Surrealpolitik: The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism

Author: Willard Bohn

New York: Wiley (1977)

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Article title: From Surrealism to Surrealism: Apollinaire and Breton


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Apollinaire managed never to define surrealism precisely, preferring to describe it in abstract terms of via a tautological system of synonyms. Fortunately, it is possible to give an exact definition. Based on empirical evidence, in addition to his own testimony, Apollinaire's surrealism consists of two components: 1) surprise and 2) analogical parallels to reality. These in turn correspond to the traditional opposition between form and content. In its simplest form, surrealism may be defined as one or more surprising analogies based on reality. Typically, these are assigned an important structural role in the work in which they appear. (page 201)
Tags: [Surrealism]
[T]o the extent that it consists of a meaning or meanings concealed behind a veil of apparent absurdity which is subsequently torn away to reveal a surprising validity, [Apollinaire's] surrealism may be defined as the structural use of paradox. (page 202)
Tags: [Surrealism]
The primary function of [Breton's] Surrealism is clearly to liberate the Freudian unconscious, to tap its powerful forces via automatic writing, automatic speech, and the analysis of dreams. The superior reality (or surreality) that these forms of association embody is that of the unconscious itself, the exploration of which will expand our total consciousness. (page 205)
Tags: [Surrealism]
In point of fact, surrealism has a totally different meaning for Breton than for Apollinaire. Moreover, the semantics of the term itself change drastically as it passes from one to the other. For Apollinaire, the prefix sur functions as an intensifier, increasing the intrinsic value of the reality it modifies. When he originally created the word surréalisme, Apollinaire clearly modeled it on the linguistic class represented by surhomme (superman). For Breton, on the other hand, sur serves as an extender, increasing the extrinsic area to which the concept of reality applies. It functions in exactly the same manner as the prefix in the class of words represented by surnaturel (supernatural).

The difference between the two surrealisms, then, is essentially that between super and supra. Surrealism has the meaning of "hyper-realism" for Apollinaire and "transrealism" (or "meta-realism") for Breton. In the first instance, as noted, there is a concern with analogical parallels to reality, with what one critic in 1920 aptly termed a "surprising 'self-contained reality.'" In the second, this gives way to transcendental preoccupations, relying on esoteric concepts such as psychic automatism and objective chance. The former version of surrealism is essentially psychological in orientation and theatrical in presentation. The latter version has a basically ontological focus and assumes a predominantly poetic form. Whereas Apollinaire speaks of artistically creating "a new realism" (L'Esprit nouveau, p. 390) or "a superior naturalism" ("surnaturalisme") in literature, Breton announces his belief in an already existing "superior reality" (Manifeste, p. 37) in life itself. (page 205)
Tags: [Surrealism]