Christopher Reid

The Parisian Surrealists appear to have taken their games-playing very seriously. Ritual imitations of the creative act – involving the practice of automatic writing, a deep faith in the value of mere accident, and the contrivance of jokey juxtapositions – formed a vital part of their programme. One favourite exercise was called le cadavre exquis. In reality, this was not much different from the ancient parlour-game of ‘consequences’, but in surreality it had a sacramental importance. A number of artists would contribute to the production of a single picture: the first might, for instance, draw the head of a figure, fold the paper and then pass it on to a colleague, who must add the torso, fold the paper – and so on. In the end, the page would be uncrumpled to reveal that most prized of Surrealistic fetishes, the collective work of art.

The full text of this book review is only available to subscribers of the London Review of Books.

You are not logged in