WRIT 5500                                       
Instructor: Amy England                                

Surrealism is one of the most important movements of the twentieth century. Some of its methods have become so ingrained in the culture as to become invisible to us. In this class, we will make the practice visible again, reading  and discussing texts by surrealists and their accomplices, and talking  about the history and struggles of the movement. We will also explore the way surrealism uses the fetish as an intersection between Freud and Marx. Dream logic; the display cabinet, shop window, and museum diorama; and the urban wanderings of the flâneur will come into play.
    The texts will alternate with workshops. The assignments below are based on the readings, and can be in any genre. If you have alternative ideas for any type of project, textual aural or visual, that engages in surrealism, just let me know and we’ll make the accommodations necessary for you to share your work. We will also make use of the enormous variety of surrealist methods for generating and collaborating on projects for in-class writing exercises, any of which can be later developed into a workshop piece.

To Pass the Class: Turn in seven pieces of work in a timely manner, discuss the readings knowledgeably, and read and comment on each other’s work with engagement and respect. Instead of one or two of the creative exercises, you are welcome to do an oral presentation, including a list of sources, on a surrealist not covered by the syllabus. The maximum number of absences is two classes, including time lost to late enrollment, late arrivals, etc.

Books you are required to buy:

Paris Peasant, Louis Aragon, Exact Change Press

Mad Love, Andre Breton, Bison Books

Convergence of Birds: Original Fiction and Poetry Inspired by the Work of Joseph Cornell, ed. Jonathan Safran Foer, Hamish Hamilton

Une Semaine De Bonte: A Surrealistic Novel in Collage, Max Ernst, Dover

Jindrich Heisler: Surrealism under Pressure, 1938-1953, Jindrich Toman and Matthew S. Witkovsky, Yale UP

Notes from the Committee, Catherine Kasper, Noemi Press


I 1/25 Intro: Freud, “The Uncanny” and Marx, excerpt from Capital (section 4 of chapter 1 of Marx’s Capital, “The Fetishism of Commodities and the Secret Thereof”)

II 2/1 Breton: Mad Love

2/6: Add/ drop ends

III 2/8 workshop: the dream object

IV 2/15 Aragon: Paris Peasant

V 2/22 workshop: chance encounters on the city street

VI 3/1 Ernst: Une Semaine de Bonté

VII 3/8 workshop: collage, assemblage


VIII 3/22 Heisler: Surrealism Under Pressure

3/27: Last day to withdraw with a “w”

IX 3/29 workshop: the surrealist poem object

X 4/5 Kasper, Benjamin: Notes from the Committee, excerpts from The Arcades

XI 4/12 workshop: the imaginary museum

XII 4/19 Shultz, “Street of Crocodiles” (handout); Brothers Quay

XIII 4/26 workshop: the uncanny life of objects


XIV 5/10 Cornell/Foer, A Convergence of Birds, final reading of pieces based on Cornell boxes at the Cornell display at the Art Institute

For further reading and investigation:

Precursors to Surrealism:

Guillaume Apollinaire: Alcools (poems. Donald Revell, trans., Wesleyan UP, 1995); The Heresiarch and Co. (Remy Inglis Hall, trans., Doubleday, 1965); The Poet Assassinated (Ron Padgett, trans., illustrated by Jim Dine., New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1968); Selected Writings (Roger Shattuck, trans., ND 1971)

Charles Baudelaire: Paris Spleen (Louise Varese, trans., ND 1970), Flowers of Evil (James McGowan, trans., Oxford UP 2008)

Mel Gordon: Dada Performance (selections of plays, PAJ publications, 1993)

J. K. Huysmans: A Rebour (Against the Grain, Dover 1969)

Alfred Jarry: Exploits and Opinions of Dr. Faustroll, Pataphysician (Simon Watson Taylor, trans., Exact Change Press 1996); The Supermale (Ralph Gladstone and Barbara Wright, trans., Exact Change Press 1999), Ubu Roi (Barbara Wright, trans., Franciszka Temerson, illus., New Directions 1961); The Ubu Plays (Cyril Connolly and Simon Watson Taylor, trans., Grove Press 1971)

