McAra, Catriona (2012) Preposterous Surrealisms: "Mieke Bal's" Visual Intertexts. In: Association of Art Historians 38th Annual Conference, 29-31 March 2012, Open University, Milton Keynes. (Unpublished)

In 1999 the Dutch narratologist Mieke Bal (b.1946) published Quoting Caravaggio: Contemporary Art, Preposterous History. Her notion of ‘preposterous history’ is deliberately anachronistic; the linear before-and-after narrative theoretically reconfigured to after then before. It develops Michael Baxandall’s observation in Patterns of Intention: “if one says that X influenced Y it does seem that one is saying that X did something to Y rather than that Y did something to X” (1985, 58-9).

Bal’s importance for the discipline was brought to the fore in a special issue of Art History journal edited by Deborah Cherry in June 2007. However, Bal’s potential for the history of Surrealist art is yet to be firmly acknowledged. Though she has tended to focus on the work of seventeenth and eighteenth century Italian, Dutch and French painters, most notably Caravaggio, Rembrandt, and Jean Baptiste-Siméon Chardin, on separate occasions she has discussed the work of the Surrealist-associated artists Balthus and Louise Bourgeois, and the Surrealist-influenced photographer Francesca Woodman. The ‘legacies’ of Surrealism, as the late Centre for the Study of Surrealism and its Legacies has tended to define the aftermath of the movement, suggests an ‘inheritance’ from a series of predecessors. Focusing on Bal’s three ‘Surrealist’ studies, in relation to her other writings, this paper proposes ‘preposterous history’ as another useful framework with which to discuss a research-orientated movement like Surrealism; its pre-cursors and its post-Surrealist cycles.

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