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Friday, November 2 • 2:00pm - 3:30pm
3.D. Bestiaries

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PANEL. Bestiaries

"Surrealism and the Bestiary: The Curious Case of Aloys Zötl and Julio Cortázar"
Melanie Nicholson
Bard College

This presentation explores the fortuitous encounter of two artistic sensibilities separated by time, nationality, and geography, in what might be considered a consummate case of le hasard objetif. That encounter, between the nineteenth-century Austrian painter Aloys Zötl and the twentieth-century Argentine writer Julio Cortázar, was inadvertently initiated by André Breton, although Breton himself did not live to see what he had set in motion. In 1972, in response to an invitation by Franco Maria Ricci to write an introduction for a deluxe edition of animal watercolors by Zötl, Cortázar responded in the form of a letter to Ricci in which he meditates on the presence of animals in human psychic and cultural life. Cortázar was a lifelong defender of surrealism, and his epistle-essay “Stroll Among the Cages” bears the marks of a fundamentally surrealist document. Tracing a direct link between bestiaries and surrealism, Cortázar notes that Breton “declared with his mania for taxonomy that the bestiary of Aloys Zötl was the most sumptuous one ever seen—and after that, what can one say?” But Cortázar in fact has a great deal to say, and this little known but engaging essay provides new insights into the ancient practice of viewing human existence through the lens of animal life. After a brief review of the principle points of contact between surrealism and the bestiary tradition, I will examine “Stroll Among the Cages” as it follows the traces of Zötl’s work leading into Cortázar’s own idiosyncratic and surrealist bestiary.

"Towards a Feminist Marvelous: Channeling Carrington Through the Animal Languages of Heidi Sopinka"
Catriona McAra
Leeds Arts University

The Canadian-Ukrainian writer and fashion designer, Heidi Sopinka, has recently published The Dictionary of Animal Languages (2018), a novel based on Leonora Carrington (1917-2011). Unlike existing fictional biographies of the artist/writer, here Carrington is reimagined as Ivory Frame, an animal-painter turned biologist, now aged 92 and researching communication and ecology. Sopinka “collages” ekphrastically from Carrington, “quoting” from her paintings and persona. This paper seeks to reposition Carrington’s legacies within a twenty-first century feminist context. Sopinka contributes to an important moment of expansion for Leonora Carrington studies, alongside creative reinterpretations by novelists Chloe Aridjis (2009), Ali Smith (2012), and China Miéville (2016). Indeed, I suggest that some of the most convincing readings of Carrington are by contemporary artists, curators, and fiction writers, “artist-histories” which do not pin down but rather expand a sense of Carrington’s reach. Carrington’s own notion of a “female human animal” (1970) is crucial to Sopinka as such hybridity queries binary thinking. Positioning Dictionary in a revisionary context, with close reference to the “species” of Donna Haraway (2007) and the “feminist intertextuality” of Susan Suleiman (1990), I offer “a feminist marvelous” in order to theorize this new generation of practices which are not surrealist per se but draw closely upon its techniques. I ask why Carrington, of all the surrealists, is providing such a productive site for feminist investigations into the marvelous. This paper is further underpinned by my unpublished interview material with Sopinka (2018), and Sopinka’s own interview with Carrington (2012).

"Kay Sage Alive in the World"
Kate Conley
William & Mary

Despite the growing isolation Kay Sage (1898-1963) reveals in the four books of poetry she published in French and English between 1957 and 1962 following after the sudden death of her husband Yves Tanguy in January 1955, the poems also establish her as firmly rooted in the present-day natural world, partly through the persistent presence of animals. Cats, cows, squirrels, a horse, a donkey, and birds appear over seventeen poems and humanize Sage as the painter known for bleak architectonic landscapes, mostly devoid of living beings. The seven poems with birds in them, in particular her final poem, “My Bird and Me,” also place her in the surrealist tradition of self-identification with a totem animal as a way of connecting inner consciousness with the outside world that began with André Breton’s self-identification with his astrological sign of Pisces in Soluble Fish (1924) and continued with Max Ernst’s Lop Lop, Bird Superior, Leonora Carrington’s horses, and Dorothea Tanning’s dogs. Even though Sage explores strong feelings of grief, mourning, and a desire for death in her poetry, she does so in the vital, earthy French slang she shared with Tanguy, from the time they met in Paris in 1938 through their move to rural Connecticut in 1941. Tinged with dark humor, the poems construct a vivid portrait of the painter-poet’s inner life as more populated with realistic beings outside of herself than the solitary vision of the world found in her austere, otherworldly paintings would suggest. The animals come in multiple guises: embedded in standard slang terminology, upon which she focuses astute bilingual attention, as ironic vehicles for biting commentary on human nature and the human life cycle, to more personal expressions of her fears about venturing into society, to comforting companions, and, finally, as direct stand-ins for herself. She depicts these animals with the same ironic humor with which she discloses herself. French and English idioms slip and collide, generating sparks of humor and insight. Even at her most morbid, a raucous liveliness shines through, exposing how very much alive in the world Sage remained until her death by suicide in January 1963.

avatar for Kate Conley

Kate Conley

William & Mary
I'm working now on surrealist collections, an outgrowth of my book on Surrealist Ghostliness (initially inspired by my book on Robert Desnos), and the poetry of Kay Sage, a continuation of my career-long dedication to women and surrealism.
avatar for Catriona McAra

Catriona McAra

University Curator, Leeds Arts University
avatar for Melanie Nicholson

Melanie Nicholson

Bard College


Kristoffer Noheden

Researcher, Stockholm University

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