The Dissection: An Extolment

Recently, Stephen Graham Jones taught our The Weird compendium for a course on the weird at the University of Colorado. As part of that course, he had his students engage with the weird directly by rewriting/re-imagining stories from the anthology. Below you’ll find Adam Bishop’s extolment of “The Dissection” by Georg Heym, which we posted earlier this week, along with his thoughts on both the original and his version. Bishop is currently completing an MFA at the University of Colorado. Of course, his version relies heavily on the translation by Gio Clairval – it is a kind of translation of a translation. You can also read Clairval’s essay on Heym. — The Editors

My initial reaction to Heym’s “The Dissection” came after reading stories like Blackwood’s “The Willows” and James’s “Casting the Runes”, where there is a clear element of the supernatural functioning within the narrative – The Weird, that unsettling sense I receive from those stories, is a result of these supernatural, larger-than-humanity components. “The Dissection”, however, performs The Weird quite differently, and this captured my fancy. The story is lucid and intimate and concise, and, for me, a student of poetry, its elegant gore and poetic sensibilities opened the door to reading more Weird fiction.

In putting this poem together, I very much wanted to retain Heym’s imagery – the green-yellow intestinal snakes, dripping faeces, vultures’ crooked beaks forever craving flesh – but I wanted to erase as much of the narrative’s ‘connective tissue’ as possible. I felt that by distilling “The Dissection” into a poem, into an image-heavy crystallization of language, “The Dissection” could be more potent, more unsettling, and even more jarring than before. Readers won’t have time to readjust themselves with punctuation and conjunctions; there is no filler meant for sense-making. I’d argue that Heym was able to achieve this effect to a certain degree through his narrative form, however, I wanted to take it a step further.

In reanimating “The Dissection”, there were certain images and moments of which I could not let go. Lines like, “his body resembled the iridescent calyx of some gigantic flower”, “the thumping of hammers resounded on his skull”, and “as you strolled across poppy fields, a flaming poppy yourself”, are so beautiful and carry such weight through the narrative, I was compelled to keep them. After all, Heym’s poetic leanings are what draw me to his work. I also wanted to maintain the backbone of the narrative where the cadaver is given a sentience, a beautiful lament amid such morbid carnage. What I decided to leave out included, for the most part, the moments of what I saw as Heym’s over-articulation. Where Heym wrote, “Splendid reds and blues sprouted down his limbs, and in the heat the large wound under his navel slowly split open like a red furrow, releasing a foul stench”, I replied with:

Splendid reds and blues sprout
down his mottled limbs
to the wound under his navel
splitting in the heat, a furrow
ruddy with a foul stench

In short, I sought to refine and condense the verbosity of his prose by scraping away the ancillary language. 


The Dissection: An Extolment

The dead man lays naked, alone
on a white cloth in a wide room
white walls with a cruel sobriety
they scream of an endless torture

Daylight bathes him
awakens dead spots
a conjuring of green
a bloating of his body
like a sack of water

The iridescent calyx of a giant flower
shyly laid at the altar of death
Splendid reds and blues sprout
down his mottled limbs
to the wound under his navel
splitting in the heat, a furrow
ruddy with a foul stench

Doctors enter in frayed white coats
with white crates of hammers, saws
hideous sets of tweezers, tiny knives
like vultures’ crooked beaks
forever craving flesh

Blood flowing on their hands
digging deep into the corpse
like white cooks gutting a goose
innards coiling, green-yellow snakes
faeces dripping warm and putrid
a cold urine glistens like wine

The dead man sleeps soundly
with thumping on his skull
while a remainder of love
awakes in him a shining torch

Outside the sky is sweeping
small white clouds swim
like gods in the silent afternoon
swallows quiver in this warm July

Black blood streams
across the dead’s forehead
a bluing putrefaction
decay creeps over him
with dappled claws
his skin flaking apart
his belly turned white
as an eel under greedy fingers
of doctors elbow-deep
and plunging into wet flesh

Decay pulls his mouth apart, smiling
the dreams of beatific stars
of a fragrant summer evening
his lips tremble as though under a kiss:

How I love you. I have loved you so much.
Should I say how I love you? As you strolled
across poppy fields a flaming poppy yourself
you swallowed the entire evening. The dress
that billowed around you was a wave of fire
in the setting sun  you bowed your head
hair still burning inflamed by my kiss

Turning to look back at me as you walked away
the lantern swayed in your hand, glowing
of a rose lasting in the twilight long after you’ve gone
I will see you again in the hour of dawn
we will never part. How I love you!
Should I tell you how I love you?’

The dead man quivers on his white death table
in happiness as iron chisels break up the bones of his temple.

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