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Saturday, November 3 • 11:00am - 12:30pm
6.D. Mirror of Myth

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PANEL. Mirror of Myth

"Valentine Penrose, 
Mythologie de l’Ile et de Février : Myth and Surrealism"
Séverine Orban, PhD
College of Idaho
Valentine Penrose, born Boué, was a French poet, novelist and collagist who participated in the Surrealist Movement. However Penrose’s surrealism is found in a ‘beyond’ poetically clever –she is always on the search for the perfection and accuracy of words and symbols–, and mystical for her knowledge of the Unconscious is superior to Breton’s one. Mythologie de l’Ile et de Février is a minuscule theater play about a mythological dynasty based in Tenerife. This set of 18 poems published in 1962 in Metamorphoses, and forgotten since then, is remarkable by the complexity of its symbolic, by the use of a broad range of references from ancient mythology, chanson de gestes to astrology. In this conference, we wish to revisit the question of myth in the surrealist movement by looking, on the one hand, at Breton’s discourse on it and on the other hand by studying the actualization of the creation of a myth by Penrose. Mythologie de l’Ile et de Février is unique for it doesn’t base its content on a preexisting myth: it is sole an original creation. We hope to also challenge both Breton’s vision of myth and Penrose’s creation by confronting them with each other as well as with the greater discourse on myth and literature.

"Kurt Seligmann Through The Mirror of Magic"
Celia Rabinovitch

University of Manitoba
Kurt Seligmann Through The Mirror of Magic investigates how the Swiss American artist, Kurt Seligmann (1900-1962) created and combined themes from surrealism, his personal history, and occult research, and uncovers the hidden influence of Jewish mysticism and the Kabbala that informs his book The Mirror of Magic. After conducting ethnography among the Gitksan and Tsimshian peoples of British Columbia, feeling the impending pressure of fascism in Europe, Seligmann immigrated to the USA in 1939. The Mirror of Magic, (New York: Pantheon, 1948), entered the effervescent cultural mix that included Joseph Campbell, Wallace Stevens, Carl Gustav Jung, and others. Recently, Seligmann’s art has come to the fore, while his book remained constant in the history of religions. The Mirror of Magic (1948) prefigured writings by the great historian of religion, Mircea Eliade, whose Patterns in Comparative Religion was published ten years later, or Joseph Campbell’s Hero with a Thousand Faces, also published by Pantheon a year later, in 1949. These thinkers sought a primal or ur-myth – a “monomyth” behind all mythology. Seligmann was the only one of a generation of speculative thinkers on the sacred that pursued an active art practice, and he was understood how to make matter become metaphor. This paper shows how Seligmann’s magical pursuit in his art and writing arose from themes in Jewish mysticism that remained hidden from the surrealists and even from himself. The Mirror of Magic has continued in print for 70 years. This year an illustrated edition from Inner Traditions Press, is forthcoming (October, 2018).

"Estrangement and Myth in the Essays and Poetry of César Moro"
Josué Rodríguez
Rutgers University
The life and work of Peruvian Surrealist poet César Moro (1903-1956) reminds that the most productive artistic experimentation is often the result of seemingly insurmountable pressures. As Stefan Baciu writes, “It is hard to find an atmosphere more hostile and more closed to the avant-garde’s spirit of renewal in Latin America than the city of Lima [Peru] during the decades of Surrealism’s formation: the 20s and the 30s.” In Surrealism’s celebration of freedom, the hallucinatory, the erotic, and the international, Moro saw “the ideal language in which to articulate his own marginality or sense of invisibility.” In adopting French as his primary poetic language and promoting Surrealism across Latin America, his enthusiastic answer to the Surrealist call sought to enact a spiritual and physical escape from the stifling constraints of his contemporary Peruvian society. In this paper, I argue that Moro’s exploration of this exilic alienation amid a burgeoning network of artists in the early 20th century underscores the colonial tensions within the avant-garde discourses of Europe and Latin America. Specifically, while French director and poet Antonin Artaud’s “Theater of Cruelty” expresses a European fetishization of Latin America’s pre-modern, primitive landscapes and peoples as sites of magical, creative purity, Moro’s work celebrates the fraught, irrecoverable nature of these mythic origins in his critique of national identity. The construction of poetic belonging in essays like “Biografia Peruana” (1942) and poems, “A vista perdida,” (1938) and “Adresse aux trois règnes,” (1943) re-energizes what some call the ghost-like, posthumous presence of Surrealism in Latin America to bear the marks of modernity’s colonialist estrangements before creating new, utopic spaces of linguistic habitation.

avatar for Celia Rabinovitch

Celia Rabinovitch

artist, cultural historian, University of Manitoba
As an independent, I look to exhibit my painting in innovative themes and venues. I am open to speaking engagements and short form workshops. Collaborative partnerships that are direct and fun on content we love. My current interests are on art and the sacred, and the uncanny in... Read More →

Josué Rodríguez

Rutgers University


Ilene Fort

Curator Emerita of American, Los Angeles County Museum of Art

Saturday November 3, 2018 11:00am - 12:30pm EDT
Room D. Bertrand Library: Traditional Reading Room (second floor)