Nate D's Reviews > Surrealist Women: An International Anthology

Surrealist Women by Penelope Rosemont
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's review
Apr 19, 12

bookshelves: surrealism, read-in-2012, non-fiction
Recommended to Nate D by: the sound of the Gods' hunt
Recommended for: any of the five genders of side-blotched lizard
Read from November 06, 2011 to April 19, 2012

Massively comprehensive anthology of oft-overlooked female surrealist writers (prior favorites included here: Leornora Carrington and Ithel Colquhoun), not just in the interwar Paris of surrealism's conception but straight up through the present and virtually across the globe. In this sense, it's quite a good history of the development and spread of the surrealist movement and influence, from Martinique to Egypt (much historical and biographical information here, too), but sometimes it also seems like some depth has been sacrificed to encyclopedic reach. And, as a matter of taste, I'm much more excited by surrealist prose fiction than a lot of the automatic writing exercises and poetry (editor Penelope Rosemont's personal area of surrealist contribution-- besides this edifice, of course), that turn up here. Or even essay excerpts about (rather than of) surrealist topics. Still, an excellent reference book that I will certainly pull off the shelf regularly.

I find that a lot of this can run together a bit (nature of the scope and density of the material perhaps) so I've really got to take notes:

Renee Gauthier :: though with only a single published dream account from 1924, I want to remember her description of the "gods' hunt", a bit of bizarre lore impressed upon her by her mother in childhood:
My mother, who often frightened me, saying she'd heard the noise of the gods' hunt, was never able to explain exactly what it was. She'd say it was those enormous, deafening noises of men and monstrous beasts that pas over the sky on a certain date of the year. When you hear them, you must lie on the ground on your stomach and plug your ears.

Claude Cahun :: Born Lucy Schwob, niece of Belgian symbolist Marcel Schwob. Though an excellent writer of vignettes about classic surrealist topics like masks ("with horror you see that the flesh and the mask have become inseparable") and the dangers of objects, she is apparently best known as an early surrealist photographer, which was well backed up by a little googling. A self portrait, and a constructed scene from here:

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Comparable to humans, other animals seem quite reasonable.

Lise Deharme :: While this collection only contains a couple all-too-brief poems, Deharme was apparently a prolific writer with a number of novels to her name. I'm not sure that any have been translated from French, but if anyone has any information, I'd be thrilled. Later, also included, a quick story-sketch about Gertrude Stein.

Interlude: a sort of surrealist 20 questions, wherein one player envisions an object while another attempts to guess it or discern its properties with questions like: "Is it diurnal or nocturnal?" "Is it favorable toward love?" "What crime does it correspond to?" and "On what spot of the nude body of a women would you place it?". Played this on the train with Maya with excellent results.

Gisele Prassinos :: Greek composer of splendid automatic verse and prose, legendarily let into the surrealist group at age 14, in 1934. This volume includes two quick stories that tend towards the more haphazard end of surrealism, but leave me curious to find more at least.
When I woke up, there were no more children. But on the carpet lay a bandaged male foot, some moldy hair, and some nuts. Children are afraid of idols.

Sheila Legge :: as the "Surrealist Phantom" at the 1936 Surrealist exposition in London.

...out there in the desert, that tall ship built entirely of most costly marble...

Leonora Carrington :: My favorite surrealist writer ever, so I was delighted to find a short previously untranslated tale here, "The Sand Camel". One of her eerie fables of dubious moral import, this one describes two children, A and B, who live with their grandmother and build dangerous animals with advice from a crow magician. Vague, tangential resonance with the Third Lie, actually. I wonder if Agota Kristof came across it somewhere in its original French... Later, an excerpt from her madness-memoir Down Below, well worth reading in its own right, and some notes on magic.

Ithel Colquhoun :: is represented here, but only by a few brief essays and an excerpt from her single novel which might have composed for publication elsewhere, a set of pseudo-scientific observations. They're pretty great, though, and motivated me to read my copy of Goose of Hermogenes right away. With Carrington, one of the finer novelists of the original interwar surrealism -- now if only she'd written more of them. Apparently Peter Owens published two books of her travel writing, though, and the Brooklyn Public Library has a book she wrote about occultism and the Golden Dawn (of which Crowley was a part, I think I saw an anecdote somewhere that he once tried to seduce her, which is pretty amazing to try to envision. Fitting, though -- Colquhoun eventually became a Priestess of Isis, whatever that entails.

Laurence Iche :: An active member of underground surrealist group Main a Plume in Vichy France. It makes sense that there would have been a surrealist resistance unsettling the power structure with weird leaflets and such, but it's still crazy to imagine publshing such things in secret during Nazi occupation. I'd be terribly curious to see more of this material, Iche's and others'.
But the duck wanted to be eaten in the Spanish style, like a free man, and not with nettles as the donkey was suggesting.

