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9 kwietnia 2005

Introduction

“What and who I am is meaningless in the face of what and how you choose to think.”
Isadore M. Upinsky, The Longest Shortcut to the Third Half of Totality

Few persons have attempted to study the life of one of the twentieth century’s most unusual philosophers, and the reasons for his lack of notoriety are as controversial as his orthodox-smiting teachings. For a variety of reasons, the life of Isadore Miroslav Upinsky has been obscured; partly through the arrogance of pampered mainline academics and theorists content with a wobble-free dinghy of intelligentsia, and partly through Upinsky’s own desire to not have his history get in the way of his crazed yet potent messages of ‘uncanny ubiquity’ and ‘extravagant experientalism.’

I have decided to take on this project of unpredictable proportions not only because of a great dearth of biographical information on a man some consider to be a mad saint, but as an homage to a forgotten radical guru whose unconventional wisdom shaped the lives of at least a few of us fortunate enough to have stumbled upon his extremely rare books. Fortune certainly smiled on me that audacious summer day I received his entire published collection under circumstances Upinsky himself would have appreciated.

I was a young, Bohemian green-haired punk rocker, out with some of my formidable looking companions, and we were driving aimlessly through the Amish countryside of southeastern Pennsylvania. It was entirely possible that we were within the giddy, hazy grip of low-grade marijuana, and at that time in our naïve lives, none of us were stricken with any job related responsibilities. It was a desperate sort of heaven.

As we sped trough the serpentine country roads, singing individualistic anthems at the top of our new found voices, a yard sale presented itself as an astounding entertainment opportunity. Getting out of the car, the stare of the severe Mennonite family made it quite clear that we weren’t the kind of customers they were hoping to attract to purchase their quilts, farm equipment and dusty Mason jars. Being the ‘nerd’ of the group, I had come upon a few boxes of books, mostly old Farmer’s Almanacs, planting guides and car repair manuals. I wasn’t taken by any of these thrilling topics, and as I turned to go, I notice a closed box off to the side. As I stooped to open them, one of the young, bonnet-clad women yelled out “They are free, no money for them damned books!” I asked her what they were, and an older man with a salt and pepper beard called back “Some foolish nonsense about I don’t know what that Agnes found ‘longside the road. Take ‘em, city boy, we don’t need all that ‘round here.” I tried to offer them a dollar for the thrill of taking a Damned Thing off their hands; they would have none of it, and said not a word as we squealed our tires and cranked up the Dead Kennedys.

We often don’t understand the value of randomness, and at the time, this musty box of books was just a stoner’s curiosity. “Check out these crazy ass books the Amish gave me” was a line I used for a week’s worth of fun, then over time, I forgot about the wacky books with the strange titles and peculiar rants about reality and the Cosmos. There wasn’t any time to read when there was grass to smoke, sexuality to explore and identities to be shaped. Of course, one day I was bored beyond hope and sore from over-masturbating, and I decided to give the book “Sophism on a Tricycle and Other Paralogical Gyspy Fishmongering.” by Isadore Upinsky a try until Star Trek came on. I read through the night, catatonic to the world, until six the next morning. My mildly-rebellious, somewhat stable life began to metamorphose in a still ongoing process as I began to understand the meaning behind the dangerously mystical words of Isadore M. Upinsky.

***

The following biographical sketch of Upinsky’s early years was created with the help of guerilla genealogist Melody Warren, Polish historians Karol Katrowicz and Wawel Wawelice, and the famed blues saxophonist and Upinsky confidante Curtis “Galaxyhead” Purdy.