Comte de Lautremont: Maldoror and Poems (Paul Knight, trans., Penguin Classics 1988)

Stephen Mallarme: Poems (C. F. MacIntyre, trans., U of California Press 1957)

Arthur Rimbaud: Illuminations (Louise Varese, trans., ND 1988); A Season in Hell and The Drunken Boat (Louise Varese, trans., ND 1961)

See also: Symbolist painters, Henri Rousseau, Edgar Allen Poe, Odilon Redon, “What a Life!” (Early collage work, available online at, Art Brut, the Marquis de Sade, Marinetti and the Italian Futurists

Classic Surrealist Works:

Louis Aragon: Paris Peasant (Simon Watson Taylor, trans., Exact Change Press 1994)

Andre Breton: Earthlight (Bill Zavatsky and Zack Rogow, trans., Sun and Moon 1993); Nadja (Richard Howard, trans., Grove 1960); The Immaculate Conception (with Paul Eluard, Jon Graham, trans., Atlas Press 1960); Mad Love (University of Nebraska 1987); The Magnetic Fields (David Gascoyne, trans., Atlas 1990); What Is Surrealsim: Selected Writings (Franklin Rosemont, editor, Pathfinder 1978); Young Cherry Trees Secured Against Hares  (Edward Roditi, translator; New York: View Editions 1946; cover by Marcel Duchamp, with illustrations by Arshile Gorky)

Luis Bunuel: “Land Without Bread, “The Milky Way”, “That Obscure Object of Desire”, “Phantom of Liberty”, “Viridiana”. With Salvador Dalí: “Andalusian Dog” and “The Age of Gold”.

Leonora Carrington: Down Below (Black Swan Press 1983); The Hearing Trumpet (Exact Change Press 2004).

Aime Cesaire: Return to My Native Land (John Berger and Anna Bostock, trans., Penguin 1956); The Collected Poetry (Clayton Eshelman and Annette Smith, U of California Press 1983)

Rene Char: Selected Poems (Mary Ann Caws and Tina Jolas, ed., New Directions 1956); Stone Lyre: Poems of Rene Char (Nancy Naomi Carlson and Ilya Kaminski,     trans., Tupelo Press 2010)   

Paul Eluard: Selected Poems (Lloyd Alexander, New Directions 1946); Capital of Pain (Richard Weisman, trans., Grossman Press 1973)

Penelope Rosemont, editor: Surrealist Women: An International Anthology (University of Texas Press 1998)

Philippe Soupault: Last Nights of Paris (William Carlos Williams, trans., Exact Change Press 2008)

Associated with Surrealism:

Antonin Artaud: The Theater and Its Double (Mary Caroline Richards, trans., Grove Press 1958)

Jorge Luis Borges: Collected Fictions (Andrew Hurley, trans., Penguin 1999)

Vladimir Mayakovsky: The Bedbug and Selected Poetry (Max Hayward and George Reavy, trans., Indiana UP 1975)
Raymond Roussel: Impressions of Africa (Dalkey Archive, 2011); Locus Solus (Alma Books, 2012); How I Wrote Certain of My Books (Exact Change, 2005)

Contemporary Surrealists and Authors Influenced by Surrealism:

Kobo Abe: The Woman in the Dunes (E. Dale Saunders, trans., Vintage 1991); The Box Man (E. Dale Saunders, trans., Vintage 2001), The Ruined Map (E. Dale Saunders, trans., 1996), Secret Rendezvous (Vintage 2002)

Angela Carter: The Bloody Chamber (Penguin Books 1990), The Infernal Desire Machines of Doctor Hoffman (Penguin Books 1986), The Passion of the New Eve (Little, Brown 1992)

Rikki Ducornet: The Jade Cabinet (Dalkey Archive 1993); The Fountains of Neptune (Dalkey Archive 1989); Entering Fire (City Lights, 1987); The Stain (Dalkey Archive  1984); The Fan-maker’s Inquisition (Henry Holt 1999); The Complete Butcher’s Tales (Dalkey Archive 1999); The Word Desire (Dalkey Archive 2013)

Russell Edson: The Tunnel: Selected Poems (Oberlin College Press 1994)

Henri Michauxi: Meidosems (Santa Cruz, CA: Moving Parts Press 1992, Elizabeth Jackson, trans.)

