Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)

Although the term may first have been coined by Guillaume Apollinaire, Surrealism as an aesthetic movement dates from the Manifeste du Surréalisme ["Manifesto on Surrealism"] (1924; exp 1929) by André Breton (1896-1966), where a revolutionary art is promulgated which would eventually subsume the bourgeois rationalism of traditional realism. Influenced by the more nihilistic pre-WWI Dada movement, by Freudian theory and by individual artists like Giorgio di Chirico (1888-1978), Surrealism celebrated Dream imagery and the putative "truth" of the unconscious, achieving its characteristic effects through the apparently irrational and unmotivated juxtaposition of realistic and fantastic images. Major painters included Salvador Dalí, Max Ernst, René Magritte and Yves Tanguy (1900-1955), with a more abstract version represented by Hans Arp (1887-1966) and Joan Miró (1893-1983).

Its deliberate randomness – which included "automatic" writing or drawing and "found" objects or poems – generally sets Surrealism apart from more traditional modes of fantasy, although the term itself is often appropriated to describe any number of works using incongruous image patterns, or mixing Fantasy with Reality (as in Magic Realism).

While a few novels – e.g., The Eater of Darkness (1926) by Robert M Coates (1897-1973) – were written directly under the influence of Surrealist doctrine, the movement has generally survived better in poetry than in narrative, though it has had a substantial influence in the Cinema (e.g., Luis Buñuel, Jean Cocteau) and the theatre (e.g., Antonin Artaud [1896-1948], Eugene Ionesco). A number of sf and fantasy authors have used Surrealist patterns of imagery as a technique of estrangement: City of the Iron Fish (1994) by Simon Ings (1965-    ) is a recent example. Other authors – e.g., Lisa Goldstein in The Dream Years (1985) and Robert Irwin in Exquisite Corpse (1995) – have incorporated aspects of the historical movement itself into works of fiction. [GKW]



This entry is taken from the Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997) edited by John Clute and John Grant. It is provided as a reference and resource for users of the SF Encyclopedia, but apart from possible small corrections has not been updated.