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Sister to the dream : the surrealist object between art and politics Harris, John Steven 1997

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SISTER T O T H E D R E A M : T H E S U R R E A L I S T OBJECT B E T W E E N A R T A N D POLITICS by JOHN STEVEN HARRIS B . A . , The University of British Columbia, 1980 M . . A . , The University of British Columbia, 1985 A THESIS S U B M I T T E D IN P A R T I A L F U L F I L L M E N T OF T H E REQUIREMENTS FOR THE D E G R E E OF DOCTOR OF PHILOSOPHY in T H E F A C U L T Y OF G R A D U A T E STUDIES (Department of Fine Arts) We accept this thesis as conforming to the required standard  T H E U N I V E R S I T Y OF BRITISH C O L U M B I A A p r i l 1997 © John Steven Harris, 1997  In presenting this thesis in partial fulfilment of the requirements for an advanced degree at the University of British Columbia, I agree that the Library shall make it freely available for reference and study. I further agree that permission for extensive copying of this thesis for scholarly purposes may be granted by the head of my department  or  by  his  or  her  representatives.  It  is  understood  that  copying  or  publication of this thesis for financial gain shall not be allowed without my written permission.  Department of F i n e  Arts  The University of British Columbia Vancouver, Canada Date  DE-6  (2/88)  1*  yU^^.  11  Abstract  M y dissertation examines the role played by the surrealist object in the avant-garde strategies of the French surrealist group, in the difficult political circumstances of the 1930s. In my reading, the surrealist object is located in a critical relation to modern art; it depends on the invention of collage for its own realization, but it also attempts to supersede modernism through an act of desublimation, the return of art to its sexual origins. A n understanding of this critical relation is established through Peter Burger's Theory of the Avant-Garde,  through the use of psychoanalytic theory, and through an understanding of the  difference between Kantian and Hegelian aesthetics. The object's invention in 1931 is then related to the cultural debates occurring on the revolutionary left in France and the Soviet Union. The surrealists wish to achieve an alliance with the Parti Communiste Francais, but avoid the politicization of the cultural field undertaken by the Communists in both countries. They answer the demand for the politicization of art with the supersession of art, for which the object provides a model. In the 1930s, the surrealists develop the notion of a revolutionary science that would forge a relation between action and interpretation. They attempt to indicate such a relation in a number of experimental texts, taking unconscious thought as the object of their investigation. A s a central category of their reflection in this period, the surrealist objects are often given as extra-aesthetic examples of such thought in physical form. The rise of the Popular Front and the move of the P . C . F . towards a reformist politics presented a crisis for the surrealist movement. A number of surrealists, like Tristan Tzara, Rene Char and Roger Caillois, split with their group in order to work with the Popular Front, while the larger part of the surrealist group broke with the P . C . F . and the Soviet Union. The break with Stalinism led the surrealists to the point of an alliance with the modern art they had once claimed to supersede; from now on, interpretation would be  preserved, at the expense of action. The surrealist object, which had exemplified the relation between action and interpretation, begins to recede from view after 1936, as the avant-garde project that had brought it into being became increasingly difficult to sustain.  iv  Table of Contents  Abstract  ii  Table of Contents  iv  List of Figures  v  Acknowledgements  xi  Introduction Chapter One L'Au-dela  1 de la peinture  Chapter T w o L'En-dega de la politique  32 72  Chapter Three A Delay in Glass  129  Chapter Four Avant-Garde and Front Populaire  205  Chapter Five Beware of Domestic Objects: Vocation and Equivocation in 1936  250  Conclusion  301  Figures  319  Bibliography  360  V  List of Figures  Fig. 1  Gant defemme, n.d. Bronze 3 x 22 x 11 cm Private collection, Paris (Photo: Andre Breton: La beaute convulsive, p. 277)  319  Fig. 2  Objet cylindrique (courbe de population), n.d. Plaster 34.5 x 17 x 9 cm Private collection, Paris (Photo: Andre Breton: La beaute convulsive, p. 277)  319  Fig. 3  Alberto Giacometti, Boule