Surrealists on Art by Lucy R. Lippard

Tuesday, February 21, 2012 § 0

Dream Imagery: Surrealist Artists as Poet/Critics En(vision)ing the Surrealist Text

A Book Review by 
David Detrich

Surrealists on Art (1971) by Lucy R. Lippard is a classic collection of Surrealist texts by some of the most well known poets, novelists, and painters of the 20th Century with writing that expresses the ideas and personal mythologies of those who developed the poetic style of the Surrealist text. Excerpts from two Surrealist manifestoes by André Breton, and discussions of Surrealist painting begin the anthology, with essays by poet-critics Louis Aragon and Paul Eluard. The Artist section features Surrealist texts by: Jean Arp, Hans Bellmer, Salvador Dali, Marcel Duchamp, Max Ernst, Arshile Gorky, René Magritte, André Masson, Matta, Joan Miró, Francis Picabia, Pablo Picasso and others. Texts by the Surrealist men are well represented, with the work of the women Surrealists to follow. Lucy R. Lippard has edited a collection of Surrealist texts that I keep coming back to year after year, reading a rare text by the artists who inspire the mind of fellow Surrealists with the true spirit of innovative writing.

In her introduction to Surrealists on Art Lucy R. Lippard introduces the idea of "dream pictures," which can be used in a narrative to write a new genre of Surrealist text which she calls "strange tales."

By 1921, however, artists began to connect dissimilar objects by association; the result was no longer a single new image but a new situation, narrative, or drama comprised of recognizable images integrated into a novel context that was closer to the now standard idea of Surrealist "dream pictures." The unity of this carefully constructed oneiric realism was assured by such smooth passage between images. Many of these collages seem like individual frames from films or comic strips, dislocated parts of strange tales. 
                                                          Introduction to
                                                          Surrealists on Art
                                                          Lucy R. Lippard

Surrealists on Art begins with a section on the Poet-Critics of Surrealism: André Breton, Louis Aragon, and Paul Eluard. André Breton suggests that literary theory can only exist if the critic/essayist feels esthetic appreciation for the work to be considered, and to communicate at all should be an expression of love. This anticipates the social networking of the present decade, where unwanted communication is considered socially inappropriate behavior. We can now choose our own social network.

Criticism can exist only as a form of love.
                                                           André Breton

Love for the Surrealist text is the emotion which guides the voice of the reader in search of wonder, as a pretext for the reading of literature, where a subtle eroticism is expressed as metaphor / for the blue shades of snowdrift sunrise which ascends above the winter horizon.

André Breton wrote the Surrealist Manifestoes to inspire other poets to pursue this dreamlike genre of literature, and his thoughts foreshadow developments in the future line of Surrealist writing that may see the sentence become broken into "partial sentences," or the unpunctuated prose of the avant garde.

We are all more or less aware of the road travelled. I was careful to relate, in the course of a study of the case of Robert Desnos entitled ENTRÉE DES MÉDIUMS, that I had been led to "concentrate my attention on the more or less partial sentences which, when one is quite alone and on the verge of falling asleep, become perceptible to the mind without its being possible to discover what provoked them."
                                                          The First Surrealist 
                                                          André Breton

To envision these "partial sentences," or the aphorisms of Rrose Selavy is a profound experience for the Surrealists, who have developed the concepts of Dada: where the meaning of the sentence may be a joyous breaking free of the mind from the monotonous logic of routine to unleash the humor and love of the unconscious mind. Louis Aragon defines the marvelous as intervention into a poem by angelic beings.

The marvelous awakes where laughter is quenched... Marvelous: intervention of supernatural beings into a poem (Larousse); the real nature of the marvelous is that man is without doubt the least amazed. It suffices for him to think that this or that returns to the marvelous so everything is in order and he can go back to sleep.
                                                           Challenge to Painting
                                                           Louis Aragon

The Surrealist text describes these "supernatural beings" as they intervene to enlighten the novelist/poet, and who may be the models for the poetic work. When Paul Eluard considers the early poetic writings of Joan Miró he notices the painterly descriptions of the artist/poet.

