Sunday 29 September 2019

Kurt Schwitters: 'Der zündende Funken' (1926)

The kindling spark

Doctor Gross was the acknowledged darling of all the ladies. He danced excellently, was good company, stylish and well-groomed, in short, he was the acknowledged darling of the ladies. He was well aware of this, but it did not kindle any fire in him, never, for he weighed up everything coolly and objectively and found much in the female sex that was worthy of reproach. A man such as he could give any lady the run-around, but for that very reason it gave him no pleasure. Much to the despair of his parents, who dearly wished to cradle grandchildren. And yet, he too proved one day to be capable of combustion.
For one day Dr. Gross was out walking and thinking about nothing in particular and looking into the shop-windows of fashion houses. Just as he was standing right in front of a shop with ladies’ wear, the spark ignited. In an artificial arbour of paper embellishments and electric light he had seen a young woman made of wax and clad in a light spring dress, a faithful imitation of nature and full of allure and charm. She was simply standing there in order to sell the spring dress, but he did not see the simple, tasteful dress – he saw the enchanting maiden. He saw her true nature, straight through the dress, and the nature of this woman, her fine, calm being, her lovely, graceful movements, her silken skin, her exceptional beauty – all of this so pleased him that he was unable to contain himself, entered the shop and demanded to speak to her mother.
His first great disappointment was that this young woman had no mother, only a proprietor. So he asked to see the head of the establishment. Mr Levy, the manager, was a man of fine character, without much poetry about him. He assumed that a fine, young man would want to buy his wife or bride a chic costume, and was utterly taken-aback when Dr. Gross began by saying: “I wish to ask for the hand in marriage of the lady who is offering the summer dress for sale in the third window for 29 Marks 98.” – “I’m very sorry, Sir,” the manager replied, “but the lady is not for sale.” When he noted that the lady must be extremely valuable, he presented himself. “Delighted to make your acquaintance, Sir, the name is Levy,” the manager said, and Dr. Gross began: “I do not, by the way, wish to purchase her, only to be permitted to ask for her hand in marriage.” – “I’m very sorry, Sir, but as I said, I cannot part with this lady.” – “Why ever not?” – “She is, as I said, not for sale.” – “But, Mr. Levy, ladies are by definition not for sale, are they not?” – “You are mistaken, doctor, ladies are often actually for sale, but I regret to say that this lady is my property, and I am unwilling to part with her.”
“But, dear Sir, you can only have a human right to this lady, for a right of ownership like that of the time of the slave trade no longer exists today, thank heavens.” – “So?” – “For that reason, it is not your business but that of the lady in question whether she wishes to stay with you or not.”
“I am genuinely sorry, but one can indeed have the right of ownership like that of the time of the slave trade over ladies made of wax.” – “I too am sorry, but I do not recognise your right. Please allow me to go into the window, to confer with young lady in question and to openly declare my feelings to her.” – “I am terribly sorry, but furthermore fear that the lady made of wax will give you no reply.” – “That would also greaten sadden me, yet if she were to show her satisfaction through silence, that would be far dearer to me than many words, for I dislike talkative women.”
“But Sir, this lady is not a living being – I fail to understand what you actually want from her.” – “To marry her.” –
“You will not find any registrar to carry this out, for the lady is not on any list. She is a non-person! You simply cannot marry a figure made of wax!” – “That is my affair. How is it you claim to know whether a wax figure is a person or not? Have you ever been a registrar? Are there not numerous persons with wax parts, artificial arms, legs, teeth, noses, hair – why shouldn’t there be persons who are completely artificial? I could prove to you that every form must have a corresponding content. Either this wax figure is a person like all other women, or all other women are non-persons. For the other difference between a wax doll and a random roman is that the doll is considerably calmer, finer and more elegant.” – At this, the manager was at a loss. Then he thought of a subterfuge. He said that he as legal guardian was prepared to give his approval, but the wedding would have to take place in the shop window. Then Dr. Gross said. ‘It is a matter of indifference to me – I am the humble servant of my admirers.” – “But I must ask you not to undertake anything that would cause a crowd to have reason to gather in front of my shop, for we are an old, respected firm.” – “That goes without saying, Mr. Levy.” – The manager was desperate, he had played his final trump card and lost. Furthermore, he was afraid of Dr. Gross, whom he suddenly felt was insane. It was then, all of a sudden, that the head sales assistant said: “May I perhaps draw your attention, Sir, to the fact that the lady in question writes shorthand using the Gabelsberger system?” In a twinkling of an eye, Dr. Gross abruptly took his leave, with the remark: “If that is the case, then marriage is of course completely out of the question, for I write standard shorthand. Good day to you!” –

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