Urmuz [Demetru Demetrescu-Buzau] - short and absurdist stories of a forerunner of Dada and Surrealism


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Urmuz [Demetru Demetrescu-Buzau], Collected Works, Atlas Press, 2007.

 
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The collected short and absurdist stories of the Romanian writer “Urmuz”, dating from the early years of the twentieth century up until their author’s death in 1923. Urmuz’s work has been claimed as a forerunner of Dada, and of Surrealism as well, and shows again the sharp sense of the vitality of the avant-garde amongst Romanian practitioners. 
Romania, all-too-easily overlooked on the edge of Eastern Europe, has produced more than its share of key modernist innovators. Tristan Tzara and Isidore Isou spring first to mind, and in the last decade's hyperrealist film movement has made them one of the biggest cultural exporters of the region. Add to these, even earlier, far back at the start of the 20th century, Urmuz. Born Demetru Dem. Demetrescu-Buzau, the writer-musicians complete written works run a scant 32 pages here (plus a 1967 translator's biographical note), an exuberant scatter of dada-absurdist inspiration (think: Daniil Kharms) and futurist/proto-surrealist abstraction of modern life and humanity (think: Alberto Savinio's capering mechanized mythologies). The dense bizzarity may take some work to extract any kind of significance from nonsense, yet these are consistently funny and oddly engaging. Not sure exactly when these would all have been composed, but Urmuz, despairing of musical success in a tedious judicial career, shot himself in 1923, so they're undoubtedly early in march of modernism.
On the movement of the galaxies:
Even admitting that they spin only for their own amusement, it is difficult to suppose that their motives are entirely disinterested, without the intention of making the slightest profit. Surely it would seem ridiculous for anyone to gyrate for ever and ever, free of charge, just to be seen by others...On dealing with tax collectors:
he was quite content to be able to produce his pauper's identity card which he just happened to have on him that day and which, among other exemptions and advantages, conferred on him the right to squat on his haunches on the branch of a tree absolutely free of charge and for as long as he liked.
 Um, something else:
Grummer is still on the watch. False-hearted, with a sideways look, first pulling out only his beak which he wiggles to and fro ostentatiously on a trough specially fitted to the edge of the counter, he finally appears in his entirety. He then resorts to all kinds of manouvres to force Algazy to leave the place, and insidiously draws the visitor into discussions of every kind -- especially on sport and literature -- until, when it pleases him, he strikes your tummy twice with his beak, so hard in fact that you rush away into the street howling with pain.
I just picked up a subscription to the latest series of Atlas Press' fantastically strange Printed Head, so expect more in this vein. - Nate D. www.goodreads.com/

The biggest influence on Tzara was a guy named Urmuz -- he blew his brains out after publishing about twenty pages of very strange little prose poems, and an essay about the universe from a Schopenhauerian viewpoint. I'm working on a book about Andrei Codrescu and hit this huge vein of Urmuz -- I think he blew his brains out about 1919, and Tzara tried to block the publication of Urmuz translations in France in the 1950s so as to not have his lack of originality widely known. Ionesco and many other Romanian greats such as Cioran and others point to Urmuz.
Urmuz is the nome-de-guerre of Demetru Demetrescu-Buzau. He was born in Romania in 1883, studied law and earned a living as a judge's assistant. His entire literary output consists of eight story/poems, (of which Fuchsiada is the longest) and one short absurdist poem. The story/poems were presumably written to entertain his nieces: Urmuz did not originally see himself as a litt�rateur. He was fortuitously found by Romanian poet Tudor Arghezi (see "The Chiming Man" in Exquisite Corpse #56 and Thus Spake the Corpse, vol. 2), who bestowed on him the Urmuz moniker, and published a volume of his complete works. Urmuz took his own life upon publication of this volume, in 1923. His fame is posthumous: the Romanian avant-garde made Urmuz their star; Eugene Ionesco credits him as his seminal source of inspiration. Tristan Tzara attempted to suppress the French publication of the Urmuz texts, according to noted critic Virgil Ierunca, "in order not to blemish his own claim at originality." - adundas.noemata.net/
 