Franklin Rosemont: (An Open Entrance to the Shut Palace of) Wrong Numbers (Black Swan 2003)

Penelope Rosemont: Surrealist Experiences: 1001 Dawns, 221 Midnights (Black Swan Press 1999)

Alberto Manguel, ed: Other Fires: Short Fiction by Latin American Women (Clarkson N. Potter 1986)

See also: Raymond Queneau, Clarise Lispector, Italo Calvino, Umberto Ecco, Viktor Pelevin, the Situationists, Fluxus

Surrealist Plays and Performance

Apollinaire, Guillaume: “Les Mamelles de Tirésias” (“The Breasts of Tiresias,” see Three Pre-Surrealist Plays), written in 1903 and staged first in 1917 (right before author’s death).  The introduction was probably the first place in which the term ‘surrealism’ was used.  The play is both a resetting for the transgendered Greek mythical figure and a satirical educational piece calling for increasing the birthrate in France.  In 1947, Poulenc made the play into an opera (!).  

Arrabal, Fernando (Spanish): “The Architect and the Emperor of Assyria” (1967), “And They Put Handcuffs on the Flowers” (1969), “Oraison” (1958), “Théatre Bouffe” (1978), “The Extravagant Triumph of Jesus Christ, Karl Marx, and William Shakespeare” (1982)

Artaud, Antonin (French): “Le Jet de sang” (“The Jet of Blood,” “The Spurt of Blood”), written in 1927.  In the same year, Artaud and Roger Vitrac opened the Théâtre Alfred Jarry, for which the surrealists expelled them.  He wrote and produced “Les Cenci,” “The Cenci,” in 1935, based on texts by Stendal and Shelley.  In addition, Artaud expounded on his idea of the “theater of cruelty” in essays in The Theater and Its Double (Grove).  He acted in Dryer’s film “The Passion of Joan of Arc” (1922).

Jarry, Alfred (French): “Ubu Roi” (Grove, 1896), “Ubu cocu” (“Ubu Cuckolded”), “Ubu enchaíné” (“Ubu Bound”).  (See Three Pre-Surrealist Plays, Ubu Roi by Dover or Grove, for the first play in the trilogy; or The Ubu Plays, Grove Press, for all three.  British television also produced a rather rough video production of the first play.)

Maeterlinck, Maurice (Belgian/French): “The Blind” (See Three Pre-Surrealist Plays).  Sometimes also translated as “The Sightless.”

Picabia, Francis, and Eric Satie: “Relâche,” a ballet, opened in 1924.  They used the interval to show their short surrealist film “Entr’acte” (directed by Rene Clair)

Satie, Eric, Pablo Picasso, Jean Cocteau and Léonide Massine: “The Parade,” a ballet, produced by the Ballet Ruses in 1917

Vitrac, Roger: “Les Mystères de l’amour” (“The Mysteries of Love”), produced by his theater, 1927

(Of related interest is Dada Performance, PAJ Publications, edited by Mel Gorden, a collection of dada theater pieces.  Ubuweb also has recordings of Kurt Schwitters performing his “Ursonote” at

Surrealist Film

Benayoun, Robert: “Paris n’existe pas” (“Paris Does Not Exist,” 1969); “Serieux comme le plaisir” (“Serious as Pleasure,” 1975); “Bonjour monsieur Lewis” (“Good Day Mr. Lewis,” 1982)–six hour documentary on Jerry Lewis.

Bunuel, Luis and Salvador Dali: “Un Chien Andalou” (Andalusian Dog, 1928); “L’Age d’or” (“The Age of Gold,” 1930)

(Dali also did artwork for Buñuel’s “Los Olvidados” and Hitchcock’s “Spellbound.”)

