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Saturday, November 3 • 4:00pm - 5:30pm
8.A. Traumatic Images

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PANEL. Traumatic Images

“Surrealism, War and Camouflage”
Samantha Kavky
Pennsylvania State University, Berks

In 1942, André Breton insisted that “surrealism can be understood historically only in relation to the war… in relation at the same time to the war from which it issues and the war to which it extends.” Rhetorically collapsing both World Wars into one, Breton positions them not simply as historical brackets, but as internal and integral to surrealism itself. This can be demonstrated by looking at the function of mimetic performance and camouflage within surrealist visual practice. In response to World War I, as the nascent surrealists sought to mimic various forms of mental derangement as a form of political challenge, they granted a privileged position to hysterical mimicry for its ability to contest medical and military authority. In the techniques and images of visual artists such as Max Ernst and writings such as those of Roger Caillois, mimeticism, associated with simulation, paralysis, hysteria, and neurasthenia, poses a subversive counter to military aggression. Caillois diverges from the authority of evolutionary biology, claiming that mimetic animals exhibit a type of death drive rather than a will to survive. With this history, it is rather surprising that several artists associated with surrealism worked in military camouflage units or taught courses on camouflage during the Second World War: Roland Penrose, Stanley William Hayter, Arshile Gorky. In this paper I will look more closely at this generational shift and at camouflage as quintessentially surrealist in its ability to collapse oppositions such as: figure/ground, active/passive and visible/invisible.

"The Surrealism of Trauma"
Harold Schweizer
Bucknell University

André Breton’s interest in surrealist writing originated in his extensive exposure to trauma as a medical student (esp. of neuropathology) and as stretcher bearer during WWI. Similarly, in a recent article in Brain: A Journal of Neurology, Apollinaire is said to have attributed Chirico’s first paintings to “the influence of cenesthetic disorder (migraine, colic, etc.).” While the relationship between surrealism and trauma has traceable historical and biographical dimensions, I would like to examine, more conceptually, what Maurice Blanchot in his essay on surrealism has called “an experience of that which does not obey the reigning order of experience.” Concepts such as immediacy, disruption, arbitrariness, gratuitousness, otherness, surprise—all unmasterable—are common to surrealism and trauma. But far more ominously, the intense, pure passion of the surrealist’s “disinterested play,” as Blanchot puts it, is suffered by the traumatized in body and spirit. For the traumatized, the Kantian aesthetic of disinterested play, overtly echoed in Blanchot’s wording, is endured as a dreadful, fated necessity. Are these merely differences of intensity? Is the surrealist not also visited, also fated, does she not also write by necessity? If so, then surrealism and trauma have similar Kantian phenomenologies; then surrealism articulates an experience otherwise suffered in the traumatized’s mute material body; then trauma epitomizes the gravitas of surrealist practice. I will elucidate these questions and speculations as they resonate in contemporary poems— necessarily surreal—on the war in Syria and the European refugee crisis.

"Dreams of Anarchy and the Anarchy of Dreams"
Ron Sakolsky
University of Illinois at Springfield

Throughout its history, the surrealist movement has had a passional attraction to revolution. When examining the historical connections between surrealists/surrealism and anarchists/anarchism, it is clear that their mutually subversive dreams of the impossible have repeatedly interacted in ways that have fruitfully critiqued and informed one another from the early part of the twentieth century to the present day. However, art historians have typically associated the radical politics of surrealism with Marxism, and that affiliation is often contrasted to dada which is usually paired with anarchism. Instead of accepting this conventional dichotomy, my research seeks to highlight the many affinities and intersections between the ideas and practices of anarchy and surrealism. In addition to the surrealist movement's well-known but unhappy and short-lived relationship with the Communist Party, there has always been an ongoing relationship between surrealism and both individualist and communitarian forms of anarchy. Each of the latter have in their own ways disrupted a singularly Marxist trajectory for the surrealist movement and heretically questioned the authoritarian Stalinist dogma of the Communist Party, particularly in relation to its stated cultural policy of "socialist realism” and its active suppression of the anarchist revolution in Spain during the Spanish Civil War because anarchy was perceived to be a threat to the Party's revolutionary hegemony on the world stage. Eventually the surrealist movement would endorse a proposal for an anarchist regime of individual freedom in the sphere of intellectual creation as enshrined in the Mexican Manifesto of 1938 which was co-authored by André Breton and the exiled Leon Trotsky. In the political realm, the Manifesto was couched in the provisional acceptance of a “dictatorship of the proletariat” in the form of a state headed by Trotsky that would supposedly wither away in due course. However, in the postwar years, Breton would disassociate himself from Trotsky citing the latter's brutal crushing of the Kronstadt uprising by the Red Army under his command in the early days of the Russian Revolution as an "indelible stain” on statist revolutionary aspirations. In the early Fifties, Breton would go on to declare himself to be an anarchist in his “Tower of Light” essay published in Le Libertaire as the Paris Surrealist Group became directly involved with the French Anarchist Federation for a time. In the next decade, with the anti-authoritarian upheavals of 1968 in Paris, Chicago and Prague, as well as in regard to the turn-of-the-century global justice movement in Seattle and elsewhere, and in relation to the twenty-first century’s diverse "movement of the squares"; surrealists with anarchist proclivities have actively participated in their capacity as “specialists in revolt."


Samantha Kavky

Pennsylvania State University, Berks

Ron Sakolsky

North American Anarchist Studies Network (NAASN)

Harold Schweizer

Professor of English, Bucknell University

avatar for Christina Heflin

Christina Heflin

PhD Candidate, Royal Holloway University of London

Saturday November 3, 2018 4:00pm - 5:30pm EDT
Room A. Hildreth-Mirza Hall: Great Room Annex (ground floor)