Conley, "Recycled Things in Surrealist Collections - 2020"

Document Type

Open Educational Resource


Media is loading


Modern Languages & Literatures

Publication Date



Kate Conley


Williamsburg, VA


A fascination with objects turned away from their original function lies at the root of surrealist thought. These fundamentally recycled things remained haunted by their previous uses, their former lives. The surrealists connected these objects with aspects of themselves, with the way humans can feel haunted by memories and dreams that lie dormant within them. André Breton, author of the “Manifestoes of Surrealism,” called this life force recycled objects share with humans “force fields,” awaiting activation by the admiring gaze of surrealist thinkers.1 Surrealists lived and worked with their things, going back to their first experiments with automatism conducted in Breton’s apartment, where they sat [2] surrounded by his collection. He already owned oddities discovered in Paris flea markets [3] when he first described the surrealist project as a quest for “revelation” through the “magic dictation” of automatism in 1922.2 The surrealists also prized objects that had had a ceremonial function in their culture of origin, which were available to them, thanks to French colonialism. They exaggerated those parts of the world from which the things they admired things came in their “surrealist map of the world” (1929). [4] When Breton declared « La beauté sera CONVULSIVE ou ne sera pas » at the end of Nadja (1928), he was partly describing the physical charge he felt in response to objects he chose for his collection, a visceral, experiential feeling linked to knowing and to wonder, « le merveilleux », a feeling reminiscent of the awe his baroque forebears found essential in their selection of things for their collections.3

Video presentation.

Text is attached as supplemental/additional pdf file.



Publication Statement

Copyright 2020 Kate Conley.

This document is currently not available here.