RECOMMENDED FOR READING
| Surrealism and the Exotic
Book by Louise Tythacott; Routledge, 2002
Introduction: Surrealism and ethnologie : subversive ideologies The ethnographer, like the Surrealist, is licensed to shock
Surrealism originated in the trenches of the First World War, when the youthful Andr Breton - and others - were exposed to the shock of the traumatized human psyche. From these experiences, not only did an ardent anti-war spirit emerge, but the oneiric disorientation witnessed by Breton became a leitmotif of the subsequent Surrealist movement. Surrealism, and its anarchic predecessor Dada, defined themselves in radical opposition to the brutalized societies all around them - and their rejection of the values of European life drew them ineluctably towards non-European beliefs.
The Surrealists found many ways to provoke the 'irruption of otherness' in the midst of 1920s Paris: the cultivation of hypnotic trance states and automatic drawing, the deliberate wanderings and chance encounters on the streets of themetropolis, the pilgrimages to sites deemed sacred by the group. The Surrealists collected, categorized, displayed and juxtaposed strange or incongruous artefacts. They organized exhibitions of 'primitive', 'psychotic', 'found', 'natural' or 'interpreted' material. They wrote manifestos and published articles which delineated the particularities of their world-view. They even created a map of the world in 1929 to chart their global system of value in which sanctified Surrealist regions - the Pacific, Alaska and Mexico - were magnified. Indeed, from 1924 until the movement's dissolution in the 1950s the Surrealists formed a labyrinthine system of texts, images, actions and expressions with which to encode a radical yet carefully formulated system of belief.
In his Second Manifesto (1929), Andr Breton, the movement's leader, defined Surrealism in terms of the resolution of opposites, as the search for the point at which 'life and death, the real and the imagined, the past and the future, the communicable and the uncommunicable, the heights and the depths, ceased to be perceived as contradictory' (Breton 1967:76-7). The Surrealists wished to destroy artificial contradictions created by modern rationalism and technology; they believed that industrialization, and its warlike consequences, had alienated humankind from a real experience of the world. They sought to dissolve antagonisms between reason and desire, conscious and unconscious, mind and body, work and leisure: in art they derided the arbitrary bourgeois opposition of function and aesthetic. Non-European objects were appropriated specifically to challenge conventional aesthetic categories: in their exhibitions, Duchamp's 'ready-made' bottle-racks were juxtaposed with Oceanic sculptures to question traditional conceptions of art (Plate I.1). The Surrealists used other cultures as a means of transgressing, reshuffling and subverting the orders of Western classificatory systems (Clifford 1988a). By deliberately realigning different cultural realities, adherents believed they could bring into question the very nature of their own European reality.
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| For James Clifford, anthropology too juxtaposes mutually alien world-views, as the customs of the exotic other inevitably confront the beliefs of the ethnographer. Yet the process of assimilating 'otherness' takes varied forms. Two types of anthropology may be distinguished. The first is that which we could call traditional, colonial or modernist, where non-Western classifications are forced to fit into categories of the Western world-view. During the late nineteenth century to the early twentieth century, Western logic and scientific paradigms were tacitly assumed to be superior to all other forms of belief, a hierarchy of knowledge which was clearly translated into the pages of many early texts. James Frazer's The Golden Bough ( 1922), with its evolutionary classifications of world cultures into magic, religion or science, is a poignant example. In his Azande study, Edward Evans-Pritchard (1937) sympathetically revealed the internal logic and rational basis of a social system premised on witchcraft, yet ultimately evaluated the 'truth' of such beliefs in terms of twentieth-century Western science (Winch 1970).
It could be argued that there is another form of anthropology, in which the encounter with otherness provokes a re-evaluation - rather than a confirmation - of the ethnographer's conceptual premises. Exotic cultures are not assimilated into a 'superior' system of representation, but are acknowledged as simply different. Such an approach, embraced to an extent by Surrealists, is more characteristic of post-colonial or postmodern discourses where an engagement with otherness engenders a reflexive attitude and a critical relativization or defamiliarization of the ethnographer's classificatory premises. Marcel Mauss's study of gift exchange (Mauss  1954) alluded to this perspective. By comparing other modes of economic exchange with our own, he brought into question the innate human propensity for rational expenditure and the supposed superiority of the Western capitalist system. In kinship theory, the description of 'male-male' marriages among the Kwakwaka'wakw or 'female-female' marriages among the Dahomey serves to undermine the stable Western notion of the heterosexual relationship. The writings of Rodney Needham (1971) and Edmund Leach (1961) questioned Eurocentric categories in relation to polyandry, polygamy and non-European kinship classification. Nayar women of southern India, who have a ritual husband distinct from the genitor and pater of their children, have beenused to deconstruct the Western concept of marriage. Joanna Overing's 'Today I shall call him Mummy: multiple words and classificatory confusion' (Overing 1985), where she suggests that bizarre indigenous statements should be taken literally as simply alien, and not rationalized into Western conceptions of metaphor, exemplifies a relativist utilization of ethnographic knowledge. There have, of course, been many other examples of 'reflexive' ethnographies written over the past decades.
This latter form of anthropology is inherently subversive, and it is this, the discipline's disruptive potential, that bound it to Surrealism. A Surrealist perspective, once fused with a knowledge of other cultures, provided the catalyst for radical ethnography. And we see in Chapters 8 and 9 how Michel Leiris and Georges Bataille reveal this subversive approach in its extreme.
Ethnologie - not to be confused with its predecessor anthropologie 2 - was a nascent cultural study in 1920s France - youthful, exploratory, not fully defined. Though an cole d'Anthropologie had been founded in 1876 as a centre for the study of physical anthropology (Lebovics 1992:24), ethnologie, as the theoretical study of humankind, only emerged as a discrete academic discipline half a century later. Ethnologie was established as a university course at the Institute of Ethnology at the University of Paris in 1928, the first degree in the subject being awarded in 1943. This contrasts with Britain where developments occurred from the mid-late nineteenth century - an Ethnological Society was formed in 1842, the Anthropological Society of London in 1863, the Anthropological Institute in 1871. British disciplinary boundaries by the early twentieth century had thus been clearly formed.