By Walter Serner
Translated, with an introduction, by Erik Butler

“Serner was so na´ve as to think he could find sympathizers in the world of art. After turning his back on the art world—the very art world that would later use his ideas like a brand of laundry detergent—he glorified a world of swindlers in which everybody deceives everybody.”
—Hans Richter

Walter Serner’s first story collection, published in German in 1921, brought to narrative form the essential philosophy he espoused in his earlier Dada manifesto/handbook, Last Loosening: A Handbook for the Con Artist & Those Who Wish to Be One—life is a con job and demands the skills of a swindler. With its depiction of a world of appearances in which nothing can be trusted, At the Blue Monkey helped establish the ex-doctor and renounced Dadaist as a literary ýMaupaussant of crimeţ and offers in this first English translation thirty-three stories of criminals, con artists, prostitutes, and gadabouts engaged in a variety of forms of financial insolvency, embezzlement, sexual hijinks, long and short cons, and dalliances with venereal diseases and drugs. With a mordant humor that renders the criminal code into something nearly occult, Serner offers a bevy of hoodlums, pimps, and swindlers utilizing a potpourri of European argot to disquieting effect, waging a secret war against anything crossing their paths—especially in affairs of the ultimate confidence scheme, the heart. Told in a baroque, sometimes baffling poetry of underworld slang in an urban world of bars and rent-a-rooms where human animals are either on unsavory display or on the make, these short tales are presented to the reader like so many three-card Montes in which the reader too late comes to realize that they may well themselves be the literary mark.

Walter Serner (1889–1942) lhelped found the Dada movement in Zurich and embodied its most cynical and anarchic aspects. After breaking with the movement, he began publishing crime stories and the 1925 novel, The Tigress. Moving constantly across Europe, he eventually disappeared and was rumored to have vanished into the criminal milieu he wrote about; but he had in fact returned to Czechoslovakia, married, and become a schoolteacher. In 1942, he and his wife presumably died after being moved from a concentration camp, his books banned and burned by the Nazis.

October 2019
5.375 x 8, 192 pp.
$15.95 US