978-0-8021-3727-2 / 9780802137272

Surreal Lives: The Surrealists 1917-1945


Publisher:Grove Press



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About the book:

Playful, amusing, frivolous and bizarre; as Ruth Brandon points out in the preface to her marvellous Surreal Lives: The Surrealists, 1917-1945, Surrealism has passed into everyday life as a byword for the strange, but also the peripheral. However, as this wonderfully exhaustive book point outs, the intellectual and political drive behind the movement was in fact highly revolutionary. What Brandon proceeds to unfold is a kaleidoscopic cultural history of the movement which by 1924 had self-consciously adopted the title "Surrealism", from its emergence in the midst of the ashes of interwar Zurich Dada, to its enforced relocation to New York in the 1940s. Along the way Surreal Lives deftly weaves a fascinating account of the cultural, artistic, political, personal and sexual dynamics of the men and women who defined the movement from the 1920s onward.

The personal and artistic connections between the usual suspects of Apollinaire, Picabia, Man Ray, Aragon, Duchamp, Eluard, Soupault, Bunuel and Dali are all traced in extensive and highly entertaining detail, while at the book's centre lies the pompous, autocratic, charismatic figure of Andre Breton, and his creative but highly volatile relations with the entire cast, from his feuds with Tristan Tzara to his ultimate disillusion with Dali. Following Breton's enigmatic career, Surreal Lives moves beautifully between the revolutionary aspirations of the movement and the endemic literary squabbles which often blunted its radicalism. Brandon is particularly successful at uncovering the importance of the various women who had such a decisive impact upon the development of Surrealism, as well as offering a range of salacious and often wonderfully incongruous encounters, such as the aged Erik Satie's involvement in the creation of Marcel Duchamp's The Gift. How surreal. --Jerry Brotton.

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