Surrealism in Literature


surrealism (sərē´əlĬzəm), literary and art movement influenced by Freudianism and dedicated to the expression of imagination as revealed in dreams, free of the conscious control of reason and free of convention. The movement was founded (1924) in Paris by André Breton, with his Manifeste du surréalisme, but its ancestry is traced to the French poets Baudelaire, Rimbaud, Apollinaire, and to the Italian painter, Giorgio de Chirico. Many of its adherents had belonged to the Dada movement. In literature, surrealism was confined almost exclusively to France. Surrealist writers were interested in the associations and implications of words rather than their literal meanings; their works are thus extraordinarily difficult to read. Among the leading surrealist writers were Louis Aragon, Paul Éluard, Robert Desnos, and Jean Cocteau, the last noted particularly for his surreal films. In art the movement became dominant in the 1920s and 30s and was internationally practiced with many and varied forms of expression. Salvador Dalí and Yves Tanguy used dreamlike perception of space and dream-inspired symbols such as melting watches and huge metronomes. Max Ernst and René Magritte constructed fantastic imagery from startling combinations of incongruous elements of reality painted with photographic attention to detail. These artists have been labeled as verists because their paintings involve transformations of the real world. "Absolute" surrealism depends upon images derived from psychic automatism, the subconscious, or spontaneous thought. Works by Joan Miró and André Masson are in this vein. The movement survived but was greatly diminished after World War II.

See A. Breton, Manifestoes of Surrealism (tr. 1969); L. Lippard, ed., Surrealists on Art (1970); R. Brandon, Surreal Lives (1999); studies by P. Waldberg (1966), W. S. Rubin (1969), S. Alexandrian (1970), H. S. Gershman (1969, repr. 1974), J. H. Matthews (1977), E. B. Henning (1979), A. Balakian (1987), H. Lewis (1988), and M. Nadeau (tr. 1967, repr. 1989).

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright© 2018, The Columbia University Press.

Surrealism in Literature: Selected full-text books and articles

Toward the Poetics of Surrealism By J. H. Matthews Syracuse University Press, 1976
Black, Brown, & Beige: Surrealist Writings from Africa and the Diaspora By Franklin Rosemont; Robin D. G Kelley University of Texas Press, 2009
Automatic Woman: The Representation of Woman in Surrealism By Katharine Conley University of Nebraska Press, 1996
The Black Surrealists By Jean-Claude Michel Peter Lang, 2000
Poetry in France: Metamorphoses of a Muse By Keith Aspley; Peter France Edinburgh University Press, 1992
Librarian's tip: Chap. 10 "Visions and Voices: The Nature of Inspiration from Romanticism to the Birth of Surrealism" and Chap. 14 "Surrealism: The Assault on Meaning and the Cult of the Image"
André Breton and the Basic Concepts of Surrealism By Michel Carrouges; Maura Prendergast University of Alabama Press, 1974
Dada and Surrealism: A Very Short Introduction By David Hopkins Oxford University Press, 2004
The Oxford Companion to Twentieth-Century Poetry in English By Ian Hamilton Oxford University Press, 1996
Librarian's tip: "Surrealism" begins on p. 527
Eclipsing Desire: Masculine Anxiety and the Surrealist Muse By Munson, Marcella French Forum, Vol. 29, No. 2, Spring 2004
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