Exquisite Corpse

exquisite corpse

Exquisite 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’) or by being allowed to see the end of what the previous person contributed. The name is derived from a phrase that resulted when the game was first played, ‘Le cadavre exquis boira le vin nouveau.’ (‘The exquisite corpse will drink the new wine.’) The technique was invented by Surrealists and is similar to an old parlor 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.

Surrealist 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.

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