An Interview with Yuriy Tarnawsky, Part 2

Yuriy in La Sainte Chapelle, Paris, c. 1968.

Part 1

Let’s back up a bit. When did you move to the US?

I came to this country in 1952, having left Germany at age 17. My 18th birthday I celebrated on the boat a week before landing in New York. I had just graduated from High School. This was in February, and in the fall I enrolled at Newark College of Engineering (now New Jersey Institute of Technology) in the BS program in the department of Electrical Engineering. I didn’t feel I had any other choice. Having spent my formative years in post-WWII Germany, I saw of how little use was liberal arts education during times of crisis so, like most of my Ukrainian friends, I decided to study engineering. Being “technical” was the answer. This kind of thinking permeated the whole Ukrainian immigrant community. New Jersey had a lot of recent Ukrainian immigrants at that time; I believe that about 10% of the students at the college were Ukrainian. (Both my brother and stepbrother later followed in my footsteps.)

I had no particular interest in engineering as such (I hated to tinker around with things and never put together a radio as some of my friends did), but loved math, so I chose Electrical Engineering, which was the most theoretical of the engineering disciplines. I took lots of math and physics, and actually enjoyed the technical subjects more than the less technical ones, such as economics, “principles of engineering,” and even English. I preferred dealing with clear-cut issues. But there was another reason I went in for engineering. While in High School, I avidly read Dostoyevsky, and one of my favorite characters of his was the nihilist Kirilov from The Possessed, which I mentioned earlier. He, as you may recall, was an engineer. I fancied myself similar to Kirilov in many ways and like him wanted to be an engineer.

Continue reading


Bob Brown and the Readies/Bibliomania for the masses

My humble bigother debut…

Craig Saper-curated TypeBound exhibit catalog cover


Tomorrow, University of Central Florida Text/s and Technology Prof Craig Saper visits Lake Forest College. I’m psyched.

His topic is Bob Brown, the largely unknown super-modernist-friend-of-GertrudeStein/pulp magnate/inventor of a future-feeling reading machine that startlingly predates/predicts the new media technologies that are unsettling the act of reading from its pre-Gutenberg roots.

Why knot?

Saper’s editing a series of new Brown editions for Rice University Press–namely Words, The Readies, and Gems–along with publishing a long overdue Brown biography. Bonus, at least the first two are free to read (follow links above).  You can buy the old-fashioned versions if you prefer.

Continue reading

Queer Studies and Surrealism

“A Queer Frame of Mind” (an introduction to Madder Love: Queer Men and the Precincts of Surrealism) by Peter Dubé  is an interesting essay about the convergences of queer sexuality, Gay liberationist theory, and the Surrealist Movement. The article addresses a particular strand of Gay liberationist theory that “represented for [him] the culture of desire gay men had begun to create, one that seemed related—somehow—to that proposed by the Surrealists, but unblinkered by Breton’s prejudices.” This movement was “committed to liberating desire and sexuality, sought to create new types of social networks, outside the norms of the family and rooted in fairly radical ideas about elective affection, community and friendship. It—daily—rediscovered the hidden spaces of the city and libidinously revivified them. It wanted to change overarching structures to conform more to the need for self-realization—self-creation even—than to an arbitrary idea of productivity. It was informed by the erotic and it was joyous.” Dubé exposes Breton’s anti-feminist and homophobic rhetoric but also explores “how the [Surrealist] movement was volatile and diverse. It hosted a wide variety of struggling viewpoints, saw a lot of schism and hurled accusations, and included queers of all kinds. To name just a few: Rene Crevel, Louis Aragon, Claude Cahun, Pierre Molinier. Moreover, in some ways it was very queer in its concerns.” He then underscores the ways in which Surrealism and Gay Liberation mirror each other in three ways, namely, both were movements “with desire at its very heart,” “were self-consciously interested in subjectivity and the way the mind operates,” and both “share an interest in the way these things—subjectivity and desire—affect the world.” Dubé ends his essay by meditating on the many ways Surrealism remains a living movement.