Books by Mary Ann Caws

Released: Nov. 1, 1999

A collective biography of painters, art critics, and writers who evolved from a tight-knit company of Cambridge friends to form the Bloomsbury group—with a particular, generally pedestrian, focus on their visits to France between 1910 and 1940. France suffused the Bloomsbury group in several ways: through the assimilation of French artistic trends in Bloomsbury art, through the more forthright promotion of French culture in England by Bloomsbury figures, through the group's literary translations. Lured by the warmth and bright colors of Provence, Bloomsbury artists created numerous studies of beaches, bathers, landscapes, and harbor scenes. Vanessa Bell's and Duncan Grant's paintings clearly parallel the art of such French masters as CÇzanne and Derain. The Parisian scene offered the group a chance to mingle with the European cultural elite, including Gide, Picasso, Matisse, Russian artists Larionov and Goncharova, and Ballet Russe founder Diaghilev. Among the Bloomsbury contributions to the advancement of French culture: Duncan Grant was invited by Jacques Copeau to design costumes for his theatrical productions; Roger Fry organized post-impressionist exhibitions in London and lectured on CÇzanne; Clive Bell was made Chevalier of the Legion d'Honneur for his efforts on behalf of French art abroad. In addition, Fry became the first English translator of MallarmÇ, whose work was crucial to the appreciation of symbolist poetry in England. Conversely, Charles Mauron's translations of the most eminent Bloomsbury writers, Virginia Woolf and E.M. Forster, introduced English literature to the French reading public. Though Anglo-French cultural relations are aptly rendered in the chapters on literary translations and creative interchange between French and English painters, insignificant issues predominate. Too many dates, places, itineraries, and gastronomical preferences make for a drabness broken only by the odd sexual liaison. (211 halftones, 1 map, 14 color illus.) Read full book review >
BREAK OF DAY by André Breton
Released: Oct. 18, 1999

Originally published in France in 1934, this complements previously translated collections of essays by the leading theorist of Surrealism (The Lost Steps and Free Rein, 1996), this time focusing on works written during the period of Surrealist maturation (1924—33). Ranging significantly in content and style, this compendium does justice to Breton's complex character, just as it pinpoints some innate contradictions within Surrealism. Despite that movement's "will towards complete disorientation from everything," Breton demonstrates an acute awareness of reality around him, addressing politics, ideology, art, criminal trials, psychiatry, and mesmerism. Many of his pronouncements betray an intimate knowledge of Marx, Engels, and Lenin, whom he holds in high esteem. "Surrealism's total commitment to dialectical materialism" and to "the admirable cause of the proletariat" prompts him to apply rigid ideological criteria to artists and writers. He dismisses out of hand such literary icons as Claudel, Cocteau, and France, all of whom he condemns as counterrevolutionaries due to their association with the French literary establishment. Meanwhile, Breton extols everything exhibiting even a grain of revolt against the existing order of things. In his effusive praise of Dal°, Eluard, and Russian Futurist poet Mayakovsky, the Surrealist credo remains in the forefront, with its subversion, voluntary hallucination, and "automatic writing." Although Surrealist creative output failed to implement the goal of automatic, or subconscious, writing, Breton considers it the cornerstone of modern art, comparing it to mediumistic composition. It's refreshing to hear Breton acknowledge his indebtedness to certain personalities from the past, particularly German Romantic Achim von Arnim and French Symbolist Rimbaud. The ultimate goal of art, according to Breton, is not to describe what can be observed by all, but to give flesh and blood to the unseen world accessible only to the artist's perception. Breton's flowery prose, permeated with bizarre imagery and disjointed fantasies and punctuated by frequent ellipsis, is made still more challenging to read in the present translation: what sounds highfalutin in French often degenerates into awkward, run-on English sentences. Read full book review >