UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Looking at dirty pictures : sur(sous)realism, fascism, and reproducing intoxication in the 1930’s Lunn, Maureen F.


During the inter-war years in Europe a rebellion against what was perceived of as an overly rationalized society dedicated to material gain developed on both the far Right and far Left. The road to freedom against the 'mechanized' imperative of a bourgeois democracy was seen to lie through the release of an irrational drive that would rupture the seemingly impermeable screen of a rapidly developing technological world. The period was permeated with a neo-romantic impulse that suffused and engulfed the ragged edges of a broad and static center with religious ideals mingled with symbolic expressions of intoxication and sexuality embedded in a new concept of the body itself. As a student of art history, my goal in this thesis has been to set Surrealism's aesthetic production of revolutionary convulsion (embodied in the concept of 'Convulsive Beauty') against the much broader background of its historical period in which the reproduction of intoxicating desire by the German fascists was revolutionizing the political face of Europe. In order to demonstrate how instrumental the medias were to the presentation in culture at large of revolutionary intoxication I have turned to contemporary figures like Walter Benjamin and Siegfried Kracauer who analyzed fascism's successes within the field of intoxication through its mechanical reproduction, as well as to Ernst Bloch's analysis of the fascist's colonization of a tradition of intoxication historically associated with the Left. The first chapter is devoted to presenting the various players within this revolutionary expression of rupture, and ends with the introduction of various analytic tools with which aesthetic representations of intoxication through the body can be critically approached. The second chapter is concerned with bringing out the depth of differences within the Surrealist movement itself, and with how these differences situated themselves within the traditional French Left's political representations, while the third chapter turns to the study of the various elements of the neo-romantic impulse itself, and to how these elements were driven on all sides by a masculine concept of virility, seen as crucial to the developing historical moment in which war was imminent. The thesis is concluded in the final section of the third chapter, which posits renegade Surrealist Georges Bataille's theory of "convulsive communication" against what is argued as Surrealism's and fascism's addiction to intoxication as a utopian ideal ultimately depending upon the annihilation of the 'beautiful' body as the bearer of the convulsive message.

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