suspendue, 1930 W o o d and metal 60.5 x 36.5 x 34 cm Private collection, Paris (Photo: Andre Breton: La beaute convulsive, p. 287)  320  Fig. 4  Marcel N o l l , Andre Breton, and M a x Morise, Cadavre exquis, 1927 Graphite and crayon 22 x 16.5 cm Musee national d'art moderne, Paris (Reproduced in La Revolution surrealiste, nos. 9-10 [Octobre 1927], p. 44)  321  Fig. 5  Objects by Gala Eluard and Andre Breton (Reproduced in Le Surrealisme au service de la Revolution, no. 3 [Decembre 1931], n.p. [p. 41])  322  Fig. 6  Objects by Valentine Hugo and Salvador D a l i (Reproduced in Le Surrealisme au service de la Revolution, no. 3 [Decembre 1931], n.p. [p. 42])  323  Fig. 7  Valentine Hugo, Objet, 1931 Assemblage 32.5 x 23 x 9.5 cm Private collection, Paris (Photo: Andre Breton: La beaute convulsive, p. 284)  324  Fig. 8  Andre Breton, Objet, 1931 Assemblage 31.5 x 41.5 x 29 cm Collection Jean-Jacques Lebel, Paris (Photo: Jose Pierre, L'Univers surrealiste, p. 183)  325  Fig. 9  Salvador D a l i , Objet, 1931/1974 Assemblage 48 x 24 x 14 c m Collection M a x Clarac-Serou, Paris (Photo: Andre Breton: La beaute convulsive, p. 285)  326  VI  F i g . 10  Joan M i r o , Objet, 1932 Painted stone, shell, wood, mirror and sequins 25 x 56 cm Philadelphia Museum of A r t (Photo: Carolyn Lanchner, Joan Miro, p. 183)  327  F i g . 11  Salvador D a l i , Backer, 1930 Pencil, india ink and watercolour 1 1 x 1 1 cm Collection L u i g i Campi, Turin (Photo: Robert Descharnes, Salvador Dali, p. 98)  328  F i g . 12  A VExposition La Verite sur les colonies (Reproduced in Le Surrealisme au service de la Revolution, no. 4 [Decembre 1931], n.p. [p. 40])  329  F i g . 13  Meret Oppenheim, Dejeuner en fourrure, 1936 Fur-covered cup, saucer and spoon Museum of Modern Art, N e w Y o r k (Photo: Fer, Batchelor and W o o d , Realism, Rationalism, Surrealism, p. 175)  330  F i g . 14  M a n Ray, De la hauteur d'un petit Soulierfaisant corps avec elle, 1934 (Photo: Krauss and Livingston, L'Amourfou, p. 3)  331  F i g . 15  L'Image, telle qu'elle seproduitdans I'ecriture automatique (Reproduced in Minotaure, no. 5 [Mai 1934], p. 10)  332  F i g . 16  M a n Ray, Beau comme la rencontre fortuite, sur une table de dissection, d'une machine a coudre et d'un parapluie, 1933 (Reproduced in Minotaure, nos. 3-4 [Decembre 1933], p. 101)  333  F i g . 17  Jean-Francois Millet, L'Angelus, 1857-59 O i l on canvas 55.5 x 66 cm Musee d'Orsay, Paris (Photo: Robert Rosenblum, Paintings in the Musee d'Orsay, p. 95)  334  F i g . 18  Glass found at Saint-Pierre, Martinique, after the eruption of Mont Pile, 1902 Museum d'Ffistoire Naturelle, Paris (Reproduced in Cahiers d'Art, nos. 1-2 [Mai 1936], p. 48)  335  F i g . 19  Objet trouve, found by Leonor Fini (Reproduced in Cahiers d'Art, nos. 1-2 [Mai 1936], p. 52)  336  vii F i g . 20  Tabernacle, object found by Yves Tanguy (Reproduced in Cahiers a"Art, nos. 1-2 [Mai 1936], p. 50)  337  F i g . 21  Oscar Dominguez, Fauteuil, 1937 Upholstered wheelbarrow Photograph by M a n Ray (Reproduced in Minotaure, no. 10 [Hiver 1937], p. 44)  338  F i g . 22  Wolfgang Paalen, Nuage articule, 1938 Moderna Museet, Stockholm (Photo: Pierre, L'Univers surrealiste, p. 182)  339  F i g . 23  Kurt Seligmann, Ultra-Meuble, 1938 Object destroyed in 1949 Photograph by Denise Bellon (Photo: La Femme et le Surrealisme, p. 371)  340  Fig. 24  Claude Cahun, Objet, 1936 Assemblage 14 x 16.5 x 9.5 cm Zabriskie Gallery, New Y o r k (Photo: Sidra Stich, Anxious Visions, p. 32)  341  F i g . 25  M a n Ray, frontispiece to Minotaure nos. 3-4 (Decembre 1933)  342  Fig. 26  M a n Ray, untitled photograph, 1933 (Photo: Man Ray Photographs, p. 133)  343  F i g . 27  Exposition surrealiste d'objets, Galerie Charles Ratton, Paris, M a y 1936 (Photo: La Vie publique de Salvador Dali, p. 56)  344  Fig. 28  Cahiers d'Art, nos. 1-2 (Mai 1936), p. 58  345  F i g . 29  Jacqueline Lamba and Andre Breton, Le petit mimetique, 1936 Assemblage 13 x 10 x 6 c m Private collection, Paris (Photo: Andre Breton: La beaute convulsive, p. 299)  346  F i g . 30  Salvador D a l i , Communication: Visage paranoi'aque (Reproduced in Le Surrealisme au service de la Revolution, no. 3 [Decembre 1931], n.p. [p. 40])  347  F i g . 31  Salvador D a l i , Dormeuse, cheval, lion invisibles, 1930 O i l on canvas 52 x 60 c m Private collection, Paris (Photo: Robert Descharnes, Salvador Dali, p. 100)  348  Vlll  F i g . 32  Salvador D a l i , Dormeuse, cheval, lion invisibles, 1930 O i l on canvas 60 x 70 cm Private collection, Paris (Photo: Robert Descharnes, Salvador Dali, p. 100)  349  F i g . 