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Review Essays of Academic, Professional & Technical Books in the Humanities & Sciences


Marvelous Encounters: Surrealist Responses To Film, Art, Poetry, And Architecture by Willard Bohn (Bucknell University Press) introduced by Apollinaire at the beginning of the century, critical poetry was transformed subsequently by the surrealists, who dis­played surprising ingenuity in adapting it to their own needs. By relating the aesthetic object to the text in new and exciting ways, they succeeded in pushing the genre to its limits. The works exam­ined previously are noteworthy not only for their unusual vitality but for the variety of guises they assume. As we have seen, no two poets conceived of critical poetry in exactly the same manner. Despite their common allegiance to surrealism, each followed his own inspi­ration and developed his own distinctive style. Indeed, many of the works are so dissimilar that they seem to be completely unrelated. Salvador Dali's paranoid obsessions differ radically from Cesar Moro's heroic portraits, for example. One would never confuse Ben­jamin Péret's scientific parables with the eerie adventures recounted by J. V. Foix. And Andre Breton's artistic tributes scarcely resemble the strange odyssey imagined by Garcia Lorca. In subjecting critical poetry to the demands of the surrealist imagination, these individu­als followed markedly different paths. And yet, to the extent that their works embodied the surrealist impulse, they were conscious of pursuing similar goals.

In keeping with surrealist precepts, poets and painters strove above all to evoke the marvelous. By inventing imaginary situations, describing irrational experiences, and employing startling imagery, they hoped to free mankind from its unconscious chains. Poetry was conceived as a revelatory experience, providing glimpses of a pre­viously unsuspected realm. It strove to generate a flash of recogni­tion that, as Breton insisted in the First Manifesto, "l'existence est ailleurs" (existence is elsewhere). This explains the feeling of depayse­ment that pervades so many surrealist works. It also explains the eerie atmosphere that emanates from many others. In order to evade the conscious censor, the surrealists relied heavily on surprise, which as­sumed innumerable forms. Some poets utilized fragmentation and radical juxtaposition to disrupt the work's syntax. Others employedlexical substitutions in order to subvert its semantic development. Still others constructed elaborate dream sequences in which meta­morphosis played an active role. The latter had an alarming, if pre­dictable, tendency to turn into nightmares.

The ways in which the surrealist poets responded to works of art were equally inspired and equally diverse. As Roman Jakobson has demonstrated, human discourse is invariably either metaphoric or metonymic (or a combination of the two)) One topic may lead to another either through similarity ("the metaphoric way") or through contiguity ("the metonymic way"). As I have shown else­where, this distinction permits us to analyze surrealist imagery with great precision.2 In addition, it enables us to determine how critical poems are related to their aesthetic objects. Some of the marvelous encounters we have witnessed turn out to be based exclusively on resemblance. This describes Aldo Pellegrini's and Emilio Adolfo Westphalen's poems, for example, which are constructed around a series of metaphors. Like these works, those by Cesar Moro contain an additional metaphor encompassing the entire intersemiotic rela­tionship. Whereas Moro compares Westphalen to a tropical explorer in one work, Westphalen portrays Moro as a metallic robot in an­other. The first global metaphor serves as an introduction, while the second constitutes the poem's conclusion.

At the other end of the spectrum, a number of surrealist poets reject similarity in favor of contiguity. Salvador Dali, Garcia Lorca, and Rafael Alberti reproduce metonymic features of the works in question. Each poet imitates the latter's style, borrows a prominent theme or two, and incorporates selected motifs. Alberti not only copies the rhythm of Go West but also duplicates its structure. And Dali exhibits the same fascination with metamorphosis and the para­noiac-critical method in "Poema agrafat al vol" that characterizes his pictures. Like Emeterio Gutierrez Albelo, who incorporates frag­ments of Chaplin's films into his poem, Jorge Caceres reproduces themes and images from the Douanier Rousseau's paintings. The link between text and artwork is much more tenuous in his remain­ing works, however, which are conceived as equivalents rather than reflections. "Max Ernst" borrows a single motif from the latter's paintings, while fquot;Paul Klee" imitates the German artist's style. En­rique Gomez-Correa adopted a similar strategy when he simply in­corporated a theme from Rene Magritte 's Le Bon Sens.

While it is tempting to regard these poets as rhetorical fanatics, in fact they were surprisingly numerous. At least half the writers examfined previously forged purely metaphoric or purely metonymic links between their compositions and other artworks. The remaining poets refused to choose between contiguity and similarity, each of which had its own advantages, and preferred a more flexible ap­proach. Invoking each principle in turn as their needs dictated, they combined them to form interlocking structures. Although Jakobson maintained that metaphor and metonymy were polar opposites—prompting Barbara Johnson to deconstruct his model thirty years later—this was highly misleading. Since similarity and contiguity in­volve different principles, they cannot possibly be opposed to each other. Rather than sworn enemies, metaphor and metonymy repre­sent different ways of viewing the world. On the one hand, as Jakobson pointed out, they compete with each other in the immediate rush to signify. On the other hand, as the preceding compositions demonstrate, they cooperate with each other to create larger patterns of meaning. The surrealists sensed this instinctively and ex­ploited the two processes in their critical poetry. Skillfully manipulating the twin axes of language, they created works that pay homage both to the surrealist muse and to the artworks that inspired them.

Calder/Miro by Elisabeth Hutton Turner, Oliver Wick (Philip Wilson Publishers) Sculptor Alexander Calder (1898-1976) and painter Joan Miró (1893-1983) became lifelong friends after their first meeting in Paris in 1928. This book and the exhibition it accompanies are about their extraordinary friendship and the early years of their careers.

Calder and Miró shared many artistic interests, and the book is organized around common themes such as the circus, bestiary, universe, and constellations. The artists shared an ambition to create monumental works for public spaces and, while waiting for those opportunities, achieved monumentality on a reduced scale. Miró's small Constellations evoke the tradition of Romanesque frescoes, while Calder's earliest stabiles and mobiles occupy space in a way that transcends their size, paving the way for later monumental works. The editors, in their two essays and in their organization of the colour plates, focus on the first two decades of the artists' careers, culminating in the monumental public commissions that Calder and Miró received for the decoration of the Terrace Plaza Hotel, Cincinnati, in 1947.

Both artists combined colour, shape and line in new ways, relying primarily on these limited elements to explore compositional space. While they worked independently, their resulting creations have long been recognized as reinforcing each other's vision. When their works are shown together, as John Canaday observed in his 1961 New York Times review, '- the element of fantasy is heightened in Calder's impeccably balanced structures and the element of calculation becomes more apparent than usual in Miró's looser inventions.'

Extensive illustrations provide fresh insights into the visual dialogue between them and show the ways in which they expanded and erased the traditional boundaries in art. Their charming correspondence is published here for the first time and rare photographs of the two men together, and of the gifts of artwork they exchanged, document the friendship. A detailed chronology opens a window into their personal and professional lives. The book accompanies the exhibition Calder/Miró at Fondation Beyeler, Riehen/Basel (2 May - 5 September 2004), and at The Phillips Collection, Washington, D.C. (9 October - 23 January 2005).

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