Are women’s orgasms more intense than men’s? What did André Breton think of homosexuality? Can love be separated from physical desire?
In 1928 a group of surrealist writers and artists held twelve round table discussions to address these questions. Calling them “researches into sexuality,” their bizarre and humorous conversations are now made available in this new edition in all their surreal and salacious detail. Their research spanned the most critical period for surrealism, a time of bitter political disputes, echoed in the intensity of these meetings and in the range of participants, including André Breton, Paul Eluard, Yves Tanguy, Benjamin Péret and Pierre Naville.
Well before the so-called sexual revolution, their erotic exchanges broke sexual taboos and encouraged surrealists to openly share the libidinal themes they explored in their writing and art. In doing so, JoAnn Wypijewski writes in the new introduction, they are revealed as “lovers and prigs, fantasists and humanists, adventurers in mind if not always in flesh—flawed, foolish, brilliant, clangingly sexual human beings.”
Leonora Carrington was a prolific artist and writer, and one of the few women in the surrealist movement. Until recently, she was perhaps more famous for her personal life than her work (besides the riotous novella The Hearing Trumpet): after running off with Max Ernst, she suffered a breakdown and ended up in a Spanish asylum, from which she was rescued by her nanny in a submarine.
Joanna Walsh examines the intertwining of madness and art in surrealism and how Carrington refused the surrealist romanticisation of female madness, describing her time in the Spanish asylum in terms of a forced incarceration. Through her life and work, Walsh traces Carrington's rejection of patriarchal authority through her political activism and through the creation of dreams, myths and symbols centred around the feminine in her art.
This article is part of a series for World Mental Health Day 2015.
Despite occuring over 80 years ago, the discussions in Investigating Sex feel refreshingly contemporary in their frankness, according to Zoe Strimpel in the Observer- although the attitudes towards women feel more than dated.