Foreign Bodies, 2011, a public reading, from Brno Art Open
— Sculptures in the Streets, organized by The Brno House of Arts, 2011, photo:
There’s something I must confess right at the outset: what you are about
to hear never happened. I made it all up. Well, alright, I might actually have
experienced a few of the incidents, but I’m only including those to make the
story believable. I should also tell you that I never heard it told anywhere,
nor did I find it in the form of a short manuscript hidden in a dusty book on
the top shelf of the farthest aisle of the most out-of-the-way library in the
world. No, really, believe me, it’s all just pure fabrication.
It began like this: my friend and I were sitting in a pub having a
conversation about how we’d like to be laid to rest after we die. When he came
out with Louis Buňuel’s bizarre notion, I countered: “I’d like to be buried
opposite that military cemetery in Normandy with the graves of the unknown
soldiers. I’d like to have a magnificent tomb made of Carrara marble with a
huge neon sign visible from far away above the entrance that would say: HERE
LIES JIŘÍ SKÁLA, PENSIONED STATE EMPLOYEE WHO NEVER FELT ANY PAIN AND PASSED
This joke slipped out of the drunken emptiness of my brain quite
unexpectedly. Well, it’s actually quite strange the way ideas occur to me.
Sometimes I don’t even have to make any effort, they simply come to me of their
own accord... the ideas, I mean... from out of the formless matter of everyday
situations. To begin with they appear and behave just like a bit of
lighthearted fun, like a rough, as yet unprocessed thought which keeps nagging
at me, detaching me from the ritualised humdrum of the everyday. It breaks down
everything I had laboriously constructed to act as a barrier against all things
alien in order to function properly; to eat, pay the rent and exist.
At home I laid out a map of Normandy and put my finger on the place
where the tomb could be built. What had stuck in my mind more than anything
else was the wording of the sign. In fact I even made a drawing of it. And then
it vanished from my mind. Instead my imagination began rendering an image of
the person who would plan and implement all this. I made a list of every task
that he would have to perform. And in the end this person and his life story
engrossed me so much that everything else disappeared and only he – JAN KRÁL,
civil servant - remained.
I pictured him being born in a bed at home. In a mouldy old tenement in
Žižkov where everyone shared a toilet. One toilet bowl and one tap on each
They were really quite poor. The siblings, parents and grandparents all
lived together in the cramped conditions of a small three-room flat. Just
picture it: the kitchen was so small they couldn’t all fit into it at same time
and one of them always had to stand in the doorway.
He would make use of every opportunity to flee from this tiny flat to
the enclosed courtyards at the back of the building. Unlike the apartment, the
hallways and the balconies, the courtyards were devoid of people. A gazebo with
an octagonal floor-plan and a slightly sloping roof stood in one corner. The
paint on its walls was tarnished and blistered and in some places long strips
of paint had peeled away. In other places there were bulges in the paint which
would crack when touched, sending flakes of paint showering down onto the
Then the family’s financial situation improved and they moved to a
high-rise housing estate in Petřiny. From the balcony of the spacious apartment
on the twelfth floor one could see Šárka valley. Finally he got his own room,
but what impressed him most was the light. It was everywhere, in each and every
room. It touched every object, accentuating outline and volume.
I can see him in the playground, messing about on the climbing frames
and swings giving off a smell of fresh paint. The metal bars were smooth and
unworn and the little rascals’ hands slipped on them. The kids would fall into
the sand below and laugh.
I can see him with his mates climbing up young trees in the parks around
the tower block. Their thin trunks bent like bows beneath the weight of the
In this micro-world he got into his first fight. It wasn’t one of those
kids’ scuffles during which immature bodies with as yet undefined personalities
bump into each other without even knowing why. This was something else. He was
no longer a child. An unknown desire had stirred in his belly, darting
downwards into his loins and then outwards. He had no idea what was happening
to him. He simply began to be attracted to girls; up to that point he’d always
said they were pretty stupid.
The fight broke out in the hallway on the ground floor. He fought the
other guy because of a girl and he got his face kicked in good and proper. He
came home, locked himself in the bathroom and watched in the mirror as blood
ran out of his nostrils, down over his lips onto his chin, his shirt and his
When he came round in the morning he went to the bathroom and saw his
bruised and swollen face in the mirror. He did not recognise himself. It wasn’t
him, surely it was someone else. When he touched his bruises and his black eyes
he felt no pain. Suddenly he couldn’t feel anything at all. He touched his
image in the mirror with his fingers and – he felt nothing. He couldn’t feel
the cool surface of the mirror; nothing. He touched his skin and still he couldn’t
I imagine that this is how it was right up to the moment of his death.
When he touched something, a person or an object, it was always the same. He
saw his hand moving over the surface but he couldn’t feel a thing, he felt
nothing at all.
He never told anyone about this transformation. He waited until it would
go away, but his ability to feel just wouldn’t come back. In desperation he
began to help himself out with childhood memories. Only the recollections of
feelings that he had experienced back then could stir any emotion within him.
But as he got older the memories faded and faded until they dissipated
In the end he reconciled himself with his fate and began a career as a
high level civil servant. Office 231 on the second floor of the Ministry of
Defence became the theatre of his life and he continued to work there as an
advisor even after he had retired. He remained in his leatherette armchair
until a scandal broke concerning fraudulent tenders. He only died a few weeks ago.
The inscription on the small gravestone in the Olšany cemetery reads: HERE LIES
JAN KRÁL, PENSIONED CIVIL SERVANT WHO NEVER FELT ANY PAIN AND PASSED AWAY