When the bird of day just freshly flying came to nest in the color tree, Miró tasted the pure air, the fields, milk, herds, simple eyes and tenderness of the glorious breast gathering the mouth's cherry. No windfall was ever better to him than an orange and mauve road, yellow houses, pink trees, the earth, on this side of a sky of grapes and olives which will breach four walls and boredom for a long time.
                                                            Miró's Beginnings
                                                            Paul Eluard

Paul Eluard admires the poetic writings of Joan Miró for their poetic originality and personal mythology, and the charming narrative perspective of the Surrealist is evident from the beginning in the poetic writings of the Tableaux-Poèmes (Poem-Paintings) 1924-27 by Joan Miró. This marvelous perspective is what the reader may enjoy in the Surrealist text. the light of an oil lamp fine haunches of a woman between the tuft of the guts and the stem with a flame which throws new images on the whitewashed wall at this period I plucked a knob from a safety passage which I put in my eye like a monocle gentleman whose floodless ears are fascinated by the flutter of butterflies musical rainbow eyes falling like a rain of lyres...
                                                           Harlequin's Carnival
                                                           Joan Miró

The unpunctuated prose of Harlequin's Carnival by Joan Miró is similar to the poetic writings in The Burial of the Count of Orgaz and other poems (2004) by Pablo Picasso, where the complex meaning of the sentence structure is mutliplied with the use of visual images, dream pictures, or poem-paintings. The narrative logic of the Surrealist text has developed into a second level of abstraction: a textured abstraction which forms the meta(text) of the text of all texts, which represent the summation of Surrealist literary discourse in the 21st Century.

The Dadaist sense of humor that developed into Surrealism is exemplified by the Introduction to Max Ernst's Natural History by Jean Arp, where the scholarly perspective is a pretext for the psuedo-introduction, an introduction to the pretext.

this introduction contains the pseudo-introduction the original the variants of the original the pseudo-original as well as the variants of the pseudo-original the apocrypha and the incorporation of all these texts in an original arpocryphum with apocopated whiskers as well as fifty calcinated medals and fifty suns of fifty years because the medal risesthe medal of light rises.
                                                          Introduction to Max 
                                                          Ernst's Natural History
                                                          Jean Arp

The poetic writings of Jean Arp converge on my own essay Surrealist Novel Dream Images: Narrative Line Convergence, where the scholarly writing of esthetic philosophy and art criticism are the pretext for the meta(text) of 21st Century innovative fiction, where the erotic images intervene as angelic beings to inspire the novelist.

Metaphors of the erotic subconscious appear in the absence of presence as a pretext for textuality, where the fiction/essay is written as a poetic expression of literary marvels with the youthful discovery of The Surrealists on Art 1971 edited by Lucy R. Lippard, the first book the young novelist saw when he walked into the new Borders bookstore on Liberty, now as the apricot sunrise reveals the true spirit of creative subjectivity...
                                                          Surrealist Novel Dream   
                                                          Images: Narrative Line 
                                                          David Detrich

Surrealists on Art (1971) by Lucy R. Lippard is still one of my favorite anthologies of Surrealist writing, and the paperback edition is affordable for those who enjoy the irrationality of Dadaist humor, the artist's description of surreality, the unpunctuated prose that anticipates the avant garde novel of the 21st Century, and the rare poetic texts which compare favorably with the innovative writing of the present decade. Surrealists on Art is one of the first books I found on the shelf when I was young, and the humorous light hearted spirit of these writings appeals to my youthful sense of surreality.

David Detrich lives in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan where he has just completed The Convergence of Two Narrative Lines Ascending, an ultramodern Surrealist novel written in minimal squares. This year he is working on Dream the Presence of the Circular Breast Starfish Topography, a monumental Surrealist novel written with innovative typographical design. His first novel Big Sur Marvels & Wondrous Delights (2001) is available from Amazon. He is the editor of Innovative Fiction Magazine and Surrealist Star Clustered Illuminations.                                                            

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