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Reviewed by:
  • Surrealist Ghostliness by Katharine Conley, and: Tiny Surrealism: Salvador Dali and the Aesthetics of the Small by Roger Rothman
  • Effie Rentzou
Conley, Katharine. Surrealist Ghostliness. University of Nebraska Press, 2013. 320 pp.
Rothman, Roger. Tiny Surrealism: Salvador Dali and the Aesthetics of the Small. University of Nebraska Press, 2012. 280pp.

Surrealism remains an object of fascination for scholars and the public alike, with ebbs and flows ranging from rejection and devaluation to moments of exciting rediscoveries and theorizations. Following a long period of scholarly disdain in the 1970s, the period of the mid-1980s to mid-1990s was one such moment of reevaluation. Until then a mostly literary movement invested in the production of obscure texts, surrealism was revisited as a dynamic art movement and gained a position in the narratives of modernist art. Parallel blockbuster exhibitions in London, Paris, and New York underscored the ongoing appeal of surrealist art for a contemporary public. Scholarly work of the last ten years shows that surrealism has again become the subject of intense and novel investigation, with interdisciplinary approaches that reveal the epistemological foundations of the movement and its impact on the history of ideas. In accordance with tendencies in modernist studies in general, recent scholarship has been invested in considerably extending the surrealist archive: the surrealist canon is being revised, with the spotlight on lesser-known writers and artists, many of them women, but also on lesser-known theoretical work by prominent figures in the movement, like Breton, Eluard, Aragon, and others. The surrealist geography is also expanding, as interest turns towards the global reach of the movement, the study of local and national surrealist traditions, and their import in our understanding of surrealism as a global phenomenon. To these expansions should be added the revision of surrealism's chronology, as the post-WWII period draws increasing interest and the movement's sway on the avant-garde of the 1950s and the 1960s is reevaluated.

The books under review here, Katharine Conley's Surrealist Ghostliness and Roger Rothman's Tiny Surrealism: Salvador Dali and the Aesthetic [End Page 167] of the Small, are two fine examples of the expanding scholarship on surrealism. Although very different in scope, both books reshape our ideas about surrealism: Conley's study offers a new theorization of surrealism that unifies its diverse and multiple iterations and recasts its chronological limits, while Rothman's book delves into a neglected aspect of the work of one of the most notorious surrealists: Salvador Dali. Surrealist Ghostliness proposes "ghostliness" as a principle that unifies surrealist production–textual and visual–across time. Ghostliness is creatively construed as a particularly fertile term to describe various versions of surrealism's avowal to unravel the multiple and co-existing layers of the real, aiming ultimately for a richer and more complex life. Tiny Surrealism, on the other hand, has a laser focus on Salvador Dali. Rather than exploring the grandiose and megalomaniacal figure of lore, Tiny Surrealism revisits Dali and his work up to the late 1930s through the perspective of the small. "Tiny" describes not only the persistence of small things–like ants– or insignificant details in Dali's paintings, or even his remarkable skill and predilection for miniatures, but also the place of the marginal in general in Dali's work, the insistence on the abject–like bodily fluids, the trivial, the parasitic, the anachronistic. Rothman constructs a rich and multifaceted argument about the importance of smallness in Dali's aesthetic, which he backs with a number of insightful close analyses of paintings (but not objects or film) and careful decoding of Dali's often arcane theoretical texts. Tiny Surrealism meets Surrealist Ghostliness in their insistence on retrieving the invisible, or the barely visible, in surrealist works, and locating in it the core of surrealism's aesthetic. Both books ultimately claim, directly or indirectly, that the predilection for such a de-centered perspective could characterize surrealism's position within modernism in general, as a peripheral or spectral critique of modernist orthodoxies.

Surrealist Ghostliness is Conley's third book on surrealism (Automatic Woman: The Representation of Woman in Surrealism [1996] and Robert Desnos: Surrealism and the Marvelous in Everyday Life [2003...


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pp. 167-175
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