Keywords Aesthetic modernism, d�tournement, automatic writing, situationists,
Pre-figures Rimbaud, Lautreamont, Roussel
Key-figures: Andre Breton, Louis Aragon, Phillippe Soupault, Paul Eluard, Robert Desnos, Bataille, Magritte, Dali, Leiris,
Aphorism: Soluble Fish
Associations: Bureau of Surrealist Inquiries (1924)
  "The surrealist image is thus a convulsive effort to split open the commodity forms of the objective universe by striking them against each other with immense force” (Fred Jameson, Marxism and Form 1971, p 96)
Perhaps best known for its arresting visual art 'Surrealism' usually describes what was a powerful intellectual movement in the inter-war years which had its orgins in, and itself developed, a powerful and critical literary movement. Although the artistic and political import of what comes under the heading of surrealism varies considerably, a shared practice is the forming of juxtapositions between unrelated objects that could be described as a kind of attempt to write the unconscious. Hence the idea of chance encounters such as between a sewing machine and an umbrella on a dissecting table or the infamous lobster telephone. One of the most influential surrealists Andre Breton developed a style of automatic writing as a surrealist practice. Surrealism is important to study for its links to Dada (from which it emerged) and subsequently situationism, it also exacted a strong influence on Marxist thinkers like Henri Lefebvre, and has roots through Lettrism with situationalist movements. Martin Jay argues the surrealist influence was formative in reviving Hegel in France and for vitalising an anti-Cartesian idea of the whole. However whilst favoured by Benjamin and Marcuse, both Sartre and Adorno were vehemently against it. Contrary to an exclusively art focused treatment of surrealism it remained a political movement which purported to celebrate individual liberation through communal transformation although around the figure of Breton the internal coherence of the movement was one that was maintained by exclusion and isolation of those who no longer served its chosen ends.
“The definitive rupture is explained if one considers that Marxism insisted on the submission of the irrational, while the surrealists rose to defend irrationality to the death, Marxism tended toward the conquest of totality, and surrealism, like all spiritual experiences, tended toward unity. Totality can demand the submission of the irrational, if rationalism suffices to conquer the world. But the desire for unity is more demanding. It does not suffice that everything should be raitonal. It wants above all, the rational and irrational to be reconciled on the same level....for Andre Breton, totality could be only a stage, a necessary stage perhaps, but certainly inadequate, on the way that leads to unity.”

Albert Camus, The Rebel: An essay on Man

Resources: Manifesto: towards a free revolutionary art - Breton and Trotsky

What is surrealism - Breton lecture 1934

Surrealism: The last snapshot of the European intelligentsia - Walter Benjamin, 1929
Links: Michel Leiris