The blog of author Dennis Cooper

Spotlight on … Hans Bellmer & Paul Eluard The Games of the Doll (1949)


‘Covered in soft black construction paper adorned with a pink title band, and filled with delicate pages accentuated by rapturously colored photographs, Hans Bellmer’s Les jeux de la poupée (The Games of the Doll) is the perfect Surrealist object. Bellmer began to experiment with his disquieting dolls in 1934—originally crafted from wood, broom-handles, metal rods, nuts and bolts, and plaster—before forming the second iteration which was constructed using ball joints for greater mobility and manipulation. Photographed from 1936 to 1938 in his native Germany, Bellmer then fled to Paris, where famed fellow Surrealist Paul Éluard selected fourteen images to be compiled into a book that would couple Bellmer’s vibrantly hand colored photographs with extensive text written by Éluard. A small edition titled Poupée II was created, but with the advent of the Second World War its publication was brought to a halt. A larger edition, published by Éditions Premières in Paris as Les jeux de la poupée was released a decade later in an edition of 136. While the great majority of these books have been broken up, the current lot is a rare example of a complete book, presented as Bellmer and Éluard had originally intended it.

Les jeux de la poupée dives deep into the realm of the uncanny. The doll, never anatomically complete, and clearly constructed from artificial parts, nonetheless evokes fear and sympathy from the viewer who cannot help but feel empathy for this tragic figure. Photography, with its unbreakable tie to the real, plays a significant role in the Doll’s surreal power, in what scholars Rosalind Krauss and Jane Livingston describe as “the seeming contradiction between the extravagant productions of the unconscious and the documentary deadpan of the camera.”

‘The prints placed within the book feature Bellmer’s doll posed in a series of sinister narrative tableaus, however on the cover Bellmer placed a print that has been trimmed to the edges of the doll itself, divorcing her from an semblance of reality. A nearly abstract form composed of two hips joined by a large ball-joint, lit from opposing sides and colored pink and yellow, the self-contained form appears a duality—conscious and unconscious, reality and fantasy. Like a reoccurring, effusive dream, we are greeted by another trimmed print on the cover page, a twin of the doll on the cover who has followed us into the book’s depths. Regarding Bellmer’s book is like walking through a stranger’s home in the dark. Each step is carefully taken through this strange, unsettling environment, and perhaps we yearn for the comfort of the familiar, but drawn in by Bellmer’s exquisite Surrealist mastery, we cannot bring ourselves to look away.’ — Phillips


Hans Bellmer

‘Hans Bellmer adopted his controversial practice—the creation of provocative, often grotesque sculptures of pubescent female dolls—in the 1930s to rebel against the artistic rules and standards of beauty imposed by the Nazi government. After moving to Berlin in 1923, Bellmer became close with the Dada artists, particularly George Grosz, a politically minded painter who furthered Bellmer’s distrust of government. Fearing that his art would be outlawed by the Nazis as “degenerate”, in 1934 Bellmer sought acceptance abroad with André Breton and the French Surrealists, who embraced his work for its revolutionary nature and libidinous engagement with female youth. In addition to his sculptures, Bellmer produced prints, photographs, and drawings, always dealing with themes of abject sexuality and forbidden desire. Also a writer, he referred to his doll projects as “experimental poetry”.’

“I was aware of what I called physical unconsciousness, the body’s underlying awareness of itself. I tried to rearrange the sexual elements of a girl’s body like a sort of plastic anagram. I remember describing it thus: the body is like a sequence that invites us to rearrange it, so that its real meaning comes clear through the series of endless anagrams. I want to reveal what is usually kept hidden – it is no game – I tried to open peoples eyes to new realities: it is as true of the doll photographs as it is of Petit Traite de la Morale. The anagram is the key to my work. This allies me to the Surrealists and I am glad to be considered part of that movement, although I have less concern than some Surrealists with the subconscious, because my works are carefully thought out and controlled. If my work is found to scandalise, that is because for me the world is scandalous.” — Hans Bellmer

Hans BELLMER – La Poupée

Hijikata ‘three bellmers’


Paul Eluard

‘Paul Éluard was a French poet and one of the founders of the Surrealist movement. In 1916, he chose the name Paul Éluard, a patronymic borrowed from his maternal grandmother. He adheres to Dadaism and becomes one of the pillars of surrealism by opening the way to artistic action politically committed to the Communist Party. During World War II, he was the author of several poems against Nazism that circulated clandestinely. He became known worldwide as The Poet of Freedom and is considered the most gifted of French surrealist poets.’

