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Against Repression

Surrealism, Sublimation and the Recuperation of Desire

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Klem James

Surrealism has been criticised for having been too steeped in idealism and poetry to have been an effective force for political and personal emancipation in the early twentieth century. The movement, its detractors claim, was conservative in outlook, denying the sexual and material poles of existence, and preferring sublimation over the direct expression of (and engagement with) base desire. These arguments are carefully re-examined and re-evaluated in this book, which focuses on the movement’s artistic and political activities of the late 1930s, 1940s and beyond.

The book reveals how a more transgressive strand of Surrealist art and thought emerged in France in this period, a strand that is underpinned by an increasing openness to sexual alterity. Surrealist works from this time are considered in terms of their more subversive aspect and shown not only to validate erotic desire but also to challenge the certainties (socio-political, personal) of their audience. Surrealist art and literature are thus presented as actively countering the repressive effects of a socially conservative France, aspiring not only to be at the vanguard of social change but of a change of consciousness in society.

CONTENTS: Introduction: Sublimation/Desublimation: A Question of Definition – Tel Quel Critiques of Surrealism: Idealist, Sublimatory and Repressive – The Breton-Bataille Polemic Revisited – Breton’s Non-Repressive View of Sublimation and Art – Surrealism’s Inner Alchemy: Perturbing the Senses, Awakening the Spirit – The Surrealist Cult of Love: Extolling the Forbidden Fruit.