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Surrealist Visions of Pre-Columbian Mesoamerica and the Legacy of Colonialism: the Good, the (Revalued) Bad, and the Ugly

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Comparison of the literary and artistic uses and images of pre-Columbian Mexican and Maya cultures across Surrealist authors and artists reveals both their indebtedness to persistent European stereotypes of Native

Comparison of the literary and artistic uses and images of pre-Columbian Mexican and Maya cultures across Surrealist authors and artists reveals both their indebtedness to persistent European stereotypes of Native American societies originating in the early colonial period and their differing positions within and manipulations of a basic binary in such stereotypes between the demonic barbarian and the Noble Savage. Bataille draws upon the language, emphases, and some of the sources of the demonic model to create his picture of the Aztecs, but inverts the original negative valuation placed on this vision in accordance with his celebration of the base. Artaud seems to follow a variant of the utopian trope shaped by late 19th-century and early 20th century European occultism, including the Traditionalism of Rene Guenon, in envisioning ancient Mexican myths as enshrining the same metaphysical truths as Western and Asian mystical literature, and as a source of spiritual renewal to a European civilization desiccated by rationalism. Breton, in his literary production following his 1938 journey to Mexico, colors a romanticized and essentialist view of Mexican culture past and present with both the psychoanalytic primitivism characteristic of orthodox Surrealist ethnographies and with political hopes related to contemporary historical events and to political variants of the Mexican indigenismo of the time. After the death of Trotsky and triumph of fascism in Europe, members of the Surrealist movement turned increasingly to myth and mysticism, and this is reflected in their adoption of stances toward ancient Mexico in the 1940s and after that approach Artaud’s in their emphasis on the mystical. The work of Wolfgang Paalen represents a paradoxical combination of awareness of the pitfalls of primitivism combined with a tendency towards an idealizing vision of Native American cultures. These variations in the deployment of traditional tropes in Surrealist visions of the pre-Columbian are situated in their specific contemporary social, political, and biographical contexts.

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  • 2008

The Journal of Surrealism and the Americas: Vol. 2 No. 1 (2008)

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The Journal of Surrealism and the Americas: Vol. 2 No. 1 (2008) - Table of Contents

“Surrealism and Ethnography: Introduction” by Amy H. Winter, p. i-vi. 

“Totemic Landscapes and Vanishing Cultures Through

The Journal of Surrealism and the Americas: Vol. 2 No. 1 (2008) - Table of Contents

“Surrealism and Ethnography: Introduction” by Amy H. Winter, p. i-vi. 

“Totemic Landscapes and Vanishing Cultures Through the Eyes of Wolfgang Paalen and Kurt Seligmann” by Marie Mauzé, p. 1-24.

“Surrealist Visions of Pre-Columbian Mesoamerica and the Legacy of Colonialism: the Good, the (Revalued) Bad, and the Ugly” by Keith Jordan, p. 25-63.

“Surrealism and Inuit Art: The Fascination of the Far North” by Florence Duchemin-Pelletier, p. 64-94.

“Bound Objects and Blurry Boundaries: Surrealist Display and (Anti)Nationalism” by Susan Power, p. 95-113.

“Man Ray’s Lost and Found Photographs: Arts of the Americas in Context” by Wendy Grossman, p. 114-139.

“T.J. Demos, The Exiles of Marcel Duchamp” by Bradley Bailey, p. 140-144. 

“The Dalí Renaissance: New Perspectives on His Life and Art after 1940 and Danser Gala: L’Art Bouffe de Salvador Dalí” by Mary Ann Caws, p. 145-146.

“Review of ‘The Art of Lee Miller’: Victoria and Albert Museum, 2007” by Peter Barberie, p. 147-151.

“Frida Kahlo in Philadelphia: Life and Death” by Samantha Kavky, p. 152-156.

“Thinking the ‘Post-Indian’: Remix: New Modernities in a Post-Indian World” by Claudia Mesch, p. 157-161.

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  • 2008