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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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Michel Delville, Preface


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MICHEL DELVILLE, University of Liège

Correspondance, the first Belgian Surrealist “magazine”, was founded by Paul Nougé, Camille Goemans and Marcel Lecomte in 1924, the same year as André Breton’s first Surrealist Manifesto. Since that time, Belgian Surrealism has remained one of the European avant-garde’s best-kept secrets. The names of Nougé, Goemans, Louis Scutenaire, Achille Chavée or Fernand Dumont are conspicuously absent from most anthologies and literary histories, and Belgian Surrealism is generally considered as a non-literary phenomenon and almost systematically confined to the paintings of René Magritte and Paul Delvaux. Unlike many other Belgian writers who moved to Paris to make a career (the examples of Georges Simenon, Henri Michaux, and many others come to mind) most Belgian surrealists published their work in their home country, and this may explain their lack of recognition outside a small circle of connoisseurs and specialists: rather significantly, Nougé’s writings first gained international exposure after they were cited and quoted by Breton in the latter’s own publications. Perhaps it is the sense of being relegated to the margins of francophone culture that accounts, at least in part, for the radical, convulsive spirit that runs ← IX | X → through the history of the Belgian counterculture, from Dada multimedia artist Clément Pansaers to Noël Godin, the now world-famous entarteur who hit Bill Gates with a cream pie in the late 1990s.

Paul Nougé belongs to the first generation of Belgian surrealists, a...

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