Of all possible worlds, here is one to be chided by: Each roomful of furniture, each chance run-in with persons and things, amounts to a dense, punishing state of affairs. In this narrowed place, whatever is least remarkable, and most perishable, about a human life becomes a continuous incurable malady, in monstrous proportions. One outcome of this mental Calvary is the hoisting-up of a special sort of literary temperament, usually thought to be antirational and antimoral, nihilistic and unpropitious—that is, anti-literature. But to convert literature into its opposite requires a reserve of energy that few of us are qualified, or willing, to administer fully to ourselves. It means giving up the old inhibitions about what counts as an aesthetically eligible form or feeling, and discrediting a well-worn arsenal of techniques that have traditionally been used to pacify and neutralize works of art.
The 15 chapters that make up Max Blecher’s Adventures in Immediate Irreality, published in Romania in 1936 and appearing in a new English translation by Michael Henry Heim, are, taken together, the inventory of a flayed consciousness. They are also the parcels of a confessional report, dispatched by an ecstatic and tormented, sickly hero caught in various, often unrelieved fits of appetitiveness. Tormented because Blecher’s young narrator—a double, one can glean, of the tubercular 27-year-old author—is the appalled beneficiary of his own experiences (“I had nothing to separate me from the world: everything around me invaded from head to toe”); ecstatic because here is a voluptuary of the debauched and the delinquent, a precocious debility-hoarder piling up pleasures in repugnant company (“What could fill my heart with joy if not this pure, sublime mass of filth?”). This sympathetic arrangement of mixed feelings is the leading policy of Blecher the writer (and, as I’ll explain later, the author of Adventures in Immediate Irreality appears in at least two other incarnations, Blecher the moralist and Blecher the aesthete), an obsessive saboteur of the breach between two seemingly irreconcilable positions: revulsion and lust. But one can make pleasure and the execrable mutual companions only at great psychic cost: Pleasure, in Blecher’s imagination, involves a noxious, potentially injurious sense of world-weariness. Wandering through his village, presumably in Romania, giving us his memories and terrors, Blecher’s nameless narrator pores over the unexceptional props of a lamentable life—sewing machines, lamp shades, rotting produce, armchairs, gramophones—with prurient intrigue, knowing well enough that every object implies either a recoverable personal memory or a demonic fantasy. He is a romancer of remains.
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Blecher was born in 1909, to a Jewish family in Botosani in northern Romania. After a brief stint as a medical student in Paris, he was diagnosed, at 19, with spinal tuberculosis, a malady that incapacitated him and returned him to Romania, where he died in 1938. For English readers, the remaining details of his life are limited: There were trips to sanatoriums in Switzerland, France, and Romania; a short story (his first) published in 1930; correspondence with André Breton, André Gide, and Martin Heidegger; a volume of poetry put out in 1934, followed by two novels, only one of which ever received any critical attention during his lifetime; translations of poems by Guillaume Apollinaire and Richard Aldington; and a kind of sickbed notebook, one can gather, published three decades after his death, called The Illuminated Burrow: Sanatorium Diary, which, along with innumerable essays and book reviews, has yet to appear in English.