Extras

Else on Magnus

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With our forthcoming publication The Nights of Tino of Baghdad, we though it would be interesting to share a short piece by the author of that work, Else Lasker-Schüler, in which she discusses her friend Magnus Hirschfeld, author of Berlin’s Third Sex.

This is one of numerous pen portraits of her friends and associates – including Karl Kraus, Oskar Kokoschka, Gottfried Benn, Tilla Durieux and Alfred Kerr – that Lasker-Schüler produced throughout her career, prose miniatures that capture the essence of her subjects’ personae. This article was first published toward the end of the First World War, and takes the form of an open letter to university students in Zurich where Hirschfeld was shortly to give a lecture. Describing his 50th birthday party which had taken place a few weeks earlier, it presents a warmer, more playful side to the tireless activist and pioneer of sex studies than most other accounts, including his own autobiography.


Doctor Magnus Hirschfeld

On Thursday, 11 July you will hear Magnus Hirschfeld speak in Zurich at the Schwurgerichtssaal; it is an evening to which you can look forward. I should like to tell you something about our doctor in Berlin. He is not just our doctor, he is also our host; his consultations end in beaux jours, the ailing forget their neuroses and for the healthy patient an afternoon in his delightful waiting rooms provides pleasing stimulation for the nerves. There in the middle of the Tiergarten amid stout chestnut trees and whispering acacias lives Medical Councillor Dr. Magnus Hirschfeld. Not that he likes us calling him that. ‘Children, just call me “Doctor”.’ Nevertheless, he confessed to me that his appointment to the Medical Council on the occasion of his fiftieth birthday, greatly disputed and contested among the medical profession though it was due to his exceptional position, had pleased him. Beaming like a child, he showed me all his presents. We call him our doctor. And unto our doctor my playmates and I delivered an exquisite serenade on the eve of his birthday revels. Touched, the revellers came out onto his balcony to hear our songs accompanied by accordion and drum. The concluding chorus: ‘I should like to carve it in every crust...’. He is amused by our exuberance, because – being earnest – Dr Hirschfeld understands jest, he is not some serious professor with an oak-leaf beard. Now, I must confess to you dear students that, to my shame, I am not familiar with any of the many famous books that the doctor has written (essentially I only read my own), but can nevertheless judge them from his incomparably interesting lectures, these thrilling medical, historical novels, standard works that never turn stale. Doctor Hirschfeld is the advocate of sincere love of any kind, opponent of all forms of hatred. A gentle forensic physician who seeks to understand everything. All compassion, he sacrifices his strength, his time, his good heart to the departing soldier. At the railway stations one often sees our doctor cultivating entire tobacco plantations, distributing numerous boxes of cigars and cigarettes as he farewells them in their field grey. He is a man whose goodwill is truly blind to class. He rushes to those who summon him. I once ambushed him myself, and managed to get him away from his great practice to accompany me to a wounded friend in Pomerania. Gentlemen, I am pleased to sing the praises and wonders of our Doctor Hirschfeld. When he is away from Berlin it is as though our father confessor were missing. We all long for his words of comfort, for his cosy, warm green chambers which are as soothing as the man himself.


‘Doktor Magnus Hirschfeld’ by Else Lasker-Schüler was first published in German in the Züricher Post und Handelszeitung, 10 July 1918. First book publication in Essays, published by Paul Cassirer, 1920.

This translation © 2019 James J. Conway

Wedding (Anna Croissant-Rust)

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Presenting a previously unpublished translation of a banned short story by Anna Croissant-Rust

In 1891, early on in her career, German author Anna Croissant-Rust (1860-1943) published a number of remarkable short works. Blending prose and poetry, disregarding taboos, she was pushing at the edges of the permissible in both style and subject matter. In August she pushed right through, with a contribution to Moderne Blätter, the journal of the Munich-based ‘Society for Modern Living’ of which Croissant-Rust was the sole female member.

‘Wedding’ was a vivid insight into sexual anxiety in which a marriage ceremony is rendered as something akin to a ritual sacrifice. Croissant-Rust describes a young bride exposed to the leering gaze of the wedding party, her fear of imminent deflowering projected into imagined dialogue. Here we find the hallmarks of the writer’s most audacious work that would culminate in Prose Poems (1893) and reappear in Death on the eve of the First World War – lights, colours, flowers, the agency attributed to inanimate objects, instants distilled to their emotional essence through a filter of acute psychological perception.

But the intimations of sexuality were too much for the authorities, who confiscated the edition of Moderne Blätter in which it appeared. As the author herself related, it was given to three trainee lawyers to read, who were then asked if the story had aroused them; when they replied in the negative the issue was cleared for sale once more. It was at least a marketable episode, and as the issue returned to newsstands it bore a banner announcing the confiscation.

With its fearless avant-garde style and pre-Freudian insights, ‘Wedding’ confirms Anna Croissant-Rust as a vital yet undervalued exponent of early Modernist literature.


Wedding

A psychological study

The bride’s coupé stops at the church door, the long, stark row of black coaches forms a dark line on the sunny, whitish street.

A tingling curiosity passes through the crowd. It orbits above their heads, a fever in their hands and feet and a gawking in their eyes; softly, softly it steals through the silk upholstery of the coach and creeps into the matt white bridal bouquet with its sweet, sensual aroma of Malmaison roses, myrtle and orange blossom.

It peers out from the blossoms, a yellowish gaze with flickering red, it eyes the bride –

The bride!

She is overcome by quaking, she recoils in apprehension and fear of the yellow-reddish brute gaze that lurks there. The coupé door is now wide open, the church steps dazzling in the sunshine, boastful in their ingratiating covering, crimson, soft, submissive, while solemn plants peer expectantly from the dark church door, tall and green, with light flickering over the earnest admonishment in their leafy twigs. The stiff satin of the bridal train rustles busily and waves over the coupé footstep, billows haughtily over the supplicant runners and moves inside the church, grave and worthy.