Philip Roth: In your book, the great French poet Éluard soars over paradise and gulag, singing. Is this bit of history which you mention in the book authentic?

Milan Kundera: After the war, Paul Éluard abandoned surrealism and became the greatest exponent of what I might call the “poesy of totalitarianism.” He sang for brotherhood, peace, justice, better tomorrows, he sang for comradeship and against isolation, for joy and against gloom, for innocence and against cynicism. When in 1950 the rulers of paradise sentenced Éluard’s Prague friend, the surrealist Zalvis Kalandra, to death by hanging, Éluard suppressed his personal feelings of friendship for the sake of supra-personal ideals, and publicly declared his approval of his comrade’s execution. The hangman killed while the poet sang.

Paul Eluard : “Liberté” (dit par l’auteur)

Paul ÉLUARD – Portrait souvenir (DOCUMENTAIRE, 1964)






p.s. Hey. ** Misanthrope, Same here. The sky has multiple personalities that are very impatient with one another. Your David description makes him sound kind of like a cross between a typical hardcore pothead and Archie Bunker for some reason. I keep thinking that scenario you mentioned happened in one of my novels or stories, but I can’t remember. I used to know this boy/guy a long time ago who told me he was hitchhiking on acid when he was 11 years old and a guy gave him a ride and he (my friend) said the acid was making him acting totally hyper and weird, and that the guy got fed up and made him get out of the car, and that a few months later he saw the driver’s picture in the paper and it turned out he was this serial killer famous for killing teen and pre-teen hitchhiking boys who had just been arrested, so … that kind of counts but it isn’t literature. ** David Ehrenstein, Hi. Our being at severe odds about Errol Morris is old news since we’ve crossed swords about him many times, so I say let’s do the usual agree to disagree and go elsewhere and upwards. Disagree with you about ‘Safe’ too, and I think we’ve been there before as well. Everyone, Mr. E’s FaBlog tackles the impeachment hearings under the colorful title ‘Trump / Sade’ here. ** Dominik, Hi!!! Right? And yet the great majority of kids who take those classes turn out to be the usual occasionally horny heteros. I guess you and I had high artistic standards even when we were little. Yes, the musical love we cooked up is interesting indeed. If he had an escort profile, I’d be tempted. Ha ha, good one. Love that notices your love lying on the floor and thinks it’s a coffee bean and adds it to the beans in his coffee grinder and clicks ‘on’, G. ** _Black_Acrylic, That is good news! How in the world did the UK govt not include MS people in their vaccine priority list?! Wtf next! Anyway, very happy to hear that. The French govt’s vaccine roll out is such a mess I don’t when I’m going to get my chance, grr. ** Ferdinand, Thanks a lot, man. I hope you’re doing great. ** Steve Erickson, ‘MPLS’, in my opinion, is very good and has a lot of the qualities that make his films so great while not being among his very best and with a kind of lack of pay off at the end. I would add ‘Mr. Death’ and ‘Vernon, Florida’ to your faves list. ‘Fast, Cheap and Out of Control’ is in my all time top ten favorite films list. I pretty much stopped doing profile pieces before social media was in full swing, so it would have been harder to track my previous opinions. That current situation is nuts, and not a surprise at all. The only time I ever had publicist interference was when I interviewed Brad Renfro. He was very open in the interview, too open in his people’s opinion, and I started getting threatening phone calls from his publicist about what I could and couldn’t use before I even pulled my car out of the parking lot of the place where I’d interviewed him. ** politekid, Hi, O! Oh, my pleasure, man, I loved it. And I liked the voice/recitation too. Was the deliverer your choice? Did you monitor/supervise the recording? Great there’ll be a second part. Hopefully art spaces will even be open and enterable by then? I like the title. How does one hear that podcast you mentioned? And your essay sounds like it’s reaching nuclear must readability level. I love Kawabata. I … don’t think I know Naoki Urasawa. I’ll try to find ‘Monster’. Ace about your grandma’s shot. The Captain Tom thing is known to me, but I can’t quite figure out what I’m supposed to feel about it. I’ve been erring on the side of ‘aw, what a sweetie’. I’m good. Nah, not much of anything is happening here. Our 6 pm curfew pretty much kills everything. I’m just working on projects and stuff. There’s such a groundswell of anger/pressure from museums here that they might actually get reopened, which would be helpful. Take care, maestro! ** Brian O’Connell, Hi, Brian, good to see you. Thanks a lot about the post’s recent output. I highly recommend ‘Gates of Heaven’ and ‘Vernon, Florida’. ‘Fast, Cheap and Out of Control’ is my ultra-favorite. My week has been pretty fucking quiet. Just working and trying to work on stuff. I did go to that donut place, and they were very yum. Watched a few films, nothing especially noteworthy. My week needs an excitement breakout, and … maybe today? Doubt it. Glad your friends passed the ‘Salo’ test with flying colors. Yeah, Purdy, a very distinct stylist. I do like him. He is polarising, but I can’t quite figure out why. He seems to be more roundly respected in Europe. When I lived in Holland, he was considered a total god there. My favorite Purdy is ‘Eustace Chisholm and the Works’. I did a post a while back about his ‘Complete Stories’ book if it’s of interest. Here. I hope you’ve made it up early and hit all the necessary marks that required that wake up time. And had some fun too. ** Okay. The book under the blog’s spotlight today is so incredibly rare and so very expensive that basically those kind of crappy scans in the post are your only access unless you’re a book collecting millionaire. See you tomorrow.


