Wakefield Press is an irreligious blessing upon the world; literary, artistic and thought provoking, with short and lengthy translations that are bound to provoke and poke at all things usual in the world. What almost rivals the stories and novels contained within is the introductions, some done by the translators and some by other experts. Each introduction is incredibly relevant to the author's life, and the background for the nature of the author's work/art.
With a title as such, how could this book stray from anything but a cacophonous fairy-tale of a rampage? Surrealist, maybe, Zürn yes. Be cautious of calling everything Surrealist, because Zürn had her own exorcism to hold, rather than worshiping the altar of Breton and creating silhouettes of male guided art. Which is not to dismiss the Surrealist male or female followers, but to build a new pantheon which has burned altars created.
One of two of Zürn's stories that are translated into English, "The Trumpets of Jericho," is a short prose piece filled with patterns, hypnotic ramblings and carefully crafted meaning, not to mention her use of word play. Zürn did not limit herself to writing prose, but instead painted, drew and had other artistic avenues. Yet her writing, at least in translation, does much to show that she is much more than a simple author, instead she is an extreme, and an ingenious cartographer with her words.
Welcomed by the Surrealists, Zürn was more Zürn than Breton, and in so, provided a non-male Surrealist style. Zürn's "Trumpets of Jericho" is a maddening story filled with a motherhood, and the battle against the child, a motherhood that contemplates giving life, but also of taking life. In it Zürn conjures up images and ideas of pregnancy, childbirth and motherhood, which all are used as a basis for conjuring up wordplay, references towards the past, and delineate the unexplained future, where we are all transformed into hideous versions of ourselves.
What is most impressive is the way Zürn twists her story of an unwanted pregnancy, reaching the pits of infanticide into a fairytale, with repetitions of the number 7, of moons talking, of fantastical stories within stories, village cures to tuberculosis, morphing humans, and a constant struggle between "I." As she quotes, we scour the sadness from a happy time. Though it dives in the nonsensical, the emotions, musings and abilities to transform language, even when translated, makes this a must-read.
Charles Fourier, an anti-establishment writer (and here a jokester, to be short and to the point about his works) wrote this small, yet overly funny work in response to his notions about sexual freedom and the repression of marriage, as well as his indictment of how the economy works and an indictment of bankruptcy. When satire is at its best, it will create ideas that come from the hilarity that we are provided, and this is what Fourier does best as he provides his accusations against modern bourgeois society. In this way, Fourier became an acknowledged name amongst thinkers such as Marx and Engels, the Surrealists, the Situationists, Walter Benjamin, Roland Barthes and many more names. Though not a household name, even in "leftist" houses, he deserves to be translated and republished so that new audiences can be reached by his ideas and his satire.
In this short read, Charles Fourier goes over the 72 different manifestations of cuckoldry and 32 forms of bankruptcy that exist in Fourier's mind, though admitting the list could be enumerated and dissected further. These are all meant to be taken with a light heart and a heavy mind.
The art of Fourier is what is held in between the satire, the ideas the ruminate when reading the different types of cuckolds and bankrupts, the ability to see parts of those cuckolds in society, because what is satire other than a giant masquerade of the days. In fact, one may wonder, why press this at all? Without being able to speak for Wakefield Press, for me it shows the talent that Fourier had in mixing sparks of comedy, imagination, fiction and, of course, politics. He demonstrates a grasp for captivating an audience with his comedic tone, yet displays the seriousness in which he feels his ideas are manifesting. This is where, at least in my opinion, the introduction serves a great purpose to show that while Fourier was a thinker first and foremost, he had his hands in many different styles to advance his thoughts and writings, and he was not held to the generic intellectual essay.
Fourier shows his frustrations with institutions and starts with what he sees a failure of freedom, and a systemic problem of how people capture and act out "love." Who do you see around you? "The Judicious, or Guaranteed, Protocuckold Cuckold" or "The Cuckold by Miracle." Maybe, "The Irate Cuckold" lives right next door. In all of these we are able to laugh, while Fourier is able to show the ridiculousness and hypocrisies that he sees in a society of contemptuous marriage. Is he denying the existence of love? No. Is he enunciating his ideas for how love has been spoiled in his time? Yes.
