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||André Breton (1896-1966)|
French poet, essayist, critic, and editor, chief promoter and one of the founders of Surrealist movement with Paul Eluard, Luis Buñuel, and Salvador Dali among others. Breton's manifestoes of Surrealism are the most important theoretical statements of the movement.
Ma Femme à la chevelure de feu de bois
André Breton was born in Tinchebray (Orne), the son of a shopkeeper. He spent his childhood on the Brittany coast and started early on to write poems – he knew the poet Paul Valéry while still young. Breton studied medicine and later psychiatry, and in 1921 met Freud in Vienna. He never qualified but during World War I he served in the neurological ward in Nantes and made some attempts to use Freudian methods to psychoanalyze his patients, whose disturbed images he considered remarkable. Among Breton's friends was Jacques Vaché, a wounded, rebellious soldier, who declared art to be nonsense. Vaché died of an opium overdose in 1919 in a hotel room with another young man. His ideas, expressed in Lettres de guerre (1919), continued their life in the Dadaist movement.
joined first in 1916 the Dadaist group, but after
various quarrels continued his march forward and declared in his essay
'Lâchez tout' (1922): "Leave everything. Leave
Dada. Leave your wife, leave your mistress. Leave your hopes and fears.
Drop your kids in the middle of nowhere. Leave the substance for the
Leave behind, if need be, your comfortable and promising future. Take
to the highways." (The Ghosts of the Avant-Garde(s): Exorcising Experimental Theater and and Performance by James M. Harding, 2013, pp. 54-55) He turned then to Surrealism and cofounded with Louis
Aragon and Philippe Soupault the review Littérature. Very
important for his literary work were his wartime meetings with
Manifeste du surréalisme came
out in 1924. Influenced by psychological theories, Breton defined
Surrealism as "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 thought,
in the absence of any control exercised by reason, exempt from any
aesthetic or moral concern. (Manifestoes of Surrealism by André Breton, translated by Richard Seaver and Helen R. Lane, 2007, p. 26) In
the Second manifeste du surréalisme
Breton again the justified the existence of the movement:
"Everything suggest that there exists a certain point of the mind at
which life and death, the real and the imaginary, the past and the
future, the communicable and the incommunicable, the heights and the
depths cease to be perceived contradictorily. Now it is in vain that
one would seek any other motive for surrealist activity than the hope
of determining this point. . . ." (The History of Surrealism by Maurice Nadeau, 1978, p. 174) Basically Breton hoped that the publication of the book would mean a new departure for Surrealism.
Breton and his colleagues believed that the springs of personal freedom and social liberation lay in the unconscious mind. They found examples from the works of such painters as Hieronymus Bosch and James Ensor and from the writings of Charles Baudelaire, Arthur Rimbaud, Alfred Jarry – and from the revolutionary thinking of Karl Marx. The Surrealist movement was from the beginning in a constant state of change or conflict, but its major periodicals, La Révolution surréaliste (1924-30) and Le Surréalisme au service de la révolution (1930-33), channeled cooperation and also spread ideas beyond France.
In the 1930s Breton published several collection of poems,
including Mad Love (1937), a defence of an "irrational"
emotion of lovers, which used the Cinderella myth. Humor was an
essential part of the Surrealists' activities and Breton also edited in
1937 an anthology on l'humour noir,
which featured such writers
as Swift, Kafka, Rimbaud, Poe, Lewis Carroll, and Baudelaire. "When it
comes to black humor, everything designates him as the true initiator,"
Breton wrote on Swift. "Swift's incontestable originality, the perfect
unity of his production viewed from the angle of the very special and
almost unprecedented emotion it elicts, the unsurpassable character,
from this same viewpoint, of his many varied successes historically
justify his being presented as the first black humorist." (Anthology of Black Humor by André Breton, translated from the French and with an Introduction by Mark Polizzotti, 1997, p. 3)
Generally speaking, Breton's prose has been more highly rated than his
poetry. Among his masterworks from the 1920s is Nadja (1928), a portrait of Breton
and a patient of Pierre Janet. The title refers to the
name of this woman and the beginning of the Russian word for hope.
Breton's first-person narrative is supplemented by forty-four
photographs of places and objects which inspire the author or are
connected to Nadja.
In Les Vases
communicants (1932, Communicating Vessels) Breton explored
the problems of everyday experience, dreams, and their relationship to
intellect. "Anyone who has ever found himself in love has only been
able to deplore the conspiracy of silence and of night which comes in
the dream to surround the beloved being, even while the spirit of the
sleeper is totally occupied with insignificant tasks", he wrote. "How
can we retain from waking life what deserves to be retained, even if it
is just so as not to be unworthy of what is best in this life itself?" (Communicating Vessels by André Breton, translated by Mary Ann Caws & Geoffrey T. Harris, 1990, p. 5)
From 1927 to 1935 Breton was a member of the French Communist
Party. Although he broke with the party in disgust with Stalinism and
the Moscow show trials, he remained committed to Marxism. In his
critique of the Surrealists in 1933, Ilya Ehrenburg called them
deviants, pederasts and onanists (among other things). As a result,
Breton slapped Ehrenburg in the 1935 Paris Congress on Franco-Soviet
cultural ties. In Nadja
Breton said that subjectivity and objectivity commit a series of
assaults on each other over a lifetime, with subjectivity coming off
worst." (Dickens and Benjamin: Moments of Revelation, Fragments of Modernity by Gillian Piggott, 2016, p. 92)
While in Mexico on a lecture tour with Jacqueline Lamba,
Breton socialized with Leon Trotsky, Diego Rivera, and Frida Kahlo.