33  Salvador D a l i , Dormeuse, cheval, lion invisibles, 1930 O i l on canvas 50 x 65 cm Musee national d'art moderne, Paris (Photo: Michael Raeburn, ed., Salvador Dali: The early years, p. 191)  350  Fig. 34  Salvador D a l i , LeReve, 1931 O i l on canvas 96 x 96 cm Private collection, New Y o r k (Photo: Robert Descharnes, Salvador Dali, p. 106)  351  F i g . 35  Salvador Dali, La Fontaine, 1930 O i l on panel 66 x 41 cm The Salvador D a l i Museum, St. Petersburg, Florida (Photo: Michael Raeburn, ed., Salvador Dali: The early years, p. 190)  352  F i g . 36  Salvador D a l i , Combinaisons, 1931 Gouache 1 4 x 9 cm Perls Galleries, N e w Y o r k (Photo: Robert Descharnes, Salvador Dali, p. 118)  353  F i g . 37  Salvador Dali, Le jeu lugubre, 1929 O i l and collage on cardboard 3 1 x 4 1 cm Private collection (Photo: Robert Descharnes, Salvador Dali, p. 99)  354  F i g . 38  Salvador Dali, Espagne, 1938 O i l on canvas 92 x 60 cm Museum Boymans-van Beuningen, Rotterdam (Photo: Robert Descharnes, Salvador Dali, p. 219)  355  F i g . 39  Salvador D a l i , Paranonia, 1937 O i l on canvas 38 x 46 cm M r and M r s Reynolds Morse, on permanent loan to the Salvador D a l i Museum, St. Petersburg, Florida (Photo: Robert Descharnes, Salvador Dali, p. 218)  356  Fig. 40  Salvador D a l i , Le grand parano'iaque, 1936 O i l on canvas 62 x 62 cm Museum Boymans-van Beuningen, Rotterdam (Photo: Robert Descharnes, Salvador Dali, p. 197)  357  ix F i g . 41  Joan M i r o , Danseuse espagnole, 1928 Assemblage 100 x 80 c m Private collection, Paris (Photo: Carolyn Lanchner, Joan Miro, p. 169)  358  F i g . 42  Salvador Dali, Metamorphose paranoi'aque du visage de Gala, 1932 India ink 29 x 21 cm Fundacion Gala-Salvador D a l i , Figueras (Photo: Robert Descharnes, Salvador Dali, p. 130)  359  Sources: Andre Breton: La beaute convulsive. Pompidou, 1991.  Paris: Musee national d'art moderne/Centre Georges  Cahiers d'Art (Paris, 1936). Descharnes, Robert. Salvador Dali: The Work, The Man. Trans. Eleanor R. Morse. N e w York: Harry N . Abrams, 1984. La Femme et le Surrealisme.  Lausanne: Musee cantonal des Beaux-Arts, 1987.  Fer, Briony, David Batchelor, and Paul Wood. Realism, Rationalism, Surrealism: between the Wars. New Haven, C T : Yale University Press, 1993.  Art  Krauss, Rosalind and Jane Livingston, with Dawn Ades. LAmourfou: Photography & surrealism. Washington: The Corcoran Gallery of Art/New York: Abbeville Press, 1985. Lanchner, Carolyn. Joan Miro. Man Ray Photographs.  New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 1993.  N e w York: Thames and Hudson, 1982.  Minotaure (Paris, 1933-39). 3 vols. Geneve: Editions Albert Skira, 1981. Pierre, Jose. L'Univers surrealiste.  Paris: Somogy, 1983.  Raeburn, Michael, ed. Salvador Dali: The early years. London: South Bank Centre, 1994. La Revolution surrealiste, no. 4 (Paris, 1925). Paris: Jean-Michel Place, 1975. Rosenblum, Robert. Paintings in the Musee d'Or say. New York: Stewart, Tabori and Chang, 1989. Stich, Sidra. Anxious Visions: Surrealist Art. Berkeley: University Art Museum/New York: Abbeville Press, 1990.  Le Surrealisme au service de la Revolution, nos. 1-6 (Paris, 1930-33). N e w Y o r k : Arno Press, n.d. La vie publique de Salvador Dali. Paris: Centre Georges Pompidou, 1980.  xi  Acknowledgements  I would like first to thank my committee members, Serge Guilbaut, John O ' B r i a n and Sima Godfrey, both for their critical acumen, and for going the extra mile on what has turned out to be a lengthy journey. A special thanks to Serge, for all the support he has given me lo these many years. The University of British Columbia funded me early on in the programme, and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada enabled me to get to Paris for the necessary research, for which I am very grateful. In Paris, Kader E l Janaby and Jean-Michel Goutier were extremely generous with their time and knowledge, and Pierre Biro shared his remembrances of pre-war Paris with me on a number of occasions. Although the flaming lampposts of February 1934 haven't made it into this dissertation, the image they evoke will always burn brightly for me, thanks to Pierre. I have benefitted greatly from the careful attention that Shep Steiner and Isabel Balzer gave to portions of the dissertation, and from Suzanne Rouleau's help with problems of translation. Gary Shotton and Dany Lacombe helped with the production of the final version of the dissertation, which could not have been completed without the patience and generosity of spirit of R i c k Cameron; he answered all my technical queries throughout its writing, and came to the rescue at the last, frantic moment. There are simply too many other people, both friends and family, to thank properly; a general and heartfelt expression of gratitude is much too little, but will have to make do for all the kindnesses, generosity and intellectual stimulation along the way. I dedicate this dissertation to Frances Thomas, who remembers the flower that blooms in the night. "This much I've learned in these five years in what I've spent and earned."  