Fuchsiada
by Urmuz, translation by Julian Semilian and Sanda Agalidi

Urmuz is the nome-de-guerre of Demetru Demetrescu-Buzau. He was born in Romania in 1883, studied law and earned a living as a judge's assistant. His entire literary output consists of eight story/poems, (of which Fuchsiada is the longest) and one short absurdist poem. The story/poems were presumably written to entertain his nieces: Urmuz did not originally see himself as a littérateur. He was fortuitously found by Romanian poet Tudor Arghezi (see "The Chiming Man" in Exquisite Corpse #56 and Thus Spake the Corpse, vol. 2), who bestowed on him the Urmuz moniker, and published a volume of his complete works. Urmuz took his own life upon publication of this volume, in 1923. His fame is posthumous: the Romanian avant-garde made Urmuz their star; Eugene Ionesco credits him as his seminal source of inspiration. Tristan Tzara attempted to suppress the French publication of the Urmuz texts, according to noted critic Virgil Ierunca, "in order not to blemish his own claim at originality."
      The young and fervent Geo Bogza (long before he became a state poet):
      "Urmuz's presence among us: a whip to lash at our conscience. In the basement of our soul, bent deeply from the waist down, we follow the traces his steps have left, gashing violently the earth trivialized by the mundane.
      Virgin ears still bleed from the deflowering precipitated by his impetuous and virile sentence.
      From this moment on the word becomes a fertile spermatozoid. Urmuz too was a contributing surgeon to the operation which Voronca committed upon the stuttering and anchilozed language.
      At the century's crossroads: Urmuz swaying, a noose about his neck: semaphore signaling the disequilibrium of those leaning attentively over the clamor emanating from the soul's abyss."

 
Fuchsiada
Heroico-erotic poem, musical too, in prose
 
I
Fuchs was not engendered by his mother, not quite... In the beginning, when he came into being, he was not actually seen, but only heard, because Fuchs, when he was given birth opted to come out through one of his grandmother's ears, his mother being possessed not at all of a musical ear.
     Following that, Fuchs went directly to the Conservatory... There he took the form of a perfect chord and, after spending at first, out of artistic modesty, three years hidden at the bottom of a piano, without anyone's knowledge, came up to the surface and in a few minutes concluded the course in harmony and counterpoint and wound up his piano studies... Then he stepped down, but counter to all his expectations, discovered regretfully that two of the sounds from which he was composed, altered by the passage of time, had decayed: one, into a pair of mustaches with spectacles behind the ears, while the other, into an umbrella - which together with a G-sharp which was still left to him, endowed Fuchs with his precise, allegoric, and definitive form...
     Later, during puberty, it is told, Fuchs developed a kind of genital organs which were solely a young and exuberant vine leaf, as he was by nature uncommonly bashful, and would not permit, for the very life of him, anything more than a leaf or a flower...
     This leaf also serves him - it is so believed - as daily nutriment. The artist absorbs it each evening before bedtime, then crawls quietly at the bottom of his umbrella and after he locks himself in securely with two musical keys, falls asleep carried off by musical staves and swayed by wings of angelic harmonies, and seized by dreams hearkened till the following morn, when - bashful as his wont - will not surface from his umbrella until a new leaf has grown to replace the old.

II
During one of his days, Fuchs, having taken his umbrella to the repair shop, was forced to spend the night under the open sky.
     The mysterious charm of the night with its harmonies, with those whispers, as though from another world, bestowing dreams and melancholy wonder, moved Fuchs such, that - in ecstatic transcendence - after pedaling his piano for three hours, without playing it, for fear of disturbing the silence of the night, he wound up, by grace of this bizarre mode of locomotion, in a gloomy neighborhood, in the direction of which, obeying a will not his own, he had been drawn to mysteriously - gossipy lips so spill it it was the same illustrious street which the good emperor Trajan, after the counsel of his father, Nerva, intimated to the naive shepherd Bucur to set down as the first, when he founded the city which now bears his name...
     All at once, several terrestrial votaries of the Venerated One, humble servants at love's altar, vested in translucent alabaster, with incrimsoned lips and shadowy eyes, surrounded Fuchs from all directions. It was a splendid summer night. All about, song and glee, sweet whispers, harmony... The vestals of bliss greeted the artist with flowers, with towels artistically embroidered, with captivating kettles and bygone washbasins of brass brimming with aromatic water. Each shouted, louder than the other: "Darling Fuchs, give me your immaterial love!", "O, Fuchs, you are the only one who understands how to love us purely!"; and as though urged on by one and the same impulse, culminated in chorus: "Dear, dear Fuchs, play us a sonata!"...
     Fuchs, out of modesty, squeezed into the piano. In vain all efforts to persuade him to make an appearance. The artist acquiesced but barely, to allow his hands to be lugged out and, performed in a masterly mode close to a dozen concerts, fantasies, etudes and sonatas, and moreover for three hours straight executed scales and various exercises of legato, staccato and, Schule der Geläufigkeit...
     Since even the goddess Venus, the Venerated One herself born out of the sea's white foam, was bewitched - perhaps notably on the score of the legato studies, whose ethereal sonorities reached likewise her ears on Mount Olympus, ruffled in her goddess-like serenity, she, who had been no one's since Vulcan and Adonis - transgressed in thought, and overwhelmed by craving, powerless to fight off the temptation of an audience with Fuchs, resolved to possess him for a night...
     In pursuit of this aim she first sent Cupid to pierce Fuchs' heart with an arrow on whose tip she placed a missive bidding him up to Olympus.  

