The literary scholar Alfrun Kliems explores the aesthetic strategies of Eastern European underground literature, art, film and music in the decades before and after the fall of communism, ranging from the ‘father’ of Prague Underground, Egon Bondy, to the neo-Dada Club of Polish Losers in Berlin.
The works she considers are "underground" in the sense that they were produced illegally, or were received as subversive after the regimes had fallen. Her study challenges common notions of ‘Underground’ as an umbrella term for nonconformism. Rather, it depicts it as a sociopoetic reflection of modernity, intimately linked to urban settings, with tropes and aesthetic procedures related to Surrealism, Dadaism, Expressionism, and, above all, pop and counterculture.
The author discusses these commonalities and distinctions in Czech, Polish, Slovak, Ukrainian, Russian, and German authors, musicians, and filmmakers. She identifies intertextual relations across languages and generations, and situates her findings in a transatlantic context (including the Beat Generation, Susan Sontag, Neil Young) and the historical framework of Romanticism and modernity (including Baudelaire and Brecht).
Despite this wide brief, the book never loses sight of its core message: Underground is no arbitrary expression of discontent, but rather the result of a fundamental conflict at the socio-philosophical roots of modernity.
PART I TYPOLOGY
The Underground and the City, Pre- and Post-1989: An Effort to Interweave Concepts
Paranoid Schizophrenia: Dissent, the Underground, and Cultural Fissure
Subverting Official Claims to Centrality: Overcity/Undercity, City/Country, East/West
Verticality as Metaphor: The Romantic Era and the Underground as a Historical Location
PART II FIGURES, WORKS, GROUPS
Last Exit: Egon Bondy’s Anti-flâneurs under the Wheels of Madame Prague
Urban Disaffiliation: The Swan Songs of Ivan Martin Jirous
Disgusted in Bratislava: Vladimír Archleb’s Lyrically Vulgar Dandyism
Christ Quieted: Marcin Świetlicki, Kraków, the Underground, and Pop
The Joy of Failure, or Underground and Generation: Jacek Podsiadło’s Road Story en Route to Bratislava
My City’s Me, It’s Many: Peter “Firefly” Wawerzinek, the Palaverer of Prenzlauer Berg
Anticolonial Myth, Pop, Punk—and the End of the Underground? The Topol Brothers’ Dog Soldiers Songs
Romani and Vietnamese in Prague: Jáchym Topol Bids Farewell to the Tripolis Praga
A Detour to Moscow: Vladimir Makanin’s Underground Fantasies, or the Snare of the Subterranean
“Cherboslovats, Romongolians, Sweeks”: Yuri Andrukhovych’s Moscow as a “Junkspace” of Cultures
Planar Cities and Their Urban Devastation: Andrzej Stasiuk’s Post-Socialist Warsaw
Aggressive Localism: Andrzej Stasiuk and Yuri Andrukhovych as Secretaries of the Provincial
Backstory “Metropolis, Mass, Meat Factory”: Tot Art, the Orange Alternative, and Other Chefs of the “Semantic Porridge”
“It All Started in Gdańsk!”: Berlin’s Club of Polish Losers
Conclusion or, Entropy of the Underground
Index of Illustrations
Index of People