History of Literature






Andre Breton


 



Andre Breton


 


Victor Brauner
Portrait of Andre Breton
1934

 

Andre Breton

(Encyclopaedia Britannica)

born Feb. 18, 1896, Tinchebray, France
died Sept. 28, 1966, Paris


French poet, essayist, critic, and editor, chief promoter and one of the founders of the Surrealist movement.

As a medical student, Breton was interested in mental illness; his reading of the works of Sigmund Freud (whom he met in 1921) introduced him to the concept of the unconscious. Influenced by psychiatry and Symbolist poetry, he joined the Dadaists. In 1919 with Louis Aragon and Philippe Soupault, he cofounded the review Littérature; in its pages, Breton and Soupault published “Les Champs magnétiques” (1920; “Magnetic Fields”), the first example of the Surrealist technique of automatic writing. In 1924 Breton's Manifeste du surréalisme defined Surrealism as “pure psychic automatism, by which it is intended to express . . . the real process of thought. It is the dictation of thought, free from any control by the reason and of any aesthetic or moral preoccupation.” Surrealism aimed to eliminate the distinction between dream and reality, reason and madness, objectivity and subjectivity. Breton's novel Nadja (1928) merged everyday occurrences with psychological aberrations. L'Immaculée Conception (1930), written with Paul Éluard, attempted to convey a verbal impression of different types of mental disorder. Les Vases communicants (1932; “The Communicating Vessels”) and L'Amour fou (1937; “Mad Love”) explored the connection between dream and reality. Breton also wrote theoretical and critical works, including Les Pas perdus (1924; “The Lost Steps”), Légitime Défense (1926; “Legitimate Defense”), Le Surréalisme et le peinture (1926; “Surrealism and Painting”),Qu'est-ce que le sur réa lisme? (1934; What is Surrealism?), and La Clé des champs (1953; “The Key to the Fields”).

The Surrealist movement eventually became politically involved in the ferment of the 1930s, and Breton and several colleagues joined the Communist Party. His second Surrealist manifesto, published in 1930, explored the philosophical implications of Surrealism. Breton broke with the Communist Party in 1935 but remained committed to Marxist ideals. During the German occupation of France, Breton escaped to the United States. In 1942 at Yale University he organized a Surrealist exposition and issued yet another Surrealist manifesto. In 1946 Breton returned to France, where, the following year, he produced another Surrealist exhibition. His Poèmes appeared in 1948 in Paris, and Selected Poems was published in London in 1969.

 

 

Nadja

Andre Breton
1896-1966

Breton's Nadja is the most well-known and most enduring example of the "surrealist novel." This semi-autobiographical work is an account of Breton's relationship with a strange and unconventional young woman in Paris. Nadja is an enigmatic, haunting presence; she is both material and immaterial, modern and ancient,artificial and carnal, sane and mad. She is a state of mind, a projection that disrupts the structures of everyday reality, a metaphor for"the soul in limbo." Using the figure of Nadja, perhaps rather questionably, Breton channels the key elements of surrealist thought: accident, shock, desire, eroticism, magic, and radical freedom. The narrative consists of a series of chance encounters around the cit, yjumping from point to point with its own unconscious logic. Notionally a "romance," Nadja is really a meditation on surrealism as a way of life, overturning the distinctions between art and world,dream and reality.
A literary collage, the prose is supplemented by images, including sketches by Nadja herself, prints of surrealist paintings, and numerous photographs. Nadja is a rich, textured surface of ideas, a repository of what the critic Walter Benjamin calls "profane illuminations." From the mainstream to the avant-garde, and from literature to advertising, Nadja's influence continues to be felt.

 

 


Man Ray
Portrait of Andre Breton
1931



Manifesto of Surrealism

1924

 

So strong is the belief in life, in what is most fragile in life--real life, I mean--that in the end this belief is lost. Man, that inveterate dreamer, daily more discontent with his destiny, has trouble assessing the objects he has been led to use, objects that his nonchalance has brought his way, or that he has earned through his own efforts, almost always through his own efforts, for he has agreed to work, at least he has not refused to try his luck (or what he calls his luck!). At this point he feels extremely modest: he knows what women he has had, what silly affairs he has been involved in; he is unimpressed by his wealth or his poverty, in this respect he is still a newborn babe and, as for the approval of his conscience, I confess that he does very nicely without it. If he still retains a certain lucidity, all he can do is turn back toward his childhood which, however his guides and mentors may have botched it, still strikes him as somehow charming. There, the absence of any known restrictions allows him the perspective of several lives lived at once; this illusion becomes firmly rooted within him; now he is only interested in the fleeting, the extreme facility of everything. Children set off each day without a worry in the world. Everything is near at hand, the worst material conditions are fine. The woods are white or black, one will never sleep.

But it is true that we would not dare venture so far, it is not merely a question of distance. Threat is piled upon threat, one yields, abandons a portion of the terrain to be conquered. This imagination which knows no bounds is henceforth allowed to be exercised only in strict accordance with the laws of an arbitrary utility; it is incapable of assuming this inferior role for very long and, in the vicinity of the twentieth year, generally prefers to abandon man to his lusterless fate.

Though he may later try to pull himself together on occasion, having felt that he is losing by slow degrees all reason for living, incapable as he has become of being able to rise to some exceptional situation such as love, he will hardly succeed. This is because he henceforth belongs body and soul to an imperative practical necessity which demands his constant attention. None of his gestures will be expansive, none of his ideas generous or far-reaching. In his minds eye, events real or imagined will be seen only as they relate to a welter of similar events, events in which he has not participated, abortive events. What am I saying: he will judge them in relationship to one of these events whose consequences are more reassuring than the others. On no account will he view them as his salvation.

Beloved imagination, what I most like in you is your unsparing quality.

There remains madness, "the madness that one locks up," as it has aptly been described. That madness or another.... We all know, in fact, that the insane owe their incarceration to a tiny number of legally reprehensible acts and that, were it not for these acts their freedom (or what we see as their freedom) would not be threatened. I am willing to admit that they are, to some degree, victims of their imagination, in that it induces them not to pay attention to certain rules--outside of which the species feels threatened--which we are all supposed to know and respect. But their profound indifference to the way in which we judge them, and even to the various punishments meted out to them, allows us to suppose that they derive a great deal of comfort and consolation from their imagination, that they enjoy their madness sufficiently to endure the thought that its validity does not extend beyond themselves. And, indeed, hallucinations, illusions, etc., are not a source of trifling pleasure. The best controlled sensuality partakes of it, and I know that there are many evenings when I would gladly that pretty hand which, during the last pages of Taines LIntelligence, indulges in some curious misdeeds. I could spend my whole life prying loose the secrets of the insane. These people are honest to a fault, and their naiveté has no peer but my own. Christopher Columbus should have set out to discover America with a boatload of madmen. And note how this madness has taken shape, and endured.

It is not the fear of madness which will oblige us to leave the flag of imagination furled.

The case against the realistic attitude demands to be examined, following the case against the materialistic attitude. The latter, more poetic in fact than the former, admittedly implies on the part of man a kind of monstrous pride which, admittedly, is monstrous, but not a new and more complete decay. It should above all be viewed as a welcome reaction against certain ridiculous tendencies of spiritualism. Finally, it is not incompatible with a certain nobility of thought.

By contrast, the realistic attitude, inspired by positivism, from Saint Thomas Aquinas to Anatole France, clearly seems to me to be hostile to any intellectual or moral advancement. I loathe it, for it is made up of mediocrity, hate, and dull conceit. It is this attitude which today gives birth to these ridiculous books, these insulting plays. It constantly feeds on and derives strength from the newspapers and stultifies both science and art by assiduously flattering the lowest of tastes; clarity bordering on stupidity, a dogs life. The activity of the best minds feels the effects of it; the law of the lowest common denominator finally prevails upon them as it does upon the others. An amusing result of this state of affairs, in literature for example, is the generous supply of novels. Each person adds his personal little "observation" to the whole. As a cleansing antidote to all this, M. Paul Valéry recently suggested that an anthology be compiled in which the largest possible number of opening passages from novels be offered; the resulting insanity, he predicted, would be a source of considerable edification. The most famous authors would be included. Such a though reflects great credit on Paul Valéry who, some time ago, speaking of novels, assured me that, so far as he was concerned, he would continue to refrain from writing: "The Marquise went out at five." But has he kept his word?

If the purely informative style, of which the sentence just quoted is a prime example, is virtually the rule rather than the exception in the novel form, it is because, in all fairness, the authors ambition is severely circumscribed. The circumstantial, needlessly specific nature of each of their notations leads me to believe that they are perpetrating a joke at my expense. I am spared not even one of the characters slightest vacillations: will he be fairhaired? what will his name be? will we first meet him during the summer? So many questions resolved once and for all, as chance directs; the only discretionary power left me is to close the book, which I am careful to do somewhere in the vicinity of the first page. And the descriptions! There is nothing to which their vacuity can be compared; they are nothing but so many superimposed images taken from some stock catalogue, which the author utilizes more and more whenever he chooses; he seizes the opportunity to slip me his postcards, he tries to make me agree with him about the clichés:

The small room into which the young man was shown was covered with yellow wallpaper: there were geraniums in the windows, which were covered with muslin curtains; the setting sun cast a harsh light over the entire setting.... There was nothing special about the room. The furniture, of yellow wood, was all very old. A sofa with a tall back turned down, an oval table opposite the sofa, a dressing table and a mirror set against the pierglass, some chairs along the walls, two or three etchings of no value portraying some German girls with birds in their hands--such were the furnishings. (Dostoevski, Crime and Punishment)

 

I am in no mood to admit that the mind is interested in occupying itself with such matters, even fleetingly. It may be argued that this school-boy description has its place, and that at this juncture of the book the author has his reasons for burdening me. Nevertheless he is wasting his time, for I refuse to go into his room. Others laziness or fatigue does not interest me. I have too unstable a notion of the continuity of life to equate or compare my moments of depression or weakness with my best moments. When one ceases to feel, I am of the opinion one should keep quiet. And I would like it understood that I am not accusing or condemning lack of originality as such. I am only saying that I do not take particular note of the empty moments of my life, that it may be unworthy for any man to crystallize those which seem to him to be so. I shall, with your permission, ignore the description of that room, and many more like it.

Not so fast, there; Im getting into the area of psychology, a subject about which I shall be careful not to joke.

The author attacks a character and, this being settled upon, parades his hero to and fro across the world. No matter what happens, this hero, whose actions and reactions are admirably predictable, is compelled not to thwart or upset--even though he looks as though he is--the calculations of which he is the object. The currents of life can appear to lift him up, roll him over, cast him down, he will still belong to this readymade human type. A simple game of chess which doesn't interest me in the least--man, whoever he may be, being for me a mediocre opponent. What I cannot bear are those wretched discussions relative to such and such a move, since winning or losing is not in question. And if the game is not worth the candle, if objective reason does a frightful job--as indeed it does--of serving him who calls upon it, is it not fitting and proper to avoid all contact with these categories? "Diversity is so vast that every different tone of voice, every step, cough, every wipe of the nose, every sneeze...."* (Pascal.) If in a cluster of grapes there are no two alike, why do you want me to describe this grape by the other, by all the others, why do you want me to make a palatable grape? Our brains are dulled by the incurable mania of wanting to make the unknown known, classifiable. The desire for analysis wins out over the sentiments.** (Barrès, Proust.) The result is statements of undue length whose persuasive power is attributable solely to their strangeness and which impress the reader only by the abstract quality of their vocabulary, which moreover is ill-defined. If the general ideas that philosophy has thus far come up with as topics of discussion revealed by their very nature their definitive incursion into a broader or more general area. I would be the first to greet the news with joy. But up till now it has been nothing but idle repartee; the flashes of wit and other niceties vie in concealing from us the true thought in search of itself, instead of concentrating on obtaining successes. It seems to me that every act is its own justification, at least for the person who has been capable of committing it, that it is endowed with a radiant power which the slightest gloss is certain to diminish. Because of this gloss, it even in a sense ceases to happen. It gains nothing to be thus distinguished. Stendhal's heroes are subject to the comments and appraisals--appraisals which are more or less successful--made by that author, which add not one whit to their glory. Where we really find them again is at the point at which Stendahl has lost them.

