Much more than documents.
Golan's broader point is more problematic. In keeping with the thesis developed in her recent book, Modernity and Nostalgia Yale University Press, , Golan identifies the emphasis on touch in the surrealist object - which I discuss in Chapter 4 - with an anti-modernist, corporatist reaction to the machine aesthetic of the s, in which the handmade is preferred to the machine-made.
The implication is that surrealism is part of a reaction to modernity that helped pave the way for the anti-modernist Petainist aesthetic of Vichy France. If surrealism is anti-modernist, however, it is an anti-modernism that attempts to sublate modernism, rather than merely reject it in a return to a pre-modern naturalist aesthetic. Golan assimilates two different responses to modernism, opposing an automatically progressive modernism to its anti-modernist enemies on left and right. We know, however, that modernism Le Corbusier, for example could itself have troubling corporatist overtones.
Nor can surrealism be easily assimilated to the anti-modernist emphasis on regional landscape and pre-industrial rural culture; this is perhaps why Golan only suggests the association, rather than pursuing it further. M y own work on the surrealist object differs from most of these studies, and has been conceived more in relation to what I think is the most substantial body of critical work on surrealism apart, that is, from the landmark studies by Benjamin, Adorno and Blanchot 1 4 : that of the October critics and historians, and in particular the books and 1 4Walter Benjamin, "Surrealism: The Last Snapshot of the European Intelligentsia" , in Reflections: Essays, Aphorisms, Autobiographical Writings, ed.
Peter Demetz and trans. M y dissertation, and my thinking about surrealism in general, owes a substantial intellectual debt to their work. M y approach is more historical than theirs, less 'theoretical'; but the difference chiefly turns on the question of surrealism's relation to modernism, and on the question of the sublimation or the desublimation of surrealist art.
Krauss' rethinking of surrealism over the past fifteen years has significantly altered surrealist studies. Her two essays in the L 'Amour fou catalogue in particular register a pivotal change both in her own work, and in surrealist studies in general. The first, "Photography in the Service of Surrealism", still depends largely on citations from Breton, but reworks surrealism in relation to post-structuralist thought; the second, "Corpus Del ic t i" , marks the entry of Bataille into the critical discourse on surrealism, at least in Engl i sh.
This coincides with at least a temporary turning away from an interest in the thought of the members of the surrealist group proper, who were often castigated in the very terms that Bataille had once employed against the surrealists. Rolf Tiedemann and trans. Weiss and Allan Stoekl, who are much more interested in and engaged with the thought of Bataille than with that of Breton or any of the other surrealists, and who rely on Hollier for their own assessment of surrealist thought. The dismissal of Breton was repeated rather uncritically in many articles in the late s and early '90s, so it is refreshing to see Krauss, Foster and Hollier returning to or continuing in Krauss' case a critical engagement with the work of the surrealist movement itself.
This occurs even where attention is once again focused on the ideas and activities of the surrealist group, as in Hal Foster's Compulsive Beauty. In Compulsive Beauty, Foster establishes a Lacanian-inflected psychoanalytic reading of surrealism that runs counter to some of the movement's own claims. His reading 1 7 The terms "Icarian idealists" and "base materialism" are first found in a previously unpublished article that Tel Quel brought to light in , "La 'vieille taupe' et le prefixe sur dans les mots surhomme et surrealiste" Oeuvres completes, t.
II: Ecrits posthumes [Paris: Gallimard, ], pp. The article had been intended for Bifur, a journal that, like Bataille's own Documents, was hostile to surrealism and vice versa.
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However, Bifur ceased publication in June , before Bataille's article could appear. As its title indicates, the article is critical of Nietzsche as well as of surrealism, before Bataille was really marked by the influence of the German thinker. Liesl Oilman, October, no. These mostly date from the years immediately following the Second World War, when Bataille was engaged in an intensive reassessment of the movement and its thought.
Bataille contributed a brief text from which Richardson's collection takes its title to the catalogue of the surrealist exhibition at the Galerie Maeght, and the surrealist exhibition at the Galerie Daniel Cordier explicitly took its theme from Bataille's recent book Erotisme. It is Foster's view that many of surrealism's key concepts, such as 'the marvelous', 'convulsive beauty', and 'objective chance', are related to a recognition of the familiar made strange, that is, to an intimation of the death drive that the surrealists resist in their preference for love, beauty and reconciliation.
