"Die andere Seite", 1908, Alfred Kubin
published in English with the title "The other Side" by Crown Books (1967), translated by Denver Lindley, or by Dedalus (2000), translated by Mike Mitchell.
Alfred Kubin, besides to have been a famous expressionist engraver, he have been also a writer; "Die Andere Seite" (The Other Side) is his first and most important literary work, that he wrote in just twelve weeks after the death of his father to sublimate the shock of the loss that had brought him to a psychological jam. In the weeks following the drafting, Kubin provided the book with over fifty drawings.
The following article is a deep analysis of the story, a careful examination of its meaning, therefore you are warned that it would spoil the surprise; however it may help who have already read the book to deepen its understanding, or to serve as a guide to whom that want to read it in a reasoned way, and obviously to arouse the curiosity in those people who did not know it.
The book can be read at different levels: as simple entertainment during a relaxing vacation, allowing oneself to be fascinated by that ancient taste for narrative excited by episodes of a mild and naïf horror, which remembers that aura of immanent curse that preceded the apparitions of that ghosts, as diaphanous as merciless, described in the nineteenth-century Gothic stories of James.
Or at a psychoanalytic level, taking those metaphors and symbologies enriching the book; up to a deeper examination of the metaphysical and philosophical meanings, that will be possible to better appreciate by deeply knowing the artistic work of Kubin (to this purpose i invite you to read also the file cards of some artworks of him that are included in the Collection at this room
The story talks about an elderly artist of Munich who is invited with his wife to become a citizen of Pearl, which is the capital city of a mysterious new kingdom founded in the far east: the Dream Realm.
The invitation is coming from an old companion of his youth, Claus Patera, Ruler of this kingdom, who became immensely rich thanks to an unexpected inheritance. The invitation comes together with a generous money reward and the guarantee to live in a country that aspires to an utopistic perfection, a promised land for worthy people.
But in order to enter the Dream Realm a particular requisite do exists: nobody can bring with himself brand-new objects that belongs to epochs after the second half of the XIX century, because Patera does not like those tricky things of the modernity; all of what is found in his Realm, even the houses, have been carefully selected around the world and transported in the capital following his personal taste for things that are second-hand and belonging to the past.
The protagonist, accepting the invitation, will be progressively overwhelmed into a psychic and physical odyssey: early during the travel he will be obsessed by creepy bad premonitions, and his stay, disappointing since the beginning, will become a spiral of madness without escape, up to reach the final hecatomb, when the Dream Realm collapses in a earthly and spiritual apocalypse in surreal and magical shades.
This apocalyptic epilogue is caused by a quarrelsome American, the multimillionaire Hercules Bell, who comes in the Dream Realm even not having been ever invited, with the intentional aim to foment a revolt.
To the protagonist, who has a sickly wife, it has been assured that the climate of Pearl is absolutely mild and constant all the year, therefore healthy and relaxing; but at their arrival they discover instead that the city of Pearl is perpetually dimmed by a blanket of clouds of inexplicable origin, and therefore it is immersed in a ghostly and depressing dullness, where the sun is a pale remembrance.
The story is very evocative, as one could expect from an illustrator Artist like Kubin: he succeeds to arouse in the mind of the reader the visualization of complex scenes, in detail but concisely.
Who already knows the etchings and the other artworks of Kubin, will find them again one by one in the concepts and the scenes described in this book.
Kubin, as young as thirty-one, seems wanting to pour all his experience in this book, exposing all the aspects of his intellect, all of what presumably belongs to a life by now completed and that it has achieved its own philosophical considerations in a definitive way; surely in the past times the life of a person matured soon and in a quite resolute way, certainly not as in the contemporary epoch where the immaturity and the uncertainty of the Becoming are eternal companions of life.
The Realm where the protagonist happens to be is a decaying world; at the beginning it seems like a rather eccentric place, certainly suitable for an artist, but slowly it turns out a Dante's Hell where the very same favourers and conniving people do perish for their vices and errors.
The bad of this kingdom is the stillness, the unwillingness to change or to evolve, the immobilism caused by the necessity to maintain one's own miserable or great advantages; in other words: greed, opportunism and sloth.
