The concept of surrealism continues to being met with much confusion about its true meaning, notwithstanding the fact that it has been defined many times in the past hundred years. In this essay, I will try to outline the evolution of its meaning, and to derive the final meaning from concrete declarations of the surrealists themselves. Furthermore, some surrealist highlights during the past 50 years are presented. The final part is about the following points: when can somebody be called a surrealist? And: when can texts or art works truly be called surrealistic?
1. The revolution of creativity
The concept of surrealism, which has been invented in 1917 by the avant-garde poet Guillaume Apollinaire in order to characterize the nature of his experimental play Les mamelles de Tirésias, the word became a craze in the avant-garde milieu of Paris. Apollinaire defined his neologism as “the creation that is not imitated reality”, in other terms: a creation that breaks with the classic rule of the arts of “imitatio” of nature. Intentionally, he had avoided the term “surnaturalism” or “supernaturalism”used in philosophy and poetry of the Romantic era, because it refers specifically to non-natural metaphysical phenomena such as ghosts, phantoms, magic and spells.
Some avant-garde poets of those days took Apollinaire’s concept of surrealism in a broad sense. They considered it the most general definition of “cubist poetry” and poetry of other avant-garde art movements that had broken with academism. However, the Parisian Dadaists André Breton and Philippe Soupault did restrict the term to their experiments in “automatism” and other modes of collective writing that were created without control of rational thinking. Their first experiments in automatic writing were done in 1919, and the results thereof have been published in 1920 in the Dada journal Littérature. Later in 1920, all the joint automatic texts have been published in book form titled Les Champs Magnétiques, ‘the magnetic fields’.
After the Dada movement fell apart in 1922 because of insurmountable differences of opinion with regard to the future course literary texts should take, André Breton, Louis Aragon and Philippe Soupault, together with some other former Dadaists who had collaborated in the journal Littérature, devoted much energy in doing collective experiments with ‘psychic automatism”, such as hypnosis, dream, trance, hallucination, thoroughly inspired by the psychoanalytic theories of Sigmund Freud. They had the ambition to apply Freud’s revolutionary innovations in psychiatry and in his new therapeutic methods to the development of new, equally revolutionary processes in human creation of poetry and art. Their experiments in psychic automatism, documented by them with scientific precision, took place during a series of collective sessions. They called the results thereof simply “surrealism”; in other words, they broadened the concept in comparison to the earlier experiments with automatic writing only.
Aragon and Breton decided in June 1924, after the journal Littérature was discontinued, to start a new journal titled La Révolution Surréaliste, devoted to the revolutionary new discoveries that they had made with their friends about poetry and artistic imagination. Surrealism was, they strongly believed, an equally revolutionary discovery as Freudian psychoanalysis and the new scientific theories of Albert Einstein on the principles of the nature of the universe. So they decided that their new journal should be designed like a science journal, different from all avant-garde journals. Both André Breton and Louis Aragon would write a manifesto in which the precise intentions of surrealism would be outlined.
In the mean time, other avant-gardists outside the circle of Littérature had continued to express their own ideas on the concept of surrealism. The prominent and ambitious poet Ivan Goll (1891-1950) was one of them; he saw himself as the successor of Apollinaire in his role of organizer of new poetry and art. Goll was born and educated in the Vosges, till the end of the World War I a part of Germany, and after the armistice in 1918a part of France. He was a convinced cosmopolitan and pacifist, fluent in German and French, writing his poetry in both languages. In 1913, he travelled to Berlin to meet the German expressionists. At the outbreak of the World War in 1914, he left his native soil for Switzerland, where he became a well-known pacifistic activist writing anti-military pamphlets and articles for many newspapers. In Zürich, he attended a number of Dada-programs in the ‘Cabaret Voltaire’ where he met Tristan Tzara; Tzara had not yet settled in Paris at that time. Tzara gave him several Dada journals in order to intensify Goll’s interest, but Goll was not very much taken by the Dada nihilism. His relationship to Tzara cooled down. Goll’s reputation of being a modernist expressionist poet was generally recognized in the German literary world after the armistice. Goll published his work in many German modernist journals. A selection of his poetry was included in the famous anthology of expressionist poetry called Menschheitsdämmerung, edited in 1920 by the then well known critic Kurt Pinthus (the poets selected by Pinthus were besides Goll, Benn, Becher, Heym, Von Hoddis, Trakl and others). In 1919, Goll settled in Paris, where he met Aragon, Breton, Éluard and Soupault in café Certa. He befriended also many avant-garde artists and poets such as Delaunay, Chagall, Léger, Cendrars, Albert-Birot. Goll heard about the inspiring role of Guillaume Apollinaire in promoting new art ideas, and he imagined being able to take a similar role for the new artists and poets in Paris. In 1922, he edited a huge anthology of modern world poetry in French translation, by which his reputation as a cosmopolitan mind was confirmed. In Germany, two of his “Surdramas” were performed in 1920 and 1922; in his preface to the second drama, Methusalem, he wrote that surrealism is at the origin of his literary creations: “surrealism is the strongest negation of reality”. The texts of these dramas did appear in 1923 in French translation, illustrated by Georg Grosz, Fernand Léger and Robert Delaunay. Together with his friends Paul Dermée and Pierre Albert-Birot, he founded in 1924 the journal Surréalisme, introduced by his “Manifesto of surrealism”. Dermée supplied for the first issue a letter of Apollinaire, written in 1917, in order to show that his ideas were continued in the new journal. In the manifesto, Goll attacked Breton, Aragon and Soupault: “… the counterfeit of surrealism, that a couple of ex-Dadas have invented in order to continue to shock the bourgeois public, will be out of circulation soon. They affirm the “omnipotence of dreams” and they make Freud their new muse. […]. But starting from that in order to make an application of his doctrine in the poetic realm, is that not confusing art and psychiatry? […] Our surrealism however rediscovers nature, the prime emotion of man, and provided with completely new art tools it goes straight to construction, to a will.’ The collaborators of the first issue of Goll’s journal were, apart form Goll himstelf, Paul Dermée and Pierre Albert-Birot, also Joseph Delteil, René Crevel, Pierre Reverdy, Robert Delaunay, Marcel Arland and Jean Painlevé. Meanwhile Goll had founded his “Surrealist Theatre”, and he announced the promised cooperation of international theatre artists such as Meyerhold, Kiesler and Prampolini.
Goll’s striking activities made Breton and Aragon nervous. Breton decided to make the short introduction to his automatic poems titled Poisson soluble (‘liquid fish’), intended as a manifesto, more detailed and all-embracing. On the other hand, he asked René Crevel and Joseph Delteil, partners in Breton’s surrealist projects, an explanation on their collaboration with Goll. They answered that it had been a misunderstanding on their side, and they promised their exclusive solidarity with Breton’s activities. The modernist poet Pierre Reverdy, an old friend of Breton’s, told that he had been misled by Goll, and promised that he would no longer collaborate to Goll’s journal.
