Chicago Surrealism, Herbert Marcuse, and the Affirmation of the ‘Present and Future Viability of Surrealism’


  • Abigail Susik Willamette University


Starting in 1971, Chicago surrealist Franklin Rosemont began a correspondence with the Frankfurt School philosopher, Herbert Marcuse, which continued intermittently for the next eight years, until just a few months before Marcuse’s death in 1979. Herbert Marcuse wrote Franklin Rosemont approximately ten letters between 1971 and 1979, and at Franklin’s prompting, two of these contained extended remarks on the question of Surrealism’s past, present and future revolutionary potential. Although the surrealist side of this correspondence has received scant attention in secondary scholarship and remains unpublished, the full extent of this epistolary exchange poses a remarkable opportunity in which to reassess the idea of Surrealism as radical activism in the 20th century. This essay analyzes archival, oral and primary sources, offering the first detailed secondary account of the Chicago surrealist encounter and exchange with Marcuse. Supported by this research, the case is made that Marcuse’s exchange with the Chicago surrealists significantly influenced his understanding and view of Surrealism’s vital and ongoing role in the process of revolution. In turn, this essay argues that Chicago Surrealism remained deeply influenced by Marcuse’s critical theory, despite the fact of the group’s rupture in 1973, partly as a result of internal disagreements about the philosopher’s views on Surrealism.  

Author Biography

Abigail Susik, Willamette University

Abigail Susik is Associate Professor of Art History at Willamette University and the author of Surrealist Sabotage and the War on Work (forthcoming, Manchester University Press, 2021). She has published many essays devoted to surrealism and is co-editor of the volumes: Surrealism and Film After 1945: Absolutely Modern Mysteries (forthcoming, Manchester University Press, 2021); Radical Dreams: Surrealism, Counterculture, Resistance (forthcoming, Penn State University Press, 2021). She is co-curator of the 2021 exhibition Alan Glass: Surrealism’s Secret at Leeds Arts University, and she also curated a major survey of Imogen Cunningham’s photographs at the Hallie Ford Museum of Art in 2016. Susik is a founding board member of the International Study for the Society of Surrealism and co-organizer of its 2018, 2019, and 2021 conferences.