Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Caillois in Essex

Some alert persons may be wondering what took me to England for the weekend, as the place is certainly not affordable at the current dollar-to-pound exchange rate. Then again, perhaps everyone is more immersed in wondering when 1) I will show more rabbit photos or 2) I will stop showing all those rabbit photos.
Specifically, there was a symposium on Roger Caillois at the University of Essex.
I do not claim to be an expert on Caillois (and thus was not asked to give a paper). My knowledge of Caillois is fairly limited, although I do have Claudine Frank's recent Caillois reader stored in a box. Actually, it was my limited familiarity with Caillois that prompted me to attend. Caillois was briefly a member of the Paris surrealist group, and let's just say that I have been intrigued by the way that one of his better-known essays fits with some of Toyen's work.
While I was pondering that, I happened to glance over my transcriptions of Breton's letters to Nezval, and noticed that Caillois had visited the Prague surrealists in 1934.
There is not a massive amount of information on Caillois available to me in Prague (that I am aware of), so I took what little I could get, and then headed for the symposium. After all, not only would it be full of Caillois experts whom I could interrogate, but it was masterminded by Donna Roberts, who did her dissertation on Josef Šíma and Le Grand Jeu. Donna puts together very interesting symposia and is good company as well.
The papers were interesting, if often a bit over my head (as a result of my having read so little Caillois). I reconnected with Donna and with Raihan, another surrealist scholar, with whom I had gone on a peculiar sort of anabasis all around Colchester during my last visit to Essex when we spent a very long time trying to locate other surrealist types at a pub and incidentally discovered that we had gone to high school in close proximity and done our undergraduate degrees at the same university.
Furthermore, I got to meet various of the Caillois scholars and request their guidance on where best to look up Caillois' visit to Prague. While everyone was very friendly, apparently the visit to Prague was not foremost in anyone's research. I had rather thought that people would immediately say "Oh, you can read all about it in ____." Instead, people tended to have a vague recollection that he had gone to Prague but did not have any particular information to offer about it. Caillois' encounter with the Prague surrealists (which as far as I can tell may have lasted for months) remains something to investigate.
All in all, however, the symposium was quite enjoyable, especially afterwards when about ten of us descended upon a pub in Wivenhoe and subsequently devoured a lot of Indian food while discussing Caillois, Toyen, pubs, and how Donna should become a TV host who would deal with art-historical topics. As regards the latter, our collective notion is that it will be very funny and satirize certain present-day art-historical gods and goddesses, about whom I will remain silent on this blog.

Note: While Caillois is known for a wide variety of things, his most famous act as a surrealist appears to have been his dispute with Breton over whether to open a Mexican jumping bean and see what was inside. Being of a scientific turn of mind, Caillois favored opening the bean, whereas Breton preferred the nature of the bean to remain mysterious. (I find this rather hard to believe since I learned in childhood that Mexican jumping beans move because they are wormy, but I suppose this information had not reached France in the 1930s.)

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6 Comments:

Blogger P'tit-Loup said...

In my mind, there can never be too many rabbit pictures! Thanks for the link on Lily Boulanger, that was great. Its sounds like your trip to England was well worth it too.

April 05, 2007 6:09 AM  
Blogger Princess Haiku said...

Were any of the Prague surrealists women? Your conference sounded interesting. Leaving some crunchy lettuce behind for bunny.

April 05, 2007 9:22 AM  
Blogger Karla said...

Actually, Toyen, my dissertation artist, was a woman. The dissertation looks at how she constructs gender and eroticism (although it covers a lot of additional topics as well in order to give context and provide a more thorough analysis, which is where Caillois comes in).

Toyen was the only woman who was significant in the original Prague surrealist group (Katy King seems to have been mainly a friend of Nezval), but the present-day Czechoslovak surrealist group has more women, of whom the recently deceased Eva Švankmajer is the best known.

Ms. Spots and Orion are always delighted to receive adulation and treats, even if virtual rather than physical.

April 05, 2007 9:44 AM  
Blogger Kristen said...

Actually just the George Pile O' Poo photo. Perhaps you can crop it? ;)


I guess you must have missed the V&A's surrealism show.

April 06, 2007 12:40 AM  
Blogger Karla said...

All the photos of George and Ms. Spots kissing include the regrettable pile o' droppings. I'm afraid the only way to crop it out (which I've always wanted to do) would crop a lot of rabbit.

George could have fertilized an entire garden on his own. But once upon a time he was able to use a litter box and indeed did do so...

April 06, 2007 10:35 PM  
Blogger Kristen said...

Well, I think the picture would be much cuter with, um, less rabbit. The enormous pile of droppings distracts from the cutness of the kissing. Call me squeamish, but...

April 07, 2007 6:25 AM  

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