Nerve languages : the critical response to the physiological psychology of Wilhelm Wundt by Dada and Surrealism



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Scholarship on Dada and Surrealism has established that psychology was a major intellectual source for artists in both groups. However, a burgeoning amount of recent work in both the history of art and of science indicates that types of psychology other than psychoanalysis permeated the historical context of the avant-garde. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, physiological psychology, for example, was the dominant science of the body and mind, which grounded psychic phenomena in structures of conduction in the nervous system. Modern artists saw within this discourse a fascinating and new theory of experience. In my selective history of the avant-garde’s reception and response to physiological psychology, I will argue that artists worked within and partially according to the basic tenets of this discourse, but that they reshaped its superstructural projections away from formations and taxonomies of normalcy in consciousness and action.