Cover

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Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. i-viii

Contents

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pp. ix-x

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Acknowledgments

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pp. xi-xiv

In 1870 a Bohemian count hired a local woodcarver to neaten and organize the bones in an ossuary near Sedlec. On its face it was a straightforward job. But for whatever reason (and even, perhaps, against his initial intentions), the woodcarver succumbed to an (obviously) autocratic and obsessive nature. Over the next ten years, he arranged and rearranged the remains of some seventy thousand souls, ultimately creating a beautiful, if macabre, subterranean chapel decorated with skulls, femurs,...

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ANIMIST CINEMA

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pp. 1-9

By the time Jan Švankmajer became generally known to English-speaking audiences, he was already some two decades into his career. Dimensions of Dialogue (Možnosti dialogu, 1982) had become a darling of the festival and museum circuit, winning prizes at Annecy and Berlin for best short. It was his seventeenth film—the third since his liberation from what effectively amounted to a state-imposed ban from filmmaking (1973–1979). By virtue of that circumstance, its reception must have been especially...

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Humiliation, or Object Life

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pp. 10-47

The first of several humiliations, if only to the critical vocabulary we’ve deployed so far: Jan Švankmajer, the Surrealist animator, is neither a “Surrealist” nor an “animator.” This deserves a bit of explanation. The former term, as an adjective, too often implies a common aesthetic or art historical project, as opposed to a philosophical disposition; the latter term, in Švankmajer’s fanciful gloss, nominates “pigeon fanciers and rabbit breeders”—those seeking to “construct a closed world for...

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Wunderkammer, or Creaturely Life

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pp. 47-72

Rudolf II (1552–1612), the eccentric Bohemian potentate, more than put his stamp on the cultural temperament of Prague, which in 1583 he made once again the seat of the Holy Roman Empire. As an avid supporter of the arts, no less than as a devotee of the occult, he made Prague the political and intellectual center of Europe. Under his patronage, Prague became a second Parnassus, a citywide atelier.97 But his legacy as a collector should not be understated. His personal gallery...

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Haptics, or Animal Life

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pp. 72-95

In 1983 Švankmajer produced five samizdat copies of Hmat a Imaginace, a treatise on and record of experiments in tactilism initiated during his hiatus from filmmaking in the 1970s. Each copy had rabbit fur along the spine and the silhouette of a hand made out of sandpaper on the front cover. In its conception his design paid homage to Prière de toucher (Please Touch, 1947), the book covers that Marcel Duchamp created for Le Surréalisme en 1947, the catalog of the Exposition...

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Imagination, or Political Life

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pp. 95-118

Švankmajer is under no illusion, however, that the individual pursuit of autonomous pleasures is a politically subversive measure. If anything, as Švankmajer himself indicates, individual imaginative acts of desire are manifestly perverse when regarded from the perspective of a collective pursuit of pleasures (whose free expression leads to abominable acts from slavery to genocide). Political life, therefore, is always figured in terms of an occult psychopathology—meat’s vain search for transcendent...

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Survival, or Ecological Life

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pp. 118-152

Though Švankmajer calls it a “psychoanalytic comedy” in his preface, Surviving Life (Theory and Praxis), like Lunacy, is a “philosophical horror” film. Or more precisely, every puppet film is a “philosophical horror” film. Their horror is twofold: the puppet film compels the viewer toward ethical recognition of nonhuman creatures; as a consequence, humanity’s carefully curated and policed categories of definition are destabilized. For Reza Negarestani, “Puppetry is the realization of the...

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INTERVIEWS WITH JAN SVANKMAJER

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pp. 153-164

MICHAL KŘIŽ and JAN KŘIPAČ: Your most recent film, Lunacy, premiered last November [2005]. Today it’s apparent that its reception has been mixed. Do you pay attention to various audience reactions, if only from afar? Do you ever want to somehow correct or comment on these various interpretations?...

Filmography

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pp. 165-176

Bibliography

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pp. 177-186

Index

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pp. 187-196