History of the Surrealist Movement

History of the Surrealist Movement



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History of the Surrealist Movement by Gerard Durozoi

From Dada to the Automatists, and from Max Ernst to André Breton, Gérard Durozoi here provides the most comprehensive history of the Surrealist movement. Tracing the movement from its origins in the 1920s to its decline in the 1950s and 1960s, Durozoi tells the history of Surrealism through its activities, publications, and reviews, demonstrating its close ties to some of the most explosive political, as well as creative, debates of the twentieth century.

Drawing on a staggering amount of documentary and visual evidence—including 1,000 photos—Durozoi illuminates all the intellectual and artistic facets of the movement, from literature and philosophy to painting, photography, and film, thus making History of the Surrealist Movement its definitive encyclopedia.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780226174112
Publisher: University of Chicago Press
Publication date: 04/01/2002
Edition description: 1
Pages: 816
Product dimensions: 8.94(w) x 11.14(h) x 2.27(d)

About the Author

Gérard Durozoi is coauthor, with Berdanrd Lecherbonnier, of the books, André Breton: L'Écriture surréaliste and Le Surréalisme: Théories, thèmes, techniques and the editor of Dictionnaire de l'art moderne et contemporain and Dictionnaire de philosophie. During the 1950s and 1960s he ws closely affiliated, as a philosopher, with the Surrealist movement. Alison Anderson holds a degree in translation fromthe University of Geneva, Switzerland. She has translated extensively from French and is also a novelist.

Read an Excerpt

History of the Surrealist Movement

By Gerard Durozoi

University of Chicago Press

Copyright © 2003

University of Chicago
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0-226-17411-5

Chapter One

1924-1929 Salvation for Us Is

On October 11, 1924, the existence of a surrealist group was publicly
confirmed by the opening at 15, rue de Grenelle (the premises were on loan
from Pierre Naville's father) of a Bureau for Surrealist Research, whose
aim was to "gather all the information possible related to forms that
might express the unconscious activity of the mind." The press was
notified of the opening and of the imminent publication of a new
periodical, La Revolution surrealiste-an undertaking Breton had decided on
by the beginning of July, while he was correcting the proofs of the
Manifeste du surrealisme. Word of the opening spread quickly enough for
the Journal litteraire to publish an account of the event the very same
day: "The promoters of the surrealist movement, in their desire to appeal
to the unconscious and to set surrealism along the path of greatest
freedom, have already begun to organize a Bureau to unite all those who
are interested in expression where thought is freed from any intellectual
preoccupations; ... all those who are closely or remotely concerned with
surrealism will findall the information and documentation relative to the
Mouvement surrealiste." The same commentary in Les Nouvelles litteraires:
"No domain has been specified, a priori, for this undertaking, and
surrealism proposes a gathering of the greatest possible number of
experimental elements, for a purpose that cannot yet be perceived. All
those who have the means to contribute, in any fashion, to the creation of
genuine surrealist archives, are urgently requested to come forward: let
them shed light on the genesis of an invention, or propose a new system of
psychic investigation, or make us the judges of striking coincidences, or
reveal their most instinctive ideas on fashion, as well as politics, etc.,
or freely criticize morality, or even simply entrust us with their most
curious dreams and with what their dreams suggest to them."

Not only did such announcements emphasize the collective nature of the
movement, they also indicated the bureau's primary intention of remaining
open to all those who dared venture into the vicinity. The bureau was
indeed organized in such a way that a daily presence was assured by two
people, who were responsible for greeting visitors (journalists, writers,
onlookers, even students) and for taking note of their suggestions and
reactions in a daily "Notebook"; the office would also guarantee a regular
amount of daily publicity for the movement (press relations, various
mailings), while in another room, on the first floor, other members of the
group could meet for discussions, or exchange ideas and projects, or work
on their own texts, or help to edit the first issue of La Revolution

The premises were "decorated," as captured in a famous photograph by Man
Ray, with a few paintings (De Chirico: Le Reve de Tobie; a watercolor by
Robert Desnos; a canvas by Max Morise), posters, and, before long, a
headless plaster statue of a boar in a stairway. The surrealists archived
works that had already been exhibited, as well as the notebooks in which
they would jot down their automatic texts and manuscripts. An atmosphere
of effervescent research reigned, where the gifts of chance were always
welcome (a poster glimpsed on a wall might be pointed out or the ludicrous
content of a classified advertisement), along with the marvelous, thought
to be ever latent in everyday life and ready to suggest incongruous
juxtapositions of objects and arouse the imagination by reinforcing the
victory over mental habits. But the bureau was anything but a simple place
for accomplices to gather, even if their affinity was confirmed daily by
the communication of dreams and fantasies and by shared laughter,
spontaneous exchange, and the joy of the ongoing discovery: the bureau,
like the Manifeste or La Revolution surrealiste, also served a strategic

