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The Birth of Belgian Surrealism


Jan Baetens and Michael Kasper

Correspondance is the name of a Belgian Surrealist magazine published in 1924–1925 by Paul Nougé, Camille Goemans, and Marcel Lecomte. It is considered as seminal as Breton’s «Surrealist Manifesto» (1924). The texts were tart, obscure responses to the arcane literary debates of the time, in particular those underway in André Breton’s circle in Paris. Twenty-two issues of Correspondance were printed, in a modernist typeface on different color papers, and were distributed by mail to selected recipients. Unlike their Parisian associates, the Belgians made an explicit choice against the book as a host medium for literary and other experiments. Nougé, the chief theorist, and his colleagues remained suspicious throughout their careers not only of commercialized literature, but also of literature itself, which they saw as a means to political action, never a goal in itself. Although little recognized, Belgian Surrealists and Correspondance, their earliest manifestation, remain anticipatory and influential in modernist writing practice, especially for their ephemeral style of publishing (proto-mail art) and their intentional plagiarisms (precursor to Situationist détournement).
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Marc Quaghebeur, Unveiling Nougé. Some Notes on Nougé’s Philosophy and the Conférence de Charleroi


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Unveiling Nougé

Some Notes on Nougé’s Philosophy and the Conférence de Charleroi


A model of intellectual and moral rigor, the life of Paul Nougé rejected all romantic and post-romantic forms of celebrity culture, which reduce the act of writing to a set of anecdotes. In the preface to one of his essays on Magritte, Les Images défendues (“The Forbidden Images”), he turned away from the quest for originality, insisting instead on an effort to find “those sentences that continue to deserve to be said and said again” (Nougé 1980: 25). This program had a strong impact on Nougé’s way of writing, on his twofold preference for the fragment and for incompleteness. It also determined his stylistic a priori of absolute clarity: rather than indulging in the vagueness that the literary establishment often tolerates, if not encourages, he frequently preferred not to write, in order to prepare a better and more efficient way of saying things. Concomitantly, his rejection of anything that could contribute to the building of a literary career and his lifelong indifference toward publication reinforced a solitary stance that still persists. So absolute was the sense of revolt that inspired Nougé’s work and writing that he often neglected to ask questions on the actual reading and audience of his texts, for even this in principle crucial dimension was seen by him as ← 105...

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