The ‘Continuing Misfortune’ of Automatism in Early Surrealism
Communication + 1
Number of pages
Faculty of Humanities (FGw)
Amsterdam School of Historical Studies (ASH)
In the 1924 Manifesto of Surrealism surrealist leader André Breton (1896-1966) defined Surrealism as ‘psychic automatism in
its pure state,’ positioning ‘psychic automatism’ as both a concept and a technique. This definition followed upon an intense
period of experimentation with various forms of automatism among the proto-surrealist group; predominantly automatic writing,
but also induced dream states. This article explores how surrealist ‘psychic automatism’ functioned as a mechanism for communication,
or the expression of thought as directly as possible through the unconscious, in the first two decades of Surrealism. It touches
upon automatic writing, hysteria as an automatic bodily performance of the unconscious, dreaming and the experimentation with
induced dream states, and automatic drawing and other visual arts-techniques that could be executed more or less automatically
as well. For all that the surrealists reinvented automatism for their own poetic, artistic and revolutionary aims, the automatic
techniques were primarily drawn from contemporary Spiritualism, psychical research and experimentation with mediums, and the
article teases out the connections to mediumistic automatism. It is demonstrated how the surrealists effectively and successfully
divested automatism of all things spiritual. It furthermore becomes clear that despite various mishaps, automatism in many
forms was a very successful creative technique within Surrealism.
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