PRINT May 1973

Max Ernst: Speculations Provoked by an Exhibition

IN THE SEMIDARK WAS a man with a trombone. His hand worked the slide in tandem to his mouth and cheeks. Taped sound flowed from the other room where people were gathered, in concert. But in the anteroom where we stood, the man kept repeating his metallic gestures. As we watched the perfect isolation of his solo, one of us supplied the inevitable label, and the word “surreal” attached itself to the mute obscurity of his act.

“Surrealism” astonishes with its ease of application—like plastic paint. We affix the word to pieces of behavior or to the chance coupling of images. And we do so almost thoughtlessly, without checking it out against a possible lexicon of meaning. Of course, André Breton has provided us with a definition:

SURREALISM, n. Psychic automatism in its pure state, by which one proposes to express—verbally, by means of the written word, or in any other manner—the actual functioning

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