The inhabitants of Pearl are essentially vicious or weak-minded, they have been deliberately selected by the Ruler for those characteristics. "Deformed" people, imperfect, grotesque, as initially described by the protagonist at his arrival in Pearl: paranoids, neurasthenic men, hysterical women, hazard players, hyper-religious subjects, counterfeiters, alcohol addicted people and even wanted murderers; or physically abnormal: enormous goitres, cluster noses, gigantic hunches.
The people selected to become citizens of the Dream Realm are persuaded thanks to great money rewards lavished by the Sovereign Patera that possesses incalculable wealths, the same to which Bell, the American, will be interested.
Whoever would try to meet the Ruler, even just to thank him, will face a wall made of bureaucracy, impossible requisites, false promises and also veiled threats. Also, who would try to resolutely investigate on the origin of so much magnanimity, will got lost inside the daedalic and inexpugnable Palace of Patera, living a surreal and terrible experience.
Money is the bait that attracts people inside a trap, a vicious circle that slowly leads them to the immobilism and the conservatism; just like it happens in the reality, where, to maintain one's own status in the context of the unstable speculative system manipulated by the powerful, people tend to grasp more and more at their own certainties represented by the properties.
During the story some promises of the protagonist to deepen certain important matters are not kept, as for instance the investigation on the presence of a secret freemasonry, for the happening of new and serious contingencies; this gives to the reader the impression that things does not always go as one would them to be and one needs to conform to the changing of the events. A lot of details remain a mystery, like the autochtonous people with blue eyes, the homicide of a messenger of Bell that would have driven the Russian divisions in the occupation of Pearl, or the origin of the powers of Patera.
One of the mysterious customs of the inhabitants of Pearl is the "great spell of the clock": an eccentric rite that the inhabitants are impatient to celebrate daily without a true knowledge of the reason why it is so necessary and gratifying.
The rite consists in entering one after the other, at an appointed hour, inside a clock tower, where in the inside there are some enigmatic symbols over which a stream of water flows and you can hear the usual ticking of the clock. The people prolong as much as possible the stay inside the tower, although the other ones urge to enter, then they say a phrase of religious prostration and they exit evidently satisfied.
The rite is an evident metaphor of the frenzy for "tempus fugit"
(time is running) or of the "panta rei"
(everything flows), that however in the dull life of Pearl it seems reduced to a simple rite deprived of any consequence for the reality.
Anyway in the Dream Realm the flowing of time time has a positive value: in another episode the protagonist has a mystical meeting with the Sovereign during which an unbelievable fact happens: for an instant the time stops and men and animals of the Realm stand still as wood statues; in this episode the Ruler promises to help the severely sick wife of the protagonist, but, after a sudden and apparent improvement, she dies in a short time.
This is to mean that the help does not consist in changing what had been decided, but just in the acceleration of the events in order to end the sufferings as soon as possible. The rite of the clock have to be seen from this point of view.
The novel also has a socio-political value, other than metaphysical: in it there are clearly facing the immobilism of well rooted European empires, represented by the Dream Realm and his mystical Sovereign Claus Patera, whose status is overturned by the overwhelming progressist advance of the newly forming empire, represented by the American Hercules Bell, who propagandizes a necessary and pressing rebellion against the abuses of the Kingdom.
Hercules Bell, in order to induce the people to the revolt, publishes an inspired proclamation where there is also the depiction of a female figure completely similar to the Statue of Liberty of the United States (which is right away inspired to Semiramis of Babylon), which brings a sentence where the tripartite motto of the French Revolution is associated with Masonic ideals.
In the conclusion of his proclamation, Bell exhorts the readers to be all "children of Lucifer", while previously he is giving the appellative of Satan to Patera: the illuministic ideals of the American are proposed as bearers of light (Lucifer = light bearer), but evidently they serve for nothing else but to hand the dominion from a demon to another.
In fact the true interest of Bell is to take the power of the Realm to put his hands on its immense wealths. The American casts disorder in that rotten world only in the hope to take possession of the supposed treasures of the sovereign Patera; eventually Bell and the other forces called to sustain this revolution will be disappointed: of the Dream Realm, that is crumbled sinking in the mud as in an Atlantean apocalypse, won't remain but slime, wastes and ash.
