Exquisite Corpse: The Surrealist Game
LADIES AND GENTLEMEN, YOUR ATTENTION PLEASE! Before we delve into the complex innerworkings of the Surrealist Mind, we must ensure that we are all on the same wavelength. You are cautioned to read the following definitions with care, lest you tumble headfirst into the raging sea of Surrealist oblivion:
Surrealism: “Pure psychic automatism by which it is intended to express, either verbally or in writing, the true function of thought. Thought dictated in the absence of all control exerted by reason, and outside all aesthetic or moral preoccupations.
Exquisite Corpse: Game of folded paper played by several people, who compose a sentence or drawing without anyone seeing the preceding collaboration or collaborations. The result is a collective work which, in theory, is free of the limitations we face as individuals. One person would draw the head, for example, while others sketched the upper body, lower body, etc. Together, the unique parts, make up an “exquisite truth” which could never be arrived at alone.
Automatic Writing: Surrealist technique which encourages spontaneous writing and urges the individual to transcend conscious preparation, hence giving the unconscious free reign. “Write quickly with no preconceived subject,” advised Andre Breton in his First Surrealist Manifesto, “so quickly that you retain nothing and are not tempted to re-read. The first sentence will come by itself, since it is true that each second there exists a sentence foreign to our conscious thoughts which asks only to be brought out in to the open. It is somewhat difficult to make a definite statement about the next sentence; no doubt it partakes of our conscious and unconscious activities at the same time, if one admits that the fact of having written the first sentence implies a minimum of perception. Besides, it should matter little to you. Here lies the greatest interest of the surrealist game.”
All that being said we must now say, LET THE SHOW BEGIN!
Unconscious thought. Collective Creativity. Automatic Writing. The Exquisite Corpse. All part of the Surrealist philosophy espoused by André Breton and his French comrades during the height of the movement in the 1920’s and 1930’s, these notions of transcending traditional logic in search of a higher “surreality,” are the main thrust of my proposed project. As I would like to explore in depth both the methodology of automatic writing and the Surrealist philosophy of collective creative enterprise as seen through the Exquisite Corpse game, my project will be composed of two distinct parts. The first, a critical essay on the technique of automatic writing, will focus on the philosophy behind it as well as its practical application. As primary sources, I plan to use The Magnetic Fields (A.Breton/P.Eluard), a collection of nine creative essays often cited as the first “pure” work of automatic writing, and Breton’s influential Surrealist Manifestos. Once I have grasped these elements, I plan to try my own hand at automatic writing and hope to include select excerpts.
Growing out of this study of Surrealist technique, the second part of my thesis will be a full-length play exploring the Surrealist philosophy of collective creative enterprise, most specifically, via the Exquisite Corpse game. A playful outgrowth of Surrealist philosophy, Exquisite Corpse recreates a sense of collective fate in a world where emotions and emotional afflictions are all too often isolating and individualistic. Throwing together five psychologically diverse characters into the centrifuge of a small town Surrealist group, I plan to challenge, via turns and twists of plot, the Surrealist philosophy that the Exquisite Corpse is in fact a form of liberation. Juxtaposing Surrealist views against those of a staunch Christian Science contingency, I also plan to explore the animosity of many Surrealists against organized religion.
For as Breton himself conjectured, the forms of surrealist language are possibly “best suited to dialogue, when two thoughts confront one another, the one reacting to the other.” Using two surrealist dramas (“If You Please” and “You Will Forget Me”)as models, this project will give me the opportunity to explore the somewhat hazy realm of Surrealism in the theatre. In addition to utilizing traditional playwriting techniques such as those learned in my playwriting seminar last spring, I plan to use my newfound grasp of automatic writing to compose at least a portion of the play’s dialogue. Creating an intriguing dialectic between form and content, as well as the critical and the creative parts of my thesis, I will use surrealist technique (Automatic writing) to shape the dialogue of a surrealist play.
As the Surrealist movement was an artistic as well as literary phenomenon, the stage medium of my creative piece lends itself to the blending of the two disciplines via artistic stage decisions (i.e., lightning, blocking, costumes, etc.) Essentially what I envision is giving the play a distinctive “surreal” flavor, be it through, for example, juxtaposing of “hot” colors with tragic action, the visual contrasts between characters or various elements such as backdrops and music.
This piece will explore how five individuals, brought together in pursuit of creative liberation from the limitations of reality, are drawn into a collective fate. Like strange, unanticipated pieces of a puzzle, each member’s distinct “unconscious works towards the creation of a single collective destiny. As the group finds itself tossed together in the flames of religious controversy, they discover that their actions are becoming more and more inexplicably linked. Like players in the game of Exquisite Corpse, each member is a driving force behind the final product, however horrifying or liberating it may turn out to be.
Hidden away in the rundown factory town of Sofolk, Kansas, where vocal labor unions and staunch Christian Scientists have run of local politics, the intellectual passions of psychologist Dr. Sandor Cenceinno and his Thursday night Surrealist Group have never created much of a stir. When a routine town hall meeting ends in vicious mud-slinging over the school board’s proposition to teach creationism as scientific theory, however, the soft-spoken psychoanalyst and fellow members, David Notting, Natalie Steadman, Riley Shohman and Christian Giaric, soon find themselves thrown headfirst into a raging battle of religious passion. As the creationism debate gains momentum, media vultures flock into Sofolk, snatching up bits of the controversy as fodder for the nightly news. Threatened by the brigades of network big-wigs swarming into Sofolk, local journalist (and ex-Surrealist group member) Harold Humbold writes a scathing (if ill-founded) “expose” on the “fervent anti-religious sentiments” of Dr. Cenceinno and his Surrealist discussion group. As the town’s only psychological clinician, as well as visiting counselor in the local high school, Dr. Cenceinno is immediately decried by the more extreme of the Christian Scientists as trying to “corrupt” the community with his own insidious brand of psychoanalytical atheism. As Cenceinno struggles to regain his professional reputation, Riley Shohman, pulls the group further into scandal with his camera-pleasing oratories on the “obsessive” nature of religion, a view espoused by Freud and often cited by the Surrealists.
