HOUSE OF ANITA — Novel
First Edition 2010
Paperback 21cm, 225pp | Copyright © 2010 NO!art Publishing, New York
ISBN 10: 1450744753 / ISBN 13: 9781450744751
The Boris Lurie Art Foundation announces the first publication of House of Anita, a novel by Boris Lurie. Copies will be available at the opening of the first exhibition of Lurie's work since his death in 2008. Boris Lurie worked on the composition of House of Anita from the seventies almost up to the end of his life. It is his Ecce homo. In the guise of an S/M novel, if a quite surreal and absurd S/M novel, the work attempts to come to terms with the circumstances of his traumatic youth interned at the Nazi death camps at Buchenwald and elsewhere, while exploring the meaning of the life of the artist and the place of art in the post-Holocaust world and railing against the degradation of art by the art market. Though not strictly speaking an allegory, and certainly not simply autobiography cloaked in leather and chains, House of Anita does employ the philosophy and vocabulary of a highly specialized mode of experience, the world of organized sadomasochism, to depict and examine the life of the camps as well as the “ordinary” post-Holocaust world. In tone and sensibility the work falls in the lineage of Alfred Jarry, Franz Kafka, and Kathy Acker.
Theodor Adorno famously remarked, “To write poetry after Auschwitz is barbaric.” Lurie stands among the great artists, figures such as Tadeusz Borowski, Primo Levi, and Paul Célan, who have responded in art to the greatest inhumanity ever perpetrated and shown just what poetry after Auschwitz might be, and why it must be. In the battle for the soul and humanity of art, Lurie was a hero of the resistance, forever struggling against compromise, indifference, perversion and co-optation. House of Anita is painful autobiography and acid social criticism rendered transcendent by his art.
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HOUSE OF ANITA — Novel
Second Edition 2016
with a foreword, afterword, comments and appendixes by Terence Sellers (1952-2016)
Hardcover, 333pp. Copyright © 2016 NO!art Publishing, New York | ISBN: 978-0-9905376-1-8
Lurie worked on the composition of House of Anita from the seventies almost up to the end of his life. It is his Ecce homo. In the guise of an S/M novel, if a quite surreal, absurd, and poignant S/M novel, the work attempts to come to terms with the circumstances of his traumatic youth interned in the Nazi death camp at Buchenwald, while exploring the meaning of the life of the artist and the place of art in the post-Holocaust world, and railing against the degradation of art by the market. Though not strictly speaking an allegory, and certainly not simply autobiography cloaked in leather and chains, House of Anita does employ the philosophy and vocabulary of a highly specialized mode of experience, the world of organized sado-masochism, to depict and examine the "ordinary" post-Holocaust world. In tone and sensibility the work falls in the lineage of ►Alfred Jarry, ►Franz Kafka, and ►Kathy Acker.
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INGO AREND: Boris Lurie "House of Anita"
Sadomasochistic dependence as metaphor
Deutschlandfunk Kultur on 03.24.2021
Missbrauch, Folter, perverse Spiele: Der Roman „Haus von Anita“ geht an Grenzen und darüber hinaus.
(Deutschlandradio / Wallstein)
Holocaust survivor Boris Lurie was the great provocateur of the U.S. art scene in the 1960s. In his novel "Anita's House," he runs afoul of Western consumer society with an extreme aesthetic of suffering.
"To write a poem after Auschwitz is barbaric". Theodor Adorno's famous sentence always met with opposition; he later weakened it himself. As a metaphor for the rejection of the artistic representation of the Holocaust, the dictum continues to have an effect to this day.
If there is one artist who can refute the legendary aphorism, it is perhaps Boris Lurie. Born in Leningrad in 1924, his family fled the Soviet Union for Latvia. His mother, sister, grandmother and childhood sweetheart were murdered by the Nazis in Riga in 1941.
Lurie died without ever having sold a painting
Together with his father, Lurie survived four concentration camps. In 1946 he settled in New York and became an artist. He died in 2008 at the age of 83, without ever having sold any of his paintings. A foundation guards his estate.
"I acquired the foundations of my artistic education in concentration camps like Buchenwald," Lurie once characterized his work. That may explain why he collaged pin-ups with images of corpses from the death camps.
Inspired by the Dadaists or the montage artist John Heartfield, Lurie's strident fight against the "capitalist manipulation of culture, consumer society and other American juggernauts" made the "NO!art" movement, which he co-founded in 1959, a kind of precursor to punk.
„Sanctity of kneeling before the strong“
"House of Anita" is, as it were, the literary counterpart of Lurie's aesthetic strategy of visually dovetailing genocide and pornography to castigate the "banality of evil." The novel is set in an apartment building on New York's Upper West Side, where three mistresses keep three shorn slaves and a capo.
