Surrealism

Le Petit Journal des Refusees

Le Petit Journal des Refusées only published one issue in 1896. Published in an age of anxiety and discontent, Le Petit Journal presents a prototype of the modernist visual and literary art of the World War I era, which would start less than twenty years after the magazine's publicaton. The description of Le Petit Journal in the Modernist Journals archive describes the magazine as giving "hints of Dada and Surrealism before these modes of modernism actually developed" -- a similar sentiment ties Le Petit Journal and post-WWI movements, such as Dadaism, together. The publication, it seems, would appeal to a very niche group - as evidenced by the fact the magazine never published more than one issue.

Page sixteen of Le Petit Journal des Refusées displays an advertisement advertising the engraving services of Union Photo Eng. Co. in San Francisco. It is on a leftside page, across from The Ghost of A Flea. This doesn't seem to hold any significance in and of itself, however these are the last two pages of this particular copy of the magazine. Nowhere else in the magazine is there an advertisement, and the address of the company advertised is the same as the publication's. While this is clearly a modern publication, the existence and placement of this advertisement displays an obvious self-awareness which matches up with a post-modern ethos. The entire magazine seems to be self-aware, and clearly pokes at contemporary publications by including the name of the magazine by which each piece was refused. The ad, in that case, seems to poke fun at advertisements of the time.

Tarr, Audience, Bohemians, Jests, and More

 

For me, reading Tarr was reminiscent of several books to which I’ve been exposed. Most recently, the novel reminds me of Stephen Jonas’s Selected Poems (composed primarily in the 1940s), Milan Kundera’s The Unbearable Lightness of Being, William Burroughs Naked Lunch (to a lesser extent), and some of the art scenes from what I’ve read about the Surrealists and Cubists, such as Dali, Picasso, and (somewhat less self-importantly so) Breton.
 
While many of Tarr’s friends seem to be these types, Lewis does seem to be parodying the very character of Tarr himself through, for example, his opening pontifications about what is art and these incongruous descriptions of, say, Hobson in the “Overture.”The fact that the first chapter is dubbed overture at all can also be considered; usually a musical term, this Tarr seems to use to implicate various artistic media, not just literature per se.
 
Though Kundera’s book clearly postdates the others, he helps to explore the full-fledged, unvarnished life of such types and archetypes (which seems in some ways all the more remarkable, as he wrote it behind the “Iron Curtain”), which I suppose may not be the focus of our class, particularly with regard to versioning. Still, I find it difficult to resist seeking the logical conclusion of the reality of such a character as Tarr, which is toyed with and tossed about, perhaps as a jaguar would a rabbit before a kill—and is not altogether as inconclusive as some thinkers of that day would have us believe.
 
The fact that Lewis identified the absurdity and classism of the “Bohemian Bourgeois” (as Emma pointed out in her post) so long ago is notable especially as they do indeed connote “A Jest Too Deep For Laughter.”One wonders how Pound would have received such a guest in the Little Review, or was he, as was Joyce, merely par for the course? Lewis’s experimentalism and “tradition of the new” masterfully and playfully capture this atmosphere, but the book’s ultimate purpose does challenge one’s suspension of disbelief. As I am reading about “sentimental novels” and death of the fairy tale of the late 1600s in another course, I cannot help but consider how audiences are as much desired as the object of derision for these Modernist writers. The individual has been isolated to such a degree, that, though the writer depends on some conglomeration of them, he seems to detest him (or her, as it were), too.
 
The novels of Jean Rhys about this time, particularly Quartet (published in 1927—so, a few years after Tarr, though the setting does seem to be the late 1910s) help to show the more serious and grievous aspect of Parisian artist’s “Jest” culture, at least as it impacts women entangled with some of these hifalutin intellectuals—with none other than Ford Madox Ford. I suppose what I am driving out is the fact that, as Moretti points out and we discussed last week with Dr. Latham, audience in these times with the magazine and the question of context seem to be taking on a more active, aggressive role, but in texts like these, the narrator’s relationship seems nebulous at best. I am just not sure what to do with it.

 

The Unconscious and the Self-Conscious in Surrealist Film

I like the questions Max frames in his blog response below and the definition of surrealism he provides.  The question of intentionality strikes me as important for a number of reasons.  First, Man Ray's film l'Étoile de Mer seems so self-conscious about its imagery.  Like Hitchcock's stripping down of Dali's dream sequence for the mainstream audience of Spellbound (that obnoxious scene in which a pair of scissors cuts the images of giant pairs of eyes painted on drapery comes immediately to mind)  Man Ray's film images and metaphors lack subtlety (the beauty like a glass flower, the beauty like a flesh flower, the dark palm lines, the . . .  well the sinister eyes, actually they are here too.