As the debate continues, the stakes continue to escalate, bringing into play the life of Garret Notting, the 14-year-old son of the Church of Christ Scientist’s most vocal member, Kathleen Notting. Debilitated in a car accident at the age of five, Garrett suffers from a rare but treatable bone disease, prompted, many suspect, by the refusal of his parents to seek medical assistance following the accident on grounds of religious conviction. Though seemingly fated to spend his life with a limp, Garrett is a shy, cheerful adolescent who prides himself on his remarkable musical talent. When he accompanies his mother to one of the volatile town hall debates, however, Garrett finds himself involuntarily tossed into the spotlight as an opponent condemns his mother, arguing that, “Any woman who forces her child to suffer like that has no right to determine how we should teach our kids.” To complicate matters, the child’s father, David Notting is a two-year member of the Surrealist group and has long harbored doubts about the Christian Scientists, especially in regard to his son’s medical condition. Further embroiling the community in controversy, Kenneth Linsell, a local attorney, resolves to take up the case of young Garrett in bringing charges of negligence and child abuse against the Nottings.
Suddenly, on the eve of the courtroom trial against the couple, Garrett is found slouched over his baby grand piano, desperately gasping for breath and muttering incoherently. Three hours later, he is pronounced dead and cries of foul play quickly fill the air. Despite local authorities’ refusal to confirm any theories, sketchy bits of evidence are traced back to David Notting, the boy’s father. Given the tight link that has developed between the group members in the face of the past three months’ opposition, the entire Surrealist group soon becomes suspect and finds itself face-to-face with one of the most “surreal” collective fates ever, a virtual Exquisite Corpse come to life.
THE BIG FIVE: (below) Brought together through the Surrealist Group as prisoners of their unconscious and what they believe to be a certain predestined fate. The games and the theories they engage in at meetings are a means of liberation, of freedom. Despite this philosophy, however the characters ultimately discover that they are bound by the mutual fate they have created. For once the Exquisite Corpse has been assembled, there can be no revision.
- Dr. Sandor Cenceinno, 42, Loosely based on the historical father of psychoanalysis, Sigmund Freud, Cenceinno is the founder of the Sofolk Surrealist group. While Cenceinno’s abstract reasoning is the source of friendly joking among his inner circle, his soft-spoken amicable character has rarely failed to establish quick rapport between himself and his patients. An Italian schooled in Paris, Cenceinno remains somewhat of an outsider in the Kansas town although he does wield considerable influence as Sofolk’s only practicing psychological clinician. For years he has been heading the small Surrealist discussion group which meets at his office every Thursday to discuss the philosophies of Surrealist giants like Andr6 Breton and Philippe Soupault and practice their own Surrealist writing through the use of automatic writing and other games. Relatively low-profile, the group is currently comprised of Cenceinno and four others. When the media seizes upon Surrealism’s anti-religious stance as “proof” of Cenceinno’s sympathies with the secular contingency, however, it weaves his psychological practice into a sensationalistic web of conspiracy and draws uproars from the town’s large population of Christian Scientists. This challenges not only Cenceinno’s professional reputation but causes a breakdown in the established rapport with long-time patients and impedes the progress of new ones.
- David Notting, 35, Surrealist member, the husband of vocal religious devotee Kathleen Notting, David’s religious affiliation is most accurately “marginal Christian Scientist.” Slow to anger yet quick to throw insults (occasionally punches) if rage should get the best of him, David was once taken into the local police station after neighbors suspected him of hitting his wife. As a member of the Surrealist group, David, a financial consultant, is on difficult terms with both his wife and somewhat with his son, Garrett.
- Natalie Steadman, 25, haunted by terrifying nightmares, Natalie suffers from a mild case of agoraphobia, thus making it difficult for her to interact with society. While she used to be religious, the sudden death of her younger brother William earlier this year has turned her away from the church and toward the liberty promised by surrealism. A talented artist, Natalie makes a habit of chronicling her life in the paintings and sculptures she creates. “ Believes death is her destiny, propels herself towards it. Perhaps those who are dead laugh at our fear,” she writes. “You are fraught with the desire to be not of this world. Why in the moments of most profound passion, must we always find ourselves in the midst of such despairing solitude?”. Turning to the Surrealist group immediately following William’s death, Natalie plays up the idea of Surrealism as a liberation and God as imprisonment. Although she works as a fairly successful free-lace artist, she shares the morbid fascination of Surrealist writer Jacques Rigaut who once wrote, “As long as I do not overcome the taste for pleasure, I well know that I shall be susceptible to the intoxication of suicide.” — “A man spared by bores and boredom perhaps finds in suicide the accomplishment of the most unselfish gesture, provided that he is not curious about death” There is something in her unconscious that plagues her constantly and she plays it out through art. Uses surrealism as her guide — believes in its methods as a means of liberation from herself. The sudden death of her youngest brother, same age as Garrett and closest friend in a racing incident – “Don’t wait for God to save him, he’s not going to make it,” she advises Garrett’s father.