 

We are still living under the reign of logic: this, of course, is what I have been driving at. But in this day and age logical methods are applicable only to solving problems of secondary interest. The absolute rationalism that is still in vogue allows us to consider only facts relating directly to our experience. Logical ends, on the contrary, escape us. It is pointless to add that experience itself has found itself increasingly circumscribed. It paces back and forth in a cage from which it is more and more difficult to make it emerge. It too leans for support on what is most immediately expedient, and it is protected by the sentinels of common sense. Under the pretense of civilization and progress, we have managed to banish from the mind everything that may rightly or wrongly be termed superstition, or fancy; forbidden is any kind of search for truth which is not in conformance with accepted practices. It was, apparently, by pure chance that a part of our mental world which we pretended not to be concerned with any longer--and, in my opinion by far the most important part--has been brought back to light. For this we must give thanks to the discoveries of Sigmund Freud. On the basis of these discoveries a current of opinion is finally forming by means of which the human explorer will be able to carry his investigation much further, authorized as he will henceforth be not to confine himself solely to the most summary realities. The imagination is perhaps on the point of reasserting itself, of reclaiming its rights. If the depths of our mind contain within it strange forces capable of augmenting those on the surface, or of waging a victorious battle against them, there is every reason to seize them--first to seize them, then, if need be, to submit them to the control of our reason. The analysts themselves have everything to gain by it. But it is worth noting that no means has been designated a priori for carrying out this undertaking, that until further notice it can be construed to be the province of poets as well as scholars, and that its success is not dependent upon the more or less capricious paths that will be followed.

 

Freud very rightly brought his critical faculties to bear upon the dream. It is, in fact, inadmissible that this considerable portion of psychic activity (since, at least from man's birth until his death, thought offers no solution of continuity, the sum of the moments of the dream, from the point of view of time, and taking into consideration only the time of pure dreaming, that is the dreams of sleep, is not inferior to the sum of the moments of reality, or, to be more precisely limiting, the moments of waking) has still today been so grossly neglected. I have always been amazed at the way an ordinary observer lends so much more credence and attaches so much more importance to waking events than to those occurring in dreams. It is because man, when he ceases to sleep, is above all the plaything of his memory, and in its normal state memory takes pleasure in weakly retracing for him the circumstances of the dream, in stripping it of any real importance, and in dismissing the only determinant from the point where he thinks he has left it a few hours before: this firm hope, this concern. He is under the impression of continuing something that is worthwhile. Thus the dream finds itself reduced to a mere parenthesis, as is the night. And, like the night, dreams generally contribute little to furthering our understanding. This curious state of affairs seems to me to call for certain reflections:
 

1) Within the limits where they operate (or are thought to operate) dreams give every evidence of being continuous and show signs of organization. Memory alone arrogates to itself the right to excerpt from dreams, to ignore the transitions, and to depict for us rather a series of dreams than the dream itself. By the same token, at any given moment we have only a distinct notion of realities, the coordination of which is a question of will.* (Account must be taken of the depth of the dream. For the most part I retain only what I can glean from its most superficial layers. What I most enjoy contemplating about a dream is everything that sinks back below the surface in a waking state, everything I have forgotten about my activities in the course of the preceding day, dark foliage, stupid branches. In "reality," likewise, I prefer to fall.) What is worth noting is that nothing allows us to presuppose a greater dissipation of the elements of which the dream is constituted. I am sorry to have to speak about it according to a formula which in principle excludes the dream. When will we have sleeping logicians, sleeping philosophers? I would like to sleep, in order to surrender myself to the dreamers, the way I surrender myself to those who read me with eyes wide open; in order to stop imposing, in this realm, the conscious rhythm of my thought. Perhaps my dream last night follows that of the night before, and will be continued the next night, with an exemplary strictness. It's quite possible, as the saying goes. And since it has not been proved in the slightest that, in doing so, the "reality" with which I am kept busy continues to exist in the state of dream, that it does not sink back down into the immemorial, why should I not grant to dreams what I occasionally refuse reality, that is, this value of certainty in itself which, in its own time, is not open to my repudiation? Why should I not expect from the sign of the dream more than I expect from a degree of consciousness which is daily more acute? Can't the dream also be used in solving the fundamental questions of life? Are these questions the same in one case as in the other and, in the dream, do these questions already exist? Is the dream any less restrictive or punitive than the rest? I am growing old and, more than that reality to which I believe I subject myself, it is perhaps the dream, the difference with which I treat the dream, which makes me grow old.

2) Let me come back again to the waking state. I have no choice but to consider it a phenomenon of interference. Not only does the mind display, in this state, a strange tendency to lose its bearings (as evidenced by the slips and mistakes the secrets of which are just beginning to be revealed to us), but, what is more, it does not appear that, when the mind is functioning normally, it really responds to anything but the suggestions which come to it from the depths of that dark night to which I commend it. However conditioned it may be, its balance is relative. It scarcely dares express itself and, if it does, it confines itself to verifying that such and such an idea, or such and such a woman, has made an impression on it. What impression it would be hard pressed to say, by which it reveals the degree of its subjectivity, and nothing more. This idea, this woman, disturb it, they tend to make it less severe. What they do is isolate the mind for a second from its solvent and spirit it to heaven, as the beautiful precipitate it can be, that it is. When all else fails, it then calls upon chance, a divinity even more obscure than the others to whom it ascribes all its aberrations. Who can say to me that the angle by which that idea which affects it is offered, that what it likes in the eye of that woman is not precisely what links it to its dream, binds it to those fundamental facts which, through its own fault, it has lost? And if things were different, what might it be capable of? I would like to provide it with the key to this corridor.

3) The mind of the man who dreams is fully satisfied by what happens to him. The agonizing question of possibility is no longer pertinent. Kill, fly faster, love to your heart's content. And if you should die, are you not certain of reawaking among the dead? Let yourself be carried along, events will not tolerate your interference. You are nameless. The ease of everything is priceless.

What reason, I ask, a reason so much vaster than the other, makes dreams seem so natural and allows me to welcome unreservedly a welter of episodes so strange that they could confound me now as I write? And yet I can believe my eyes, my ears; this great day has arrived, this beast has spoken.

If man's awaking is harder, if it breaks the spell too abruptly, it is because he has been led to make for himself too impoverished a notion of atonement.

4) From the moment when it is subjected to a methodical examination, when, by means yet to be determined, we succeed in recording the contents of dreams in their entirety (and that presupposes a discipline of memory spanning generations; but let us nonetheless begin by noting the most salient facts), when its graph will expand with unparalleled volume and regularity, we may hope that the mysteries which really are not will give way to the great Mystery. I believe in the future resolution of these two states, dream and reality, which are seemingly so contradictory, into a kind of absolute reality, a surreality, if one may so speak. It is in quest of this surreality that I am going, certain not to find it but too unmindful of my death not to calculate to some slight degree the joys of its possession.

A story is told according to which Saint-Pol-Roux, in times gone by, used to have a notice posted on the door of his manor house in Camaret, every evening before he went to sleep, which read: THE POET IS WORKING.

A great deal more could be said, but in passing I merely wanted to touch upon a subject which in itself would require a very long and much more detailed discussion; I shall come back to it. At this juncture, my intention was merely to mark a point by noting the hate of the marvelous which rages in certain men, this absurdity beneath which they try to bury it. Let us not mince words: the marvelous is always beautiful, anything marvelous is beautiful, in fact only the marvelous is beautiful.

 

 

In the realm of literature, only the marvelous is capable of fecundating works which belong to an inferior category such as the novel, and generally speaking, anything that involves storytelling. Lewis' The Monk is an admirable proof of this. It is infused throughout with the presence of the marvelous. Long before the author has freed his main characters from all temporal constraints, one feels them ready to act with an unprecedented pride. This passion for eternity with which they are constantly stirred lends an unforgettable intensity to their torments, and to mine. I mean that this book, from beginning to end, and in the purest way imaginable, exercises an exalting effect only upon that part of the mind which aspires to leave the earth and that, stripped of an insignificant part of its plot, which belongs to the period in which it was written, it constitutes a paragon of precision and innocent grandeur.* (What is admirable about the fantastic is that there is no longer anything fantastic: there is only the real.) It seems to me none better has been done, and that the character of Mathilda in particular is the most moving creation that one can credit to this figurative fashion in literature. She is less a character than a continual temptation. And if a character is not a temptation, what is he? An extreme temptation, she. In The Monk the "nothing is impossible for him who dares try" gives it its full, convincing measure. Ghosts play a logical role in the book, since the critical mind does not seize them in order to dispute them. Ambrosio's punishment is likewise treated in a legitimate manner, since it is finally accepted by the critical faculty as a natural denouement.

It may seem arbitrary on my part, when discussing the marvelous, to choose this model, from which both the Nordic literatures and Oriental literatures have borrowed time and time again, not to mention the religious literatures of every country. This is because most of the examples which these literatures could have furnished me with are tainted by puerility, for the simple reason that they are addressed to children. At an early age children are weaned on the marvelous, and later on they fail to retain a sufficient virginity of mind to thoroughly enjoy fairy tales. No matter how charming they may be, a grown man would think he were reverting to childhood by nourishing himself on fairy tales, and I am the first to admit that all such tales are not suitable for him. The fabric of adorable improbabilities must be made a trifle more subtle the older we grow, and we are still at the age of waiting for this kind of spider.... But the faculties do not change radically. Fear, the attraction of the unusual, chance, the taste for things extravagant are all devices which we can always call upon without fear of deception. There are fairy tales to be written for adults, fairy tales still almost blue.

The marvelous is not the same in every period of history: it partakes in some obscure way of a sort of general revelation only the fragments of which come down to us: they are the romantic ruins, the modern mannequin, or any other symbol capable of affecting the human sensibility for a period of time. In these areas which make us smile, there is still portrayed the incurable human restlessness, and this is why I take them into consideration and why I judge them inseparable from certain productions of genius which are, more than the others, painfully afflicted by them. They are Villon's gibbets, Racine's Greeks, Baudelaire's couches. They coincide with an eclipse of the taste I am made to endure, I whose notion of taste is the image of a big spot. Amid the bad taste of my time I strive to go further than anyone else. It would have been I, had I lived in 1820, I "the bleeding nun," I who would not have spared this cunning and banal "let us conceal" whereof the parodical Cuisin speaks, it would have been I, I who would have reveled in the enormous metaphors, as he says, all phases of the "silver disk." For today I think of a castle, half of which is not necessarily in ruins; this castle belongs to me, I picture it in a rustic setting, not far from Paris. The outbuildings are too numerous to mention, and, as for the interior, it has been frightfully restored, in such manner as to leave nothing to be desired from the viewpoint of comfort. Automobiles are parked before the door, concealed by the shade of trees. A few of my friends are living here as permanent guests: there is Louis Aragon leaving; he only has time enough to say hello; Philippe Soupault gets up with the stars, and Paul Eluard, our great Eluard, has not yet come home. There are Robert Desnos and Roger Vitrac out on the grounds poring over an ancient edict on duelling; Georges Auric, Jean Paulhan; Max Morise, who rows so well, and Benjamin Péret, busy with his equations with birds; and Joseph Delteil; and Jean Carrive; and Georges Limbour, and Georges Limbours (there is a whole hedge of Georges Limbours); and Marcel Noll; there is T. Fraenkel waving to us from his captive balloon, Georges Malkine, Antonin Artaud, Francis Gérard, Pierre Naville, J.-A. Boiffard, and after them Jacques Baron and his brother, handsome and cordial, and so many others besides, and gorgeous women, I might add. Nothing is too good for these young men, their wishes are, as to wealth, so many commands. Francis Picabia comes to pay us a call, and last week, in the hall of mirrors, we received a certain Marcel Duchamp whom we had not hitherto known. Picasso goes hunting in the neighborhood. The spirit of demoralization has elected domicile in the castle, and it is with it we have to deal every time it is a question of contact with our fellowmen, but the doors are always open, and one does not begin by "thanking" everyone, you know. Moreover, the solitude is vast, we don't often run into one another. And anyway, isn't what matters that we be the masters of ourselves, the masters of women, and of love too?

