Review of Sue Roe’s In Montparnasse: The Emergence of Surrealism in Paris, from Duchamp to Dali
A fish rides a bicycle into the Seine. The fish begins to drown and then remembers that it is a fish and starts to fly off into the pipe-smoke colony of clouds. The bicycle floats down the river. It sees things, cycling through a flurry of wonders and impressions. There is the torn yellow umbrella making rapacious love to an industrial sewing machine under a bridge. There are the kids tossing melted flattened clocks in a time-tested game of frisbee. There is the shop-worn mannequin hanging from a streetlamp, and the oily-mustached man drinking green liquid from the mannequin’s glass slipper. There are dreams collecting on the banks of the Seine like a glazed honeycomb of stemless maraschino cherries. The bicycle can’t believe everything its’s seen and absorbed during its long day’s journey down the river, and begins to wonder about its own name and purpose. Am I even a bicycle? Or am I, perhaps, a red balloon dreaming that it’s a bicycle? I mean, if fish can hijack bicycles and then fly off into the clouds, well then who’s to say what I am, what I am not, what I can become.
Questions, images and philosophical ponderances, rooted in and belonging to the “sur-real.” A term that may have been coined by the poet and luminary, Apollinaire, or if we are to take Picasso’s word for it, he was the father-tongue, with Apollinaire adopting his word which stood for “a resemblance deeper and more real than the real.” Then, of course, there’s Andre Breton, he of the Surrealist Manifesto, who took appropriation to the next level and formalized the term “surrealism” into a poetic philosophy, while extending its cope of definition to include automatism, marvelous chance encounters, and the significance of the unconscious. In a wider global, cultural and cosmic sense, none of these men “invented” surrealism (same as Columbus didn’t “discover” America), as drawing words, images and impressions from the unconscious, from unseen realms and dreamscapes, in forms that appear radically divergent from surface “reality,” has a long and varied history. What was new: the organizing forces and influences that went into shaping surrealism as a movement, as well as the context provided by a new century, which catalyzed a sense of fragmentation that found its schisms and shards reflected back through creative seizures and calculated disorder. This is the world that author and art historian, Sue Roe, vividly plunges you into in her new book, In Montparnasse: The Emergence of Surrealism in Paris, from Duchamp to Dali.
Originally from Brooklyn, NY, writer, poet, spoken word performer, and playwright, John Biscello now lives in Taos, New Mexico. He is the author of three novels: Broken Land, a Brooklyn Tale, Raking the Dust, and Nocturne Variations, and a collection of stories, Freeze Tag.
His fiction and poetry has appeared in: Art Times, nthposition, The Wanderlust Review, Ophelia Street, Caper, Polyphony, Dilate, Militant Roger, Chokecherries, Farmhouse, BENT, The 555 Collective, Instigator, Brass Sopaipilla, The Iconoclast, Adobe Walls, Kansas City Voices, and the Tishman Review. His blog--Notes of an Urban Stray--can be read at johnbiscello.blogspot.com. Broken Land, a Brooklyn Tale was named Underground Book Reviews 2014 Book of the Year.