And, I wonder if this complicates in some ways the stated aims of surrealism as an attempt to present a prerational interiority.  Maybe what we get instead is some mark left by the intentional attempt to excise the rational.  It feels like the same thing that happens as we age and look back and cringe, judging the eccentricity of youth and the work produced in our high school art rooms.  Of course there were many people who did not take anything seriously.  But for those of us who did and cringe today, we can read into that reflex a recognition of the way sincere artistic endeavor is almost always burdened by a self-conscious fear that what we produced was only a sort of posturing or worse, just an academic repetition of influence.  l'Étoile de Mer reminds me of the films I remember my high school peers produce and his images remind me of the little keychains and doll heads we used to heap on the photographic paper before flipping the projector switch.

L'étoile de Mer

The film is eloquently expressing the phase of the historical moderism. The blutering image that turn to be clear at times to come foggy at other moments portrays the periodicals which were sincerely launching a critique objectivelty with a genuine disintrestedness and other who only claim to do so. Eventhough modernism is one movement but it had many contradictory faces [political/apolitical, national/international. bouregois/proletariat intellectuals] and many voices. Kafkas writting best translate the story that this silent movie is trying to tell. In brief, it is the authority of ambiguity that make the power of literature.  Also evident when we see the journal papers flying in the air, not worth of keeping. The reality with multiple faces and perspectives is just as this modernism with multiples faces. Kafka writting could see through and revise moderism while it was being produced. Kafka started postmoderism during modernism. Franz Kafka states On Paraboles "all these parables really set out to say merely that the incomprehesible is incomprehensible, and we know that already".   

We can relate 'the star of the sea' movie to the nietzchean perspectivism, rejecting the ideal as one truth but also rejecting the writter/intellectual as a porte parole of the crowd informing and forming their thougth in a line of praxis of their contemprary mentality. It reminds me of the cubism, its primitivism and abstraction.

The more I read about modernism, I feel that somehow it was a struggle between hierarchie and anarchie. Periodicals and writers/intellectuals had a golden age of creative production... Modernism seem to be on the right track of defending a certain High Culture.... A culture that was contested after may 68 and a role of intellectual that was questionned by Benda in la trahisoon des intellectuels in 1928 [same year Transition manifesto with a new definition of the role of intellectuals as work in progress... ] Sartre's plaidoyer pour les intellectuel and Aragon the Opium of the intellectuals.  Modernism was revisisted and the anarchism have been declared the new reality?

 

WHAT IS SURREALISM? The Art of Man Ray

We pigeonhole artists into schools.  We accept that Man Ray is a surrealist. L’Etoile de Mer and his “rayographs”, some of which we see in Transition #15 (Dave’s post), have me trying to get a hold of what, exactly, we’re talking about when we talk about surrealism (perhaps it’s a bit of an oxymoron trying to nail this down). Nevertheless, I think we can say that a few things are given in Man Ray’s work here. First, surrealist art is not, cannot be, the pure manifestation dream-logic,  “sur-“ (beyond) logic, or no logic; creation of art, particularly film, is necessarily more deliberate than that. Second, these pieces are crafted—Ray’s film and the photographs. The unsettling mood of L’Etoile de Mer is a man-made thing. Therefore, the artist must be more than a “modest recording instrument...” as André Breton puts it in his 1924 Manifesto of Surrealism. It’s the craft of surrealist art that intrigues me.

When I say craft, I imbue the word with intention; “How” the artist creates (craft), necessitates a “why” (intention). The intentions behind Man Ray’s work intrigue me.  Actually,  Breton’s definition of surrealism helps me iron this out, if only in a general way.  Here it is:

SURREALISM, n. Psychic automatism in its pure state, by which one proposes to express -- verbally, by means of the written word, or in any other manner -- the actual functioning of thought. Dictated by the thought, in the absence of any control exercised by reason, exempt from any aesthetic or moral concern.

When we approach surrealism as a “state”, a point reached in, say, a film and not an adjective for an entire work, and when we approach surrealism more exactly as a “state” of freedom from exercising reason,  then, I think, we (or at least I)  get closer to a working idea of surrealism.  We can, perhaps most acturately, call Surrealism a mindset, one that both embraces the reasoned questions that we (as artist and critic) are bound to ask and also eschews these questions. We see this discourse in the L. Moholy-Nagy’s photography essay (as Valerie touched on) and Ray’s rayographs. What can be done with photography?  In L’Etoile de Mer, how does the artist account for dream, memory, pain, etc. in a way that embraces the loose-ends of “actual functioning...thought.”
 
