Leonora Carrington, “Green Tea (La Dame Ovale),” 1942
Natalya Lusty takes on three major and somewhat disparate topics in her book Surrealism, Feminism, Psychoanalysis. However, she brilliantly ties them together through their very disparateness: as a marginal movement (or at least that is how it was regarded/it regarded itself during the throes of Modernism), Surrealism positioned itself to examine other areas of marginality, i.e. the people outside of the bourgeoisie. Politically, feminism was originally a marginal movement and prided itself on being on the outside, as being in such a position allowed a more thorough critique of the (masculine) “norm.” Psychoanalysis, while at the heart of Surrealism, did not necessarily “jibe” with Surrealism (Freud once expressed to Andre Breton that he did not get what the genre wanted), and Surrealism’s tie to psychoanalysis was often tenuous. According to Lusty, “… Surrealism found in psychoanalysis a model on which to develop a theory of creative bound up in the mystery of unconscious desires and associations, a move which sealed the trope of the enigmatic woman as its most potent erotic symbol” (13). Unsurprisingly, feminism outright rejected psychoanalysis. So how does she tie everything together? She looks through the lenses of social and artistic inquiry to find common themes such as violence, parody, and transgression. It is through the tension between these areas that we see their relationships and how they analyze one another.
The book does not limit itself just to the years in which Surrealism was predominant, but rather spans the line dividing Modern and Contemporary art, which inevitably highlights the on-going feminist debates. Lusty spans her arguments from Leonora Carrington (1917-2011) to Cindy Sherman (1954- ), and though feminism did not officially exist when Carrington was creating much of her work, Lusty declares Carrington’s book The Hearing Trumpet as a precursor to feminist revisionist literature. Sherman’s work, which is believed to contain Surrealist overtones and references, has been both admired and chastised by feminist scholars for its treatment (objectification?) of the female body. I did not spend too much time reading about Sherman, as she is outside my area of study. I also did not spend too much time on her discussion of Claude Cahun’s photographic work. I instead focused on Lusty’s chapters comparing The Hearing Trumpet to our favorite work by Georges Bataille, Story of the Eye; I also looked at her analysis of psychoanalyst Joan Riviere’s essay, “Womanliness as a Masquerade,” to Carrington’s story, “The Debutante.” Continue reading
But as of then, no doubt existed for me: I did not care for what is known as “pleasures of the flesh” because they are really insipid; I cared only for what is classified as “dirty.” On the other hand, I was not even satisfied with the usual debauchery, because the only thing it dirties is debauchery itself, while, in some way or other, anything sublime and perfectly pure is left intact by it. My kind of debauchery soils not only my body and my thoughts, but also anything I may conceive in its course, that is to say , the vast starry universe, which merely serves as a backdrop. (49)
When my proctor for the major portion of my comps suggested that one of my possible comps questions could be a comparison between Andre Breton’s Nadja and Georges Bataille’s Story of the Eye (which was published under the pseudonym Lord Auch), I was like “Far out! How cool would it be to compare two Surrealist love stories?” I liked Nadja quite a bit, after all. I naively did not look more into Story of the Eye, I just ordered the book and picked it upat the library. Even more naively: I didn’t read the back of the book. I didn’t even think that it would be that different from Nadja: I imagined that it would have a disjointed narrative and be rather misogynistic. Now, I am a grown-up– a grad school grown-up, mind you, which means that I take everything with a grain of salt– but if this book is read as a narrative and a piece of literature, there are only four words I can say: assault on the senses. I have not read anything by the Marquis de Sade (though I did see “Quills”), but if one reads Story of the Eye literally, I can say with absolute confidence that one will find this to be one of the most depraved things ever written. Ever. Most of the prose is so foul that I cannot quote much here lest I risk having the post taken down due to inappropriate content; I can’t even reproduce a summary for the exact same reason. Just look up Story of the Eye on Wikipedia; it also goes into the perverse symbolism behind the pseudonym Lord Auch, which is unsurprisingly almost as debauched as the novel itself.
Being the responsible student that I am, I looked up some scholarly analyses of the book to try to take the edge off. I am going to need to pick up Roland Barthes’ Critical Essays because it has “Metaphor of the Eye,” one of the first investigations into Story of the Eye (shockingly, it took almost 40 years for anyone to actually regard it as anything other than pure porn). Though I have not read “Metaphor” in its entirety yet, I have been able to find some good summaries for my blogging purposes. I’m also going to need Styles of Radical Will, which features Susan Sontag’s essay “The Pornographic Imagination,” and Michel Foucault’s Bataille: A Critical Reader. There is a surprising amount of symbolism amongst all of the kinkiness involving eggs, eyes, and certain bodily fluids. The book is also (very indirectly) something of an autobiography of Bataille’s own life experiences. These factors made the reading of Story of the Eye somewhat less painful.
A “self-portrait” of Nadja
Andre? Andre? … You will write a novel about me. I’m sure you will. Don’t say you won’t. Be careful: everything fades, everything vanishes. Something must remain of us… (100)
Andre Breton may be many things– hyper-masculine, self-absorbed, controlling, and a bit of a womanizer– but the following must be conceded: he is a beautiful writer. The best contemporary comparative description I have for his writing style is “cinematic”: in his sequences in which he is walking around Paris, you are full of feeling and almost forget that you are reading words. It is almost as though you are with him and are drinking in the sights and sounds of 1926 Paris. I was irresistibly reminded of how I feel when I watch “Amelie,” with its warm colors, intriguing characters, and quirky situations. But I digress.
Nadja is somewhere between an autobiography and historical fiction with a hint of magical realism. It is first and foremost a love story, but the big question is whom the object of affection is. The simple answer is the titular character, Nadja, a beautiful and intriguing woman whom Breton (writing both as the narrator and playing a main character) becomes obsessively infatuated with for 10 days. However, Nadja is full of many Surrealist ideas, thus raising the question if she is Surrealism itself. When Breton first meets her, he asks, “Who are you?” to which she answers, “I am the soul in limbo.” Nadja lives by intuition and sees the world differently than even Breton, who is arguably logical and reliant on reality (and if you’ve read the First Manifesto of Surrealism, you know that “reality” represents everything that is wrong with people. Lots of irony right there). The two contradictory ways of thinking lend to an interesting revelation about Breton himself, whom the book REALLY is about, making Nadja more of a secondary character and a conduit to the author/character’s own self-knowledge (of which he is both welcoming and terrified). Continue reading