Subversive Intent & Beyond: Surrealism, Politics, Sexuality – 1-2 June 2018

Subversive Intent & Beyond: Surrealism, Politics, Sexuality

University of Cambridge
1-2 June 2018


Brad Epps (University of Cambridge)

Alyce Mahon (University of Cambridge)

Subversive Intent & Beyond: Surrealism, Politics, Sexuality is a two-day symposium which aims to address the subversive intents and contestatory acts, the legacies and lessons, of Surrealism, especially as they bear on politically charged questions of sexuality, gender, race and nationality. Our symposium takes as a critical focal point Susan Rubin Suleiman’s Subversive Intent: Gender, Politics and the Avant-Garde (1990), in arguing for a ‘feminist poetics’ that subverted a longstanding masculinist tradition. Since the publication of Suleiman’s book, numerous scholars have taken that argument further and/or expanded Surrealism’s history to acknowledge a warren of transnational multi-gendered, polysexual, ethnically and racially diverse positions. Inasmuch as our conference signals a ‘beyond’ to subversive intents, it aims to map the trajectories of other subversive intents, other voices and practices, related, in one way or another, to Surrealism’s heterogeneous history.

The symposium is also planned to coincide with the fiftieth anniversary of May 1968 and takes as a second focal point how the events of ’68 might be seen as a ‘coming of age’ for this avant-garde movement. It will thus reflect on the extent to which the events of 1968 witnessed many Surrealist-inflected ambitions, actions and ultimatums (‘Power to the imagination!’; ‘I take my desires for reality because I believe in the reality of my desires!’), how Surrealist strategies were appropriated by younger artistic and intellectual movements, and the need to go beyond a French and Eurocentric frame when reviewing Surrealism’s impact on events globally.

The symposium will open with an introductory lecture by Professor Suleiman, who will reflect on her 1990 publication, its attention to feminist and post-modernist aspects of the avant-garde, and to the ways in which Surrealism has been expanded and enriched, queried and contested. Suleiman’s lecture will be followed by a series of papers, organised in thematic sessions, by established scholars in the field of Surrealism. Sessions will address Surrealism and the ‘class of ‘68’; Surrealism, decolonization and race politics; Surrealism in Latin American; and Surrealism and new social movements (Feminism, Queer Surrealism). They will also be emphatically interdisciplinary and international – looking to art, film, literature and new media, as well as feminist, queer and postcolonial studies.

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