Story Without Words — English Text

The Frans Masereel Group Books Story Without Words English Text

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1.-5. Thousand

Printed in 1927 by the Bibliographisches Institut in Leipzig / cover drawing by Emil Preetorius / Printed in Germany / Copyright 1927 by Kurt Wolff Verlag A. G., Munich


The story of a particularly brittle and angry girl was teased by Masereel, a fake cat, as this pretty, clean, but disreputable animal repeatedly shows symbolically in the sequence of images. So the story of a fake, nasty little animal - and it serves her quite right, the lady, that at the end she stands there naked in the rain and without an umbrella on top of that! But we can't be really angry with her. Not as bad as we must be to a Strindberg consecration (according to the poet's intention). The Masereel woman is treated with too much admiration and infatuation for that, by the woodcutter himself, who literally lets her petite young body nestle through the apparently rigid and hard dress, giving off heat, and by his doppelganger, the young person who is so beautiful becomes downright helpless and crazy. Masereel has unlocked all the magic of love in these sheets, making it sensually tangible; but of course in the manner of some old wisdom teachers and demonologists who always spoke of love as a terrible enchantment from which painful awakening must result. Or to use the aperçu of a witty friend who varied a well-known Latin proverb in the following way: Ante coitum onme animal Tristan.

One would be very wrong if one wanted to see the actual truth of Masereel in the painful final disappointment of our "story without words", in a sense his raised index finger. To warn against this moralizing view - that is the real reason why I write this preface instead of letting the extremely expressive lines and lights of the artist speak for themselves. It cannot be pointed out, or even pushed, emphatically enough that the title of the volume is preceded by the words “history without words”. Masereel calls all of his works "Romans sans images". So this story is just one of many. And Masereel did not, as the final scene might suggest, want to compose a new representative myth of Adam and Eve ("And they were both naked and ashamed of each other"), and did not set up a rule about the relationship between the sexes once and for all to subsume under them - but the matter is much more complicated: with all regard to a kind of general validity of the special case described (this regard is by no means completely absent, although I would have liked to convince myself that there is no trace of it to be found ) Masereel never loses the feeling that this is just a special case - and a very strange one at that; because not all girls (luckily) behave like this stubborn belle dame sans merci, which the author came across as if by chance, and not all loving men acknowledge the final devotion of the longed-for woman with disgust. And just to show this very clearly, let's open another graphic novel BI asereels, his self-confession, his “book of hours”! There you find an episode of touching happiness after awakening from sensual intoxication, experiencing the gratitude of the young man, who was given the fruits of love and who now walks through the nocturnal streets in hymnic turmoil, the aureole of the supernatural around his head. The supernatural, which one takes control of through deep experience of the sensory world - this “this world miracle” is by no means absent in Masereel's world and work. Coming from his beloved, the man, full of blissfulness, lays the head of a tired cab horse on his brotherly cheek, gives presents to the poor, helps a wagon to relieve the whipped mare, feeds the birds, carefully leads a woman with crutches across the street and delighted hordes of children with games and fairy tales. It would be very welcome if the viewer wanted to spread the encouraging pages of the “Book of Hours” next to the depressive endings of this “story”! He would then gain the correct overview of the vastness that encompasses Masereel's soul. Next to the brightest joy, unreserved surrender - the eternal reality of suffering. You can't be missing. Especially in her, whoever throws himself to life on the chest without any safeguards and with the sweetest young trust proves himself. And our friend Masereel would not be the cheerful, strong, always ready to leap, kindly rushing life guy that we love him as if he were not open to the worst setbacks and disappointments of existence with the same harmlessness as his crudest pleasures and heavenly upheavals. But as it is, Romain Bolland aptly portrayed him in his beautiful foreword to “Ulenspiegel” (a work in which Masereel's lines resound again at the price of an everlasting joyful love) as a mixture of two opposing elements, which are also in de Coster himself romping about: hunger for life proud and boundless, plus "the dark demons of the soul - relentless violence and severe melancholy".