III
At the appointed hour, the Three Graces appeared...
     They fetched Fuchs and ferried him lightly upon soft and voluptuous limbs, to the start of a silken ladder, made of musical staves, ladder which had been fastened to the Olympus balcony, where The Venerated One awaited...
     Chance would have it however that Vulcan-Hephaistos should get wind of this, and sizzling with jealousy, caused a powerful rain to unleash, as vengeance, through the offices of Zeus...
     Fuchs, though with umbrella in the shop, did not give in to defeat, being agile in ambling effortlessly with his staves, and, aided by the vigorous wings of musical inspiration, hoisted himself higher and higher, braving nature's elements. At last, drenched in rain, he reached Olympus. Aphrodite welcomed him as a hero. She embraced him, kissed him with passion, and then sent him off to an automated prune drier.
     At night Fuchs was ushered into the alcove. All around, nothing but song and flowers. The Graces and the other olympian servants of the Venerated One, dancing before him, covered him with flowers and sprinkled him with intoxicating fragrances, while off in the distance innumerable unseen wooers, guided by the miraculous bow of Orpheus, intoned songs in exaltation of amorousness...
     Before long, the nine muses appeared. By means of the melodious tongue of Euterpe they conveyed their greeting to Fuchs thus: "Be welcomed, o chosen mortal, you who through your divine art draws humans closer to the gods! Venus awaits you! May Jupiter will it that your art and your love's caress be worthy of the Goddess - our mistress - and may he will it that a new and superior race will spring out of the amorous play which will join you, race which will populate from now on not only the earth, which is incapable of aspiring beyond Olympus, but Olympus itself - like the earth - subject, woe, to decadence!! Thus they spoke, and the chorus of unseen wooers intoned anew in exaltation of amorousness, while the Olympian bards, tuning their lyres, extolled in verse the immortal moment.
     But before long, silence ruled again... All at once, there was no one about... A bluish semiobscurity invaded the alcove. Venus was disrobed. White, hands twined behind her head under the loosened golden tresses, with a gesture of delicious abandonment and supreme voluptuousness, she stretched her superb milky figure on the bed of soft pillows and flowers. In the air, warmth and arousing aromas. Fuchs, from bashfulness and fright, longed to hide inside a crack. But as something like that does not exist in Olympus, he saw it necessary to give himself courage with no aid from anyone.
     It was as though he wanted first run around the room a little, but Aphrodite with her silken hand, with her fingers of perfumed roses, helped him out of his difficulty... She picked him off the floor gingerly, she caressed him, she hoisted him two-three times to the ceiling and, gazing at him long, she kissed him with craving. Then she caressed him anew, kissed him again a thousand times and then seated him softly between her breasts...
     Fuchs began to quiver from joy and from fright would have liked to leap off somewhere like a flea. But since those warm and perfumed breasts made him dizzy and crazy, he began hopping like a tadpole gone out of his head all over the place, bolted in a zig-zag across the flesh of the goddess, quick and fidgety, grazing like a loon over the rosy tips of her breasts, over the silky hips, squeezing through her plump and flaming thighs...
     Fuchs was beyond recognition. His spectacles cast perverse glimmers, the strands of his mustache became wet and libidinous. A goodly length of time lingered in this manner, but the artist did not know, in essence, what exactly was left to be done, and neither was the goddess one to wait much longer.
     Somewhere he had heard, that "in love, as opposed to music, everything ends with an opening. Well, fine then, but Fuchs could not find it, no... could not hear it anywhere.
     Suddenly, an idea occurred to him. He told himself that, just as the opening, as music, can be conjoined with by ear only and the ear being the body's most noble opening (of those which Fuchs had known) - the divine music's organ and through which, looming up into the world, he had gazed first upon the light of day - it follows then the joy supreme must be sought nowhere else but in the ear...
     Fuchs, now invigorated, collected himself, wound himself up and, from the goddess's toe tips, with untold frenzy, charged forward with a sforzando and penetrated the eyelet in the goddess's right ear lobe, through which she customarily inserted her ear rings, vanishing inside entirely.
     Once anew the choruses of unseen wooers and muses intoned in the distance songs in praise of amorousness and once anew the Olympian bards, tuning their lyres extolled in verse the immortal moment.
     After close to an hour of repose, during which time he verified his vine leaf and sketched a romance for the piano, Fuchs presented himself upon the ear lobe, vested in tails and white tie, radiant and gratified, tossing thank-yous and compliments right and left to the gathered throng which had been awaiting him feverishly, in the manner he had learned on earth when he happened to give a gala concert. He stepped forth and graciously offered the Venerated One the dedicated romance.
     But, with shock and distress, the artist ascertained that nary one clap of applause arrived from anywhere. In truth, all the tenants of Olympus, stared thwarted at one another. The goddess, at first perplexed, then vexed and gravely offended, discerning that Fuchs deemed his mission undeniably fulfilled - she who had at no time received such affront, not even from the gods themselves - shot quickly to her feet and, crimson as a poppy flower, irked, shook once her head, gracefully but drastically, inducing Fuchs to tumble to the ground.
     All at once, as though from a sign unseen, the whole of Olympus was on its feet... A deluge of hollers and threats from all quarters. Bar none all frothed with rage at the slap in the face of Olympus by the unskillful earthling... A vigorous arm enjoined by Apollo and Mars yanked Fuchs's vine leaf, sticking in its place the gadgets which were by rights his own. Severe orders were issued that in the future the vine leaf be only accorded to statues, while a graceful hand, the rosy one of the goddess herself, gripped gingerly the artist by the ear and, with a noble gesture, but an energetic one, flung Fuchs into Chaos.  

