Surrealism and Non-Normative Sexualities

July 2009

The omnipotence of desire is surrealism's sole article of faith—so contended André Breton, self-appointed pope of the movement. Surrealism, under Breton and others, claimed to emancipate human desire and wasted no opportunity to express its contempt for the inhibitions wrought in the name of the church, state, and family.

Alongside such liberational rhetoric, Breton's notorious tirades against homosexuality and other non-normative sexual identities and practices sit awkwardly and raise important questions about the “nature” of liberation, avant-garde experimentation, and radical critique. While the broad topic of surrealism and sexuality has received considerable attention, scholars have tended to shy away from surrealism's fraught relationship with “perverse” sexualities—homosexuality principal among them. The skittishness and silence are regrettable, because surrealism, despite Breton's intolerance, did attract a formidable array of queer artists and writers, particularly as it wrenched itself away from Breton.

Indeed, these “other” surrealists were demonstrably connected with surrealism’s cultural reception in Great Britain, the United States, Spain, Mexico, Germany, Australia, and elsewhere. Long after surrealism's heyday in 1920s France, these artists and writers nurtured the development of surrealism, often laying the groundwork for creative negotiations of the body, gender, and sexuality by subsequent generations of artists (notably experimental filmmakers, body and performance artists, photographers, etc.).

Desirous not merely to recuperate a welter of alternative desires at play in surrealism, but also to push at established disciplinary and national boundaries, we propose to bring together a diverse but coherent group of scholars from around the world—and at various stages of their careers—who work on surrealist literature, film, and art and/or on gender and sexuality, to redress the inattention and fragmentation of this important topic.

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