Surrealist Ghostliness

Surrealist Ghostliness

Surrealist Ghostliness

Surrealist Ghostliness

Synopsis

In this study of surrealism and ghostliness, Katharine Conley provides a new, unifying theory of surrealist art and thought based on history and the paradigm of puns and anamorphosis. In Surrealist Ghostliness, Conley discusses surrealism as a movement haunted by the experience of World War I and the repressed ghost of spiritualism. From the perspective of surrealist automatism, this double haunting produced a unifying paradigm of textual and visual puns that both pervades surrealist thought and art and commemorates the surrealists' response to the Freudian unconscious. Extending the gothic imagination inherited from the eighteenth century, the surrealists inaugurated the psychological century with an exploration of ghostliness through doubles, puns, and anamorphosis, revealing through visual activation the underlying coexistence of realities as opposed as life and death.

Surrealist Ghostliness explores examples of surrealist ghostliness in film, photography, painting, sculpture, and installation art from the 1920s through the 1990s by artists from Europe and North America from the center to the periphery of the surrealist movement. Works by Man Ray, Claude Cahun, Brassaï and Salvador Dalé, Lee Miller, Dorothea Tanning, Francesca Woodman, Pierre Alechinsky, and Susan Hiller illuminate the surrealist ghostliness that pervades the twentieth-century arts and compellingly unifies the century's most influential yet disparate avant-garde movement.

Excerpt

Surrealist Ghostliness began with the insight I had in 2000 that surrealist perception was necessarily double and that anamorphosis functions well as a visual paradigm for this doubleness because of the way surrealism purports to harness both our conscious and unconscious minds into a kind of idealized synthesis, what André Breton, the author of the first two “Manifestoes” of surrealism in 1924 and 1930, would call a resolution of old antinomies or a sublime point. As a result of this insight, I wrote an exhibition catalogue essay on surrealist love poetry called “Anamorphic Love.” There for the first time I integrated fully an appreciation of surrealist visual art into my more literary work, paving the way for my focus on art in Surrealist Ghostliness. As I was finishing my book on Robert Desnos in 2002, I realized that his tongue-twisting poetry produced in automatic trances at the outset of the surrealist movement provided a textual model for the double nature of surrealist perception. Anamorphosis on a visual level and Desnos’s “Rrose Sélavy” playful punning poems on an aural and textual level require an analogous two-step process of comprehension, what I called a double take, involving a first look or hearing, followed by a second, retroactive look or hearing.

My interest in anamorphosis began with the standard image we know of the urn that, on a second look, resolves into the silhouette of two human faces looking at one another or the duck that transforms into a rabbit. I then turned to the picture-poems of Guillaume Apollinaire, the French poet who coined the word surrealism in 1917 and who created his handwritten “calligrams” when he was a soldier in World War I, decades before the concrete poets identified these poems as early twentieth-century precursors to their own. Apollinaire . . .

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.