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l ad islav n ová k
T HE T RANSFORMATIONS
M R . H ADLÍZ
translated from the Czech by Jed Slast
twisted spoon press • prague • 2002
Original text and illustrations copyright © 1995 by Ladislav Novák
Translation copyright © 2002 by Twisted Spoon Press
All rights reserved. This book, or parts thereof, may not be
used or reproduced in any form, except in the context of reviews,
without written permission from the publisher.
Third Mythical Conversation /11
A Few Comments on the Cycle “The Transformations of Mr. Hadlíz”
mr. hadlíz as a cloud (as an eiderdown) /18
mr. hadlíz as charon in the mists of the acheron /20
mr. hadlíz as a plaything for those condemned to death /22
mr. hadlíz missing a leg, but an expert seducer nonetheless /24
mr. hadlíz as a boulder of clouds, as a storm /26
mr. hadlíz as an ominous dancer (as shiva) /28
mr. hadlíz with a swan on the verge of disappearing /30
(as a nix, as lohengrin, as wotan . . .)
mr. hadlíz as a provincial feudal lord
(as a great marquis) /32
mr. hadlíz as a monster threatening the homes
of respectable families /34
mr. hadlíz as a badger
(as a ventriloquist observing a struggle in his belly) /36
mr. hadlíz as a nocturnal creature
(almost as himself in a cape) /38
mr. hadlíz as a dance of elves (as autumn decay) /40
In Lieu of an Epilogue, a Lengthy Conversation With Mr. Hadlíz
I have a great love of water . . . /51
Not one day ever passes . . . /53
Postscript, or Definitive Epilogue, as also an Obituary
About the Author and His Work
Life is mutable as a whirlpool.
THIRD MYTHICAL CONVERSATION
On what do you still rely?
— that I will live
Is this connected with water?
— it’s completely connected with water
Tell me about it!
— I will live like water
How does water live?
— in solid, liquid, and gaseous states
What does that mean?
— that I will change and still remain me
Why would you want to change?
— to run away to stay
(from Vertigo, Ladislav Novák, 1968)
A FEW COMMENTS ON THE CYCLE “ THE TRANSFORMATIONS OF MR . HADLÍZ ”
For New Year’s 1976 my brother-in-law gave me a large Danish
calendar illustrated with a number of color photographs. At the
time I shunted it aside somewhere as I considered it unsuited for
my work. Only at the beginning of August, when I was working
with maximal effort and concentration on a cycle of Mánes’s
Months — which in the end was called Circles and Spheres for Eli‰ka
— did I recall the calendar. Finding it, and after a bit of hesitation,
I produced the first picture. Of the original “unsuitable” material I
left only a portion of the boats in the lower right-hand corner.
Near the center of the sheet and in the middle of the creased lines
there emerged a suspended figure in the original white color of the
washed background. It suggested to me the title: “Mr. Hadlíz as a
floating cloud (as an eiderdown).” After more than a week had
passed, and as a break from working on Months, I created the second picture. It was only when I had completely finished Months,
August 23, that I began intensive work on this cycle, which I have
concluded today, September 12.
As for the figure of Mr. Hadlíz, the cycle’s central motif:
Hadlíz is the name of an old, narrow lane in Tﬁebíã not far from
the house where I spent my childhood and where I have lived to
this day. This odd name evidently has its origins in the German
Haarlese, probably the place where sheep were shorn. Since childhood, this name has conjured up in my mind peculiar associations
(had–lízati / snake–to lick). Once when my uncle Václav was visiting me in Tﬁebíã, he looked out the window and read the street
name clearly visible in the distance, exclaiming: “You’re in fact the
lord of Hadlíz.” I took this as a good joke. Shortly thereafter,
sometime around 1943, I signed the name Jaroslav Hadlíz to the
first and later lost version of “The Legend of Braunschweig.”
Many years later I included a second version of this legend in my
Small Non-Encyclopedia of Absurdities and Useless Knowledge. I should
point out that the first version had essentially captured the atmosphere of the latter compilation.
Later — particularly at the time a selection of my short texts
was published in Blok under the title “Textaments” — I more than
once thought about writing a collection of similar texts but with a
central, unified idea running through them, with the figure of Mr.
Hadlíz serving as this idea. At the same time, I largely took Hadlíz
to be my ironical self-portrait. (Of course, it is possible that one
day I’ll write this collection of texts, at which point the figure of
Mr. Hadlíz will be further elucidated . . .)
