The birth of surrealism
Breton was part of the Dadaist movement in 1916, but soon went on to initiate the first of the surrealist meetings. The arguments he had as part of the Dadaist movement caused him to move on:"Leave everything. Leave Dada. Leave your wife. Leave your mistress. Leave your hopes and fears. Leave your children in the woods. Leave the substance for the shadow. Leave your easy life, leave what you are given for the future. Set off on the road"
. Influenced by psychological theories, Breton defined Surrealism as"pure psychic automatism, by which an attempt is made to express, either verbally, in writing or in any other manner, the true functioning of thought. The dictation of thought, in the absence of all control by the reason, excluding any aesthetic or moral preoccupation."
In the first
Manifesto of Surrealism
(1924), Breton declared that the new movement's defining principle was "psychic automatism,"
by which he meant thought freed from "any control exercised by reason, exempt from any aesthetic or moral concern."
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."
And further: "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
[sur = "on", "above" in French], if one may so speak."
Breton stated that the surrealists strive to attain a"mental vantage-point (
point de l'esprit
) from which life and death, the reral and the imaginary, past and future, communicable and incommunicable, high and low, will no longer be perceived as contradictions."
After writing the Surrealist manifestos Breton continued to publish his poems and , during the 1930s published several. These included Mad Love - which used the Cinderella myth. Breron is also famous for his prose and one of his acclaimed pieces is called Nadja (1928), which is a portrait of Breton and a mad woman, a patient of Pierre Janet. The title refers to the name of a woman and the beginning of the Russian word for hope
From 1927 to 1935 Breton was a member of the
French Communist Party
. Although he broke with the party in disgust with Stalinism and Moscow show trials, he remained committed to Marxism. In June and July 1938 Leon Trotsky, exiled Russian revolutionary, and Breton, collaborated in Mexico on the writing of an extraordinary "Manifesto for an Independent Revolutionary Art." This declaration remains the most eloquent expression yet produced of the commonality of interests of the artist and the revolutionary Marxist. The statement began: "Without any exaggeration one can say that human civilization has never before been exposed to so many dangers."
The authors took note of the "ever more widespread transgression of those laws"
that govern intellectual creation, particularly in Nazi Germany and Stalinist Russia. "If ... we reject all solidarity with the caste that is currently ruling the USSR, it is precisely because, in our eyes, it represents not communism but its most treacherous and dangerous enemy,"
the manifesto explained. "The communist revolution,"
it continued, "is not afraid of art. It has learned from the study of the development of the artistic calling in the collapsing capitalist society that this calling can only be the result of a clash between the individual and various social forms that are inimical to him."
The declaration concluded: "Our goals:
the independence of art-for the revolution; the revolution-for the liberation of art once and for all
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.
Andre Breton died in Paris on September 28, 1966.