On October 11, 1924, the “Bureau of Surrealist Research” was opened as the central meeting point in Paris of the surrealist group. Breton’s Manifeste du Surréalisme did appear nearly the same day, and it was definitely something more that just an introduction to Poisson soluble. Louis Aragon published his brilliant lyrical manifesto, Une vague de rêves (‘a wave of dreams’) in the prominent journal Commerce. The first issue of La Révolution Surréaliste was distributed in December, 1924. These publications got many comments in the press; they eclipsed Goll’s earlier initiatives.
Breton discusses in his Manifeste du Surréalisme the use of the concept of surrealism in connection with ideas on psychic automatism: “It shows bad faith to dispute our right to use the word SURREALISM in the strict sense in which we do, because it is obvious that, before us, the word was not really successful. I will define it now once and for ever: SURREALISM, psychical automatism by which one intends to give expression to the real functioning of thought, by way writing or by any other way. Dictation of thought, without the presence of all control by reason, outside of every esthetic or moral preoccupation.”
This definition that has became famous, it has been refined in its interpretation several times in later years by Breton himself and in collective declarations of the surrealist group, and was also adapted to the conditions of the moment.
Goll’s journal Surréalisme was discontinued, while he did not find sponsors for his Surrealist Theatre. In 1926, however, he launched a show of “Surrealist Dances” with the famous German dancer and film actress Valeska Gert (she has performed prominent roles in films of Georg Wilhelm Pabst, among others). Breton, Artaud and their friends disturbed the show, it came to blows between Goll and Breton; Goll gave Breton a black eye. Policemen re-established the order, and the show went on successfully. However, Goll did not dare to enter the territory of surrealism; Breton’s definition was the winner over those of Apollinaire and Goll.
2. The connection of creative and social revolution
The first issue of La Révolution Surréaliste, dated December 1st, 1924, has the following declaration on the front page: “The time has come for a new declaration of human rights”, and on the second page: “We are on the eve of a RÉVOLUTION: Surrealism -- you are invited to take part.” These are obviously radical remarks, but the remarks are not connected to a political party or movement. There is no concrete political declaration in the whole issue. But in the second issue, dated January 15, 1925, André Breton writes a comment in which he is in favor of social revolution and political strike of workers. In the final sentence, he stressed the fact that La Révolution Surréaliste is”welcoming subversive ideas”. In the same issue, Louis Aragon wrote: “Liberty is now to be called Revolution”, but in a report on his discussion with the Marxist intellectual Marcel Fourrier, Aragon kept aloof from the communist revolution in Russia, that he called “a miserable little revolutionary activity”. In the fourth issue, dated July 15, 1925, Breton’s view was shifting; he wrote: “we stay convinced of the principle of revolutionary action, even if it takes the class-struggle as the starting point”. In the mean time, the surrealist group was in touch with the founders of the Marxist journal Clarté, in order to consider a joint political position. The surrealists and the group of Clarté issued a joint declaration called “Revolution first and forever”, dated September 21, 1925, that was published in the communist daily newspaper L’Humanité; it said among other things: “We are the revolt of the mind […]We conceive the Revolution in its social shape only.” The declaration was also included in La Révolution Surréaliste No. 5. But in the sixth issue, Breton defended “the independent position of the surrealist group” in his text “Légitime Défense”, after having been attacked bij the leaders of the French Communist Party in a pamphlet called “Revolution and the intellectuals”; it claimed that the surrealists hesitated between anarchism and Marxism. But for Breton, the “revolution of the mind” is just as important as the proletarian, social revolution, however, the spiritual revolution can only be achieved if there is no control from outside factors. Spiritual revolution such as the surrealists pursue must be completely autonomous, not dictated by the positions of a political party.
In the autumn of 1925, the French government sent a large army, commanded by marshal Pétain, to subject the insurgent Rif-Republic in the Northern area of French and Spanish Morocco. The Berber population founded this republic in 1920; it aimed at putting an end to colonialism. The French government published a patriotic appeal to all intellectuals requesting them to support the French homeland in its defense of its Moroccan colony. The only political group that opposed to the colonial war was the Communist Party. This was a reason for André Breton, Louis Aragon, Paul Éluard and some other members of the surrealist group to apply for membership of the Communist Party. They were of the opinion that the surrealist group should collectively become members of the party, because all of them rejected patriotism and colonialism. Their political radicalization caused many tensions within the surrealist group; it resulted in the break with Antonin Artaud and Philippe Soupault. Artaud claimed that the surrealist revolution should be restricted to the spiritual field.
On December 15, 1929, Breton published the Second Manifesto of Surrealism in the group journal La Révolution Surréaliste, in which he attributed a central importance to the political dimension of the surrealist revolution. The Marxist concept of “historical materialism” became an essential part of the surrealist vision of the world. “Revolution can only be political and social,” wrote Breton. He called this politization of the surrealist philosophy “a purge of surrealism”. This political point of view was fully shared by René Char, René Crevel, Max Ernst, Benjamin Péret, Tristan Tzara, Luis Buñuel and others, and naturally by Aragon and Éluard as well. The Belgian surrealist group adopted the same view. But Robert Desnos, Michel Leiris, Georges Ribemont-Dessaignes, Roger Vitrac, Jacques Prévert and others did protest, and left the group; they published a very critical pamphlet against Breton.
In the mean time, the surrealists that had become members of the Communist Party pleaded with the leaders of the Party that the political directives of the Party should not concern the literary and artistic expression; those individual activities must remain personal freedom, without any control of the Party. This claim remained undecided for some time.
But Aragon, who was a delegate for the surrealist faction in the international congress of surrealist writers in Moscow, had secretly signed a declaration of auto-criticism on December 1st, 1930, in which he fully rejected surrealism, and regretted all of his past surrealist criticism on the Soviet-Union. The French communist daily L’Humanité made Aragon’s auto-criticism public. André Breton felt betrayed by his close ally and friend, and he severed all contacts with him.
The surrealist journal got a new title as from 1930, it was renamed Le Surréalisme au Service de la Révolution. In its fifth issue, dated May 15, 1933, a letter from the philosopher Ferdinand Alquié, who sympathized with surrealism, was printed without editorial comment. In his letter, Alquié wrote about “the wind of systematic blockheadization” of the Soviet policies. Breton, Éluard and Crevel were immediately expelled from the Communist Party, because they had silently accepted Alquié’s attack, and even published it. This expulsion caused an immediate estrangement between the surrealist group and the Communist Party, but it did not reduce the revolutionary convictions.
