Surrealpolitik: Surrealism and Modern Poetry: Outline of an Approach

Author: Haskell M. Block


Quick Summary

Argues that the usual definitions and explanations are too limited, especially in their focus on Breton and his small cadre. Makes the point that many poets use the same techniques, and that the surrealist poets are not necessarily the best exemplars of surrealist poetry.


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The result is that virtually without exception, critics and historians have described the movement as the effort of a small group of French writers who rallied around Andre Breton in 1924 and whose poetry is important chiefly as an illustration of the limitations or aberrations of his doctrines. I do not wish to discount the importance of Breton or the so-called Paris school, yet their activities are plainly only a part of the story, and with the passage of time their importance has diminished perceptibly...A more comprehensive view would suggest that surrealism in poetry is not simply an attitude or a set of doctrines, but a technique and a language of poetic expression common to widely separated and even otherwise unrelated poets, and cannot be confined to the definition of an école littéraire. (page 175)
Tags: [Surrealism]
Surrealist poetry may be largely of French origin, but it certainly did not begin with the publication of the first surrealist manifesto in 1924. Guillermo de Torre in his perceptive study published in the following year, Literaturas Europeas de Vanguardia, saw absolutely none of the originality that Breton claimed for his allegedly new movement...Marcel Raymond has also pointed out that the movement proclaimed by Breton had previously arisen in several places. Breton' insistence on the primacy of dream and vision and his repudiation of conscious control in the creative act corresponded on the plane of technique to what poets had been doing for over a decade before the outbreak of la Révolution Surréaliste. Historically, it is difficult to justify the identification of Breton and literary surrealism, yet this identification is by now almost a commonplace of literary history, tacitly assumed at least as often as it is asserted. (page 175)
Tags: [Surrealism]
Federico Garcia Lorca, Pablo Neruda, or Hart Crane are not surrealist poets in precisely the same way as Paul Eluard, yet there are important affinities in both theory and technique which can be appropriately described as part of surrealist expression. Without the appeal to inner violence and disorder, the invocation of dreams, visions, and hallucinations, the transformation of language, the rejection of logical structure and linear metaphor, the poetry of all of these writers would be far different from what it is. In its antecedents as in its consequences, surrealism is too anarchic and individualistic to be reduced to a formula. It is best described in the broadest possible sense as a current of poetic expression inhering finally not so much in doctrines and personal relationships as in works, and it is these works which are of primary importance in any attempt to evaluate the role of surrealism in contemporary poetry. (page 176)
Tags: [Surrealism]
The crucial event in the history of this phase of modern poetry is not the publication of the Manifeste du Surréalisme in 1924, but the cataclysm of 1914-1918. It is no surprise that the adolescence of almost every important surrealist poet should coincide with these dates. Confronted by a chaotic world seemingly bereft of values, poets turned within themselves for a source of authenticity and certitude...As early as 1915, [Pierre] Reverdy emphasized the role of dreams and the distortion of external reality in creating an alogical, irregular poetry, rising out of the juxtaposition and clash of discordant planes of experience. (page 177)
Tags: [Surrealism]