1  Introduction I have lived here for a day or part of a day, eyes closed, arms hanging casually by my sides. - Michael Palmer, "The Flower of Capital" History has not been kind to the surrealist object. It has been marginalized by an art history and a literary criticism that have largely received surrealism as an artistic and literary movement, and most of the objects themselves have disappeared quite as thoroughly as the avant-garde aspirations that brought them into being. Where the object has been treated at 1  greater length - chiefly in a small number of academic dissertations - this has usually been in positive terms, examining the genealogy of the surrealist object in cubism and dada, attending to its internal development and various manifestations - the dream object, the found object, the poem-object, and so on - at the expense of an examination of its relation to either the aesthetic or the political strategies of the surrealist movement.  2  In general, a strict  separation has been maintained between accounts of the surrealists' artistic production and their political interests, a practice which repeats to some extent the surrealists' own insistence on the non-identity of art and politics, but which also has the effect of bracketing off surrealist art from the cultural and political conflicts and the historical circumstances within which it was situated.  3  This has made an understanding of the surrealist object  'The leading example of the assimilation of surrealism into the history of modern art remains William Rubin's Dada and Surrealist Art, but innumerable art-historical and literary studies repeat his assumption that surrealist works were and are an intrinsic part of, rather than existing in an uncertain relation to, modern art and literature. The equivocal nature of this relation, which is figured in the surrealist objects, is in good part the subject of this dissertation. Dissertations on the surrealist object include: Emmanuel Guigon, "L'Objet surrealiste: Introduction aux techniciens benevoles" (These de doctorat d'histoire de l'art, Universite de Pantheon - Sorbonne [Paris I], 1985); Henry Okun, "The Surrealist Object" (Diss., Institute of Fine Arts, New York University, 1981); and Haim Finkelstein's dissertation, republished as Surrealism and the Crisis of the Object (Ann Arbor: U M I Research Press, 1979). Unfortunately, I have been unable to read any more than the preface and table of contents of Krzysztof Fijalkowski's 1990 dissertation on the surrealist object for the University of East Anglia, although it is clear from these that his project is not the same as my own. The most easily available political history of surrealism is Helena Lewis, The Politics of Surrealism (New York: Paragon House Publishers, 1988), but Robert Short's immense compendium of history and hearsay, "The Political History of the Surrealist Movement in France, 1918-1940" (Diss., University of Sussex, 1965), is well worth consulting. There are numerous other studies devoted in part or in whole to the political history 2  3  2  difficult i f not impossible, for it is not within art, but rather between art and politics that its invention must be located. It is only relatively recently that art history and literary criticism have acknowledged the differences between the aims, interests and strategies of modernism and the avant-garde in the period between the two world wars, due in part to the foundering of the avant-gardes in the historical circumstances of the 1920s and '30s, and the concomitant triumph of the formalist account of modernism from the late 1930s on. The distinction between modernist and avant-garde strategies, established by Peter Burger and refined by Jochen Schulte-Sasse, allows a reconsideration of the surrealist object, for in my view it is the "avant-guardedness" of the object that is key to its understanding.  