How Do I Love Thee? Let Me Count the Ways…
“Thou art more temperate…” Well, not quite.
As is my custom, I have stumbled upon a topic rife with delightful things to explore. While at some future time I will have fun analyzing specific works of art and contemplating their composition, colors, and iconography, for the time being my attention is largely elsewhere. Since Toyen did not, to our knowledge, write about her thoughts, beliefs, adventures, or favorite reading matter, it is important to understand the world in which she lived and worked. Fortunately, First Republic Prague was an extraordinarily exciting place. Not quite as wild as Berlin, as sought-after as Paris, or as politically charged as Moscow, it certainly had elements in common with all three, as well as with other legendary cities of the day. Full of its own brilliant thinkers and creators, it was also (with Brno) a showcase for everything new and interesting from the rest of Europe.
This means that I get to look not only at what Toyen’s friends, colleagues, and contemporaries wrote about her and one another, but at their opinions about countless other things.
—I get to read about music halls, cafés, and bars.
—I get to learn about Czech feminism (it existed then).
—I get to observe the struggles and disputes of various leftist groups, some of whom approved of surrealism and some of whom did not.
—I get to find out about prostitution in 1920s Prague.
—I get to know which avantgardists were more political and which more spiritual.
—I get to read Hlas and Nový hlas and find out about at least some aspects of 1930s sexual liberation (and read all the personal ads from lonesome gay men seeking partners for hiking trips and the like). Likewise, to learn that at least some people in the 1920s wanted to believe Smetana was bisexual, although I don’t know on what evidence (Same author listed Benvenuto Cellini as gay when clearly he slept with anyone of any gender who would have him and probably some who wouldn’t. Said author seemed excited to report that Rosa Bonheur was a transvestite as well as a lesbian… yawn.).
—I get to find out that Communist and other political material was more heavily censored than Nový hlas (although Hlas had a fair number of cuts).
—I get to read French outrage at the 1929 censorship of the Czech translation of Maldoror.
—I get to ponder the significance of the Ivan Goll surrealist group to the Devětsil group, and thus how the Goll group’s ideas fed into Czech surrealism before those of Breton.
—I get to read about Le Grand Jeu and likewise contemplate how its ideas connect to Devětsil and Czech surrealism via Josef Šíma, Richard Weiner, and the Hořejší translations of Grand Jeu texts.
—I get to go to exhibitions of interesting stuff like Czech caricatures (tomorrow?).
—I get to hang out in places frequented by the surrealists, like the Lucerna and U staré paní (the latter a former favorite drinking haunt of Štyrský and Nezval, I gather).
—I get to examine police files and learn how often Nezval was publicly intoxicated (and that he owned a Renault). Where has Štyrský’s file been hidden? Inquiring minds want to know.
—I get to see the fashions of the 1930s and learn that not everyone took the German nudist movement very seriously.
So, clearly I can move about from the sublime to the ridiculous on a daily basis. It’s a divine life. Too bad I have less than two months left of my grant. Then again, I suppose we wouldn’t want the dissertation to get too long. My committee might not like that.