Sensory Deprivation

Under the pretense of civilization and progress, we have managed to banish from the mind everything that may rightly or wrongly be termed superstition, or fancy; forbidden is any kind of search for truth which is not in conformance with accepted practices. It was, apparently, by pure chance that a part of our mental world which we pretended not to be concerned with any longer—and, in my opinion by far the most important part—has been brought back to light. For this we must give thanks to the discoveries of Sigmund Freud. On the basis of these discoveries a current of opinion is finally forming by means of which the human explorer will be able to carry his investigations much further, authorized as he will henceforth be not to confine himself solely to the most summary realities. The imagination is perhaps on the point of reasserting itself, of reclaiming its rights. If the depths of our mind contain within it strange forces capable of augmenting those on the surface, or of waging a victorious battle against them, there is every reason to seize them—first to seize them, then, if need be, to submit them to the control of our reason.

— André Breton, from the Manifesto of Surrealism


The Persistence of Memory: A Biography of Dali

Meredith Etherington-Smith

For those who slogged through any of Dali’s self-penned, self-invented autobiographical smokescreens, this is like a clear vista through winter air in which all of the edges of things are in sharp focus and the colors are crisp. The author is the European editor of Town and Country, and she understands the machinations of the rich and famous and how the art world really operates. Having gained access to numerous previously unavailable archives and unpublished letters, she has pieced together a realistic narrative of the strange and sometimes banal life of one of the world’s greatest self-promoters. We get a picture of Dali’s strained relation with his family that reached the breaking point when wife Gala took control.
Gala’s story is not a pretty one. She is painted here as a conniving, calculating, petty control freak who eventually held Dali a virtual prisoner in his studio, cranking out society portraits to support their increasingly extravagant lifestyle. By the end of his life, Dali had alienated everybody who should have mattered, and the credibility of his art was at serious risk. The author conveys a lurid story with an even hand. She closes with: “Beneath Dali’s posturing public figure is an artist who never ceased to explore his inner and outer worlds and their possibilities; a painter who never ceased in his endeavors to find a way that painting might advance and inspire in a century increasingly dominated by the abstract marvels of scientific discovery.” SA

Publisher: Da Capo
Paperback: 480 pages

Photographs by Man Ray: 105 Works

Man Ray

Man Ray’s best-known works from 1920 to 1934, some created by experimental means. Arriving in Paris in 1921 and with his artistic vision rooted in Dada and Surrealism, the American photographer experimented with various techniques such as shooting through different fabrics and superimposing images. In his own words, “the removal of inculcated modes of presentation, resulting in an apparent artificiality of strangeness, is a confirmation of the free functioning of this automatism and is to be welcomed.” DW

Publisher: Dover
Paperback: 128 pages

Revolution of the Mind: The Life of André Breton

Mark Polizzotti

Rightfully called the “pope” of Surrealism by his critics, André Breton controlled the movement with a strong hand. He was also one of the major figures of cultural life in the 20th century. One cannot imagine not having Breton to kick around in this world as he brought up major themes for this century—spiritualism, radical politics, psychology and the occult, and had the personality to gather a group of writers, poets and artists into the movement known as Surrealism. He was also an underrated poet and critic, and was witty in his critique of his culture. The reader learns that for such an outrageous, sexually minded artist, he was also a prude. Although he was one of the first to check out sexuality in a so-called scientific, objective matter, he was extremely homophobic and had a strong distaste for brothels. Breton demanded a “work ethic” yet banned the Surrealists from working day jobs. He suffered great financial burdens. Breton was a romantic who put his women on a pedestal… and, in the course of his many marriages, often left them there.
This biography by Mark Polizzotti (who also translated many of Breton’s works into English) captures Breton in his glory. There are also revealing glimpses of Tristan Tzara; Breton’s troubled relationship with his one-time best friend Louis Aragon (somewhat of a rat!); Antonin Artaud; Dali; and other greats in the movement against the rational. TB

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Hardback: 754 pages

The Secret Life of Salvador Dali

Salvador Dali

Early autobiography filled with flamboyance and lathered with self-praise from the master himself. Dali’s tongue runs on with lucidity for 400 pages. Humbling but also wearing, it will enlighten those who may believe Dali was only a painter. Exposes his brilliance not just as an artist but in his understanding of victimization and its shocking repercussions. OAA