To these dominas, or guests of the establishment, the three must be at their service. They are sexually abused, tortured or have to endure perverted games. However, they never doubt their purpose of existence: the "sanctity of kneeling before the strong".
Lurie's book is not adult-oriented. Although he uses their imagery, the novel, overflowing with blood, sperm and excrement, is not pornography.
Metaphor for the perfidious extermination system of the Nazis
The image of sadomasochistic dependence that Lurie constructs in it is a metaphor for the Nazis' perfidious system of extermination, for self-subjugation in the prison of capitalism, as well as a symbol of the perverted Eros of the time.
Just as Lurie draws "Anita's House" as a mixture of brothel and modern gallery, the novel is at the same time a poisonous satire of the art system. Abstract art hangs in the foyer. During "artist appeals," Mistress Anita inspects the invitees' private parts instead of their art.
First published in the U.S. in 2016, the work now completes Lurie's oeuvre, which was fiercely contested during his lifetime. But it remains topical. Its creator may have lost the battle against Abstract Expressionism and Pop Art, the leading protagonists of the American way of life at the time.
Structurally, the (art) world does not look much different today. Only a Holocaust survivor could probably be expected to have demonstrated Lurie's taboo-busting assault on the ongoing obscenity of capitalism, violence, and sexism that "Anita's House" once again demonstrates.
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REINHARD J. BREMBECK: Disturbing: Boris Lurie's BDSM Novel "House of Anita"
Holocaust and BDSM: What remains of the human being
Süddeutsche Zeitung, Munich 07.28..2021
Boris Lurie in a New York restaurant in 2002, six years before his death.
(Photo: imago images/Matthias Reichelt)
Boris Lurie survived the Shoah and became an anti-artist in New York. About his disturbing BDSM novel House of Anita.
"There is nothing unusual about a deceased person driving an Israeli tank, since everyone knows that these now victorious machines, painted with the Star of David, are quickly and safely piloted on land, sea and air by those whose remains have disappeared into the unmarked pits of the enemy's earth in the far north." Yes, Boris Lurie's book "House of Anita," published posthumously five years ago and now in German, is linguistically awkward, but it's sentences like bricks whizzing around. This 300-page text fascinates from beginning to end, a text that reads effortlessly despite its desolate setting and language that respects no sextabuses. It is a Jewish story of self-discovery, with the archaic force of the Torah not written but chiseled into paper.
At the outset, Boris Lurie parades a gentrified sado-establishment in 1960s -or '70s-Manhattan that would have been worthy of the divine Marquis de Sade. Four mistresses keep four male slaves in Anita's house, whom they torture, humiliate, sexually exploit according to set rules. Like his great predecessor, Lurie leaves out no detail in these sex orgies.
Lurie spent four years in concentration camps
Boris Lurie lived as an artist in New York until his death in 2008 and was a co-founder of No!Art. The group provoked with art rejection, fake feces, Holocaust themes, jew art, rejection of abstract expressionism, hatred of pop art. "Anita's House" fits seamlessly into this aesthetic. Lurie was born in Leningrad in 1924, the son of an industrialist into a secular Jewish family. He spent his youth in Riga, then spent four years in various labor and concentration camps. From his family only he and his father survived, they went together to New York, financed themselves by stock market speculations.
Thus, unsurprisingly, this book is also a barely concealed fictional autobiography. It is a man's search for his roots, is a Holocaust survivor's confrontation with the Nazi mass murders, is a coming to terms with his feelings of guilt as a survivor. And aesthetically it is a monolith of terrific impact.
Like the author, the hero's name is Bobby, and he only gradually understands what everyone else already knows: That he is a Jew. Again and again the text recurs to the forest of Rumbula near Riga, where in 1941 the Nazis shot 25,000 Jews. Little by little, the beautiful, ideal New York sado-hip world begins to crack. The dead Jews of Rumbula appear and nest in Anita's house, they are also the indisputable indictment of a betrayal of the protagonist.
One of the mistresses, "The Judy," falls out of character. She, too, represses her Jewishness, becomes a victim of torture and, moreover, is stylized as a living art object. Whereupon all of a sudden a Jewish art dealer appears, who looks quite eagerly at this novel artifact that declassifies all contemporary pop art, and immediately joins the circle of sadodictators. Cynicism and clairvoyance with regard to the intricate relationship between art and the market come crashing to the point in this constellation of characters.
Lurie mixes pornography, violent capitalism, cynicism, concentration camp torture, the art market, and the American way of life without restraint or mercy. In this "J'accuse" of his, formulated with fisticuffs, that makes the whole thing bearable and haunting, but all moraline, all pathos, all sentiment is missing. There are no appeasements, no euphemisms, no offers of peace. Without frills, the text plunges from meanness to meanness, from sado to maso, from baseness to perfidy.