- Riley Shohmann, 27, very artsy, single, left by his wife a few years earlier. Works on community theater productions but aspires to much more. Acting as the Porte-parole for theater, Shohmann is constantly doing odd jobs to finance his lifestyle somewhat extravagant (by the standards of a middle-class factory town like Sofolk) lifestyle. Like Cenceinno, Riley’s background is somewhat mysterious A self-styled philosopher king who refuses to do work which he believes to be “beneath” him, he acknowledges the plight he puts himself in and accepts it almost proudly as self-sacrifice in the name of Beauty and Pride. Outspoken atheist. Very Narcissistic.
- Christian Giaric 19, suffers from schizophrenia (i.e., is very cold towards the outside world yet feels emotion very intensely inside. Strange outward affectations). A patient of Syncline’s. As the play commences, Christian has not yet been diagnosed for schizophrenia. Constantly questioning his emotion and, behaviors. Contemplates the priesthood but more as an excuse for his lack of success with girls. He is referred to Cenceinno by the school counselor right around the time the controversy starts to break out. Per procedure, Cenceinno recommends psychiatric drugs to lessen the burden of the illness but Christian’s behavior touches into the notion of “secondary benefit” of the disease, i.e., the attention. His case, though controllable by medicine is borderline and he has mixed feelings toward psychiatric drugs. The isolation brought on by his illness is both paralyzing and liberating – “I don’t have to interact, it is understood”. The narcissistic nature of this illness makes it an appropriate tool by which to construct the extreme individuality this character is subject to, so as to make a firm delineation between his outlook and the ultimate collective one. “Everything here reeks of constructed circumstance, of nonsense, of absurdity,” scoffs Christian. Though he does not join until later, Christian becomes increasingly interested in Surrealism under the influence of Natalie.
Harold Humbold, 36, a local journalist and short-lived member of the Surrealist Group, Humbold is best characterized as brown-nosing lowlife seeking more than his fair fifteen minutes of fame. For it is the self-aggrandizing attack of Humbold which thrusts the Surrealist group into the controversial limelight, thus drawing out the first part of the Exquisite Corpse.
Kenneth Linsell, 32, a civil attorney working in New York, Linsell happens to be visiting his ailing mother in Sofolk, just as the school board controversy over creationism begins to gain momentum. A self-proclaimed expert on issues of church/state separation, Linsell is immediately intrigued and makes a point to attend the next town hall meeting. It is here that he first learns of young Garrett Notting and the religiously-based decision of his parents, both Christian Scientists, not to seek medical assistance for the boy’s rare yet treatable bone disease.
Kathleen Notting, 30, head of the local school board and full-time teacher at Sofolk’s Caring for Kids daycare center, Kathleen is essentially a wolf in sheep’s clothing. For despite the soft voice and gaze, she has a relentless passion for both her family and her faith. While her relations with David are shaky, she has always been willing to continue in the relationship out of fear for what effect divorce might have on Garrett. For unlike her husband, Kathleen has no ambiguous views of religion and goes regularly to prayer services.
Garrett Notting, 14, son of Christian Scientists David and Kathleen, has a severe bone disorder for which, his parents refuse to seek medical help. A talented musician, Garrett alters between being optimistic and downright cynical. Tossed into an examination of conscience when the school board debates spring up, he begins questioning his religious faith . With your mother as religious fanatic, however, forgoing your roots to God take a little more brawn than brain.
Michael Nasson, 35, a hot-shot lawyer friend of Riley’s who takes up the Surrealist group’s case after they are implicated in Garett’s murder. His vibrant, fearless court manner contrasts greatly with his low-keyed talking in private. Also intrigued by Surrealism.
Having tagged along with his father to a weekly Surrealist rendezvous a few months ago, Garrett finds himself being interrogated by his mother about the goings-on of the meeting. In what will turn out to be prophetic foreshadowing of the fate that awaits him, Garrett describes the game of the Exquisite Corpse and hints at the collective destiny of those playing it.
As the scene opens, we see Garrett seated at the piano, absentmindedly fiddling with the keys and listening to his parents hurl accusations at each other from the other room. (Since Humbold’s story on the” anti-religious” temperament of the Surrealist group, the hostility in the Notting household has been insufferable.) Shortly afterwards, a door slams and we hear the sound of a car engine as a furious David drives away. Kathleen enters the living room and begins pacing anxiously back and forth. Not wanting to get caught in the crossfire, Garrett pretends to be deep in concentration, trying to piece together chords and rhythms for a piano composition he is working on. At least three times, Kathleen looks over at her son, begins to speak and then turns away. Finally, to Garrett’s annoyance, she perches herself on the edge of the piano bench and begins her interrogation.
Kathleen: Garrett, when you went to that meeting with your father a couple months back, you remember?
Garrett: (playing louder, knowing where his mother is going with this): Uh, yeah, sure, at Dr. Cenceinno’s.
Kathleen: (grimacing) Yeah, that’s right. (Garrett hits a loud chord. Kathleen softens her voice) Now, honey, you know I don’t want to do anything to hurt you (afterthought) or your father but I really need to know what you talked about there. The sort of things the Doctor and everyone else said. I’m heading over to the Church in a bit and I.
Garrett: Need evidence to corroborate Humbold’s story?