Therese Renaud and Francoise Sullivan :: leading exponents of the Quebecoise "automatist" movement in line with surrealist ideas in the latter 40s, in poetry and dance respectively. I've never heard of any such thing as any Quebecois surrealist groups, so I'll have to look up more information on the automatists.

Dorothea Tanning :: Interesting greek-ish myth included here from an exhibition catalog for her new husband Max Ernst, in '49. Apparently she wrote a novel, Abyss, in 1947, happily contradicting (with Lise Deharme and probably others) the claim I'd seen that the only female surrealists to have written novels were Carrington and Colquhoun. Naturally, though, I can find out absolutely nothing about this book now. On the other hand, I've just snapped up a signed edition of her 2004 horror novel, Chasm, which sounds splendidly insane. Sadly, she died just 3 months ago, at the end of January 2012. Of course, she was 101 by then...

Nora Mitrani :: I'm usually (unsurprisingly) less into the non-fiction bits here, but Mitrani is a quite brilliant essayist, turns out. Incisive sharpy-wide-angled queries into de Sade and cosmetics above others.

Joyce Mansour :: Egyptian-English poet, but the barely-mentioned-in-passing 1958 story collection Les Gisants Satisfaits sounds intriguing. It's untranslated, it seems, but I know Mansour has piece in one of the Daedalus surrealism collections, so perhaps it's from this.

Mimi Parent :: Another Quebecois surrealist I'd never heard about. Less of a writer, but I want to see more of her objects, very few of which seem to be online anywhere:

Remedios Varo :: Originally known to me mainly for her cameo as Carmela in her real-life best friend Leonora Carrington's The Hearing Trumpet, Varo was also apparently author of "an extraordinary manuscript, De Homo Rodans: an elaborate chronicle of imaginary discoveries written in a quasiscientific style with an abundance of quotations in a humorous invented Latin, posthumously published in 1970." Unfortunately, very few of of this strange "hand-lettered limited edition" book exist; even Worldcat lists only a a single example. Quotes here, however.

Nelly Kaplan :: An exciting lead on two fronts, concerning a Russian Argentine who may have run away from home at age 17, drawn to Paris because "it was built on the ruins of a temple of Isis", only to become an assistant to filmmaker Abel Gance, then get draw into surrealism by chance meeting with Breton. First, she apparently directed docs on Gustave Moreau (narrated by Breton, incidentally) and the like starting in the 60s, then a number of feature films in the surrealist spirit, if not necessarily technique or style. I must see these. Second, the longest prose fiction yet included in this collection is a terribly enticing excerpt from Memoirs of a Lady Sheet Diviner (Les Memoires d'une Lisuese de Draps), concerning lost blasphemous Moreau paintings, vampires, and a women seeking employment or a place to lay low at "the Obsexion", some kind of mysterious far-east brothel. It appears, however, that neither this nor any of her other fiction (Le Reservoir des sens (the Well of the Senses, 1966) and Le Collier de Ptyx (1972)) has ever been translated -- and most looks quite out of print, in addition, though she's still alive. An unfortunately common enough story. Also included: two essays and an interview, all on film, all also very worthwhile inclusions.
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Unica Zürn :: I've had the name Unica Zurn in my head for quite some time, without really knowing why. So it's fitting fitting that she would turn out to be yet another surrealist artist and novelist. Though she died in 1970 (leaping from the window of longtime companion Hans Bellmer's appartment), she's even still in print. Excited, naturally.

Rikki Ducornet :: one of whose novels I've read before, but I'd filed her more into inspired-by-surrealism than Capital-S-Surrealism. (Which, how exactly to define that, of course). But she was apparently directly involved in collective surrealist publications and activity, and did many of the translations from French for this book. I want to give her another shot, now -- the book I had read was recent, so time to dive back to her earlier work in the 70s and 80s.

Nancy Joyce Peters :: with a good essay about Nelly Kaplan's 1976 feature Nea (see above).
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Comments (showing 1-8 of 8) (8 new)

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message 1: by knig (new)

knig Outstanding review

Nate D Thanks. Really more bits of my notes to myself, but I hope they'll inspire others to find out more as I have been inspired.

message 3: by Geoff (new)

Geoff Yeah, this was spectacular. Thanks for the effort!

message 4: by Mariel (new)

Mariel Chiming in my appreciation as well.

message 5: by Emilie (new)

Emilie don't read the introduction to unica zorn's Dark Spring until after you've read the book.

Nate D Thank for the warning -- my copy is already in the mail. I often save the introductions for post-reading for this reason, actually.

Nate D And thanks all, for reading.

message 8: by Moira (new)

Moira Russell Fantastic!

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