The revolutionary ideas of the surrealists were explained in detail in Breton’s brochure Qu’est-ce que le surréalisme? (‘What is surrealism?) published in 1934, and in his volume of political essays Position politique du surréalisme (‘Political position of surrealism’), of 1935.
On a summer day in 1935, two young Englishmen, David Gascoyne and Roland Penrose, met each other for the first time in Paris thanks to their common friend Paul Éluard, and they decided to prepare an international exhibition of surrealism in London, because surrealism was practically unknown in their country. Gascoyne, a very promising poet, was then only 19 years of age; he immediately started writing a book about surrealism, A Short Survey of Surrealism. It was published in early 1936, the first reliable study on the subject in the English language. In the mean time, Penrose, who was in his thirties, had assembled a group of friends who were interested to create a surrealist group in London: Herbert Read, Eileen Agar, John Banting, Henry Moore, Paul Nash and others. The exhibition was held summer 1936 already; it got an enormous public attention, and many angry comments as well. Herbert Read had composed an impressive book on surrealism, that came out during the exhibition. Read himself wrote a brilliant general introduction, followed by essays written by André Breton, Hugh Sykes Davies, Paul Éluard and Georges Hugnet. Read’s volume was another excellent introduction to surrealism in the Anglo-Saxon world. The two books have influenced many poets and painters of the new generation in the U.K. and in America.
In the mean time, the surrealist group in Paris explored the possibilities of cooperation with the ‘dissident’ communist movement of Leon Trotsky, who had fled from the Soviet Union to France after his clash with Joseph Stalin; but France did expel him being a revolutionary, and he went on to Mexico.
In 1936, the first political trials against opponents of Stalin took place in Moscow; they were accused of sabotage and treason of the soviet revolution; many of them got capital punishment. André Breton was one of the first in France to sound the alarm on the systematic liquidation of Stalin’s potential political opponents. He made fierce public speeches in Paris on the political show trials. But his old comrade Paul Éluard kept aloof during the public debates, and published even his poetry in the communist daily L’Humanité. He did not accept to be restricted by the surrealist group in his possibilities to publish his work wherever he wanted. His decision to become a member again of the communist party in 1939 made his expulsion from the group inevitable.
3. For an independent revolutionary art and beyond
In the Spring of 1938, André Breton sailed to Mexico in order to meet the Mexican revolutionary painter Diego Rivera and the exiled communist politician Leon Trotsky. Both men were well informed about the recent political developments in France, and with the political position of the surrealist group as well. Both were in favor of independency for the arts in a revolutionary setting.
Breton and Trotsky agreed to write jointly a manifesto on the arts: For a independent revolutionary art. It was co-signed by Diego Rivera, while Trotsky’s name was omitted in order to protect the manifesto for attacks by the Stalinists. An essential passage in the manifesto was for Breton the full freedom of the poet and artist while creating their work: “Revolution has to found a socialist regime that is centrally planned, while for individual creation of art it should establish and guarantee from the beginning on an anarchist regime of individual freedom. There should be no authority, not the slightest trace of command!” The recognition of the special position of the intellectual creator was accepted by the Fourth International, Trotsky’s supporters worldwide.
The Second World War changed deeply the political situation in the world. After the surrender of the French army to the superior German military forces, the Northern part of the country was occupied bij the Nazis, while the Southern part came under control of the fascist marshal Pétain. André Breton and many other surrealists and leftist intellectuals, who were known revolutionaries and likely to be arrested some day by the Nazis, hoped to emigrate to the United States or to other American countries. Thanks to the efforts of the American philanthropist Varian Fry, Breton and his family got a visa for America. After a complicated voyage via the Antilles, Breton did arrive in New York in July, 1941. There he worked for the French radio programs intended to listeners in occupied France. The emigrated surrealists in New York founded a new journal, that was called VVV, triple victory.
Breton reflected on the chances of the surrealist movement in the uncertain future, after the struggle between fascism, communism and capitalism. He put his ideas down in the text Prolégomènes à un Troisième Manifeste du Surréalisme ou Non (‘Introductory remarks to a Third Manifesto of Surrealism or No’), that was printed in 1942 in English and in French in the surrealist journal VVV. In this text, Breton gave a short review of the first twenty years of surrealism and he reconfirmed the principles formulated in that period. Then, he made a few speculations on the future. He condemned all kinds of conformism, surrealist conformism as well, such as the many imitations of earlier texts and images. Such conformism caused much confusion, he felt. He also pleaded for more respect for the natural environment and the other living creatures on the world: “Probably, Man is not the center, the only end, of the Universe.” A “new myth” should be created in order to study the invisible forces of nature and the universe; he expected much inspiration from the study of the old esoteric and alchemic experiments as well.
Those ideas have announced the tremendous enrichment of surrealist activities after 1945, even if they were ridiculed by many critics as a flight into mysticism.
4. Surrealism is what will be
After the defeat of the armies of Nazi-Germany and after the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan, two super-powers, the U.S.A. and the Soviet-Union, remained. In order to keep mutual peace, provisionally, they divided the world in two spheres of influence, that of the Capitalist “Free West” and that of Communism in the East. The destroyed continent of Europe was split in two by the big powers, while the two ‘neutral’ fascist Iberian states Spain and Portugal and their colonies were contained in the Capitalist sphere without interfering in their fascist regimes . West and South Europe were attached to the super-power of the USA through NATO, the military agreement of capitalist states in Northern Europe and North America, while the East European states had to accept a similar military agreement with the Soviet Union. In view of the great popularity of the Communist Parties in West European states after the war against Fascism, the USA organized a huge program of economic aid (‘Marshall Plan’) in order to uproot communism and to strengthen the mutual trans-Atlantic trade.
The surrealist movement that had spread over several countries in Europe, was faced with the fact that important groups of surrealist artists in Czechoslovakia, Rumania and Serbia were forbidden as from 1950, while in West Europe, the new generation of experimental artists had radicalized during the war, and took sides with the communist parties. Many considered the reconstructed surrealist group around André Breton in Paris too old-fashioned and not revolutionary enough. The new fashionable existentialist philosophy of Jean-Paul Sartre tended to be pro-soviet, and it was in controversy with the surrealist ideas.
An important fact for surrealism was the publication in 1946 of the book Histoire du Surréalisme by the journalist Maurice Nadeau. Nadeau had been closely involved in the publication of the (short-lived) journal Clé of the Union of Independent Revolutionary Artists, that André Breton had founded in 1939, and he was very well informed on the development of the surrealist group since its beginnings. Nadeau’s book was for poets and artists in many countries the first detailed information about surrealism and it philosophy. It has inspired many of them to get in touch with the surrealist group in Paris. In 1948, the book was followed by an ample anthology of manifestos and other texts, Documents Surréalistes, again compiled by Nadeau. It made essential texts from the period between the two world wars available for the first time.
