Exquisite corpse

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An exquisite corpse drawing

Exquisite corpse (from the original French term cadavre exquis, literally exquisite cadaver), 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.


This 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 as early as 1918.[1]

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.")[1][2] André Breton writes that the game developed at the residence of friends at an old house in Montparnasse, 54 rue du Château (no longer existing). Besides himself he mentions Marcel Duhamel, Jacques Prévert, Yves Tanguy and Benjamin Péret as original participants.[1][3]

Henry Miller often played the game to pass time in French cafés during the 1930s.

Picture consequences[edit]

An exquisite corpse drawing produced in four sections

Later the game was adapted to drawing and collage, in a version called picture consequences, with portions of a person replacing the written sentence fragments of the original.[4] The person is traditionally drawn in four steps: The head, the torso, the legs and the feet with the paper folded after each portion so that later participants cannot see earlier portions.[5][6] The finished product is 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.

Another variation of the exquisite corpse also called "picture consequences" is Telephone Pictionary, a game in which players alternate writing descriptions and matching illustrations based on the previous step.[7]

Modern examples[edit]

  • Exquisite Corpse is a novel by gothic horror writer Poppy Z. Brite.
  • Space and Time magazine builds a community exquisite corpse monthly on their website.[8]
  • The Book of Exquisite Corpse is a series of novels and short stories by award-winning dreampunk and speculative fantasy author, Anna Tizard. Each story is inspired by Exquisite Corpse, based on words submitted by readers on her website's "Play" page.[9]
  • Anna Tizard plays Exquisite Corpse "live" on her podcast, Brainstoryum,[10] to brainstorm new story ideas. Listeners can submit words for the game on her online "Play" page.[11]
  • The cut-up technique of William S. Burroughs and Brion Gysin was influenced by Surrealism.
  • Naked Came the Stranger is a 1969 erotic novel written as a literary hoax to parody American literary trends of the time. The credited author is the fictive "Penelope Ashe", though it was written by twenty-four journalists led by Mike McGrady, with each author writing a chapter without any knowledge of what the others had written.
  • Exquisite Corpse is a literary magazine founded in 1983 (later in online version from 1999) published by Andrei Codrescu.
  • Naked Came the Manatee (Putnam, 1996) is a mystery thriller parody novel. Each of its thirteen chapters was written, in sequence, by a different Florida writer, beginning with Dave Barry and ending with Carl Hiaasen.
  • Exquisite Fruit is a variant conceived by members of the National Puzzlers' League in which a round of trivia questions are sequentially written by players, given an answer provided by each player at the start, and the resulting question posed to another player at the end.[12]
  • Folio of 28 Exquisite corpse drawings collected from Queensland Art Gallery's First Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art (APT1) artists’ retreat, Bangalow, NSW, 20–23 September 1993. Held in the QAGOMA Research Library collection.


Film and TV[edit]


  • In the 1940s, composers John Cage, Virgil Thomson, Henry Cowell, and Lou Harrison, composed a set of pieces using this same process—writing a measure of music, with 1 or 2 additional notes (sources differ), folding it on the bar line then passing it to the next person. The pieces were later arranged by Robert Hughes and published as Party Pieces.[15]
  • The band Bauhaus include the track "Exquisite Corpse" on their third studio album (The Sky's Gone Out) (1982), which appears to have been created in this collaborative surrealist style. They returned to the method for 2022’s “Drink the New Wine,” their first new song in 14 years. [16]
  • The fifth track on the 1992 album Sacred City by the British rock band Shriekback is "Exquisite Corpse".
  • Tiemko include the track "In Memoriam" on their fourth studio album (Clone) presented as a "musical exquisite corpse" (1995).
  • Exquisite Corpse started in 1992 as a solo project of Robbert Heynen when he was still a member of the Psychick Warriors Ov Gaia. After Reassembling Reality, Debbie Jones (aka The Mixtress/DJ Venus) joined the project and Exquisite Corpse became eXquisite CORpsE (1993).
  • The musical Hedwig and the Angry Inch (1998) includes the song "Exquisite Corpse".
  • The musician Daedelus named their album Exquisite Corpse (2005).
  • The band Warpaint named their debut EP Exquisite Corpse (2008) because of their collaborative songwriting style.
  • George Watsky's 2016 album x Infinity features the song "Exquisite Corpse" using this technique featuring verses by several artists.
  • Australian sound art collective Little Songs of the Mutilated use the exquisite corpse process to create music, as well as the song and album titles, for their ongoing series of monthly collaborative releases.
  • In December 2019, French alternative-pop-rock band Therapie TAXI released the album Cadavre Exquis, relating to the artistic visuals and collaborative production of the opus.
  • Swedish composer Anders Hillborg uses the technique in his 2002 orchestral work Exquisite Corpse.


