A Surrealist Stratigraphy of Dorothea Tanning’s Chasm: 1st Edition (Hardback) book cover

A Surrealist Stratigraphy of Dorothea Tanning’s Chasm

1st Edition

By Catriona McAra


128 pages | 8 Color Illus. | 42 B/W Illus.

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pub: 2016-11-17
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In A Surrealist Stratigraphy of Dorothea Tanning’s Chasm, Catriona McAra offers the first critical study of the literary work of the celebrated American painter and sculptor Dorothea Tanning (1910–2012). McAra fills a major gap in the scholarship, repositioning Tanning’s writing at the centre of her entire creative oeuvre and focusing on a little-known short story "Abyss," a gothic-flavoured, desert adventure which Tanning worked on intermittently throughout her creative life, finally publishing it in 2004 as Chasm: A Weekend.

McAra performs a major reassessment of the visual and literary principles upon which the surrealist movement was initially founded. Combining a groundbreaking methodological approach with reference to cultural theory and feminist aesthetics as well as Tanning’s unpublished journals and notes, McAra reveals Tanning as a key player in contemporary art practice as well as in the historical surrealist milieu.


"This is a long overdue exploration of Dorothea Tanning’s surrealist novel Chasm: A Weekend, a gothic narrative that took the artist fifty-seven years to complete. McAra’s unique ‘stratigraphic’ theoretical reading of the text utilises geological and archaeological metaphors to excavate its many layers of meaning. This study serves as an exemplar of how to achieve a more integrated contextualisation when dealing with the visual and textual output of certain surrealist artists, thus enabling a greater understanding of how one inextricably informs the other."

--Susan L. Aberth, Bard College

"In A Surrealist Stratigraphy of Dorothea Tanning’s Chasm, Catriona McAra fills a major gap in studies on surrealism by exploring the intriguing complexity of Tanning’s art through repositioning Tanning’s unjustly neglected literary writing at the heart of her creative oeuvre. …In her book Catriona McAra skillfully combines the playful curiosity and scientific scrutiny of a botanist while guiding us on an exquisite image/textual tour in the labyrinthine garden of Tanning’s art and life. Her critically self-conscious, re-embodied, demythologized perspective plants seeds of thought in the minds of arts scholars and aficionados alike."

--Americana, E-Journal of American Studies in Hungary

Table of Contents


List of Illustrations


Cast List and Key Scenes

Introduction: Excavating an Abyss: From Manuscript to Novel (1947-2004)

1 Unpacking Tanning’s Library

2 The Alternative Reality of Sedona

3 Surrealism in the Attic

4 The Fur of the Fairy Tale

5 Quoting "Tanning": Surrealist Heirlooms in Contemporary Practice



About the Author

Dr Catriona McAra is Curatorial and Exhibitions Manager at Leeds College of Art. She was awarded her doctorate in History of Art at the University of Glasgow (2012) and completed a postdoctoral fellowship at the Institute for Advanced Studies in the Humanities (IASH) at the University of Edinburgh (2013-2014).

About the Series

Studies in Surrealism

Studies in Surrealism
With scholarly interest in Surrealism greater than ever, the Studies in Surrealism series serves as a forum for key areas of Surrealist inquiry today. This series extends the ongoing academic and popular interest in Surrealism, evident in recent studies that have rethought established areas of Surrealist activity and engagement, including those of politics, the object, photography, crime, and modern physics. Expanding and adding various lines of inquiry, books in the series examine Surrealism's intersections with philosophical, social, artistic, and literary themes. Potential subjects to be examined in the context of Surrealism include but are not limited to: nature; queer studies; humor and play; science; theory in the 1950s and 1960s; the New Novel; Surrealist activities beyond Paris. Proposals are welcomed for both monographs and essay collections dealing with the above subjects or with discussions of Surrealism in other aspects and genres. Monographic writings on artists and writers who have been generally overlooked by English-language scholarship (for instance, Victor Brauner, Toyen, Jorge Camacho) would also fall within the scope of this series.

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Subject Categories

BISAC Subject Codes/Headings:
ART / American / General
ART / History / Modern (late 19th Century to 1945)
ART / Individual Artists / General
ART / Individual Artists / Monographs
ART / Techniques / Painting
ART / Techniques / Sculpting
LITERARY CRITICISM / American / General
LITERARY CRITICISM / Modern / 20th Century
SOCIAL SCIENCE / Feminism & Feminist Theory
SOCIAL SCIENCE / Gender Studies