Aspects of surrealism in the work of Jean Cocteau
Cook, Gareth Michael
French; Psychology; Philosophy; Religion
Thesis or dissertation
- © 1978 Gareth Michael Cook. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced without the written permission of the copyright holder.
The work of Jean Cocteau reveals connections, similarities and differences between him and the writers of the surrealist movement. In order to appreciate the links it is also necessary to examine the principles of Surrealism to determine the extent to which they have similar origins to some of Cocteau's own ideas.
This line of inquiry leads to an examination of the part played by the work of Freud and Jung in inspiring both Surrealism and Cocteau. To a certain degree one is lead to question the association between Freud and Surrealism which has often been taken for granted and to look for the origins of surrealistic thought in more specifically French sources to which Freud also had access. Whilst it is difficult to bring about a rapprochement between Cocteau and Freud, there is a much smaller problem in comparing the work of Jung and that of Cocteau. There are striking similarities which indicate not only a divergence of thought between Cocteau and the surrealists but which also tempt one to extrapolate a direct link between Cocteau and Jung for which there is virtually no direct evidence. What is achieved in comparing the two is a greater understanding of the creative method of Cocteau, of the forces which drove him, and of his basic position as a child of the 20th century, yet as a poet of all ages. One begins also to have a clearer vision of the reasons which underlie his all important interest in mythology as a source of pure emotion and distilled poetic essence. For personal rather than artistic reasons a close rapport between Cocteau and the surrealist group is unthinkable as well as generally known, so that there is an enhanced interest not only in a direct comparison but also in comparing Cocteau with artists and poets who worked close to official movement but were not, at least for very long, part of it. Garcia Lorca is a Spanish writer in this position whose ideas and background so closely,
resemble Cocteau's that it is almost surprising to find that he was at least tolerated if not completely accepted by the Surrealists; his friends Dalí and and Bunuel even joined the group formally. On the other hand Cocteau's proclaimed admiration for Garcia Lorca indicated at least some feeling in not being able to participate directly in the Surrealist experience. Comparing Cocteau with Lorca necessitates an examination of the creeds and ideals of them both, highlighting aspects of poetic power and creativity in the process.
It is hoped to place in the context of 20th century thought the work of both Cocteau and the Surrealists. A continuity between the second half of the nineteenth century and the twentieth century should also be established and the manner in which the First World War acts as a watershed made clear. From the study Cocteau emerges as a more consistent and deeper thinker than he is often considered. The parallels found in the work which he presented in a variety of different artistic fields coupled with the overpowering sense of mission which begins to appear, dispel for ever the myths of the careless and carefree casual adolescent dilettante and reveal instead a conscious artist, a thinking poet, a careful craftsman and a profoundly proud human figure wrought with deep seated anxieties often masqued with flippancy. Undeniably however, consciously or unconsciously, whether or not the Surrealist liked the idea, there was an affinity between them and Cocteau which was sometimes a very close link and at others flared up into an open hostility which at least indicated that they were working in the same areas.
Since it was the fashion at the time to accept the view of Freud as a scientist and a medical practitioner in the field of psychiatry, a view which he himself insisted upon, it has been felt justifiable to accept it, although nowadays he is partially discredited. The concept of the subconscious is also not considered favourably although it seemed real to Freud, Jung, the Surrealists and to Cocteau. Consequently it is desirable to work within the parameters of their imagination rather than to take the stance of modern behaviourist psychiatrists whose ideas are irrelevant to the literary uses made of the work of Freud and Jung.
- Department of French, The University of Hull
- Ginestier, Paul
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