In this political antagonism, Kubin stays neutral, leaving the inheritance of the world, that is finally freed from the schizophrenia of the conquerors, to the pacific autochtonous inhabitants with blue eyes, that populate those lands with mystical peace since before the arrival of Patera.
Alfred Kubin, despite a troubled life and the propensity to depict disquieting scenes, proves to have a lot of equilibrium, to succeed in understanding the harmony, with a Taoist balancing and a monist understanding of the Cosmos; so that he ends the novel with the sentence "The Demiurge is a hybrid."
This antagonism between preservation and revolution culminates with the apocalyptic final fight between the two mighty contenders to the supremacy, Patera and Bell, that are turned into colossuses of cosmic dimensions.
In the fight, their bodies melt together nullifying one each other, becoming an only mass composed by million of crying individuals; the matter returns to the one, to the source, to the quiet of primordial nothing from where everything started and restarts every time: the cosmic Chaos.
At the end Patera, that represents the past, inevitably succumbs, leaving the present to pass.
In this whirlwind caused by antagonist forces there is an acknowledgement of the dualism as generator of the things (as the eraclitean Pólemos
), where the surreal vision of the membrum virile, as substantial synthesis of Bell, is a metaphor of the stretching out of the Cosmos toward the side lacking to itself, an attempt to reach the other side in a simultaneous monoecy, the rising as an entity different from the Cosmos, even being also paradoxically equal.
This Love completes "inter feces et urinas"
(into faeces and urines), because in the immanent duality of the Creation even the most elevated spirituality will always need a carnal antithesis.
Kubin has a great ability to understand the movements of the mankind, succeeding in foreseeing the big sufferings that the human beings will have to face. This novel offers prophetic visions of the great upsets that the world will face in the years to come. In fact the book precedes few years the first world war, describing the end of the old world of the monarchic empires that will be defeated by the new empire of the democratic republics.
But this prophetic skill goes much further in time: Kubin tells that in Pearl the whole movements of the money happens absolutely in a symbolic and quackish way, the payments were never backed with a real availability of money, that nobody knew after all how much he owns, and everyone sooner or later were getting unexpected earnings and fantastic opportunities as much as facing clamorous losses or fines that reduced them in poverty from dusk till dawn. All of this became true twenty years later in the Great Depression caused by the Wall Street collapse in 1929, which was caused right by the virtualization of money, that is to say the great economic speculation that yet nowadays it is based on the excessive distribution of money not really backed by a value in gold or by a real wealth produced by the people.
Still going further, the prophetic visions of Kubin reach recent times.
Over the city of Pearl a tedious feeling constantly lingers: the citizens do feel to be like puppets, they do not think to be able to decide their own life, which seems to be in the hands of a superior mind which decides their destiny, rewarding or punishing with the purpose to correct their behaviour.
Kubin explains that the Dream Realm is indeed dominated by this government that controls and spies every aspects of the life of its subjects as an eye that penetrates in every crack and can not be eluded, almighty and sole certainty to which the Realm's inhabitants can appeal to when in the need.
That is the power of the Ruler, who with a "mesmeric force" manipulates the destiny of his Kingdom, which runs like a creation of his mind, as a projection of his thought, as a dream, as the Dream.
Kubin depicts this monstrous power full of awful curiosity, which extends in every place, as an octopus that penetrates inside the homes of the people with flexible tentacles, omnipresent, as fugacious as obstinate, managing to manipulate the destiny of the people and the course of events.
There are sensationally evident correlations with the control of the masses, that in today's reality is performed at every level through a variegated and capillary insinuation of the mass-media and the systems of mass control in the private life of people: from the cell phones to the internet, from the analysis of the supermarkets customers to biometrics databases, from the television to the closed circuit cameras, from the environmental spying to the satellites, which are all connected to an omniscient control web that records everything.
Kubin is a precursor of what has been exposed in recent movies like "The Matrix" (1999) by the Wachowski brothers, which is a metaphor of the contemporary society, or even before in the kafkaesque "Brazil" (1985) by Terry Gilliam, and in the unmissable novel "1984" or "Nineteen Eighty-Four" (1849) by George Orwell, which nowadays unfortunately can not even be much considered a political fiction.
