Portrait". On the Strategic Uses of Inflammatory
Rhetoric in Surrealism
"T"he text fulfills its ethical function only when it pluralizes, pulverizes,
"musicates" "truths about the process of the subject (its discourse, its
sexuality)," which is to say, on the condition that it develops them to the
point of laughter. (Julia Kristeva 1984: 233)
If we are to take the collected documents of the Surrealists literally, we can only conclude that the group consisted of a roving band of murderers, child molesters, and slashers of women's eyeballs. Was it not André Breton himself who publicly advocated that the "purest Surrealist act" was to aim a loaded pistol into a crowd and begin shooting indiscriminately? (Breton 1969 "1929": 125)1 And yet, as we know, no Surrealist was ever guilty of such crimes.2 A simple, yet highly significant premise follows: perhaps we are not to take these documents so literally.
This essay will explore the role of inflammatory rhetoric within the project of Surrealism, specifically with the intent of arguing that such rhetorical gestures functioned both to define Surrealism's proper (and improper) audiences, and to position Surrealism as a political culture capable of participating in broader political discourse by mastering techniques of hyperbolic language widely employed by radical and reactionary political parties in Europe between the wars. Furthermore, however, I will contend that the various means through which the Surrealists constituted their own subcultural speech