Textual Analysis: Breton, A. , 1972. Manifestoes of Surrealism Translated by Seaver R. and Lane H. R. Michigan: University of Michigan Press. Breton Andre (1896-1966), was a French writer and poet and above all the pivotal figure of the Surrealist movement which was born after the First World War. He was one of the most important literary figures of the twentieth century. The principles of the Surrealist movement launched by Apollinaire and Lautremont, among others, are exposed in the ? Manifestoes of Surrealism? published in 1969.
These manifestoes are the two main theoretical texts of Breton Andre. According to the online encyclopedia Encarta (2009), a manifesto is ‘a public written declaration of principles, policies, and objectives, especially one issued by a political movement or candidate’. By definition and according to the definition given by Breton himself in his first manifesto (1924; 26), Surrealism is: ‘Dictionary: Surrealism, n. Psychic automatism in its pure state, by which one proposes to express verbally, by means of the written word, or by any other manner-the actual functioning of thought.
Dictation by thought, in the absence of all control exercised by reason, exempt from any aesthetic or moral concern. Encyclopedia: Surrealism. Philosophy. Surrealism is based on the belief
Born from the break with the Dada movement in 1992, the Surrealist movement has for ambition to reconsider radically the question of the language. The movement indeed tends to unite the conscious and the unconscious in the language which up to here recovered only the realm of the conscious. More than a simple movement, the Surrealism is a way of thinking, a way of being and a new way of life. Breton’s first manifesto deals with the importance that should be given to the unconscious and the automatic writing.
According to Rosemont (1978:23), ‘The experiments with automatic writing begun in 1919. For language, the experiments were electrifying. ’ The following essay deals with an extract from the first ‘ Manifesto of the Surrealism’ (pp. 1-15), which was originally intended to become a foreword of ‘ Soluble Fish’ (Breton, 1924) which is a collection of automatic texts. This first manifesto marks the birth certificate of the movement by defining the major principles of the poetic writing claimed by Breton. For this last one, the art and the writing play collectively a fundamental role.
In this extract, the author tries hard to liberate the poetic writing of the laws of the reason and the morality, in particular by the appeal to notions and concepts almost ignored at this time, such as the dream, the marvelous or still the imagination, among others. In what did this manifesto changed the literary world on a dramatically way? How the concept of the Surrealism questioned the principles of the language? In what is this manifesto a criticism of the romantic realism and of the common language more generally? These are so many questions that this essay will try to examine.
Much more than a simple theoretical discourse, this essay shows that the writer illustrates through his argumentation a brilliant stylistic composition which leans on the surrealist thought. A linear study of this text appears me justified to examine Breton’s argumentation. Then, from this extract, I will examine in which measures and how Breton and the Surrealist movement radically questioned the linguistic. Finally, I shall take into consideration that certain criticisms call the surrealist and its principles into question.
From the beginning, the author honors the imagination, by trying to show that it is necessary to liberate the imagination of Man ‘that inveterate dreamer’. Breton advocates a return towards the childhood, this period which ‘still strikes him as somehow charming’ as far as the childhood is the period where the imagination is very encouraged whereas it is banned for man’s for the benefit of the reason. However, the childhood is ‘botched’ by the ‘guides and mentors’ that represent the family, the first social institute, the school and the society more generally.
There, Breton deplores that the imagination is forced and limited by the authoritarian needs of the ‘practical necessity’ of the morality, the social order or the arbitrary utility. Thus, the imagination should be liberated: ‘Beloved imagination, what I most like in you is your unsparing quality. ’ From this, Breton asserts the total freedom of the imagination to the extent that ‘the greatest degree of freedom’ is allowed and it is not necessary to ‘reduce the imagination to a state of slavery’ insomuch as it reports of ‘what can be’.
Accordingly, the imagination would allow the comprehending of the real. Nevertheless, Breton shows us that those who have too much imagination and who override in the practical considerations are locked in. Although, ‘the insane owe their incarceration to a tiny number of legally reprehensible acts’, they derive a great deal of comfort and consolidation from their imagination’, which is a ‘source of trifling pleasure’ therefore of liberation. Breton eventually tells that ‘It is not the fear of madness which will oblige us to leave the flag of imagination furled. In the following lines, Breton makes a lawsuit to’ the realistic attitude’ that have certain authors precisely in the realistic novel. Indeed, he refuses the realism in art, which he makes responsible of an impoverishment of the language. In a consequence of this, it engenders, some ‘ridiculous books’ where ‘the law of the lowest common denominator’. So, for Breton, the realistic novel cultivates the taste for the detail where ‘each person adds his personal little ‘‘observation’’ and take pleasure in doing descriptions.
