A Revival of Academic Surrealist Studies: Dada/Surrealism

Dada/Surrealism was the sole academic journal to devote itself to the study of these two related currents in the U.S. The scholarly study of Surrealism emerged here just slightly later than it did in France, with the publication of Anna Balakian’s Literary Origins of Surrealism in 1947. Dada/Surrealism‘s first issue appeared in 1971 and it ran—one issue per year—until 1990, one suspects, when it was overwhelmed by the campus impulses of postmodernism during the administration of the first George Bush.

The final volume of the first series of Dada/Surrealism

The journal is now in the process of relaunching itself and its editors (among them Mary Ann Caws, one of the prime movers of the original journal and a prolific translator) have issued calls for papers for three issues (one centered on Romania; one on exhibits and collections; and one on Egypt).

André Breton was not averse to scholarly attention, but he would have bristled mightily at the lumping together of Dada with Surrealism, the latter—a belief he expressed unequivocally many times—having definitively transcended the former’s limitations.

For one response to an academic conflation of Dada with Surrealism, see the letter of the Chicago Surrealist Group to The New York Review of Books in response to an essay (“The D-S Expedition”) by Roger Shattuck, author of The Banquet Years: the Origins of the Avant Garde in France, 1881 to World War I. Shattuck (who contributed at least one piece to the original Dada/Surrealism) claimed that he could not “find a more satisfactory distinction between them [Dada and Surrealism] than chronology.” The letter of the Chicago Surrealists (which appeared in the May 18, 1972 issue) closes with this paragraph:

“Surrealism has declared, in every authentic manifestation, its commitment to revolution; the displacement of the real import of that word by inhibitions in the writings of college teachers does not alter that commitment in the slightest. It merely means that there is promulgated the illusion that critics have something to add. What they add, besides comic relief, is in fact merely the expression of a stricken ideological framework which, to borrow a phrase from Roger Shattuck, dies hard—in fact, at the point of a revolver.”

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