The Invention of Politics in the European Avant-Garde (1906-1940)

By Sascha Bru; Gunther Martens | Go to book overview

Ecstatic Subjects.
Citizenship and Sex in Czech Surrealism

Malynne Sternstein


Citizen Czech

In 1923, at the age of twenty-one, the painter Marie ĈermÍnová was reborn in a café in Prague. She left the building as Toyen. The theorist, sociologist, and artist Karel Teige, her colleague from the early days of the Czech leftist avant-garde movement known as Devětsil to the Surrealist movement of the 1930s and beyond, wrote of the moment: "we christened her at a café table within a pseudonym as indeclinable as her art" (Srp 2000: 10). The mythologies around her very un-Czech name also point out its Francophone core. Citoyen, they say, is the full reference the partial Toyen invokes. In that anarchic moment of re-naming, the avant-garde created a Toyen; out of a subject identified as such by the grammars and politics of language was forged a citizen of the Real, just as it seethed irresistibly in her art.

Does not such a de-gendering of the subject, such as it is represented by this linguistic remove in a language as marked for grammatical gender as Czech – that is, taking away its social identification as man or woman – rather than orphaning sexuality, leave us instead with a fully sexualized being where only a gendered one stood before? When Toyen left the café was she not now sexed, and when she entered gendered? It is by now a truism that gender domesticates sex. But what if the avant-garde had a project, one not fully realized until the flowering of Czech Surrealism, wherein gender might be eradicated forever so that suffrage, rights wars, constitutional parity and the like were rendered obsolete by the ecstasy of subjects

-113-

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