Kathleen: It’s not a matter of corroborating anyone’s story, Garrett. It’s about protecting you and everyone else in this community from what may turn out to be a very dangerous organization. Your father has refused to tell me anything and you’ll only be hurting him if you do the same. We can hypothesize all we want and in many cases that may prove to be worse than the truth. I just want to know the truth. So, now, tell me, do you remember anything they talked about?
Garrett: (Still playing) Nah. Me, I played on the computer while Dad and this guy wearing leopard print pants went on and on about how all of Salvador Dali’s work was driven by the incessant hard-on he had for his mother.
Kathleen: (shocked) Garrett!
Garrett: Hey, don’t shoot the messenger, mom. I didn’t say it.
Kathleen: (Growing increasingly perturbed) Hmm, I should imagine that’s far from the worst thing they’ve said. (insistent) You don’t remember anything…more? About God, maybe? Did they talk about God?
Garrett: (flipping through his piano music) Ah, geez, I don’t know, Mom, it’s more or less just a bunch of talk. Honestly, all this yapping about the Surrealist Group, I don’t get it. It really wasn’t anything big from what I saw. Just ramble ramble. BIah blah. (Mimicking Cenceinno in the earlier meeting scene, picking up a large book.). “Beauty is nothing if not (pause) CONVULSIVE” (plays a little rift on the piano) Voila. That was about it. Books and reflection. Reflection and books. (offhandedly) Oh, and then they played Exquisite Corpse. That was actually sorta cool.
Kathleen: Exquisite Corpse?
Garrett: Yeah, it’s this Surrealist group game where everyone makes up a sentence or a picture together. Here, I’ll show you how to play.
Kathleen: Garrett, I don’t want to play.
Garrett: No, no, it’ll be fun. I promise. If nothing else, it’ll show you just how harmless they really are. (Folds up a piece of paper) See, you fold up a piece of paper so there the number of sections is equal to the number of players. It’s better with more people but for now two will have do. Now each person draws a part of the body without seeing what the other one drew. (Sketches out a detailed head and upper body), lips it over, hands to Kathleen) Your turn.
Kathleen (hesitant): This is a waste of time, Garrett.
Kathleen: Fine, what should I draw?
Garrett: Whatever. I drew the upper body now you draw the lower.
Kathleen: Okay (Hastily draws two stick legs. Hands the paper back to Garrett. He unfolds it)
Garrett: (scrutinizing it) Hmm, that’s not very good.
Garrett: That’s okay. You get the idea though. Every person draws apart and when you’re done you end up with something completely unique that you probably never could’ve thought of all on your own. Dr. Cenceinno said it always ends up that the thing created together frees the individual from his or her limited insight.
Kathleen: (examining the pic) Do you feel freed?
Garrett: Well, no, not really but like I said, this one sucks. You should’ve seen the ones they made at the meeting. It was eerie, the pieces fit together almost perfectly even though no one knew what anyone else was drawing! It was like they were one mind or something. Dad says that the more you play it with the same people, the more liberating each new work is. Sort of a collective unconscious driven by the same overarching destiny.
Kathleen: (Examining the picture, shaking head) Exquisite corpse. Jesus.
Note: This same picture will later re-appear, side-by-side Garrett’s picture as a backdrop during the courtroom trial, impressing the idea that Garrett himself is the Exquisite Corpse.
From the Horse’s Mouth: The Surrealists Speak Out
Artaud, Antonin. “Address to the Pope” La Révolution Surréaliste, No.3, April 1925.
A scathing attack on what he deems the “knife blade of enlightenment,” this brief essay written by poet and dramatist Antonin Artaud offers an emotional appeal against the acceptance of Christianity. “We don’t give a damn for your canons, index, sin, confessional, clergy,” confirms the Surrealist writer, “we are thinking of another war – war on you, Pope, dog.” While, admittedly, bordering on the far end of extreme, this piece offers rich insights into the animosity of many Surrealists towards organized religion and promises to be a useful resource in constructing the psychology of Nathalie and Riley, the avowed atheists of Cenneinno’s group.
Breton, André. Manifestes du surréalisme. Gallimard – Société Nouvelle des editions Pauvert, Paris, 1g79.
Published in 1924 and 1930, Breton’s two manifestos are indispensable cornerstones of any intellectual endeavor into the Surrealist movement. In both, Breton elucidates the notion of the unconscious merging with the conscious into a “surreality,” defining the term Surrealism as, “Pure psychic automatism by which it is intended to express, either verbally or in writing, the true function of thought. Thought dictated in the absence of all control exerted by reason, and, outside all aesthetic or moral preoccupations.” These ground-breaking essays will help me shape the “feel” of my piece, via the interactions both within and in relation to the Surrealist group, and also, via artistic staging decisions. In addition to the overarching philosophy of Breton, the first manifesto provides a clear, straightforward approach to the technical aspects of automatic writing, thus serving as a guide for my use of this method as part of the creative process. ( I have both the original French language version and the English translation at my disposal.)
Breton, André. Nadja. Penguin Books. Translated by Richard Howard. London, 1999.
Touted as one of the most influential works to emerge from Surrealism, this renowned novel offers an intriguing gaze into the interactions between the narrator (assumed to be Breton himself) and Nadja, the multi-faceted, somewhat psychologically unstable young woman he becomes involved with. Mixing bits of surrealist philosophy (“I shall discuss these things without pre-established order, and according to the mood of the moment which lets whatever survive survive”) with very precise narration (“Last October fourth, toward the end of one of those idle, gloomy afternoons I know so well how to spend, I happened to be in the Rue Lafayette: after stopping a few minutes at the stall outside the Humanit4 bookstore and buying Trotsky’s latest work, I continued aimlessly in the direction of the Op6ra,”), Nadja is a tremendous resource as I commence my quest of combining Surrealist thinking and methodology with concrete form and content.
