Surrealism books

Breton, Eluard, Desnos and all the other surrealists were to go on writing and publishing, but as they did so they radically changed the relationship between literature and life. They adopted an approach to the world based on feelings, so that the mind might ‘occupy itself with its own life, wherein the attained and the desired no longer exclude one another’. Like the poet Guillaume Apollinaire they affirmed the primacy of desire in life.


In contrast to earlier literature, surrealist text  can be seen as documents (they could almost be called ‘reports’). They are indissociable from the experiences that gave rise to them, and reconstitute the substance and almost palpable aura of those experiences. The value of surrealist writings as a form of testimony is apparent to anyone leafing through certain special copies, as a general rule intended by the author to be seen or owned by close friends, and in which various rare documents (manuscripts, letters, photographs, drawings) with a direct or indirect relationship with the book, are included. In the manuscript volume of Arcane 17 that Breton prepared especially for his third wife Elisa, he stuck leaves, newspaper cuttings, photographs, train tickets, cards and adverts, elements that formed part of his surroundings while he was composing the book, and formed part of is mental universe.

The model of the amorous encounter also governed the collaboration on a book between two authors or between a writer and an illustrator. Relationships created between Eluard’s poems and Ernst’s portraits of Gala in Au defat du silence, or between Man Ray’s photographs of Nusch and Eluard’s words in Facile, is not that of classic book illustrations: the play between text and image involved here is metaphorical, or rather, analogical in nature, and it is from such encounters that meaning sprang. In the manner of a surrealist collage, the conjunction of these two realities gave birth to the book in the form in which it had been desired and conceived.



Mundy J. Surrealism: desire unbound.: Princeton University Press, 2010.

Горюнова Н.

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