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Surrealist Paris: Summer Exploration Seminar

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Program Director: Mikkel Borch-Jacobsen (French & Comp. Literature)
Dates of Instruction: August 18 – September 13, 2013

Surrealism, which emerged in Paris in the early 1920s from the social upheaval of post-WWI Europe and more especially from Dadaism, is arguably the most influential avant-garde movement of the 20th century.  It rejected social, moral and logical conventions and sought to revolutionize art, literature, politics  and life in the name of freedom, desire and the unconscious.  Surrealist art, which was viewed by the surrealists as a means of liberation beyond purely aesthetic considerations, is characterized by a diversity of forms of expression:  writing, painting, drawing, photography, film, collage, found objects, sculpture, theater;  and of practices:  automatic writing, hypnosis, and somnambulic strolling in the streets of Paris.  The influence of surrealism extends well beyond the surrealist group itself and can be seen in painting (Picasso, abstract expressionism), in literature  (Char, Bataille, Leiris), in politics (Situationism, the May 1968 student revolt), in theater  and performance art (Artaud, Living Theater, Bob Wilson) and in psychoanalytic theory (Lacan).

In this Exploration Seminar, we will study surrealism in the city where it was born and which provided the stage for so many of its experiments.  Readings and lectures will be complemented by screenings of surrealist movies and field trips to museums which have holdings of surrealist and Dada productions (Centre Pompidou, Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, Musée Picasso, Halle Saint Pierre). In addition, we will visit the sites of Paris and its vicinity evoked by the surrealists in their texts and photographs.  In order to recapture the poetry of the modern city that the surrealists created, students will be sent scouring Paris for odd, ‘surrealist’ objects and asked to bring back photos, videos, drawings or descriptions of their wanderings and encounters, which they will be expected to share with the rest of the group in the form they choose to adopt.  In the spirit of surrealism, creativity, imagination and humour will be encouraged at all levels.  The ‘Surrealist Paris’ that we will explore is not the Paris of tourists and guides, but a poetic and artistic experience that everyone can partake in.

The seminar will be conducted in English and will host guest speakers.  It is open to all students with an interest in the humanities and art.  No prerequisites, except an open mind and a willingness to think out of the box.

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