Breton, André, Paul Eluard, Philippe Soupault. Anti-classics of Surrealism: The Automatic Message, The Magnetic Fields, The Immaculate Conception. Trans. David Gascoyne, Antony Melville, Jon Graham. BCM Atlas Press. London, 1997.
Published in 1920, Breton and Eluard’s The Magnetic Fields (Les Champs Magnetiques) is often considered the first “pure” work of automatic writing. A creative precursor to the philosophy Breton would lay down four years later in his first manifesto, the entire work, consisting of nine separate “essays” with titles ranging from “The Unsilvered Glass” to “The Hermit Crab Says:”, was written exclusively via the automatic method, i.e, in a state of psychoanalytical free association and with no revision beyond simple spelling errors. As writer David Gascoyne argues, The Magnetic Fields is not simply a series of exercises resulting from the employment of a new technique but rather “the application of a distinctly new type of literary discipline.” This same compilation also contains The Automatic Message, a more theoretical writing helping to orient the reader in the field of automatic writing, and The Immaculate Conception, an automatic writing piece touching on Surrealist views of religion.
Breton, André and Philippe Soupault. “S’il Vous Plait”. Breton, Oeuvres Completes. Editions Gallimard. Paris, 1988.
The first of two dramatic pieces written by Breton and Soupault, “S’il Vous Plait” (“If You Please”) plays with the idea of form and content within a surrealist vain. Seemingly placing spectators in the midst of familiar scene at the beginning of Act One, the authors quickly foil complacent audiences by creating three acts which appear to be completely unrelated. In the harsh words of critique Michel Sanouillet, the piece is” a series of playlets constructed according to the best rules of dramatic art but perfectly incoherent.” A type of coherently is created, however, when, as the fourth and final scene begins, an “audience member” stands up and decries the inane nature of the spectacle before his eyes. Such intentionality disguised as” incoherence” upsets the traditional method of play viewing and directly implicates the spectator as part of the story. This aspect in particular will be explored as part of my critical reflection on the application of Surrealist ideology to the dramatic form. Furthermore, dialogue between characters Gilda and Maxime in Act Three is the direct product of automatic writing.
Breton, André and Philippe Soupault. “Vous M’oublierez”. Breton, Oeuvres Compktes. editions Gallimard. Paris, 1988.
Capitalizing on Lautr~amont’s poetic observation about the beauty of “the chance encounter, on a dissecting table, of a sewing machine and an umbrella,” this second drama uses as its principal characters an umbrella, a sewing machine and a dressing gown. Like “S’iI Vous Plait” its unorthodox juxtapositions of situation and dialogue give the play a uniquely Surrealist “feel”, a mood I wish to recreate as part of my piece as well as analyze in my critical reflection.
Breton, André. “The Exquisite Corpse” Surrealism. (ed. Patrick Waldberg). Thames and Hudson. London, 1997.
An excerpt from a 1948 art exhibition catalog in Paris, “The Exquisite Corpse” explains the collective word and drawing game created by Breton and other Surrealists. Its title, taken from a classic example, was drawn from the first sentence created in the game: “The-exquisite-corpse-will-drink-new-wine.” The collective nature of this game and its philosophical implications as far as its so-called of games ability to” liberate” the individual spirit will play a major role in the psychology of my piece, providing an intriguing critical link between plot and surrealist theory.
Dali, Salvador. The Secret Life of Salvador Dali. Dover Publications, Inc., New York.
The autobiography of this ground-breaking Surrealist artist, The Secret Life of Salvador Dali provides yet another orientation in the utilization of automatic writing. Like Breton and his literary comrades, Dali was a strong believer in Freudian notions of hidden latent content and the power of the “surreal”, such as dreams and hypnosis, in bringing out the “truth.” Here, Dali discusses his life, his works and his psychology in a style which is undoubtedly influenced by the Surrealist affection for spontaneous writing.
Rigaut, Jacques. “From an article by Jacques Rigaut.” La Révolution Surréaliste, no. 12, December 1920.
The victim of self-inflicted misery, Surrealist Jacques Rigaut wrote a number of dark articles foreshadowing his suicide in 1920. A combination of backwards wit and morbid humor, Rigaut’s treatise on “why I killed myself three times,” can be readily incorporated into the character psychology of Nathalie, the forlorn, suicidal atheist of the group.
Société Médico-Psychologique. “Discussion: De Clérambault et Janet.” Journal de l’Aliénation Mentale et de La Médicine Légale des Aliénés. Novembre 1929.
An excerpt from a discussion on surrealism between two prominent French psychologists of the early 1920’s, Drs. De Clérambault and Janet, this brief article airs some of the grievances on the part of traditional psychologists with the Surrealist ideologies. “The works of the Surrealists,” conjectures Janet, are above all confessions of the obsessed and the doubtful.” As psychoanalysis and Surrealist are generally considered to be fairly tightly linked, the skepticism of Janet poses an alternative viewpoint which adds another dimension of opposition to the Surrealist aside from that of the religious Christian Science contingency in my play.
After the Fact: Secondary Source Surrealism
Matthews, J.H. Theatre in Dada and Surrealism. Syracuse University Press. New York, 1974.
