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“He has an evening suit, but never an occasion to wear it, so he puts it on when he paints his pictures.”
Insel, the only novel by the surrealist master Mina Loy, is a book like no other—about an impossible friendship amid the glamorous artistic bohemia of 1930s Paris.
German painter Insel is a perpetual sponger and outsider—prone to writing elegant notes with messages like “Am starving to death except for a miracle—three o’clock Tuesday afternoon will be the end”—but somehow writer and art dealer Mrs. Jones likes him.
Together, they sit in cafés, hatch grand plans, and share their artistic aspirations and disappointments. And they become friends. But as they grow ever closer, Mrs. Jones begins to realize just how powerful Insel’s hold over her is.
Unpublished during Loy’s lifetime, Insel—which is loosely based on her friendship with the painter Richard Oelze—is a supremely surrealist, deliberately excessive creation: baroque in style, yet full of deft comedy and sympathy. Now, with an alternate ending only recently unearthed in the Loy archives, Insel is finally back in print, and Loy’s extraordinary achievement can be appreciated by a new generation of readers.
light, lay pallid and obscure in a faint reflection from a lantern in the hall, his slumber the extinction of a dim volcano. Lax as a larva, a glow worm “gone out,” his head bared of its phosphorescent halo, seemed swollen in a meaningless hydrocephalus. As if, while conscious, electric emissions had diminished his cranial volume. Around him the atmosphere was stale as an alcohol preserving a foetal monster he resembled in repose. Insel was unpleasant bereft of his radiance. His body had
lift it from the pillow, must surely loll on his shoulder—the head of an idiot. The flat seemed emptier for his being there, until I found that further off it was filled to a weird expansion with emanations drifting away from Insel asleep. They crowded the air, minute horizontal icicles, with a tingling of frozen fire. In the room at the end of the corridor their force of vitalized nothingness was pushing back the walls. Why should Insel, less ponderable than other men, impart perceptible
have that rest cure here. I’ll hire Bebelle to feed you—do everything for you while you lie down and drowse till you’re quite fit. I must get back to Saint-Cloud.” “Impossible,” moaned Insel, instantly sagging, “I have to return to my troubles. You do not understand. They are my life. It waits for me.” “Nonsense, you spent the night in Montparnasse in one incessant gurgle of laughter.” “It was a hollow laughter,” he intercepted, sepulchrally. Insel had resumed his “line” which seemed so
That twilight sheer duration lowers upon all pale fabrics had so penetrated the thick wool, one could only believe with difficulty it had not been dyed—a perfect job at that—no spot, no smirch, no variation in tone disturbed the unity of its spread surface. For a moment I entertained the idea that Insel had worked all over it with the microscopic point of his lead pencil, for it seemed no earthly dust could defer to such patient order. Anyhow, I decided everything in the place is bewitched, and
me—myriads upon myriads of distraught women were being strangled in my esophagus. I had known exhaustive desperation but no such desperation as this—with its power of a universal conception—of limitless application: being impersonal made it the more overwhelming. “You—are—going—to—give—in.” “To whom?” I wondered—my eyes closing. “To Insel? Or this incredibly lovely monster made of dead flesh.” “Thou art fair my beloved, thou—,” rose from a subconscious abyss. Not wholly convinced I wrenched