In the same way, he shines his spotlight on traders and swindlers who purposely play with bankruptcy, trying to make their way out ahead of investors and the public, those who are "ensures every merchant has the ability to steal from the public a sum proportionate to his fortune or his credit, so that a rich man can say of himself: I set myself up as a trader in 1808; by the same time in 1810, I want to steal so many millions from whoever they belong to." It is here that Fourier provides even better descriptions for these criminals, that are never actually held accountable. Shysters and swindlers abound, "The Visionary Bankruptcy" "The Bankruptcy by Favor" or my favorite, "The Sentimental Bankruptcy" who "declaring insolvency who deliver speeches to break your heart, offer displays of such feeling and virtue that the creditor would be barbarian if he did not immediately surrender, and if he did not consider himself lucky to oblige such honest folk, who tenderly love all those whose money they take away." He continue to describe the bankruptcies of those who need to pay off their past bankruptcies, the bankruptcies of those that are on their fourth or fifth bankruptcies, the bankrupt young and so on. Fourier continues to show his different hierarchies and species of the bankrupt.
What Fourier is doing is showing how when we can categorize such problems in society, we certainly can find ways to solve the issue at hand. If bankruptcy is so common, and yet so easy to get away with, let's speculate, ridicule and ultimately bring an end to the swindling of the public. If the marriage institution is being so ridiculed with cheaters, let's see where the issue lies at hand, and why continue upholding such rules. And as Fourier states in his concluding summation, "The aim of this analysis is not to heap up sterile criticism, but to seek out a remedy." At this point Fourier does a quick to-the-point analysis of resolving this issue and doing away with protections for merchants who embezzle.
With praise from Breton, including a marriage to his ex-girlfriend, Ferry's only published book of fiction is now brought to us courtesy of Wakefield Press and what an exceptional pocket book of 24 or so stories, including an incredibly in-depth introduction done by translator Edward Gauvin.
A scholar and fan of Roussel, Ferry wrote with an imagination and an instinct that led him in his quest towards specializing in the works of Raymond Roussel. Roussel, himself, was almost writing internally for his satisfaction and pleasure, keeping his secrets until a posthumous book unlocked his schemes. He even has a story entitled, "Raymond Roussel in Heaven" which ends with Roussel gaining the esteem of angels.
Before setting off on the tales told within, the illustrations by Claude Ballare jump out and provides an amazing visual component for the stories expressed by Jean Ferry. Claude Ballare has his own works on Red Fox Press Impressive black and white pieces begin each narrative to help set the scene and visualize the short journey Ferry will be taking you on.
With Ferry's abilities we run into nonexistent people in existing situations, or existing people in nonexistent situations, truths that bleed into estranged narration, into wondering if we are truly alive, trains that roll on forever, Josef K from Kafka's The Trial shows up in "Kafka, Or the 'Secret Society'" and is that K. from The Castle that ends up in "The Inconvenience of Childhood Memories," in which K. tells a joke, apologizes, tries to explain, apologizes and finally his wife solves the situation - kills him, or is that just a nod to the literary heavens of Roussel, Kafka and so on. We are fully introduced to tales with travelers, strangers, tales that are surrealistic, noir, fantastical and most of all tales of sleep and fatigue.
Ferry stays brief, he does not necessitate meaning through extrapolation, or grandiose language, instead bringing almost whimsical ideas into a realistic brevity. In doing so, he conveys emotion, conveys his reality, such as in "My Aquarium" he hones in on the absurdity of the narrator's suicidal thoughts living in a box, wriggling and squirming. Yet, to not overdo this idea he merely reaches out with emotions, "They eat whatever I give them: sorrows, pulled teeth..." Sleep and fatigue are common themes for Ferry, characters that constantly can't sleep, or characters in which sleep is too prevalent. "Childhood Memories" has the narrator finally wonder, "But enough joking around...let's be serious. I was born...no, wait...I was...born...Oh, I don't know anymore. As for my mother, she...but where...Deep down, I think I was never born." Then who is this narrator, if one is not born, then how do we tell our stories, and who is speaking for us. Essentially, what does it mean to be alive?
The collection ends with additional tales not in the original and with a "Commentary" on Surrealism that is thoroughly an enjoyable and must read. In the end, Jean Ferry has won over the everyday with extraordinary grace.