I shall be proved guilty of poetic dishonesty: everyone will go parading about saying that I live on the rue Fontaine and that he will have none of the water that flows therefrom. To be sure! But is he certain that this castle into which I cordially invite him is an image? What if this castle really existed! My guests are there to prove it does; their whim is the luminous road that leads to it. We really live by our fantasies when we give free reign to them. And how could what one might do bother the other, there, safely sheltered from the sentimental pursuit and at the trysting place of opportunities?

 

 

Man proposes and disposes. He and he alone can determine whether he is completely master of himself, that is, whether he maintains the body of his desires, daily more formidable, in a state of anarchy. Poetry teaches him to. It bears within itself the perfect compensation for the miseries we endure. It can also be an organizer, if ever, as the result of a less intimate disappointment, we contemplate taking it seriously. The time is coming when it decrees the end of money and by itself will break the bread of heaven for the earth! There will still be gatherings on the public squares, and movements you never dared hope participate in. Farewell to absurd choices, the dreams of dark abyss, rivalries, the prolonged patience, the flight of the seasons, the artificial order of ideas, the ramp of danger, time for everything! May you only take the trouble to practice poetry. Is it not incumbent upon us, who are already living off it, to try and impose what we hold to be our case for further inquiry?

It matters not whether there is a certain disproportion between this defense and the illustration that will follow it. It was a question of going back to the sources of poetic imagination and, what is more, of remaining there. Not that I pretend to have done so. It requires a great deal of fortitude to try to set up one's abode in these distant regions where everything seems at first to be so awkward and difficult, all the more so if one wants to try to take someone there. Besides, one is never sure of really being there. If one is going to all that trouble, one might as well stop off somewhere else. Be that as it may, the fact is that the way to these regions is clearly marked, and that to attain the true goal is now merely a matter of the travelers' ability to endure.

 

 

We are all more or less aware of the road traveled. I was careful to relate, in the course of a study of the case of Robert Desnos entitled ENTRÉE DES MÉDIUMS,* (See Les Pas perdus, published by N.R.F.) that I had been led to" concentrate my attention on the more or less partial sentences which, when one is quite alone and on the verge of falling asleep, become perceptible for the mind without its being possible to discover what provoked them." I had then just attempted the poetic adventure with the minimum of risks, that is, my aspirations were the same as they are today but I trusted in the slowness of formulation to keep me from useless contacts, contacts of which I completely disapproved. This attitude involved a modesty of thought certain vestiges of which I still retain. At the end of my life, I shall doubtless manage to speak with great effort the way people speak, to apologize for my voice and my few remaining gestures. The virtue of the spoken word (and the written word all the more so) seemed to me to derive from the faculty of foreshortening in a striking manner the exposition (since there was exposition) of a small number of facts, poetic or other, of which I made myself the substance. I had come to the conclusion that Rimbaud had not proceeded any differently. I was composing, with a concern for variety that deserved better, the final poems of Mont de piété, that is, I managed to extract from the blank lines of this book an incredible advantage. These lines were the closed eye to the operations of thought that I believed I was obliged to keep hidden from the reader. It was not deceit on my part, but my love of shocking the reader. I had the illusion of a possible complicity, which I had more and more difficulty giving up. I had begun to cherish words excessively for the space they allow around them, for their tangencies with countless other words which I did not utter. The poem BLACK FOREST derives precisely from this state of mind. It took me six months to write it, and you may take my word for it that I did not rest a single day. But this stemmed from the opinion I had of myself in those days, which was high, please don't judge me too harshly. I enjoy these stupid confessions. At that point cubist pseudo-poetry was trying to get a foothold, but it had emerged defenseless from Picasso's brain, and I was thought to be as dull as dishwater (and still am). I had a sneaking suspicion, moreover, that from the viewpoint of poetry I was off on the wrong road, but I hedged my bet as best I could, defying lyricism with salvos of definitions and formulas (the Dada phenomena were waiting in the wings, ready to come on stage) and pretending to search for an application of poetry to advertising (I went so far as to claim that the world would end, not with a good book but with a beautiful advertisement for heaven or for hell).

In those days, a man at least as boring as I, Pierre Reverdy, was writing:

The image is a pure creation of the mind.

It cannot be born from a comparison but from a juxtaposition of two more or less distant realities.

The more the relationship between the two juxtaposed realities is distant and true, the stronger the image will be--the greater its emotional power and poetic reality...* (Nord-Sud, March 1918)

These words, however sibylline for the uninitiated, were extremely revealing, and I pondered them for a long time. But the image eluded me. Reverdy's aesthetic, a completely a posteriori aesthetic, led me to mistake the effects for the causes. It was in the midst of all this that I renounced irrevocably my point of view.

 

 

One evening, therefore, before I fell asleep, I perceived, so clearly articulated that it was impossible to change a word, but nonetheless removed from the sound of any voice, a rather strange phrase which came to me without any apparent relationship to the events in which, my consciousness agrees, I was then involved, a phrase which seemed to me insistent, a phrase, if I may be so bold, which was knocking at the window. I took cursory note of it and prepared to move on when its organic character caught my attention. Actually, this phrase astonished me: unfortunately I cannot remember it exactly, but it was something like: "There is a man cut in two by the window," but there could be no question of ambiguity, accompanied as it was by the faint visual image* (Were I a painter, this visual depiction would doubtless have become more important for me than the other. It was most certainly my previous predispositions which decided the matter. Since that day, I have had occasion to concentrate my attention voluntarily on similar apparitions, and I know they are fully as clear as auditory phenomena. With a pencil and white sheet of paper to hand, I could easily trace their outlines. Here again it is not a matter of drawing, but simply of tracing. I could thus depict a tree, a wave, a musical instrument, all manner of things of which I am presently incapable of providing even the roughest sketch. I would plunge into it, convinced that I would find my way again, in a maze of lines which at first glance would seem to be going nowhere. And, upon opening my eyes, I would get the very strong impression of something "never seen." The proof of what I am saying has been provided many times by Robert Desnos: to be convinced, one has only to leaf through the pages of issue number 36 of Feuilles libres which contains several of his drawings (Romeo and Juliet, A Man Died This Morning, etc.) which were taken by this magazine as the drawings of a madman and published as such.) of a man walking cut half way up by a window perpendicular to the axis of his body. Beyond the slightest shadow of a doubt, what I saw was the simple reconstruction in space of a man leaning out a window. But this window having shifted with the man, I realized that I was dealing with an image of a fairly rare sort, and all I could think of was to incorporate it into my material for poetic construction. No sooner had I granted it this capacity than it was in fact succeeded by a whole series of phrases, with only brief pauses between them, which surprised me only slightly less and left me with the impression of their being so gratuitous that the control I had then exercised upon myself seemed to me illusory and all I could think of was putting an end to the interminable quarrel raging within me.* (Knut Hamsum ascribes this sort of revelation to which I had been subjected as deriving from hunger, and he may not be wrong. (The fact is I did not eat every day during that period of my life). Most certainly the manifestations that he describes in these terms are clearly the same:

"The following day I awoke at an early hour. It was still dark. My eyes had been open for a long time when I heard the clock in the apartment above strike five. I wanted to go back to sleep, but I couldn't; I was wide awake and a thousand thoughts were crowding through my mind.

"Suddenly a few good fragments came to mind, quite suitable to be used in a rough draft, or serialized; all of a sudden I found, quite by chance, beautiful phrases, phrases such as I had never written. I repeated them to myself slowly, word by word; they were excellent. And there were still more coming. I got up and picked up a pencil and some paper that were on a table behind my bed. It was as though some vein had burst within me, one word followed another, found its proper place, adapted itself to the situation, scene piled upon scene, the action unfolded, one retort after another welled up in my mind, I was enjoying myself immensely. Thoughts came to me so rapidly and continued to flow so abundantly that I lost a whole host of delicate details, because my pencil could not keep up with them, and yet I went as fast as I could, my hand in constant motion, I did not lose a minute. The sentences continued to well up within me, I was pregnant with my subject."

 

Apollinaire asserted that Chirico's first paintings were done under the influence of cenesthesic disorders (migraines, colics, etc.).)

 

Completely occupied as I still was with Freud at that time, and familiar as I was with his methods of examination which I had some slight occasion to use on some patients during the war, I resolved to obtain from myself what we were trying to obtain from them, namely, a monologue spoken as rapidly as possible without any intervention on the part of the critical faculties, a monologue consequently unencumbered by the slightest inhibition and which was, as closely as possible, akin to spoken thought. It had seemed to me, and still does--the way in which the phrase about the man cut in two had come to me is an indication of it--that the speed of thought is no greater than the speed of speech, and that thought does not necessarily defy language, nor even the fast-moving pen. It was in this frame of mind that Philippe Soupault--to whom I had confided these initial conclusions--and I decided to blacken some paper, with a praiseworthy disdain for what might result from a literary point of view. The ease of execution did the rest. By the end of the first day we were able to read to ourselves some fifty or so pages obtained in this manner, and begin to compare our results. All in all, Soupault's pages and mine proved to be remarkably similar: the same overconstruction, shortcomings of a similar nature, but also, on both our parts, the illusion of an extraordinary verve, a great deal of emotion, a considerable choice of images of a quality such that we would not have been capable of preparing a single one in longhand, a very special picturesque quality and, here and there, a strong comical effect. The only difference between our two texts seemed to me to derive essentially from our respective tempers. Soupault's being less static than mine, and, if he does not mind my offering this one slight criticism, from the fact that he had made the error of putting a few words by way of titles at the top of certain pages, I suppose in a spirit of mystification. On the other hand, I must give credit where credit is due and say that he constantly and vigorously opposed any effort to retouch or correct, however slightly, any passage of this kind which seemed to me unfortunate. In this he was, to be sure, absolutely right.* (I believe more and more in the infallibility of my thought with respect to myself, and this is too fair. Nonetheless, with this thought-writing, where one is at the mercy of the first outside distraction, "ebullutions" can occur. It would be inexcusable for us to pretend otherwise. By definition, thought is strong, and incapable of catching itself in error. The blame for these obvious weaknesses must be placed on suggestions that come to it from without.) It is, in fact, difficult to appreciate fairly the various elements present: one may even go so far as to say that it is impossible to appreciate them at a first reading. To you who write, these elements are, on the surface, as strange to you as they are to anyone else, and naturally you are wary of them. Poetically speaking, what strikes you about them above all is their extreme degree of immediate absurdity, the quality of this absurdity, upon closer scrutiny, being to give way to everything admissible, everything legitimate in the world: the disclosure of a certain number of properties and of facts no less objective, in the final analysis, than the others.

In homage to Guillaume Apollinaire, who had just died and who, on several occasions, seemed to us to have followed a discipline of this kind, without however having sacrificed to it any mediocre literary means, Soupault and I baptized the new mode of pure expression which we had at our disposal and which we wished to pass on to our friends, by the name of SURREALISM. I believe that there is no point today in dwelling any further on this word and that the meaning we gave it initially has generally prevailed over its Apollinarian sense. To be even fairer, we could probably have taken over the word SUPERNATURALISM employed by Gérard de Nerval in his dedication to the Filles de feu.* (And also by Thomas Carlyle in Sartor Resartus ([Book III] Chapter VIII, "Natural Supernaturalism"), 1833-34.) It appears, in fact, that Nerval possessed to a tee the spirit with which we claim a kinship, Apollinaire having possessed, on the contrary, naught but the letter, still imperfect, of Surrealism, having shown himself powerless to give a valid theoretical idea of it. Here are two passages by Nerval which seem to me to be extremely significant in this respect:

I am going to explain to you, my dear Dumas, the phenomenon of which you have spoken a short while ago. There are, as you know, certain storytellers who cannot invent without identifying with the characters their imagination has dreamt up. You may recall how convincingly our old friend Nodier used to tell how it had been his misfortune during the Revolution to be guillotined; one became so completely convinced of what he was saying that one began to wonder how he had managed to have his head glued back on.