Melancholy cannot be missing. We said it - and there she is! Ephemeral, unhappy love - after the eternal good that we have just reminded of as a preventive measure. But life is not so simple that the two types of goods can be easily differentiated. The ballad of disappointment begins like a high-pitched love song. First encounter: a halo around the woman's head, flashing lightning strikes the figure of the man, as in another sequence of pictures Masereel's same lightning bolt heralds the birth of the “idea”. Animal areas are so closely adjacent to those of the highest spiritual rule. But one cannot ignore an overtone of irony that has swept through our “history” from the start. The woman immediately has something cunning in her astonished smile; and the man puts his fingers to his lip as if it were some delicacy. His feeling fluctuates between sweetness and longing. However, what Stendhal called the “crystallization process” now sets in. The mineral elements of the salt solution shoot up around the immersed twig. The man's feeling is enriched by his imagination, and soon the object of his affection is embellished, enlarged, and glittered. Soon nothing can be noticed of the original banal sweetness, the lip service. But as the beloved turns away sternly, the youth pulls out his heart. Now passion has seized him. The girl becomes a proud peacock. In vain declamation, jewelry, kneeling, in which for the first time the furrow of suffering touches the corners of the lover's mouth. Is it just a coincidental graphic relationship that, when the girl smells indifferently at her rose, resembles the archetype of all languor, the Pierrot lunaire? But we are only in the preliminary stages of the great storm. The advertiser still has enough prudence, superiority, to offer an enticing supper. God knows how clever he is; but the rebuff he experiences is so thorough that the girl (as is often the case then) walks halfway out of the picture frame as a sign of complete rejection. She doesn't even look at a bouquet of flowers, presented in an old-fashioned cuff. The clever boy smile begins to die out. Stars, rockets, solar systems, vortices of fog are conjured up - the young lady makes a face to such cosmic poetry, which is probably not entirely wrong with deepest mistrust and also a little reluctance, regret, pity (not with the man, only with his kind, to get so completely wrong in the tone). The opposites touch each other: he now lets real coins jingle. The Stock Exchange Palace in the background. The girl's rejection seeks angelic nuances with success - and you, man, are a villain. With money you want to buy what only through the commitment of the whole person. . . Well, the whole person is used. At first she cries, this poor person. And then she lapses into worrying brooding. “It's always the same,” shouts the lady, whose demands, as you can see, are difficult to satisfy. "A parrot couldn't talk differently than you. Always the same, always the same." From the picture frame. Now the man tries with superior irony. “Who are you actually, girl, to act like that?” Conscious of her superior power, she smiles with a crooked mouth, waits, remains silent. “What if I came as a minister? Or as a worn-out, half-starved beggar? ”The masquerade does not impress her at all, it just seems repulsive. “But in the natural state I would have to come naked, as God created me.” The girl replies to priapic attacks with a young gesture of chastity, not without sticking out between her fingers, which she flaps over her eyes, eagerly curious about the interesting splendor blink. But she holds on, does not lose her self-control for a moment. What now? Big question mark. The man shows his biceps, does handstands and contortionist tricks. The lady laughs heartily at such a joke. She doesn't even notice the horror in the strangeness, the self-humiliation. She would laugh at comets and rings of Saturn, too, the homely Philistine creature, to whom, unfortunately, God has given such a beautiful body and the wonderful scent that goes with it. This sheet of paper on which the man humbly crouches on the ground in his contortion, looking up expectantly like a goddess, hoping that she will understand how deep he has bent down in front of her, down to the toads, and that she will come of it measure the fullness of one's feelings of love - one should look at this sheet very carefully. It is then easier to bear the bitter, garish laughter of the final tragic grotesque. But we're not there yet. The lover still has to walk through his whole inferno of unsuccessful advertising. And he also drags entire blocks of houses on his shoulders to shed his sweat in honor of his Holden - he is rejected, rejected. Weighed and found to be too light. The hangover song of sensuality is just as easy to catch as the uncontrolled outburst of anger. He attacks her with the dagger in hand. But now it is growing, is the pursued innocence, the holy deer, in front of which this new Hubertus sinks the murder weapon. Here, too, do not ignore the irony. But you can hardly miss it. Masereel makes satanic fun at the eternally alluring, forever calling out of the corner of her eye, who is now suddenly popular as a saint. In front of a cathedral backdrop. Only the hero, clouded by heat, falls for such antics. He is already on his knees, crawling on all fours. In the background, however, dogs in heat are chasing a bitch. There must be old Dutch people who painted something similar (perhaps not in the motif, but similar in feeling) with blatant mockery. Kick, alcohol, crazy drunkenness are the stages that lead to the decision. Dilapidated, aged, utterly shattered, the poor man is ripe for suicide, he already has the noose in his hand - the woman shows the scissors as if she doesn't believe his decision. Only when he really and undeniably puts the point of the knife on his chest (and the emaciated face testifies to the deepest seriousness of his intention) - only now does the woman believe she is sure of himself. And turns to him with a smile, in whose tenderness (and yet at the same time ugliness) Masereel has put all his art into depicting a very complex, very ambiguous state of mind. One may take the following as a simple realization that Paris was not worth a mass after all, or as a special indication that one can least live with a woman who behaved so stupidly and overcautiously demanded safeguards, where only mutual feeling instinctively to be eavesdropped on. Brief happiness that thinks it can capture the stars and moons. Then the disaster. Omne animal sad. The roles are reversed. A not quite chivalrous mockery of the once so hotly coveted: she runs after him and embraces him full of heat, but all that dusts on his face is ashes, exhaustion, vomiting and the delirium tremens of satiety. Soon his boot is the only thing that remains of him in the picture frame. Here I remember an anecdote that I read in Chledowski's biographical study about Count Alfieri, Alfieri, the famous playwright, strong man, horse lover. It is best to put Chledowski's words here: “The Marquise Gabriela Feletti, the wife of the Marquis Turinetti, was known in Turin for her numerous love affairs. She mastered Alfieri perfectly; from eight in the morning until midnight he was in her Hansa, he was angry with himself, but did not have the strength to leave her. After this relationship had lasted a few months, he collapsed, exhausted and denerved; his illness, which no doctor could determine, was associated with convulsions and vomiting. For five days he was tortured in various ways; vein gel, fed with pills and mixtures, placed in a hot bath of water and oil. This bath calmed his nerves, it was repeated several times, and he was soon cured."

Prepare the healing oil bath for the hero Masereels! The whole affair won't have been that bad. Maybe only needs hygienic dietary treatment. - But it is best if we leaf through that episode of the “Book of Hours” and see the happy man again, how he gently strokes the horse's forehead and horse's muzzle.

Max Brod

Story Without Words


September 13, 2020 ; 4:47:27 PM (UTC) :

September 13, 2020 ; 5:06:26 PM (UTC) :


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