Surrealist automatism as symbolic sabotage
in Surrealist sabotage and the war on work
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Chapter 2 presents a theory of surrealist automatism as a form of symbolically subversive anti-work. This chapter extrapolates the concept of surrealist sabotage in life and art by establishing a labour theory of surrealist automatism during the 1920s in France. In this reading, surrealist automatism becomes a form of work refusal that undermines rationalisation and its effects through tactics that resemble work-to-rule sabotage. The first section examines a series of seminal 1924 photographs of the Bureau of Surrealist Research in Paris taken by Man Ray. Utilising reception-based and historiographic methodologies, this section argues that Simone Breton, wife of André Breton, performs symbolic labour in the photograph by Man Ray when she poses at the typewriter to take dictation from the automatist Robert Desnos, or possibly from her own mind. Reviewing the scholarly debate on the role of women in surrealism that occurred in the 1980s and 1990s, the author engages in an embodied discourse on academic labour in order to tie the often previously invisible work of the female surrealists and their image to the performative labour of the surrealist automatist in general. Chapter 2 also discusses a rarely noted but quite prevalent leitmotif in French surrealist texts of the 1920s that typified automatism as a form of stenographic transcription. Addressing the performative training of the body in the process of its compliance with regulated work, Chapter 1 compares surrealist automatist tactics to the boom in the secretarial industry in Allied nations during the reconstruction period after World War I.


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