Vision Incision

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Un Chien Andalou-Luis Bunuel & Salvador Dali 1929
A notorious image of the early cinema, the eye-ball slicing scene at the beginning of Un Chien Andalou (The Andalusian Dog) is a shocking example of Golden Age Surrealist provocation. This short film opens with a man (the master of Surrealist shock tactics himself, Luis Bunuel) lazily sharpening a cut-throat razor, with a cigarette stuck in his mouth. He steps out onto the balcony where he stares at the full moon. In a stunning visual rhyme Bunuel slices a woman’s eye-ball and then we witness clouds dissecting and momentarily obscuring the moon. Then the movie proper starts.

Eyes, as I previously noted in Chance Encounters 2, play an important part in Surrealist symbolism. Sight is undoubtedly the primary of all senses, however for the Surrealists vision is not merely a matter of perceiving external phenomena , the visionary experience that transforms reality springs from the unconscious mind and manifests itself most markedly in dreams and madness. Only by completely abandoning ourselves to the dictates of the unconscious and following our deepest hidden impulses, not matter how perverse, can such a transformation be achieved.

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98 thoughts on “Vision Incision

  1. It’s interesting you brought this up. I was looking at some dark romanticism themed photos yesterday and thought that the intense focus on embellished eyes – human and non human – was a form of surrealism. I was not sure I knew what I was talking about but now I do. I appreciate this commentary. Thank you.

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    1. No problem, in my earlier piece Chance Encounters 2 I talk briefly regarding the Surrealists obsession with eyes mentioning works (including Un Chien Andalou) I will post one day about The Story of the Eye which is the closest thing to Surrealist pornography that I know of. Interestingly the art work of schizophrenics frequently focus on the eye as well.

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    1. I usually agree with you Salome but I see this more as a metaphor on the relationship between director and audience, and a assault on rationality and sight as opposed to vision. But maybe I am too lenient on Bunuel who is one of my favourites

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      1. I know you dear and I certainly never wish to offend you, you are one of my loyal followers and best critics.I do try to balance my posts with the work of women artists and I usually acknowledge the undoubted misogyny of some of the painting and photos, it is just in this case I don’t believe the violence to be specifically concerned with gender. Hope we are still cool

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      2. We are very cool, always. Never worry about just telling me your thoughts and what you see. If you love Donald Trump for POTUS, that could cause a rift. All else is groovy. I enjoy your perspectives.

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      3. Troubling question requiring too much typing. The short version is he is there for angry, distrustful, paranoid white Christian men who see the world changing and don’t like it. They like his anger and how he poses as an “outsider” who is going to fix everything.

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      4. Hmmm well American politics are certainly livelier than over here, I hate to be cynical and jaded but in Europe hardly anyone would possess the level of idealism to pay credence to Trump or any other politician, I don’t know if that is a good or bad thing

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      5. It’s a good thing. 3/4 Americans believe in God and our demographics are shifting so they feel in the minority somehow, that what they took for granted (all Americans are Christian or should be) can’t be anymore. At the same time, “minorities” are rising in numbers and percentage of the populace and whites, esp white Christian men, are flipping out because they don’t determine who is president anymore.

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      6. I lived for a decade in America in Baltimore. There are many good things about America, however I never really got the politics. Also the whole patriotism I found strange. Patriotism in my belief is the last refuge of the scoundrel. Personally I dislike politics and my leanings would be towards anarchism but I have no idea how that could work in the real world.

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      7. Yes he was from New Jersey of Jewish heritage though like most Surrealist he was a militant atheist. His best mate was Marcel Duchamp who in search of a change considered converting but instead dragged up at became Rrose Selavy for a while

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      8. Well Duchamp probably deserves several posts all to himself, I have mentioned him several times in passing, and he gets a big mention in Alpha & Omega and the image at the top of my story Proof is a Duchamp. You can’t blame the father for the sins of his children(metaphorical children obviously) but all the rubbishy pretentious allegedly subversive(even though it can only ever exist in a museum environment, that it at the behest of wealthy cultural institutions) conceptual and installation art you have Duchamp to thank for providing the intellectual justification

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      1. I didn’t mind Motown though it wouldn’t be that high on my play lists. I have no time for country which is ironic as I hear a lot of it. Maybe they are some posts from April, including one which tells you were the saartchi got his money from

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  2. Hmmm. I am intrigued by such transformations. Interestingly enough they often can come from the opening of the third EYE. Although, not everyone is able to achieve this….eye-opening experience. Another interesting (emily) post Cake. Thank you for sharing. On a side note, today I am practicing my politeness…in your honor.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Mr. Cake, again a wonderful post. Another image that is hard to look at without becoming unraveled. Apparently I have an extreme sensitivity to the idea of injury to the eyes. It is shocking! Yet the point is understandable, the Surrealist and their ideas behind the sense of sight is fascinating, and perhaps closer to the truth than realized. ~ Miss Cranes

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      1. Thank you for clarifying that Mr. Cake. I didn’t realize, “Premonition” was part of the trilogy, maybe because I was able to look at the artwork without wincing. Yes agreed, “Vision Incision” is quite a title, it says it all!

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      1. Do you remember the scene in A Clockwork Orange where Malcolm McDowell’s character is strapped to the chair with his eyes held open and he’s forced to watch those horrible images? I could barely sit through that scene. The eye – so sensitive. The thought of damaging it, cutting it, absolutely has me coming unglued. For Dali and Bunuel? Mission accomplished.

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      2. I do. There is also the Freudian interpretation regarding eyes which may be in play in this image, this can be found in Batailles The Story of the Eye, though this book is definitely over the top and hard to stomach

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      3. All right I went back and read the post in full… Are you saying there’s a connection with the cutting out of the eye at the start of the film with the way the severed eye was used in the novella?

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      4. Truly horrific. What a coincidence, I was just talking about Malcolm McDowell and that very scene last night! It’s one of the most memorable movie scenes ever, even if you can’t watch it all the way through.

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  4. Another good post and a wonderful still shot to start. I still shiver and cringe every time I look at this. Look? It’s hard to even think about. Octavio Paz always said he was NOT a surrealist. He used their techniques initially and then developed them. First dig into the subconscious and then examine and polish what you draw out. This seems to be the development of automatic writing from an act and an art form in itself into a more conscious, polished format. I try and initiate my work this way, basing my own poetic creativity on Lorca, Paz, and sundry other artists across the centuries who seem to have travelled a similar path.

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  5. I am wondering whether the movement from “free association and automatic writing” to what I think of as “planned association and structured writing” was the intellectual dividing barrier that split Lorca from Dali and Bunuel. There were, of course, other ‘dividing barriers’ at the social level, but I am not able to commentate on them as I do not have a complete knowledge of facts that were deeply hidden at the time.

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