Publisher: Dover
Paperback: 400 pages


Julien Levy

In 1931, the author opened the Julien Levy Gallery and a year later had the first Surrealist show in New York. In 1936, Levy’s Surrealism anthology introduced the movement to America’s readers and has been an enduring work. “Surrealism is not a rational, dogmatic and consequently static theory of art—hence from the Surrealist point of view, there can be no accurate definition or explanation. It is the purpose of this book to present such examples of Surrealism in illustration and translation—not to attempt a detailed explanation. It is only by familiarity with examples that one can reach that revolution in consciousness which is known as comprehension.” Surrealism deals with what Dali terms “the great vital constants” and attempts to explore the more-real-than-real world behind the Real. DW

Publisher: Da Capo
Paperback: 192 pages

Surrealism and the Occult: Shamanism, Magic, Alchemy, and the Birth of an Artistic Movement

Nadia Choucha

The first half of this book is a compelling look at the late-19th-century occult revival in France and how it influenced art and literature that became influential in the development of Surrealism. That the resurgence of ritual magic imagery influenced such people as Huysmans, Baudelaire, Moreau and Rops is undeniable, and the author initially promises the reader much. While there are some interesting observations on the Theosophical influences on Kandinsky and Mondrian, some of this occult “influence” becomes less direct as the books wears on. In the chapter on automatism, the author spends a good deal of time discussing Austin Osman Spare, declaring that while he did not influence Surrealism as he was unknown to the movement, his style of automatic drawing parallels their automatism. The argument is intriguing but not wholly convincing. Her discussion of Duchamp is also vague. The subject matter she continually returns to in the second half of the book—that of eroticism, the union of opposites and the androgyne—may have their sources in occult literature but also may not. She may well be on the mark with her analogies but sometimes fails to adequately support her arguments. MM

Publisher: Destiny
Paperback: 144 pages

Surrealist Games

Edited by Mel Gooding

By combining unrelated objects, thoughts, images and writings, surrealists create and find beauty—the more absurd and random the better. This book allows the reader to be a “hands-on” surrealist. An obvious must at parties—a functional, amusing and often humorous book on manipulating chance as an artform. DW

Publisher: Shambhala
Paperback: 165 pages

The Surrealist Parade: Literary History

Wayne Andrews

“Surrealism is a secret society that will introduce you to death.” Thus spake André Breton, the main focus of this easygoing and highly personal overview of the movement he is credited with founding. The author, who has written over 16 books on many topics (including a cultural history of Nazism called Siegfried’s Curse and, as Montague O’Reilly, the surrealist novels Pianos of Sympathy and Who’s Been Tampering With These Pianos?), knew most of his subjects personally, which makes for a lively read. Although he died before completing the last chapter, if that information weren’t right there on the back cover, no one would be the wiser. Besides an extremely detailed portrait of Breton, Andrews’ “little insider’s history of Surrealism” is a curious pastiche of what the afterword correctly labels “caustic yet admiring sketches” of all the major surrealists—Dali, Ernst, Eluard, Buñuel, Picabia, Roussel—”illuminating their achievements with choice examples of their eccentricities and obstinacies.” At 178 pages (including the afterword and index) it’s hardly a definitive reference source, but it’s not like there’s a shortage of that sort of thing in the literature of art history. Besides, as Voltaire once said, “To tell everything is to bore.” DB

Publisher: New Directions
Paperback: 178 pages

The Theater and Its Double

Antonin Artaud

A collection of manifestos originally published in 1938: “We cannot go on prostituting the idea of the theater, the only value of which is in its excruciating, magical relation to reality and danger.” He repudiates all literature written to be performed, wishing to destroy all forms of language and all social properties in order to bring life into the theater and transform actors and audiences into “victims burnt at the stake, signaling through the flames.”

Publisher: Grove
Paperback: 159 pages

To Have Done With the Judgement of God

Antonin Artaud

“Pour en finir avec le jugement de dieu, a work for radio by Artaud, recorded in several sessions in the broadcasting studios of the Radiodiffusion Française, between November 22 and 29, 1947, and immediately banned from the air, was to become as legendary as the famous conference he gave earlier that year at the Thèatre du Vieux Colombier… The banning of this work was the last great deception wreaked upon Artaud, who considered it ‘as at last a first rendering of the theater of cruelty.’”

Publisher: Sub Rosa
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