The first sheet not only determined the central motif of those
that followed but also how they were to be executed. Because the
calendar’s generally conventional color photographs didn’t really
suit me, I decided to leave only a tiny portion of the original
image. This fact, in addition to the cycle’s motif, led me to retain
the horizontal format of the original. Naturally, the original material will always exercise a limiting effect on the range of possible
interpretations, and it complicates the work as well (as opposed to
froissage* on blank white paper, which can be turned until the
proper angle of perception is chosen). It was also important that at
least the general outline of Mr. Hadlíz have roughly the same
dimensions on each sheet. I followed this rule throughout save in a
few instances: on sheet no. 8 (h), where only the bust is depicted,
though on a larger scale; partially on sheet no. 9 (i), where the
monster’s figure is slightly smaller; and on the last sheet, which was
*See About the Author and His Work. [Tr.]
intentional, since Mr. Hadlíz multiplies and breaks up into a swarm
of four separate figures. The scale of the figure on the penultimate
sheet, as well as on the one preceding it, is a little too large . . . The
heavily laminated surface of the photo-reproductions also presented problems. The color did not hold very well and the results
of the washing process could not be completely controlled. How
several details would come out, therefore, had to be left to chance.
The individual sheets were in turn designated by letters of the
alphabet, following one another in this cadence:
Mr. Hadlíz as a cloud (as an eiderdown)
Mr. Hadlíz as Charon in the mists of the Acheron
Mr. Hadlíz as a plaything for those condemned to death
Mr. Hadlíz missing a leg, but an expert seducer nonetheless
Mr. Hadlíz as a boulder of clouds, as a storm
Mr. Hadlíz as an ominous dancer (as Shiva)
9/1: Mr. Hadlíz with a swan on the verge of disappearing
9/4: Mr. Hadlíz as a provincial feudal lord (as a great marquis)
9/6: Mr. Hadlíz as a monster threatening the homes of
(as a nix, as Lohengrin, as Wotan . . .)
9/8: Mr. Hadlíz as a badger (as a ventriloquist observing a struggle
in his belly)
Mr. Hadlíz as a nocturnal creature (almost as himself in a
Mr. Hadlíz as a dance of elves (as autumn decay)
Regarding the individual sheets and their titles, one cannot
help but notice two components more or less present in each: an
element of irony, if need be self-irony; an element of cruelty, pain,
a sense of menace, darkness, and night. The coloration of the final
three sheets, or certainly the final two, presents a sharp counterbalance to this overall gloomy tone. With the exception perhaps of
the fourth sheet, they are the most cheerful, and despite the
moroseness of the cycle in general the conclusion is rather uplifting.
(On some of the sheets I have specifically supplemented the
negligible remnants of the original photographs by imprinting several letters, thereby giving the predominantly scenic nature of the
remnants a modicum of culture and refinement. These letters
(phonemes) should be understood as the acoustic accompaniment
to the visual work. The letters are to be pronounced aloud when
looking at the sheet on which they appear.)
The cycle as a whole is a synthesis of my work from the first
half of the 1970s. Likewise, it is the only instance in my work
where an imaginary figure pervades an entire dozen pictures.
“The Transformations of Mr. Hadlíz”
was composed to the froissages from 1976
virtually in one sitting on the evening of
October 7, 1992; it was corrected and
transcribed the following morning.
A / MR . HADLÍZ AS A CLOUD ( AS AN EIDERDOWN )
Well then, not as an oriental flying carpet, but as a feathery
cloud. (Besides, for dreaming eiderdowns are best . . .) But
Mr. Hadlíz doesn’t dream much. He would rather keep a
close eye on all the bustling activity below him: the play of
ripples in the water, the rocking of rowboats, the glimmering
of fish, and even the movements of various crabs in the clear
water. (Once long ago Mr. Hadlíz was fond of diving, and he
was amazed to find crabs flitting sideways on the fine bottom
sand . . .) Ladies stroll along the esplanade in white dresses
and summer bonnets with fluttering ribbons. What are all
the things going through Mr. Hadlíz’s mind? What sort of
thoughts are amassing, coagulating, clotting inside him?
Will a bolt of lightning shoot out of them someday? We
shall see later . . .
B / MR . HADLÍZ AS CHARON IN THE MISTS OF THE ACHERON
Here water is always present, great surfaces of water; and the
mists rising from the waters practically veil the entire scenery. Mr. Hadlíz has descended, and his gesture beckons us to
step onto his barge. Onto the swaying barge that he will
shove off with a long pole (doleful water will drip from the
pole), deathly water, as he would like to convey us to the
other shore . . .
— Passage to the other shore is not necessarily negation. It
might also be the beginning of something new. For that matter, Mr. Hadlíz could get lost in the fog (deliberately?) and
just take us back to a different spot on our side of the river.
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