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Friday, November 2 • 2:00pm - 3:30pm
3.E. The Transparency & Opacity of Surrealist Periodicals

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PANEL. The Transparency & Opacity of Surrealist Periodicals

Across decades and continents, the pages of periodicals have shaped surrealism. Yet, due to the prevalence of magazines, revues, pamphlets, and newspaper clippings as sources, the complexity and diversity of these printed materials merit further scrutiny if we wish to glean as much as possible from this dense archive. As one avenue to consider how seemingly ambivalent publications can convey surrealist missions, the papers in this panel embrace the concurrent transparency and opacity of a selection of surrealist journals. Whether in narrative content that confuses fact and fiction, visual imagery that alternately reveals and conceals, or editorial methods that both parody and uphold hegemonic structures, these publications confuse and subvert readers’ habits of perception. Through the periodicals’ intermedial aesthetics of transparency and opacity, surrealism is at once accessible and always just out of reach.

"Displaced Foci: The Close-Up in La Révolution Surréaliste and Documents"
Erin McClenathan
Mercer University

Two core surrealist factions headquartered in Paris in the late 1920s were taken by the undulation between the transparency and opacity in close-up images. Overlapping applications of magnification in the André-Breton-allegiant La Révolution Surréaliste (1924-29) and Georges Bataille’s Documents (1929-30/1) demonstrate that these two supposedly opposed surrealist camps in fact placed their audiences in similar positions. Evocations of empirical research like the visible mimicry of the scientific journal La Nature’s format in La Révolution Surréaliste and the extensive attempts at archeological and ethnographic cataloguing evident in Documents are indicative of the gravitas that Breton and Bataille wished to convey through their publications. The satirical function of the subversions of didacticism in both journals and implementation of zoological documentarian as also found in Jean Painlevé’s educational films suggest the potential for surrealism to repurpose unrelated materials as a form of social engagement. Yet, the contrast between the apparent straightforwardness of the cleanly printed texts in La Révolution Surréaliste and Documents and photomechanical images that often disorient the eye and mind in their extreme framing or lack of context finally keep the reader at a distance. The surrealist close-up beckons us nearer but ultimately keeps the inner workings of the movement in the dark—in Bataille’s mucky informe or the ultra-exclusive nether regions of Breton’s subconscious.

"Enquête on Suicide or the Risks of Reading"
Jasmina Karabeg
The University of British Columbia

“Is suicide a solution?” Bent on starting their publishing activity with a provocation, surrealists posed this question in the inaugural issue of La Révolution Surréaliste. The answers matched the question. It has often been noted that the enquête was to pour acid on accepted social, intellectual and religious values. I will argue that the intervention does not remain in the realm of reason and emotion but touches the nerves and muscles of the reader’s body, interrupting carefully cultivated performance of reading. This interruption is effectuated by the layout of the page, its graphical elements, and the relation of words and images. In the enquête, images are not decorative elements, but responses, charged with providing answers and articulating statements. In their variety, the answers to the enquête permanently oscillate between habits of reading and habits of looking. Disruption of reading habits inflicted by these oscillations is the deepest work of the enquête. To fully understand the nature of this disruptive surrealist intervention, I consider it in relation to the ideology and practice of instilling cultivated, useful habits of a good worker or efficient soldier created through carefully monitored and repeated performance. As internes or patients in military hospitals, future surrealists acquired the first hand understanding of the social and political implications of these normative performances. La Révolution Surréaliste is not just a critique and questioning of the norm; by interrupting the reader’s habit, the journal does what it says.

"The Opacity & Transparency of Ritualistic Possession: Michel Leiris’s Ethnographic Account of the Ethiopian Zar-Cult in Minotaure"
Andrea Gremels 

Goethe-Universität
The periodical Minotaure, published between 1933 and 1939, illustrates the transgressive eccentricity of the surrealists’ exploration of other realities, driven by irrationality and the unconscious. In this context, Minotaure also exemplifies the extent to which the surrealist movement was inspired by non-European cultures. Its second number is exclusively dedicated to the French ethnographic expedition to sub-Saharan Africa from 1931 to 1933, La Mission Dakar-Djibuti (No. 2, 1933). The writer Michel Leiris, one of the key figures of what James Clifford (1981) has called ethnographic surrealism, takes part in this sub-Saharan mission and studies the rituals of possession practiced by the members of the zar-cult in Gondar, Northern Ethiopia. His ethnographic account “Le tareau de Seyfou Tchenger” (“Seyfou Tchenger’s bull”) in Minotaure testifies to the author’s ambiguity towards his role as ethnographer and interrogates the discipline’s methodology of documentation. My paper analyzes Leiris’s destabilization of the supposedly documentary transparency of the text through the opacity of the photographs that accompany it. Through the intermedial tension between textual transparency and photographic opacity the author eventually cross-examines the ethnographic limitations as well as the poetic potential of visualizing ritualistic possession as a phenomenon characterized by the invisible presence of irrational spirits and animalistic, unconscious forces. Leiris’s account of the Ethiopian zar-cult thus reflects on the sources of surrealist creativity and echoes Minotaure’s credo of “LA TOUTE-PUISSANCE DU DÉSIR” (“The omnipotence of desire”).

Speakers
avatar for Andrea Gremels

Andrea Gremels

Research Associate, Goethe-Universität, Frankfurt / École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales, Paris
In my current research project “Cosmovision and World Arts: On Transversal Surrealism” I analyze the transnational relations of the Surrealist Movement between Europe, Africa the Caribbean and Latin America. My aim is to show the multilateral dynamics that constituted the global... Read More →
JK

Jasmina Karabeg

University of British Columbia
avatar for Erin McClenathan

Erin McClenathan

Mercer University

Chairs
avatar for Erin McClenathan

Erin McClenathan

Mercer University


Friday November 2, 2018 2:00pm - 3:30pm
Room E. Bertrand Library: East Reading Room (second floor)