Friday, August 1, 2014

Surrealists Inspired by Lautréamont

Isidore-Lucien Ducasse (1846-1870) was a Uruguayan-born French poet who, under the pseudonym Comte de Lautréamont, published Les Chants de Maldoror in 1869. Although he died as a relatively unknown writer, his works resurfaced and became a crucial inspiration for the burgeoning surrealist movement in the early twentieth century. It was while reading Les Chants de Maldoror that French surrealist André Breton discovered the singular phrase that became foundational to the surrealist doctrine of objective chance: "as beautiful as the chance encounter of a sewing machine and an umbrella on an operating table."

This metaphor captures one of the most important principles of surrealist aesthetic: the enforced juxtaposition of two completely alien realities that challenges an observer's preconditioned perception of reality. German surrealist Max Ernst would also refer to Lautréamont's sewing machine and umbrella to define the structure of the surrealist painting as "a linking of two realities that by all appearances have nothing to link them, in a setting that by all appearances does not fit them."

Lautréamont’s prose poem is comprised of six cantos that recount the epic of the anti-hero Maldoror who seeks to combat the forces of God and humanity. The work is full of sadistic, cynical passages that work in conjunction with ironic references to classical authors such as Homer, Dante, and Shakespeare. Surrealists identified themselves with Lautréamont’s use of black humor and celebrated the ways in which he defied convention, ridiculed values and standards, and challenged the construct of absolute reason.

Belgian surrealist René Magritte drew a series of full-page illustrations and vignettes in a caricatural style for a 1948 edition of Les Chants de Maldoror that can be found here at Rauner. To read the famous passage from Les chants de Maldoror that inspired André Breton to represent surrealism as “the chance encounter of a sewing machine and an umbrella on an operating table,” ask for Ilus M276d and turn to page 166.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Colonial Edition

And another thing... the book inside that box with noxious chemicals. The reason we took a look in the box in the first place is because the book within is a "colonial edition" put out by George Bell and Sons. Colonial editions were a ploy used by British publishers to protect their market share in the colonies by offering current literature at cheaper prices.

This book is part of Bell's "Indian and Colonial Library" of books "issued for circulation in India and the Colonies only." We have another colonial edition of another Crane novel, Active Services (London: William Heinemann, 1900), that states more boldly "Issues for sale in the British Colonies and India, and not to be imported into Europe or the United States of America." The result was to stunt local production and maintain British publishing dominance.


Ask for Crane PS1449.C85 L34 1902.