Buñuel, Luis: “Ascent to Heaven”; “The Criminal Life of Archibaldo de la Cruz”; “Diary of a Chambermaid”; “The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie”; “El Bruto” “The Exterminating Angel”; “Illusion Travels by Streetcar”;  “Land Without Bread”; “Los Olvidados”; “The Milky Way”; “Nazarin”; “The Phantom of Liberty”; “Simon of the Desert”; “Susanna”; “That Obscure Object of Desire”; “Tristana”; “Virdiana”; “A Woman Without Love”

Joseph Cornell: “Rose Hobart”; various short films, many in Flaxman Library

Deren, Maya: “Meshes of the Afternoon” (1943) and “At Land” (1944)

Dulac, Germaine: “La Coquille et le Clergyman” (“The Seashell and the Clergyman”)

Epstein, Jean: “The Fall of the House of Usher” (1928–assisted by Buñuel)

Freddie, Wilhelm: “Spiste horisonter” (1950), “Det Definitive afslag på anmodningen om et kys,” (“A Definitive Refusal of a Demand for a Kiss,”1949).  One of the first Danish surrealists.

Kaplan, Nelly: “Plaisir d'amour” (1991, “The Pleasure of Love”); “Charles et Lucie” (1979, “Charles and Lucie”); “ Néa” (1976, “A Young Emmanuelle,”also translated as “Nea: A New Woman”); “Papa, les petits bateaux” (1971, “Papa the Little Boats”); “La Fiancée du pirate” (1969, “A Very Curious Girl,” “Dirty Mary,” “Pirate's Fiancée”); “Le Regard Picasso” (1967, “The Picasso Look”)

Lynch, David: “Eraserhead,” while more existentialist than surrealist in its view of the universe, contains many surrealist elements–dream logic, emphasis on the unconscious, the uncanny, etc.

Brothers Quay: “The Brothers Quay: Volume 1 and 2.”  Stop-time animation using dolls and collage

Ray, Man: numerous short films throughout 20's, 30's and 40's

Richter, Hans: “Dreams that Money Can Buy” (1946), with Marcel Duchamp, Man Ray; “8 X 8: A Chess Sonata in 8 Movements,” (1955-58), with Marcel Duchamp, Alexander Calder, Paul Bowles.

Soderbergh, Stephen: “Schizopolis” (1997)

Svankmejer, Jan.  Selected short works in “Alchemist of the Surreal,” “Scenes from the Surreal.”  Films include “Alice” (1988), “Faust” (1994), and “Little Otik” (2000)

 Xhonneux, Henri: “Marquis” (1989)

Other Surrealists and Their Associates:

Eileen Agar
Jon Armstrong
Hans/Jean Arp
Hugo Ball
George Bataille
Paul Nash Balthus
Hans Bellmer
Victor Brauner
Claude Cahun
Roger Caillois
Leonora Carrington
Angela Carter
Aime and Suzanne Cesaire
Giorgio De Chirico
Joseph Cornell
Arthur Craven
Jean Crotti
Paul Delveaux
Robert Desnos
Marcel Duchamp
Max Ernst
Alberto Giacometti
Arshile Gorky
John Heartfield
Hannah Höch
Max Jacob
Frieda Kahlo
Paul Klee
Michel Leiris
Wilfredo Lam
Rene Magritte
Andre Masson
Roberto Matta
Joan Miro
Henry Moore
Meret Oppenheim
Mimi Parent
Valentine and Roland Penrose
Benjamin Peret
Francis Picabia
Gabrielle Buffet-Picabia
The Brothers Quay
Hans Richter
Man Ray
Henri Pierre Roche
Pierre Roy
Kay Sage
Jan Svankmajer, Eva Svankmajerova
Kurt Schwitters
Yves Tanguy
Dorothea Tanning
Tristan Tzara
Jacques Vache
Remedios Varo
Unica Zürn

© 2014 Amy England, rights reserved