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the Complete Review
the complete review - non/fiction

The Legs of Izolda Morgan

Bruno Jasieński

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Title: The Legs of Izolda Morgan
Author: Bruno Jasieński
Genre: various
Written: (Eng. 2014)
Length: 159 pages
Original in: Polish and Russian
Availability: The Legs of Izolda Morgan - US
The Legs of Izolda Morgan - UK
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The Legs of Izolda Morgan - India
  • Selected Writings
  • Fiction and non-fiction, written between 1921 and 1936, in Polish and Russian
  • Translated by Soren A. Gauger and Guy Torr
  • With a Translator's Note by Soren Gauger

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Our Assessment:

B+ : fascinating small selection

See our review for fuller assessment.

The complete review's Review:

       The Legs of Izolda Morgan collects both several non-fiction pieces on Futurism as well as a few of Jasieński's stories. Written between 1921 and 1936, they include both pieces written in Polish and in Russian -- as Jasieński spent the last decade of his life in the Soviet Union, after being deported from France.
       Two Futurist manifestoes from 1921, specifically addressed to a Polish audience, are an emphatic call for a revitalization of Polish art and literature, very much in the spirit of the age. With a new sense of nationhood arising in a now-independent Poland after the First World War, these early years of statehood seemed like ones of great promise and opportunity -- so too for a radical move away from the hidebound art of old. So Jasieński proclaims:

     We are through with being a menagerie nation producing mummies and relics. Today, crazed and unstoppable, we are pounding on your doors and windows, screaming, clamoring, issuing demands.
       As to art:
     Art must be unexpected and all-pervasive, it must knock you off your feet.
       And: "Art is the masses", he hopefully proclaimed.
       Readers were pushed out of their comfort-zones by even just the use of language here, as Jasieński employed a: "phonetic, 'barbaric' approach to spelling". Translator Gauger tries to convey this in the second of the pamphlets, 'Nife in the Gutt', to give a sense of what Jasieński was doing, but for the first, longer declaration he (probably wisely) opts for a more straightforward translation, putting aside these games and allowing the focus to be on Jasieński's powerful message.
       A third piece on Polish Futurism dates from two years later and offers 'an accounting'. In it Jasieński claims to have: "already written the history of Futurism" -- in the form of the novel, The Legs of Izolda Morgan.
       In his 'Exposé' to this title-piece Jasieński suggests:
Meandering novels that fly in the face of basic structuring principles are now -- let us hope -- a thing of the irretrievable past.
       At less than thirty pages, 'The Legs of Izolda Morgan' isn't even the longest piece in this collection, but Jasieński calls it a novel. Though brief, it is sweeping and deep -- convincingly novel-like in everything (including resonance) but page-count. In his 'accounting' of Futurism Jasieński already says that he would now (in fact, only shortly after publishing it) have written it somewhat differently, but as is it is an effective and impressive exemplar of Futurism, as both theory and practice.
       Part of its success comes in how deeply unsettling it is: this is indeed a story about Izolda Morgan's legs, amputated after a ghastly tram accident and then recovered and preserved by her boyfriend (who is then quite happy to do without the rest of her ...). The (soon former) boyfriend, Witold Berg, is an engineer, and recognizes the coming dystopia of a world of machines -- a darker vision of technological advances coming back to haunt their creators than, for example, Karel Čapek's 'robot'-coining R.U.R., which appeared just a few years earlier.
       The fiction from his Soviet times, in contrast, is more traditional -- while also showing just how good Jasieński's writing instincts are. 'Keys' is a simple but effectively creepy story of a Christ on a crucifix and a local priest who has difficulties facing his failures; it fits easily in the Russian tradition of fiction of the previous decades, somewhere in the line from Odoyevsky to Leonid Andreyev to Krzhizhanovsky.
       The 1936 story, 'The Nose', has Gogolian elements, adroitly ridiculing Nazi (pseudo-)idea(l)s of racial purity, with leading ideologue Otto Kallenbruck hoisted by the petard of his own ridiculous defining nose-shape theories. Given the time when it was written, there's a feel of opportunistic, propagandistic satire to it, but it's also a very well crafted and amusing work.
       These are small but not minor works, and again show Jasieński to have been a considerable talent. A bit of an odd mix -- though revealing his range, too -- The Legs of Izolda Morgan, in its lovely Twisted Spoon edition, is a very appealing little book. Jasieński deserves a larger readership, and this excellent first-taste sampler should help him find that.

- M.A.Orthofer, 6 February 2015

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The Legs of Izolda Morgan: Reviews: Other books by Bruno Jasieński under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Polish author Bruno Jasieński lived 1901 to 1938, emigrating first to France and then, after he was deported, the Soviet Union.

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© 2015-2022 the complete review

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