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


Un Chien Andalou

Luis Buñuel and Salvador Dali

No image is more closely identified with Surrealist film than the opening scene of Un Chien Andalou—a young woman sits calmly while a man slices her eyeball open with a straight razor. Although it is technologically primitive, not to mention silent, Un Chien Andalou remains an enigmatic landmark in the history of cinema, as radical today as when it was released, in 1929. A collaboration between upstart Spaniards Salvador Dali and Luis Buñuel, the film was quickly if grudgingly accepted by the notoriously fickle Surrealist group, mainly due to André Breton’s enthusiasm. Public reaction was mixed, although Buñuel, in 1929, attacked “those spectators who, recuperating the film as ‘beautiful’ or ‘poetic,’ overlooked its true intention as a ‘desperate and passionate appeal to murder.’” DB

Publisher: Faber and Faber
Paperback: 38 pages

Une Semaine de Bonté: A Surrealistic Novel in Collage

Max Ernst

Eroticism and tragedy are the prevailing moods in this collage “novel” (all images, no text) by Max Ernst. Ernst was one of the founders of Dada in Zurich (he later became a Surrealist) and is recognized as one of the greatest of collage artists. A vague storyline emerges as page after page of bizarre imagery display many levels of emotion and angst through collage. The book, whose title means “week of kindness,” has seven chapters (one for every day of the week), each with a loose theme. The publisher suggests that Paul Eluard’s first “visible poem” could be the motto for the entire book: “I object to the love of readymade images in place of images to be made.” DW

Publisher: Dover
Paperback: 208 pages

Watchfiends and Rack Screams: Works From the Final Period

Antonin Artaud

This is the first English-language book of the writings of Antonin Artaud during the period from his institutionalization in the insane asylum in Rodez until his death near Paris in 1948. Translator Clayton Eshelman has also written an illuminating biographical sketch of Artaud, especially in his final years when these incantatory words excerpted from Artaud’s banned radio broadcast, “To Have Done with the Judgement of God” were written.

Publisher: Exact Change
Paperback: 342 pages

What Is Surrealism? Selected Writings

André Breton

“Contrary to prevalent misdefinitions, Surrealism is not an aesthetic doctrine, nor a philosophical system, nor a mere literary or artistic school. It is an unrelenting revolt against a civilization that reduces all human aspirations to market values, religious impostures, universal boredom and misery.” This collection of writing and manifestos by Breton continues to be one of the most thorough introductions to Breton and Surrealism, outlining the basic tenets, history and influencing factors of the movement. The book presents his work in chronological order, and includes a selection of documents and writings. The reader gains not only a sense of Breton and his significance in the spread of Surrealism, but also gains some familiarity with his fellow artists and writers; how alchemy, Freud and Hegel influenced Breton; how he employed unusual creative techniques such as automatic writing; but most of all how Surrealism is a way of viewing the universe rather than just another “ism.” MM

Publisher: Pathfinder
Paperback: 557 pages

Yes No

Francis Picabia

Hanuman Books are sweet strawberries covered in the most delicious creamy chocolate in the feast of literature. They are petite and firm, exotic and very, very sexy little items, guaranteed to add secret glamor and sophisticated depth to even the most shallow of pockets. Yes No, by “dadaist” and painter Francis Picabia, is 47 discerning, midget pages of evanescent aphorisms. Gems of cynicism, melancholy observation and caustic comment worthy of any aspiring, or asp-like, queen’s tiara of wit. The brief messages, warnings and considerations are drawn from his journals and notebooks dating from 1939 through 1957.
“Beauty is relative to the amount of interest it arouses”—Picabia
This is an anthology from the revered lineage that includes the dandyish sublimity of Oscar Wilde; the fastidious camp of Quentin Crisp, or even the more obscure English Edwardians like James Bertram and F. Russell, whose Victorian misogyny and skepticism were illustrated more exquisitely than the “corpse” itself by Austin Osman Spare in The Starlit Mire. Yes, aphorisms are a justly grand tradition of which one can only approve, given that one is a reasonable person. And—in this age of advertising slogans and soundbites, bumper stickers and designer corporate logos as street fashion—a reminder of the priceless art of word games, the contradiction, collision and collusion in fresh revelation “to see what they really say,” as Brion Gysin so prophetically indicated in his cut-ups.
“Art is the cult of error”—Picabia
We are to savor the menu of resident connoisseur Picabia’s palette of human tinctures and emotional flavors. As you have rightly guessed, dear reader, all is artifice, contrivance, and bouquet.
“Serious people have a slight odor of carrion”—Picabia
Yes No is sublime evidence for one of the essential conclusions of any intelligent 20th century culture: that “art” has been distilled repeatedly and thoroughly until it may quite rightly be perceived and defined as an attitude of and to Life (yes, complete with an “if” right there in the middle).
“Many artists devote their time to their painting, I ask myself why are these people so fond of bad company?”—Picabia
There are strong arguments to suggest that “art” is merely an expression of a neurosis given space in our personae by the luxury of free time thanks to the advent of tools, technology and overt or covert economic systems of slavery and privilege. “Art” has no biological source, no survival imperative. What was once a “craft” for making functional and magical “things” is now a dubious and unnecessary postexistentialist requirement of taste. Nothing more than that. Just an obsolete but amusing symbol of a fantasy of neurological superiority.
“Art is a pharmaceutical product for idiots.”—Picabia
By the way, don’t worry if the word “art” never enters your vocabulary! This simply means that you are extremely culturally healthy, and/or blissfully and justifiably elsewhere. So, at that next soiree, or opening, or dreadfully dull social occasion, nip into the bathroom, sneak out your well-worn copy of Yes No and just try substituting any old power word or enemy’s name for that tired old word “art” and you will be surprised at the good time you shall have. GPO

Publisher: Hanuman
Paperback: 57 pages