The author pursues his lawsuit against the realistic novel by exploiting Paul Valery’s famous confidence by which he ‘assured that, so far he was concerned, he would continue to refrain from writing: The Marquise went out at five. ’ In fact, Breton attacks much more the ‘authors’ of these realistic novels and their ‘ambition’ which ‘is severely circumscribed’ than the novels themselves. The appeal to an exclamatory sentence ‘And the descriptions! ’ underlines the fact that he indeed has a foursquare refusal of these last ones and he is indignant that the realistic novels are only ‘superimposed images taken from stock catalogue’.
Besides, Breton refuses to be strained by these authors. After having expressed the principles of the realistic novel and its consequences, the poet illustrates them with an example extracted from ‘Crime and Punishment’ (Dostoievski, 1866) which describes an inside of a room. From this last one, Breton starts his argumentation by implying first the reader in order to make him adhere to his thesis, simply by using the pronoun of the 3rd person ‘it’. Breton supports that a long description drives the reader oppressed by ‘laziness’ and the ‘fatigue’.
The author gets also personally involved by using the pronoun of the 1st person ‘I ‘. Furthermore, he uses the concession ‘that the mind is interested’ which is a stylistic process often used in argumentation. The writer goes as far as imposing his thought ‘I am of the opinion one’, which marks a requirement. This thought is that if the description makes nothing ‘feel’, it is thus useless. Again, the author tries to convince his reader by addressing directly to him ‘And I would like it understood that ‘.
In view of the fact that it is a risk to speak directly to the reader as far as this last one can disagree, Breton also anticipates with subtlety the counter-arguments. In so doing, he anticipates all the criticisms which can be mentioned. For instance, he does not criticize the ‘lack of originality’ of the descriptions made in the realistic novels but he does not see any interest because there is no result in the end ‘I do not take particular not of the empty moments of my life’. Therefore, Breton generalizes his point of view in quite other sorts of descriptions.
Nevertheless, he refuses to get involved in a psychological analysis with whom he ‘shall be careful not to joke’. Besides, Breton refuses any analysis of feelings which he compares as being ‘a simple game of chess’. On the contrary, he advocates the analogy and condemns ‘the incurable mania of wanting to make the unknow known, classifiable’. Breton suggests that it is necessary to liberate Man from the barriers of the ‘logic’ and does not accept the ‘absolute rationalism’ which ‘allows us to consider only facts relating directly to our experience’.
He refuses the reason, which is privileged to the detriment of ‘any kind of search for truth which is not in conformance with accepted practices’. Reader of Freud (‘The Interpretation of Dreams’, 1900), Breton considers the dream as being a privileged place of the psychic life of the unconscious and that we cannot deny its importance. Indeed, it is ‘inadmissible that this considerable portion of psychic activity (…) has still today been so grossly neglected’. Accepting this, Breton proposes several reflections on this question.
For example, ‘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? ’ To comprehend the reality and its ‘fundamental questions’, Breton argues that it is necessary to have appeal to the dream and to its narratives. Here is all the project of the writer: to investigate the unconscious (and thus the imagination) not to enrich the reality but to limit the reality to the unconscious.
Dream and reality are two additional each of psychoanalytic structures according to Breton. ‘I believe in the future resolution of these two states, dream and reality, which are seemingly so contradictory’. Breton underlines that this unity allows to reach ‘a kind of absolute reality’ that he calls ‘surreality’. All the statement of Breton and of the Surrealist movement bases itself on the ‘quest’ of a ‘source’ which would allow exploring ‘the contents of dreams in their entirety’.
Moreover, Breton uses an anecdote of one of the precursors of the Surrealist movement, Saint-Pol-Roux who wrote ‘THE POET IS WORKING’. As a similar view, the writer wants to show that the power of the words, thus of the language, results from the unconscious. The author would still have ‘a great deal more’ to say and the fact that he wrote ‘I shall come back to it’, proves that this manifesto is not the first because it will not resolve the question of the unconscious and the language investigated by Breton, it would be ‘a very long and much more detailed discussion’.
Then, the author makes the justice of ‘the hate of the marvelous’. Indeed, he calls the lector to rehabilitate the marvelous in the literature. Breton defends that the marvelous also allows to liberate the imagination as far as ‘the marvelous is always beautiful, anything marvelous is beautiful, in fact only the marvelous is beautiful’. However, this literature is for Breton ‘tainted by puerility’ as far as it is addresses to ‘children’. As it has been shown above, the imagination is encouraged to these last ones.