The liberation from Nazi oppression was eclipsed to some extent by a climate of permanent fear with the European population of a nuclear war between the two superpowers. After the terrible war against the Nazis, the “Cold War” of mutual threat dominated the world for a long time; it was coming to an end in 1989 only, when the Soviet regime was dismantled.
The surrealist group in Paris decided to show its unbroken strength and originality by a large international exhibition, Le Surréalisme en 1947. It was held in the famous art gallery Maeght. The exhibition turned out to be a huge success.
A few days before its opening, a new collective manifesto of the surrealist movement was published: Rupture inaugurale (‘inaugural break’), in which all previous revolutionary principles were reconfirmed, while attacking the criminal policies of the Soviet Union. At the same time, it indicated Capitalism and its permanent pillar: the Christian Church, as the main causes of exploitation and oppression in the world. The last sentence of the manifesto is open ended: “Le surréalisme est ce qui sera” (‘surrealism is what will be’), phrasing in different words what had been repeated in many previous texts: “Le surréalisme est un devenir” (‘surrealism is a becoming’): a way of thinking and seeing that is characterized by permanent change.
A group of revolting young poets and artists, disappointed by Breton’s rejection of the communist party, and who had sympathized with surrealism during the years of Nazi occupation, started the rebellious journal, Le Surréalisme Révolutionnaire in 1948, aiming to take over the surrealist movement in a Marxist direction. The main animator of this protesting group was the Walloon poet Christian Dotremont. However, the Communist Party expelled the collaborators of the journal immediately, because it was not in line with the policy of the Party. Dotremont, Asger Jorn, Constant Nieuwenhuys and some other artists founded in 1948 the new movement Cobra, that was to get much attention in the Parisian art scene. After it fell apart in 1951, quite a few of the Cobra-artists associated with the newly founded Phases group around Édouard Jaguer, who stood in a close relationship with the surrealist group.
Another important collective declaration was issued in 1948 by the Surrealist Group, called “À la niche les glapisseurs de Dieu” (‘go into the doghouse, you yappers of God’). It was a vehement attack of the Catholic Church. It was a direct response to speculations in the press that the surrealists were becoming religious and in favor of metaphysics. The last sentence of the manifesto is: that surrealists have “a inflexible aversion to every kneeled being”. The famous declaration was reissued in 2007 in a book by Guy Ducornet called Athéisme & Surréalisme, in which he documented the long story of vehement atheism of the surrealists, and he added translations of the pamphlet into German, English, Spanish, Greek, Italian, Dutch, Portuguese, Czech, Arab, with the names of 163 surrealists from 25 countries who had signed it at its new release.
In the fifties, the surrealists did much research on the creative secrets of non-Western culture, as well as on the sources of inspiration of alchemists and occultists, but they did never look for possible religious traces.
Between 1951 and 1953, there was an exchange of ideas on liberation and liberty with the French “Anarchist Federation”. The surrealist group was given access to the pages of the journal Le Libertaire where they published 31 articles, written by André Breton, Benjamin Péret, Jean Schuster, Jean-Louis Bédouin, Gérard Legrand, Adrien Dax, Robert Benayoun and others. However, the anarchist liaison came to an end after a surrealist attack on the book L’Homme révolté by Albert Camus. For the surrealists, revolt meant “la révolte absolue”, also worded (in the Second Manifesto) as “l’insoumission totale”, total resistance, that could spark off a total revolution, creating the ‘transformation of the world’, to quote Karl Marx. Camus, however, was no advocate of revolt; he was of the opinion that the absolute revolt would lead to nothing more than to the “goût de l’asservissement intellectuel” (‘the taste of intellectual subjection’); “le révolutionnaire finit en oppresseur et en hérétique” (‘the revolutionary ends in being a oppressor and a heretic’). The surrealists rejected Camus’s fatalistic and moralistic approach of the concepts of ‘revolt’ and ‘revolution’. The editors of Le Libertaire were in favor of Camus’s view and admired his critical attitude against the Communist Party; they apologized to Camus for the surrealist attack in their journal, losing thereby their liaison with the surrealist group.
In the beginning of the fifties, a group of young radical writers, Guy Debord, Gil Wolman and others, who called themselves “Lettrists” initially, later renamed into “Situationists”, showed a profound criticism of the revolutionary ideas of André Breton, which they considered a feeble ambition to change the world. They aimed at vitalizing the surrealist movement and taking it over. A number of young members of the surrealist group, Jean Schuster, Jean-Louis Bédouin and Robert Benayoun, who also wanted a more revolutionary attitude by the group, proposed to have a talk with the Lettrists/Situationists. The group agreed with their proposal. The young members met Debord and Wolman; they suggested to Debord and Wolman to make a common declaration to celebrate the centenary of Arthur Rimbaud’s birth. After a couple of laborious discussions a common text was accepted by both parties, Ça commence bien (‘The start is fine’) that was printed and distributed in September, 1954. The collaboration, however, was short-lived. The lettrists/situationists printed a opt-out message on the back of the common declaration, and called it ‘It turns out badly’, accusing the surrealist of a lack of revolutionary conviction. Wolman sent a letter to André Breton telling him that the surrealist group consisted of imbeciles and swindlers. Their polemics against surrealism and their tentatives of patricide did not stop there. When Guy Debord announced the” abolition of art” in his book La Société de Spectacle (‘the society of show’), the eventual dialogue was ended once and for all. Benjamin Péret commented in 1958 already on a similar idea of Debord, saying: “Revendiquer la subordination de la poésie et de l’art à la science n’est qu’une redoutable aberration dont la dénonciation doit être suivie sans relâche, puisqu’elle consiste à renverser l’ordre naturel des choses, l’intuition précédant largement la science”(‘Claiming the subordination of poetry and art to science is nothing else that a formidable aberration that should be denounced immediately, since it consists of the reversal of the natural order of things: intuition precedes science by far’).
During the revolt of students and workers against the French government in May, 1968, many slogans appeared on the wall of Paris, that had been partially borrowed from surrealist texts, but that were being claimed by the situationists. The International Situationist movement has dissolved itself in 1972.
Back to the fifties: Notwithstanding the fact that the surrealist group was no longer associated with a political party, its political convictions and aims were fully alive. The fifties were a period of vehement tensions both in France and international. The group has spoken out on several important occasions by issuing pamphlets and declarations which were often commented in the press.