...And since you have been indiscreet enough to quote one of the sonnets composed in this SUPERNATURALISTIC dream-state, as the Germans would call it, you will have to hear them all. You will find them at the end of the volume. They are hardly any more obscure than Hegel's metaphysics or Swedenborg's MEMORABILIA, and would lose their charm if they were explained, if such were possible; at least admit the worth of the expression....** (See also L'Idéoréalisme by Saint-Pol-Roux.)

 

Those who might dispute our right to employ the term SURREALISM in the very special sense that we understand it are being extremely dishonest, for there can be no doubt that this word had no currency before we came along. Therefore, I am defining it once and for all:

SURREALISM, n. Psychic automatism in its pure state, by which one proposes to express--verbally, by means of the written word, or in any other manner--the actual functioning of thought. Dictated by the thought, in the absence of any control exercised by reason, exempt from any aesthetic or moral concern.

ENCYCLOPEDIA. Philosophy. Surrealism is based on the belief in the superior reality of certain forms of previously neglected associations, in the omnipotence of dream, in the disinterested play of thought. It tends to ruin once and for all all other psychic mechanisms and to substitute itself for them in solving all the principal problems of life. The following have performed acts of ABSOLUTE SURREALISM: Messrs. Aragon, Baron, Boiffard, Breton, Carrive, Crevel, Delteil, Desnos, Eluard, Gérard, Limbour, Malkine, Morise, Naville, Noll, Péret, Picon, Soupault, Vitrac.

They seem to be, up to the present time, the only ones, and there would be no ambiguity about it were it not for the case of Isidore Ducasse, about whom I lack information. And, of course, if one is to judge them only superficially by their results, a good number of poets could pass for Surrealists, beginning with Dante and, in his finer moments, Shakespeare. In the course of the various attempts I have made to reduce what is, by breach of trust, called genius, I have found nothing which in the final analysis can be attributed to any other method than that.

Young's Nights are Surrealist from one end to the other; unfortunately it is a priest who is speaking, a bad priest no doubt, but a priest nonetheless.

Swift is Surrealist in malice,

Sade is Surrealist in sadism.

Chateaubriand is Surrealist in exoticism.

Constant is Surrealist in politics.

Hugo is Surrealist when he isn't stupid.

Desbordes-Valmore is Surrealist in love.

Bertrand is Surrealist in the past.

Rabbe is Surrealist in death.

Poe is Surrealist in adventure.

Baudelaire is Surrealist in morality.

Rimbaud is Surrealist in the way he lived, and elsewhere.

Mallarmé is Surrealist when he is confiding.

Jarry is Surrealist in absinthe.

Nouveau is Surrealist in the kiss.

Saint-Pol-Roux is Surrealist in his use of symbols.

Fargue is Surrealist in the atmosphere.

Vaché is Surrealist in me.

Reverdy is Surrealist at home.

Saint-Jean-Perse is Surrealist at a distance.

Roussel is Surrealist as a storyteller.

Etc.

I would like to stress the point: they are not always Surrealists, in that I discern in each of them a certain number of preconceived ideas to which--very naively!--they hold. They hold to them because they had not heard the Surrealist voice, the one that continues to preach on the eve of death and above the storms, because they did not want to serve simply to orchestrate the marvelous score. They were instruments too full of pride, and this is why they have not always produced a harmonious sound.* (I could say the same of a number of philosophers and painters, including, among the latter, Uccello, from painters of the past, and, in the modern era, Seurat, Gustave Moreau, Matisse (in "La Musique," for example), Derain, Picasso, (by far the most pure), Braque, Duchamp, Picabia, Chirico (so admirable for so long), Klee, Man Ray, Max Ernst, and, one so close to us, André Masson.)

But we, who have made no effort whatsoever to filter, who in our works have made ourselves into simple receptacles of so many echoes, modest recording instruments who are not mesmerized by the drawings we are making, perhaps we serve an even nobler cause. Thus do we render with integrity the "talent" which has been lent to us. You might as well speak of the talent of this platinum ruler, this mirror, this door, and of the sky, if you like.

We do not have any talent; ask Philippe Soupault:

"Anatomical products of manufacture and low-income dwellings will destroy the tallest cities."

Ask Roger Vitrac:

"No sooner had I called forth the marble-admiral than he turned on his heel like a horse which rears at the sight of the North star and showed me, in the plane of his two-pointed cocked hat, a region where I was to spend my life."

Ask Paul Eluard:

"This is an oft-told tale that I tell, a famous poem that I reread: I am leaning against a wall, with my verdant ears and my lips burned to a crisp."

Ask Max Morise:

"The bear of the caves and his friend the bittern, the vol-au-vent and his valet the wind, the Lord Chancellor with his Lady, the scarecrow for sparrows and his accomplice the sparrow, the test tube and his daughter the needle, this carnivore and his brother the carnival, the sweeper and his monocle, the Mississippi and its little dog, the coral and its jug of milk, the Miracle and its Good Lord, might just as well go and disappear from the surface of the sea."

Ask Joseph Delteil:

"Alas! I believe in the virtue of birds. And a feather is all it takes to make me die laughing."

Ask Louis Aragon:

"During a short break in the party, as the players were gathering around a bowl of flaming punch, I asked a tree if it still had its red ribbon."

And ask me, who was unable to keep myself from writing the serpentine, distracting lines of this preface.

 

Ask Robert Desnos, he who, more than any of us, has perhaps got closest to the Surrealist truth, he who, in his still unpublished works* (NOUVELLES HÉBRIDES, DÉSORDRE FORMEL, DEUIL POUR DEUIL.) and in the course of the numerous experiments he has been a party to, has fully justified the hope I placed in Surrealism and leads me to believe that a great deal more will still come of it. Desnos speaks Surrealist at will. His extraordinary agility in orally following his thought is worth as much to us as any number of splendid speeches which are lost, Desnos having better things to do than record them. He reads himself like an open book, and does nothing to retain the pages, which fly away in the windy wake of his life.  

 

 

 



Andre Breton



What is Surrealism?

 

 

At the beginning of the war of 1870 (he was to die four months later, aged twenty-four), the author of the Chants de Maldoror and of Poésies, Isidore Ducasse, better known by the name of Comte de Lautréamont, whose thought has been of the very greatest help and encouragement to myself and my friends throughout the fifteen years during which we have succeeded in carrying a common activity, made the following remark, among many others which were to electrify us fifty years later: "At the hour in which I write, new tremors are running through the intellectual atmosphere; it is only a matter of having the courage to face them.'' 1868-75: it is impossible, looking back upon the past, to perceive an epoch so poetically rich, so victorious, so revolutionary and so charged with distant meaning as that which stretches from the separate publication of the Premier Chant de Maldoror to the insertion in a letter to Ernest Delahaye of Rimbauld's last poem, Rêve, which has not so far been included in his Complete Works. It is not an idle hope to wish to see the works of Lautréamont and Rimbaud restored to their correct historical background: the coming and the immediate results of the war of 1870. Other and analogous cataclysms could not have failed to rise out of that military and social cataclysm whose final episode was to be the atrocious crushing of the Paris Commune; the last in date caught many of us at the very age when Lautréamont and Rimbaud found themselves thrown into the preceding one, and by way of revenge has had as its consequence - and this is the new and important fact - the triumph of the Bolshevik Revolution. 

 

I should say that to people socially and politically uneducated as we then were - we who, on one hand, came for the most part from the petite-bourgeoisie, and on the other, were all by vocation possessed with the desire to intervene upon the artistic plane - the days of October, which only the passing of the years and the subsequent appearance of a large number of works within the reach of all were fully to illumine, could not there and then have appeared to turn so decisive a page in history. We were, I repeat, ill-prepared and ill-informed. Above all, we were exclusively preoccupied with a campaign of systematic refusal, exasperated by the conditions under which, in such an age, we were forced to live. But our refusal did not stop there; it was insatiable and knew no bounds. Apart from the incredible stupidity of the arguments which attempted to legitimize our participation in an enterprise such as the war, whose issue left us completely indifferent, this refusal was directed - and having been brought up in such a school, we are not capable of changing so much that is no longer so directed - against the whole series of intellectual, moral and social obligations that continually and from all sides weigh down upon man and crush him.
Intellectually, it was vulgar rationalism and chop logic that more than anything else formed the causes of our horror and our destructive impulse; morally, it was all duties: religious, civic and of the family; socially, it was work (did not Rimbaud say: "Jamais je ne travaillerai, ô flots de feu!'' and also: "La main à plume vaut la main à charrue. Quel siècle à mains! Je n'aurai jamais ma main!''). The more I think about it, the more certain I become that nothing was to our minds worth saving, unless it was... unless it was, at last "l'amour la poésie,'' to take the bright and trembling title of one of Paul Eluard's books, "l'amour la poésie,'' considered as inseparable in their essence and as the sole good. Between the negation of this good, a negation brought to its climax by the war, and its full and total affirmation ("Poetry should be made by all, not one''), the field was not, to our minds, open to anything but a Revolution truly extended into all domains, improbably radical, to the highest degree impractical and tragically destroying within itself the whole time the feeling that it brought with it both of desirability and of absurdity. Many of you, no doubt, would put this down to a certain youthful exaltation and to the general savagery of the time; I must, however, insist on this attitude, common to particular men and manifesting itself at periods nearly half a century distant from one another. I should affirm that in ignorance of this attitude one can form no idea of what surrealism really stands for. This attitude alone can account, and very sufficiently at that, for all the excesses that may be attributed to us but which cannot be deplored unless one gratuitously supposes that we could have started from any other point. The ill-sounding remarks, that are imputed to us, the so-called inconsiderate attacks, the insults, the quarrels, the scandals - all things that we are so much reproached with - turned up on the same road as the surrealist poems. From the very beginning, the surrealist attitude has had that in common with Lautréamont and Rimbaud which once and for all binds our lot to theirs, and that is wartime defeatism.


I am not afraid to say that this defeatism seems to be more relevant than ever. "New tremors are running through the intellectual atmosphere; it is only a matter of having the courage to face them.'' They are, in fact, always running through the intellectual atmosphere: the problem of their propagation and interpretation remains the same and, as far as we are concerned, remains to be solved. But, paraphrasing Lautréamont, I cannot refrain from adding that at the hour in which I speak, old and mortal shivers are trying to substitute themselves for those which are the very shivers of knowledge and of life. They come to announce a frightful disease, a disease followed by the deprivation of all rights; it is only a matter of having the courage to face them also. This disease is called fascism. 

Let us be careful today not to underestimate the peril: the shadow has greatly advanced over Europe recently. Hitler, Dolfuss and Mussolini have either drowned in blood or subjected to corporal humiliation everything that formed the effort of generations straining towards a more tolerable and more worthy form of existence. In capitalist society, hypocrisy and cynicism have now lost all sense of proportion and are becoming more outrageous every day. Without making exaggerated sacrifices to humanitarianism, which always involves impossible reconciliation's and truces to the advantage of the stronger, I should say that in this atmosphere, thought cannot consider the exterior world without an immediate shudder. Everything we know about fascism shows that it is precisely the homologation of this state of affairs, aggravated to its furthest point by the lasting resignation that it seeks to obtain from those who suffer. Is not the evident role of fascism to re-establish for the time being the tottering supremacy of finance-capital? Such a role is of itself sufficient to make it worthy of all our hatred; we continue to consider this feigned resignation as one of the greatest evils that can possibly be inflicted upon beings of our kind, and those who would inflict it deserve, in our opinion, to be beaten like dogs. Yet it is impossible to conceal the fact that this immense danger is there, lurking at our doors, that it has made its appearance within our walls, and that it would be pure byzantinism to dispute too long, as in Germany, over the choice of the barrier to be set up against it, when all the while, under several aspects, it is creeping nearer and nearer to us. During the course of taking various steps with a view to contributing, in so far as I am capable, to the organization in Paris of the anti-fascist struggle, I have noticed that already a certain doubt has crept into the intellectual circles of the left as to the possibility of successfully combating fascism, a doubt which has unfortunately infected even those elements whom one might have thought it possible to rely on and who had come to the fore in this struggle. Some of them have even begun to make excuses for the loss of the battle already. Such dispositions seem to me to be so dismaying that I should not care to be speaking here without first having made clear my position in relation to them, or without anticipating a whole series of remarks that are to follow, affirming that today, more than ever before, the liberation of the mind, demands as primary
condition, in the opinion of the surrealists, the express aim of surrealism, the liberation of man, which implies that we must struggle with our fetters with all the energy of despair; that today more than ever before the surrealists entirely rely for the bringing about of the liberation of man upon the proletarian Revolution. 


