, when left alone to nap with a neighbourhood girl and the pair did not nap.
There is even a hint of sexuality when he meets Walter in a park. Walter is in a tribe and shows him the tribe’s hideout. Walter explains that the boys take girls there and stroke girls with feathers. Our hero is not sure how this works (and nor are we) but it does result in a brief homosexual encounter. Despite looking for him, he never sees Walter again.
What makes this novel so interesting is his strange, often surrealistic view of objects. The strange, uncanny, grey realm that lies sleeping at the feet of life, a black man stretched veil-like over the earth, his spindly legs poured out like water and arms of dark iron, or wandering through the downcast branches of horizontal trees is one of many examples. I divined that the world could exist in a reality more real than ours. Two features of life then enhance this The first is the cinema which fascinates him. But he is also fascinated by waxworks. The bullet-riddled, blood-stained uniform of a sad, sallow Austrian archduke was infinitely more tragic that any real death. Indeed, he has an image on his mind of waxworks on fire whch is both entrancing and also erotic as he images a waxwork bride on fire and her legs burning – a very real flame making its way up between them to her sex.
As with any good Surrealist, death is fascinating to him, starting with seeing a corpse exhumed (a bride in her wedding gown), of which he gives us a retailed description and his grandfather’s burial. However, he takes it one step further and contemplates suicide. Since nothing could go on as before, I had to make a clean break. What was I leaving behind? An ugly world in a gentle rain. It does not work out.
What does happen is the death of Edda. He was friendly with a family of three – father and two sons. The elder son marries Edda but she gets an incurable kidney disease and dies. He is present at her death and, again, we get a full description. Her death was my death, and everything I do now, the life I live now, is a projection of my future death and its cold, dark immobility as I perceived it in Edda.
Though this is about his boyhood, it was written when he was very ill from spinal tuberculosis and it is clear his mood when writing it very much coloured his view of his childhood. There is always a sense of doom and darkness hovering over it, relieved only, perhaps, by sexual feelings. Above all his vision pierces through the everyday to give us a view of the world, of every day objects and ordinary events which is anything but ordinary but, rather, is the vision both of a man who is dying but also the vision of a man who sees beyond, the way great artists (Blake, Baudelaire, Yeats and the Surrealists) see beyond. The book has now become a classic of Romanian literature and deservedly so.
First published 1936 by Vremea
First published in English by maxblecher.wordpress.com in 2007
(Note this was published as an ebook and is available for free download)
Translated byJeanie Han
Translated by Alistair Ian Blyth (2009 as Occurrence in the Immediate Unreality, University of Plymouth Press edition)
Translated by Michael Henry Heim (2015 New Directions edition)