28 August 2019
Breton, André. "First Surrealist Manifesto." Surrealism. Waldberg, Patrick, editor. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1971, pp. 66-75.
Originally published in French as Le Manifeste du Surréalisme, 1924.
In this text, Breton explicitly defines surrealism as:
SURREALISM, noun, masc., Pure psychic automatism by which it is intended to express, either verbally or in writing, the true function of thought. Thought dictated in the absence of all control exerted by reason, and outside all aesthetic or moral preoccupations.
Automatism, in this context, is understood as action without conscious thought or intention. However, in reading this manifesto, it has becomes clear that surrealism is most clearly understood as an attack on logic and reason as the dominant narrative system of human understanding. Human experience and emotion are not always logical, and this “non-reason” must be addressed in order to reach our full human potential. Breton dedicates most of manifesto to two areas: first, debunking logical narrative, pointing out that it come up short in addressing the human spirit, emotions and subconscious, and secondly speaking of dreams as prime examples of the surrealist mind. Importantly, Breton declares inspiration from Freud and his theories of the unconscious and subconscious mind.
How does this relate to scenography?
Visual narratives, particularly on the stage, need not be logical. Surrealism, particularly in its identification with dreams and dream-logic, provides a structure for ways of interpreting perception of the world around us without resorting to naturalism, realism, abstraction or symbolism. Importantly,surrealism connects with postmodernism (see Marsha Kinder’s important essay “Music Video and the Spectator: Television, Ideology & Dream”) which is poorly defined for students of theatrical design. Surrealism can give one a framework and language to assess postmodernism.