Poetry News

Elizabeth Zuba Reviews Ideas Have No Smell

By Harriet Staff
Ideas Have No Smell, Three Belgian Surrealist Poets, cover

Visit Hyperallergic to read writer and translator Elizabeth Zuba's take on three Belgian Surrealists' booklets, recently published by Ugly Duckling Presse. Zuba foregrounds her assessment with some context: "In April 1945, a young Marcel Broodthaers interrupted a performance event of Resistance Poetry in Brussels shouting from the audience 'Louis Aragon, when will you stop compromising French poetry?,' followed by the theatrical slamming of a door behind him by friend and artist Christian Dotrement, Broodthaers immediately reopening it and sitting back down as if nothing had happened." From there: 

It’s a story that gets repeated because it works as a great anecdote for contextualizing Broodthaers’s circumlocutory, cerebral work (triple-layered irony, full-tilt theatrics, and the politics and conventions of performance, exhibition, publication … to wit, Broodthaers loved Aragon). But strangely, the story almost always stops there, rarely spinning into a larger, and exceedingly overdue, conversation on Belgian Surrealism.

That Magritte was a mentor and influence to Broodthaers is an established cornerstone of any study of his work; what has proven harder to incorporate into the literature on Broodthaers is the direct and pervasive lineage of Paul Nougé, Marcel Lecomte, E.L.T. Mesens, and, in general, the formative dada-surrealist writers whose trenchant and provocative intellectual work he avidly consumed as a young man. This of course may be due in part to the usual menacing forces of category (literature. visual art.) but in this case an even larger blindfold may figure — that the Surrealist movement in Belgium has been by and large forgotten and otherwise marginalized from the art historical canon of Surrealism ex officio (excepting Magritte, of course). The general consensus on this neglect is that it is likely owed, in fairly equal parts, to both the Belgian Surrealists’ significant theoretical divergences from the French (making for a messier reduction in canonical approaches to the movement), as well as the group’s staunch ethic of underground and elliptical obscurity. As such, and despite the scintillating exchange of ideas and criticism that fueled the wide and divergent influence of both the French and Belgian movements, the latter now figures as scarcely a footnote in the textbooks.

Learn more at Hyperallergic

Originally Published: January 16th, 2019