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Tuesday
Jan212014

Le monde au temps des surrealistes, 1929

Variétés - Le Surréalisme en 1929 Print, Illustrated book, photomechanical reproduction, letterpress 25.2 h x 17.8 w cm National Gallery of Australia

'Le monde au temps des surrealistes', published by Breton in 1929 to show the parts of the world important to the surrealists: the places, named by country, tend to be those with aboriginal art, the operative word being original.  Thus Europe, the United States, sites of a kind of universal western culture and product, do not figure.  

Jean Claire, in an essay on surrealist anti-materialism and non-western art, mentions the universalising tendencies in Europe at the time: the rise of Hitler's Volk, the appeal to Italian nationalism.  Politically the surrealists worked against synthesis, coordination, cultural coherence; masks and arcane rituals appealed precisely because they didn't understand them — they couldn't be appropriated by bourgeois culture.  

This is an 80-year old anti-globalisation map.  It is also the opposite of anthropology that seeks to understand the non-Western world.  The surrealists did not want to understand other cultures, it was important that there were other cultures. Can that be said, eighty years on?  As a child, David Bailey had read about Nagaland – a very obscure part of India on the Burmese border, and had always wanted to go there.  He went, eventually, in 2012 and found kids with iPhones and jeans and the elders living a thousand-year old life in their heads: when they go, it will go too.

Look up Naga people on wikipedia, one finds a struggle for statehood, a desire for autonomy, the predictable results of colonisation – that insistence that all peoples come under some central authority that they then have to spend much blood and many years to undo.  The surrealist map of the world isn't an exercise in sentimental preservation of innocent cultures, rather it can be seen as a map of the post-WWI periphery.  The south consists of islands and archipelagoes: a metaphor, contradictory, for the surrealist movement itself. 

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Reader Comments (1)

On this theme I recommend 'Around the Day in 80 Worlds" by Julio Cortazar.

January 26, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterTed Landrum

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