I now feel free to turn to the object of this pamphlet, which is to attempt to explain what surrealism is. A certain immediate ambiguity contained in the word surrealism, is, in fact, capable of leading one to suppose that it designates I know not what transcendental attitude, while, on the contrary it expresses - and always has expressed for us - a desire to deepen the foundations of the real, to bring about an even clearer and at the same time ever more passionate consciousness of the world perceived by the senses. The whole evolution of surrealism, from its origins to the present day, which I am about to retrace, shows that our unceasing wish, growing more and more urgent from day to day, has been at all costs to avoid considering a system of thought as a refuge, to pursue our investigations with eyes wide open to their outside consequences, and to assure ourselves that the results of these investigations would be capable of facing the breath of the street. At the limits, for many years past - or more exactly, since the conclusion of what one may term the purely intuitive epoch of surrealism (1919-25) - at the limits, I say, we have attempted to present interior reality and exterior reality as two elements in process of unification, or finally becoming one. This final unification is the supreme aim of surrealism: interior reality and exterior reality being, in the present form of society, in contradiction (and in this contradiction we seethe very cause of man's unhappiness, but also the source of his movement), we have assigned to ourselves the task of confronting these two realities with one another on every possible occasion, of refusing to allow the preeminence of the one over the other, yet not of acting on the one and on the other both at once, for that would be to suppose that they are less apart from one another than they are (and I believe that those who pretend that they are acting on both simultaneously are either deceiving us or are a prey to a disquieting illusion); of acting on
these two realities not both at once, then, but one after the other, in a systematic manner, allowing us to observe their reciprocal attraction and interpenetration and to give to this interplay of forces all the extension necessary for the trend of these two adjoining realities to become one and the same thing. 




As I have just mentioned in passing, I consider that one can distinguish two epochs in the surrealist movement, of equal duration, from its origins (1919, year of the publication of Champs Magnétiques) until today; a purely intuitive epoch, and a reasoning epoch. The first can summarily be characterized by the belief expressed during this time in the all-powerfulness of thought, considered capable of freeing itself by means of its own resources. This belief witnesses to a prevailing view that I look upon today as being extremely mistaken, the view that thought is supreme over matter. The definition of surrealism that has passed into the dictionary, a definition taken from the Manifesto of 1924, takes account only of this entirely idealist disposition and (for voluntary reasons of simplification and amplification destined to influence in my mind the future of this definition) does so in terms that suggest that I deceived myself at the time in advocating the use of an automatic thought not only removed from all control exercised by the reason but also disengaged from "all aesthetic or moral preoccupations.'' It should at least have been said: conscious aesthetic or moral preoccupations. During the period under review, in the absence, of course, of all seriously discouraging exterior events, surrealist activity remained strictly confined to its first theoretical premise, continuing all the while to be the vehicle of that total "non-conformism'' which, as we have seen, was the binding feature in the coming together of those who took part in it, and the cause, during the first few years after the war, of an uninterrupted series of adhesions. No coherent political or social attitude, however, made its appearance until 1925, that is to say (and it is important to stress this), until the outbreak of the Moroccan war, which, re-arousing in us our particular hostility to the way armed conflicts affect man, abruptly placed before us the necessity of making a public protest. This protest, which, under the title La Révolution d'Abord et Toujours (October 1925), joined the name of the surrealists proper to those of thirty other intellectuals, was undoubtedly rather confused ideologically; it none the less marked the breaking away from a whole way of thinking; it none the less created a precedent that was to determine the whole future direction of the movement. Surrealist activity, faced with a brutal, revolting,
unthinkable fact, was forced to ask itself what were its proper resources and to determine their limits; it was forced to adopt a precise attitude, exterior to itself, in order to continue to face whatever exceeded these limits. Surrealist activity at this moment entered into its reasoning phase. It suddenly experienced the necessity of crossing over the gap that separates absolute idealism from dialectical materialism. This necessity made its appearance in so urgent a manner that we had to consider the problem in the clearest possible light, with the result that for some months we devoted our entire attention to the means of bringing about this change of front once and for all. If I do not today feel any retrospective embarrassment in explaining this change, that is because it seems to me quite natural that surrealist thought, before coming to rest in dialectical materialism and insisting, as today, on the supremacy of matter over mind, should have been condemned to pass, in a few years, through the whole historic development of modern thought. It came normally to Marx through Hegel, just as it came normally to Hegel through Berkeley and Hume. These latter influences offer a certain particularity in that, contrary to certain poetic influences undergone in the same way, and accommodated to those of the French materialists of the eighteenth century, they yielded a residuum of practical action. To try and hide these influences would be contrary to my desire to show that surrealism has not been drawn up as an abstract system, that is to say, safeguarded against all contradictions. It is also my desire to show how surrealist activity, driven, as I have said, to ask itself what were its proper resources, had in some way or another to reflect upon itself its realization, in 1925, of its relative insufficiency; how surrealist activity had to cease being content with the results (automatic texts, the recital of dreams, improvised speeches, spontaneous poems, drawings and actions) which it had originally planned; and how it came to consider these first results as being simply so much material, starting from which the problem of knowledge inevitably arose again under quite a new form. 




As a living movement, that is to say a movement undergoing a constant process of becoming and, what is more, solidly relying on concrete facts, surrealism has brought together and is still bringing together diverse temperaments individually obeying or resisting a variety of bents. The determinant of their enduring or short-lived adherence is not to be considered as a blind concession to an inert stock of ideas held in common, but as a continuous sequence of acts which, propelling the doer to more or less distant points, forces him for each fresh start to return to the same starting-line. These exercises not being without peril, one man may break a limb or - for which there is no precedent - his head, another may peaceably submerge himself in a quagmire or report himself dying of fatigue. Unable as yet to treat itself to an ambulance, surrealism simply leaves these individuals by the wayside. Those who continue in the ranks are aware of course of the casualties left behind them. But what of it? The essential is always to look ahead, to remain sure that one has not forfeited the burning desire for beauty, truth and justice, toilingly to go onwards towards the discovery, one by one, of fresh landscapes, and to continue doing so indefinitely and without coercion to the end, that others may afterwards travel the same spiritual road, unhindered and in all security. Penetration, to be sure, has not been as deep as one would have wished. Poetically speaking, a few wild, or shall we say charming, beasts whose cries fill the air and bar access to a domain as yet only surmised, are still far from being exorcized. But for all that, the piercing of the thicket would have proceeded less tortuously, and those who are doing the pioneering would have acquitted themselves with unabating tenacity in the service of the cause, if, between the beginning and the end of the spectacle which they provide for themselves and would be glad to provide for others, a change had not taken place. 




In 1936, more than ever before, surrealism owes it to itself to defend the postulate of the necessity of change. It is amusing, indeed, to see how the more spiteful and silly of our adversaries affect to triumph whenever they stumble on some old statement we may have made and which now sounds more or less discordantly in the midst of others intended to render comprehensible our present conduct. This insidious maneuver, which is calculated to cast a doubt on our good faith, or at least on the genuineness of our principles, can easily be defeated. The development of surrealism throughout the decade of its existence is, we take it, a function of the unrolling of historical realities as these may be speeded up between the period of relief which follows the conclusion of a peace and the fresh outbreak of war. It is also a function of the process of seeking after new values in order to confirm or invalidate existing ones. The fact that certain of the first participants in surrealist activity have thrown in the sponge and have been discarded has brought about the retiring from circulation of some ways of thinking and the putting into circulation of others in which there were implicit certain general dissents on the one hand and certain general assents on the other. Hence it is that this activity has been fashioned by the events. At the present moment, contrary to current biased rumor according to which surrealism itself is supposed, in its cruelty of disposition, to have sacrificed nearly all the blood first vivifying it, it is heartening to be able to point out that it has never ceased to avail itself of the perfect teamwork of René Crevel, Paul Eluard, Max Ernst, Benjamin Péret, Man Ray, Tristan Tzara, and the present writer, all of whom can attest that from the inception of the movement - which is also the date of our enlistment in it - until now, the initial principle of their covenant has never been violated. If there have occurred differences on some points, it was essentially within the rhythmic scope of the integral whole, in itself a least disputable element of objective value. The others, they whom we no longer meet, can they say as much? They cannot, for the simple reason that since they separated from us they have been incapable of achieving a single concerted action that had any definite form of its own, and they have confined themselves, instead, to a reaction against surrealism with the greatest wastage to themselves - a fate always overtaking those who go back on their past. The history of their apostasy and denials will ultimately be read into the great limbo of human failings, without profit to any observer - ideal yesterday, but real today - who, called upon to make a pronouncement, will decide whether they or ourselves have brought the more appreciable efforts to bear upon a rational solution of the many problems surrealism has propounded. 




Although there can be no question here of going through the history of the surrealist movement - its history has been told many a time and sometimes told fairly well; moreover, I prefer to pass on as quickly as possible to the exposition of its present attitude - I think I ought briefly to recall, for the benefit of those of you who were unaware of the fact, that there is no doubt that before the surrealist movement properly so called, there existed among the promoters of the movement and others who later rallied round it, very active, not merely dissenting but also antagonistic dispositions which, between 1915 and 1920, were willing to align themselves under the signboard of Dada. Post-war disorder, a state of mind essentially anarchic that guided that cycle's many manifestations, a deliberate refusal to judge - for lack, it was said, of criteria - the actual qualifications of individuals, and, perhaps, in the last analysis, a certain spirit of negation which was making itself conspicuous, had brought about a dissolution of the group as yet inchoate, one might say, by reason of its dispersed and heterogeneous character, a group whose germinating force has nevertheless been decisive and, by the general consent of present-day critics, has greatly influenced the course of ideas. It may be proper before passing rapidly - as I must - over this period, to apportion by far the handsomest share to Marcel Duchamp (canvases and glass objects still to be seen in New York), to Francis Picabia (reviews "291'' and "391''), Jacques Vaché (Lettres de Guerre) and Tristan Tzara (Twenty-five Poems, Dada Manifesto 1918). 

Strangely enough, it was round a discovery of language that there was seeking to organize itself in 1920 what - as yet on a basis of confidential exchange - assumed the name of surrealism, a word fallen from the lips of Apollinaire, which we had diverted from the rather general and very confusing connotation he had given it. What was at first no more than a new method of poetic writing broke away after several years from the much too general theses which had come to be expounded in the Surrealist Manifesto - Soluble Fish, 1924, the Second Manifesto adding others to them, whereby the whole was raised to a vaster ideological plane; and so there had to be revision. 


