Tom Gunning
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Joseph Cornell’s American appropriation of surrealism by means of cinema
in Surrealism and film after 1945
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This essay deals with Joseph Cornell’s peculiarly American transformation of surrealism in both his more traditional art works, his boxes and collages, and the films he made. Although Cornell’s work frequently displays his Francophile taste, I claim his appropriation of surrealism shows a strong relation not only to European Symbolist poetry, but also American Romanticism as typified by Melville and Hawthorne, but particularly Emily Dickinson. Further, both his boxes and his cinematic work show Cornell’s grasp of the moving image as a unique means for conveying moments of sudden inspiration and revelation, corresponding to what Walter Benjamin called surrealism’s ‘profane illumination’. Cornell’s films, but also his boxes, which frequently evoke the mechanism of ‘pre-cinema’, inscribe an experience of glimpses and sudden revelations through the evanescent aspect of the moving image.

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Surrealism and film after 1945

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