The small Polish salt-mining town of Wieliczka had always had some form of transient population, particularly from the Romany clans who would attempt to find short term work in the mines, or in one of many traveling circuses passing though on their way to Krakow. It was one of those circuses that brought contortionist and fortune teller Fatima Miroslav into contact with the handsome Pole salt miner Jozef Upinsky in August 1911. He had, on dare from fellow bawdy miners, gone in to the tent to have his cards read, didn’t emerge for hours and finally came out an engaged man (Warren, 2002). The dowry was paid with a few meager lumps of gold and several large slabs of salt, and within a few weeks a raucous wedding was held in the center ring, amid the sawdust and dancing bears. The Upinsky family was not so keen on young Jozef marrying a gypsy performer (and one alleged to dance a crude and nude version of Salome’s Seven Veils), never mind her being a non-Jew! But, their Jozef had never once shown interest in girls before despite their pressure, so the Upinskys counted their scant mikvahs. Within days their only son and the lustrously bejeweled Lady Fatima conceived twins. For the next nine months, the soft spoken and dark eyed Fatima would endure bizarre dreams every blessed night of her pregnancy; she never described their content to anyone but Isadore, much further down the road of our story (Purdy, 1974).

Fatima entered an extremely painful and complicated labor on June 19th the following year. The town doctor, the Rabbi, and the apprentice fortune teller from the circus each attended to a wailing Fatima, and Jozef was lost in not knowing what there was he could do in the midst of her torment. She spoke little Polish, and would scream out the most blasphemous epithets in her Bosnian Rom dialect, which the apprentice would translate aloud as sweet prayers to her loving new G-d. After great effort, on the 20th, a brawny, strong and ruddy Jozef Yitzhak was born. Everyone thought it over and began to clean the bloody mess until Fatima let out a piercing string of even more profane curses, and the labor resumed in much surprise to bring the then un-thought-of twin into the salty Wieliczka air. With unbearable pain and even more complications, Fatima bore a skinny, pale and frail Isadore Miroslav just after midnight on June 21st, 1912. This second baby seemed as if it were a ghost, a stowaway in Fatima’s ample and arduous womb. For that reason, the townsfolk and the elder Upinskys doubted Fatima somewhat, and began to concoct mythologies about her origin, and that poor Jozef must be second fiddle to some gypsy demon with weak seed.

There was no doubting that Isadore was an ugly baby. His face was centered around a tremendous nose, a honker of righteous size, and upon his back there was a strange birthmark which vaguely resembled a footprint (“as if I were kicked out of the Ethers,” he’d later explain). Because the baby Jozef was so feisty and strong, Fatima felt great compassion for the stringy, weak little Isadore. The town doctor, a Catholic, had told her that the ashen twin would probably not survive, and if she knew what was good for the child she ought to have it baptized.

Fatima was stubborn in her care for Isadore, while her husband (perhaps in response to the town’s continual gossip and cultural anxiety) drew closer to the robust Jozef. While this strained the couple at times, they appeared to remain passionately in love. After several years of raising their children in a town not approving of their union, the Upinsky family moved to more cosmopolitan Krakow, albeit under impoverished conditions. They settled in a tumbledown shanty in the city’s Jewish quarter, shared with several other families. Jozef the elder went off to work in the ironworks, while Fatima read fortunes in the front room of their home. It is possible that Fatima may have been performing her salacious circus dances late at night in a club near Jagiellonian University called ‘the Red Pierogi’ for extra income, likely to the quiet consternation of the stoic senior Jozef (Katrowicz, 1994).

Jozef and Isadore were raised around Jewish, Romany and Catholic children, in relative ethnic harmony. Jozef excelled at athletics at an early age, while Isadore was quiet, fascinated with insects and absorbed in books. The few books the family had were usually hoarded under Isadore’s bed, and in a local bookbinder’s the young Isadore was scolded at five years old for sneaking in and falling asleep atop tall stacks of newly published texts. He was frequently bullied, and in his youth his prolific schnoz and thick reading glasses were broken several times. Isadore refused to fight back. On the surface, however, their lives appeared somewhat typical, and not truly extraordinary.

This would not last for much longer, as Europe was changing, Fatima began weakening, and as a teenager, Isadore began thinking.

***

Posted by jaybird at 17:34 | Comments (0)