The Surrealist Look
An Erotics of Encounter
366 pp., 7 x 9 in,
- Published: February 18, 1999
- Published: July 28, 1997
How we look at Surrealism, how it looks at the objects it encounters, and how it looks from here: all these looks intertwine in this study linking Surrealism and the Baroque. Le look (whatever it might be): you have it or you don't, and Surrealism had it all the way. The emotional charge Surrealism extended to the objects of its encounter makes itself felt as at least philosophically erotic. This charged look determines the atmosphere around the Surrealist text and its encounters—in the world of art and the world it made into art. In this unprecedented attempt to make sense of the way Surrealism sees, conceals, poses, and stares at its own self and the selves of others, Mary Ann Caws examines the decors, games, portraits, transformations, and mirrorings that establish Surrealism's links to Baroque forms of representation." We have to learn to look and to read slowly," Caws writes. Her study begins with an exhortation to take one's time, for the figures in the carpet of this study are not easy, nor do they put one at ease. Take, for example, the self-portraits of Claude Cahum and Dorothea Tanning, Marcel Duchamp's creation Rrose Sélavy, the crossing of André Breton into Melusine. The constructions of Joseph Cornell and the fashionings by Man Ray meet in a space determined by the architecture of François de Nomé, Robert Desnos, and Antonin Artaud, pointed at by Marcel Duchamp in his crossings not just with Rrose but with Ludwig Wittgenstein. The game of the Exquisite Corpse has it own erotic charge, and the Baroque vanitas casts its shadow over everything from Cornell's Shadow Boxes to the game of chance. It all ends with two of Picasso's pipes, one by a skull and one in a frame play—signaling, perhaps, that Surrealism looks the way it looks and speaks the Baroque language it speaks because whoever is looking frames it that way.
The specialization of critical labor has meant that gifted readers of surrealist texts are rarely in contact with canny viewers of surrealist objects. In The Surrealist Look, Mary Ann Casws brings her readerly skills to bear on both sides of this divide, producing an analysis that, in its generosity, erudition, and originality, greatly enriches our experience of the movement.
Rosalind E. Krauss, Meyer Schapiro Professor, Columbia University
The Surrealist Look offers a cornucopia for eyes and mind. Mary Ann Caws' erudition and critical passion shine through in her choice of images as in her writing. A generous, captivating book.
Susan Rubin Suleiman, Author of Risking Who One Is: Encounters with Contemporary Art and Literature
Long, intense years of immersion in the poetry and art of the Surrealist climate endow Mary Ann Caws' responses with what the Surrealists would have called authenticity—a rare quality. Her present meditation offers a fresh view of unusual value in her stress on the element of the Baroque in Surrealists' works. I would say that Caws enters her thoughts on the history of Surrealism with perfect pitch; both eye and ear alert to every nuance, and mind attuned to their grandest illusions. She offers a lively argument which, with considerable daring, leads her readers deeply into Surrealist territory where they must, willingly, lose themselves.
Dore Ashton, author and Professor of Art History at The Cooper Union
Caws's love of her subject and intimate knowledge of it are immediately clear.
New Art Examiner