In an article, "Enter the Mediums'', published in Littérature, 1922, reprinted in Les Pas Perdus, 1924, and subsequently in the Surrealist Manifesto, I explained the circumstance that had originally put us, my friends and myself, on the track of the surrealist activity we still follow and for which we are hopeful of gaining ever more numerous new adherents in order to extend it further than we have so far succeeded in doing. It reads:  It was in 1919, in complete solitude and at the approach of sleep, that my attention was arrested by sentences more or less complete, which became perceptible to my mind without my being able to discover (even by very
meticulous analysis) any possible previous volitional effort. One evening in particular, as I was about to fall asleep, I became aware of a sentence articulated clearly to a point excluding all possibility of alteration and stripped of all quality of vocal sound; a curious sort of sentence which came to me bearing - in sober truth - not a trace of any relation whatever to any incidents I may at that time have been involved in; an insistent sentence, it seemed to me, a sentence I might say, that knocked at the window. I was prepared to pay no further attention to it when the organic character of the sentence detained me. I was really bewildered. Unfortunately, I am unable to remember the exact sentence at this distance, but it ran approximately like this: "A man is cut in half by the window.'' What made it plainer was the fact that it was accompanied by a feeble visual representation of a man in the process of walking, but cloven, at half his height, by a window perpendicular to the axis of his body. Definitely, there was the form, re-erected against space, of a man leaning out of a window. But the window following the man's locomotion, I understood that I was dealing with an image of great rarity. Instantly the idea came to me to use it as material for poetic construction. I had no sooner invested it with that quality, than it had given place to a succession of all but intermittent sentences which left me no less astonished, but in a state, I would say, of extreme detachment. 

Preoccupied as I still was at that time with Freud, and familiar with his methods of investigation, which I had practiced occasionally upon the sick during the War, I resolved to obtain from myself what one seeks to obtain from patients, namely a monologue poured out as rapidly as possible, over which the subject's critical faculty has no control - the subject himself throwing reticence to the winds - and which as much as possible represents spoken thought. It seemed and still seems to me that the speed of thought is no greater than that of words, and hence does not exceed the flow of either tongue or pen. It was in such circumstances that, together with Philippe Soupault, whom I had told about my first ideas on the subject, I began to cover sheets of paper with writing, feeling a praiseworthy contempt for whatever the literary result might be. Ease of achievement brought about the rest. By the end of the first day of the experiment we were able to read to one another about fifty pages obtained in this manner and to compare the results we had achieved. The likeness was on the whole striking. There were similar faults of construction, the same hesitant manner, and also, in both cases, an illusion of extraordinary verve, much emotion, a considerable assortment of images of a quality such as we should never have been able to obtain in the normal way of writing, a very special sense of the picturesque, and, here and there, a few pieces of out and out buffoonery. The only differences which our two texts presented appeared to me to be due essentially to our respective temperaments, Soupault's being less static than mine, and, if he will allow me to make this slight criticism, to his having scattered about at the top of certain pages - doubtlessly in a spirit of mystification - various words under the guise of titles. I must give him credit, on the other hand, for having always forcibly opposed the least correction of any passage that did not seem to me to be quite the thing. In that he was most certainly right. 


It is of course difficult in these cases to appreciate at their just value the various elements in the result obtained; one may even say that it is entirely impossible to appreciate them at a first reading. To you who may be writing them, these elements are, in appearance, as strange as to anyone else, and you are yourself naturally distrustful of them. Poetically speaking, they are distinguished chiefly by a very high degree of immediate absurdity, the peculiar quality of that absurdity being, on close examination, their yielding to whatever is most admissible and legitimate in the world: divulgation of a given number of facts and properties on the whole not less objectionable than the others.


The word "surrealism'' having thereupon become descriptive of the generalizable undertaking to which we had devoted ourselves, I thought it indispensable, in 1924, to define this word once and for all: 

SURREALISM, n. Pure psychic automatism, by which it is intended to express, verbally, in writing, or by other means, the real process of thought. Thought's dictation, in the absence of all control exercised by the reason and outside all aesthetic or moral preoccupations. 

ENCYCL. Philos. Surrealism rests in the belief in the superior reality of certain forms of association neglected heretofore; in the omnipotence of the dream and in the disinterested play of thought. It tends definitely to do away with all other psychic mechanisms and to substitute itself for them in the solution of the principal problems of life. Have professed absolute surrealism: Messrs. Aragon, Baron, Boiffard, Breton, Carrive, Crevel, Delteil, Desnos, Eluard, Gérard, Limbour, Malkine, Morise, Naville, Noll, Péret, Picon, Soupault, Vitrac. 

These till now appear to be the only ones.... Were one to consider their output only superficially, a goodly number of poets might well have passed for surrealists, beginning with Dante and Shakespeare at his best. In the course of many attempts I have made towards an analysis of what, under false pretences, is called genius, I have found nothing that could in the end be attributed to any other process than this. 

There followed an enumeration that will gain, I think, by being clearly set out thus: 

. . . Heraclitus is surrealist in dialectic. . . .
Swift is surrealist in malice.
Sade is surrealist in sadism. . . .
Baudelaire is surrealist in morals.
Rimbaud is surrealist in life and elsewhere. . . .
Carroll is surrealist in nonsense. . . .
Picasso is surrealist in cubism. . . .
Etc. 



They were not always surrealists - on this I insist - in the sense that one can disentangle in each of them a number of preconceived notions to which - very naïvely! - they clung. And they clung to them so because they had not heard the surrealist voice, the voice that exhorts on the eve of death and in the roaring storm, and because they were unwilling to dedicate themselves to the task of no more than orchestrating the score replete with marvelous things. They were proud instruments; hence the sounds they produced were not always harmonious sounds. 

We, on the contrary, who have not given ourselves to processes of filtering, who through the medium of our work have been content to be the silent receptacles of so many echoes, modest registering machines that are not
hypnotized by the pattern that they trace, we are perhaps serving a yet much nobler cause. So we honestly give back the talent lent to us. You may talk of the "talent'' of this yard of platinum, of this mirror, of this door and of this sky, if you wish. 

We have no talent. . . . 

The Manifesto also contained a certain number of practical recipes, entitled: "Secrets of the Magic Surrealist Art,'' such as the following: 

Written Surrealist Composition or First and Last Draft.



Having settled down in some spot most conducive to the mind's concentration upon itself, order writing material to be brought to you. Let your state of mind be as passive and receptive as possible. Forget your genius, talents, as well as the genius and talents of others. Repeat to yourself that literature is pretty well the sorriest road that leads to everywhere. Write quickly without any previously chosen subject, quickly enough not to dwell on, and not to be tempted to read over, what you have written. The first sentence will come of itself; and this is self-evidently true, because there is never a moment but some sentence alien to our conscious thought clamors for outward expression. It is rather difficult to speak of the sentence to follow, since it doubtless comes in for a share of our conscious activity and so the other sentences, if it is conceded that the writing of the first sentence must have involved even a minimum of consciousness. But that should in the long run matter little, because therein precisely lies the greatest interest in the surrealist exercise. Punctuation of course necessarily hinders the stream of absolute continuity which preoccupies us. But you should particularly distrust the prompting whisper. If through a fault ever so trifling there is a forewarning of silence to come, a fault let us say, of inattention, break off unhesitatingly the line that has become too lucid. After the word whose origin seems suspect you should place a letter, any letter, l for example, always the letter l, and restore the arbitrary flux by making that letter the initial of the word to follow. 

I believe that the real interest of that book - there was no lack of people who were good enough to concede interest, for which no particular credit is due to me because I have no more than given expression to sentiments shared with friends, present and former - rests only subordinately on the formula above given. It is rather confirmatory of a turn of thought which, for good or ill, is peculiarly distinctive of our time. The defense originally attempted of that turn of thought still seems valid to me in what follows: 

We still live under the reign of logic, but the methods of logic are applied nowadays only to the resolution of problems of secondary in tersest. The absolute rationalism which is still the fashion does not permit consideration of any facts but those strictly relevant to our experience. Logical ends, on the other hand, escape us. Needless to say that even experience has had limits assigned to it. It revolves in a cage from which it becomes more and more difficult to release it. Even experience is dependent on immediate utility, and common sense is its keeper. Under color of civilization, under pretext of progress, all that rightly or wrongly may be regarded as fantasy or
superstition has been banished from the mind, all uncustomary searching after truth has been proscribed. It is only by what must seem sheer luck that there has recently been brought to light an aspect of mental life - to my belief by far the most important - with which it was supposed that we no longer had any concern. All credit for these discoveries must go to Freud. Based on these discoveries a current of opinion is forming that will enable the explorer of the human mind to continue his investigations, justified as he will be in taking into account more than mere summary realities. The imagination is perhaps on the point of reclaiming its rights. If the depths of our minds harbor strange forces capable of increasing those on the surface, or of successfully contending with them, then it is all in our interest to canalize them, to canalize them first in order to submit them later, if necessary, to the control of the reason. The analysts themselves have nothing to lose by such a proceeding. But it should be observed that there are no means designed a priori for the bringing about of such an enterprise, that until the coming of the new order it might just as well be considered the affair of poets and scientists, and that its success will not depend on the more or less capricious means that will be employed. . . . 

Interesting in a different way from the future of surrealist techniques (theatrical, philosophical, scientific, critical) appears to me the application of surrealism to action. Whatever reservations I might be inclined to make with
regard to responsibility in general, I should quite particularly like to know how the first misdemeanors whose surrealist character is indubitable will be judged. When surrealist methods extend from writing to action, there will
certainly arise the need of a new morality to take the place of the current one, the cause of all our woes. 

The Manifesto of Surrealism has improved on the Rimbaud principle that the poet must turn seer. Man in general is going to be summoned to manifest through life those new sentiments which the gift of vision will so suddenly have placed within his reach. . . . 



Surrealism then was securing expression in all its purity and force. The freedom it possesses is a perfect freedom in the sense that it recognizes no limitations exterior to itself. As it was said on the cover of the first issue of La Révolution Surréaliste, "it will be necessary to draw up a new declaration of the Rights of Man.'' The concept of surreality, concerning which quarrels
have been sought with us repeatedly and which it was attempted to turn into a metaphysical or mystic rope to be placed afterwards round our necks, lends itself no longer to misconstruction, nowhere does it declare itself opposed to the need of transforming the world which henceforth will more and more definitely yield to it. 

As I said in the Manifesto:

I believe in the future transmutation of those two seemingly contradictory states, dream and reality, into a sort of absolute reality, of surreality, so to speak. I am looking forward to its consummation, certain that I shall never
share in it, but death would matter little to me could I but taste the joy it will yield ultimately. 


After years of endeavor and perplexities, when a variety of opinions had disputed amongst themselves the direction of the craft in which a number of persons of unequal ability and varying powers of resistance had originally embarked together, the surrealist idea recovered in the Second Manifesto all the brilliancy of which events had vainly conspired to despoil it. It should be
emphasized that the First Manifesto of 1924 did no more than sum up the conclusions we had drawn during what one may call the heroic epoch of surrealism, which stretches from 1919 to 1923. The concerted elaboration of the first automatic texts and our excited reading of them, the first results obtained by Max Ernst in the domain of "collage'' and of painting, the practice of surrealist "speaking'' during the hypnotic experiments introduced among us by René Crevel and repeated every evening for over a year, uncontrovertibly mark the decisive stages of surrealist exploration during this first phase. After that, up till the taking into account of the social aspect of the problem round about 1925 (though not formally sanctioned until 1930), surrealism began to find itself a prey to characteristic wranglings. These wranglings account very clearly for the expulsion orders and tickets-of-leave which, as we went along, we had to deal out to certain of our companions of the first and second hour. Some people have quite gratuitously concluded from this that we are apt to overestimate personal questions. During the last ten years, surrealism has almost unceasingly been obliged to defend itself against deviations to the right and to the left. On the one hand we have had to struggle against the will of those who would maintain surrealism on a purely speculative level and treasonably transfer it on to an artistic and literary plane (Artaud, Desnos, Ribemont-Dessaignes, Vitrac) at the cost of all the hope for subversion we have placed in it; on the other, against the will of those who would place it on a purely practical basis, available at any moment to be sacrificed to an ill-conceived political militancy (Naville, Aragon) - at the cost, this time, of what constitutes the originality and reality of its researches, at the cost of the autonomous risk that it has to run. Agitated though it was, the epoch that separates the two Manifestos was none the less a rich one, since it saw the publication of so many works in which the vital principles of surrealism were amply accounted for. . . . 



