Susan Laxton is Associate Professor of Modernism and the History of Photography at University of California Riverside. Her Surrealism at Play (Duke University Press, 2019) offers the first critical assessment of the dynamic, collective and destructive ludic strategies operating at the heart of the movement. She is currently preparing a book manuscript, Post-Industrial Photography, on the shifting structures of politics and labor shaping mid-twentieth century photographic practice.
French surrealism at mid-twentieth century was marked (some would say, marred) by André Breton’s new-found interest in esoteric knowledge—a period, argues Gavin Parkinson in his latest book, in which surrealism “willingly entered a critical and theoretical wilderness with its advocacy of magic and occultism in its art, poetry and theory, and its insistence on the ‘indispensable condition of enchantment’—the impenetrable nucleus of resistance to human inquiry that exists within any system of knowledge” (322). Parkinson’s justification for what he calls surrealism’s “journey into obscurity,” is an accomplished revisionist account of what has been treated as surrealism’s most misguided moment, one that Parkinson has successfully complicated—and recuperated—with the movement’s engagement with metaphor, symbolism, regional medievalism, and abstraction, as articulated by Breton’s concurrent assessment of fin-de-siècle French painting (323).