Birds and Birthdays

Remedios Varo, Leonora Carrington, Dorothea Tanning: three of the most interesting painters to flourish in male-dominated Surrealism. This is Christopher Barzak’s tribute to them, three stories and an essay that enter into a humane surrealism which turns away from the unconscious and toward magic. Sometimes the stories themselves seem to be paintings. Sometimes painter and writer may be characters, regarding each other through a painful otherness, talking in shared secrets. Barzak’s stories are huge with the spacious strangeness of worlds where there is always more room for a woman to escape her tormenters, or outgrow an older self. Here we find a bird-maker and a star-catcher whose shared history spills over into the birds and the stars themselves; a girl who outgrows her clothes, her house, and finally her town—and leaves to find her body a new home; a landlord, whose marriage, motherhood, separation, sexual exploration, and excursions into self-portraiture all take place within a single apartment building.

In “Remembering the body: Reconstructing the Female in Surrealism,” Barzak comments on the images that inspired these stories and discusses his own position as a writer among painters.

Reviews

These two refracted views of the paintings—through fiction, through scholarship—infuse the audience’s own readings of the works in question, providing a delightful triple translation of art (painting) to art (fiction) to art (painting) to interpretation (scholarship/fiction). This is what makes the book so definitively interstitial, to my eye: It is many things, in many shades and forms, all looping back together infinitely.

The end result is a joyful tribute to these three women painters in the form of handsome, lyrical fiction and precisely considered scholarship. Barzak’s awareness and sensitivity bring the project full-circle, as he considers the project/process/praxis of translating these women’s subjectivities to the page from his own personally-inflected position in cultural production.
—Brut Mandelo, TOR.COM, Aug 20, 2012

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