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Surrealism and the Unconscious Mind

By Edited Nov 13, 2013 0 0

Surrealism was envisioned in different fields of artistic and social life. Andre Breton, Salvador Dali, Rene Magritte and Arthur Rimbaud are now known for their priceless input into the development of the surrealist thought. Pablo Picasso and Marcel Duchamp, while not necessarily associated with the movement, inspired Andrй Breton to overthrow the order of the old, traditional Europe. What's the ultimate outcome of having several ingenious artists work together?

The philosophy of surrealism was comprised in the chaotic marriage of eternal opposites. Drawing from early 20th century psychoanalysis, and most distinctively Freudian estimation of the unconscious, Andre Breton promoted that part of human existence which is suppressed, mute, and unprivileged. The world of dreams, figments of imagination, and ineffable sensations was to face a direct confrontation with the assumed logic and order of the rational world. What Breton proposed was, in fact, a breach from centuries of Eurocentric rationalism in philosophy, realism in literature, and mimetism in arts. Surrealists promoted non-European cultures, pointed to social inequalities, and purported the relevance of symbolic representations of science-based claims. What surrealists came to question was not so much rationality itself but more the question of its limits and the borders it had set up with the irrational. Breton, along with his followers, argued that the borders between the conscious and the unconscious are blurred to an extent which makes them impossible to define.

Surrealists rediscovered the political potential of Europe. Surrealism was ultra-leftist and reinforced current communist and anarchist movements in France and elsewhere. It was, and still is, characterized as expressing strong criticism of the European culture, its historical legacy and widely embraced values. Surrealists were the first European artistic authorities to question colonial politics and classism. Out of fear of political persecution – back then on the rise due to the growing popularity of Nazism, many surrealists fled to the US and continued their work alongside numerous New York based artists.

While surrealism drew inspirations from psychoanalysis, Freud himself challenged its premises as futile in the attempt at expressing the unconscious. To Freud every artistic creation, regardless of artist's intentions, was merely a product of ego – hence a conscious representation of what merely seems to be surreal. Despite any conceptual shortcomings; however, surrealists were the pioneers of theatre of absurd, stream-of-consciousness writing technique, postmodernism, multiple written and visual artistic forms, the intertexutality of unrelated crafts, and more.

The philosophical overtone of surrealism, like many other modernist artistic trends, is largely rebellious. Andre Breton published his "Surrealist Manifesto" in 1924 as a response to the political, social, and moral viewpoints of European elites which brought about global armed conflicts. What Breton proposed was, basically, a dialogue between irreconcilable binary pairs. Was Andre Breton, or any surrealists for that matter, absolutely sure about the success of surrealism? No. Breton was merely experimenting with artistic means and forms that could address reality in some new, alternative, and creative manner. No surrealist was ever able to ultimately overthrow the status quo of rationalism. Breton's own art was suggestive of this uncertainty. Many surrealist works are a dialogue between the rational and the irrational; the surrealist works of art provide a synopsis and a method but never the answer.


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