The Man of Jasmine
In 1970, Unica Zürn, the companion and lover of the Surrealist artist Hans Bellmer, threw herself from the sixth floor window of their apartment in Paris. Her suicide was the culmination of thirteen years of mental crises which are described with disarming lucidity in The Man Of Jasmine, subtitled Impressions from a Mental Illness.
Zürn’s mental collapse was initiated when she encountered in the real world her childhood fantasy figure “the man of jasmine”: he was the writer Henri Michaux, and her meeting him plunged her into a world of hallucination in which visions of her desires, anxieties and events from her unresolved past overwhelmed her present life. Her return to “reality” was constantly interrupted by alternate visionary and depressive periods. Zürn’s compelling narrative also reveals her uneasy relationship with words and language, which she attempted to resolve by the compulsive writing of anagrams. Anagrams allowed her to dissect the language of everyday, to personalise it, and to make it reveal hidden at its core astonishing messages, threats and evocations. They formed the basis of her interpretation of the split between her inner & outer lives and underpin the texts included in this selection
The Man of Jasmine is certainly one of the greatest descriptions of mental collapse, but it is much more. Zürn’s familiarity with Surrealist conceptions of the psyche, and her extraordinary self-possession during the most alarming experiences are allied to vivid descriptive powers which make this a literary as well as a psychological masterpiece.