  1. Ian

    Hey Dennis. Love this post. Have always been intrigued by mannequins and these sculptures are a combination of mannequin and grotesque. They are really beautiful.
    Thx for sharing

  2. David Ehrenstein

    Bellmer ad Eluard show tha palying with dollsisn’t just for children.

    Yes we’ve crossed swords on Errol Morris before so I guess that’s that. But I’m truly intrigued about your thoughts on “Safe” partcularly its second half. As I trust yu ather I find it an extremely significant film. Todd’s cnon is wide ad frequently quite wild so there’smuch to seriousy discuss. And in that regard his film about “The Velvet Undergound” which he has been working on for a good number of years should be ready shortly. I hope to get to see it in a real movie theater but these days oe never knows — do one.

  3. Dominik


    Just a very quick love tonight because hahaha, my poor yesterday-love! Love with a perpetual paranoid feeling that he’s in somebody else’s body, just a tiny particle keeping a huge meat-machine alive day after day, Od.

  4. _Black_Acrylic

    Bellmer is a definite favourite so today’s Spotlit book is immensely covetable. Surely if a reprint were ever offered, it would clean right up. With such an extremely limited run it just feels cruel!

  5. Bex Peyton

    Hi Dennis,

    Great post as always! I love Bellmer’s work. I love the mixture of terror and sympathy, and I think I’m very in tune with our primal fear of things “nearly human” so the doll really works for me haha. I feel the same way about Shaye Saint John (aesthetically at least), like shreds of humanity being rearranged makes me infer a level of pain that triggers pity but, like a baby bird splattered on the concrete, I don’t want to touch it. Also, it’s probably good we will never be able to see this book in real life, I think looking directly at it could cause misfortune haha. Hope you had a great weekend, talk to you later!

  6. politekid

    the deliverer wasn’t my choice, though i never had anyone else in mind — the artist who organised everything brought her on board — and once i met her i definitely wrote for her voice. i saw her briefly the day she started recording, but i didn’t monitor it at all… she asked about how the repetition should sound, and i said casual and naturalistic. i think i pointed out the contradictory awful white supremacist logic which underlies a lot of it. oh and i whatsapp’d her a bunch of obscure pronunciations, ‘jablochkoff’ and ‘siemens-halske’ &c. otherwise everything was all her. i’m in awe — especially given that it turns out i’d written about forty characters without realising it and she was giving each one its own voice. (her brother is a Big Name in acting, which i imagine could occasionally suck if you’re in the same game. she seems outwardly to be relaxed about it though.)
    glad pt 2’s title gets the DC seal of approval! (between you and me, it’s just the titles of a couple of Dubuffet sculptures i like smashed together.) yeah, i’m hoping the world will be kicking back into gear when it happens, this autumn? next year? something like that. but more people got to it online than i thought would, so even if everything is shut still i think it could work.
    the podcasts will be up… i guess april or may. they’re part of a thing called Placecloud — — when it’s all up proper you can listen to something like five or six a month for free. it’s a spotify-like model i think. when they arrive i’ll give you & the world a big trumpet. and the virus essay too! whenever/wherever it goes. it’s a little too big for its planned venue so i’m still working out how to throw it into society, so to speak.
    captain tom… well, over here there’s a personality cult surrounding him, especially since he died. he’s on tv/news all the time, anyway. which (not to get political) is hand in hand with the disgusting wwii/churchill/finest hour/british empire rhetoric which is everywhere now.
    6pm curfew! i forget you have that, i’m still surprised. there are occasional rumbles about bringing that in here but i don’t think it’ll happen. i don’t know how i’d feel about museums reopening so early though. i miss them a lot… but then i was working at them when they reopened over the summer and boy i don’t miss that so much.
    (fab post btw! i love Bellmer. have you ever encountered Dorothea Tanning’s Room 202? i’m convinced she was riffing bigly and brilliantly on Bellmer’s stuff, but i’ve never seen anyone else make the claim.)

