THE LEG OF LAMB: ITS LIFE AND WORKS
A foundational classic of Surrealist literature, The Leg of Lamb: Its Life and Works brings together the arch-Surrealist Benjamin Péret’s short prose: a smorgasbord of automatic writing and fantastical narratives that play on a medley of registers, employing everything from the cinematic antics of Buster Keaton and slapstick animation to the storytelling devices of detective novels, alchemical operations, and mythology. The Leg of Lamb consists of twenty-four delirious narratives, including the novella-length works … And the Breasts Were Dying… and There Was a Little Bakeress…. Péret’s adult fairy tales bear equal allegiance to Lewis Carroll and the Marquis de Sade, and present one of the clearest examples of Surrealist humor, in which the boundaries between character and object blur, and where a coat rack, artichoke, or a pile of manure is just as likely as Napoléon, El Cid, or Pope Pius VII to take on the role of hero and adventurer.
Péret himself edited this collection toward the end of his life. Originally published in French in 1957, almost all of the stories in this collection had been written in the 1920s, half of them even preceding André Breton’s Manifesto of Surrealism. The Leg of Lamb offers not just a highpoint of Surrealist automatic writing, but a key chapter in the genesis of the Surrealist movement. Here, Péret’s unfettered imagination does not so much represent Surrealism as constitute it, and describes a world defined by childlike delight and aggression—a world in which metamorphosis is endless and death is dream.
Benjamin Péret (1899–1959) was a Surrealist’s Surrealist, audaciously baroque and incessantly irreverent, a founding member of the Surrealist movement and its only member besides André Breton to remain a Surrealist to the end. He was Salvador Dalí’s favorite poet, an inspiration to Luis Buñuel, and a major influence on Octavio Paz. Péret fought in the Spanish Civil War as a member of the Durutti Column, but also fought every literary current he came up against in his lifetime. He was a fierce antinationalist, a true revolutionary, and a lifelong insulter of priests.
“One of the most extraordinary poets of our time.”—Salvador Dalí
“Humor gushes here as if from the source.”—André Breton
“[T]he quintessential surrealist poet; his work seems to flow freely, untrammeled by any cultural effort, from a hidden source of inspiration, spontaneously recreating a wholly new and different world.”—Luis Buñuel
“[S]lap a copy of Trout Mask Replica on the hi-fi, pop Un Chien Andalou into the old Betamax, settle into your favorite armchair coated with intestines and crack open The Leg of Lamb: Its Life and Works. You may or may not find out why “That morning little orange-colored fish circulated through the atmosphere,” but either way you will be smiling.”
“In reading these stories, one can’t help but wonder if Péret had dedicated himself to fiction, would he have become one of the great French novelists?”
“Undiluted and intoxicating, with no concessions to the half-measures of literature, if one has never read Péret and cannot read him in the original, this is certainly a very good place to start.”