ybybubugygyguufuFounding of the movementThe word ‘surrealist’ was coined by Guillaume Apollinaire and first appeared in the preface to his play Les Mamelles de Tiresias, which was written in 1903 and first performed in 1917.
World War I scattered the writers and artists who had been based in Paris, and in the interim many became involved with Dada, believing that excessive rational thought and bourgeois values had brought the conflict of the war upon the world. The Dadaists protested with anti-art gatherings, performances, writings and art works. After the war, when they returned to Paris, the Dada activities continued.
During the war, Andre Breton, who had trained in medicine and psychiatry, served in a neurological hospital where he used Sigmund Freud’s psychoanalytic methods with soldiers suffering from shell-shock. Meeting the young writer Jacques Vache, Breton felt that Vache was the spiritual son of writer and pataphysics founder Alfred Jarry. He admired the young writer’s anti-social attitude and disdain for established artistic tradition. Later Breton wrote, “In literature, I was successively taken with Rimbaud, with Jarry, with Apollinaire, with Nouveau, with Lautreamont, but it is Jacques Vache to whom I owe the most.”
Back in Paris, Breton joined in Dada activities and started the literary journal Litterature along with Louis Aragon and Philippe Soupault. They began experimenting with automatic writing—spontaneously writing without censoring their thoughts—and published the writings, as well as accounts of dreams, in the magazine. Breton and Soupault delved deeper into automatism and wrote The Magnetic Fields (1920).
Continuing to write, they attracted more artists and writers; they came to believe that automatism was a better tactic for societal change than the Dada attack on prevailing values. The group grew to include Paul Eluard, Benjamin Peret, Rene Crevel, Robert…