Let us imagine that the universe of Culture and Art could be organized and structured like a vast museum with a strictly chronological and canonical point of view. This imaginary museum could be similar perhaps to the British Museum or the Louvre, with a central section in which we would have the great representatives of universal culture carefully cataloged to the delight of visitors. In the secondary, smaller sections, we would have less "relevant" or abstruse authors and traditions. In fact, this sideshow sectors is very important in the major museums to preserve the picturesque and exciting aspect of Culture – allows the visitors to feel the chance of discovery and the unexpected, transforming the museum into a sort of jungle ersatz for a kind of exploration – and in this secondary niches probably we would see the Romanian literature, the Brazilian literature, perhaps even the Guatemalan literature. Indeed, there is nothing excessive or wrong in designing an aesthetic theory on these principles, however, it is possible to reverse the perspective with what has been produced in margins, out of any central axis. Going even further, it is possible to reconstruct the lost and forgotten production, the work failed to materialize or vanished, for one reason or another. The marginal perspective and the rebuilding of what was lost/destroyed is an activity that goes beyond the ghetto of exoticism and removes the Art world of a brutal closing, provided for the canonical hierarchies establishment. This archeology of unconventional does not seek a new Homeric Troy, but the remains of the extinct and defeating: the sirens, Circe, the Cyclops. And one of the foremost of these imaginary archaeologists is, without a doubt, Andrew Condous, whose Golem of Bucharest has just been released by L'Homme Recent/Ex Occidente Press.
The “Golem of Bucharest” is Horia Bonciu (1893-1950), novelist, poet, journalist and translator, a Romanian with Jewish origin. He was an enigmatic figure in a rich cultural moment at Romania, which had been dominated by enigmatic figures. It is true that this period – the first four decades of the twentieth century – despite or because of that cultural wealth was also politically turbulent, finding the stability provided by fascist or communist tyranny. Tyrannies are suspicious about what can not easily be blacklisted and cataloged, which resulted in the marginalization of Bonciu or as well defined in the Condous words: "Bonciu can be counted amongst the Romanian avant-garde rebels of literature, a rebel against both form and content. Another outlaw.” Thus, nothing more appropriate to look for traces of what this outlaw may have planned, structured, written and even published, but that was lost in the misty and unstable world in which Bonciu lived. To define this dark material – revealed through letters, magazine ads, comments, memories – Condous uses the Greek expression Cryptadia, what must remain obscure, hidden. If Cryptadia indicates all that no longer come out of the shadows, this does not mean that the suggestive nature of this material can't contribute if not for a full recovery of the lost in the History (the annulment of Cryptadia condition), at least for a kind of brand new construction on fresh foundations. Archaeology is also a creative and poetic work, and that we understand while reading Golem of Bucharest, reconstruction of Bonciu’s four lost books. Each of these books – “Parada Elefantilor”, “Concert la contrabas”, “Sarpele cu ochelari” and “O carte incomoda”, the latter having a title which curiously resembles the great prose work by Portuguese writer Fernando Pessoa, The Book of Disquiet, published only in 1982 – allows Condous a chance of fictional extrapolation of documentary limits settled by his Historical research. This extrapolation is between what Bonciu could have produced and what Condous indeed produces – the archaeologist abandons its scientific synthesis process and embodies the spiritualist medium or rather the shaman, which simultaneously evokes the lost work and builds his original creation. What emerge from the halfway point between archeology and shamanism are, in turn, astonishing incursions into absurdist prose, expressionist poetry, strange fiction and existentialist lucubrations.
Condous creations moves between the many archetypes and literary myths, facilitating the location of Bonciu ideas in a historically broader picture. In "Parada Elefantilor" (The Elephant Parade), we have a parade of elephants, fantastic animals traveling through the medieval bestiary and the anticipation of the Rhinocéros (1955) a famous play by another Romanian, Eugène Ionesco. In "Concert la contrabas" (Concert Bass Viol), the poetic constructions follow the original Bonciu lost book proposal for a dialogue between poetry and the music produced by four composers (Gustav Mahler, Alexander Glazunov, Igor Stravinsky and Schoenberg). The expressionist musicality recreated by Condous is in the foreground in this chapter. Jumping to the third and longest chapter, "Sarpele cu ochelari" (The Cobra), a small but brilliant pearl in the Weird Fiction panorama, dialoguing with The Golem by Gustav Meyrink but even surpasses this reference with a highly original and unique monster. The final chapter takes over “O carte incomoda” (The Book of Discomfort ), a book with a target: to induce, as the title indicates, some unease feelings in the reader. For this purpose, Condous chooses the aphorism that summarizes the cosmic despair: “I taste this fast smooth darkness rolling over my tongue, nauseant flavours of emptiness, the taste of lost echoes, fossils of echoes, licking the secret lustre of blackened mirrors, the back of mirrors, the dry saltless dew of the abyss, effluvium of dead gods.” If the task of Golem of Bucharest may seem conventional at first glance, its execution is unique in each of its instances. What comes after the reading of Condous book is not only the portrait of a forgotten author, downtrodden by History, but the panel of a time when the spheres of creation and destruction swirled with equal speed and intensity.
The book's design, in turn, is exquisite in every detail, as usual in the case of L'Homme Recent or other editorial adventure by Ex Occidente Press. Every one of these details, in turn, provides meanings that intersect with those raised by the book’s contents. From the jacket, which features only a cubist image and the author's initials to the black and furry cover that has a central illustration of a man pissing on a swastika. From the book format, a perfect square to the carefully chosen internal images, a small editorial gem, a book of hours for collectors, connoisseurs and other lovers of the book as an object. Nothing more suitable for Andrew Condous and his Golem of Bucharest, strange and unique blend of essay and fiction, recovery and reconstruction, historical review and narrative extrapolation.
This review was accomplished with support from PNAP-R program, at the Fundação Biblioteca Nacional (FBN).