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the Complete Review
the complete review - art / literature

Why Surrealism Matters

Mark Polizzotti

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To purchase Why Surrealism Matters

Title: Why Surrealism Matters
Author: Mark Polizzotti
Genre: Non-fiction
Written: 2024
Length: 169 pages
Availability: Why Surrealism Matters - US
Why Surrealism Matters - UK
Why Surrealism Matters - Canada
from: Bookshop.org (US)
directly from: Yale University Press

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Our Assessment:

B : good, wide-ranging but concise introduction and overview

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
London Rev. of Books . 6/6/2024 Hal Foster
TLS . 10/5/2024 Ian Penman
Wall St. Journa; . 23/2/2024 Michael Saler

  From the Reviews:
  • "In Why Surrealism Matters, Mark Polizzotti, a biographer of Breton and translator of many Surrealist texts, makes a good case for the varied influence of the movement, especially regarding sexual politics and anticolonial struggles. He also points to its many complicities." - Hal Foster, London Review of Books

  • "The first thing to say about Why Surrealism Matters is that it has no pictures. This isn't the kind of caveat you'd normally throw at a serious study, but as an attempt to celebrate a century-long art movement it rather hobbles things out of the gate. (...) The lack of illustrations, combined with the author's stress on Surrealism as idea and ideology (...), leaves a lacuna at the heart of Why Surrealism Matters. You get little sense of how powerful the best Surrealist art is -- or why. (...) Polizzotti's tone is adept and measured, but never fiery or spirited." - Ian Penman, Times Literary Supplement

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Published as part of Yale University Press' 'Why X Matters'-series, Why Surrealism Matters is a handy-sized introduction and overview of Surrealism. Author Mark Polizzotti suggests: "Surrealism's importance lies not so much in the works it produced as in the attitudes underlying them", and it is these, in particular, that he examines here, devoting different chapters to specific aspects of the movement.
       The leading personality over the years remained André Breton, but as Polizzotti points out:

the members of the Surrealist cohort derived much of their energy and identity from their affiliation with the collective. And while they produced many individually signed works, these works take on their full meaning as part of the aggregate. More than any movement before it and all but a few since, Surrealism embraced the idea of association not only as a strategic advantage but as a core element of its existence.
       Polizzotti suggests that, above all, Surrealism tried to: "reinfuse modern life, and modern living, with the lost capacity for marvels", and traces that through their various efforts.
       Even as they challenged bourgeois attitudes, it's amusing to see how traditional many of the Surrealists were in their private lives and behavior. Polizzotti is particularly good at exploring areas where they sometimes fell short -- notably, in making women equal part of the program (with some amusing asides also about their earnest approach to sexuality in general). The dalliance with (Soviet) Communism is well-covered, and Polizzotti also helpfully ranges beyond merely European efforts, considering a number of artists elsewhere and their roles in the movement -- even as he acknowledges Paris as the incontrovertible Surrealist center.
       Polizzotti notes that: "Surrealist productions and actions are defined less by form or medium than by spirit and intent", and he captures and conveys that spirit and intent well here. It makes for a good, short introduction to Surrealism, and a solid case for why it still matters in the present-day -- or why it should.

- M.A.Orthofer, 5 February 2024

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Why Surrealism Matters: Review: Surrealism: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       American author and translator Mark Polizzotti was born in 1957.

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© 2024 the complete review

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