History of the Surrealist Movement Summary

Sources for Further Study (Literary Masterpieces, Critical Compilation)

Surrealism is unarguably one of the most influential and innovative artistic and literary movements of the twentieth century. History of the Surrealist Movement provides an in-depth and lavishly illustrated chronological account of its birth, evolution, and decline during a fifty-year period, from 1919 to 1969, through detailed documentation and discussion of its principal figures and events. Gérard Durozoi, a French philosopher, has written extensively on twentieth century French art and philosophy, including the work of André Breton, and is eminently qualified to guide the reader through the fascinating world of surrealism. The artistic, political, literary, and social currents of the time provide a backdrop upon which Durozoi paints scenes, events, and activities that exemplify surrealist aesthetics and objectives while also recounting the rich sociocultural history of Paris and, to a lesser extent, of Europe. The work provides a chronological history of surrealism, divided into seven periods: 1919 to 1924, 1924 to 1929, 1929 to 1937, 1938 to 1944, 1944 to 1951, 1951 to 1959, and 1959 to 1969. Each period corresponds to significant events having influence on practice, ideology, and personal relations within surrealist circles, from the influence of the Dada movement to André Breton’s death in 1966.

The initial publication in Paris by Philippe Soupault, André Breton, and Louis Aragon of the monthly periodical Littérature in 1919 marked the beginning of a rich and groundbreaking collaborative effort. These three young men shared a common interest in the poetry of Guillaume Apollinaire, Arthur Rimbaud, and Isidore Ducasse (known as Lautréamont), as well as in the art of Henri Matisse, Marc Chagall, and Pablo Picasso. In the spring of 1918, Breton had discovered the first two issues of the periodical Dada, in which he read some of Tristan Tzara’s poetry. Tzara had cofounded the Cabaret Voltaire in Zurich. Here was established the origin of the Dadaist movement, which endeavored to create works built on models inspired by children, madmen, and primitive people and capable of connecting with reality and a life emptied of all convention. Dadaist practices moved easily from one technique or genre to another, from theater, to a parody of dance or music, to the composition of a poem, according to whim and unbound by literary convention. The founders of Littérature became fervent converts to Dadaism, and Tzara arrived in Paris in 1920, greeted by Breton, Aragon, and Paul Éluard. Dadaist events took place in Paris over the next months, and during this time, public performances, manifestos, and painting exhibitions were planned in order to give voice to Dadaist ideals. This was indeed an agitated period in Parisian artistic and literary circles. Performers were pelted with decomposing fruits and vegetables, steaks and chops, and bombarded with insults and animal cries. Quite ironically, Dadaism became fashionable entertainment and, to some, an example of highbrow snobbishness. This categorization and such public perception would ultimately thwart further development and cause the movement’s decline in the early 1920’s. However, with great energy and commitment, Paris Dadaists had, in the end, facilitated the advent of surrealism by eliciting a reexamination of artistic and literary aesthetics, indeed of the very concept of aesthetics.

Thus, in 1924 the existence of a surrealist group in Paris was publicly confirmed by the opening of a Bureau for Surrealist Research, whose goal was to gather all possible information that might express the unconscious activity of the mind. The establishment of a research center underlined the collective nature of the movement as well as the need to avoid the trivialization that befell Dada. During the same period, Breton was preparing to publish his Manifeste du...

(The entire section is 1575 words.)