What our staff has to say: “A unique and disturbing memoir from an underread surrealist master” – Cleo
Anagram play meets psychic crisis in Unica Zürn’s acclaimed Surrealist document of mental precarity
In the 25 years since Atlas Press first published this account by Unica Zürn (1916-70) of her long history of mental crises, she has come to be recognized as a great artist at least the equal of her partner, the Surrealist Hans Bellmer. Yet her work is barely comprehensible without the texts printed here–now revised by translator Malcolm Green–in which she demonstrates how Surrealist conceptions of the psyche allowed her to welcome the most alarming experiences as offering access to an inner existence that was the vital source for her artistic output. Green’s introduction to this volume was the first study to consider her life and work from this perspective.
Zürn’s first mental collapse was initiated when she encountered her fantasy figure, “the Man of Jasmine,” in the person of the writer and artist Henri Michaux. This meeting plunged her into a hallucinatory world in which visions of her desires, anxieties and events from her unresolved past overwhelmed her present life. Her greatest works were produced during times of mental crisis, often when confined in asylums, and she tended to encourage the onset of these crises in order to provoke intense creativity. Her description of these episodes reveals how language itself was part of the divinatory method that could aid her recovery or predict a new crisis. Her compulsion for composing anagrams allowed her to release from everyday language an astonishing flood of messages, threats and evocations. This method, and Zürn’s eloquent yet direct style, make this book a literary masterpiece, while providing a rare insight into extreme psychological states.