White satin, white tulle surges soft and shy around maiden cheeks drained of colour, sultry scent of roses brazenly dominating the orange blossoms, while the myrtle remains stiff and incorporeal. The stiff white myrtle wreath is set firmly in her hair.

White the walls, white the flowers, myrtle and orange blossom …

A shudder runs through the young bride.

She sees the reddish-yellow brute gaze lurking all about, squatting in the church pews, grinning from the side aisles, nodding from the alcoves, waiting at the altar.

And it gets redder, it shimmers and glitters, it sits in the eyes of the men, comes toward her, closer and closer, it sticks to her dress, runs over her face, her breasts … she feels as though her dress has fallen away, her white body naked, standing there in the church sullied and soiled, under the green, stiff plants, in the constant glittering light. White the blossoms, white the satin …

Are they all looking at her? All of them?

Oh they know that today, only this day is she still a virgin; they grin, they mock, they laugh, pointing at her naked body …

Her mother sits in her firm-fitting silk dress, she sees her as though through a mist, but from the mist she beckons …

She beckons and steps forward, her right hand an obliging, inviting gesture directed at her child. She smiles sweetly.

‘Please, I insist, come closer everyone, you all know that today, today is the day, you know, you know the day when one wears white satin and myrtle because … well’ – and here she giggles, and now thick tears are running down her face, but again she laughs – ‘closer, please, look at my daughter the virgin for the first, second, third and last time. This very day she will give herself to her husband. In due form, with all due honour – a good match. But tactfully, not straight after their wedding; a banquet, a honeymoon, the first stop is in …’ her voice drops to a murmur, she retreats to her misty circle.

‘Money! So much money it cost,’ her father puffs behind her, wiping the sweat from his brow and twirling his top-hat in his hands, ‘but she has my blessing, it’s all fine and above board,’ and then he leers at her, leers at her friends.

Restlessly they encircle her, with garbled laughter, hot heads and beating hearts … what? In their eyes, too, the reddish-yellow brute gaze begins to smoulder, to spark …

The young bride looks at the floor, she shivers, her hands clutching the flowers, maliciously rises the sweet and sultry scent of the orange blossoms.

Next to her, touching her, a black tailcoat of the most elegant cut. The dull sparkle of silk lining, patent leather shoes tittering pretentiously, a stiff collar, white, dazzling and haughty, wreathed by a white tie. The wax head with its stiffened moustache and singed hair smiles with unceasing vapidity beside her.

The yellowish-reddish gaze steals over him to her, this spark – can he not see it?

The young bride is shaken by quivering. Like cold, slimy mud it runs down her body, soiling, staining, defiling.

Are the flowers not wilting in her hand? Is the wreath not falling from her hair, are the lights not going out? Is it not getting darker, darker?

But from out of the darkness comes bright, weaving sunshine. Breeze-ruffled flowers, swaying green leaves.

And a sunny, surging joy in her heart, calling hot and shy.

Another’s hand holds hers with the strength and joy of youth, two eyes shine, shine, call to her.

And no one about.

Flames ignite in her heart, shy, shivering little flames, flaring, flickering, increasing in constant ardour.

Two arms hold her tight, sheath upon sheath falls from her body, in chaste purity her body shines, inundated with hot sun. Soft, hesitant sounds of joy in her ear, resounding, exulting cries, she feels herself being carried away, bedded, engulfed – alone, alone!

The sound of the organ, women’s voices, a circlet presses her finger, skipping gleams of light, arms that press her, moist, fat, sucking lips meeting hers, a flaccid mouth pressing against hers, kisses, kisses … yellowish, reddish flashing gaze, the beast, the beast!

Her train rustles over the flagstones once more, the weary, mocking scent of flowers all around, mist, unsteady grimaces all about, a hand supports her and the silk upholstery creaks reluctantly under its dual burden.

Ah, ah – a note of redemption; the wax head stretches and yawns, his left hand on the scrunching silk, he bends toward her … white the blossoms, white the satin …


‘Wedding’ by Anna Croissant-Rust was first published in German as ‘Hochzeitsfest’ in Moderne Blätter, no. 22 (29 August 1891). First book publication in Lebensstücke: Ein Novellen- und Skizzenbuch, Dr. E. Albert & Co. in Munich, 1893.

This translation © 2018 James J. Conway

Death by Anna Croissant-Rust (incl. Prose Poems), tr. James J. Conway, is available through Rixdorf Editions.

Wish you were hier

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As well as using old postcards in our artwork, we have recently started using postcards to make... postcards. Specifically, a series of art cards offering variations on original motifs of German postcards from around the beginning of the 20th century.

Why?

Well, one of our central aims with the whole Rixdorf Editions project is to introduce a combination of time and place largely unfamiliar in the English speaking world (Wilhelmine Germany) and show how it was actually a crucible for progressive thought that exerted an unacknowledged influence on later eras from the Weimar Republic to the present day.

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Taking original imagery from the time and cropping, blowing up and amplifying the colour symbolises this process by liberating the latent Modernism of the age. There are the dots seen in close up which foretell everything from Pointillism to Pop Art. There are the mismatched colour registrations and their evocative suggestion of new and dynamic graphic realms. And even when (actually especially when) catering to mass market tastes, there are surreal juxtapositions of imagery.

The first series of eight cards is called 'Landscape', referring to both the format and the subject matter, with the source material depicting scenic splendour throughout Germany from Heligoland to the Bavarian Alps. Some of the original cards were photographs, some illustrations, some a strange amalgam of the two.

Anyway, it's just an experiment for now. We'll be including a selection of postcards with each online order until we run out.

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