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Unit information: Surrealism: Pleasure and Provocation in 1920s Textual and Visual Culture in 2015/16

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Unit name Surrealism: Pleasure and Provocation in 1920s Textual and Visual Culture
Unit code FREN30040
Credit points 20
Level of study H/6
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 2 (weeks 13 - 24)
Unit director Professor. Harrow
Open unit status Not open




School/department Department of French
Faculty Faculty of Arts

Description including Unit Aims

This unit explores the explosive Surrealist project of the 1920s through key works in literature (poetry, narrative and theatre), visual culture and film. Taking as our immediate starting-point the historical pressures and the possibilities of the post-First World War period, we look at how seismic shifts in critical thought (in particular, the theories of Freud) and in aesthetic practice (the international avant-garde projects including Futurism and Dadaism) precipitated the Surrealist moment. The Unit focuses on close reading of selected key texts and images in the Surrealist adventure. It takes those close readings forward in the context of a longer diachronic view that will enable us to situate Surrealism as part of a transhistorical, transnational project.

The aims are:

  1. to develop skills of critical analysis and evaluation
  2. to deepen understanding of creative and cultural values, especially in relation to cultural modernity
  3. to engage students in the confident, well-founded and persuasive discussion of works taken from a variety of genre and media
  4. to consolidate advanced students’ skills of writing and oral discussion

Intended Learning Outcomes

By the end of the Unit, students will be able to

  1. Demonstrate a sound understanding of the creative values informing Surrealist aesthetics and practice;
  2. Understand cultural and creative developments in France in the first half of the twentieth century;
  3. Demonstrate a thorough knowledge of selected representative texts and images drawn from Surrealist textual and visual culture;
  4. Analyse in depth critical and theoretical reactions to the literary and other cultural outputs studied, and to make appropriate use of these in their own writing; show an appreciation of how cultural background may inform reading and viewing.
  5. Carry out independent research inquiry appropriate to level H with a sense of the consolidation of skills between levels of study in the building of the degree programme;

Teaching Information

A mixture of ‘open’ lectures and seminars with student participation in both formats actively encouraged. (2 hours per week: 1 lecture, 1 seminar)

Assessment Information

One 3000-word essay (50%) testing ILO’s 1-5

One 2-hour written examination (50%) testing ILO’s 1-4

Reading and References

Aragon, Louis, Le Paysan de Paris (Folio)

Buñuel, Luis (dir.), L’Age d’or

Breton, André, Nadja (Folio)

Desnos, Robert, Corps et biens (NRF)

Eluard, Paul, Capitale de la douleur (NRF)

Magritte, René, selection of paintings

Vitrac, Roger, Victor, ou les enfants au pouvoir (Gallimard / Folio Théâtre)