4  The surrealist object emerges out of modern  art, but it maintains an antagonistic relationship to modernism, out of the avant-garde imperative to establish a position that both superseded art as such, and that promised a generalized, non-professional creative activity in the future. The task I have set myself in this dissertation is not so much a description of the surrealist object per se - whose genealogy and various subcategories have been adequately accounted for in other dissertations - as it is a determination of its place within the logic of the avant-garde. For it is my view that its goal - the object of the object, as it were - is identical to that of the surrealist movement as a whole: the reconciliation of conscious and unconscious thought, the overcoming of the separation of art and life in a "poetry made by all, not by one", for which a social revolution is the precondition. The surrealist object, posed between art and politics, is located in a Utopian space that is, precisely, nowhere, a  of the surrealist movement, including books or articles by Jean-Pierre Bernard, Jean-Pierre Morel, Guy Palayret, Jean-Luc Steinmetz and Susan Suleiman. However, the brilliant synthesis of political and cultural issues achieved in Denis Hollier's studies of Georges Bataille and Roger Caillois has not yet been accomplished for the surrealist group itself. Peter Biirger, Theory of the Avant-Garde (1974), trans. Michael Shaw (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1984). Schulte-Sasse wrote the foreword to this edition. Surrealism is one of the three avant-gardes Biirger discusses in order to support his argument (the others are German dada and Soviet constructivism), but he does not consider the surrealist object as such. 4  3  space of possibility that is entirely contingent, and whose contingency is realized in the fragmentary and temporary nature of the objects. Those few that still exist are fragile mementoes of the claim to supersede the categories of art in a generalized creativity, contingent upon a future that was of course never realized, but whose possibility once brought them into being. If the surrealist object is located, in an eminently dialectical relation, between art and politics, the third term in the dialectical triad is the psychical: the supersession of modern art, made possible by revolution, will be achieved through a radical regression to what Breton called inthe first Manifesto of Surrealism "the sources of poetic imagination. " 5  Artmaking w i l l be desublimated in this return to what was understood to be the substratum of human creativity and indeed of human existence, sexual desire. In this way, it would achieve a more or less uncontaminated expression of the unconscious thought perceptible behind what the surrealists considered to be the greatest works of art. This is very much the 6  project of automatism, but it was also that of the surrealist object, with the important difference that the object was also a material thing, a physical intervention into the world of other objects, and not only into literary discourse. The interaction of social, aesthetic and psychical concerns in the theorization and invention of the surrealist object has been little discussed in the secondary literature, and in order to describe this relation it has been necessary to turn back to contemporary documents, including the critical writings of Louis Aragon, Rene Crevel, Tristan Tzara, Salvador D a l i , Roger Caillois and Claude Cahun. These have in many instances been underplayed in the reception of surrealism, given the tendency to focus on Andre Breton as the exclusive spokesman of surrealism or, more recently and antithetically, on Georges Bataille. In my  Andre Breton, Manifeste du surrealisme, in Oeuvres completes (hereafter O.C.), 1.1 (Paris: Gallimard, 1988), pp. 322-23. A n y list of these would include the English Gothic novel, the stories and prose poems of the most extreme adherents of German and French romanticism, the works of Rimbaud and Lautreamont, and the early paintings of de Chirico. 