It should be pointed out that in a number of declarations in La Révolution et les Intellectuels. Que peuvent faire les surréalistes? (1926), [Pierre Naville] demonstrated the utter vanity of intellectual bickerings in the face of the human exploitation which results from the wage-earning system. These declarations gave rise amongst us to considerable anxiety and, at tempting for the first time to justify surrealism's social implications, I desired to put an end to it in Légitime Défense. This pamphlet set out to demonstrate that there is no fundamental antinomy in the basis of surrealist thought. In reality, we are faced with two problems, one of which is the problem raised, at the beginning of the twentieth century, by the discovery of the relations between the conscious and the unconscious. That was how the problem chose to present itself to us. We were the first to apply to its resolution a particular method, which we have not ceased to consider both the most suitable and the most likely to be brought to perfection; there is no reason why we should renounce it. The other problem we are faced with is that of the social action we should pursue. We consider that this action has its own method in dialectical materialism, and we can all the less afford to ignore this action since, I repeat, we hold the liberation of man to be the sine qua non condition of the liberation of the mind, and we can expect this liberation of man to result only from the proletarian Revolution. These two problems are essentially distinct and we deplore their becoming confused by not remaining so. There is good reason, then, to take up a stand against all attempts to weld them together and, more especially, against the urge to abandon all such researches as ours in order to devote ourselves to the poetry and art of propaganda. Surrealism, which has been the object of brutal and repeated summonses in this respect, now feels the need of making some kind of counter-attack. Let me recall the fact that its very definition holds that it must escape, in its written manifestations, or any others, from all control exercised by the reason. Apart from the puerility of wishing to bring a supposedly Marxist control to bear on the immediate aspect of such manifestations, this control cannot be envisaged in principle. And how ill-boding does this distrust seem, coming as it does from men who declare themselves Marxists, that is to say possessed not only of a strict line in revolutionary matters, but also of a marvelously open mind and an insatiable curiosity! 

This brings us to the eve of the Second Manifesto. These objections had to be put an end to, and for that purpose it was indispensable that we should proceed to liquidate certain individualist elements amongst us, more or less openly hostile to one another, whose intentions did not, in the final analysis, appear as irreproachable, nor their motives as disinterested, as might have
been desired. An important part of the work was devoted to a statement of the reasons which moved surrealism to dispense for the future with certain collaborators. It was attempted, on the same occasion, to complete the specific method of creation proposed six years earlier, and thoroughly to tidy up surrealist ideas. . . . 



From 1930 until today the history of surrealism is that of successful efforts to restore to it its proper becoming by gradually removing from it every trace both of political opportunism and of artistic opportunism. The review La Révolution Surréaliste, (12 issues) has been succeeded by another, Le Surréalisme au Service de la Révolution (6 issues). Owing particularly to influences brought to bear by new elements, surrealist experimenting. which had for too long been erratic, has been unreservedly resumed; its perspectives and its aims have been made perfectly clear; I may say that it has not ceased to be carried on in a continuous and enthusiastic manner. This experimenting has regained momentum under the master-impulse given to it by Salvador Dali, whose exceptional interior "boiling'' has been for surrealism, during the whole of this period, an invaluable ferment. As Guy Mangeot has very rightly pointed out in his History of Surrealism . . . Dali has endowed surrealism with an instrument of primary importance, in particular the paranoiac-critical method, which has immediately shown itself capable of being applied with equal success to painting, poetry, the cinema, to the construction of typical surrealist objects, to fashions, to sculpture and even, if necessary, to all manner of exegesis. 



He first announced his convictions to us in La Femme Visible (1930): 

I believe the moment is at hand when, by a paranoiac and active advance of the mind, it will be possible (simultaneously with automatism and other passive states) to systematize confusion and thus to help to discredit
completely the world of reality. 

In order to cut short all possible misunderstandings, it should perhaps be said: "immediate'' reality. 

Paranoia uses the external world in order to assert its dominating idea and has the disturbing characteristic of making others accept this idea's reality. The reality of the external world is used for illustration and proof, and so
comes to serve the reality of our mind.

Surrealism, starting fifteen years ago with a discovery that seemed only to involve poetic language, has spread like wildfire, on pursuing its course, not only in art but in life. It has provoked new states of consciousness and overthrown the walls beyond which it was immemorially supposed to be impossible to see; it has - as is being more and more generally recognized - modified the sensibility, and taken a decisive step towards the unification of the personality, which it found threatened by an ever more profound dissociation. Without attempting to judge what direction it will ultimately take, for the lands it fertilizes as it flows are those of surprise itself, I should like to draw your attention to the fact that its most recent advance is producing a fundamental crisis of the "object.'' It is essentially upon the object that surrealism has thrown most light in recent years. Only the very close examination of the many recent speculations to which the object has publicly given rise (the enteric object, the object functioning symbolically, the real and virtual object, the moving but silent object, the phantom object, the discovered object, etc.), can give one a proper grasp of the experiments that surrealism is engaged in now. In order to continue to understand the movement, it is indispensable to focus one's attention on this point. 


I must crave your indulgence for speaking so technically, from the inside. But there could be no question of concealing any aspect of the persuasions to which surrealism has been and is still exposed. I say that there exists a lyrical element that conditions for one part the psychological and moral structure of human society, that has conditioned it at all times and that will
continue to condition it. This lyrical element has until now, even though in spite of them, remained the fact and the sole fact of specialists. In the state of extreme tension to which class antagonisms have led the society to which we belong and which we tend with all our strength to reject, it is natural and it is fated that this solicitation should continue, that it should assume for us a thousand faces, imploring, tempting and eager by turns. It is not within our power, it would be unworthy of our historic role to give way to this solicitation. By surrealism we intend to account for nothing less than the manner in which it is possible today to make use of the magnificent and overwhelming spiritual legacy that has been handed down to us. We have accepted this legacy from the past, and surrealism can well say that the use to which it has been put has been to turn it to the routing of capitalist society. I consider that for that purpose it was and is still necessary for us to stand where we are, to beware against breaking the thread of our researches and to continue these researches, not as literary men and artists, certainly, but rather as chemists and the various other kinds of technicians. To pass on to the poetry and art called (doubtless in anticipation) proletarian: No. The forces we have been able to bring together and which for fifteen years we have never found lacking, have arrived at a particular point of application: the question is not to know whether this point of application is the best, but simply to point out that the application of our forces at this point has given us up to an activity that has proved itself valuable and fruitful on the plane on which it was undertaken and has also been of a kind to engage us more and more on the revolutionary plane. What it is essential to realize is that no other activity could have produced such rich results, nor could any other similar activity have been so effective in combating the present form of society. On that point we have history on our side. 


A comrade, Claude Cahun, in a striking pamphlet published recently: Les Paris Sont Ouverts, a pamphlet that attempts to predict the future of poetry by taking account both of its own laws and of the social bases of its existence, takes Aragon to task for the lack of rigor in his present position (I do not think anyone can contest the fact that Aragon's poetry has perceptibly weakened since he abandoned surrealism and undertook to place him self directly at the service of the proletarian cause, which leads one to suppose that such an undertaking has defeated him and is proportionately more or less unfavorable to the Revolution).... It is of particular interest that the author of Les Paris Sont Ouverts has taken the opportunity of expressing himself from the "historic'' point of view. His appreciation is as follows: 

The most revolutionary experiment in poetry under the capitalist regime having been incontestably, for France and perhaps for Europe the Dadaist-surrealist experiment, in that it has tended to destroy all the myths about art that for centuries have permitted the ideologic as well as economic exploitation of painting, sculpture, literature, etc. (e.g. the frottages of Max Ernst, which, among other things, have been able to upset the scale of values of art-critics and experts, values based chiefly on technical perfection, personal touch and the lastingness of the materials employed), this experiment can and should serve the cause of the liberation of the proletariat. It is only when the proletariat has become aware of the myths on which capitalist culture depends, when they have become aware of what these myths and this culture mean for them and have destroyed them, that they will be able to pass on to their own proper development. The positive lesson of this negating experiment, that is to say its transfusion among the proletariat, constitutes the only valid revolutionary poetic propaganda.


Surrealism could not ask for anything better. Once the cause of the movement is understood, there is perhaps some hope that, on the plane of revolutionary militantism proper, our turbulence, our small capacity for adaptation, until now, to the necessary rules of a party (which certain people have thought proper to call our "blanquism''), may be excused us. It is only too certain that an activity such as ours, owing to its particularization, cannot be pursued within the limits of any one of the existing revolutionary organizations: it would be forced to come to a halt on the very threshold of that organization. If we are agreed that such an activity has above all tended to detach the intellectual creator from the illusions with which bourgeois society has sought to surround him, I for my part can only see in that tendency a further reason for continuing our activity.

None the less, the right that we demand and our desire to make use of it depend, as I said at the beginning, on our remaining able to continue our investigations without having to reckon, as for the last few months we have had to do, with a sudden attack from the forces of criminal imbecility. Let it be clearly understood that for us, surrealists, the interests of thought can not cease to go hand in hand with the interests of the working class, and that all attacks on liberty, all fetters on the emancipation of the working class and all armed attacks on it cannot fail to be considered by us as attacks on thought likewise. I repeat, the danger is far from having been removed. The surrealists cannot be accused of having been slow to recognize the fact, since, on the very next day after the first fascist coup in France, it was they amongst the intellectual circles who had the honor of taking the initiative in sending out an Appel à la lutte, which appeared on February 10th, 1934, furnished with twenty-four signatures. You may rest assured, comrades, that they will not confine themselves, that already they have not confined themselves, to this single act.

   
 


Last issue  of La Révolution  Surréaliste
1929

   
 


Second  Manifesto  of Surrealism



(1929)

 

We combat, in whatever form they may appear, poetic indifference, the distraction of art, scholarly research, pure speculation; we want nothing whatever to do with those, either large or small, who use their minds as they would a savings bank. All the forsaken acquaintances, all the abdications, all the betrayals in the book will not prevent us from putting an end to this damn nonsense. It is noteworthy, moreover, that when they are left to their own devices, and to nothing else, the people who one day made it necessary for us to do without them have straightway lost their footing, have been immediately forced to resort to the most miserable expedients in order to reingratiate themselves with the defenders of law and order, all proud partisans of leveling via the head. This is because unflagging fidelity to the commitments of Surreal-ism presupposes a disinterestedness, a contempt for risk, a refusal to compromise, of which very few men prove, in the long run, to be capable. Were there to remain not a single one, from among all those who were the first to measure by its standards their chance for significance and their desire for truth, yet would Surrealism continue to live. In any event, it is too late for the seed not to sprout and grow in infinite abundance in the human field, with fear and the other varieties of weeds that must prevail over all. This is in fact why I had promised myself, as the preface for the new edition of the Manifesto of Surrealism (1929) indicates, to abandon silently to their sad fate a certain number of individuals who, in my opinion, had given themselves enough credit: this was the case for Messrs. Artaud, Carrive, Delteil, Gérard, Limbour, Masson, Soupault, and Vitrac, cited in the Manifesto (1924), and for several others since. The first of these gentlemen having been so brazen as to complain about it, I have decided to reconsider my intentions on this subject:

"There is," writes M. Artaud to the Intransigeant, on September 1o, 1929, "there is in the article about the Manifesto of Surrealism which appeared in l'Intran last August 24, a sentence which awakens too many things: 'M. Breton has not judged it necessary to make any corrections —especially of names—in this new edition of his work, and this is all to his credit, but the rectifications are made by themselves.' " That M. Breton calls upon honor to judge a certain number of people to whom the above-named rec­tifications apply is a matter involving a sectarian morality with which only a literary minority was hitherto infected. But we must leave to the Surrealists these games of little papers. Moreover, anyone who was involved in the affair of The Dream a year ago is hardly in a position to talk about honor.

