Staff Picks: Hadlíz With His Trump Hair

Stephanie recommends The Transformations of Mr. Hadlíz by Ladislav Novák (translated from the Czech by Jed Slast):

When this book first arrived at Malvern in September 2016, I believed there was no way Donald J. Trump would ever be elected president of the United States. He seemed so obviously a jester for an evil we wouldn’t let win. So when I started reading The Transformations of Mr. Hadlíz, I saw the visuals of Hadlíz, with his Trump-esque coif, as a freakish prediction from the 1970s of Trump’s goofy-but-traumatizing presidential campaign and it made me laugh. Look at Trump as a slice of pizza! Look at Trump punching another, fatter Trump in the face!

But as I started reading the text and not just ingesting the images, the comparisons between Mr. Hadlíz and Trump lost their humor: “Clowning and dissimulating, he invites us to have fun with him. To make our forgetting even more profound? To easily get us under his control? Under no circumstances should we trust him too much.”

Now that Trump is in office, the accidental connections between Hadlíz and The Donald stand out even more.

Prague-based Twisted Spoon Press focuses on contemporary writing from central and eastern Europe. The Transformations of Mr. Hadlíz (Twisted Spoon, 2002) is a combination of poetry, prose, and visual art, featuring twelve images created by froissage, a method author and artist Ladislav Novák invented to interpret crumpled paper.

Hadlíz is carved from the quotidian: an unused daily calendar gifted to Novák at the beginning of 1976 (a year before Trump married his first wife, a Czech model). Of Hadlíz’s genesis later that year, Novák writes: “Near the center of the sheet and in the middle of the creased lines there emerged a suspended figure in the original white color of the washed background. It suggested to me the title: ‘Mr. Hadlíz as a floating cloud (as an eiderdown).’”

The writings were composed sixteen years after the images, in 1992 (a banner year for Trump, as three Trump hotels filed for bankruptcy protection).

With his reliance on clowning (“Mr. Hadlíz of course isn’t just joking”); predatory behavior (“Mr. Hadlíz may be free but will she freely comply?”); and his own inner voices (“these voices are more than dim visceral whimperings”), Hadlíz With His Trump Hair entertains and terrorizes throughout The Transformations, which at one point asks, “What sort of age have we lived in, do we still live in?”

Hadlíz can be taken as a Trump figure up until the book’s conclusion, when Hadlíz shows emotional growth, something Trump has no interest in. We remember that Hadlíz isn’t real, that he is a kind of cartoon and therefore can have his easy redemption. But Trump wasn’t carved from paper and chance and is not a cartoon. Trump is real and somehow our president. “What sort of age have we lived in, do we still live in?”