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Bebuquin

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Carl Einstein, Bebuquin [Berlin; 1912]

One of the earliest modernist texts, a discursive, philosophical and formally forbidding short "novel" that perhaps fits better into the tradition of the postmodern anti-novel than into the read-for-pleasure texts which the book-club vision of the world understands as literature. Part of the Expressionist assault of the 1910s against the nineteenth-century positivist and naturalistic vision of the world, perhaps nowhere more completely formalized than in Germany, Einstein was an art critic who led German appreciation of Cubism and was one of the first Europeans to declare the aesthetic value of African art. In the text, the deliberately mixed metaphors, violently unexpected imagery, and comic-grotesque incidents which take place in the intermissions of aesthetic, philosophical, and metaphysical disquisitions are a sort of dry run for the kind of imagination-first deliberately offensive imagery the Surrealists would cultivate. As I read, I kept seeing drawings in my head by Simplicissmus cartoonists of the 10s and 20s, particularly Karl Arnold, Olaf Gulbransson, Thomas Theodor Heine, and Erich Schilling, as well as canvases by de Chirico, Picasso, Dali, and the Blaue Reiter group. Which may lead you to expect a more visually or imaginatively stimulating read than it actually is; I'm really just a weirdo.

March 25, 2017