Documents

Documents-1929
Documents-1929

Although I have concentrated on official Surrealism under the leadership of Andre Breton there was another Surrealism: a darker, underground current comprised of renegade and rebel Surrealists that contributed to the magazine Documents under the aegis of the troubling, sinister Georges Bataille.

A librarian and numismatist (a specialist in the study of coins and medals) Bataille in 1928 had written the nightmarish L’histoire de l’oeil (The Story of the Eye), a gruesome work of Surrealist pornography, under the pseudonym Lord Auch (a pun that translates literally as Lord to the Shithouse). In 1929 Bataille launched Documents, a heterodox  journal that featured articles on archaeology, ethnography, art, film and popular culture featuring works by dissident Surrealists including Joan Miro, Andre Masson, Michel Leiris and Jacques-Andre Boiffard. 

Andre Breton, fearing an intellectual rival from within, issued with his customarily vim and gusto the Second Surrealist Manifesto which purged and excommunicated any Surrealist who showed signs of heresy from official orthodoxy from the movements ranks. In retaliation Bataille issued the provocative pamphlet Un Cadavre (A Corpse) with a photo-montage of Breton wearing a crown of thorns with essays by Robert Desnos, Raymond Queneau, Jacques Prevert and Alejo Carpentier among others.

Documents ran for 15 issues between 1929 and 1930. With its idiosyncratic look and melding of high and lows registrars it can be viewed as a very early example of a style magazine. The photography by Jacques-Andre Boiffard and Eli Lotar of mouths, masks, slaughterhouses and big toes, combined with the entries written by Bataille under the title Critical Dictionary retain a disturbing, provocative power.

Bataille and Breton would later be reconciled, however their later exploits will be the subject of a further post in this series on the darker aspects of Surrealism.

I have included a short entry on Man from the Critical Dictionary, which gives a taste of Bataille thought-provoking theory of ‘base materialism’. Also included are photographs from the slaughterhouse and big toe articles.

MAN. 1. “An eminent English chemist, Dr Charles Henry Maye, set out to establish in  a precise manner what man is made of and what is its chemical value. This is the result of his learned researches:

“The bodily fat of a normally constituted man would suffice to manufacture seven cakes of toilet-soap. Enough iron is found in the organism to make a medium-sized nail, and sugar to sweeten a cup of coffee. the phosphorus would provide 2,200 matches. The magnesium would furnish the light needed to take a photograph. In addition, a little potassium and sulphur, but in an unusable quantity.

“These different raw materials, costed at current prices, represent an approximate sum of 25 francs.” (Journal des Debats, 13 August 1929).

un_cadavre[1]
Un Cadavre 1930
Documents-Eli Lotar 1930
Documents-Eli Lotar-La Villette Abattoir 1929
Documents-Eli Lotar-La Villette Abattoir 1929
Documents-Eli Lotar-La Villette Abattoir 1929
Documents-Big Toe, Male Aged 30-J-A Boiffard 1929
Documents-Big Toe, Male Aged 30-J-A Boiffard 1929
Documents-J-A Boiffard Untitled 1929
Documents-J-A Boiffard Untitled 1929
Documents-Karl Blossfeldt-Campanula Vidali enlarged 6 times from Bataille's article The Language of Flowers
Documents-Karl Blossfeldt-Campanula Vidali enlarged 6 times from Bataille’s article The Language of Flowers
Documents-J A Boiffard- Renee Jacobi 1930
Documents-J A Boiffard- Renee Jacobi 1930

49 thoughts on “Documents

    1. That is a long list: politically it would Nationalism, fascism etc. Artistically it would be the pursuit of literature as opposed to poetry (poetry was the Surrealist term for writing that wasn’t literature) and yes, whatever Breton disapproved of. Bataille was too much of an uncompromising Nietzschean as well, and too nihilistic and anti-humanism for Breton liking. The photographs are striking though somewhat disturbing, but that was the point I suspect.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Even the mouth/tongue looks grotesque – as if it were diseased. So if Surrealism was fleshly, this darker side was the corruption of the flesh… the nightmare version of the dream state?

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Hmmm you are not coming up here. Yes, Yukio Mishima the Japanese writer who committed seppuku as a piece of theatre… I send will send you the link. Mishima provides the introduction for some of Bataille horrifying fiction…a big fan.

        Liked by 2 people

  1. Interesting post Mr. Cake. All of the photos have a most disturbing quality to them except for the last one, which is stunning. I’m trying to understand how the last photo ties to the rest. Love the bit on, “MAN”, thank goodness we’re worthy of a little cleanliness and sweetness, I didn’t know we had it in us. Have a good weekend. ~ Miss Cranes

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you Miss Cranes…. I agree that the last photograph is stunning but without the disturbing quality of the others. It was featured in Documents like the rest and it is so good I had to include it. The entry on Man is sinister and funny, and of course from a certain angle completely correct, though with possible disturbing consequences. Lovely to see you again-Mr Cake

      Liked by 1 person

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