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Free Association

The free association describes the prosody of écriture automatique surrealist authors such as Breton, Éluard, Desnos and Soupault, which in German-language poetry ranges from Hans Arp to Friederike Mayröcker to Richard Anders. The écriture automatique translated with the concept of involuntary writing, which frees itself from any rules of social, moral, aesthetic or even linguistic coleur in the course of free association. This liberation refers not only to the regularity of syntax and word meaning, but also to the conventions of literary genres, but above all to self-control in the face of certain moral and aesthetic taboos. It is about decoupling from the control functions of waking consciousness, which should succeed in capturing the unconscious in immediate, automatic transcription.


The origin of this form is provided in 1920 by André Breton and Philippe Soupault's prose poem Les champs magnétiques, in which, under the impression of Freudian psychoanalysis, the aim is to make the unconscious visible or to present 'spoken thinking' (pensée parlée) as precisely and directly as possible in a monologue that is not inhibited by self-criticism. Breton and Soupault also called these semi-conscious states 'dream protocols', a basic poetic principle of surrealist poetry, which was continued in the journal La révolution surréaliste founded in 1924 under the heading 'Rêves' (Dreams) by authors such as de Chirico, Breton, Aragon, Noll, Desnos and Péret. In the 'Manifeste du surréalisme' of 1924, Breton characterized this principle as follows:

"Write quickly without any previously chosen subject, quickly enough not to dwell on, and not to be tempted to read over, what you have written. The first sentence will come of itself; and this is self-evidently true, because there is never a moment but some sentence alien to our conscious thought clamours for outward expression. It is rather difficult to speak of the sentence to follow, since it doubtless comes in for a share of our conscious activity and so the other sentences, if it is conceded that the writing of the first sentence must have involved even a minimum of consciousness. But that should in the long run matter little, because therein precisely lies the greatest interest in the surrealist exercise. Punctuation of course necessarily hinders the stream of absolute continuity which preoccupies us. But you should particularly distrust the prompting whisper."

This technique of surrealism shaped classical modernism throughout Europe: This randomly oriented 'Écriture automatique' by the French Surrealists can already be found in Hans Arp's volume of poems “Die Wolkenpumpe” from 1920, also in Tristan Tzara's cycle of poems L'homme approximatif from 1931, of the collection of poems Ypsikáminos (blast furnace) by the Greek Andréas Empeiríkos, published in 1935, in the poems of the Portuguese Mário Cesariny de Vasconcelos, Vitorino Nemésio, Alexandre O'Neill and João Cabral de Melo Neto, or the poetry of the Czech Konstantin Biebl. After 1945, the early work of the Flemish poet Hugo Claus should be mentioned, and authors such as Richard Anders, Friederike Mayröcker and Ginka Steinwachs are also influenced. A Danish example is Klaus Rifbjerg's interpunceless prose poem, published in 1961, entitled Camouflage, which according to the author is modelled on the stream of consciousness of psychoanalytic poetry.