In 1924, a specter haunted Paris-at any rate, the specter of
surrealism-and it was up to Breton and his friends to prove that they did
not intend to allow anyone else to clarify its significance (or,
inversely, to trivialize it). An evening at the Comedie des Champs-Elysees
was the occasion for a first skirmish: "surrealist dances" were scheduled
to be performed by Valeska Gert, whose impresario was Ivan Goll; the group
disrupted the performance with a concert of whistles, and then a row broke
out between Goll and Breton, and the event ended abruptly with the arrival
of the police. On August 23, Breton and ten of his friends printed a
collective text in Le Journal litteraire, "Encore le surrealisme," in
response to Goll's declarations maintaining that a surrealist school had
existed at least since the time Apollinaire first used the adjective to
describe Les Mamelles de Tiresias, and among its proponents were not only
Goll himself but also Pierre Albert-Birot and Paul Dermee. The collective
declaration affirmed that "Monsieur Dermee involuntarily exploited the
grotesque usefulness of Dadaism and his activity was always foreign to
surrealism"; also, it stated that "surrealism is something quite different
from the literary wave imagined by M. Goll," before introducing texts that
were soon to be published (La Revolution surrealiste, the manifesto, texts
by Desnos, Peret, Aragon, and Roger Vitrac) that would reinforce their
claim that they had "nothing to do with Mr. Goll, or with his friends
either." Le Journal litteraire then published Goll's replies (reiterating
the definition he put forward in 1919, to describe playwrighting: "The
surrealist poet will evoke the distant realm of the truth, by keeping his
ear to the wall of the earth") as well as those of Dermee (who, in the
journal L'Esprit nouveau went back over his efforts to "ensure that the
term surrealism is still in force" and "keep it separate from petty
cliquish quarrels"; he also reproached Breton for wanting to "monopolize a
movement of literary and artistic renewal that dates from well before his
time and that in scope goes far beyond his fidgety little person"). Breton
responded with countersignatures from his close collaborators: "One cannot
get into a discussion with such phonies and nitwits," followed by an
excerpt from the manifesto that outlined the history of the issue. The
quarrel did not bring an end to the debate: Le Figaro and L'Intransigeant,
on October 11, both confused the opening of the bureau and the publication
of a journal edited by Ivan Goll whose title alone, Surrealisme, continued
to feed the confusion. The unique issue of Surrealisme opened with a
"Manifeste du surrealisme," followed by an "Exemple du surrealisme: Le
cinema" (Goll cited as a model La Roue by Abel Gance); among the
contributions were pieces by Albert-Birot, Dermee, Pierre Reverdy, Joseph
Delteil, Marcel Arland, Jean Painleve, Rene Crevel, and Goll himself (an
interview with Robert Delaunay). Though such eclecticism might have seemed
spicy or even, from a distance, in good taste, in the actual context of
the era it only contributed to the obscurity. At almost the same time, a
special issue of L'esprit nouveau was devoted to Apollinaire; Dermee
brought together a good number of writers who were opposed to Breton
(Albert-Birot, Celine Arnauld, Goll, Picabia, Tzara, and Ungaretti, among
others) to remind people of the fact that surrealism did indeed begin with
Apollinaire. As proof, he published the letter sent to him by Apollinaire,
the author of Alcools, in March 1917: "All things considered, I believe it
would in fact be better to adopt surrealism rather than the marvelous I
had initially used. Surrealism does not yet exist in the dictionary, and
it will be easier to handle than the marvelous as already practiced by
Messrs. the Philosophers...." The following month, it was
Albert-Birot's turn, in his periodical Paris (published only that once),
to protest the way in which Breton and his friends were appropriating
surrealism; then Dermee, again in turn, published the first (and sole)
issue of Le Mouvement accelere, in which he reproduced with a few
variations his response to "Encore le surrealisme" with the title "Pour en
finir avec le surrealisme" ("To finish with surrealism once and for all").
He was joined by Celine Arnauld, Satie, Ribemont-Dessaignes, Picabia (with
his clever gift of aggressing the group by sparing the individual),
Vicente Huidobro, Rene Crevel, and Goll. Although Goll maintained his
intention to remain faithful to what he called "surrealism," Dermee
abandoned the term, and replaced it with "panlyricism."

