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A century of twisted fire startersHistory of the Surrealist MovementGrard DurozoiUniversity of Chicago Press 60 pp816Surrealism as we can now see was the commanding style of the twentieth century The other isms - cubism futurism expressionism - quickly fizzled Surrealism lasted longer surviving the factitious scandals and showy outrages of exhibitionists like Dal because it was more than a pictorial style It offered a way of seeing the world redefining its supposed reality How else was it possible to conceive of a universe which as DH Lawrence said in a tribute to Einstein had been knocked off its axisThe surrealists according to Grard Durozois doggedly encyclopaedic history wanted to change life Their presiding ideologue Andr Breton went further in a 1923 manifesto for him the aim was to escape from the human species They acclaimed what others called mental illness as a state of unspoilt moral health and laughingly set free the perverse or dissident instincts that civilisation attempts to suppressDal who thought that surrealist images existed to cretinise mankind honoured the phenomenological swastika and indulged in sexual fantasies about Hitler He was also elated by the detonation of the hydrogen bomb which promised to inaugurate an era of nuclear mysticism the flammable molten watch in his painting The Persistence of Memory might be suffering from radiation sicknessBreton Philippe Soupault and Louis Aragon were acclaimed by Paul Valry as the three musketeers In fact rather than contenting themselves with derring-do the surrealists were agents of apocalypse Their fiercest creative glory lay in acts of destruction Breton and Soupault warned the world in 1920 to get ready for some explosions Durozoi has also unearthed an obscure surrealist periodical published in London in 1942 with the proud title ArsonThese were artists with no special regard for art itself Why bother making art when you could find it hidden in reality lurking in flea markets or greasy cafs or sex shops The surrealists were intrepid urban explorers whose
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