In 1956, after the bloody Soviet suppression of the Hungarian people against the stalinist regime, the surrealist group issued a vehement protest called “Hongrie, Soleil levant” (‘Hungary, a rising sun’), with the still famous sentence: “Les fascistes sont ceux qui tirent sur le peuple” (The Fascists are those who shoot the people’).
A manifest against the nuclear tests of the French army in the Pacific and against the military research into biological warfare was issued in 1958, called: “Démasquez les physiciens. Videz les laboratoires” (‘Unmask the scientists. Clear the laboratories’). A quote: “Religion was the opium for the people for a long time, but science is now ready to take its place. Get away with the theology of the Bomb! Let’s organize the propaganda against the master-singers of the scientific way of “thinking”!’
André Breton was one of the initiators in 1960 of an very important public declaration of 121 writers, artists and intellectuals against the colonial war of the French state in Algeria. This militant “Déclaration à l’insoumission dans la guerre d’Algérie”, generally referred to as “Declaration of the 121”, pleaded also to end the charges against deserters and conscientious objectors. The final phrase of the manifesto reads: “La cause du peuple algérien qui contribue de façon effective à ruiner le sysème colonial, est la cause de tous les hommes libres” (‘‘the cause of the Algerian people that contributes in an effective way to dismantle the colonial system, is the cause of every free person’). The French government had installed strong censorship, and it prohibited any press comment on the Algerian war. So in this case, no journal in France reported on the declaration, but it was still the ‘talk of the town’. The government of General De Gaulle was furious, and all signatories were prosecuted.
The surrealists supported the Cuban writers and artists in 1964 with their collective manifesto, demanding from the revolutionary government of Cuba not to enact the state-controlled “socialist realism” such as was the case in the Soviet Union and the East-European states. A quote: “Une Révolution qui défend la liberté de création peut être une Révolution sans Thermidor” (‘a revolution that defends the freedom of creation can be a Revolution without Thermidor.”) ‘Thermidor’ was the name of the summer month in the French revolutionary era; it indicates proverbially the moment in the second year of the French Revolution when the true revolutionary principles were being revoked.
A few years later, in 1967, the Cuban surrealist painter Wifredo Lam organized a large international exhibition of free experimental art in Havana, in order to celebrate the freedom of creation in Cuba. Many surrealists have participated, and several of them were present.
In 1965, André Breton organized the Eleventh International Exhibition of Surrealism in Paris, named “L’Écart absolu” (‘‘the absolute deviation’). (These words were a concept of the socialist philosopher Charles Fourier (1772-1837), expressing that by choosing a deviant way, one may do great discoveries, like Columbus did when he discovered the Americas.) . At the occasion, a detailed collective declaration was published, called Tranchons-en (‘let’s cut the knot’), in which the consumer society was condemned and the total commercialization of life by capitalism was denounced, together with a vehement rejection of all social infantilization.
A very shocking and sad day for the surrealist movement was September 26, 1966, when André Breton died. He had personified surrealism in a unique way since its first beginnings. He had conducted the group for more than forty years in making its decisions on the course of the intellectual adventure that is surrealism. Everybody realized that he could not be replaced.
The group in Paris continued its daily meetings under guidance of Jean Schuster, who had been a very active member since 1948. He had been assigned by Breton himself to guard the course of surrealism. A new attractive journal was founded, called L’Archibras (‘the arch-arm’, another concept of the philosopher Charles Fourier, by which he meant an additional powerful psychological quality, such as for elephant his strong trunk).
Schuster aimed at strengthening the political profile of surrealism in order to make it more prominent in society again. Not all of the members of the group agreed with him to politicize the movement again, and the internal discussions and tensions stifled often the atmosphere, and instead of the usual friendly way of sharing views, a mutual mistrust was growing.
Nevertheless, a major event in the spring of 1968 was the renewed collaboration with the Czechoslovak surrealists, after eighteen years of Stalinist rule in their country, by which surrealism was strictly forbidden; the government in Prague had accepted some liberation. The Prague and Paris surrealists immediately prepared a joint exhibition called ‘The Principle of Pleasure’, referring to the term of Sigmund Freud. The exhibition was successfully shown in Brno, Prague and Bratislava. The two groups worked also together on a joint manifesto, that got the name “The Platform of Prague’, in which they declared among other things: “The contemporary situation in he world gives hope to expecting the resurgence of a truly revolutionary ideology.” But later that same year, in August, just before the declaration could be made public, the tanks of the Soviet army occupied Prague and other cities, and the relatively liberal government was dismissed. It took twenty-two years more before Czechoslovakia became a free country again.
The revolt of French students and workers in May 1968, seemed also to become the confirmation of the surrealist hopes and ideals, and the group participated activities in the revolutionary happenings. The whole country was preparing for revolution against the capitalist government. The president of the republic, General de Gaulle, decided even to flee to Germany, and the government did not know what to do. The surrealist group tried to sum up the feats of the revolt in a special issue of L’Archibras, that appeared just after everything was over, in June 1968. The issue has these final remarks: “No to participation, no to friendly arrangements, no to the Mardi Gras of elections, no to the complicity of the master and his slave: we do not accept to be a people of freed subjects, we want to be a people of free citizens. Civil war is the only justified war.” The abrupt ending of “May 1968” is well known. On May 30, President De Gaulle, supported by the Communist Party that suddenly had dissociated itself from the revolt, announced the dissolution of the parliament and new general elections. From that moment on, the revolutionary spirit and an imminent civil war were gone. The editors of L’Archibras were prosecuted for rebellion and offense of the president of the republic.
Less than a year thereafter, in February 1969, a vehement discussion was held in a meeting of the surrealist group of Paris, presided by Jean Schuster. His point of view was that the group was unable to realize its revolutionary ends because of too many differences of opinion, so it had no future anymore. In his view, the group could better be fully discontinued. Five members of the group who shared his view, wrote a circular letter to the remaining members (who were called “the big forgetful ones”) on February 13, 1969, telling that they had terminated their activities as members of the already discontinued group. Twenty-seven other members of the group commented upon the situation on March 23, 1969, in a circular letter as well. They were of the opinion that the deep crisis, that they had never wanted, was a fact that now had to be accepted; the organizational structure of the group was no longer viable, and had to be stopped until further orders. A quote: “Nobody can foresee what the surrealist activity will be from now on, an activity for which a reform is anxiously awaited by everyone.” This communication was received with astonishment by the surrealists abroad; the astonishment applied not only to the incredible proposal of Jean Schuster and five of his allies to end the collective activities of the surrealist group, but also to the acceptance of that fact by the remaining members of the group who had failed to offer a solution. Mid-April 1969, the Dutch group made known to all surrealists wherever its declaration called “Le Surréalisme d’abord et toujours” (‘surrealism first and forever’) , in which they said to be determined to continuing their collective surrealist activities. “With feelings of regret, even of incomprehension, we have learned the decisions of our comrades in Paris. However, their decision involves a purely organizational crisis that concerns the Paris surrealist group alone, and that does not put at stake in any way the international surrealist movement, that has never behaved as a political party demanding the application of its resolutions by all of its allies.” Nevertheless, Jean Schuster published a lengthy article in the daily newspaper Le Monde , dated October 4, 1969, by which he pompously told that the ‘historical surrealism’ was ended, and that the surrealist ideas would remain as an “eternal, philosphical surrealism”. His approach was categorical rejected by the (underground) Czech surrealist group; Vratislav Effenberger wrote, that the “non-ideological eternal surrealism has always existed, and we all know at which side of the barricades it stands”. And many other surrealists were of the same opinion. Alain Joubert qualified Schuster’s thesis as “philosophical imbecility”, while Édouard Jaguer described it as “a too casuistic approach”.
