Robert Desnos, Surrealist Radio, and Popular Culture

  • Jessica Passos Northwestern University, Evanston - Université Sorbonne Nouvelle Paris 3
Parole chiave: Robert Desnos, Surrealism, Radio, Poetry, Popular Culture, Sound Studies


If the futurists had Luigi Russolo’s The Art of Noise (1913) and F.T Marinetti and Pino Masnata’s La Radia for guides, by 1933, when the latter was published, there was still a dearth of surrealist writings and artistic productions aimed at confronting the challenges posed by radio. Such an anomaly has not been left unnoticed by surrealism scholars. Literature and media scholar Anke Birkenmaier, for instance, asks: “How could the surrealists not be taken in by a medium that seemed to promise liberation from analytical “written” reasoning and grant access to amass audience that had been out of reach until then?” (2009, 358). In this paper, I offer a counterpoint to Birkenmaier’s supposition by uncovering some of the most popular, though forgotten, of Robert Desnos’s contributions to the radio. I show how the interest of this surrealist poet in radio should be understood in contiguity to his work in poetry and engagement with popular culture. I demonstrate how he explores in these fields a capacity that sound, more specifically poetic voice, has to create points, or echoes that animate auditory perception and memory. These points allow the audience to hang on to and experience auditory surprises, as well as participate in cultural debates, and potential reconciliations. Borrowing a term from Marie-Claire Dumas, I call these points accrochages sonores.


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Focus | Immagini, cinema e radio