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a groundbreaking methodological approach with reference to cultural theory and feminist aesthetics as well as Tanning’s unpublished journals and notes, McAra reveals Tanning as a key player in contemporary art practice as well as in the historical surrealist milieu.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
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