With Leon Trotsky he founded
the Fédération de l'Art Revolutionnaire Independant, and produced a
paper on the civil liberties of an artist. Manifesto: Towards A Free Revolutionary Art
was first published in in French in July 1938; the Spanish, English,
and Russian translations came out in the same year. Though Breton had
different opinions with Trotsky about art, he followed the thoughts of
the Russian revolutionary in the writing of the Manifesto and ignored
his flirtantions with his wife. At a picnic into the Mexican
countryside Breton stole some votive paintings from a local church.
Kahlo was bored with Breton's endless theorizing.
When the Nazis occupied France, Breton fled to the United States with Marcel Duchamp and Max Ernst. He held there a broadcasting job and arranged a surrealist exposition at Yale in 1942. On a boat ride to Martinique in 1941 Breton met the anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss and discussed with him artistic creation. Lévi-Strauss pointed out that Breton's definition of a work of art as the spontaneous activity of the mind opens the question of the aesthetic value of the work. Breton answered that he is "hardly interested in establishing a hierarchy of surrealist works (contrary to Aragon who once said: "If you write dreadful rubbish in an authentically surrealistic manner, it is still rubbish") – nor, as I have made clear, a hierarchy of romantic or symbolist works." (Look, Listen, Read by Claude Lévi-Strauss, 1997, p. 150)
During the war Breton wrote three poetic epics in which he dealt with the theme of exile. After WW II Breton traveled in the Southwest and the West Indies and returned to France in 1946. He soon became an important guru of a group of young Surrealists. In the 1940s and 1950s Breton wrote essays and collections of poems, among them Arcane 17 (1945), a mythological work set in Canada. Breton's last poetical work, Constellations (1959), paralleled a series of poems with Joan Miro's gouaches. André Breton died in Paris on September 28, 1966. His three-room studio at 42 Rue Fontaine became a research center, preserved by his third wife Elisa. Breton's daughter Aube from his marriage to Jacqueline Lamba decided to put his books, drawings, paintings, sculptures, photographs, and other items on the market in 2003 after the French government did not buy the personal collections.
Surrealism: A movement in visual arts and literature between World Wars I and II. Much used technique among Surrealists was automatic writing. The later influence of Surrealism can be seen in the works of such authors as Eugéne Ionesco, Samuel Beckett, Jean Genet, and other writers of the Theater of Absurd, the French writers of the nouveau roman of the 1950s and '60s. Breton's influence was wide and left impact on psychoanalysis and feminism through Jacques Lacan, on politics via Herbert Marcuse, on criticism through Roland Barthes - just to mention a few important names. - For further reading: André Breton by J. Gracq (1948); André Breton by C. Mauriac (1949); Philosophie de surréalisme by F. Alquié (1955); Le vrai André Breton by P. Soupault (1966); Surrealism and the Literary Imagination by M.A. Caws (1966); André Breton: Arbiter of Surrealism by C. Browder (1967); André Breton by J.H. Matthews (1967); André Breton: Magus of Surrealism by A. Balakian (1971); André Breton by M.A. Caws (1971); Les critiques de notre temps et Breton by M. Bonet (1974); André Breton and the Basic Concepts of Surrealism by M. Carrouges (1974); André Breton: Naissance de l'aventure suréaliste by M. Bonnet (1975); Breton: Nadja by Roger Cardinal (1987); Andre Breton: Sketch for an Early Portrait by J.H. Matthews (1986); Revolution of the Mind by Mark Polizzotti (1995); André Breton by Mary Ann Caws (1996); Andre Breton: The Power of Language by Ramona Fotiade (1999); Surreal Lives by Ruth Brandon (1999); André Breton: une histoire d'eau by Gérard Gasarian (2008); Surrealism and the Occult: Occultism and Western Esotericism in the Work and Movement of André Breton by Tessel M. Bauduin (2014); André Breton in Exile: the Poetics of "Occultation", 1941-1947 by Victoria Clousten (2017) Suom.: Runosuomennoksia valikoimassa Tulisen järjen aika (1962), Tuhat laulujen vuotta, toim. Aale Tynni (1974) ja André Breton: Unen hiekkarannoilla: Dans le sables du rêve. Valitut runot. Poèmes choisis, koonnut, suomentanut & viittein varustanut Janne Salo (2020). See also: Guillaume Apollinaire