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Surrealist Collage in Text and Image: Dissecting the Exquisite Corpse.

Surrealist Collage in Text and Image: Dissecting the Exquisite Corpse. By ELZA ADAMOWICZ. (Cambridge Studies in French, 56) Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1998. xiv + 248 pp.

This book admirably fulfils its author's aim 'of (re)instating collage at the centre of surrealist practice' (p. 12), nicely complementing recent work on automatic creation. Elza Adamowicz elaborates a wide-ranging and pluralist discussion of the 'art'-form that has been defined as the 'fundamental structural model of the twentieth century' (p. 13). The 'Text and Image' of the title is important, for she adopts as a working hypothesis Breton's claim that the signifying operation of visual collage is 'absolument analogue a l'image poetique' (p. 4), though one of the book's strengths is that this identity is gradually nuanced and subtle differences revealed (verbal collage, for instance, is often invisible). The presiding spirits are Breton and Ernst, with Aragon playing a supporting role, but the text is articulated around illuminating close readings of works by a wide range of others as well (Magritte and Miro, Styrsky, Peret, Eluard), with theoretical underpinnings taken notably from the semiotic rhetoric of Groupe Mu.

After chapters establishing the specificity and range of surrealist collage and its constitutive techniques (cutting, pasting), attention turns to 'syntagmatic structures greater than the sentence' that display the 'perversion of the linear structure of the text' (p. 54): the chapters on the rhetoric, narrative structure, and intertextuality of both verbal and visual collage are particularly original and perceptive. Thus Adamowicz reads Ernst's Une semaine de bonte as a parody of both the melodrama and Freudian dream-explanation, while the chapter on masks explores the (mis)appropriation of existing works (Aragon's rewriting of Fenelon in Aventures de Telemaque, Dali's cannibalization of Sacher-Masoch in 'Les Pantoufles de Picasso'), as well as the surrealist self-portrait of a thousand fragments, often encoded in the city. Finally we return to collage as cadavre, Ernst making visible the insight that 'bodies are always constructs' (p. 159), and he and others performing an ideological dismemberment of public statues. The book is starred with thought-provoking, almost throwaway observations (Breton's 'Union libre' as 'an extended cadavre exquis' (p. 176), 'metaphor celebrates presence' (p. 183)), and Adamowicz succeeds brilliantly in opening up reading perspectives on these fragmentary works which enhance rather than normalize their strangeness, allowing the reader to 'inhabit the gaps' (p. 21) rather than wanting to 'cement [them] over' (p. 22). Her tight focus arguably leads her to undervalue the technical and ideological influence of Dada and Cubism, and she adopts without question Breton's less than objective line on Reverdy and 'L'Image' (p. 81). But these are small reservations about a landmark book that establishes and navigates tellingly between two contrasting structural (aesthetic?) viewpoints on the workings of collage: Breton's metaphorical 'declic analogique' (p. 80), or Ernst's sparks flying from the clash or irreconcilable dissonances, where 'the merveilleux [...] borders on the arbitrary and the absurd' (p. 93).

<ADD> ANDREW ROTHWELL UNIVERSITY OF WALES, SWANSEA </ADD>

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Title Annotation:Review
Author:Rothwell, Andrew
Publication:The Modern Language Review
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jan 1, 2000
Words:491
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