5. The international surrealist civilization -- with highlights of the period 1970-2018
Vincent Bounoure, who had been a member of the surrealist group since 1953, took the initiative to start an international enquiry on the future of the surrealist movement. All responses were positive. Everybody was of the opinion that surrealism could not be stopped as a collective adventure, but that is should continue more vitally than ever. It resulted in the founding of the international journal Bulletin de Liaison Surréaliste in September 1970. It opened its windows wide to surrealist groups abroad. Obviously, a new era was beginning, in which the former group in Paris did not set the pace anymore. The surrealist movement changed its characteristics; Alain Joubert, member of the Paris surrealist group since 1956, remarked that surrealism had behaved until1969 as a “closed society”, and that it had from then on “the duty to behave as an open society, where all those who are committed to it will be confronted with personal decisions.”
At the same time, the surrealists who had not resigned had taken lessons from the recent shocking facts, such as the defeat of the May 1968 revolt in France, the brutal soviet suppression of the Prague Spring in 1968, the wasting away of idealism in the Cuban Revolution, the police actions against popular uprisings in may other countries, not to forget the unexpected closing down of the surrealist group in Paris. The surrealists had realized that their only “power” to change the world was most of all by their surrealist “state of mind” and their poetry and works which testified of their revolutionary vision of the world. Direct revolutionary action was beyond reach: they found themselves in a similar situation as the surrealist group which made in 1947 its declaration of political independence “Rupture inaugurale”. But they were not dispirited at all. They took new inspiration from the ideas of the utopian ideals of the socialist philosopher Charles Fourier, just like André Breton before them. Abandoning the direct revolutionary action did not mean the abandoning of the surrealist ideals.
In the last fifty years, the principles of surrealism have not been changed. But many new applications of those principles have been created, in surrealist games, in collective automatism, in the critical study of the environment, in the focus of poetry, to mention some of the new areas of exploration.
The surrealist movement, that had internationalized in the thirties of the 20th Century to England, Czechoslovakia, Serbia, Tenerife, not to forget the strong surrealist activities of many Belgian painters and poets since the twenties, got a new impulse in the seventies. An important role in this development was played by the Bulletin de Liaison Surréaliste, but also by the Phases movement thanks to the persistent energies of Édouard Jaguer.
Paradoxically, after the crisis of the group of Paris, unprecedented palmy days were beginning for surrealism in many other countries. New groups were created by the younger generation all over the world. To mention the most active ones: 1979 in Adelaide (Australia); 1982 in Reykjavik (Iceland); 1982 in Vancouver (Canada), the “Melmoth” group; 1984 in Stockholm (Sweden); 1986 in Buenos Aires (Argentine), the group “Signo Ascendente”; 1987 in Madrid (Spain); 1989 in Prague (Czechoslovakia), the reappearing “illegal” group, after the dismantling of the Soviet regime; 1990 in Paris (France) the creation of the new group of Paris; 1990 in Amsterdam (The Netherlands) CAPA group; only 1995 in Leeds (England); 2000 in Santiago (Chile) the group “Derrame”; 2000 in São Paulo (Brazil) the group “Decollage”; 2000 in Athens (Greece); 2006 in London(England) the group the SLAG action group; 2006 in Montreal (Canada), the group “La vertèbre et le rossignol”; 2007 in Buenos Aires (Argentine) the group of Rio de la Plata; 2008 in Coimbra (Portugal) the “Cabo Mondego Section”; 2011 in La Coruña (Galicia, Spain), the “Xalundes” group; 2014 in Montreal (Canada) the “Liaison Surréaliste” group; 2014 on the Inner Island (British Colombia, Canada).
Many international exhibitions of surrealism have been held around the globe since the seventies, in most cases combined with a poetry festival and other manifestations. The most spectacular shows have been:
1976, Chicago (USA): Marvelous Freedom, Vigilance of Desire.
1978, Bochum (Germany): Imagination.
1981, Lyons (France): Permanence du Regard Surréaliste [‘permanence of the surrealist look].
1984, Lisbon (Portugal): Surrealismo e arte fantástica [‘surrealism and fantastic art’].
2008, Coimbra (Portugal): O Reverso de Olhar [‘the reverse of seeing’].
2010, Santiago and Valparaiso (Chile): El Umbral Secreto [‘the secret threshold’].
2012, Reading (Pennsylvania, USA): Toward the World of the Fifth Sun.
2012, Prague (Czechia): Other Air.
2014, Montreal (Canada): La Chasse à l’Objet du Désir [‘chasing the object of desire’].
2016, Wales (U.K.): The Surrealist Murmuration.
2016, Cartago and San José (Costa Rica): Las Llaves del Deseo [‘the keys of desire’].
I mention here my personal selection of just twelve essential new surrealist publications from the recent decades, among many other books and documents which together demonstrate the spectacular vitality of contemporary surrealism :
1. Vincent Bounoure and Viteslav Effenberger (eds,), La Civilisation Surréaliste [‘the surrealist civilization’]. Paris, 1976. This book of essays by Robert Lebel, Martin Stejskal, Jean-Louis Bédouin, Bernard Caburet and the editors present an innovative overview of the roads to choose for surrealists in the field of language and poetry, art creation, passion, games, humor objective chance, objects. Effenberger linked the device of “Surrealism is what will be” to a new theory of civilization; he stresses that surrealism needs “to fully redress our high spirits which may walk upside down, and to use the human resilience, which the old patterns of civilization have deployed only for a general infantilization and for cutting back mental space, […] and to assure the authentic exercise of the ‘real functioning of the mind’ without any limitation of its functions in the field of mutual human relations.”
