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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, and Paul and Nusch Éluard.
Henry Miller often partook of the game to pass time in French cafés during the 1930s.
- The cut-up technique of William S. Burroughs and Brion Gysin was influenced by Surrealism.
- The Narrative Corpse (Gates of Heck, 1995) is a comic book chain-story by 69 all-star cartoonists edited by Art Spiegelman.
- 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 Hiassen.
- A song in the musical Hedwig and the Angry Inch is entitled "Exquisite Corpse".
- Apichatpong Weerasethakul's 2000 film Mysterious Object at Noon uses this technique with a mixture of documentary and fictional film.
- The Exquisite Corpse Project is a 2012 feature-length comedy written using the exquisite corpse technique.
- Watsky's 2016 Album, x Infinity, features a song titled "Exquisite Corpse" using this technique featuring verses by several artists.
- A Rick and Morty 2017 trailer for season 3 is titled "Exquisite Corpse" and features a multiple minute long sequence to music.
- The Exquisite Corpse Adventure commissioned by the Library of Congress using well-known children's authors and illustrators (c 2011). Full text at Read.gov
- Breton, André (7 October 1948). "Breton Remembers".
- Reverdy, Pierre (March 1918). "Morgue". Nord-Sud. Archived from the original on January 7, 2009. Retrieved 28 March 2009.
- Lubbock, Tom (13 April 2007). "Cozens, Alexander: A Blot: Tigers (c. 1770–80)". The Independent. Retrieved 24 September 2008.
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- Bernard and McKain "4-panel exquisite corpse" Check
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- 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.
- Media related to Cadavre exquis at Wikimedia Commons