Delving into the question of form and content, Matthews’ work offers valuable insight into the little explored territory of Surrealist drama. Given Surrealism’s propensity for creating unorthodox juxtapositions of words and ideas, the medium of dialogue in theater provides amble breeding ground for Surrealist dramatists.
The scholarly work of Matthews will provide me with useful background information in writing my critical reflection concerning the dialectic between Surrealist automatic writing and dramatic form. Waldberg, Patrick. Surrealism. Thames and Hudson Ltd. London, 1997.
A comprehensive historical overview of the movement, from its breakaway from the Dadists to the later works of Breton, Patrick Waldberg’s survey of Surrealism provides necessary background information to the movement as well as the inclusion of a number of key articles from the journal La R6volution Surr6alist.
Kaufman, Moises. Gross Indecency: The Three Trials of Oscar Wilde. Vintage Books. New York, 1998.
A superb play based on the legal battles of the flamboyant literary legend Oscar Wilde, Gross Indecency: The Three Trials of Oscar Wilde utilizes primary sources, for example, excerpts from the actual trials, to weave together an intriguing tale of courtroom drama. As I wish to incorporate primary Surrealist sources, as well as legal confrontation, Kaufman’s piece is an excellent model of successful dramatic compilation.
Miller, Arthur. “Many Writers: Few Plays.” The Theater Essays of Arthur Miller. Ed. Robert A. Martin. The Viking Press. New York, 1978.
Featured in The New York Times, August 10th, 1952, this inspiring essay by one of America’s most prominent playwrights, Arthur Miller touches on the “nature of the creative act.” The very nature of a great play, asserts Miller, “is incompatible with an undue affection for moderation, respectability, even fairness and responsibleness.” Such disdain for caution and, in modern terms, “political correctness” fits hand in hand with the dramatic exploration I plan to undertake via the Surrealists.
Miller, Arthur. “What Makes Plays Endure?” The Theater Essays of Arthur Miller. Ed. Robert A. Martin. The Viking Press. New York, 1978
Similar to the above article, this second Miller essay offers more theory on what makes a play great. “More than any other art,” writes Miller, “theater asks for relevance.” In commencing my piece with the debate over the teaching of creationism in public schools, I immediately tap into the recent Kansas State Board of Education decision (and the accompanying controversy) to allow such teaching. As I delve further into this issue, as well as the controversy surrounding the Christian Scientists and their religious conviction in the” healing power of faith” versus that of traditional medicine, Miller’s essay will serve as a useful guiding point to maintaining the cutting-edge relevancy of my piece.
Wright, Michael. Playwrighting in Process: Thinking and Working Theatrically. Heinemann. New York, 1997.
Chock-full of playwrighting exercises, Playwrighting in Process offers creative means of getting in touch with your audience, ensuring a consensus between content and form, and answering that ever-crucial question of “why must this be a stage play?” (as opposed to a novel, a musical, an essay, etc.). As I combine automatic writing technique with dramatic form, this practice book will help me to solidify the link between Surrealist ideology, my own free association and, of course, plot. In addition, Wright’s numerous suggestions for character studies and plot development will be of invaluable aid in formulating the meat of The Surrealist Game.
The works in this section will be consulted to give my play a realistic feel as far as Cenceinno’s professional occupation as clinical psychologist, as well as the character development of patients such as Christian, a paranoid schizophrenic.
Maxmen, Jerrold and Nicholas Ward. Essential Psychopathology and Its Treatment.(2nd Edition, revised for DSM-IV). W.W. Norton & Company. New York, 1994.
A straightforward approach to the mental disorders encompassed by the DSM-IV (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition), this textbook-style work provides clear symptomologies, behavioral patterns and treatments for each disorder.
De Mijolla, Alain et Sophie De Mijolla Mellor. Psychanalyse. Presses Universitaires de France. Paris, 1996.
A standard textbook for French psychology students, Psychanalyse offers a very through explanation of major mental illnesses from the psychoanalytical viewpoint.
Gay, Peter, Editor. The Freud Reader. Vintage. London 1995.
A compilation of Freud’s most essential works (Interpretation of Dreams, Totem and Taboo, Civilization and its Discontents, etc.), The Freud Reader gives a through overview of the works, views and theory of this influential psychologist. Especially pertinent to my project is Freud’s parallel between obsessive compulsive disorder and religious rituals, elucidated in his essay, “Obsessive Actions and Religious Practices.
The official home page of the Church of Christ, Scientist: http://www.tfccs.com
Providing information of the beliefs and practices of Christian Science, with a special section devoted to the notion of healing by faith alone, this site will allow me to develop the outspoken, fervently religious character of Kathleen Notting as well as other Christian Scientist characters.
“Kansas vote sends education to Dark Ages.” The Minnesota Daily. August 18, 1999.: http://www.mndaily.com/daily/1999/08/18/editoriaLopinions/l081 8. lett/
An editorial discussing the Kansas State Board of Education’s decision to allow public school to teach creationism, the piece echoes the vehement protests raised across the country and can be cited, either directly or indirectly, as part of the debates in my piece.
“Granting of Charter Is ‘Abdication of Responsibility.” The Boston Globe. February 22, 2000: http://www.boston .com/dailynews/053/economyLG rantingof_Charter_Is_Abdica: .shtml
This recent Globe article highlights the controversy between Rochester Leadership Academy in upstate New York, scheduled to open next fall and contemplating the teaching of creationism as scientific theory, and the American Jewish Congress which has demanded that State University of New York trustees revoke the public school’s charter should it pursue plans to teach creationism. Yet another take on the controversial debate.
