"que de sang caillé sur mon chemin griffé de lumière, l'or défunt des réverbères"

Tag: memoir

Women at the Verge of an Artistic Movement

“Key to Surrealism, a movement that devoted considerable energy to theorizing about the role of Woman in the creative process, was the image of the femme-enfant, the naive woman-child whose spontaneous innocence, uncorrupted by logic or reason, brings her into closer contact with the intuitive realm of the unconscious so crucial to Surrealism. [André] Breton exalted Woman as the prime source of artistic creativity, saying, “The time will come when the ideas of woman will be asserted at the expense of those of man.” However, as Simone de Beauvoir pointed out in her discussion of Breton in The Second Sex, such theories present woman as an object of male definition, as Other rather than Self, leaving little place for the real women among the Surrealist group to develop independent creative identities. Thus, the women of Surrealism, as Gloria Orenstein has suggested, had to struggle against limitations placed on them by the very concepts of Surrealism itself.
Although Whitney Chadwick reports that the majority of women associated with Surrealism have cited Breton and the others as supportive and the movement as a sympathetic milieu, she goes on to point out that the women saw themselves as functioning outside Surrealist doctrine, which was generally formulated in their absence. Especially difficult was the cruelly ironic image of the femme-enfant, which, in equating woman’s creativity with youth and innocence, left little room for maturity or the aging process among the women artists in the group.”


Janet A. Kaplan – Remedios Varo. Unexpected Journeys. 


Remedios Varo – Harmony (detail) 1956. Oil on Masonite. Private Collection.

Remedios Varo – Harmony (detail) 1956. Oil on Masonite. Private Collection.


“Beat women… At the turn of the century in Paris, Rilke sighted their predecessors – the girls who came by themselves to the Cluny Museum to sit in front of the Unicorn tapestries and make small drawings of needlepoint flowers. “The main thing is just to keep drawing,” he wrote in The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge, “for that is the reason they left home one day rather violently. They came from good families. But when they lift their arms as they draw, it appears that their dress isn’t buttoned in back, or at any rate not completely. There are a few buttons that they couldn’t reach. For when the dress was made, no one had imagined that they would suddenly go away, alone.”
For Rilke, it is a foregone conclusion that nothing much will come of all that drawing. Everything is changing, and these vulnerable, penniless, slightly disheveled young girls will become victims of change. They will meet the wrong men – artistic types – and throw themselves away. “They are on the verge of abandoning themselves … This seems to them like progress.”
In the late 1950s, young women – not very many at first – once again left home rather violently. […] Naturally, we fell in love with men who were rebels. We fell very quickly, believing they would take us along on their journeys and adventures. We did not expect to be rebels all by ourselves; we did not count on loneliness. Once we had found our male counterparts, we had too much blind faith to challenge the old male/female rules. We were very young and we were in over our heads. But we knew we had done something brave, practically historic. We were the ones who had dared to leave home.
If you want to understand Beat women, call us transitional – a bridge to the next generation, who in the 1960s, when a young woman’s right to leave home was no longer an issue, would question every assumption that limited women’s lives and begin the long, never-to-be-completed work of transforming relationships with men.”


Joyce Johnson – Minor Characters. A Beat Memoir


Joyce Johnson on Returns (and the Pull of the Past)

“I’ve had a lifelong reluctance to reenter places I’ve left, a resistance to anniversaries, family holidays, visits to graves or offices I used to work in. My adult life has been one of discontinuities. To pass a house where I once lived is to feel a magnet pull upon my innards – I feel I could open the door, climb up the steps, take the key out of my pocket, walk into rooms just as they looked before moving day. Thus I avoid certain streets. If I visit my mother in the apartment where she still lives twenty years after my father’s death, an enormous drowsiness overtakes me. She has a cat who shreds the furniture. One night it vomited on the piano top, removing its mahogany finish.”


Joyce Johnson – Minor Characters. A Beat Memoir.

Mavis Gallant on Writing

“Samuel Beckett, answering a hopeless question form a Paris newspaper – “Why do you write?” – said it was all he was good for: “Bon qu’à ça.”

[…] I have been writing or just thinking about things to write since I was a child. I invented rhymes and stories when I could not get to sleep and in the morning when I was told it was too early to get up, and I uttered dialogue for a large colony of paper dolls. Once, I was astonished to hear my mother say, “Oh, she talks to herself all the time.” I had not realized that that kind of speech could be overheard, and, of course, I was not talking but supplying a voice. If I pin it down as an adult calling, I have lived in writing, like a spoonful of water in a river, for more than forty-five years.”


Mavis Gallant – Preface to The Selected Stories of Mavis Gallant

Joyce Johnson on Writing

“Adversity didn’t bring people together. Wrapped in my sensibility, I wept in the neighborhood luncheonettes. My sadness seemed overwhelming but valuable – the stage you had to pass through to get to some greater wisdom.
Some days I cut classes for the sake of art. It was as if a muffled orchestra played inside my head at such a distance I couldn’t quite get all of what was being played. There were all these tones and rhythms not yet imbued with sense, but suggesting it, calling it into being. I’d write sentences in my notebook and sometimes get very close to this orchestra. Other times it would trick me and vanish around corners, leaving trampled words that made thin, whistling noises when I read them over. I’d be convinced the orchestra would never play again, but then it would resume as if it had never stopped – I’d simply failed to reach it.”


Joyce Johnson – Minor Characters. A Beat Memoir.