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Surrealism, however, offered the young Lacan an alternative route to psychoanalysis and the crucial link to his clinical practice in psychiatry.

The Surrealists fully embraced psychoanalysis and during his medical studies Lacan developed strong links with the movement.

Surrealism was a literary and artistic movement that emerged after the First World War in Paris, its founding figure the writer and poet André Breton (1896-1966).

Breton was familiar with Freud's work on dreams and developed a technique of 'spontaneous' writing to give free expression to unconscious thoughts and wishes.

Similarly, Surrealist painters such as Dali attempted to paint the 'reality' of their dreams, which they saw as more 'real' than the prosaic reality of our everyday world.

In 1932, and within this context, Lacan completed his doctoral thesis on Paranoid Psychosis and Its Relations to the Personality.

Around the same time he entered analysis with Rudolph Loewenstein, the SPP's most famous training analyst (a recognized psychoanalyst who is qualified to train other analysts within the Society).

During this time, Lacan's links with the Surrealists developed further.

He was a friend of André Breton and Salvador Dali, and was later to become the painter Pablo Picasso's (1881-1973) personal physician.

He attended the first public readings of James Joyce's (1882-1941) Ulysses in 1921 and was a well-known figure in the cafés and bookshops of Paris's Left Bank.

In 1933 Dali was to refer to Lacan's doctoral thesis in the first issue of the Surrealist review Minotaure and Lacan himself was to make many contributions to this and other Surrealist publications.

Lacan's doctoral thesis, then, was written in a largely anti-psychoanalytic culture and remained within established psychiatric categories and theories, but at the same time it drew on the alternative resources of the Surrealist movement.


