Ugly Duckling Presse

Samples of Belgian Surrealism

Paul Nougé & Paul Colinet & Louis Scutenaire

translated by M. Kasper

Poetry
Spring 2018
Forthcoming
The Belgian Surrealist movement, like its contemporary, French cousin, included both visual artists—René Magritte most famously—and writers, less well known. The writers were the theorists. They shared with the Parisians a fierce commitment to personal, political, and aesthetic liberty, and to humor, surprise, and transgression as artistic strategies, but they parted company when it came to the unconscious and the occult. The Belgians were more rational. Herein, exemplary work from three literary lights of Belgian Surrealism: Transfigured Publicity by Paul Nougé (1895-1967), the apostle of appropriation, the Abstractive Treatise on Obeuse by Paul Colinet (1898-1957), whimsical and wordplayful, and For Balthazar by the ever skeptical Louis Scutenaire (1905-1987).

About the Author

Paul Nougé
Paul Nougé (1895-1967) was a founding member of both the Belgian Communist Party (1921) and the Belgian Surrealist Group (1924). In the latter, he became the central literary and theoretical figure. For decades, while working as a biochemist, he contributed to local and international Surrealist publications, performances, and polemical disputes, elaborating a peripheral form of the movement’s philosophy that shared with the metropolitan Parisians an interest in the erotic, in surprise, and in transgression, but parted company when it came to the unconscious and the occult. Nougé was more rational. His own writing, much of which wasn’t published in book form until the 1950’s and ’60’s, experimented with form, typography, and, especially, creative plagiarism. He became known for versions of a famous grammar text, pulp pornography, and work by Baudelaire and Maupassant; the Situationist notion of détournement owes a lot to him.
Paul Colinet
Paul Colinet (1898-1957) met the painter René Magritte in the early 1930’s and through him other members of the Belgian Surrealist Group. He participated in the Group’s activities and publications from then on, all while working his day job as a mid-level functionary in the communal administration of a Brussels suburb. After World War II, he founded several key Belgian avant-garde journals and published two books of poems and prose poems before his early death. He first appeared in English in 1946, in translations by Paul Bowles, in Charles Henri Ford’s View magazine.
Louis Scutenaire
Louis Scutenaire (1905-1987) joined the Surrealist Group in 1926. For years, he supplied his friend René Magritte with titles for his paintings, in addition to publishing poems and prose in Surrealist magazines under his birth name, Jean Scutenaire. Meanwhile, he worked as a criminal lawyer, and later in the Belgian Ministry of the Interior. ’Scut,’ as he was affectionately known by legions of readers, was most famous for his aphorisms, first published in 1945 as “Mes Inscriptions.” All told, five full-length volumes of inscriptions were published, the last posthumously. After World War II, Scutenaire pulled away some from official Surrealism, though he stayed close to Magritte and active in avant-garde circles. In the 1950’s he came out as an anarchist, after decades in the Communist Party.

About the Translator

Among M. Kasper’s previous translations are The Lamp’s Tales & Other Short Prose, by Paul Colinet (with Rochelle Ratner; Pleasure Editions), Correspondance: The Birth of Belgian Surrealism (with Jan Baetens; Peter Lang), The Development of Aerial Militarism and The Demobilization of European Ground Forces, Fortresses and Naval Fleets, by Paul Scheerbart (UDP), and Saint Ghetto of the Loans, by Gabriel Pomerand (with Bhamati Viswanathan, UDP). Kasper — who was born in the Bronx (1947), lived overseas for some years, and worked as a librarian for many in western Massachusetts — has also published artists’ books including Kirghiz Steppes: Accumulated Verbo-Visuals (Black Scat), Open-Book (UDP), The Shapes and Spacing of the Letters (2nd ed., highmoonoon & the London Institute of ‘Pataphysics), All Cotton Briefs (2nd ed., Benzene), and Plans for the Night (Benzene). As Christopher Middleton said, “A Kasper a day keeps the moodles away.”