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The House of Illnesses cover image The House of Illnesses

Unica Zürn

Translated by Malcolm Green.
ISBN 0 947757 71 6
64pp 21 x 13.5cm
out of print

A remarkable illustrated text produced during one of the author’s stays in a mental institution.

After a childhood which she describes as “wonderful,” a 7 year marriage and the birth of her two children, a career at the Ufa film studios in her home town Berlin when she also began to write and paint, Unica Zürn’s life changed abruptly following a series of chance meetings with the painter Hans Bellmer in 1953. She left at once for Paris with Bellmer, who had already established himself in Surrealist circles there. He encouraged her to make automatic drawings and to write the anagram poems which later brought her much acclaim. Although the two lived together in growing isolation from their outside surroundings, Bellmer introduced Zürn to many of his contemporaries: Brauner, Arp, Man Ray, Ernst, Waldberg, and above all Henri Michaux. This meeting precipitated the mental illness that was to hound the last thirteen years of her life, Zürn believed him to be the incarnation of a childhood fantasy figure, which she described lated in The Man of Jasmine: “A few days later she experiences the first miracle in her life: in a room in Paris she finds herself standing before the Man of Jasmine. The shock of this encounter is so great that she is unable to overcome it. From this day on she begins, very very slowly, to lose her reason.”

The House of Illnesses was written shortly after this meeting, during a bout of fever induced by jaundice. It was originally included in the book The Man of Jasmine but without the illustrations which accompany it here. With its sometimes wistful, sometimes humourous and ultimately hopeful mood, this text contrasts strongly with many of the other texts in that book, which bear harrowing testimony to her mental crises and her dizzying descent into her own self and a world of hallucinated images.


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