5  6  4  work here, I have attempted to think about surrealism as a collective endeavour, while acknowledging that Breton, as the major spokesman and theoretician of surrealism, was "more equal than the others". Within this collective, there was an often remarkable degree of latitude, as well as some serious internal conflicts that led to a continuing series of splits and expulsions. W o r k on these documents has led me to a rethinking of surrealism on a number of issues that have been surprisingly little discussed: these include surrealism's equivocal relations with modern art; the reconceptualization of its activities as revolutionary science, in an effort to avoid their politicization; the growing rift within the surrealist group over the question of surrealism's avant-garde status, and over the question of participation in the Popular Front, which led to a serious fracture over the winter of 1934-35; and the conflict between Breton and Dali over an automatic as opposed to a paranoiac conception of surrealist activity. A l l of these issues are keyed to the concerns that brought the surrealist object into being, and will be discussed in relation to the surrealist group's attempt to maintain an avant-garde position in the difficult political circumstances of the 1930s. M y general task has been to bring art and politics back together, given their dissociation in surrealist studies; such an association is, however, indirect and mediated, and I have treated it so here. The surrealist object was first imagined in Andre Breton's "Introduction au discours sur le peu de realite" of 1925, as the three-dimensional construction of an object seen in dreams, and as a means to trouble other, utilitarian objects. It remained a purely theoretical proposition, however, until Salvador Dali's suggestion in the spring of 1931 that the surrealists manufacture objects as a form of collective activity. This was at a moment of crisis for the surrealist group, when it had difficulty imagining any form of collective action. The imaginary resolution of what was both a personal and a political crisis through a form of collective invention locates the object historically, and it is in this fraught encounter with  5  history that I want to discuss it, from the moment of its first manufacture in 1931 to the high point of the surrealists' preoccupation with the object in 1936. The passage from suggestion to materialization was itself a sign of an increasing concern with the relation between subject and object, given the need which began to be felt within the surrealist movement for a more explicitly critical and activist orientation. The object was understood to be a form of action that was also a mode of thought; in this way, it would preserve the relation between action and interpretation the surrealists were attempting to keep in play, in which "action would be sister to the dream", and no longer separated from it in the split between rational and irrational modes of thought, or between poetry and conscious, political action. If this need for a relation between action and interpretation was metaphorized in the object, it was rather in terms of the articulation of subjective desire in a concrete form than in any explicitly political terms, for reasons that w i l l be explored in the course of this dissertation. I am going to argue that the surrealist object was a crucial component in the surrealists' effort to maintain and further an avant-garde position in relation both to the modern art they wished as an avant-garde to supersede - for which their affiliation to the political avant-garde of the Parti Communiste Frangais (P.C.F.) was both a necessity and a guarantee - and to the Party itself, for which the object was intended to represent, in part, that supersession of art, a sign of the good faith of the surrealists' revolutionary convictions. What is at issue here is autonomy, twice over: for it is my argument that the object was intended both to challenge the autonomy claims of modern art, and to preserve a space of autonomy for surrealism's own activities. The object was perhaps surrealism's leading 'aesthetic' concern in the 1930s, if we can pose as aesthetic a creative activity - the fabrication of objects - that was intended both to disturb the given categories of artmaking, and to offer models for the overcoming of the separation of art and life that was the hallmark of modernism, for all concerned. Yet - and  6  this is crucial - the object still bore a critical relation to cubist assemblage; the claim to an avant-garde position was manifested precisely in this "au-delcT', this "going beyond" painting or sculpture, using a method - collage - invented at the most formally radical moment of modernist experimentation. It is the objects' critical relation to the dominant categories of artmaking that is important here, rather than their mere rejection; there is an attempt to sublate what are understood to be the progressive aspects of modern art - in particular, the principle of collage, and the experimental nature of prewar modernism - into the object, which is understood at the same time to be anti-formal and anti-aesthetic in its rejection of the claims for autonomy made by the partisans and practitioners