French literary movement : The Surrealism movement.

French Literary movement: The Surrealism movement.

The Surrealism movement emerged in the early 20th century, between the two World Wars. The historical context of the movement was shaped by the aftermath of World War I, which led to a loss of confidence in reason and progress, and the emergence of new ways of understanding the human mind through the rise of psychoanalysis and the work of Freud. The progression of communist ideology with the establishment of the Communist Party in Russia in 1917 also played a role.

Major Surrealist authors include Andre Breton, Paul Eluard, Louis Aragon, Robert Desnos, Raymond Queneau, Francis Ponge, Jacques Prevert, Antonin Artaud and Philippe Soupault. In painting, Salvador Dali and Max Ernst, in cinema, Luis Bunuel, and in photography, Man Ray were notable Surrealist artists.

Some of the major works of Surrealism include the Surrealist Manifesto (1924, Breton), Nadja (1928, Breton), Capital of Pain (1926, Eluard), Elsa’s Eyes (1942, Aragon), Body and Property (1930, Desnos), Words (1945, Prevert), Zazie in the Metro (1959, Queneau), and The Taking of Things (1942, Ponge).

Surrealism is primarily a literary genre, with poetry being the dominant form, but it also encompasses other visual arts. The movement’s motto was « Freedom, Love, Poetry. »

Surrealism draws its origins from the 19th century modern poets such as Nerval, Baudelaire and Rimbaud, especially the latter who is considered the poet of « clairvoyance » and who was able to bring together the real world and the imaginary world. Then, the « new spirit » of the early 20th century with the Dadaist movement (founded by Tristan Tzara in rebellion against bourgeois art and using provocation or irony) and the great precursors Cendrars and Apollinaire gave birth to Surrealism after World War I. These two writers highlighted new poetic forms, abandoning punctuation or completely redefining form with calligrams (Apollinaire, 1918). The term Surrealism even comes from the subtitle of an Apollinaire’s play « The Breasts of Tiresias » (1917).

The goal of Surrealism was to change individuals and society through art, which for the Surrealists is intimately linked to life and the sublime. They sought to understand the world and its meaning through their works, not through reason, which had failed during the war, but through the « magic » of poetry. The themes of love and women become dominant in this artistic movement, as in « Mad Love » (André Breton, 1937) or « Elsa’s Eyes » (Louis Aragon, 1942).

Another major theme of Surrealism is the unconscious. Dreams and the mysteries of the mind are at the heart of Surrealist thinking. Breton, in his first Surrealist manifesto in 1924, gave this definition: « Surrealism, n.m. Pure psychic automatism by which one proposes to express verbally or in writing…  »

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