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Whilst many women surrealists worked across different media such as painting,
sculpture, photography, and writing, contemporary historiographies have tended
to foreground the visual aspects of this oeuvre. Featuring original essays by
leading scholars of surrealism, Surrealist Women’s Writing: A Critical
Exploration offers the first sustained critical inquiry into the writing of
women associated with surrealism. The volume aims to demonstrate the
extensiveness and the historical, linguistic, and culturally contextual breadth
of this writing, as well as to highlight how the specifically surrealist poetics
and politics that characterise these writers’ work intersect with and contribute
to contemporary debates on, for example, gender, sexuality, subjectivity,
xenophobia, anthropocentrism, and the environment.
Drawing on a variety of innovative theoretical approaches, the essays in the volume focus on the writing of a number of women surrealists, many of whom have hitherto mainly been known for their visual rather than their literary production: Claude Cahun, Leonora Carrington, Kay Sage, Colette Peignot, Suzanne Césaire, Unica Zürn, Ithell Colquhoun, Leonor Fini, Dorothea Tanning and Rikki Ducornet.
Surrealist Women’s Writing: A Critical Exploration offers an important resource for scholars and students across the fields of modernist literature, the historical avant-garde, literary and visual surrealism and its legacies, feminism, and critical theory.
In addition to outlining the aims, rationale, and themes of the volume, the introduction considers how historiographies of women associated with surrealism have tended to favour their visual output at the expense of their written oeuvres – an imbalance the volume seeks to rectify. Furthermore, the introduction interrogates the critical shorthand ‘women’s art/literature’ from a feminist point of view.
This chapter reads Leonora Carrington’s French short stories published in the volumes The House of Fear (1938) and The Oval Lady (1939) as an active engagement with surrealist theories of collage and subjectivity, as they were articulated by André Breton and Max Ernst. The chapter argues that whilst Carrington’s stories participate in surrealist experiments with ‘convulsive identity’, they simultaneously express an ambivalence about the effects for women of the surrealist exaltation of passivity, irrational abandon, and non-agency. Ultimately, the chapter suggests, Carrington’s engagement with and extension of the theories and practices of Breton and Ernst demonstrate that surrealist theory is not a ‘male project’, as has sometimes been argued; moreover, it proposes that such theory includes implicitly feminist elements.