Critical Overview

Surrealism was a movement that sought to abandon all organized systems that normal literature followed, so it is tough to criticize the works as literature. Critic Mary Ann Caws notes this in the introduction to her book, The Poetry of Dada and Surrealism: “Dada and surrealism, which consider themselves literature’s opposite, cannot be (or should not be) theorized about, exemplified, and handled at an efficient arm’s length.” In addition, Caws observes that Breton himself was against criticism from outsiders: “Breton firmly believed in the principle of internal criticism, and on several occasions he brilliantly demonstrated it.”

To make matters more difficult, Surrealism was intended to be a movement of individual revelation for each writer. As a result, the writings were widely different in theme, style, and form, making it hard to criticize the movement as a whole. Because of this, critics have tended to follow one of two paths. Either they have commented on the ideas behind the movement itself, or they have commented on the individual surrealist writer.

The ideas behind the movement were expressed formally in Breton’s Manifesto of Surrealism. As David Gascoyne reports in his A Short Survey of Surrealism in 1935, it was not well received: “It is not in the least surprising that Breton’s manifesto should have aroused a considerable sensation. A great deal of animosity and blind opposition, also.”

Gascoyne discusses how Breton’s absolute adherence to the rigid ideals of Surrealism further alienated him personally, not just from critics, but also from...

(The entire section is 665 words.)