Jindřich Štyrský’s and Toyen’s “The Poet (Lecture Given on the Occasion of Exhibition Opening)” (1927-1928)
Translated from the Czech by Alexandra Büchler.
From Between Two Worlds: A Sourcebook of Central European Avant-Gardes,
1910-1930. (The MIT Press. Cambridge, MA: 2002).
• • •
Artificialism identifies the painter and the poet. This identification is inseparable, internal and contemporary. The designation “Artificialism” is irrelevant. We are using it out of need to differentiate and distance ourselves from the manure of the so called modern painting, because we owe it nothing.
We shall call the painter poet.
Cubism was the reckoning of traditional painting, divided into figurative, landscape and nature more. Cubism was essentially a new method of depicting models, with a difference in descriptive thoroughness. It viewed painting through a model. It replaced the illusion of optical perspective with the illusion of reality distributed in space, and it projected the illusion of space into reality. Forms in a painting overlapped with the appearance of reality and where it was not possible to achieve such a partial cast, what ensued was deformation. Analysis bore fruit: duplicates. The Cubist painter turned reality around instead of setting his own imagination in motion. Cubism achieved maximum reality. But then the desperate movement realized that it had no wings, having been betrayed by its own vision, with one eye cast on reality and the other on the painting. This second eye did not charm us to the extent that we would stop feeling innate repulsion towards the quartering of victims.
Constructivism and objectless painting, based on play with forms and on pure pleasure of the eye, resembles the writing of essays. Words precede thought and people bear merely the weight of words. Everything in the world has been said and depicted, and that is why it is impossible to build on causes, but on results. The primitive man was pursued by fate and geometry. That’s why he had a right to happiness. The poet is pursued by chance. He decides to swallow a banana if it has been peeled. The Constructivists did peel Pythagoras, but what they swallowed was the skin.
Artificialism rejects literary, formally historicizing or deforming gimmickry, that is surrealism. The shorter our life, the dafter metaphors for it we choose. We cannot argue over terms, but over their scope. The subconscious is a gag many put in their mouths so as not to think. Admiration for the sauces that garnish the world is passed from generation to generation.
Rivers flow out into cemeteries and the ocean swallows ships because it keeps looking for its swans. Swans with two necks, one of which ingests sleep, while the other throws it up. The juggler digests the applause in advance, forgetting that he would not be able to vomit it out. Noah’s Ark, carrying hemlock, sinks at sea. The flour-moth sits on a branch, singing. The poet rejects only his manner.
Each of us is tracking his own toad, but its games of hide-and-seek escape the human eye. If we find it for the second time, we are not sure whether it is indeed our own. Higher creatures grow fat and lower ones multiply. One day, the world shall be taken over by a hirsute mannequin. Blue collars shall dig out the graves and rob poets of their gold. Then they will leave them alone, having achieved equality. Death shall be nothing else but abandonment of the world of banknote currency. Gold shall belong to gravediggers, and treacherous clouds shall swallow doves and airplanes with equal indulgence. Only then shall airplanes begin singing.
The population merely wants its daily soup, knowing how to wait for it and enjoy it. Absurd theories are commitments we can freely talk to each other about without falling under each other’s influence. The poet shall untie the knot, throw away the key and leave.
Dreams confirm the experiences of our habits. We see faces that scandalize by their feigned holding of breath. The tired smiles of flowers and collars that we cannot consider false. Many arrive, multiplying vantage points, exchanging them, until multiple chaos reigns in appearances. The result of their snares is truth in things redundant. The secret of their faces lies outside and time etches the falsehood under their portrait. We shall never find out whether the face betrayed the portrait, the portrait deceived the actor, or whether the face was simultaneously its own prompter and audience.
There is only one kind of baseness: realizing one’s own deceit.
The poet bids farewell to sleep. The hypocrite keeps picking the names of flowers, but their real image does not exist. The appearance of things could be encompassed  by a lyrical monster who has as many eyes as there are points in the space around it. The poet observes the appearance of things from the point at which they have arisen.
Dream landscapes are strange sets with colors waiting to fade, light waiting to be lit, and forms waiting for future gigantic ruins. Life hands out and returns extinguished pawns. Only the child is a viewer, chained to the grass, unable to leave when the game becomes terrible. The secret of magicians lies in the fact that they endure pain, not that they don’t feel it.
City fringe dwellers have no microscopes and that’s why they are not bothered by bedbugs. If we are drowning, we are irrevocably seduced by mirrors in which we might be able to augment our poverty. The poet is still only walking towards the fools’ house; the surrealists had been chased out of it a long time ago. To be enchanted, there is no need to roam Oceania. The poet loves distances. Not distances in space but in time. He loves the earth in its beginning and end. Diluvial seas, only just inventing their language. Wherever a poet goes, he needs nothing more than the world he had brought with him.
Poetry is not the continuation of the image and song first composed by prehistoric man. Mushrooms sprout out in a desire to resemble each other. Poetry comes into being in a desire to shorten one’s life.
In times of glory, hyperreality grew a far too thick layer of cheese. Hyperreality cannot revive allusions to modern poets. A tattoo on the deeper layers has come risen to the outer counterweights like a bedsore. The false poet is getting ready to plunder himself. Sleep reproduces the causes of his treacherousness. Cruel consciousness does not play with humility. The lids of the eyes staring from the subconscious are lowered. Mirrors read eyes. The victim is weeping, no longer able to speak by means of gaze. The gardener is growing ribbons for future biers. Many produce critical fleas. It was enough for the poet to watch how those who build on sleep, violating it at the same time, who build on the subconscious, are making their nest, but he is not going to sit on eggs with them. Building on the subconscious means to take pride in losses.
Sleep is a bee gathering honey for a recollection to enjoy its taste. We have no memories, but we are trying to manufacture them. There is only one way to rid oneself of memories. To be abandoned by them.
The poet uses paint or words to dilute what he wants to say. Having no instinct of self-preservation, he lives nevertheless. The engineer is dreaming. Designing a new globe.
The poet is no longer surprised by the face of night, of carton boxes and of people. You will not find him in a crowd of gawkers. You will find him in its center, standing over his victim. His victims are unusable forms, trailing colors found on human rubbish tips like spilled out guts.
The misfortune of epigones is comical. It imitates the happiness of poets.
A sensible person arrives at happiness about himself only with difficulties. This borderline is where the poet starts and proceeds in the opposite direction. He enjoys paper, clouds, space and finally emptiness. His joy has no example or model.
The poet does not operate with reality. He is lured by poetry that fills the gaps between real forms, and emptiness emanating from reality. He reacts to the hidden poetry of form interiors, inventing and creating their exterior. Imagination has lost its interest in what is being born and what is dying. It deducts memories and memories of memories, independent of memory and experience. Memory and recollection play a mutual role of executioners.
The poet gives the shape and color to an emotional idea. His perceptions are transfigured at the moment they are born. Recollections pass through consciousness without leaving an imprint or without vanishing. Their form is not real, nor is it artificial. It is natural. The poet cannot be happy in artificial paradises.
Reality and image repulse each other. Between them lies the incantation: the word. It does not describe the subject. The subject is identified with image. The title gives direction to excitement. But leaves the viewer abandoned and alone with the image. Recollection invents.
[Originally published as “Básník (přednáška proslovená při vernisázi výstavy),” in Rozpravy Aventina 3 (1927-28)]