With these topics Kubin is advising us that our society and all its problems is just an induced dream, of which we could command the end in the instant when we all decided to wake up, or at least that we could modify with the force of thought simply knowing that it is just a dream; everything could disappear as it disappears the Realm of Pearl with no trace.
In fact, in the novel by Kubin, the incapability to realize that one is living in a dream, is that prejudice, for "the world can not be changed", which creeps in the homes as an octopus and it pervades the lazy inhabitants of Pearl, who live their condition innerly, taking no care for the reality, living maintained by the dream which is provided by the Sovereign-octopus thanks to his capillary tentacles (which today we could identify in the television) with which he manipulates his subjects turned into puppets.
Always speaking about prophetic visions, Kubin reaches our days and over: the fact for the Dream Realm is perpetually covered by a mysterious blanket of clouds, which deprives the inhabitants of a healthy sunlight, seems to depict what in the latest years is really delineating as the biggest wickedness that mankind is going to perform: the geoengineering through the weather manipulations, among which there is the insane will to dim the sunlight through the dispersion of toxic aerosols into the atmosphere, with the pretext to aim to defend us from the climatic variations of the planet Earth.
At the end of the novel the Dream of Patera is disintegrating and the American fails in his search for wealths. All the wishes of supremacy have set; the individual remains, in the person of the protagonist, who witnesses the catastrophic events caused by those deceptive wishes of power; the native inhabitants remain: primitive, serene, so simple and so depositaries of an ancient wisdom.
In the period that precedes the final apocalypse, as it always happens, clamorous events and "tribulations" do happen.
At first the wild nature, from a state of calm absence,
suddenly storms in the city as it has gone crazy: animals of every species and ants of every kind pour in the capital: they are like the mice that abandon the sinking ship, saving themselves when they first perceive the danger.
Then the people too is starting to show insane behaviours more and more, more than usual, more than what would have ever happened even in the ill-famed French district: there are happening scenes in sequential progression, like in a Via Crucis
, of homicidal madness, of maniacal violence, of millenarian lasciviousness, of desperate abandonment into the abulia, of cannibalism, while the Realm shows the signs of a corruption which is no more only spiritual: the mould, the rust, the dirt and the rotting wins and covers anything.
During this progressive and unstoppable disintegration, the protagonist lives an experience of
mystical visions and of spiritual elevation that open to him the doors to a deep knowledge of Cosmos, while the autochtonous people with blue eyes do assist with serene indifference.
The description that Kubin makes of the autochtonous inhabitants, native of the lands where the Dream Realm has risen, makes come to mind the story of the redskins during the conquest of North America, and generally all the pre-Columbian populations who suffered the colonialist invasions of the Europeans. When the Dream Realm disappears into the nothing altogether with all its supposed wealths, in those lands the sun and the ancient balance of the meek native people do return.
This proves the desire of justice that Alfred Kubin feels and his blame for the prevaricating greed that poisons the world; the same retired life of him, in the wild country between animals, is a confirmation of it.
The people with blue eyes will take care of the funeral of the Sovereign: he has turned again to be a mortal man; its body, now stripped of all the vanities and corruptions, and after having suffered a terrible expiation, it lies in a calm and religious atmosphere showing a sacred, perfect and human beauty. The attention with which Kubin describes the corpse of Patera, of supernatural perfection and beauty, is a confirmation of his intimate admiration for the sacredness of the Nature and the perfection of the Creation, as well as of his feeling for respectful pietas
Kubin writes this novel right after the death of his father. Patera himself is the father of that ancient world which is disintegrating under the shovels of the renewal: in Greek pateras
The novel is a bright and coherent description of surreal events that prophetically have become our real recent history. The weak and conservative calm is overwhelmed by the revolution of the modernity sweetened with unbridled dances, excessive wealth and feasts, which however bring to the over excitation, to the stress and the obsession, to an extreme unbalancing that determines the collapse of both the antagonist parts, the mutual nullifying into a violent impact of opposite charges.
In this fight, both the luciferian Bell and the satanic Patera, are temping the people with thrilling or reassuring promises, but at the end of the story the purest human being wins, unattackable by the schizophrenia; the individual wins, as it wins the calmness of the blue eyed natives who were relegated in the suburb where they have waited with patience for the quenching of these schizophrenic and destructive impulses.