There’s more in these films and photographs, more to surrealism, than emulation of a dream-state.  Questions like these, as I see it, and the fact there aren’t particular ways to artistically render the answers might put us more squarely in view of the intentions that propel Ray’s work here.

 

A SURREALIST'S PORTRAIT OF MEMORY

 

Memory alone arrogates to itself the right to excerpt from dreams, to ignore the transitions, and to depict for us rather a series of dreams than the dream itself. By the same token, at any given moment we have only a distinct notion of realities, the coordination of which is a question of will.”—Andre Breton, The Surrealist Manifesto, 1924
 
Coming nearly ten years after transition 15 and roughly four years before L’Etoile de Mer, the sentiment behind Breton’s Manifesto is recognizable in both. Put simply, reality, the dream life and memory borrow from each other. What we readily label a dream in the film—images fragmented, blurred, and seemingly unrelated (a coat draped over a banister, pages of a newspaper on a beach)—cannot be separated from consciousness or memory. Like photography, like Desnos’ essay “The Work of Man Ray,” we understand that everything is dependent of the eye, on sight. The role of the artist is in the execution.
 
With The Surrealist Manifesto in mind, and with the obvious avant-garde agenda of the dense transition, it comes as no surprise then to find Man Ray’s “A Portrait of Paul Eluard” within the magazine’s pages. Eluard’s best known work, Capitale de la douleur (Capital of Pain), echoes the same focus of the dream as memory. A simple, unadorned photograph of what would become one of surrealism’s largest poetic names (and one of Man Ray’s closest friends), the portrait does not beg interpretation. Similar to L’Etoile de Mer, it appears an homage of sorts—a surrealist’s nod in agreement.

 

Man Ray and Film

It is easy to characterize “l’Étoile de Mer” as an avant-garde work film. Throughout I recognized technics like a blurry camera focus, or instead of showing the people’s faces we get them off to the side, or their feet. There is also the title of the film itself and how the starfish is shown beginning with an image similar to Man Ray’s photography style later named after him “Rayogrammes” spinning around acting as if it was drawing you into the dream. The film continues to use also very sexual imagery, first with the lady pulling up her garter and then later undressing as the man watches. This is all blurred by the camera, as if watching through a piece of imperfect glass, but as the movie continues this blurry effect lessens until the woman’s face is shown, sometimes still hidden.   Another camera tactic used to express the subject of the film is the iris shot which is a something a silent film such as “l’Étoile de Mer” use a lot of. 

Yet what I thought was interesting about the film in general was the imagery in contrast with the poem itself. There were times where it seemed that the motions were meant to reflect and add to the lines of poetry, and it is easy to see the parallel, with the blurred parts of the film representing a more dream like atmosphere, and the “belle” described being the woman throughout. But it seemed to me that the film in the end was trying to show that there was no perfect dream, that dreams could easily be shattered, like the mirror in the end. Man Ray’s film shows in motion what surrealism and the avant-garde were trying to do, depicting it not just as a flat image, but as a moving picture.    

Three Items from Two Decades

 

"Portrait de Nos Contemperains," a drawing published in 1896, in Le Petite Journal des Refusees, stands in stark contrast with two other items from the year 1911: an advertisement for Sapolio household cleaner from The Century Magazine, and a poem titled "The Year That's Awa.'" The first shows hints of nonsensical humor, and absurd artwork which was the precursor to Dadaism and Surrealism. The second two examples show much more conventional thoughts just as Modernism was coming into existence--the advertisement gives a sense of women's cultural roles at the time of publication, and the poem shows sentiments that are still alive and well today, but using language that is outdated.

The portrait from 1896, drawn by the editor of the magazine, James Marrion, is fractured by a crucifix shaped object which could also be seen as a window pane, with each square showing one fourth of a man's figure. The result is a pieced together portrait of apparently an anonymous person, and it is surrounded by skeletons which appear to embrace one another vaguely. One skeleton has a long tail, but appears human otherwise. The advertisement for soap is certainly dated when it says that one can not keep house without both a "bright woman" and Sapolio. The statement that the soap will be the "willing servant of bright women everywhere" could suggest the more modern idea of women's empowerment, but is still an old-fashioned idea. The poem published in the first month of the new year in 1911 is surrounded by a few ornamental drawing details, and uses language that might be that of the casual male of the time and place, London, in which it was published. The word soldier is spelled "sodger." The speaker pays honor to the women loved in the past year, and the overall tone is one of a drinking song, or poem in this case, with the line, "Here's to the year that's awa'/ We will drink it in song and in sma'..."