BREAK OF DAY

Originally published in France in 1934, this complements previously translated collections of essays by the leading theorist of Surrealism (The Lost Steps and Free Rein, 1996), this time focusing on works written during the period of Surrealist maturation (1924—33). Ranging significantly in content and style, this compendium does justice to Breton’s complex character, just as it pinpoints some innate contradictions within Surrealism. Despite that movement’s “will towards complete disorientation from everything,” Breton demonstrates an acute awareness of reality around him, addressing politics, ideology, art, criminal trials, psychiatry, and mesmerism. Many of his pronouncements betray an intimate knowledge of Marx, Engels, and Lenin, whom he holds in high esteem. “Surrealism’s total commitment to dialectical materialism” and to “the admirable cause of the proletariat” prompts him to apply rigid ideological criteria to artists and writers. He dismisses out of hand such literary icons as Claudel, Cocteau, and France, all of whom he condemns as counterrevolutionaries due to their association with the French literary establishment. Meanwhile, Breton extols everything exhibiting even a grain of revolt against the existing order of things. In his effusive praise of Dal°, Eluard, and Russian Futurist poet Mayakovsky, the Surrealist credo remains in the forefront, with its subversion, voluntary hallucination, and “automatic writing.” Although Surrealist creative output failed to implement the goal of automatic, or subconscious, writing, Breton considers it the cornerstone of modern art, comparing it to mediumistic composition. It’s refreshing to hear Breton acknowledge his indebtedness to certain personalities from the past, particularly German Romantic Achim von Arnim and French Symbolist Rimbaud. The ultimate goal of art, according to Breton, is not to describe what can be observed by all, but to give flesh and blood to the unseen world accessible only to the artist’s perception. Breton’s flowery prose, permeated with bizarre imagery and disjointed fantasies and punctuated by frequent ellipsis, is made still more challenging to read in the present translation: what sounds highfalutin in French often degenerates into awkward, run-on English sentences.

Pub Date: Oct. 18, 1999

ISBN: 0-8032-1259-3

Page Count: 160

Publisher: Univ. of Nebraska

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 1999

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IN MY PLACE

From the national correspondent for PBS's MacNeil-Lehrer Newshour: a moving memoir of her youth in the Deep South and her role in desegregating the Univ. of Georgia. The eldest daughter of an army chaplain, Hunter-Gault was born in what she calls the ``first of many places that I would call `my place' ''—the small village of Due West, tucked away in a remote little corner of South Carolina. While her father served in Korea, Hunter-Gault and her mother moved first to Covington, Georgia, and then to Atlanta. In ``L.A.'' (lovely Atlanta), surrounded by her loving family and a close-knit black community, the author enjoyed a happy childhood participating in activities at church and at school, where her intellectual and leadership abilities soon were noticed by both faculty and peers. In high school, Hunter-Gault found herself studying the ``comic-strip character Brenda Starr as I might have studied a journalism textbook, had there been one.'' Determined to be a journalist, she applied to several colleges—all outside of Georgia, for ``to discourage the possibility that a black student would even think of applying to one of those white schools, the state provided money for black students'' to study out of state. Accepted at Michigan's Wayne State, the author was encouraged by local civil-rights leaders to apply, along with another classmate, to the Univ. of Georgia as well. Her application became a test of changing racial attitudes, as well as of the growing strength of the civil-rights movement in the South, and Gault became a national figure as she braved an onslaught of hostilities and harassment to become the first black woman to attend the university. A remarkably generous, fair-minded account of overcoming some of the biggest, and most intractable, obstacles ever deployed by southern racists. (Photographs—not seen.)

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 1992

ISBN: 0-374-17563-2

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 1992

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Necessarily swift and adumbrative as well as inclusive, focused, and graceful.

A LITTLE HISTORY OF POETRY

A light-speed tour of (mostly) Western poetry, from the 4,000-year-old Gilgamesh to the work of Australian poet Les Murray, who died in 2019.

In the latest entry in the publisher’s Little Histories series, Carey, an emeritus professor at Oxford whose books include What Good Are the Arts? and The Unexpected Professor: An Oxford Life in Books, offers a quick definition of poetry—“relates to language as music relates to noise. It is language made special”—before diving in to poetry’s vast history. In most chapters, the author deals with only a few writers, but as the narrative progresses, he finds himself forced to deal with far more than a handful. In his chapter on 20th-century political poets, for example, he talks about 14 writers in seven pages. Carey displays a determination to inform us about who the best poets were—and what their best poems were. The word “greatest” appears continually; Chaucer was “the greatest medieval English poet,” and Langston Hughes was “the greatest male poet” of the Harlem Renaissance. For readers who need a refresher—or suggestions for the nightstand—Carey provides the best-known names and the most celebrated poems, including Paradise Lost (about which the author has written extensively), “Kubla Khan,” “Ozymandias,” “The Charge of the Light Brigade,” Wordsworth and Coleridge’s Lyrical Ballads, which “changed the course of English poetry.” Carey explains some poetic technique (Hopkins’ “sprung rhythm”) and pauses occasionally to provide autobiographical tidbits—e.g., John Masefield, who wrote the famous “Sea Fever,” “hated the sea.” We learn, as well, about the sexuality of some poets (Auden was bisexual), and, especially later on, Carey discusses the demons that drove some of them, Robert Lowell and Sylvia Plath among them. Refreshingly, he includes many women in the volume—all the way back to Sappho—and has especially kind words for Marianne Moore and Elizabeth Bishop, who share a chapter.

Necessarily swift and adumbrative as well as inclusive, focused, and graceful.

Pub Date: April 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-300-23222-6

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Yale Univ.

Review Posted Online: Feb. 9, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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