Hands on Playwriting
Along with the bibliographical resources listed above, my project will incorporate knowledge and expertise gained outside as well as inside of the library during my year here in Paris and have a firm grasp of the Freudian psychoanalysis, as well as general knowledge in the area of psychopathology.
“Therapy”: Last spring I wrote and produced a one-act play entitled “Therapy” as part of Professor Amy Robinson’s Playwrighting Seminar. Grappling with issues of time and the patient-therapist relationship, Therapy” addressed some of the same issues I will explore in my upcoming project, i.e., psychopathology and the question of therapist culpability in relation to the patient’s actions.
Mock Trial: With years of Mock Trial experience, I have a fairly good understanding of trial procedures and legal-speak, both of which will be vital to creating powerful courtroom drama in my piece.
Steppenwolf Theatre Company, Chicago: As part of Steppenwolf’s Summer Intern Program, I will be working directly with the Literary/Artistic department in reading incoming play submissions, conducting auditions and doing dramaturgical research. This will, no doubt, give me extensive exposure to different modes of writing as well as heighten my knowledge of the technical aspects of staging a play.
Chicago Dramatists Course: In addition to my summer internship, I will be taking a playwriting class focusing on character psychology and development.
Please note that a hard copy of this proposal has been sent as well and, should be substituted for the electronic copy here upon its receipt. Thank you for your assistance.
As my thesis includes two distinct parts, a critical essay, and a full-length play, I have included both a creative and a critical writing sample.
I. Creative Writing Sample: This final scene of my one-act play Therapy (Spring 1999) features Jeffrey Bayne, an obsessive-compulsive patient, and his therapist, Dr. Bridgette Jacoby, an obsessive workaholic, carrying out a session on, of all times, New Year’s Eve. Dealing with themes of time and the ever-questionable line between sanity and psychosis, this particular scene is essentially a reversal of power between the two characters as Bridgette finds herself trapped in Jeffrey’s maddening world.
Scene Six: “Compulsions”
Note: Throughout the scene, a marked transition should occur in Jeffrey: Growing increasingly angry and hostile, he transforms from an eccentric, anxious, but, for the most part, seemingly harmless patient to the menacing character hinted at earlier in his interactions with Marie. By the time he pulls out the gun, he should be in a state of wild-eyed frenzy.
Bridgette: Jeffrey, from what you’ve told me, about your routines, your childhood, I sense a definite dependency upon that “giant clock.”
(Jeffrey does the watch-drop routine again)
Jeffrey: (defensively) Don’t you?
Bridgette: (holding her hand out) Here, Jeffrey, let’s put the watch on the desk.
Bridgette: Jeffrey, one of the first steps to letting go of these compulsions, for example, repeatedly dropping and picking up your watch, is to distance yourself from the compulsatory object. As your therapist, I think that–
Jeffrey: (instantly angry): You damn therapists and your temporary solutions. I swear, the whole goddamn world’s got their temporary solutions. This morning some woman calls me up. ‘Hello, Mr. Bayne,” she says. (reciting, as if out of book) “My name is Paulette Jones and I’m calling on behalf of AT & T Worldwide long-distance international to offer you, Mr. Bayne, a very special opportunity. As a member of AT & T Worldwide, you will receive a 30-day trial offer with up to twelve hours of cost-free local calling as well as a 96 cents-per-minute AT & T Worldwide long-distance calling card. Also as part of our special offer, you, Mr Bayne, will be enrolled in AT & T’s job and life protection program. In the event that you lose your job, AT & T will pay your minimum credit card balance for up to six months as well as provide you with an insurance plan in case of premature death.
(Suddenly, outside, loud cries of New Year’s Eve partygoers.)
You hear that Doctor? The world’s rearing up on its heels to play Russian Roulette with ole’ Father Time and my resurrection is 96 cents per minute. Doctor, she just yap, yap, yap. What’d I do? Stood in my bathrobe like a fucking convalescent and listened to every damn word. That’s right, at full attention for some scripted charlatan. Well, enough of temporary solutions (Repeats the watch-drop routine)
Bridgette: Now, Jeffrey, I know it’s difficult but if you could just hand me the watch–
Jeffrey: (suddenly) What if I asked you to give up your compulsion?
Jeffrey: (gets up, walks around, picking up books and papers from the desk) Your work, your career. What if someone told you to hand it over?
Bridgette: Jeffrey, I really don’t think–
Jeffrey: Like your coat. Hand over your coat.
Bridgette: I really don’t see what that has to do with anything but if it helps you in some way–(Takes off coat and hands it to him. Jeffrey puts it on and goes to sit on desk. As such, he towers over Bridgette who is seated on the little desk chair)
Jeffrey: (Grabs a clipboard, his posture mirrors Bridgette’s) The only difference between your compulsion and mine is that obsessive productivity is a virtue whereas mine is just plain .. irrational. Just look at these books, these diplomas. You’re a goddamn sensation. Me? I’m a damn degenerate. Ironic isn’t it?
Bridgette: Now Jeffrey, I know there’s a lot of resentment, a lot of hostility there inside you. Especially from your childhood. But as your therapist, it is essential that you and I be on the same wavelength in addressing your concerns. I know you’re willing to do that. You’ve told me yourself that you need to work these issues out.
Jeffrey: (Turning away from her, takes a deep breath) Yes, how right you are Doctor. The patient-therapist relationship. Nothing is more destructive to it than a failure to communicate. (Turns back around) That being said, Doctor, I really think it’s time we talk about you. Let’s talk about your husband, your workaholism…
Bridgette: (taken aback) There is nothing to talk about. Jeffrey, I want to help you but I need you to work with me here. I’d be pretty upset if my wife were spending New Year’s Eve in the office.