Begun as an investigation of poetic images and language, their sources, their nature, and specific features, surrealism is a movement of ideas, of artistic creation and action based explicitly on Freudian discoveries, which were used to develop an original theory of language and creativity. In later years it adopted Hegelian dialectics and Marxist-Leninist historical materialism. The "social and martial cataclysm" (Breton, 1934) provoked a revolt by an entire generation. The movement was founded in Paris in 1924 by French poet André Breton, with the support of a group of poets and painters. The presence of Max Ernst, from Germany, Man Ray, from the United States, and Joan Miró, a Catalan, gave the group its international flavor. Surrealism's goal was to "change life" (Arthur Rimbaud) by freeing humanity from the constraints of mental or social censorship as well as economic oppression: "Poetry is made by everyone. Not by one" (Lautréamont). The project made little sense to Freud, who refused his patronage (Freud to Breton, 1933e [1932]; to Zweig, July 20, 1938 (1960a [1873-1939])). Breton visited Freud in Vienna in 1921 and corresponded with him in 1932 about The Interpretation of Dreams. In 1937 he asked him to contribute to a planned anthology (Trajectoire du rêve, 1938). Freud answered: "A collection of dreams without their associations, without understanding the circumstances in which someone dreamed, doesn't mean anything to me, and I have a hard time understanding what it might mean to others" (Breton, 1938, I). These associations were generally omitted by the surrealists when they narrated their dreams. They appear in André Breton's The Communicating Vases (1932), but there the author, denying the "dream navel" for the sake of Marxist-Leninist materialism, felt he could use them to bring into focus all his dream thoughts. He claimed, contrary to Freud, that the dream was a creator, an instigator to action, and capable of dialectically resolving the contradiction between desire and reality. Surrealism ignored therapy. There are several periods to the history of surrealism. Its "prehistory" dates from 1916 (Breton discovers Freud) to 1924. This was the period of the review Littérature (1919). Together with Breton, a group of young artists invented surrealist techniques intended to liberate the unconscious: automatic writing and drawing, hypnotic sleep, hypnagogic visions, dream narratives, group creation, oral and written games, collage, rubbings, decals, experimental photography and theater. The publication of the first Surrealist Manifesto (Breton, 1924) ushered in Surrealism's formative period. The group had a journal of its own, La Révolution surréaliste. "We must be thankful for Freud's discoveries," wrote Breton, "the imagination may be on the point of winning back its rights." In 1927 André Breton, Louis Aragon, PaulÉluard, and Benjamin Peret joined the Communist Party. Breton did not, however, abandon Freud: "The Surrealism that, as we have seen, has adopted Marxist beliefs does not intend to treat lightly the Freudian critique of ideas" (Breton, 1930). Breton soon quit the Communist Party, which reproached him for his Freudianism. Surrealism embraced cinema (Luis Buñuel), the construction of objects ("Situation surréaliste de l'objet," Breton, 1935), and produced important works of art in every field. But in 1930, in his Second Manifesto of Surrealism, Breton acknowledged the existence of a profound crisis. The third period of Surrealism was about to begin. A new review was introduced, Le Surréalisme au service de la Révolution. In 1930 the review published two articles by the French-American psychoanalyst Jean FroisWittmann, in 1933 the Breton-Freud correspondence of 1932, a favorable critique of Jacques Lacan's doctoral dissertation by René Crevel, and, also by Crevel, an attack on an article in the Revue française de psychanalyse. The review also published the first texts by Salvador Dali, where he developed the idea of "critical-paranoia," the use of the interpretative processes of paranoia for creative ends, and the exploration of the unconscious. In 1933 Minotaure appeared. Although it was not the official voice of the group, it was strongly influenced by it. The first issue included articles on the "contributions of psychoanalysis." Lacan and Dalí explained their conceptions of paranoia as an active psychic phenomenon, which Dalí compared with the passivity he associated with dreams and automatic writing. Several large-scale international exhibitions confirmed the growth of surrealism around the world, a phenomenon that accelerated during the Second World War following the exile of Breton, André Masson, and Max Ernst in the United States, and Benjamin Péret in Mexico, and continued after the war. Breton, the principal theorist of the group, maintained a close association with Freudian thought throughout his career. He was most interested in the logic of the unconscious, in conflicts between the ego, the id, and the superego, relating them to the process of artistic creation, to Freudian ideas of sexuality, fantasy, desire, repression, the death instinct, whose opposition to Eros he assumed to be dialectical (Breton, 1930), and especially to ideas about representation and perception (Breton, 1933). Beginning with his concept of "pure mental representation," situated "beyond true perception," he examined, in the context of the Essais de psychanalyse (1927), how the transition from the unconscious to the perception-consciousness system takes place in the creative individual. For Breton, as a reader of Freud, it was at the preconscious level that language and the traces of acoustic and visual perceptions were united and charged with affect. But Breton went further: he saw in these preconscious elements the raw material of creation, obtained by the removal of repression with the help of automatic writing and drawing. In creating a work of art, the artist would make the individual universal (Breton, 1935). In a letter to Stefan Zweig, Freud, who had met Salvador Dalí in London, also associated the fundamental elements of the work of the artist with the preconscious, but he added a principle of economy: "From the critical point of view it could still be maintained that the notion of art defies expansion as long as the quantitative proportion of unconscious material and preconscious treatment does not remain within definite limits" (July 20, 1938). The specific task of the creative individual, the result of his "initiative" (Breton) is to manipulate the relation between unconscious and preconscious elements, and objectify them in a work of art. Repression would have to be removed using "surrealist techniques" (Breton). Freud's meeting with Dalí seems to be the only time when Freud made an effort to understand the surrealist use of psychoanalysis and compare it with his own beliefs. There were other points of contact between surrealism and psychoanalysis: Adrien Borel discussed his surrealist experiences (1925); Salvador Dalí and René Crevel interviewed Jacques Lacan; Crevel, Antonin Artaud, and Robert Desnos were analyzed by René Allendy, which they later wrote about. André Embiricos, a surrealist poet and theoretician as well as a psychoanalyst, founded, together with Marie Bonaparte, the Greek Psychoanalytic Society. Lacanian thought developed throughout the nineteen-sixties, and, although it has a number of affinities with surrealism, it has always remained distinct. In 1971 the surrealist painter and philosopher René Passeron, with his research team at the C.N.R.S., foundedÉtudes poïétiques, which analyzed the creative process and made use of Freudian theory. A number of psychoanalysts (André Berge, Jean-Bertrand Pontalis, Guy Rosolato) were interested in the surrealists. As Breton found in 1934, the scope of surrealism, through the upheaval of sensibility it entails, "is socially incalculable." As a movement it has frequently helped the spread of psychoanalysis.


