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This essay traces the anti-Bildungsroman tradition under the influence of surrealism, in Georges Bataille’s Story of the Eye (1928) and Kathy Acker’s Great Expectations (1982). While Acker inherits Bataille’s fascination with violence and transgression, these themes are formally developed through the prism of punk and feminist conceptual art and performance. The recent resurgence of critical interest in Acker’s work prompts us to further consider her relationship to surrealism and the modernist avant-garde. While Acker’s homage to Bataille in the early novels signals a brazen ’theft’ of the male avant-garde tradition for feminist subversive ends, Great Expectations experiments with form and language in order to evacuate the Bildungsroman of its bourgeois (gendered) claims to moral authority and insight. While extreme experience in Bataille’s literary work holds out the promise of an affirmation of sorts, the excoriating emotional masochism of Acker’s characters tilts towards nihilism. And yet both Bataille and Acker draw on the Bildungsroman even as they decondition the humanist subject that lies at its very core, straining at the limits of language to represent the vertiginous intensity of affective life and the dissolution of desire into abjection.
This chapter examines the emergence of a dream aesthetic in the orbit of Surrealism. While André Breton’s “Manifesto of Surrealism” (1924) and Louis Aragon’s “Wave of Dreams” (1924) point to the dream as a catalyst for a new kind of imaginative freedom, free of moral or aesthetic judgement, it was in Communicating Vessels (1932) that Breton brought the dream into direct correspondence with urban wandering and objective chance. In the process, Breton identified how the manifest content of his dreams drives an affective and sensorial attunement to people and places in the urban street, revealing the cathectic forces driving our aleatory engagement with the material world, and thereby assigning the dream a more critical, indeed, political cast. The second part of the chapter turns to the striking affinities between the dream and film uncovered by Surrealism, via the symbolic mapping of the Freudian dream in Buñuel and Dalí’s Un chien andalou (1929) and the melodramatic tension between symbolic objects and unconscious bodily movement in Maya Deren’s Meshes of the Afternoon (1943).
The introductory chapter traces Surrealism’s critical legacy across the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. From its initial emergence out of Dada in 1924, Surrealism became a defining critical and creative concept, and not only for the avant-garde movement penned in its name. It inspired a range of critical enterprises and creative practices, including: Walter Benjamin’s anthropological investigation of the everyday material world; the politics and aesthetics of a number of anticolonial enterprises; James Clifford’s investigations of the ethnographic ambitions of dissident surrealism; the political events of May ’68; the October group’s recalibration of Greenberg’s aesthetic formalism; and, more recently, Surrealism’s influence on new materialism, thing theory, animal/human studies, affect theory, and a plethora of contemporary participatory art movements. Described by Maurice Blanchot as “a brilliant obsession,” Surrealism continues to exert a profound rethinking of the relationship between art, politics, and everyday experience.
This book examines the salient ideas and practices that have shaped Surrealism as a protean intellectual and cultural concept that fundamentally shifted our understanding of the nexus between art, culture, and politics. By bringing a diverse set of artistic forms and practices such as literature, manifestos, collage, photography, film, fashion, display, and collecting into conversation with newly emerging intellectual traditions (ethnography, modern science, anthropology, and psychoanalysis), the essays in this volume reveal Surrealism's enduring influence on contemporary thought and culture alongside its anti-colonial political position and international reach. Surrealism's fascination with novel forms of cultural production and experimental methods contributed to its conceptual malleability and temporal durability, making it one of the most significant avant-garde movements of the twentieth century. The book traces how Surrealism's urgent political and aesthetic provocations have bequeathed an important legacy for recent scholarly interest in thing theory, critical vitalism, new materialism, ontology, and animal/human studies.
Modernism and Masculinity investigates the varied dimensions and manifestations of masculinity in the modernist period. Thirteen essays from leading scholars reframe critical trends in modernist studies by examining distinctive features of modernist literary and cultural work through the lens of masculinity and male privilege. The volume attends to masculinity as an unstable horizon of gendered ideologies, subjectivities and representational practices, allowing for fresh interdisciplinary treatments of celebrated and lesser-known authors, artists and theorists such as D. H. Lawrence, Ezra Pound, Henry Roth, Theodor Adorno and Paul Robeson as well as modernist avant-garde movements such as vorticism, surrealism and futurism. As diverse as the masculinities that were played out across the early twentieth century, the approaches and arguments featured in this collection will appeal especially to scholars and students of modernist literature and culture, gender studies and English literature more broadly.