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Distributed for Karolinum Press, Charles University

On This Modern Highway, Lost in the Jungle

Tropics, Travel, and Colonialism in Czech Poetry

Postcolonial reflections on Indonesia’s influence upon the avant-garde poetry of a non-colonial European.

In 1926, the Communist avant-garde poet Konstantin Biebl (1898–1951) traveled from Czechoslovakia to the Dutch East Indies. In the writings from his journal—texts simultaneously poetic and comic—both landlocked Bohemia and the colonized tropical islands are seen in disorienting new perspectives, like “mirrors looking at themselves in each other.”

Jan Mrázek’s On This Modern Highway, Lost in the Jungle takes us on a journey of our own, crisscrossing Biebl’s life and work—with particular attention to his travel writing—as they mirror Mrázek’s own experiences as a multinational academic: a Prague conservatory graduate, educated at Michigan and Cornell, and now a scholar of Indonesia living in Singapore. Biebl’s writings are also the book’s point of departure for a broader exploration of the intersections of travel and poetry, issues of colonial and social injustice, and the representation of otherness in the Czech literary and visual imagination. In its attention to how poetic travel reflects the Czech historical experience in the shadow of imperial nations, Mrázek’s book elevates scholarly reflection on literary travel, modernity, and colonialism to a new level.

324 pages | 6 1/2 x 9 1/4

Literature and Literary Criticism: Slavic Languages


Reviews

"Honest, precise, personal yet objective, and obviously well researched." 

Michala Tomanová and Michaela Budiman, Charles University

Table of Contents

List of Figures 10
Acknowledgments 12
Preamble 15
Part One | The Mirror of Time 35
Parrots and monkeys 37
The first palm 44
Where grenades fall, there green palms grow 55
First Excursion | Parrots on motorcycles: exoticisms of the Czech
avant-garde in the 1920s 68
Metaphors, dreams, travel 95
Workers . . . Indians! 102
Through the train window—Don’t worry, I am not going to Paris 109
Second Excursion | His head that watches us over the century’s edge:
poetic travels in the nineteenth century 117
The notebook that he lost somewhere on the ship 135
With the ship that carries tea and coffee 142
Half-black, you understand? Here you have to be careful! 166
New Icarus and the mestiza My Beautiful Arsiti 183
Again some Malay landscape 195
The jungle around us 202
Sailors of all seas unite! 207
Your longest and most adventurous journey 213
Again and again man is proving that he has no wings 217
Part Two | A hundred rose petals, on them no words 225
Silences 227
Sounds, smells, tastes 235
Typography—optic configurations 244
Photographs, cinema, and the magazine Home and the World 259
Picture postcards 290
Snapshots and reflections: poetry | travel | photography | death 297
Author’s note on translations and sources 310
Bibliography 311
Index 317
List of Figures 10
Acknowledgments 12
Preamble 15
Part One | The Mirror of Time 35
Parrots and monkeys 37
The first palm 44
Where grenades fall, there green palms grow 55
First Excursion | Parrots on motorcycles: exoticisms of the Czech
avant-garde in the 1920s 68
Metaphors, dreams, travel 95
Workers . . . Indians! 102
Through the train window—Don’t worry, I am not going to Paris 109
Second Excursion | His head that watches us over the century’s edge:
poetic travels in the nineteenth century 117
The notebook that he lost somewhere on the ship 135
With the ship that carries tea and coffee 142
Half-black, you understand? Here you have to be careful! 166
New Icarus and the mestiza My Beautiful Arsiti 183
Again some Malay landscape 195
The jungle around us 202
Sailors of all seas unite! 207
Your longest and most adventurous journey 213
Again and again man is proving that he has no wings 217
Part Two | A hundred rose petals, on them no words 225
Silences 227
Sounds, smells, tastes 235
Typography—optic configurations 244
Photographs, cinema, and the magazine Home and the World 259
Picture postcards 290
Snapshots and reflections: poetry | travel | photography | death 297
Author’s note on translations and sources 310
Bibliography 311
Index 317

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