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Saturday, November 3 • 11:00am - 12:30pm
6.B. Beyond the Human

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PANEL. Beyond the Human

“L’homme n’est peut-être pas le centre de l’univers: Surrealism and Abhumanism"
Iveta Slavkova
American University of Paris

L’Ouvre-boîte. Colloque abhumaniste was published in 1952 by Jacques Audiberti and Camille Bryen. The first already had notoriety as a playwright and critic; the second, an abstract painter and poet, was one of the emblematic characters of the bohemian Saint-Germain-des-Prés. Their biting humor and irony cast into question the most cherished values, including humanism—hence “ab-humanism”—and sought a realistic approach to the insufficiencies of men, revealed so painfully by two World Wars within 20 years, in the heart of the civilization. My paper intends to study the strong intellectual convergence between abhumanism and surrealism. Audiberti knew the Surrealists and shared some of their ideas; Bryen was a former Dada Paris member and had regular contacts with the diverse surrealist groups; the same is true of the German artist Wols, whom the authors of L’Ouvre-boîte called the “ab-homme par excellence”. Both Bryen and Wols were in Marseilles in the same time as the Surrealists, looking for possibilities for exile. I will argue that the doubt in humanism fostered by ab-humanism prolongs the surrealist exploration of the splitting of the modern self which shattered the proudly integral humanist subject, and above all, reiterated the fact that “man is perhaps not the center of the universe” (as Breton wrote in the Prolégomènes à un troisième manifeste ou non, 1942). The visual works by Wols and Bryen, but also the completely unknown drawings of Audiberti, as well as excerpts from Ouvre-boîte and other texts, will lead us into the disillusioned, yet so vitalistic exploration of what Breton called, also in 1952, the “inepcy of Western civilization.” To my mind, this particular aspect of Surrealism, shared by ab-humanism, offers new approaches to the history of the avant-garde (globally and in post-war Paris) and has great relevance in the context of post-humanist theories.

“Photographs of Thought: Surrealism, Animal Magnetism, and the Prehuman Unconscious”
Kristoffer Noheden
Stockholm University

In his 1921 essay “Max Ernst,” André Breton defines the practice of automatic writing as “a veritable photography of thought.” Seguing into a discussion of the changes brought to painting and life by the invention of photography and film, this early definition of automatism is predicated on a convergence of the occult, optical media, and mind. The notion of photographs of thought is an allusion to experiments enacted around the turn of the century, which sought to capture thoughts on photographic plates. Louis Darget’s “thoughtography” was frequently discussed and reproduced in journals such as Les Annales sciences psychiques, which Breton read. The idea that thought can be photographed was, in turn, indebted to Franz Anton Mesmer’s experiments with animal magnetism and his purported discovery of a “vital fluid,” assumed to permeate human beings as well as animals, vegetables, and minerals; while invisible to the unaided eye, Darget believed that this fluid could be captured by optical media. In this paper, I argue that Breton’s allusions to Mesmer, in “Max Ernst” and elsewhere, challenge the Freudian notion of the unconscious as an exclusive feature of human interiority. As invoked by Breton, Mesmer’s vital fluid suggests that the unconscious is a general feature of the world, distributed among living beings and matter alike. The paper, then, will argue that for surrealism, the unconscious is ultimately anterior to humanity. As a prehuman phenomenon, the unconscious extends Breton’s belief in its egalitarian capacity beyond the human, and points to a foundational anti-anthropocentrism in surrealism.

Claire Howard
The University of Texas at Austin

The Enchanters’ Domain: Magic Art in New York, 1960
As thematic inspiration for the Surrealists’ first U.S. exhibition since their wartime exile, 1960’s Surrealist Intrusion in the Enchanters’ Domain in New York, José Pierre suggested Paul Gauguin’s painting, Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going? This paper uses Pierre’s proposal to better understand Surrealist Intrusion’s investigation of the movement’s intertwined past and present aesthetic and philosophical concerns. Focusing on Pierre’s thematization of Gauguin’s Tahitian fantasy and Surrealist Intrusion’s presentation of Pacific Island and Northwest Coast art alongside that of historic and contemporary Surrealists will reveal the centrality of André Breton and Benjamin Péret’s recent pancultural surveys of “magic art” and myth to the conception of the exhibition. Breton and Péret’s texts not only informed the positioning of works from Melanesia, Polynesia, and British Columbia in Surrealist Intrusion but were key to the anti-formalist artistic lineages the exhibition proposed. The exhibition catalogue’s essays by Pierre and Edouard Jaguer emphasize the legacy of Surrealist automatism in gestural abstraction obscured by formalist models that had dominated art criticism and exhibitions in the decade since the Surrealists’ wartime exile. Surrealist Intrusion therefore specifically addressed its New York audience as it asserted an alternative art historical model: in the Enchanters’ Domain, Breton and Péret’s notions of magic art and myth linked Surrealism, gestural abstraction, and ritual objects in the attempt to render visible interior states.

Speakers
avatar for Claire Howard

Claire Howard

Blanton Museum of Art, The University of Texas at Austin
KN

Kristoffer Noheden

Researcher, Stockholm University
IS

Iveta Slavkova

American University of Paris

Chairs
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.


Saturday November 3, 2018 11:00am - 12:30pm
Room B. Hildreth-Mirza Hall: Humanities Lab (lower level)