The first Surrealist manifesto was written by Breton and published in 1924 as a booklet (Editions du Sagittaire). The document defines Surrealism as:
- "Psychic automatism in its pure state, by which one proposes to express — verbally, by means of the written word, or in any other manner — the actual functioning of thought. Dictated by the thought, in the absence of any control exercised by reason, exempt from any aesthetic or moral concern."
The text includes numerous examples of the applications of Surrealism to poetry and literature, but makes it clear that its basic tenets can be applied to any circumstance of life; not merely restricted to the artistic realm. The importance of the dream as a reservoir of Surrealist inspiration is also highlighted.
Breton also discusses his initial encounter with the surreal in a famous description of a hypnagogic state that he experienced in which a strange phrase inexplicably appeared in his mind: "There is a man cut in two by the window". This phrase echoes Breton's apprehension of Surrealism as the juxtaposition of "two distant realities" united to create a new one.
The manifesto also refers to the numerous precursors of Surrealism that embodied the Surrealist spirit, including the Marquis de Sade, Charles Baudelaire, Arthur Rimbaud, Comte de Lautréamont, Raymond Roussel, and Dante. The works of several of his contemporaries in developing the Surrealist style in poetry are also quoted, including Philippe Soupault, Paul Éluard, Robert Desnos and Louis Aragon.
The text concludes by asserting that Surrealist activity follows no set plan or conventional pattern, and that Surrealists are ultimately nonconformists.
The manifesto named the following, among others, as participants in the Surrealist movement: Louis Aragon, André Breton, Robert Desnos, Paul Éluard, Jacques Baron, Jacques-André Boiffard, Jean Carrive, René Crevel and Georges Malkine.
In 1930 Breton asked Surrealists to assess their "degree of moral competence", and along with other theoretical refinements issued the Second manifeste du surréalisme. The manifesto excommunicated Surrealists reluctant to commit to collective action: Baron, Desnos, Boiffard, Michel Leiris, Raymond Queneau, Jacques Prévert and André Masson. A prière d'insérer (printed insert) published with the Manifesto's release was signed by those Surrealists who remained loyal to Breton and who have decided to participate in a new publication titled Surrealism at the Service of the Revolution. Participants, and thus loyal Surrealists, included Maxime Alexander, Louis Aragon, Joe Bousquet, Luis Buñuel, René Char, René Crevel, Salvador Dalí, Paul Eluard, Max Ernst, Marcel Fourrier, Camille Goemans, Paul Nougé, Benjamin Péret, Francis Ponge, Marco Ristitch, Georges Sadoul, Yves Tanguy, André Thirion, Tristan Tzara and Albert Valentin.
Desnos and others thrown out by Breton moved to the periodical Documents, edited by Georges Bataille, whose anti-idealist materialism produced a hybrid Surrealism exposing the base instincts of humans.
- 'André Breton, Manifestoes of Surrealism, transl. Richard Seaver and Helen R. Lane (Ann Arbor, 1971), p. 26.
- Gérard Durozoi, History of the Surrealist Movement, transl. Alison Anderson (Chicago, 2002), p. 193.
- Dawn Ades, with Matthew Gale: "Surrealism", The Oxford Companion to Western Art. Ed. Hugh Brigstocke. Oxford University Press, 2001. Grove Art Online. Oxford University Press, 2007. Accessed March 15, 2007, http://www.groveart.com/
- Surrealist Art from Centre Pompidou. Accessed March 20, 2007
- Andre Breton's Surrealist Manifesto
- The Manifesto of Surrealism (1924)
- Complete text of the Surrealist Manifesto
- "9 Manuscripts by André Breton at Sotheby's Paris" (in English and French). ArtDaily.org. 2008-05-20. cover, text