IV
A deluge of hollers and threats. A deluge of disonancies, of chords upturned and unconcluded, of dodged cadenzas, faulty consonancies, of trills, but above all, rests, showered from every direction upon the exiled artist. A hail storm of jagged sharps and naturals pelted his back ceaselessly, a drawn out rest shattered his spectacles... Those gods possessed of viciousness in excess barraged him with shinbones, with aeolian harps, with lyres and cimbals, and, utmost of score-settling, with Acteon, with Polyeucte, and with Enescu's Third Symphony, whose inspired music on this occasion, originated indeed from Olympus.
     At last, Fuchs's fate was decided. He was to first roam through Chaos with unbearable swiftness, in five minute revolutions, around the planet Venus, then after, so as to wholly expiate the affront brought upon the goddess, he was to be exiled companionless to the uninhabited planet, with the burden of giving birth on his own and on his own alone, to that off-spring, that superior race of artists, which should have sprung forth in Olympus from his amorous union with Venus.
     Fuchs barely began carrying out his verdict, when Pallas-Athena, forbearing, stepped in (unexpectedly) on his behalf.
     He was granted permission to fall back to earth, but only under one condition: there is so much useless off-spring there, artistic or not, that it was not at all needed to beget any other. It was foisted on Fuchs the task of doing away with snobbism and spinelessness of thought in art on earth's realms.
     Placed thus, in this dire bind, after a prolonged and mature cogitation, the artist determined that this last condition was far more difficult to bring about than the off-spring begetting on Venus...
     A heroical decision was then reached by our hero in his roaming through Chaos. He consented to accept Athena's assistance under the condition imposed upon him; but, when he sensed the proximity of earth, he did what he did and, budging a bit to the right, he dropped down in that very neighborhood, slightly shady, from which he departed and which spellbound him such.
     Knowing himself now well prepared, he would learn here how to put into practice that which he hadn't known until then, so that afterwards, fully initiated, he would request the Venerated One's audience so as to try to rehabilitate himself as best he could in what had been left wanting. In this manner, he told himself, it will become possible to give birth to that new race of supermen, and thus would be released of the duty to undertake on earth the impossible bane imposed upon him.
     But the vestals of pleasure, who had welcomed him mirthfuly, upon discerning his intentions, surrounded him from all directions, intercepted abruptly his forward motion and beleaguered, bereaved, flailing their arms in the air in sign of protest, excommunicated him from the neighborhood, exclaiming in unison: "Woe to you, Fuchs, we have lost you and recognize you no longer, because formerly you were the only one who, from Plato's times onwards, understood how to love us purely... What sort of thoughts do you nurse as you step amongst us? Woe to us from now on deprived of the aesthetics of your sonatas, woe to you deprived of the inspiration of our lofty love! Fie on her who, though our mistress, Olympus's and the world's, did not understand how to appreciate you, and spurning your love and art, led you to fall so high up... Flee, Fuchs, you are unworthy of us now!
     Flee, Fuchs, you slimy satyr! How could you devalue the noblest organ, the ear?! Flee Fuchs, you're dishonoring this neighborhood,
     Flee, Fuchs, and may the gods protect you!"
     Thus excommunicated, and frightened of an eventual discharge of their liquid displeasure, Fuchs sat swiftly at his piano and, pedaling steadily and forcefully, arrived lastly at his quiet shelter, with his spirits oppressed, disconcerted, sickened of men as well as of gods, of love as well as of muses...
     He fled to get his umbrella back from the shop and, taking his piano along, they vanished forever in the midst of nature, glorious and unbounded...
     From there his music radiates with equal force in all directions, thus causing the word of grateful Fate to be carried out in part, ordaining him that through his scales, concerts and etudes of staccato, to spread far the word and by their grace, through the power of education, to cause the appearance in time on this planet an improved and superior race of beings, towards his glory, his piano's, and Eternity's...
- www.corpse.org/archives/issue_11/poesy/urmuz.html
 

 

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