Background: Eugen Weber,
A Surrealist Manifesto
Andre Breton, What Is Surrealism?
Background: Eugen Weber, Surrealism,
Movements, Currents, Trends
, pp. 278-279.
A world carefully reared and fed on reason, its ills treated with reasonable remedies, had by
1918 revealed itself to be deeply rotten and utterly miserable. Following upon Dada, the Surrealists
sought a richer, truer reality in the unconscious, in awarenesses and techniques above and beyond
realism and logic. Part of their inspiration had come from the grotesqueries of Alfred Jarry (1873-
1907) whose gross and obscure
had, in 1896, excited the avant-garde and shocked the
bourgeoisie; part of it came from the brilliant artificialities of Cubism and Futurism; and Dada itself of
course cannot be ignored as an important influence, though the nihilism of Dada becomes in
Surrealist hands a hopeful though destructive approach.
But the Surrealist movement as such was founded by a very few young men, quite unknown
at the end of the war: Andre Breton, Jean Cocteau, Philippe Soupault, Louis Aragon, and Paul Eluard
In the essay that follows, Breton, who has always remained the symbol of this violent and
multifarious school, explains both the beginnings and the aims of his invention. Very simply, it tried
to apply the lessons of Freudian psychoanalysis in art, either by the use of automatic writing or
drawing (doodling from the hand of a sensitive artiste being more authentic and significant than an
orderly scheme of things), or by the jolt that things seen or done in this manner might administer.
The constructive, optimistic side of Surrealism led a number of its adherents, concerned with
the creation of a new world based on a fresh view of things and eager to smash the old stifling
bourgeois values, toward Communism. Soon both Aragon and Paul Eluard joined the Communist
Party while Breton drifted very close to it. There was no obvious connection between Surrealism and
Communism besides a common agreement that the old order must be destroyed before a better world
could be built. Only the passing identification between Russian Communism and humanistic ideals,
made possible in the 193o's by the democratic pusillanimity of the Western powers, could bring some
Surrealists closer to the Party, and that not for long. Others, however, fascinated by activity for
activity's sake, eagerly abandoned ends for means just as the Futurists had done in Italy. Meanwhile,
the nonpolitically minded, like Salvador Dali, Cocteau, and Joan Miro, continued their experiments
chiefly in the cinema and in the other visual arts, more plastic media than either political society or