  7. Bill

    Funny, I was just thinking about Bellmer last night. Some of my favorite images are here today. He is such an inspiration. And Unica Zurn too, of course. Somebody should really put out an edition of the book.

    Busy busy with work. I did enjoy this, in case you haven’t seen it:


  8. Steve Erickson

    Netflix dropped a 4-hour docu-series on Elisa Lam today. The one review I’ve read was mixed-to-negative.

    I wonder what exactly the filmmakers who insist on getting my questions beforehand and being able to rewrite their answers as a condition of the interview fear. I understand worrying about getting “canceled” over answers to questions like “What do you think of Donald Trump/the #metoo movement?,” but I’d think they might have a pre-planned answer or just refuse to answer.

    The Weather Station’s new album IGNORANCE made me think of a much warmer, more agitated version of Destroyer’s past decade. They’re drawing on a similar set of influences, especially ’80s British sophisti-pop.

    Do you have any interest in KAWS? I don’t follow the art world closely, but the tone of recent coverage about him is “his work sells for a fortune, therefore we must take him seriously.” But it’s too bad we didn’t live in a timeline where Bellmer got to make toy dolls for sale at a Japanese boutique!

  9. Brian O’Connell

    Hey, Dennis,

    Hans Bellmer’s photography is so wonderfully unsettling and weird. The poetry is beautiful too. Given its rarity, I’m shelving this book in my imaginary library.

    “Fast, Cheap and Out of Control”, got it. Okay, I have my viewing roster set up. I’ll let you know when I get around to it. Ah, everything’s quiet lately, I guess. (And so loud, at the same time?) I’m sorry your week was limp. Donuts are nice at least. No noteworthy films? Alas. I watched “Pink Narcissus” (great, I thought, at least according to its own highly specific set of criteria) and “Malcolm & Marie” (hilariously bad). I love film but they’re only so stimulating when nothing else is going on. (I’m bored too, is what I’m trying to say.) I’m struggling with the Purdy polarization question myself. Yes, Europeans have always been more admiring of his work, apparently. I know that the literary establishment basically blacklisted him for “Eustace Chisholm” back when it was published because of its gay subject matter, but surely that wouldn’t explain why he’s still so underread/semi-forgotten today, no? I guess it isn’t worth speculating about. In any case, “In a Shallow Grave” and “Eustace Chisholm” are in the mail as we speak. Looking forward to them. And I’ll have to read that short story collection at some point, too. Thank you for the post!

    Today I did a bunch of schoolwork, indolently flopped around the house, and watched Fritz Lorre’s “M” for class. (I liked it a lot.) How did yours go? I hope the much-needed excitement breakout arrived in full force. Yes, fun to you, too.

  10. Rosy

    I always have loved Bellmer since discovering him in high school in 1970. I still have a cherished book of his drawings I got then; it includes some dolls too. I can’t keep up with your prolific writing. I try. Reading the Eluard piece now: about to look up Zavis Kalandra, who I don’t know of. (Now I know. But now I need to know: Did Eluard support his friend’s execution because he disagreed with him politically or because he feared for his life? I was given books by you in the ‘80s by my best friend/soul mate who had AIDS early on but was asymptomatic until 93 when he suddenly got sick and died. Before all the cocktails that now save lives. All he had was A ZT. (He used to sing I want my AZT instead of MTV —Dire Straits, Money for Nothing. Ah these random memories that pop up. I miss him more every day.

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