But Lurie wants and creates much more than an indictment berserking in the worst abysses of the human condition. He seeks and finds a way out for himself and his hero. Like the mystics, like Juan de la Cruz, Hâfez, Teresa of Ávila and ?Attar, Boris Lurie embarks on an imaginary journey that reconciles suffering, death and life in a meaningful way. In the "Bird Talks" ?Attar tells how the community of birds sets out in search of the legendary super bird. The journey is a death flight, almost no bird survives. And the thirty survivors must finally realize that they themselves are that eagerly sought Simurgh, the name literally means: 30 birds.
Boris Lurie has his Bobby embark on a similarly fantastic journey into the unknown, which leads him to Israel, where, see above, he finds his destiny as an undead tank driver. The coda, however, is then a letter from the New York art dealer to Judy, who also died in Israel and was once coveted by her as an art cult object: "I had thought of setting you up in the land of our fathers. Just think how beautifully Die Judy would have exhibited in the sculpture garden in Jerusalem. Our ancestors have bowed in that direction since time immemorial, so imagine you displayed at the gates of our Eternal City!"
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The Holocaust as pornographic collage: In his novel House of Anita,
now published for the first time in German, Boris Lurie treats of
his experience in a concentration camp in a shocking way.
By Matthias Reichelt
Dschungel, vol. 25, June 24, 2021, pages 8–9
Boris Lurie, Simone Martini Bar, 1st Ave, St. Marks Place, November 24, 2003.
Photo: Matthias Reichelt
Boris Lurie’s artistic work is characterized by bitter irony and a cynicism rooted in reality. A rebarbative motto prefaces his memories of Riga, published in 2019 and still available only in English: “I thank you Adolf Hitler for having made of me what I am, for all the fruitful hours I did spend in your hand, for all the precious lessons I have learned due to your wisdom, for all the tragic moments suspended between life and death.”
Lurie was born in Leningrad in 1924, but grew up in Riga, Latvia. His father, Ilya Lurie, was a successful businessman who found himself unable to conduct business in the Soviet Union, and so moved with his family to Riga when Boris was one year old. From Riga he provisioned the Red Army with leather and other goods. Boris and his sisters Asya and Jeanna lived a sheltered childhood within a secular Jewish family.
Boris Lurie became involved in a left-wing Zionist youth organization, and produced graphic sketches for left-wing publishers. In the summer of 1941, as the Wehrmacht occupied Riga, persecution and murder of the Jewish population began. The Lurie family was forced into the Riga Ghetto, and from there, the were separated into different camps. Boris and his father spent almost four years in a forced-labor ghetto and in several concentration camps, until they were liberated by US troops from the Polte-Werken subcamp of Buchenwald in Magdeburg.
On top of these traumatic memories came the pain of great loss. Neither his mother, grandmother, his sister Jeanna, nor his first love Ljuba Treskunova survived the Ghetto for children, women, and the elderly. They were among the approximately 26,000 Jews who were shot and buried in mass graves on December 8, 1941 in Rumbula, about eight kilometers south of Riga, in the last of two so-called “Big Actions” undertaken so that the Wehrmacht could “make room” for the Jews deported from Germany.
After the war, Boris Lurie emigrated to New York with his father, where he began to work through his experiences artistically, initially in the form of classical painting, and soon in more open art forms that included painting, assemblage, collage, sculpture, and elements of typography. In 1959 he founded the NO!art movement with his artist friends, which was directed against the art world establishment. It was around this time that he began writing down his views on politics, art, and museums. Only short excerpts of these texts have been accessible. There is also an unpublished novel about a Ghetto policeman named Wand. Lurie died in New York in 2008.
Knowledge of the trauma that Lurie experienced is essential for understanding his novel House of Anita, which has now been published in German. First published in 2010 by NO!art Publishing in New York, the publishing arm of the Boris Lurie Art Foundation, the novel was re-edited in 2016 in 68 chapters. It describes the “modern avant-garde culture-education slave institute” run by the dominatrix Anita, who resides in a large apartment on Central Park West at the corner of 65th Street.
In Lurie’s depiction of the institute, he was inspired by the magnificent apartment of his friend the gallerist Gertrude Stein, who lives on that corner in the famous 12-story Prasada building; she now heads the Boris Lurie Art Foundation. Lurie always spoke condescendingly of the “Italian palazzo” that his friend lived in, while he, though a multimillionaire, lived in a cramped and crowded ground-floor apartment.
