Hexentexte-Unica Zurn 1954

In 1953 the German writer and artist Unica Zurn met a fellow German artist who was intimately connected with the Surrealists, Hans Bellmer. Ominously Bellmer reportedly remarked on first seeing Zurn, “Here is the doll,” a reference to the extremely disturbing series of photographs Bellmer had taken during the thirties and forties of an articulated mannequin of his own creation. The image of the Doll appear to be more of a crime scene reconstruction of some imaginary act of horrific violation than traditional works of art.

Zurn who had been barely been able to make ends meet in Berlin as a short story writer re-located to Paris to be with Bellmer. Here she socialised with the Surrealists and other artists who along with Bellmer encouraged and nurtured her writings and drawings, most notably in the anagrammatic poems and automatic drawings of Hexentexte (Witches Writing) from 1954.She also collaborated with Bellmer on a series of explicit sado-masochistic images that featured her tightly bound with rope.

During the sixties Zurn experienced a number of mental breakdowns that led her to be institutionalised. In 1967 her short semi-autobiographical coming of age novel Dark Spring was published. Dark Spring is an unbearably intense novel, astounding in its misogyny and masochism. It also foreshadows her own suicide by jumping out of a window three years later in 1970.

Bellmer died in 1975 and at his request was buried next to Zurn in Pere Lachaise Cemetery in a tomb marked Bellmer-Zurn. Posthumous writings of Zurn include the truly remarkable The Man of Jasmine which is a highly stylised account of her friendship with the writer Henri Michaux (author of the Miserable Miracle).

Below are some examples of her anagrammatic poetry and automatic drawings that Zurn produced throughout her career.


I am yours, otherwise it escapes and
wipes us into death. Sing, burn
Sun, don’t die, sing, turn and
born, to turn and into Nothing is
never. The gone creates sense – or
not died have they and when
and when dead – they are not.

for H.B.Berlin 1956


Youth sings: now the sea is your harbor. Is
dream and hunt, the spirit’s inner feast, that send
him into dark, stony days, yes, you! – and he’s
immune from hand and serious sense – yes, You! Victories are
found forebodings. You travel to the city of Jim-Sing.
Go into the youngest street and find Amin, the Ti.
He says: yes, no, once, never, enemy, courage, it, are, you, D,H,G.
Secret signature? Jade stone? You’ll find the meaning.

Ile de Ré 1964


After three ways in the rain image
when waking your counterimage: he,
the magician. Angels weave you in
the dragonbody. Rings in the way,
long in the rain I become yours.

Ermenonville 1959

77 thoughts on “Hexentexte

    1. No problem. Zurn had a deeply unhappy and troubled life unfortunately. This definitely fed into her art and writings, she is one of the best writers on mental illnesses, makes Plath The Bell Jar seem like a Disney movie.

      Liked by 2 people

  1. I just searched for The Doll before commenting. Disturbing is an understatement. And the bound with ropes photo of Unica is cringe worthy. Not artistically but, you know… ouch! Her artwork is interesting, very intricate. And how clever are the anagrammatic poems? An excellent post, Cake. However, I kind of wish I could unsee the rope photo…

    Liked by 2 people

      1. I noticed a typo, maybe that is why you didn’t give me a like? Bellmer is probably the most controversial of the Surrealists and completely out of fashion. I will probably do a post on his drawings at some point (some are brilliant and he had a mastery of line worthy of Durer) but never the doll I think.

        Liked by 1 person

      1. I know. I felt like I had to zoom in and examine it very closely. Interesting that the art predates the mind altering drugs… would imagine it would go the other way.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Wow. What a tragic life but I’m sure she used that in her art. Those drawings are really cool and somewhat disturbing. And the poetry, I don’t know. It’s impressive that one can do that but I’m not sure I’d enjoy a book of that. I’m debating on looking up The Doll and the rope photos.

    Liked by 1 person

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