Bataille and Roger Caillois are his counter-examples of those who do accept and embrace such a "desublimation", through their notions of the informe and mimicry. Foster writes: It is at this point where sublimation confronts desublimation that surrealism breaks down, and I mean this literally: such is the stake of the split between official Bretonian and dissident Bataillean factions circa Although both groups recognize the uncanny power of desublimation, the Bretonian surrealists resist it, while the Bataillean surrealists elaborate it - especially, I want to suggest, along the line of its imbrication with the death drive.
Foster is acknowledging here the distinction Freud makes in his later writings between an inherently unruly sexuality and its sublimated form in the notion of Eros, the latter of which is essential for both love and civilization. Jean Laplanche describes the difference in his Life and Death in Psychoanalysis: Eros is what seeks to maintain, preserve, and even augment the cohesion and the synthetic tendency of living beings and of psychical life.
Whereas, ever since the beginnings of psychoanalysis, sexuality was in its essence hostile to binding - a principle of "un-binding" or unfettering Entbindung which could be bound only through the intervention of the ego - what appears with Eros is the bound and binding form of sexuality, brought to light by the discovery of narcissism.
It is that form of sexuality, cathecting its object, attached to a form, which henceforth will sustain the ego and life itself, as well as any specific form of sublimation. Jean Laplanche, Life and Death in Psychoanalysis , trans. M y own understanding of desublimation, however, is substantially different, and this is the point at which my interpretation departs from those of Krauss and Foster.
Both Krauss and Foster take a primarily psychoanalytic view of surrealism in their recent books although Foster also attempts to understand the possibilities for a social critique offered by surrealism, in reading it through Benjamin. In The Optical Unconscious, Krauss rereads desire after Lacan not as an inexhaustible flow of sexual energy, but as a universal effect of psychical trauma. While Foster refers primarily to Freud in his reinterpretation of surrealism, he shares this Lacanian understanding of desire with Krauss.
It is one in which any possible reconciliation achieved through desire, such as was envisioned by the surrealists, has been successfully deconstructed apres la lettre.
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While I do not wish to dispute the conclusions reached by Foster and Krauss as to the possibility or impossibility of the surrealist project, I would like to note the way in which their approach has resulted in a symptomatic reading of many of the images in both books. Their psychoanalytic reading of surrealist imagery can and does achieve an extraordinary insight, but it tends to elide the images' intertextual relation with other imagery and other discourses.
In Krauss and Foster's recent analyses, specific aesthetic issues, such as the conflicted relation between surrealism and modernism, tend to drop out of their discussion, to be replaced by the psychoanalytic. In The Optical Unconscious, this involves a reading away from form to address what, Krauss proposes, underlies both surrealism and modernism, the "optical unconscious" of her title which would, in surrealism's case, involve the psyche's "automatic" response to signs generated in the imaginary order: "an automatic 16 motor turning over in the very field of the visual.
Rather than the generation of something new, an unprecedented image or metaphor, the readymade is that to which the artist or poet responds, a recognition of the familiar made strange through repression: "automatism's relation to the visual not as a strange conflation of objects, and thus the creation of new images, but as a function of the structure of vision and its ceaseless return to the already-known.
Krauss proposes not a critical relation of one to the other, through which surrealism bears the very condition of its possibility in an antagonistic relation to modernism, but offers surrealism instead as "the total refusal of the modernist alternative 2 5", seeing the readymade as completely other to the modernist blank surface, as a matrix rather than an empty potential. Breton and Ernst himself both viewed Ernst's 'overpaintings' as a form of collage, in terms of method i f not of technique "ce n'est pas la colle qui fait le collage 2 6". The association of elements did not depend upon a particular technique, but rather upon a poetic approach apprehended through the example provided by cubist, then dada collage.
In my understanding, the practice of collage, discovered by the cubists, allowed Pierre Reverdy to 2 2Rosalind E. It is not a question here of returning to an unproblematic notion of intentionality, but of recognizing the significance of the aesthetic discourses within which and against which a surrealist strategy was conceived.
Krauss' psychoanalytic reading of Ernst's work is often brilliant, and offers for the first time, along with Foster's contemporary work, a cogent and coherent approach to surrealist iconography. But I disagree with her attempt to replace collage with the readymade, which makes an understanding of surrealism's relation to modernism impossible. Foster does see surrealism as a "counter-modernism", rather than as a "total refusal of the modernist alternative". He does not develop this, however, choosing to focus instead on surrealism's resistance to the death drive, as well as on its possibilities for a social critique.
