Monday 31 May 2021

Stefan Themerson, Gaberbocchus Press,

You need the passivity of the injured to read Stefan Themerson—a sharp knock on the head against a concrete wall while trying to drown a magpie, should do it. I have read several of his novels lately, but none so vivid as the afternoon I was lying in front of the stove with a pack of frozen peas on my head.

This is a burrowing man, semantically and frantically on the move, like Kafka, but prickly, fractal, aggressively eclectic, untender. He sharpens the relations between language and the sentient world with a fast-breeding subset of explanation, translation and definition. A Polish/French/English/Jewish interiority and seriousness. But there's a real concern somewhere underneath the self-absorption, for the human world and its asperities, the pauses in foreign lands which turn into a life, which translates into Semantic Poetry. 

A woman knits with sky-blue yarn. Oh my old woman/ who hath the tender/kindly qualities of a female parent.

A female parent. Sky-blue yarn. Everything borders on another substrate. All  immediacy is dismembered. A very male basso continuo of discriminations, reductions, expansions and ingenious points of view. Like a series of knocks to the head. Recessive, obscurely painful. Pushed to the edge of your tolerance, your patience, you no longer want to understand. You read for a while and close your eyes. 

Stefan Themerson and his partner Franciszka came from Poland to Paris to London in the first half of the twentieth century. They founded the Gaberbocchus Press—Gaberbocchus is latin for Jabberwocky—and published their friends and their kin, as small presses do.  

Gaberbocchus Press produced a Black Series, of which I have five in a box. Always a weakness for books in boxes. Franciszka Themerson did number three. The Way It Walks, a series of drawings, a little like Saul Steinberg, as well as an Unnecessary Supplement  'Especially Compiled for Those who like their Pictures to be Attended by a Discourse of Reason', quotations humorously applied to drawings, where we can see who the Themersons knew and were reading—Marcel Proust, Ludwig Wittgenstein, Gaston Bachelard, Aldous Huxley, Henri Bergson. Knowing people through what they read is un plaisir de choix. Clear because diagrammatic, and at the same time mocking, like the drawings. 

Man is the only creature on earth who tries to look into the inner life of another. 

Quoted by Gaston Bachelard in La Terre et les RĂªveries du Repos.

Reading Stefan Themerson sets a whole new perspective on the slack parts of your day. Like the forty-minute stint in the doc's waiting room forced to listen to the radio ratcheting up an ode to dads heroically changing nappies, interspersed with requests for songs to make the sun come out. It was a cold, wet day. I was getting my ears cleaned, by the way.

Translate that into Semantic Poetry. 

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