of modern art. M y first chapter will largely be concerned with establishing these relations, which have never been satisfactorily explored in accounts of surrealism. The object also played an important part in the autonomy claims made by the surrealists vis-a-vis the P.C.F., which involved a redefinition of their activity as a research into the workings of the mind, outside of the immediately political tasks of the Party. The surrealist object is experimental in this sense, situated outside of the traditional artistic categories of painting or sculpture, and it participates in the logic of a scientific activity that would also be disruptive and revolutionary, as an activist intervention allied to, but not identical to, the activities of the political avant-garde. A scientific paradigm was shared by many revolutionary intellectuals in the 1930s, especially those who, while Marxist or marxisant, wished to preserve some degree of autonomy from the Communist Party; psychoanalysis was the privileged model for such a revolutionary science. Surrealism's own researches into "undirected", poetic modes of thought are conceived along this line, and even made possible by Freud's recognition of the identity of poetic and oneiric thought. Surrealism's reconceptualization of its activities as research w i l l be investigated in Chapter 3, following an analysis of the genesis of the object in the historical circumstances of the early 1930s in Chapter 2.  7  In the course of the 1930s, there was a growing split within the surrealist group between those, like D a l i and Tristan Tzara, who favoured a synthetic mode of thinking capable of addressing the world from a position of autonomy, and those, like Breton or Claude Cahun, who wished to preserve the distinction between a rational thought, however dialectical, and an essentially poetic, undirected mode of thought that w i l l then be subject to interpretation. Breton's holding onto automatism, and to the idea of an automatic generation of the object was, I w i l l argue, part of his attempt to maintain in principle the autonomy of surrealist activity, as one essentially different in kind from the kind of thinking appropriate to political activity. It was also an attempt to delay a premature reconciliation of art and life, especially given what appeared to be the disastrous consequences of such a merging in the Soviet Union, where life was not infused with poetry, but where existing categories of art and literature were, rather, politicized and bureaucratized. This delay - based in principle upon the essentially different levels of poetic and analytic thought, which had not yet been reconciled - was the occasion for the secession of several members of the surrealist group over the winter of 1934-35, including Tzara, Rene Crevel, Rene Char and Roger Caillois; they accused surrealism of falling back into the modern art from which it had so recently liberated itself. A n d there is in fact an equivocation within the surrealist group at this time between art and politics that it is unable, for political reasons, to resolve, and for which the anti-aesthetic object is a 'theoretical' compensation, an imaginary resolution of a political impasse that cannot be overcome. It was a time when the relation between action and interpretation - essential both to the avantgarde position of the surrealist movement, and to the status of the surrealist object - seemed definitively broken, whose consequence was this further fracturing of the group. The surrealists' rupture with the P . C . F . and with the Stalinist leadership of the Soviet Union occurred in August 1935, after the P . C . F . had itself abandoned an avant-garde position in order to participate in the Popular Front. Given the circumstances of the  8  liquidation of modern art in Germany and the U.S.S.R., the surrealists eventually recast themselves as the defenders of the modern art they once threatened to supersede. A t this moment, which I locate after the failure of Contre-Attaque, and after the Exposition 7  surrealiste d'objets (which both occur in M a y 1936), the object ceases to be as central a preoccupation of the surrealists, though it never disappears altogether as a concern. The prospect of immediate revolution is rejected after 1936, and projected into an indefinite future. Surrealism at that point becomes more than ever Utopian, believing in the necessity but not the possibility of that transformation; its role is henceforth to preserve the nonidentity of art and life, as well as the possibility of their eventual