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


My 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. As 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.

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