Cons ICARUS, TIGER and Fascism
Keywords:Slovene poetry, literary avant-garde, constructivism, literary motifs, Icarus
Like the scientists of their time, Russian artists in the 1920s considered gravity the central problem – a view which points to the close harmony between modern physics and the avant-garde. It was only with the constructivist movement that the Icarus revolution grasped the principles of the “mobile philosophy” (3.651) which was almost at the same time recognised by modern physics as well. The static view of the world became obsolete, space and time were no longer absolute values. It was necessary to transcend Euclidean geometry, shake off the political ʻshackles on one’s hands’ and surrender to Lisicki’s imaginary space, where “At 2000 metres in the air / there is no more perspective” (Integrals 276).
Kosovel’s Icarus project accorded with Tatlin’s, and both of them accorded with the quintessential aims of the constructivist movement. It is no accident that Kosovel wished to name one of his poetry collections The Dream of Icarus. Poems on the Icarus theme, such as “Cons Icarus”, “Evacuation of the Spirit”, “Eh, Hey”, “A Heart in Alcohol” etc. belong to the group of Kosovel’s conses which follow his “mobile philosophy” (3.650) and “letters growing into space” (Int. 282).
The question “Man, do you want up in the air?” (Int. 128) will remain a question until the moment when man is finally ready to transcend the existing boundary and dive “beyond”. Hence Kosovel’s clear-cut contrast between the “green windows of an illuminated / express on a viaduct”, which moves horizontally and is, like a water current, subject to the earth’s gravity, and “the spirit in space”, whose direction of motion is “the perpendicular of the spirit”, atectonicity. “The spirit burns in space”: fire is an element that knows vertical movement alone, the only one of the elements to outgrow and transcend the earth’s gravity, therefore it is associated with another mythological figure important for man, Prometheus. Both Icarus and Prometheus liberate man, each in his own way.
“Cons Icarus” is marked by ascent. There is no mention of the fall, as there was none in the poem “A Heart in Alcohol”, where the point is in transcending the given, in “thoughts beyond”, quite apart from its being also a geographical definition of the ʻenslaved’ Julian March, its ʻtranscending’ the oppression of Fascism. Icarus offers the Slovenians a chance to rise at last. After the Treaty of Rapallo, the Slovenians, especially those in central Slovenia, calmly looked on as the Slovenian National Centre in Trieste burned down in 1920, and the printing house Edinost in 1925. Many Primorska intellectuals went into exile to the then Yugoslavia, while the language was completely banned from public use. The people of Primorska became complete “prisoners” (see 2.133) on their own turf.
In addition to everything described above, the background of “Cons Icarus” includes the philosophy of Slovenianhood fostered by the Slovenian Icarus, Klement Jug – his struggle to raise the awareness of his nation, to change it from a “sheepish” nation into an upright one, filled with willpower and strength. The moral uprightness of the nation is associated here with the anti-gravity, atectonic perpendicular that enabled Icarus to conquer the earth’s gravity, “the shackles on his hands” (Int. 119). “Cons Icarus”, then, belongs among those of Kosovel’s poems which are critical of the unfair international politics. In defining the tragic position of the Primorska people, Kosovel used a concept typical of him, ʻnihilomelancholy’, which suggests that we cannot rid ourselves of nihilism until we have healed our melancholy.
In the same way, “Cons (Tiger)” never happened in a circus: it happened on the occupied territory among the Primorska Slovenians, where the dream about the unity of all Slovenians clashed against the cruellest Fascist reality possible. This was why the people of Primorska were the first in Europe to resist it, forming the insurgent organisation TIGR, later TIGER, while the priests of Primorska formed the College of St Paul’s Clerics for Istria. Robbed of human rights, man cannot be mechanised, for “there is no culture in mechanics”, there is no humanity in Fascism. Linking this cons to the early, ORJUNA-like TIGR-hood might have brought brand new results in understanding Kosovel as a concrete early TIGR revolutionary. And both TIGR and “Cons (Tiger)” are about insurgence, about action. The model in this insurgence may be the Homunculi who had become human by developing emotions and passions, thus surpassing the plans of their maker, of the Fascist dictatorship which wanted them soulless and emotionless, wholly subordinated to mechanical slave labour.
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