Besides Anita, the mistresses Tana Louise, Beth Simpson and Judy Stone live out their desires for the male slave in the novel. The male slaves include Bobby, a Jewish man from whose perspective the story is told, the two Germans Fritz and Hans, and the Italian Kapo Aldo, who as caretaker at first enjoys certain privileges. The first pages of the novel are devoted to describing the interior of the institute, which is furnished in the “Zen style of emptiness.” The “blue-striped uniform pajamas” and the slaves’ shorn heads recall the degradation of concentration camp prisoners. The slaves are housed in bunks separated by glass walls, and are visible day and night. The sleeping quarters are lamp-lit and filled with the sound of “marching songs of the radical American labor union movement or of the Spanish Civil War.”
The daily routine consists of forcibly “milking the ejaculate,” so that the semen and blood of the slaves mix and are tasted with delectation. The slaves, secured and immobilized, are put in rolling sarcophagi with two apertures for mouth and penis, and are abused. A few S/M scenes describe the voiding from the body of feces and urine, the distinct smells of which Lurie makes the reader participate in. From their constant availability comes a compliant submissiveness, so that desire also arises in the slaves.
However, the reading of this “anti-pornography” (Stefan Ripplinger), gives no pleasure and is sometimes torturous. The story is too surreal, grotesque, and tragic for the reader to get involved. House of Anita is a novel that radically denies any possibility of identification. There is no exact plot, but rather an accumulation of scenes that occur in and around the institute. Methodologically, the book recalls the collage techniques of Lurie’s paintings, in which disparate things are packed onto the canvas to show the contradictions and disturbing simultaneity of annihilation and sexuality, terror and pleasure.
In his poetry, the central contradiction in his life was between capitalist activity and his political stance. He only sold paintings at the start of his career, and bought them back later. Lurie owed his wealth to his inheritance from his father and from dealings in the stock market, but at the same time, he sympathized with socialist and revolutionary ideas: “My sympathy is with the mouse, but I feed the cat.”
The art dealer Hannah Polanitzer appears as a guest in Anita’s house, to whom the lady of the house shows her precious art treasures: “a ball of Auschwitz hair in its original box,” as well as ground-up bones “from the corpse pits” of the concentration camps. Lurie here pointedly expresses his disgust at the cynicism of the art market, which stops at nothing in its rage for marketing.
The most affecting passages are those in which Lurie recalls his experiences in Riga. In two chapters, ghosts appear of people murdered in Rumbula, which Bobby recognizes in a cluster of huddled figures in the vestibule of the institute. They all have bloody gunshot wounds in their skulls, and exude a “stench of the Eastern Front.” The dead pronounce judgment on Bobby, or “Bobenka,” especially a sixteen-year-old girl who is recognizable as the murdered Lyuba Treskunova: “HE is the one who destroyed me!”
The phenomenon of victims feeling guilt and shame for having survived, while the perpetrators deny their guilt, has been described by Primo Levi; the psychoanalyst William G. Niederland coined the term “survivor guilt syndrome” in the 1960s to describe this. There was no way for Lurie to manage the shame that he experienced, because whatever resolution he might have felt, his memory turned into an aporia. In the documentary Shoah and Pin-Ups (2006) Beatrice LeCornu-Hamilton, Lurie’s former wife who currently lives in Paris, recalled that every night he dreamed about his experiences in the concentration camps.
Lurie reveals much about himself in House of Anita through the person of Bobby. He declares his adoration of Stalin as the conqueror of fascism. In the novel, he has him parade through Manhattan with Red Army soldiers and tanks, and has him reside in the Twin Towers.
Bobby finds his way to freedom at the end of the novel, along with Judy Stone, the Jewish woman who had been degraded to a play object and freed from Anita’s clutches. An El Al jet takes them to the Promised Land of Israel. There, Mistress Judy Stone kills herself, and Bobby’s life also ends with a posthumous realization: “Although I am completely dead, I am finally free.” In the final chapter, Hannah Polanitzer the art dealer writes to Judy Stone, unaware that she is dead, about Anita’s end, reporting that she herself has taken over the premises as the new owner. A mysterious fire has destroyed Manhattan, and lies in ruins like Sodom and Gomorrah. The art business is flourishing, however: “You can buy a classic Picasso with a few potatoes. You can get a whole pile of Pop Art for ten cigarettes!”
However difficult as the reading is, it is nevertheless rewarding: The tragic-grotesque novel contains many traces of Lurie that can also be found in his paintings, and are helpful in analyzing his work.
Matthias Reichelt has released two films about Lurie: with Reinhild Dettmer-Finke: Shoah and Pin Ups, The NO!artist Boris Lurie (2006), and A Visit to Boris Lurie in Manhattan in April 2002 (2016), which is available on YouTube.