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Kaplan, D.M. (1989). Surrealism and Psychoanalysis: Notes on a Cultural Affair. Am. Imago, 46(4):319-327.

(1989). American Imago, 46(4):319-327

Surrealism and Psychoanalysis: Notes on a Cultural Affair1

Donald M. Kaplan, Ph.D.

If affairs are something more than flirtations, they are also something less than marriages. They begin brightly in those provisional realms between disparate existences where differences have little chance to become reciprocities. Sooner or later conflicts of interest arise which only a dissolution of partnership can relieve. This, I submit, describes the relationship between art and its many academic and political theories (Kaplan, 1988) and therefore, specifically, between Surrealism and psychoanalysis.

In one of its more familiar versions, the tale of the passion of the Surrealists for psychoanalysis begins around 1916 with Andre Breton's encounter with the writings of Sigmund Freud. Breton had been serving as a medical aide in the psychiatric center at Saint-Dizier where he was fascinated by the hallucinatory and delusional phenomena of the mental patients evacuated from the front. He tried his hand at interpreting these states of mind along psychoanalytic lines. After the war he transposed certain features of the psychoanalytic method into what came to be known as automatic writing, a technique of literary composition that Breton was to advocate for all the arts. In 1919 Breton began a correspondence with Freud, and two years later he actually paid a visit to Freud (Davis, 1973).

By 1924 Breton had become the titular founder of Surrealism, and in his “First Manifesto” [1924]/1969) he credited Freud with the discovery of that whole region of the mental life repudiated by the stale realities of social conformity.

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