By Ladislav Klima
Translated from the Czech by Marek Tomin
Artwork by Pavel Rut
Twisted Spoon Press, November 2011
Quite an unusual work of fiction, this is nonetheless a curiously compelling read.
Ladislav Klima (1878-1928) himself led a strange existence, and in his purely philosophical works he apparently espoused a form of solipsism. He also held that human beings could, through a process which he called deoessence, attain a realisation of their own innate divinity. On my admittedly limited understanding of Klima’s thought, deoessence as a spiritual undertaking is akin to Jung’s process of individuation and surely has the same attendant perils.
This novella, which was published four years after the author’s death, incorporates many of Klima’s metaphysical notions. In it Sider, a man in the prime of life, is drawn towards Cortona, an Alpine town. Once there he is in raptures, tripping on the place, falling about in ecstasy, and the boundary between reality and his own state of mind becomes decidedly blurry. His business affairs lead him to leave Cortona but a return visit is soon on the cards. It is disenchanting the second time around, though. But here he meets, or rather he unsuccessfully pursues, two women, Orea and Errata. They, and Orea in particular, will determine his fate.
The volatile furnace of the work lies in Sider’s frantic emotion, his extreme responses and desperate insights. It’s one of those stories where romantic love – the attempt to possess a mysterious, ethereal woman – metamorphoses into a kind of spiritual quest. Yet a quest that looks dysfunctional from the outside and is not dissimilar, perhaps, to a descent into psychosis. Roberto Assagioli has noted that a psychotic is, in a sense, a failed mystic; someone who has been unable to integrate his transcendental insights into a coherent worldview. To bring it all back home. So you could view Klima’s protagonist here. For Sider, Orea becomes a benevolent enemy, a ‘glorious nemesis’, someone who makes him whole. Complete. Which is not to say that he escapes scot-free.
There are many striking passages in Glorious Nemesis and not a few obtuse reflections on the human condition. If a comparison is needed, I’d say that Klima, in Marek Tomin’s smooth translation, reminds me of Poe most of all. It should be said also that Pavel Rut’s evocative illustrations enhance the sometimes enigmatic text. One of Klima’s admirers was the late, great Václav Havel. And I too would like to add my humble shilling’s worth of admiration to the kitty.
The publisher’s description of the book can be read here.