On October 11, a letter was sent from the Bureau for Surrealist Research
to Pierre Morhange, a collaborator on the periodical Philosophies, where
he had recently evoked surrealism in terms that were particularly vague:
"This art form, invented by the genial Max Jacob ... finds beauty only
when rounded out by a lively lyrical painting, in other words, instinctive
and natural." The letter is brief: "We would like to notify you once and
for all that if you give yourself the right to use the word 'Surrealism'
spontaneously and without notifying us, more than fifteen of us will be
there to cruelly set you right." The response this provoked was Messianic
in tone: "Unfortunate gentlemen, I will not address you with words of
hate. You are coming forward for me to fight you. I will fight you. And I
will vanquish you with Goodness and Love. And I will convert you to the
Almighty," and so on. This letter hardly improved their relations.

These skirmishes show just how much Breton and his friends sought to
disengage surrealism from any narrowly literary, or even poetic,
significance-if one persists in seeing poetry as nothing more than a
somewhat refined form of literature. The bureau, from this point of view,
was also the place where this principle could be periodically
reasserted-because it needed to be-within the group itself: preparations
for a first issue of La Revolution surrealiste, noted in the logbook,
showed the efforts made to gather texts, illustrations, human interest
stories, and anonymous information. Such heterogeneity would assure a
multifaceted relation with life in all its aspects rather than with the
aseptic, inefficient world of literature.

The Surrealist Manifesto

Breton's work, the subject of much discussion in the weeks before its
publication, was published on October 15, 1924, in a volume with Poisson
by Simon Kra's Editions du Sagittaire. Although it hardly took the
author's close friends by surprise, it immediately took on the
significance of a global challenge for the intellectual public. Initially
conceived as a preface to Poisson soluble (traces of this initial
intention can still be felt in its composition), the manifesto quickly
acquired the status of an independent text, delineating the goals and
challenges of surrealism, even if its insistence on the supremacy of the
poetic image was due to its originally intended application.

The manifesto begins with a defense of the rights of the imagination (even
as far as the limits of madness) as being the only rights capable of
helping the individual avoid a "fate without light" and of compensating
for the burden of "imperious practical necessity." The text establishes a
relation between the imagination and a taste for freedom: "Dear
imagination," says Breton, "what I love most about you is that you are
unforgiving," and he added right away that "the word of freedom alone is
all that still exalts me."

It was vital, therefore, to reevaluate the realistic attitude born of the
positivist tradition, which was "hostile to any intellectual and moral
uplift." In passing, this reevaluation seemed to criticize the novel,
guilty of preventing the reader's imagination from taking flight because
of its descriptive nature and also of stifling emotions by the use of
psychological analysis, perforce simplistic and sterile. To the
professionalism of novelists-always ready to fill pages in order to
conceal the lack of necessity of what they were writing, Breton opposed a
categorical objection: "I want one to be silent, when one ceases to
feel ... I'm saying only that I do not report the vacant moments of my life,
and that it might be unworthy for anyone to crystallize those moments that
do seem vacant."

But realism was also the fetishism of logical procedures, which were in
fact incapable of solving the authentic problems of existence, while their
overestimation had banished from the mind "anything that could be
rightfully or wrongfully accused of being a superstition, a chimera ...
any means of searching for truth that does not conform with standard
usage." Given such an ossification, Freud's contributions naturally
deserved the highest praise, thanks to which "imagination may be about to
regain its rights."

Subsequently, the importance of dreams was emphasized, because they
reinforced the idea that thought, in humankind, had a much wider scope
than the dominant tradition. Breton formulated four questions to try to
define a terrain for research: What are the possibilities for the
continuity of dreams and their application to life's problems? Do dreams
explicitly harbor the causes of our preferences and our desires? What form
of reason "broader than all others" gives dreams their "natural allure,"
where everything seems possible, for as long as the dream lasts? How can
one conceive the "future resolution" of dreams and reality, apparently so
utterly contradictory, in "the surreal?"

In the sparing tone of the manifesto, the attention given to dreams led to
praise for the marvelous, synonymous with beauty, capable in and of itself
both of instilling interest into the fabrication of novels, as witnessed
by Mathew Gregory Lewis's The Monk, and of lending a character a dimension
of "continuous temptation." While the marvelous had taken on different
forms throughout history, Breton proposed giving it a contemporary form by
evoking a castle that he and his friends could haunt at their leisure; any
attempt to contrast its existence with what could be known of the place
where Breton "really" lived would be in vain. This appeal to the poetic
imagination invited an examination of its very sources, and Breton, using
elements already evoked in "Entree des mediums," retraced his itinerary,
from his first experiments, which sought a definition of lyricism, to the
crucial experiment of Les Champs magnetiques. The definition proposed by
Reverdy in 1918 had had a considerable impact in helping to define the
nature of the poetic image (it "is born, let's say, of the rapprochement
of two relatively distinct elements. The greater and more just the
distance between the two approaching realities, the stronger the image").