The legacy of surrealism

I begin this chapter by explaining why the surrealists were so fascinated by Freud, and outline the ways in which they explored the workings of the unconscious through the use of various techniques. After suggesting some of Lacan's connections and convergences with the surrealists, I consider the influence of Caillois on Lacan. In conclusion I describe the case of Aimee, an early patient of Lacan's who was also a cause celebre for the surrealists. Lacan's discourse is deeply marked by his encounter with surrealism. Lacan's work, a storehouse of images, allusions and references to surrealism, cannot be fully understood without a knowledge of the aims and aspirations of the movement. As Bice Benvenuto has remarked, surrealism's overturning of the place of conscious reason, its questioning of the reality of the object, its cultivation of the absurd, and its emphasis on the omnipotence of desire, seem to have provided Lacan with many of his basic attitudes. 1 The surrealist movement had great intellectual breadth and verve and it is difficult for us now fully to understand its original aura of excitement and revolt. Surrealism was a highly politicised, inflammatory movement which had a radical concept of freedom.2 Its aim was nothing less than the liberation, in art and in life, of the resources of the unconscious mind. The surrealists' spiritual ancestors were de Sade, Baudelaire, Rimbaud and Lautreamont. Deeply influenced by the lessons of Marx and Freud, surrealists, like Andre Breton, Paul Eluard, Louis Aragon and others, saw the new revolution occurring simultaneously on two fronts: the one 17 18 Jacques Lacan political and external, the other exploring the deepest recesses of the human mind and unfolding its truths in the work of art. Why were the surrealists so interested in Freud? And why were these artists so interested in the exploration of the relationship between the conscious and the unconscious? The surrealists believed that the value of a work of art lay in the effort of the artist to encompass the whole psychophysical field of which the conscious mind represented only one small part. They thought of human experiences in the form of a pyramid, the narrow peak of which is the limited range of the conscious state, and the broad base the full, subterranean strata of the unconscious.3 Andre Breton, the theoretical leader of the movement, believed that the surrealists' search for an extra-empirical reality was within the traditions of Western thought, and he consistently demanded that the barriers which ignore the worlds of the primitive, the child and the mad person be broken down. Surrealism inherited from Dada a hostility towards conventional definitions of art. For Breton, surrealism was not merely an artistic style; it was closer to being a transcendental world-view.4 Surrealism attempted to go beyond and above all forms of realism and to attain the realm of pure, unmediated thought and perception. This interest in the transcendental lies at the heart of the surrealists' subsequent enthusiasm for Hegel, who was seen as a potential ally in transcending the contradictions of bourgeois order.s The surrealists hoped for nothing less than the fusing of all the sources of human creativity - the dream, the unconscious, the conscious, the irrational- into a heightened reality that might alter the very shape of the world as well as men's and women's understanding of that world. Freud published an essay in 1907 on Jensen's novel Gradiva.6 In subjecting the novel to the psychoanalytic method, Freud showed the economy of the unconscious, its relationship to conscious action, and the role played by dream in this nexus. This essay provided many of the themes of the surrealists: the mechanism of repression, the dynamism of the repressed, the myth of love and the primacy of desire. One of Freud's conclusions was that both scientist and artist arrive ultimately at the same understanding of the unconscious; one proceeds through conscious observation of abnormal mental processes in others, the other directs his or her attention to his or her own unconscious and gives it artistic