2. Mário Cesariny, Textos de Afirmação e de combate do movimento surrealista mundial, (‘Texts of Affirmation and struggle of the global surrealist movement’), Lisbon 1977. This book is a unique anthology of the international dimension of surrealism since 1920, with files of documents from Spain, England, Czechoslovakia, Mexico, Rumania, Amsterdam, Brazil, Cuba and the Arabic world. This militant book would certainly deserve translated editions in other languages.
3. Édouard Jaguer, Mystères de la Chambre Noire (‘Mysteries of the darkroom’), Paris, 1982. The first global overview of surrealist photography, showing the many wonderful experiments that have been done from the twenties till the seventies, with a comprehensive introduction and detailed information about the photo artists.
4. Heribert Becker, Édouard Jaguer and Petr Kral, Das Surrealistische Gedicht (‘the surrealist poem’). Frankfurt am Main / Bochum, 1985. Anthology of surrealist poetry from many countries, in German translation, with a splendid essay by Petr Kral. More than 150 authors on 1480 pages. Such an anthology should be available in more languages as well.
5. Richard Walter and Édouard Jaguer (eds.), Infosurr, ‘journal d’information sur le surréalisme et ses alentours’. This bimonthly journal was started in 1996 and is still an indispensable source of information about global surrealism. Up to now, some 2,000 pages of information on new exhibitions, journals, books, films and notices about their creators.
6. Michaël Löwy, L’Étoile du Matin, Surréalisme et Marxisme, (‘The morning star, surrealism and marxism’), Paris, 2000. Brilliant essays on the crucial moments in the revolutionary history of surrealism. A passage from the concluding essay: “The surrealists are condemned to innovate; the well-known roads, the old paths, the trampled down tracks are now in the hands of the enemy. They need to create new courses, or rather, to trace these themselves in the field: the walker creates the road.”
7. Alain Joubert, Le Mouvement du Surréalisme, ou Le fin mot de l’ histoire, (‘The movement of surrealism, or The acute word of history’). Paris, 2001. The detailed critical history of the last decade (1959-1969) of the surrealist group in Paris, culminating in the destructive crisis of 1969, by an insider.
8. Ron Sakolsky, Creating Anarchy. Liberty, (Tennessee USA), 2005. The author, a member of the groeup of Chicago and founder of the Inner Island Group, develops the idea of “anarcho-surrealist poetics”, the cross-fertilization of surrealism and anarchism. In later years, more inspiring essays did follow up: Swift winds (2009), Scratching the tiger’s belly (2012), Breaking Loose (2015), Birds of a Feather (2017).
9. Miguel Pérez Corrales, Caleidoscopio Surrealista [‘surrealist kaleidoscope’]. Tenerife (Canarian Islands, Spain), 2011, second edition 2015. This is the most comprehensive and reliable survey of surrealist activities throughout the world 1918-2014. In his introduction, Corrales, a member of the group of Madrid, wrote that he had the intention to “open windows with a view on the Adventures and on the Marvelous, without frontiers of time and space”. The enlarged reprint has also a full chronology of the international surrealist history. This admirable and indispensable book has been published in Spanish only; it would deserve (at least) translations into French and English. In addition to this handbook, Corrales edits a weekly blog (in Spanish) about international surrealist events and publications: www.surrint.blogspot.com.
10. Her de Vries and Laurens Vancrevel (eds.), Ce qui sera. Almanac of the international surrealist movement for 2014. Bloemendaal (Netherlands), 2013. An international panorama of present ambitions of surrealism, ten innovators from the past fifty years, essays on actual surrealist research, a review of the main “Forgers and Inquisitors” of surrealism, the almanac of surrealist games, poetry, images: the whole alamanac of 528 pages has been introduced by the Address to the Surrealists by Alain Joubert. A quote: “During its history, Surrealism has passed from the stage of an ‘ideological’ corpus to that of an active myth, which provides greater clarity; this modern myth, which it tried to promote for quite some time, proved to be Surrealism itself. […] we need to appeal to a polyphony of thinking, in order to provoke the emergence of Surrealism of conquest.” He added eighty themes of reflection and action for the surrealists for consideration in the next few years.
11. Alain Joubert, Le Cinéma des Surréalistes (‘the cinema of the surrealists’). Paris, 2018. The author explains what makes some films surrealist; he presents sixty-two masterpieces from 1925 till 2015. This book is an indispensable complement to the classic handbook of Ado Kyrou, Le Surréalisme au Cinéma (1953/1963).
12. Floriano Martins (ed.), Viagens do Surrealismo. Criação: antología poética [‘travels of surrealism. Creation: anthology of poetry’] . Fortaleza (Brazil), 2018. This huge anthology of international surrealist poetry (161 poets; 760 pages) is a spectacular presentation of the great variety and originality of the surrealist expression, and an impressive feat of the editor, who did most of the translations into Portuguese.
What have been the most fruitful new ideas for surrealism in the past fifty years?
In my view, the essay “About Surrealism and Revolution” by the Marxist philosopher Herbert Marcuse. Although an ‘outsider’ of surrealism, Marcuse had much sympathy to it. His remarks, requested by the Chicago group, need certainly to be emphasized.. The essay was published in the April 1973 issue of the Bulletin de Liaison Surréaliste. It offered a new look on the conditions that would eventually make possible a radical change of the world. At the time of his writing, capitalism had still a strong counterpart in communism, but his reasoning is still valid now. One interesting quote: “[…] radical transformation of the mental, receptive and creative faculties can only become an impulse for radical social change in a specific moment of capitalism and of communism: the moment in which the established social organization, the division of labor, the situation of full-time work for men and women will become markedly superfluous.” In other words, the absolute surrealist revolution will only take place when the existing social organization has ceased to be useful, and society is becoming an “environment for the development of free individuals,” where they will be able to follow “their desires, their imagination, their intelligence, their mutual understanding, their victory on violence and fear.” In fact, these ideas seem to be close to Charles Fourier’s utopist social views; it puts Marx’s thoughts about the historical necessity of a “proletarian revolution” in new perspective.
A wealth of innovative ideas can be found in La Civilisation Surréaliste, edited by Vincent Bounoure with Vratislav Effenberger. This groundbreaking book has been already mentioned above as the first one of twelve important publications.
An interesting new application of automatism combined with collective creation has been developed around 1990 by a group of painters in Amsterdam. They started the CAPA group, “Collective Automatic Painting Amsterdam’“. Its initiators were Rik Lina, Jorge Leal Labrin and Freddy Flores Knistoff. The surrealist principle of automatism, which was originally developed during language experiments (individual and collective) was later also applied to visual expression, for instance in “cadavres exquis”. CAPA organized group acts of creative automatism in collective creation sessions. This resulted in performances, comparable to improvised dancing and jazz.