  • In 2018, Simon Weir began producing catenary vaults where a dozen designers collaborate blindly using the Exquisite corpse method.[17][18]


  • In ... and then we died, players use word fragment tarot cards to form words to tell the story of their collective deaths.[19]
  • monsterland.net is an online version of the Exquisite Corpse parlor game created by Ben Samworth Development Ltd.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Breton, André (7 October 1948). "Breton Remembers". Archived from the original on 27 January 2008. Retrieved 30 September 2019. Exhibition catalogue, Le Cadavre Exquis: Son Exaltation, La Dragonne, Galerie Nina Dausset, Paris (October 7–30).
  2. ^ Brotchie, Alastair; Mel Gooding (1991). Surrealist Games. London: Redstone Press. pp. 143–144. ISBN 1-870003-21-7.
  3. ^ "The Exquisite Corpse". Poetry Plus. 2009. Retrieved 28 March 2009.
  4. ^ Lubbock, Tom (13 April 2007). "Cozens, Alexander: A Blot: Tigers (c. 1770–80)". The Independent. Archived from the original on 2008-09-25. Retrieved 24 September 2008. about Alexander Cozens
  5. ^ Budden, Jo. "Essential UK – Tattoos". British Council. Archived from the original on 14 January 2009. Retrieved 24 September 2008.
  6. ^ "Rainy days survival guide". The Independent. 1 June 2007. Retrieved 24 September 2008.
  7. ^ Newby, Peter (1995). The Giant Book of Word Games: The Bumper Book of Ingenious and Enjoyable Games for all Occasions. The Book Company. pp. 42–43. ISBN 1-86309-172-6.
  8. ^ "Exquisite Corpse". Space and Time. Retrieved December 12, 2021.
  9. ^ "Play".
  10. ^ "Brainstoryum".
  11. ^ "Play".
  12. ^ Exquisite Fruit
  13. ^ The Exquisite Corpse Adventure, Library of Congress, undated
  14. ^ Gotthardt, Alexxa (2018). "Explaining Exquisite Corpse, the Surrealist Drawing Game That Just Won't Die". Artsy.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  15. ^ Leta Miller, ″Cage's Collaborations" in The Cambridge Companion to John Cage, 151-168. (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2002), 154.
  16. ^ "Bauhaus Share "Drink the New Wine," First Song in 14 Years". Pitchfork. 23 March 2022.
  17. ^ Weir, Simon; O’Connor, Dylan Wozniak; Watt, Rodney; Reinhardt, Dagmar; Fernando, Shayani; Dibbs, Jason (2018-12-01). "Design and Fabrication of a ruled surface vault with the Exquisite Corpse". Nexus Network Journal. 20 (3): 723–740. doi:10.1007/s00004-018-0385-9. ISSN 1522-4600. S2CID 126183070.
  18. ^ "Exquisite Corpse: Catenary Vaults". sydneydesign.com.au. Retrieved 19 April 2020.
  19. ^ "To Better Know that Death | Unwinnable". 3 January 2019. Retrieved 4 January 2019.

External links[edit]

  • Media related to Cadavre exquis at Wikimedia Commons
  • Exquisite Corpse (2006–2014), a collaborative digital illustration by artists James apRoberts and Brian Christopher