Four Surrealist Manifestos are known to exist. The first two to be published in October 1924 were written by Yvan Goll and Andre Breton, the leaders of rivaling Surrealist groups. Andre Breton wrote a second manifesto for his Surrealist group that was published in 1929, and he wrote a third manifesto that was not issued in his lifetime.
Leading up to 1924, two rival surrealist groups had formed. Each group claimed to be successors of a revolution launched by Guillaume Apollinaire. One group, led by Yvan Goll, consisted of Pierre Albert-Birot, Paul Dermée, Céline Arnauld, Francis Picabia, Tristan Tzara, Giuseppe Ungaretti, Pierre Reverdy, Marcel Arland, Joseph Delteil, Jean Painlevé and Robert Delaunay, among others.
Yvan Goll published the Manifeste du surréalisme, 1 October 1924, in his first and only issue of Surréalisme two weeks prior to the release of Breton's Manifeste du surréalisme, published by Éditions du Sagittaire, 15 October 1924.
Goll and Breton clashed openly, at one point literally fighting, at the Comédie des Champs-Élysées, over the rights to the term Surrealism. In the end, Breton won the battle through tactical and numerical superiority. Though the quarrel over the anteriority of Surrealism concluded with the victory of Breton, the history of surrealism from that moment would remain marked by fractures, resignations, and resounding excommunications, with each surrealist having their own view of the issue and goals, and accepting more or less the definitions laid out by André Breton.
A Surrealist manifesto was written by Breton and published in 1924 as a booklet (Editions du Sagittaire). The document defines Surrealism as:
Psychic automatism in its pure state, by which one proposes to express—verbally, by means of the written word, or in any other manner—the actual functioning of thought. Dictated by thought, in the absence of any control exercised by reason, exempt from any aesthetic or moral concern.
The text includes numerous examples of the applications of Surrealism to poetry and literature, but makes it clear that its basic tenets can be applied to any circumstance of life; not merely restricted to the artistic realm. The importance of the dream as a reservoir of Surrealist inspiration is also highlighted.
Breton also discusses his initial encounter with the surreal in a famous description of a hypnagogic state that he experienced in which a strange phrase inexplicably appeared in his mind: "There is a man cut in two by the window". This phrase echoes Breton's apprehension of Surrealism as the juxtaposition of "two distant realities" united to create a new one.
The manifesto also refers to the numerous precursors of Surrealism that embodied the Surrealist spirit, including the Marquis de Sade, Charles Baudelaire, Arthur Rimbaud, Comte de Lautréamont, Raymond Roussel, and Dante. The works of several of his contemporaries in developing the Surrealist style in poetry are also quoted, including Philippe Soupault, Paul Éluard, Robert Desnos and Louis Aragon.
The text concludes by asserting that Surrealist activity follows no set plan or conventional pattern, and that Surrealists are ultimately nonconformists.
The manifesto named the following, among others, as participants in the Surrealist movement: Louis Aragon, André Breton, Robert Desnos, Paul Éluard, Jacques Baron, Jacques-André Boiffard, Jean Carrive, René Crevel and Georges Malkine.
In 1929 Breton asked Surrealists to assess their "degree of moral competence", and along with other theoretical refinements issued the Second manifeste du surréalisme. The manifesto excommunicated Surrealists reluctant to commit to collective action: Baron, Desnos, Boiffard, Michel Leiris, Raymond Queneau, Jacques Prévert and André Masson. A prière d'insérer (printed insert) published with the Manifesto's release was signed by those Surrealists who remained loyal to Breton and who have decided to participate in a new publication titled Surrealism at the Service of the Revolution. Participants, and thus loyal Surrealists, included Maxime Alexander, Louis Aragon, Joe Bousquet, Luis Buñuel, René Char, René Crevel, Salvador Dalí, Paul Eluard, Max Ernst, Marcel Fourrier, Camille Goemans, Paul Nougé, Benjamin Péret, Francis Ponge, Marco Ristitch, Georges Sadoul, Yves Tanguy, André Thirion, Tristan Tzara and Albert Valentin.
Desnos and others thrown out by Breton moved to the periodical Documents, edited by Georges Bataille, whose anti-idealist materialism produced a hybrid Surrealism exposing the base instincts of humans.
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- André Breton, Manifestoes of Surrealism, transl. Richard Seaver and Helen R. Lane (Ann Arbor, 1971), p. 26.
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