The Marxist eco-sociologist Michaël Löwy, member of the groups of São Paulo and of Paris, developed in his book L’Étoile du Matin new views on the revolutionary role that surrealism is able to display. It resides, according to Löwy, in the innovation of philosophical attacks on capitalism, and in unmasking its new techniques of enslaving “consumers”. This book as well has been included as Nr. 6 in the list of prominent publications on surrealism, given before.
Comparable to the approaches of Michaël Löwy are the very original ideas of Ron Sakolsky in his books and brochures, listed before as Nr. 8. Sakolsky came from anarchism to anarcho-surrealism. A quote: “As for myself, this desire to live poetically has, at key moments in my life, been illuminated by dancing visions of both surrealism and anarchy. And each has bounced off the other’s radiant energy with the intense dynamics of a spontaneous musical improvisation, taking me way beyond the stale chord changes of a settled reality and on to the subversive path of radical creativity.” He is a member of the group of Chicago. He has compiled Surrealist Subversions (Brooklyn, 2001), a large volume of writings and images from the surrealist group in Chicago.
A very timely surrealist research and debate on the immense effects on the countryside of contemporary urbanization and industrialization and of the ruins of abandoned urban and industrial projects has been pursued by a collective of surrealists from California, Madrid, Buenos Aires, Stockholm and Tenerife. They contributed essays on aspects of this subject area to the book The Exteriority Crisis (Berkeley, 2008). A quote from the introduction signed by Eric W. Bragg, Eugenio Castro and Bruno Jacobs: “Though confining our thought to the outskirts -- to those urban spaces on the fringe -- we conclude our interventions in a certain way by trying to focus on these specific objects, spaces and places, while deliberately setting aside surrealism’s historical interests such the ones relative to the encounter, objective chance, wandering, unconditional waiting etc. And by situating this thought beyond the outskirts, we […] find ourselves before everything that lives not according into the predeterminations of history, but which flows with the generative force of original ambiguity.” The Spanish version was published as Crisis de la Exterioridad (Madrid, 2012). This is a new field of surrealist activity, which deserves to be followed up.
6. Concluding remarks: What is surrealism? Who are surrealists and who are not?
During the first twenty years of the surrealist movement, the definition that André Breton gave in his Manifesto of Surrealism has been several times re-interpreted within the group to make it sharper, as the collective vision on society or on political changes made necessary an accentuation or a change of accent. Such changes can be deducted from collective declarations or texts in the surrealist journals. Revised definitions have not been published. Within the surrealist group, the actual interpretation of the concept was sufficiently known.
The concept of surrealism has been defined as a “psychic automatism”, by which the “real functioning of thinking can be expressed”. The “psychic automatism” has been called “a state of mind” and “dictation of thinking” as well. Initially, the psychic automatism was applied to expressions in language only (“automatic writing”), but soon to other forms of expression as well, not only to plastic arts, but also to dreams, games, to all associative forms of thinking. Essential preconditions that have immediately been set are: the absolute rejection of any control exercised by reason, moral codes or esthetical preoccupations.
As its prime intention, Breton mentioned “the demolishment once and forever of all the other psychic mechanisms” (for instance religious ones) and the wish to substitute itself for these, “aiming at the solution of the main problems of human life”. ‘Absolute surrealism” should be pursued.
Not mentioned in the definition, but always included in the practice of surrealism, is the “révolte absolue”, the total revolt, that may cause the surrealist revolution to be realized. In Breton’s “Second Manifesto” (1929), the law of “historical materialism” from the philosophy of Karl Marx was added to the principles of surrealism. To implement it, the movement had tried to associate itself with the international communist movement, but this was soon rejected. In 1947, the surrealist movement adopted as the point of departure, that the movement should never associate with any political organization, and would keep its full ideological independency.
From that moment on, the meaning of the concept “surrealism” has not changed essentially. Even when, around 1970, the surrealist movement was transforming itself into a “open society”, to use Alain Joubert’s term, there has never been a serious discussion between the different existing surrealist groups to eventually change the concept of surrealism. However, there have been repeatedly expressed by surrealists critical reactions on erroneous or misleading use of the word surrealism, not to forget the many cases of quasi-surrealism that were abusing the concept. The many diverging meanings that have been attributed to the term by critics of art and literature, and by university researchers and journalists, are irrelevant for its essential meaning, even if dictionaries support contrary definitions. The essential meaning of the concept surrealism is to be found only in the writings of André Breton and other theorists of the surrealist movement.
Who can be called a surrealist? There has never been any doubt about that within the surrealist movement, although there is no written rule that would tell what are the requirements. In any case, that qualification is applicable only to persons who recognize and defend the principles of surrealism, and who are being accepted and acknowledged as such by fellow-surrealists. In Breton’s Manifesto, he has listed a number of poets and artists from the past that he declared to have been surrealists, although they could not confirm nor deny such a qualification; some other surrealists have given such a qualification to outsiders of the movement as well. These qualifications should be seen mostly in a metaphorical way, for instance to give some special relief to the poet or artist involved. Summing up: anyone who calls himself a surrealist without subscribing to the principles of the movement and without being recognized by the known surrealists as such, is definitely not a surrealist.
Which texts and works of art may be rightly called surrealist? There has never been any doubt within the surrealist movement, although there exists no written rule on this. But it is simple: the indication ‘surrealist’ to a text or work of art is applicable only to works that have been created by a surrealist, respectively to objects that have been willfully called ‘surrealist’ by known surrealists. The indication ‘surrealist’ can never mean a stylistic quality, although it is often wrongly being used as such by many critics and university researchers.
Concluding: a surrealist aims at the complete liberation of his mind and life, both psychologically, materially and socially. His creativity is guided by the psychic automatism; it is being stimulated by objective chance, by humor, by dreams, by eroticism, and by the experience of the marvelous. It is not being controlled by reason, by moral codes or esthetical preoccupations. A surrealist rejects religion, nationalism and the compulsiveness of family relationship. His prime attitude is revolt, he aims at changing the world so that the surrealist revolution of the mind can be realized.
Attention: this is no definition of course, but just an explanation of what has been defined during the first hundred years of the movement.
And yes: Surrealism is what will be.
EDIÇÃO COMEMORATIVA | CENTENÁRIO DO SURREALISMO 1919 –2019
Artista convidado: Alfonso Peña (Costa Rica,
Agulha Revista de Cultura
20 ANOS O MUNDO CONOSCO
Número 129 | Março de 2019
editor geral | FLORIANO MARTINS | email@example.com
editor assistente | MÁRCIO SIMÕES | firstname.lastname@example.org
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