Genealogy of the surrealist work refusal
in Surrealist sabotage and the war on work
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Chapter 1, ‘Genealogy of the surrealist work refusal’, reviews the development of a surrealist discourse of work refusal in French surrealist texts and statements primarily from the 1920s and 1930s by writers such as André Breton, Louis Aragon, and André Thirion. The discussion proceeds by outlining the key historical sources from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries that influenced this position, including texts by Marcel Duchamp, Arthur Rimbaud, and Paul Lafargue. Chapter 1 also situates surrealism’s war on work in relation to techno-optimist avant-gardes such as Italian Futurism, and also in comparison with the prominence of Taylorism in Allied nations. Surrealism’s ongoing interaction with labour critique and theories of societal rationalisation such as those propounded by Karl Marx, Max Weber, Walter Benjamin, and Thorstein Veblen are broadly considered, as is the existing scholarly literature on surrealism, work, and play. The legacies of Marxist surrealists or surrealist supporters of Leon Trotsky’s Fourth International, such as Pierre Naville, who by the mid-twentieth century was a sociologist specialising in labour studies, are also evaluated, as is the early 1930s controversy over surrealism’s stance on proletarian art in conjunction with its membership in the Revolutionary Artists and Writers Union (AEAR) in France, which was modelled on a workers’ union.

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