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Surrealism

Later Developments

With the publication of the Second Manifesto six years later, the Surrealist program acquired additional principles. These principles applied to every official member of the Surrealist movement. One of these, which Breton called "the supreme point" (or sometimes "the sublime point"), attempted to revive the medieval concept of coincidentia oppositorum. "According to all indications," he declared, "a certain point exists in the mind where life and death, the real and the imaginary, the past and the future, the communicable and the incommunicable, the high and the low cease to be perceived as contradictions." The Surrealists sought to eliminate traditional binary oppositions, including the distinction between beauty and ugliness, truth and falsehood, and good and evil, because they appeared to be arbitrary. In their opinion, these and other cultural constructions merely restricted the imagination.

Since the Surrealists strove to revolutionize life as well as art, they also, almost without exception, became ardent Marxists. How could one liberate humanity, they reasoned, without correcting widespread social abuses? Psychological freedom clearly depended on the achievement of political and economic freedom. Although the French Communist Party refused to take Breton and his colleagues seriously, they continued to subscribe to Marxist goals.

A final principle to be enshrined in the Surrealist pantheon was delirious love. Officially adopted in 1937, when Breton published a book of the same name, it was already well established. Hence the Second Manifesto (1930) celebrated love as the "only [idea] capable of reconciling every individual, momentarily or not, with the idea of life" (Breton, p. 823). In keeping with Surrealism's objectives, passionate commitment was portrayed as a liberating force.

As much as anything, Breton and his colleagues insisted, Surrealism sought to improve the quality of everyday life. Although the movement's accomplishments were largely aesthetic, it strove to revolutionize our view of the world around us. Among other things, Surrealism offered potential solutions to a number of problematic situations. One of the problems it addressed was the relation between the individual and his or her unconscious. By inventing strategies to glimpse this hidden realm, it conferred a new significance on the ancient Greek motto "Know thyself." In addition, Surrealism explored the relation between individuals and the natural world. While the concept of the supreme point stressed the unity of life, the principles of objective chance and the marvelous emphasized its extraordinary beauty. In addition, the Surrealists aimed to redefine the relation between the individual and society and between man and woman. Reflecting the movement's eclectic origins, they succeeded in reconciling Freud with the alchemist Fulcanelli and Eros with Marx. Ultimately, they attempted to modify the process of seeing, thinking, and feeling in order to achieve total liberation.

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Science EncyclopediaScience & Philosophy: Stomium to SwiftsSurrealism - In The Beginning, Marvelous Encounters, Later Developments, The Movement's Reception, Bibliography