New Poetry (No. 5)

Christopher Reid writes:

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.

(LRB 15 May 1980)