The legacy of surrealism 19 expression. The surrealists were quick to seize on Freud's conclusion that science and art confirm rather than contradict one another in their explication of the unconscious. They found in Freud's essay an explicit justification for their own attempt to determine the tortuous relationship between artistic expression and the unconscious. The surrealists were concerned with the replacing of the image derived from nature by that drawn from an interior model. The work of art was to exist not as an aesthetic end, but only as a means to the exploration and expression of an inner psychic reality. Surrealist work of the 1920s and 1930s relied, whether implicitly or explicitly, on the discoveries of Freud. The surrealists, preoccupied with the sources of creativity, probed the working of the unconscious through many means. These included automatism, collage, dream interpretation, exploration of myth and the use of the paranoiac-critical method. Automatism, the practice of automatic writing, was one of the first techniques the surrealists used. This process became for them a form of self-administered psychoanalysis. Automatic writing consisted of writing down as rapidly as possible, without revision or control by the conscious, everything that has passed through the mind when the writer had been able to detach her- or himself sufficiently from the world outside. The possibility of applying the techniques of automatic writing to painting was envisaged at this time. They also studied hypnosis and mediumship and made transcripts of what trance subjects said. Experiments of this kind produced a sort of intoxicated exhilaration. Writing, painting and sculpture became aspects of one single activity: that of calling empirical 'reality' into question. The surrealists often attempted to fuse the polarities of dream and reality, the unconscious and the conscious in a single image. They did this through the technique called collage (the sticking together of disparate elements to make a picture). Surrealists depended on the devices of condensation, displacement and juxtaposition, to create a visual world analogous to but not reflecting any known perceptible reality. Max Ernst, for example, used old engravings and photo-mechanical reproductions as a means of violating conventional ideas about the rational structure of that same world. His figurative paintings, stripped of logical connections, remind one of the processes of the dream-work. 20 Jacques Lacan Although automatism and collage were the first 'Freudian' techniques used by the surrealists, Freud's major contribution to surrealism lay in his explication of the role of language in dream and dream interpretation. The formal structure of the dream - the condensation that results in a density of imagery, displacement of the senses of time and space and the importance of figurative language - is reconstituted in the works of the movement. The surrealists argued for a view of the relationship between dream and waking in which both states are perceived as fluid, their contents ceaselessly intermingled. They foresaw the ultimate achievement of dream study as the integration of the two states, in appearance so contradictory, of dream and reality into one sort of absolute reality which they called surreality. Like Freud, the surrealists were fascinated by mythological themes such as Oedipus, Narcissus and others. In the area of surrealist painting, where there exists no single and identifiable surrealist 'style' and where the value of the work is determined almost exclusively on the basis of its content, myth becomes one way of organising and synthesising surrealist beliefs within a recognisable set of symbols.7 From their reading of Freud the surrealists realised that automatism, dream and myth all shared common characteristics: condensation, a displacement of the sense of time and space, a similar symbolism. Freud had viewed dreams as the residues of daily activity; myth as the collective heritage of centuries. For him the two modes of unconscious thought shared a symbolism that derived from their common origin in childhood, whether individual or cultural. 8 Another form of Freudian experimentation was the intentional simulation of states of mental abnormality. The most flamboyant and provocative exploitation of this technique was by Salvador Dali. Dali became fascinated by Millet's 'Angelus' and was quick to recognise that the work's universal appeal could not be fully eXplained by its overt content, two peasants bowing their heads as the Angelus peels from a distant tower. His earlier reading of Freud led Dali to an examination of the latent sexual content of a work which he saw as 'the most erotic picture ever painted, a masterpiece of disguised sexual repression'.9 When a visitor to the Louvre drove a hole through the canvas Dali became even more convinced of the work's disquieting quality. It was Jacques Lacan, a frequent contributor to Minotaure with articles on the

