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Surrealist Ghostliness

Katharine Conley

Publication Year: 2013

In this study of surrealism and ghostliness, Katharine Conley provides a new, unifying theory of surrealist art and thought based on history and the paradigm of puns and anamorphosis. In Surrealist Ghostliness, Conley discusses surrealism as a movement haunted by the experience of World War I and the repressed ghost of spiritualism. From the perspective of surrealist automatism, this double haunting produced a unifying paradigm of textual and visual puns that both pervades surrealist thought and art and commemorates the surrealists’ response to the Freudian unconscious. Extending the gothic imagination inherited from the eighteenth century, the surrealists inaugurated the psychological century with an exploration of ghostliness through doubles, puns, and anamorphosis, revealing through visual activation the underlying coexistence of realities as opposed as life and death.

Surrealist Ghostliness explores examples of surrealist ghostliness in film, photography, painting, sculpture, and installation art from the 1920s through the 1990s by artists from Europe and North America from the center to the periphery of the surrealist movement. Works by Man Ray, Claude Cahun, Brassaï and Salvador Dalí, Lee Miller, Dorothea Tanning, Francesca Woodman, Pierre Alechinsky, and Susan Hiller illuminate the surrealist ghostliness that pervades the twentieth-century arts and compellingly unifies the century’s most influential yet disparate avant-garde movement.

Published by: University of Nebraska Press


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pp. 1-3

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. 4-7


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pp. vii-8

List of Illustrations

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pp. viii-x

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pp. xi-xvi

Surrealist Ghostliness began with the insight I had in 2000 that sur-realist perception was necessarily double and that anamorphosis functions well as a visual paradigm for this doubleness because of the way surrealism purports to harness both our conscious and unconscious minds into a kind of idealized synthesis, what André Breton, ...

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pp. xvii-21

I wish to thank those who have been generous about welcoming my questions and theories as I approached their own work or that of members of their family, most particularly Dorothea Tanning, Pierre Alechinsky, Susan Hiller, and Tony and Roz Penrose. I would not have had the courage to do this work without your support. I also ...

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pp. 1-20

...not quite four years after the end of World War I, with the response of André Breton to René Crevel’s story about what he did over his summer vacation. Walking on a beach in 1922, Crevel met a medium who invited him to a séance because she had “discerned particular mediumistic qualities” in him, resulting in what Breton called ...

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1 The Cinematic Whirl of Man Ray’s Ghostly Objects

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pp. 21-44

...intimacy by subliminally telegraphing the extent to which they had acquired human qualities transferred to them by human touch, thus making them ghostly. He challenged the assumption that inanimate things cannot have an inner life, a ghostly interiority produced in concert with the history of their use and their association with human ...

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2 Claude Cahun’s Exploration of the Autobiographical Human

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pp. 45-68

...version of the human being in her autobiographical self-representations, a personal archive that blurs the boundaries, categories, and norms of established sexualities and ages.1 Like most archives this intimate photographic archive of the body carries ghosts of the past into the present and future and proposes multiple possible ...

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3 The Ethnographic Automatism of Brassaï and Dalí’s Involuntary Sculptures

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pp. 69-90

In Brassaï (born Gyula Halasz in Brasso, Transylvania) and Salvador Dalí’s collaboration for the surrealist art journal Minotaure in 1933 on a series of photographs titled Sculptures involontaires (henceforth Involuntary Sculptures), ghostliness emerges from the anamorphic ambiguity of...

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4 The Ghostliness in Lee Miller’s Egyptian Landscapes

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pp. 91-118

Lee Miller’s photography captures the ghost images of human bodies that emerge as visual puns in the paradoxically empty landscapes she shot in Egypt in the mid-1930s, creating photographs that emphasize her medium’s generic tendency to refer to mortality and time. These photographs elaborate a psychic geography that genders surrealist ghostliness and reflects...

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5 Dorothea Tanning’s Gothic Ghostliness

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pp. 119-150

Dorothea Tanning’s work hums with an inner energy sometimes expressed in the turning movements of dancing bodies. Even in stillness, the young women in her paintings contain an explosive force that propels them beyond the frame. This hint of a ghostly and tactile third dimension expressed...

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6 Francesca Woodman’s Ghostly Interior Maps

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pp. 151-178

Ghostliness emerges in Francesca Woodman’s photographs of houses that appear haunted. With her settings, composition, and strategic blurring she uses a documentary medium to show a double reality in a manner that epitomizes surrealist ghostliness in part by deftly recalling spiritualism, surrealism’s...

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7 Pierre Alechinsky’s Ghostly Palimpsests

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pp. 179-200

Pierre Alechinsky’s superimposition of historical time periods and worldviews in his ink drawings on old maps create coexisting palimpsestic realities that quintessentially embody the concept of sur-realist ghostliness. His Central Park (1965), chosen by Breton for the last major surrealist exhibition before his death,1 was the first ...

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8 Susan Hiller’s Freudian Ghosts

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pp. 201-226

Susan Hiller’s From the Freud Museum (1991–97) activates the archival dimension of surrealist ghostliness, which is made of two coexisting oppositional forces — one retrospective, one anticipatory — that pivot on an oscillating present moment.1 The pre– and post–World War II time periods brought together by the placement of Hiller’s work ...

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pp. 227-232

Returning from World War I, the first generation of surrealists, which included André Breton, Paul Eluard, and Max Ernst, shared a heightened awareness of mortality connected to the intense experience of this particular war, in which death was everywhere visible and scious fed a desire to build something new that was haunted by the ...


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pp. 233-256


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pp. 257-274


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pp. 275-299

E-ISBN-13: 9780803246027
E-ISBN-10: 0803246021
Print-ISBN-13: 9780803226593

Page Count: 308
Illustrations: 50
Publication Year: 2013