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Surrealism, History and Revolution

Simon Baker

This book is a new account of the surrealist movement in France between the two world wars. It examines the uses that surrealist artists and writers made of ideas and images associated with the French Revolution, describing a complex relationship between surrealism’s avant-garde revolt and its powerful sense of history and heritage. Focusing on both texts and images by key figures such as Louis Aragon, Georges Bataille, Jacques-André Boiffard, André Breton, Robert Desnos, Max Ernst, Max Morise, and Man Ray, this book situates surrealist material in the wider context of the literary and visual arts of the period through the theme of revolution. It raises important questions about the politics of representing French history, literary and political memorial spaces, monumental representations of the past and critical responses to them, imaginary portraiture and revolutionary spectatorship. The study shows that a full understanding of surrealism requires a detailed account of its attitude to revolution, and that understanding this surrealist concept of revolution means accounting for the complex historical imagination at its heart.

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Chapter Four - Statuephobia! Surrealism and iconoclasm in the Bronze Age 147

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147 Chapter Four Statuophobia! Surrealism and iconoclasm in the Bronze Age Part One When bronze was like ink… The introduction to Louis Aragon’s 1928 Treatise on Style is subtitled ‘The Fate of La Fontaine’ and contains a shooting gallery within which the author permits himself the pleasure of carefully arranging his targets. After an initial cautionary tale equating literature and excrement, which warns of letting such ‘eminently French matter slip through our fingers’, Aragon proceeds with a strategy which he perfected in his surrealist texts: the systematic reduction of his subject matter to its lowest common denominator. 1 The ‘treatise’, however, goes much further than the author’s previous attacks on bourgeois taste, and as the title suggests, contains in its very style, incontrovertible proof of its efficacy. It is the way Aragon makes his case that raises the argument above petty questions concerning the legitimacy of examples, or the difference between right and wrong. Within this highly seductive text, people and things cease to be themselves, borrowing a little from André Breton’s liken- ing of people to their attributes through surrealism; Swift (for ex- ample) is ‘surrealist in malice’. 2 Aragon, however, has no intention of singling out qualities or attributes, insisting instead upon a base matter to which all literary substance eventually reverts. This ‘dung’, as he calls it, will be dealt with by an ever present, pan-historical race of stableboys: 1 L. Aragon, Treatise on Style, trans. A. Waters, Nebraska, 1991, pp.7–10. 2 A. Breton, ‘First Manifesto...

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