Surrealism and Virginia Woolf

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Surrealism and Virginia Woolf: Gender and Sexuality An artistic movement that experimented with the theoretical and literal, surrealism became a representation of the unconscious psyche. Defined in Andre Breton’s Manifesto of Surrealism as “Psychic automatism… the destruction of all other psychic mechanisms and the substitution for them in the solution of the principal problems of life” (Breton 729), the movement was a response to the rationalism that influenced culture and politics, redefining perspectives on sexuality and women. Virginia Woolf, a modernist literary figure, reflected the reality of the world through the rendering of the flow of consciousness – through a “self who is divorced from passions, flux, contradiction and chaos – allowing for the influx of non-identity, singularity, passion, embodiment and affect” (Pawlowski 735). Characterizing her literature as a flow of radical thoughts and images, Woolf evaluated the role and purpose of gender, linking women’s emergence in society with class system, economics and military nationalism. Though Woolf and surrealism both represented gender and sexuality, there dominated a crucial difference between the two: Woolf advocated women’s cultural and social liberties, while surrealism radically envisioned the women’s body through the erotic feminine. Surrealism arose as a romanticized rebellion against the reconstructive measures implanted after World War II – against the suppression of the human mind and body through rationalism. Surrealists believed this bourgeois idea (rationalism) to be the source of the destruction created by the war. They responded by creating an unorthodox form of art based on the Freudian view of using psychoanalysis to express the unconscious – memories, feelings and dreams – and dictate thought in the absence of reason and aesthetics. Due to societal disruptions – “women’s demands
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