reunification. There were, as I have mentioned, serious differences within the surrealist group over its direction and even its self-understanding in these years, in relation to the shifting sands of revolutionary politics, and in keeping with the imperative to make thought active. It is perhaps unsurprising that a group oriented against the dominant political and cultural formations of its day was itself subject to continual fracturing. I w i l l attend to these conflicts both in Chapter 3 and in the final chapter, where I focus on the differences between D a l i and Breton - whose conflicts, and whose understanding of one another's position, are articulated via the discussion of a number of objects and paintings. This difference fundamentally that between an active paranoia-criticism and a passive automatism - is implicitly gendered as masculine and feminine, and I w i l l attempt to draw out some of the implications of this conflict for a contemporary understanding of the surrealist endeavour.  * * * The surrealist object has been the subject of a number of previous dissertations, each of which is concerned more with an understanding and description of the object as a positive  The little revolutionary group, led by Georges Bataille, in which many of the surrealists participated, and which was oriented against both fascism and the Popular Front.  7  9  category than with its place and function within an economy of thought.  8  The best of these,  Emmanuel Guigon's "L'Objet surrealiste: Introduction aux techniciens benevoles", favours a structural study of the object over an historical approach, while I think the latter is crucial to any account of the object's first appearance, and its place in surrealist thought. Guigon's dissertation, however, contains a number of close readings of individual objects which have been particularly valuable to me. Apart from dissertations, there are few extended studies of the surrealist object. Louis Cummins' 1991 article "Multiplicites surrealistes" is among the most interesting of these; Cummins emphasizes the heterogeneity and sexualization of the objects, at the expense of the formalist reception of modernist art in the accounts of W i l l i a m Rubin and Clement Greenberg.  9  Cummins has chosen to structure his article as a critique of W i l l i a m Rubin's own discussion of the object in his monumental 1969 survey, Dada and Surrealist Art. Cummins criticizes Rubin for excluding the object from modern art in two ways: by "forgetting" its formal debt to collage, and by associating it with poetry (in this way assimilating it to literature). In each case, Cummins says, there is a repression of the object's "objecthood", of its specificity as a form of modern sculpture.  10  M y own view is  somewhat different; I fully agree with Cummins as to the object's discursive relation to collage, but view it as a sublation of modernism's formal concerns, in an anti-aesthetic construction that bears little relation to the kind of work that Fried invented his term "objecthood" to describe. If Rubin assimilates the objects to poetry in order to exclude them from the trajectory of modern art, it is no less true that they are conceived, at least, as poetic, and certainly as distinct from the kinds of formal considerations proper to modern sculpture,  See n. 2. Louis Cummins, "Multiplicites surrealistes", RACAR, vol. XVIII nos. 1-2 (1991), pp. 31-42. Cummins takes the term "objecthood" from Michael Fried's discussion of minimalist sculpture in his 1967 article, "Art and Objecthood".  8  9  I0  10  as we shall see in Chapter l .  1 1  One can take the objects perfectly seriously without having  to conceive of them as sculpture, and in fact Cummins does so in the greater part of his article, where he discusses their heterogeneity and their relation to fetishism. H i s article is particularly valuable for its attempt to achieve an understanding of the object with the aid of psychoanalytic and post-structuralist theory, without actually returning to what he sees as the limited agenda of formalist criticism. The most recent article on the object, Romy Golan's "Triangulating the Surrealist Fetish", brings together a number of the sites - the 1931 Exposition coloniale, the 1936 Exposition surrealiste d'objets - and objects discussed in this dissertation.  12  In the  "triangulation" of the title is understood the crossing of the three contemporary significations of the fetish - sexual, commodity and tribal - in the surrealist object, an idea first suggested by W i l l i a m Pietz, and which I develop in a di