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In the 1924 Manifesto of Surrealism surrealist leader André Breton (1896-1966) defined Surrealism as ‘psychic automatism in its pure state,’ positioning ‘psychic automatism’ as both a concept and a technique. This definition followed upon an intense period of experimentation with various forms of automatism among the proto-surrealist group; predominantly automatic writing, but also induced dream states. This article explores how surrealist ‘psychic automatism’ functioned as a mechanism for communication, or the expression of thought as directly as possible through the unconscious, in the first two decades of Surrealism. It touches upon automatic writing, hysteria as an automatic bodily performance of the unconscious, dreaming and the experimentation with induced dream states, and automatic drawing and other visual arts-techniques that could be executed more or less automatically as well. For all that the surrealists reinvented automatism for their own poetic, artistic and revolutionary aims, the automatic techniques were primarily drawn from contemporary Spiritualism, psychical research and experimentation with mediums, and the article teases out the connections to mediumistic automatism. It is demonstrated how the surrealists effectively and successfully divested automatism of all things spiritual. It furthermore becomes clear that despite various mishaps, automatism in many forms was a very successful creative technique within Surrealism.
Bauduin, Tessel M.
"The ‘Continuing Misfortune’ of Automatism in Early Surrealism,"
Vol. 4, Article 10.
Available at: https://scholarworks.umass.edu/cpo/vol4/iss1/10