Sunday, 16 August 2009

dark spring [w unica zürn]

Dark Spring is a book so slight it doesn't take much more than an hour to read. It is recounted from the point of view of a twelve year old girl, living in Germany after the war. Its 80 pages recount the girl's emerging sexuality. Things happen, some of which have no right to happen. However, more than the sequence of events, which of their own might be perceived as being salacious, the key to Dark Spring's compelling, slightly nightmarish brilliance, is the way in which it captures pre-adolescent fears and desires, spearing them like one of Golding's children might have speared a fish, using a crude piece of wood, barely up to the task, but effective nonetheless.

I know very little about Zürn, save for the fact she had relationships with various surrealists, her psychiatrist was also, apparently, Artaud's, and she committed suicide by jumping from a window, something worth knowing before you read the book. However, I do know her little book captures a world which adults would rather forget. Rather than the child within the man, beloved of the Romantics, Zürn's text reveals the adult within the child. Reminding us that childhood, aware of the great secrets that have yet to be revealed, is forced to use its imagination to conjure up a vision of sex; as well as love; and that so much of what we will experience in adulthood, upon which our notions of happiness depend, will have been the result of choices made when we were of an age before we could possibly know what those decisions meant. Within a society that would prefer to believe these things didn't even cross its children's minds.

Dark Spring, (perhaps an echo of Spring Awakening), is one of those rare texts which is bold enough to tackle the shibboleths of childhood. This transgression ensures there's a timelessness about the book, in part because the society that acknowledges a pre-pubescent sexuality is a rare one. Zürn was brave enough to remind the world that it's something that does exist, and Dark Spring is a kind of true mirror to the sanitised fantasies of Alice in Wonderland.

Some writers resist society's codifications, and their books are like postcards from a reality it would rather ignore.

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