Published in 1945, Gherasim Luca’s The Passive Vampire is a provocative and erotically charged love letter to the French surrealist group. A french letter one might say, given that the Rumanian Luca (real name Salman Locker) wrote not in his native tongue but that of André Breton and the surrealists he had recently met in Paris; it is a prophylactic act of love disseminating and inseminating the ‘red threat of Reality’ - a singular erotic gesture in a time of darkness and absence.
The book is divided into two distinct sections. The first in a remarkable account of a surrealist ‘game’, the Objectively Offered Object (OOO), not unlike Dali’s ‘Symbolically Functioning Object’ whereby everyday objects are transformed in some kind of manic/erotic state before being ‘offered’ to another and subjected to radical psychoanalytical analysis. The aim of this ‘game’, Luca states, is nothing less than ‘to discover a new object of knowledge [...] a new objective possibility of resolving dialectically the conflict between interior and exterior worlds...’ This echoes one of the central tenets of the Rumanian Surrealists’ manifesto, Dialectics of the Dialectic written by Luca and Dolfi Trost in 1945, that surrealists, in their adherence to dialectical materialism, must continue ‘to envisage the possibility of these permanent confrontations between interior reality and exterior reality’.
Through the OOO game we see the development of a distinct methodology of dialectical investigation through the operation of desire and objective chance, prising apart the binary configurations of bourgeois ‘reality’: inner/outer, self/other, chance/necessity, man/woman, day/night, dream/reality, death and its negation. The transformed objects are themselves quite startling. The Letter L, for instance, offered to André Breton, is an old wooden doll covered in riddles taken from the pages of an almanac with the head of another doll attached to its groin which itself is covered in razor blades with one – à la Un Chien Andalou – sliced into an eye. But what is more remarkable than even the Nadja-like photographic evidence of these objects, is Luca’s honest and lucid analysis of their making. Through the offered object, a lover’s triangle is formed through an association with Breton’s Nadja, Luca’s wife and Luca’s desire to form a rapport with Breton, replete with infidelities and jealousies.
I could satisfy my desire towards B. while avoiding painful consequences and at the same time have the means to take revenge on the double infidelity committed by my wife and B. I mutilated the head (the sex) using several razor blades and, as a supreme ejaculation, with the last one I sliced the doll’s eye. This convulsive-sadistic action thus took on a concrete, bewitching value. (pp 47-8)
This ‘supreme ejaculation’ reminds me very much of the delirious erotic language used by Georges Bataille (e.g. Histoire de l’oeil, Ma Mère, La Morte) denoting an ‘inner experience’ which forces or exceeds a given limit within being. The pitch of Luca’s prose is often at a similar frequency. For example, attaching a spoon to a starfish on another object is an ‘all-too directly pederastic operation’; he sees in objects the revelation of his ‘bisexual tendencies’ which are ‘permanently indissoluble’. The object objectively offered and subjected to rigorous documentation and analysis, thus become a hugely erotic and talismanic portal (like a dream) into the very nature of intersubjectivity This subject, however, is not whole or, indeed, wholesome but radically and erotically divided in itself, one might even say ‘schizoid’ (pre-figuring the academic post-modern concern for the ‘divided self’). But this delirious schizophrenia is not abandoned to sheer lunacy. What we also see in the game are also the mechanics and machinations of objective chance which, according to Luca and Trost: 'constitutes for us the most awesome means to locate the relative-absolute aspects of reality... Objective chance leads us to see in love the general revolutionary method that is unsullied by idealistic remnants'.
What objective chance reveals between subject and object is a third, ‘phantom’ object. We might this ‘love’ but, like all phantoms, it eludes true definition. Certainly the final pages of part two’s include a paean to an elusive lover, Déline, and an extended meditation on the concept and nature of love.
...there also emerged LOVE, mad and lucid, real and virtual, living and dead like Déline’s hair. As Déline, the indecipherable ghost of love, fell asleep on my shoulder she darkened the darkness. (p. 134)
Neither object nor subject this amour fou is a ghost which functions, at a textual level, not unlike Roland Barthes’ ‘third meaning’ (i.e. a signifier without a signified’) becoming a field of operation whereby the traditional binary opposites subject/object, exterior/interior dissolve deliriously in a poetic prose of constant metaphorical exchange, verbal collage and assemblage (or de-assemblage).
I close my eyes, as active as a vampire, I open them within myself, as passive as a vampire, and between the blood that arrives, the blood that leaves, and the blood already inside me there occurs an exchange of images like an engagement of daggers. Now I could eat a piano, shoot a table, inhale a staircase. (p. 83)
The book’s second half, The Passive Vampire is thus more lyrical and linguistically searching. Luca plays with various registers from straight biography, hysterical Post-Romantic poetical flourishes and satanic litanies to pseudo-scientific formulae; its vocabulary includes the language of psychoanalysis, the language of flowers, even the signification of individual letters (L, D, X, OOO, R). What Luca objectively offers the reader is the constant transformation - or ghost - of an indecipherable discourse (is this book, for instance: poetry/prose/novel/psychological case study/documentary/grimoire...? (again, one is put in mind of the genre-defying Bataille as described in Barthes’ essay ‘From Work to Text’)). The Passive Vampire, in other words, is itself an Objectively Offered Object in the form of an extended love letter in which the text, with the complicity of the reader, is the object undergoing an exhilarating erotic revolution. It is the gift of poetry as a dark, waking dream-state, one of those ‘fortuitous encounters’ leading to a knowledge and transformation of relationships between individuals that ‘becomes the somnambulistic manifestation of the collective unconsciousness in its waking state, thus consummating its nocturnal dream form.’
The Passive Vampire is excellently translated and introduced by Krzysztof Fijalkowski and is what the broadsheets would call ‘essential reading’. It is undoubtedly a ‘classic’ of the surrealist tradition while at the same time the kind of text that puts into question the very notions of classic and tradition. Offer yourself to it.
A version of this review was first published in Phosphor.