Josef Kainar's 'Strihali dohola malého chlapecka' (A Little Boy's Hair Was Cut to the Skin) - the subject of this article - is one of the best-known poems in Czech literature of the twentieth century. Literary critics have linked that poem with existential philosophy, and for good reason. The situation of the boy in the title is one of extreme transition. Important in this poem is the gaze of the Other, which Jean-Paul Sartre analyzed in 'Being and Nothingness'. That sort of gaze objectifies the boy. Kainar's text can also be examined from another perspective. The collection in which the poem appeared is called 'New Myths', and that title recalls the notion of 'new myth' seen in the writings of Jindrich Chalupecký, leader of Group 42, to which Kainar belonged. Writing about the shorn boy, Kainar indeed creates a new myth, one situated in ordinary life. Though a new myth, the mythmaking power of the story reinforces its connection to ancient ritual, specifically to the hairclipping rite well-known also in Slavic cultures. That ritualized haircutting has often been considered a form of initiation. It seems that in Kainar's poem, the haircut suggests the initiation of the boy into the truth of human existence. And that human world is revealed to be devoid of any metaphysical dimension, religious conviction, or higher meaning, and tending to the merely physiological. It is a world that's disgusting, arbitrary, and cruel.
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