For in my view, it is desublimation that is the project of the objects and indeed of all forms of surrealist imagery, in their insistence on an explicit sexual dimension, and in their critical relation to other forms of art which includes a negation of formal considerations. One of the significant differences between the surrealists and Bataille, up to at least, is that the surrealists sought to delay an immediate merging of art and life - while in principle supporting such a merger - whereas Bataille, coincident with the end of Documents, wished to bring art to an end in the present, replacing it at most with perversion.
Although the two series of Documents are 18 which was articulated especially in the pages of La Critique sociale; one consequence of this was his own suppression of his novel Le Bleu du ciel, which was written in but not published until It is the difference, in fact, between a dialectical and an anti-dialectical strategy: the contesting of bourgeois culture from within, versus its pulling down and elimination from without, by what Bataille imagines to be the hairy and inculte proletariat.
He recognizes that the possibility for a surrealist social critique depends upon its inscription within the social world it contests, but does not extend that perception to surrealism's ambivalent relations with art and literature, to see in the immanency of those relations the very possibility of critique. This is in spite of the fact that he acknowledges the desublimating strategies of Ernst and Hans Bellmer, who were both part of the "Bretonian" surrealist group rather than of any dissident faction.
Surrealist explorations of chance, dreams, derives, and the like can confront the mechanical-commodified world only because they are already inscribed within it: only from there can this world be detourne. Foster, op. I raise Adorno here since it is to his essay "Looking Back on Surrealism" that Krauss and Foster refer, in taking the possibility of reading surrealism beyond its self-understanding.
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Thus "convulsive beauty", one of Breton's central categories of experience, is not simply another form of beauty, as Foster would have it p. In conceiving of this beauty "envisagee exclusivement a des fins passionnelles 3 2", Breton is explicitly engaging with beauty as a form of sublimation, and attempting to return it to the erotic, perhaps through Freud's perception of such an origin in his Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality: There is to my mind no doubt that the concept of 'beautiful' has its roots in sexual excitation and that its original meaning was 'sexually stimulating'.
This is related to the fact that we never regard the genitals themselves, the sight of which produces the strongest sexual excitation, as really 'beautiful'.
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To this end, Breton, Ernst and Da l i all read what is the prototypical surrealist image - Lautreamont's "beau comme la rencontre fortuite sur une table de dissection d'une machine a coudre et d'un parapluie" - as a sexual image, a reading that could be thought reductive, since it limits the image to a single interpretation, but which performs precisely this function of returning aesthetics to its sexual origins. II, ed. Marguerite Bonnet Paris: Gallimard, , p.
Angela Richards Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, , p.
The passage quoted here was a footnote added in Richard Miller, October no. Breton discusses sublimation in such terms at several points in his writings: in the Second Manifesto, in the essay "Le Merveilleux contre le mystere", and, most provocatively, in his section of the pamphlet issued to accompany the screening of L'Age d'or in , where it is explicitly a question of interrogating, and even overturning, sublimated beauty and its correlative, the work of art: Ce serait peut-etre trop peu demander aux artistes d'aujourd'hui que de s'en tenir a la constatation, d'ailleurs geniale, que l'energie sublimee couvant en eux continuera a les livrer, pieds et poings lies, a l'ordre de choses existant et ne fera, a travers eux, d'autres victimes qu'eux-memes.
II est, pensons-nous, de leur devoir le plus elementaire, de soumettre l'activite qui resulte pour eux de cette sublimation, d'origine mysterieuse, a une critique aigue et de ne reculer devant aucune outrance apparente, des lors qu ' i l s'agit avant tout de desserrer le baillon [which beauty is, in the introduction to the pamphlet] dont nous parlions.
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There is a profound suspicion of sublimation's movement away from sexuality towards beauty, while beauty is described as a gag that must be loosened. It is loosened through the attention one pays to the phenomenon one is experiencing, i. II, op. Breton's contribution to this pamphlet, "LTnstinct sexuel et l'instinct de mort", was originally anonymous, like all the written contributions.
Such a strategy is, as ever in surrealism, an action against other, more consciously crafted and finished works of art, the "desublimation of sublimation" rather than a purely positive expression. The notion of a convulsive beauty can only be understood in this context, for this sexualized notion of beauty is itself conceived of as a loosening of the gag.
Here, however, at a highly political moment for surrealism, it is not simply a question of regression, but also of research as the necessary dialectical complement of that return. While my knowledge of, confidence in, and use of psychoanalysis is not as thorough-going as that of Krauss and Foster, I do employ it in a number of ways in my dissertation, recognizing not least its importance to the surrealists and to many other French intellectuals in the s.
The notion of sublimation, as it is reworked from Freud, is, obviously, one of the ways in which I use psychoanalysis in this work.