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by Gerard Durozoi
Copyright © 2003
by University of Chicago.
Excerpted by permission.
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Table of Contents

1919-1924 "Get Ready for Some Fine Explosions . . ."
From Jacques Vaché to Tristan Tzara
Picabia Enters the Scene
Dada in Paris
1920: The First Glorious Feats
Ambiguous Recognition
1921: New Offensives
The First Max Ernst Exhibition in Paris
"The Barrès Trial"
The Arrival of Man Ray
Failure of the "Paris Conference"
Littérature at a Distance from Dada
Sleeping Fits
Which Meeting, and for Which Friends?
Last Dadaist Fireworks
Tension and Waiting
1924-1929 Salvation for Us Is Nowhere
The Surrealist Manifesto
A Cadaver
La Révolution surréaliste
Artaud's Influence
Homage to Saint-Pol Roux
Affirmation of Pictorial Surrealism: Priority to Picasso
De Chirico
Ernst, Man Ray, Masson
The Surrealist Gallery and Publications
Yves Tanguy, Jean Arp
The Political Question
La Guerre civile
Pierre Naville: Légitime défense
Disappointing Enrollment in the Communist Party
In Belgium
The Struggle against Dominant Values
Surrealist Paris
Meeting at the rue du Château
"Surrealism in 1929"
The Discovery of Dalí: Ernst's Romans-collages
1929-1937 "Elephants Are Contagious"
The Second Surrealist Manifesto
Shared Writing
Surrealism in the Service of the Revolution
"La Peinture au défi"
Lâge d'or
Dalí and the Paranoiac-Critical
Anticolonial Struggle
Surrealist Objects
The Aragon Affair
The AEAR: Political Collaboration and Autonomous Research
The Supremacy of Picasso
Political Initiatives in 1934
New Propositions
In Belgium
Break with the AEAR
The London International Surrealist Exhibition
Impact of the Spanish Civil War
The Moscow "Trials"
The Galerie Gradiva
"The Guaranteed Surrealist Postcard"
Recognition to Jarry
1938-1944 "During the Sordid Years'
The Concise Dictionary of Surrealism
Criticism and Its Clichés
Breton in Mexico
For an Independent Revolutionary Art
Constitution and Failure of the FIARI
Trajectoire du rêve
Nicolas Calas: Foyers d'incendie
Dreams in the News
News from Mexico
Latest Trends in Surrealist Painting
Going beyond the Three Dimensions
International Exhibition in Mexico City
The Permanence and Pertinence of Black Humor
The Antilles
New York
The Problematic of the Myth: The Great Transparencies
First Papers of Surrealism
"Art of This Century": The Beginnings of Abstract Expressionism
Arshile Gorky
Péret Takes the Floor
Latin America
In France
La Main à Plume
In England
In Belgium
1944-1951 "Freedom, My Only Pirate"
The Salon d'Automne
Le Déshonneur des poètes
Dialectic of Dialectics
For a Lack of Anything Better
An Exhibition in Brussels
Breton's Return
Politics at a Distance
Surrealism in 1947
The War Years in Czechoslovakia
Internationalist Policy
la niche les glapisseurs de Dieu!
The Automatists
Art Brut
Surrealist Solution(s)
Almanach surréaliste du demi-siècle
1951-1959 Commitment, That Ignoble Word
The Carrouges Affair
Julien Gracq Refuses the Prix Goncourt
Film Enthusiasts
Different Places to Speak Out
Le Libertaire's "Billets surréalistes"
Camus and Rebellion
Offensive against Socialist Realism
Diffusion or Disappearance?
New Artistic Ideas
Charles Estienne's Contributions
"Phases": Group and Periodical
From Gallic Art to Magic Art
Among the "Classics"
Médium; le surréalisme, même; Bief
Political Vigilance
1959-1969 "Ideas Crackling with Images"
The Manifesto of the 121
The Mostra Internazionale in Milan
La Brèche
Inadequacies of Pop Art
Defending Duchamp
L'écart absolu
Against Planetary Consumption
The Windows of Refusal
The Trajectory of Refusal
"Readymade" Reviews
The Cerisy Décade
André Breton's Death and Debate over the Continuation of Group Activity
The Cuban Temptation and May 1968
The Prague Platform
Le Quatrième Chant
Reaction to Le Quatrième Chant; the Bulletin de liaison surréaliste, Coupure
Now and Beyond
Notes on the Principal Surrealists and Some of Their Close Followers
Index of Names
Index of Periodicals
Illustration Credits

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