Exquisite corpse, also known as exquisite cadaver (from the original French term cadavre exquis) or rotating corpse, is a method by which a collection of words or images is collectively assembled. Each collaborator adds to a composition in sequence, either by following a rule (e.g. "The adjective noun adverb verb the adjective noun," as in “The green duck sweetly sang the dreadful dirge”) or by being allowed to see only the end of what the previous person contributed.
The technique was invented by Surrealists and is similar to an old parlour game called Consequences in which players write in turn on a sheet of paper, fold it to conceal part of the writing, and then pass it to the next player for a further contribution. Surrealism principal founder André Breton reported that it started in fun, but became playful and eventually enriching. Breton said the diversion started about 1925, but Pierre Reverdy wrote that it started much earlier, at least before 1918.
Later the game was adapted to drawing and collage, producing a result similar to children's books in which the pages were cut into thirds, the top third pages showing the head of a person or animal, the middle third the torso, and the bottom third the legs, with children having the ability to "mix and match" by turning pages. The game has also been played with the usual orientation of foldings and four or fewer people, and there have been examples with the game played with only two people and the paper being folded widthwise and breadthwise, resulting in quarters. It has been played by mailing a drawing or collage—in progressive stages of completion—to the players, and this variation is known as "Exquisite Corpse by airmail", apparently regardless of whether the game fares by airmail or not.
The name is derived from a phrase that resulted when Surrealists first played the game, "Le cadavre exquis boira le vin nouveau." ("The exquisite corpse shall drink the new wine.") André Breton writes that the game developed at the residence of friends in an old house at 54 rue du Chateau (no longer existing). In the beginning were Yves Tanguy, Marcel Duchamp, Jacques Prévert, Benjamin Péret, Pierre Reverdy, and André Breton. Other participants probably included Max Morise, Joan Miró, Man Ray, Simone Collinet, Tristan Tzara, Georges Hugnet, René Char, Paul, and Nusch Éluard.
Henry Miller often partook of the game to pass time in French cafés during the 1930s.
William S. Burroughs and Brion Gysin were hugely influenced by Surrealism, mostly when referring to the cut-up technique, whose principles dialogue with the Cadavre Exquis play invented by the Surrealists.
The Exquisite Corpse Project is a 2012 feature-length comedy written using the exquisite corpse technique.
- Breton, André (7 October 1948). "Breton Remembers".
- Reverdy, Pierre (March 1918). "Morgue". Nord-Sud. Retrieved 28 March 2009.
- Lubbock, Tom (13 April 2007). "Cozens, Alexander: A Blot: Tigers (c. 1770–80)". The Independent. Retrieved 24 September 2008. "about Alexander Cozens"
- Dumaine, Bernard and McKain, Janelle. "4-panel exquisite corpse". Retrieved 26 August 2009.
- Breton, André (7 October 1948), Le Cadavre Exquis: Son Exaltation, exhibition catalogue, La Dragonne, Galerie Nina Dausset, Paris (October 7–30).
- Brotchie, Alastair; Mel Gooding (1991). Surrealist Games. London: Redstone Press. pp. 143–144. ISBN 1-870003-21-7.
- "The Exquisite Corpse". Poetry Plus. 2009. Retrieved 28 March 2009.