Le Cadavre Exquis


The cadaver exquis will drink the new wine.”, and “… the chance encounter on a dissecting table of an umbrella and a sewing machine.”, two phrases closely associated with André Breton’s surrealist group. The first, emerging in an exercise in automatic writing using the children’s

game of Consequences, so amused them that ‘Cadavre Exquis’ became the name of the game and was extended to their collages and drawings as surrealism moved towards a more visual art. The second, from ‘Les Chants de Malderor’ by Le Comte de Lautréamont, (the nom de plume of Isidore Ducasse), perfectly illustrates one of the many definitions of Surrealism - “The coming together of unrelated objects at the extreme end of metaphorical expression.”.




A Canto in Surrealist Style

Inspired by "Les Chants de Maldoror" by Le Comte de Lautréamont - the nom de plume of Isidore Ducasse.


In Canto IV of “Les Chants” Ducasse writes – and I paraphrase

“I do not think, dear friends, you will have ground for regret if you bring to my narrative, not so much the detrimental obstacle of a simple credulity, as the supreme service of a profound trust which with secret sympathy lawfully discusses the poetic mysteries.”

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A little background ...


Isidore Ducasse was born in 1847. He was an extraordinary thinker and writer but died in 1871, aged just 24. Only two of his works survived, the first “Les Chants de Maldoror”, ostensibly, but not obviously, written in canto form, published under the nom de plume Le Comte de Lautréamont. His second book, a fragment only, was the beginnings of a book of “Poésies” - which are not poems at all. He would have disappeared into obscurity had he not been discovered by André Breton’s Surrealist group, who declared Ducasse to be a true prophet of Surrealism.


Alfred Jarry, absurdist playwrite was an even greater influence on André Breton. Jarry wrote the three Ubu plays ( Ubu Roi, Ubu cuckold, and Ubu in chains) and also invented the mock science of 'Pataphysics – which you will have heard of, but perhaps like me, didn’t realise it at the time...

The first verse of The Beatles song 'Maxwell's Silver Hammer' on the Abbey Road Album, goes

        " June was quizzical, studied Pataphysical Science in the home, evenings all alone with a test tube Oh, Oh-o-Ooh.

          Maxwell Edison, majoring in medicine calls her on the phone. "Can I take you out to the pictures Jo-o-o-oan.

          But as she's getting ready to leave, a knock comes on the door... "

                                                                            and Joan became the first victim of Maxwell's silver hammer.

However -

The 'Pataphysical world invented by Alfred Jarry postulated multiple parallel universes in which all possible outcomes occur (100 years before the astrophysical theory of n dimensional space also came up with the possibility). In the parallel universe pictured below, Joan, being quizzical, declined Maxwell's invitation, because her favourtite TV programme, University Challenge was on that evening, where her alumni were heavily defeated by Kings College, captained by the supreme cheat of all Ubu Roi. And so she lived on to become a successful Pataphysical Scientist.

This is my homage to surrealism and the two astonishing writer who unwittingly influenced it.