André Breton, the Artistic Avant-Garde and Surrealism’s War on Work
This chapter analyses the critiques of work that emerged within the Dadaist and Surrealist avant-gardes, particularly the writing of André Breton, in early-twentieth-century France. It notes the roots of the Surrealist ‘war on work’ in Romanticism, Parisian Bohemianism and Individualist Anarchism. The chapter shows, however, that the Surrealist rejection of labour embodies not only a rejection of bourgeois values, but a more fundamental, philosophical, opposition to the Cartesian model of subjectivity, which is closely identified in Surrealism with the subject that ‘consents’ to work. It concludes with an exploration of why, given their opposition to work, so many Surrealists chose to associate themselves with the French Communist Party, which sanctified labour above all else.