Bridgette: Jeffrey, my personal life is none of your business.
Jeffrey: Yet as therapist, or, perhaps more precisely, “the rapist,” you have to right to meddle in mine.
Bridgette: I’m trying to help you. You shouldn’t perceive it as an attack.
Jeffrey: And vice-versa, I would never attack anyone. Doctor, I only mean to help you. The first step, as you know, is letting go, detaching yourself from the object of compulsion. (shaking head) All these books and papers though. I have a feeling this is going to be a very long session. You’d better call David to tell him you’ll be late.(pulling out a gun) Maybe you’d like to make the call personally this time.
Bridgette: (scared but trying to remain calm): Jeffrey, now let’s just calm down a little. (Burst of happy screams outside, sounds escalating)
Jeffrey: Calm down? How can one calm down with all that going on? Why, they sound absolutely mad! I, however, (deep breath, he is in control now) am perfectly calm. You’re the one I’m a little worried about. I really think you ought to call your husband, just to let him know what’s going on. Here, I’ll dial. What’s the number?
(On other end, someone picks up. Party sounds in the background. We do not see David, just hear his voice.)
David: (furious whisper) You selfish, heartless little b— You know, I thought once, just once, you could show me some goddamn support. It’s not much. Just show up. Just show up. But, hell, you can’t even do that.
Bridgette: (getting more desperate) David, there’s a patient here and he’s (Jeffrey holds gun to her back, watching the clock and mouthing “tick-tock-tick-tock) he’s keeping me longer than I expected. (in urgent whisper) David, you need to come pick me up right now. I don’t know what he’s doing, he might—
David: Oh no, don’t you dare. I’ve heard the excuses long enough, Bridgette. And you know what? Forget it, I fold. You want to be obsessed with your office, your patients, your work, Fine. I can’t stop you. But if I have to live with the consequences, so do you.
David hangs up. Bridgette, in shock, holds the receiver limply in her hand.
Jeffrey: (seeing her reaction) He hung up on you? Oh well, probably for the best anyways. After all, no one understands your problem as well as I do. No one could really. The thing that gets me though, that really gets me, is that even we are so limited in helping each other. Detachment, therapy, sublimation, all these things, sure, they may work for a while but they’re all temporary answers. Time (setting metronome)- tick-tock-tick-tock – it never stops. We try to control it, you, and me, but when it comes right down to it, it’s bigger than we are, Bridgett
Jeffrey: Go ahead. Pick it up.
Bridgette: (Urgent, frantic) David?
Male Voice: (voice-over, as if reading off a paper) Hello. My name is Thomas Vanson and I’m calling on behalf of Citibank Visa Mastercard International to offer you, Mrs. Jacoby, a very special offer. As one of our preferred customers in our GoldVisa Executive Club, you are entitled to a free Citibank checking account with no minimum balance as well as a complementary savings account. Also included in the special offer is our new Citibank Preferred debit card, with unlimited withdrawals. Mrs. Jacoby, this is a 30-day free trial offer. Now, are there any questions I can answer for you?
(Jeffrey pushes gun in her back)
Bridgette: (terrified) What the hell are you doing calling my office on New Year’s Eve?
Jeffrey: (ripping the phone from Bridgette’s hand, hanging it up.) No, what are you doing in the office?
Bridgette: (terrified) You psycho, let me go.
Jeffrey, pulls her over to the therapist’s couch, forces her to lie down by holding the gun to her head. At this point he is wearing the Doctor’s coat and sitting in the Doctor’s chair.
Jeffrey: Now, now, that’s not a very professional term, Doctor. Calling me a psycho. I think we’ve already established you and I suffer from the same disease. I suppose that would make you a psycho as well.
(Sound of a gun going off outside, New Year’s noises. The clock reads “0 hours, 1 minute remaining.)
This whole millennium thing … making everyone crazy! The sad thing is, come midnight, not a damn thing is going to change. Fools, waiting for Revelation to come rescue them from their miserable little lives. But that (pointing out window), this (pointing to Doctor’s coat), these (picking up books from desk), they’re all temporary solutions. (Starts metronome) Temporary solutions to a permanent problem.
At this point, a Countdown begins outside and continues through this part. The pace should be fit with the dialogue so that it ends on cue.
Voices: 10…9….8….7….6…. 5….4321
Bridgette: (on verge of tears): Jeffrey, please don’t do anything foolish. We can find a solution, we can find an answer. Not everything is temporary.
Jeffrey: No, not everything. The clock’ll go right on ticking. No matter what happens or how terrifying the world is. Time is permanent, Doctor. The question, is what is the permanent solution?
Bridgette: (Jeffrey holds her down, pointing gun at her. Desperately pleading) Jeffrey, please-
Jeffrey: It won’t take long, Doctor. I promise, only a couple seconds out of your busy schedule. It’s a very (pause) time-conscious weapon.
(Lights go out. Stage is dark. Sound of a gunshot
End of Countdown
Voices: Happy New Year!!!
Sounds of “Auld Ang Syne”. Gradually fades out. Stage is still dark and silent except for the giant clock that continues to go, reading, “8760000 hours remaining (=1000 years)” and the sound of the metronome.
Jeffrey: Still ticking. Always…
Sound of a gunshot
Jeffrey: (very faintly)… ticking