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Related: decapitation

André Masson’s cover for the first issue of Acéphale. (1936). [Image link]


Acéphale means without a head, headless. As in the headless horsemen of the apocalypse.

Definition (1936 - 1939)

Acéphale (headless) was a splinter group from the core of the Surrealism movement in Paris.

Founded by Georges Bataille, the group was a secret society interested in instigating a new religion. Due to their secret nature, little is known about the group.

Though not central to group activities, Bataille was fascinated with human sacrifice, and planned to ritually sacrifice his lover. Though an indemnity was offered to an executioner, one was never found.

The group published five issues of a review named, Acéphale from 1936 to 1939.

They also published Encyclopaedia Da Costa (Da Costa Encyclopédique) meant to coincide with the 1947 International Surrealist Exhibition in Paris, but due to printing delays, the encyclopedia was not distributed until months after the exhibition ended. Ironically modelled after the format of a conventional encyclopedia, it lambasted social and individual conventions with an unprecidented fervor, as well as perpetrating more recondite clusters of ideas.

Perhaps its most insolent entry was the "License to Live", a faux governmental form requesting vital statistics from the bearer in order to enforce its legal fiat; the penalty for failing to keep the document "in order" was death. It is most likely another relentlessly unsparing ejaculation issued from the mind of Marcel Duchamp, typographer for the Encyclopaedia Da Costa, a gesture that in keeping with the best of Surrealism, had no obvious relationship to the art object as it is commonly known. A precursor to "License to Live" appears in an earlier note in Duchamp's Green Box, published in 1934 but written 20 years earlier, where he imagines a society in which people must pay for the air they breathe.

By the end of the century the encyclopedia fell into obscurity, partly because those who created it actively discouraged interested parties from procuring copies. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ac%C3%A9phale [Aug 2005]

Secret Society and a Publication

Acéphale: religion, sociologie, philosophie. Published from June 1936 to June 1939 (5 issues). Dir. Georges Bataille.

Acéphale was both a secret society and a publication. The magazine was published after Documents, but without most of its collaborators (only Michel Leiris continued marginal participation). Bataille's colleagues Pierre Klossowski, Roger Caillois and Jean Wahl contributed. The artist André Masson did much of the artwork.

Collège de Sociologie

The College of Sociology (Collège de Sociologie) was the theoretical counterpoint to Acéphale, and included many leading intellectuals of the day - Walter Benjamin, Jean Paulhan, Theodor Adorno, Claude Lévi-Strauss. "Acéphale" means having no head or chief; the emblem of the group was a headless male body created by Masson. Bataille explains:
"Man has escaped from his head just as the condemned man has escaped from his prison, he has found beyond himself not God, who is prohibition against crime, but a being who is unaware of prohibition."
--Dada, Surrealist and Avant-Garde Periodicals In the Eisenhower Library http://www.library.jhu.edu/rsd/rsdbios/waterman/surrealchrono.html [May 2004]

André Masson (1896 - 1987)

Under the German occupation of France during World War II, his work was condemned by the Nazis as degenerate. With the assistance of Varian Fry in Marseille, Masson escaped the Nazi regime on a ship to the French island of Martinique from where he went on to the United States. Upon arrival in New York City, U.S. customs officials inspecting Masson's luggage found a cache of his erotic drawings. Denouncing them as pornographic, they ripped them up before the artist's eyes. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Andr%E9_Masson [Jul 2005]

see also: erotic art - André Masson

Encyclopaedia Acephalica

Encyclopaedia Acephalica: Comprising the Critical Dictionary & Related Texts (Atlas Archive, 3) - Georges Bataille (Editor), Isabelle Waldberg (Contributor), Iain White (Editor) [Amazon.com] [FR] [DE] [UK]

Atlas Press UK

Designed from cover to back with many diagrams, photos, etc. this is a nice piece of book. It contains writings by Bataille that were published separately in a surrealist type group's periodical which is fantastic when put together here. From A to Z Bataille defines in a dictionary/encyclopedic type style various terms, objects, actions, and in this format really grabs a reader by his perspective and YANKS, turns ya around to see things differently than you could've ever imagined. There's much more than that though, other writing, including an introduction that mentions Bataille's attempt at creating a secret society. A great book to not just read, BUT TO OWN, whether a frequent reader of Bataille or as just a curious soul. "Acephale", by the way, means without head, and as you might know: Decapitation is really in these days so buying this Book will make you cool. --The International Rubber Chicken Society via amazon.co.uk

For those who have acquired the taste for surrealist intellectual feasts, this encyclopedia is right on target: it is no less than a cornucopia of thoughts, images, and illustrations reflecting the avant-garde "anti-tradition." Three sets of texts are translated and assembled here: the first two, Critical Dictionary and Related Texts, first appeared in issues of Documents from 1929 and 1930 and primarily were edited by George Bataille; the third, Encyclopaedia Da Costa, appeared anonymously in 1947, though Alastair Brotchie's well-documented historical introduction reveals the identity of its editors (Robert Lebel and Isabelle Waldberg). Contributors to these texts were members of the London and Paris surrealist groups as well as those of the secret society Acephale: artists, writers, sociologists, and ethnologists providing their own interpretation of the meaning of daily life, art, and philosophy. This title is a very useful compendium of surrealist thinking and provides a good introduction to the many-faceted aspects of Surrealism as a movement. Danielle Mihram, Univ. of Southern California, University Park --Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc, via amazon.com

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