The legacy of surrealism 21 relationship between paranoia and artistic creativity, who interviewed the vandal. Lacan's interest in such 'deviants' should not surprise us. He worked for a year in a clinic attached to the Prefecture de Police, and his main task was to prepare psychiatric reports on criminals and vagrants. Unable satisfactorily to explain the enigmatic aspects of 'The Angelus', Dali set about examining the painting in the light of the paranoiac-critical method which he had developed earlier. It was during the 1930s that Dali developed his 'paranoiac-critical' method, a process by which he deliberately induced psychotic hallucinatory states in ,himself for eXploitation in his art and life. We know that this practice caught the attention of Lacan, who subsequently visited Dali, whereupon Dali further developed his theory. 10 Freud had used the psychoanalytical device of free association to trace the symbolic meaning of dream imagery to its source in the unconscious. Dali applied the same method to pictorial imagery, and particularly to that imagery which arises as a result of the visual hallucinations which Dali had exploited since childhood. By using the external world as the source and stimulus for the delusion and by rendering the hallucinatory results with the clarity and precision of Dutch seventeenth-century still-life, Dali hoped to destroy all belief in the idea of a stable external'reality without recourse to abstraction, which would violate the essentially figurative structure of mental images. Lacan's connection with the surrealists One of the main characteristics of surrealist work is the juxtaposition of images and objects far removed from one another. Breton borrowed Lautreamont's idea of beauty: 'Beautiful as the unexpected meeting, on a dissection table, of a sewing machine and an umbrella.' Breton's analysis of his dreams contributed to the imagery of the poetry. The experience of what the surrealists called 'convulsive beauty' (of something that shakes the subject's selfpossession, bringing exultation through a kind of shock), is rather like Freud's notion of the uncanny, where shock, mixed with the sudden appearance of fate, engulfs the subject. All this implies a definite break with a purely instrumental or 22 Jacques Lacan representational view of language. For surrealist poets like Aragon, Breton and Eluard, language is not a nomenclature or a transparent medium. Meaning is seen as being produced through the juxtaposition of images and the clash of associations rather than as deriving from some ideal correspondence between sign and referent. One surrealist painter, Rene Magritte, quite consciously began to explore a theory of meaning, in the late 1920s, that was surprisingly close to contemporary linguistic theory. Many of his paintings are an investigation of the relationship between the process of depiction and the object depicted. His painting, 'Use of Speech', which depicts a smoking pipe and is inscribed with the words 'Ceci n 'est pas une pipe' (This is not a pipe), is a familiar one. This painting is, in part, a comment on the non-correspondence between the visual image and the object it represents. I I An image of a pipe is not a pipe. In other words, the relationship between signifier, signified and referent is shown to be arbitrary. I am mentioning all this because it will help us to understand not only Lacan's views on language but his own particular use of it. Lacan's style, with its puns and word games, is part of a highly self-conscious intellectual tradition. Just as Marcel Duchamp's 'ready-mades' challenged conventional assumptions about the nature of the art object, word play can be seen as a challenge to the notion that language is transparent. Many of Lacan's contemporaries such as Duchamp, Leiris, Queneau, were masters of glossological games. There are many references to surrealism in Lacan's Ecrits.12 The frequency with which Lacan alludes to surrealism is all the more striking in that it is not a major reference for the post-war avant-garde. (Neither Barthes, Sollers nor Kristeva has anything positive to say about it.) Of the forty or so French literary authors included in the name index, more than half belonged to the surrealist group at one time or another, or were claimed by the surrealists as their forebears. Lacan has said that he felt a great personal connection with surrealist painting. In short, surrealism provides Lacan with a constant stock of allusions and illustrations, as when Magritte's window paintings are used in the 1962 seminar to illustrate the structure of phantasy (the idea that a phantasy is like a picture fitted into the opening of a window). 13 There is also an indirect reference to surrealism in Lacan's com-

