Monday, December 6, 2010

Monsters in the Woods

The forests of old European fairy tales are dark and terrifying places. Sometimes the monsters who lurk there have human faces. A group of artists called Rafani have produced Czech Forest, a series of illustrations that links this mythic terror to a time of evil that was very real.

At the end of the Second World War, Czech inhabitants of the now-liberated Sudetenland turned on neighbouring Germans, whose families in some cases had inhabited the forest region for over a century, and drove them out with vengeful ferocity. The slogans reproduced in Rafani’s iconic images (from the ‘Unofficial Decalogue of Czech Soldiers in the Borderland’, a propaganda handbook published at the time) demonstrate starkly enough how this triumphalist convulsion relayed the horrors suffered under occupation, revisiting them once more upon the innocent. But the ‘Czech forest’ of the title also conducts a deeper current: the Forest, as fairy-tale locus of darkness, where children get lost, monsters lurk, and, at dusk, branch and leaf become menacingly animate. By subtly adapting the folk-art-inspired woodcuts that often illustrate such tales, Rafani’s work connects the transmutation of the rage of the oppressed into xenophobic hatred, with the mythopoetic roots of fear, thus transforming the story from national history into psychogeographical fable of horror: it becomes a reminder of what lurks beneath the comfort of homeliness, and of the horror of the internal other.

I think the most disturbing elements of this series are the creature on page 6 (of the pdf document) and the beetle-like things with the Nazi flag on page 8, above a message inciting violence against women and children.

The italicized description above is from the introduction to a philosophical journal called Collapse, edited by Robin Mackay. Their fourth volume (read the whole thing here) explores the philosophy of horror. It features a number of ugly and delicious treats. I will be posting more on this.

(The photo is from the US National Archives by way of Wikimedia. The caption reads: German civilians are forced to walk past bodies of 30 Jewish women starved to death by German SS troops in a 300 mile march across Czechoslovakia. Buried in shallow graves in Volary, Czechoslovakia, the bodies were exhumed by Gernan civilians working under direction of Medics of 5th Infantry Division, U.S. Third Army. Bodies will be placed in coffins and reburied in cemetery in Volary. 5thMed. Bn.)

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