Far be it from me to debate with the signatory of this letter the very precise meaning I understand by the term "honor." That an actor, looking for lucre and notoriety, undertakes to stage a sumptuous production of a play by one Strindberg to which he himself attaches not thhe slightest importance, would of course be neither here nor there to me were it not for the fact that this actor had upon oc­casion claimed to be a man of thought, of anger, of blood, were he not the same person who, in certain pages of La Révolution surréaliste, burned, if we can believe his words, to burn everything, who claimed that he expected nothing save from "this cry of the mind which turns back toward itself fully determined desperately to break its restraining bonds." Alas! that was for him a role, like any other; he was "staging" Strindberg's The Dream, having heard that the Swedish ambassador would pay (M. Artaud knows that I can prove what I say), and it cannot escape him that that is a judgment of the moral value of his undertaking; but never mind. It is M. Artaud, whom I will always see in my mind's eye flanked by two cops, at the door of the Alfred Jarry Theatre, sicking twenty others on the only friends he admitted having as lately as the night before, having previously negotiated their arrests at the commis­sariat, it is M. Artaud, naturally, who finds me out of place speaking of honor.

Aragon and I were able to note, by the reception given our critical collaboration in the special number of Varietés, "Le Surréalisme en 1929," that the lack of inhi­bition that we feel in appraising, from day to day, the de­gree of moral qualification of various people, the ease with which Surrealism, at the first sign of compromise, prides itself in bidding a fond farewell to this person or that, is less than ever to the liking of a few journalistic jerks, for whom the dignity of man is at the very most a subject for derisive laughter. Has it really ever occurred to anyone to ask as much of people in the domain—aside from a few romantic exceptions, suicides and others—here­tofore the least closely watched! Why should we go on playing the role of those who are fed up and disgusted? A policeman, a few gay dogs, two or three pen pimps, several mentally unbalanced persons, a cretin, to whose number no one would mind our adding a few sensible, stable, and upright souls who could be termed energumens: is this not the making of an amusing, innocuous team, a faithful replica of life, a team of men paid piecework, winning on points?

SHIT.»







 



Andre Breton


As soon as Andre Breton moved in 1922 into the studio, in the Rue Fontaine in Paris, which he made into a holy place of surrealism, he set about turning the studies of the group towards 'automatic writing', a method which he and Soupault had used in 1920 to compose Les Champs magnetiques. Automatic writing consisted of writing down as rapidly as possible, without revision or control by reason, everything that passed through the mind when the writer had been able to detach himself sufficiently from the world outside. This exercise was intended to lay bare the 'mental matter' which is common to all men, and to separate it from thought, which is only one of its manifestations.

When Breton was a medical student at the Centre Neurologique in Nantes, he had become interested in possible methods of regenerating psychology on the basis of data provided by psychiatry. It was his ambition to make poetic language into an exploration of the unconscious. In this he based himself on the ideas of Sigmund Freud, who was at that time not appreciated in France, but whom Breton admired enough to visit him in Vienna in 1921. Pie also sought the views of scientists such as Th. Flournoy and Charles Richet, who had made studies of hypnosis and mediumship. In the 'sleep period' which was started at Breton's apartment at the suggestion of Rene Crevel, transcripts were made of what trance subjects said. The drawings of Robert Desnos, the hero of this period, show that the possibility of applying the techniques of automatic writing to painting was also envisaged at this time. Experiments of this kind produced a kind of almost intoxicated exhilaration and nervous exhaustion, as is borne out by Aragon's little book Une Vague de reves (1924).

Breton sets out the contents of these sessions in his Entree des mediums, in which he defines what he means by surrealism : 'a kind of psychic automatism which corresponds very closely to a dream state, which today is very difficult to delimit'. So the term which Guillaume Apollinaire had used in the sense of 'lyrical fantasy', when he described his Les Mamelles de Tiresias as a 'surrealist drama', now took on a new and strictly experimental meaning.
 

 

 


 

 

Breton's Surrealist Manifesto, Manifeste du surrealisme (1924), in noble and impassioned language, opened the indictment of the realist attitude in life and in literature. He struck up an enthusiastic hymn to imagination, the fountain where men could find eternal youth, and denounced adults for having let the passage of time rob them of a child's faculty of playfulness : 'Perhaps childhood is the nearest state to true life; childhood, beyond which, apart from his laissez-passer, man has only a few complimentary tickets'. Breton indicated that the aim of the movement was 'the marvellous', and preferably the marvellous in modern life, inspired by the symbolism of dreams, whose latent content was revealed by psychoanalysis. Surrealism was against the world of appearances, but it was not enough merely to reject it, with whatever brilliance. This world must be replaced by the world of apparition. He prayed for fairy enchantment. 'However delightful they may be, man would think it beneath him to draw all his nourishment from fairy tales, and I agree that not all of them are suitable for his age. But man's faculties do not undergo a radical change. Appeals to fear, the attraction of the unknown, chance, fondness for luxury, are appeals which will never be made in vain.'

Breton wanted surrealist paintings to give form to humanity's most secret longings : 'The fauna and the flora of surrealism are shameful and cannot be confessed to.' And he wanted the surrealist artists to eschew all pretensions to talent or style, and to behave as 'modest recording devices' who will not be hypnotized by the drawing they are making. He defined surrealism as the spontaneous exploitation of 'pure psychic automatism', allowing the production of an abundance of unexpected images. He stressed the intoxication which was produced by automatic writing, and said : 'Surrealism is a new vice, which, it seems to me, should not be the prerogative of only a few men.' (Later Aragon was to be more precise : 'The vice of surrealism is the uncontrolled and impassioned use of the drug image.') There was no question of replacing reality by a fantastic universe. The aim was to reconcile reality with the illogical processes which arise in ecstatic states or in dreams, with the aim of creating a super-reality. Surrealism cannot accurately be described as fantasy, but as a superior reality, in which all the contradictions which afflict humanity are resolved as in a dream.

 

The generosity and lyricism which bubbled over in Breton's message, and his impetuous, brilliant insolence, were sure to win over many minds. Yet the Manifeste led to a temporary break with Picabia, who, ever faithful to his maverick course, still believed that Dada would be resurrected, and scoffed at the new movement in 391: 'There is only one movement, and that is perpetual motion'. He invented 'instantaneism' as a game, and when he wrote the libretto of Relache in that same year, he baptized it an 'instantaneist ballet'. Shortly afterwards, Picabia retired to the Chateau de Mai, built to his own design in Mougins, near Cannes. There he led a bustling life between his yacht, his racing cars, the galas and competitions which he presided over, and the festivities he organized for the town of Cannes. He no longer took any decisive part in surrealism, but he remained in association with the movement because of his impulsive friendships, and of the development of his painting, which was moving into 'the so-called 'Monster' period.

The poets and painters who gathered under the black banner of surrealism claimed to be 'specialists in revolution'. They banded together to protest against intellectual privilege and intellectual malpractice. They affirmed the rights of the dream, of love, of awareness, and they joined in encouraging the mind to be open to wild encounters and to the surprises afforded by chance. From this time on they justified their wilful embracing of the scandalous by their anxiety to denounce the obstacles which prevent life from being a poetic adventure. Instead of jeering at the public, they sought its collaboration. A 'Bureau of Surrealist Enquiries' was opened in the Rue de Crenelle on 11 October 1924. Here, where a dress-shop dummy dangled from the ceiling, the public at large was invited to bring along accounts of dreams or of coincidences, ideas on fashion or politics, or inventions, so as to contribute to the 'formation of genuine surrealist archives'. Antonin Artaud took on the direction of the bureau and inspired it with his own nervous fire. 'We need disturbed followers more than we need active followers.'

 

La Revolittion surrealiste, 'the most scandalous periodical in the world', was founded in December 1924. The tone of its famous surveys ('Is suicide a solution ?'; 'What kind of hope do you put in love?' etc.) forced its readers to express a sensibility which went far beyond the normal cliches. Writing, painting and sculpture became aspects of one single activity - that of calling existence into question. The 'Declaration of 27 January 1925' laid down the statute. 'Surrealism is not a new or easier means of expression, nor is it a metaphysic of poetry; it is a means toward the total liberation of the mind and of everything that resembles it... We have no intention of changing men's habits, but we have hopes of proving to them how fragile their thoughts are, and on what unstable foundations, over what cellars they have erected their unsteady houses.' The twenty-six signatories included three painters, the first, chronologically, to join the movement : Max Ernst, Georges Malkine and Andre Masson.

 

The group's ideal was to share genius in common, without any loss of individuality. This was the reason underlying the surrealist games, which were not mere entertainments. When the friends met in each other's apartments they felt the brotherhood of their imaginations. The Game of the Analogical Portrait, the Truth Game, the When and If Game, and the Game of Exquisite Corpse, were methods devised to extract marvels from everyday reality. The most popular game was Exquisite Corpse (le Cadavre exquis), in which a sentence or a drawing was made up by several people working in turn, none of them being allowed to see any of the previous contributions. La Revolution surrealiste published many results of this poetry of chance : 'The winged vapour seduces the locked bird'; 'The strike of the stars corrects the house without sugar'. Paul Eluard, in Donner a Voir, stressed the ritual nature or these sessions. 'Several of us would often meet to string words together or to draw a figure fragment by fragment. How many evenings we spent in the loving creation of a whole race of Exquisite Corpses. It was up to every player to find more charm, more unity, more daring in this collectively determined poetry. No more anxiety, no more memory of misery, no more tedium, no more stale habit. We gambled with images, and there were no losers. Each of us wanted his neighbour to win more and more, so that he could pass it on to his neighbour'. When he recalled the Definition Game in his L'Amour fou (1937), Andre Breton spoke of it as 'the most fabulous source of unhndable images', that is, images which resulted from unforeseen associations of forms or themes, and which the surrealist artists kept in mind in their works. However, right from the first issues of La Revolution surrealiste, two authors bluntly put the question as to whether there was such a thing as surrealist painting. In an article entitled 'Les Yeux enchantes' ('Enchanted Eyes'), Max Morise (1900-1973) stressed the difficulties which painters had to face when they tried to accomplish the equivalent of automatic writing in their pictures. He doubted whether they could ever keep up with the speed of ideas and the succession of images with the same intensity as poets could keep up with the flood of words.
 

Le cadavre exquis

Exquisite corpse (also known as "exquisite cadaver" or "rotating corpse") is a method by which a collection of words or images are collectively assembled, the result being known as the exquisite corpse or cadavre exquis in French. 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 technique was invented by Surrealists in 1925, and is similar to an old parlour 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.

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. It has also been played by mailing a drawing or collage — in progressive stages of completion — to the players, and this variation is known as "exquisite corpse by airmail", or "mail art," depending on whether the game travels by airmail or not.

The name is derived from a phrase that resulted when Surrealists first played the game, "Le cadavre exquis boira le vin nouveau." ("The exquisite corpse will drink the new wine."

 

 
 


Andre Breton, Yves Tanguy, M.Duchamp, Max Morise,
Cadavre Exquis, Man Ray, Yves Tanguy, Joan Miro, Max Morise.
1926


Andre Breton, Victor Brauner, Cadavre Exquis, Jacques Herold, Jeannette Tanguy and Yves Tanguy.
Figure
, 1934.

 


Andre Breton
Cadavre exquis, 1930


Andre Breton
Cover of Littarature, 1922

 


Andre Breton, Yves Tanguy, Jacqueline Lamba
Exquisite Corpse, 1938

 


Andre Breton, Cadavre Exquis, Valentine Hugo, Greta Knutson and Tristan Tzara.
Landscape
, 1933.
 

 

 


Andre Breton, Cadavre Exquis, Max Morise, Pierre Naville, Benjamin Peret, Jacques Prévert, Jeannette Tanguy and Yves Tanguy.
Figure
, 1928
.

 


Andre Breton
Le Declin de la societe bourgeoisieabout, 1935

 


Andre Breton
Poem-Object, 1935

 

 


Andre Breton
 Poeme-Objet from VVV Portfolio
1942

 


Andre Breton
Untitled, 1935

 


Andre Breton
Poem-Object
1941



Le "Mur Breton"

Assemblage
1922-1966

 


Andre Breton


Andre Breton’s Pompidou-reconstituted wall—le "Mur Breton"

 

 

 


 

 


 


 

 


 

 


 

 

 

 
     
         
 

Discuss Art

Please note: site admin does not answer any questions. This is our readers discussion only.

 
| privacy