Reader's Encyclopedia


A literary, artistic, and philosophical movement, founded in France in 1924. Surrealism sought a reality above or within the surface reality, usually through efforts to suspend the discipline of conscious or logical reason, aesthetics, or morality in order to allow for the expression of subconscious thought and feeling

Since the rise of the symbolists, there had been a growing interest in the irrational and in the technique of producing impressions through startling juxtapositions of images. Rimbaud, Mallarme, Jarry, and Lautreamont (1846 - 70) were considered the leading precursors of surrealism, and Guillaume Apollinaire seems to have coined the name in describing his own poem " Oniro - critique. " World War I heightened the sense of protest against a purely scientific and materialistic world view and strengthened the conviction that the intellect alone could not achieve a complete understanding of life. While the dada movement was an artistic response to such disillusionment, Andre Breton and Philippe Soupault began to outline surrealist principles in Les Champs magnetiques (1921). The surrealist group then announced themselves with Breton's Manifeste du surrealisme: Poison soluble (1924). Based on Freud's theory of the unconscious, it claimed that through " automatic " writing and painting, the subconscious would dictate images and symbols in combinations which, however unexpected and incongruous to the conscious mind, would actually reveal the true nature and content of the human soul. A second manifesto (1930) stressed the importance of investigation of dreams and psychic states.

Breton, with Louis Aragon, Rene Crevel, Robert Desnos, Paul Eluard, Soupault, and others, converted (1924) the dada review Litterature to La Revolution surrealiste. In 1930 the title was again changed, to Surrealisme au service de la revolution (until 1933), in an attempt to claim that the movement was the representative of Communism in the arts. Communist leaders, however, disavowed surrealism, which resulted in Aragon 's defection from the Party in 1932 and Eluard's in 1938.

In England, Herbert Read tried to introduce " super - realism " as a manifestation of the principle of romanticism, but the original name survived, carried on most notably by the English surrealists David Gascoyne (1916 - ) and Hugh Sykes Davies. Giorgio di Chirico and Salvador Dali became the leading surrealist painters; others include Yves Tanguy (1900 - 1955) and Max Ernst.

Few other writers and artists produced primarily surrealistic works, but many either were actively associated with the movement for a time or were greatly influenced by it: to list a few, in painting Paul Klee, Joan Miro, Picasso, and Pavel Tchelitchev; in literature, Jean Cocteau, Saint - John Perse, Jacques Prevert, and Raymond Queneau (France); Dylan Thomas (England); E. E. Cummings, Henry Miller, Anais Nin, and William Carlos Williams (U.S.); and Garcia Lorca (Spain).