Surrealism’s Children

     Back when I was an idealistic young soul, I enrolled in a PhD program in French and Comparative Literature, intent on making a career in academia. Those were the days when New Criticism and Semiotics held sway, and texts were to be read without interference from outside influences. The approach we were taught, boiled down, was that all a reader needed to know about a poem or a work of prose could be found on the page, without reference to historical context, authorial biography, or any other distractions. In class after class, we dissected poems by Ronsard and Rimbaud, the Symbolists and the Surrealists, peeling back layer upon layer of manifest and latent meaning. It was intoxicating stuff, but I couldn’t escape a nagging question: What was the point of it? Wasn’t it all a bit too removed from life? Wasn’t literature supposed to tell us about more

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