The legacy of surrealism 23 ments on Hans Holbein's painting 'The Ambassadors' (1533), which is in the National Gallery, London. This work, one of the surrealists' favourite classical paintings, depicts two splendidly dressed men. In the foreground there is a strange, vaguely phallic object and, if one stands at a certain angle, one can see a skull appear, a continual reminder of the presence of death. This painting is a perfect example of the use of anamorphosis (a distorted image which will look normal if viewed from a certain angle or in a curved mirror) in painting.14 Lacan writes that 'Holbein makes visible for us something that is simply the subject nihilated', and suggests that Dali belongs to the same tradition as Holbein, and it is true that anamorphosis is an important feature of Dali's paintings. IS Besides being on close terms with Dali, the young Lacan associated with the group surrounding Breton. While Lacan was publishing clinical articles on neurology in medical journals he was also contributing to surrealist reviews; it was, in fact, in surrealist circles that his doctoral thesis on paranoia received its most enthusiastic welcome. It is an irony that psychoanalysis met with considerable and lasting resistance in French medical circles and that it was in the literary milieu that it found its first favourable reception. Some writers tried to absorb psychoanalysis into an established literary discourse by arguing that it could be fitted into a theory of literary introspection. For the surrealists, psychoanalysis had a very different function: it was a means with which to attack bourgeois values. They believed that the primary function of psychiatry was one of social repression. They agreed with the psychoanalytical view that the distinction between the normal and abnormal is not self-evident. The first issue of the surrealist journal Minotaure contains work by Dali and Lacan. It has been said that there are definite parallels between their thinking at this time (Dali met Lacan in 1933). Certain of Dali's double or multiple images might be illustrations of Lacan's views on the mirror phase, and the narcissistic construction and function of the ego.16 (I will explain these ideas presently.) The ideas of Cail/ois Many important articles were published in Minotaure. We know that Lacan was greatly influenced by Roger Caillois, a sociologist 24 Jacques Lacan and avant-garde writer, who published two long essays in the above journal, the first on the praying mantis, the second on the phenomenon of mimicry. He wrote about how some animals, such as the praying mantis, stick insects and others, camouflage themselves. At that time it was generally held that this mimeticism was good for the creature and for the species. Caillois denies this; he argues that mimeticism is not good and he gives several arguments to illustrate why it is not successful. He writes about how these creatures subject themselves to the structure of an image, and how the structure to which they have to conform does not actually foster their survival. Indeed, it has a catastrophic effect on them. The female mantis's sexual practices - in certain species, its consumption of its mate after or even during copulation - and its voracity made it the perfect symbol of the phallic mother, fascinating, petrifying, castrating. It is not surprising that the image of the praying mantis is found everywhere in the surrealist work of the period.17 In his subsequent exploration of mimicry Caillois writes that the mantis comes stunningly to resemble a machine when, even decapitated, it can continue to function and thus to mime life: In the absence of all centres of representation and of voluntary action, it can walk, regain its balance, have coitus, lay eggs, build a cocoon, and, what is most astonishing, in the face of danger can fall into a fake cadaverous immobility. I am expressing in this indir~t manner what language can scarcely picture, or reason assimilate, namely death. IS Most scientific explanations for animal mimicry relate it to adaptive behaviour. It is usually argued that the insect takes on the coloration, the shape, the patterning of its environment in order to fool either its predator or its prey. Caillois shows that the adaption hypothesis founders on two counts. First, the fusion of the insect with its environment can and often does work against survival, as when the animal is mistakenly eaten by its own kind or cannot be perceived by members of its species for purposes of mating. Second, this phenomenon, which functions exclusively in the realm of . ~the visual, is largely irrelevant to predators' hunting habits, which e a matter of smell and motion. In Caillois's view, mimicry is a fun tion of the visual experience of the insect itself. Ty'ng mimicry to the animal's own perception of space, Caillois

The legacy of surrealism 25 hypothesises that the phenomenon is in fact a kind of insectoid psychosis. He argues that the life of any organism depends on the possibility of its maintaining its own distinctness, a boundary within which it is contained, the terms of what we could call its self-possession. Mimicry is the loss of this possession, because the animal that merges with its setting becomes dispossessed, derealised, as though yielding to a temptation exercised on it by the vast outsideness of space itself, a temptation to fusion. In case all this seems far-fetched, Callois reminds his readers of primitive sympathetic magic in which an illness is conceived of as a possession of the patient by some external force, one that dispossesses the victim of his or her own person, one that can be combated by drawing it off from the patient through the mimicry performed by a shaman in a rite of repossession. Caillois's essay on mimicry had a great influence within the psychoanalytic circles developing in Paris in the 1930s.19 Lacan expressed his debt to Caillois, particularly in his working out of the concept of the mirror phase.20 This phase refers to the moment when the child assumes an imaginary unity with its body image, in the way that some animals alienate their true nature, in mimetically hiding in their surroundings. It is the child's first encounter with its image in a mirror which results in a fictional selfprojection that influences subsequent identity formation. Lacan's theory of subjectivity - in his early work - is partly derived from Caillois. Caillois's main thesis is that the organism is constructed by forces and structures beyond the control of the subject. Influenced by Caillois's ideas about how some insects are captured by the image, Lacan argues that the human being, like the praying mantis, is captivated by the image. At the time Lacan was interested in narcissistic identification and he drew on Caillois's work to argue that we are dominated by a structure of images and that this has a toxic, poisonous effect on the human subject.

See Also


  1. Biro, Adam, Passeron, René. (1982). Dictionnaire général du surréalisme et de ses environs. Freiberg, Switzerland: Office du Livre.
  2. Breton, André. (1988). Œuvres complètes. Édition établie par Marguerite Bonnet. Paris: Gallimard, La Pléiade.
  3. Freud, Sigmund. (1927). Essais de psychanalys (Samuel Jankelevitch, Trans.). Paris: Payot.
  4. ——. (1960a [1873-1939]). Letters of Sigmund Freud, 1873-1939 (Ernst L. Freud, Ed.]]
  • [[Tania and James Stern, Trans.). London, Hogarth Press, 1970.