To illustrate this argument, Breton gives the example of the ‘fairy tales’, which are totally surrealist because it redraw a regress to childhood and its imaginary world. The children who later, enter in ‘the age of the reason’ are not able to take an extreme pleasure to this type of ‘stories’ because they have not a ‘sufficient virginity of mind’. As a result, Breton wants to show that literary works are typically conventional in as much as the language is itself in accordance with the reason and that in return, the imagination of the reader is not liberated.
In this manifesto, Breton deploys an unfailing rhetoric by developing a literal material, essentially playful, where it appears its preference for the reversal of cliches and stereotypes, the quotations of texts, the juxtaposition of the seriousness and the absurd, the provocation and the construction of metaphors. His arguments escape from the law of the reason and to any attempt of rational explanation. Moreover, each of the examples used by Breton joins directly the policy of the Surrealist movement which belongs as well to the realm of the literature as the art.
Indeed, ‘Surrealism began as a literary movement bent on revitalizing life through language. It quickly became clear that Surrealist ideas were also of interest to artist, and despite some misgivings, the movement was repositioned as a revolution in both art and writing. ’ (Montagu, 2002, p . 10) Throughout this extract, it is thus a question for Breton to liberate totally the imagination, by appealing to; the dream, the marvelous and the psychic automatism. Breton intends to liberate the writing of any insignificants intentions, to conquer an unexplored space, the one of which Freud has draw outlines with his theory of the unconscious.
It has been found that the automatic writing allows the exploration of the strengths of the unconscious. In that way, the spontaneity of the poetic writing has to express constantly this fundamental freedom which allows as well to the one who expresses himself as the words expressed, to be listened through the power of the words. So, the fact to appropriate words and their senses allows a reflection. ‘A wave of Dreams’ (Aragon, 1924) also affirms the importance of dream, chance and the imagination. As discussed above, the automatic writing is based on the morality, the reason and the rationality.
However, throughout this extract and throughout this first manifesto on the whole, Breton tries hard to show to the reader that the language possesses masks resources that it is important to investigate. In summary, the author challenges in his first manifesto, all the stereotypes that can be attributed to the language. This publication enabled Breton’s authority. His objective was to change the customs and the human behavior. A similar view is held by Waldberg (1965; 17) who stated that ‘in its dual and indomitable opposition to the spiritualism of the Christian Church as well as to Cartesianism (which, according to its theory, paralyse ccidental thought), surrealism rehabilitees superstition and magic at the same time that it turns towards the Hermetic traditional (Cabal, Gnosticism, Alchemy) which rest on the exercise of analogical thought. ’ Nevertheless, we notice that Breton cultivates the ambiguity in his manifesto. Indeed, he does not tell concretely and in a clarify way this source of which he plans to deal with in his next texts. We only learn that ‘ the mysteries which are not there will give way to the big Mystery ‘. It is because he is not himself completely convinced of the legitimacy of his discovery?
In all the case, the author prefers to use an allusive expression such as ‘a kind of absolute reality’ or to use the verb ‘to hope’ to name what he presents as to come under the unconscious. It can, therefore be seen that this manifesto already contains some doubts which are later going to press on the Surrealism movement. This last one always has existed in the history of art and ideas. Besides, it can be said that even if through his manifesto, Breton supported that it is necessary to deny the reason, it is nevertheless very difficult that the reason does not interfere.
The proof is that for instance in the realm of the art, the surrealist artists always submit their works to their reason in the end. There are a number of criticisms on Breton’s theories. Lacan Jacques, a French psychoanalyst, also dealt with the problem of the language. According to him, there are two accesses to the reality, the bad one, which is the imagination and the good one, which is the symbolism. If the reality is the pleasure, the imaginary it is the castration. Lacan is held by the negative and pejorative conception of the imagination, which is for him the synonym of: false, imaginary, unreal, lack.
According to Lacan (1966), ‘in the imaginary there is no unconscious since there is no lack’. I shall conclude this essay by arguing that there is no straight forward answer to the question of whether the surrealism is the answer of the understanding of the real world but I tend to believe that the question of the language will all the time be a current issue as far as the power of the words et of the thought evolve with the social and politic contexts. BIBLIOGRAPHY Breton, A. , 1972. Manifestoes of Surrealism Translated by Seaver R. and Lane H. R.
Michigan: University of Michigan Press. Lacan, J. ,1966. Ecrits. Translated by Alan Steridan. London; Tavistock. Montagu, J. , 2002. The Surrealism: Revolutionaries in art & writing 1919-35. London: Tate Publishing. Rosemont, F. , 1978. Andre Breton and the first principles of Surrealism. London: Pluto Press Limited. Waldberg, P. , 1965. Surrealism. London: Thames and Hudson Limited. Definition of a manifesto. In Encyclopedia Msn Encarta Online. Available at: http://uk. encarta. msn. com/dictionary_1861721309/manifesto. html [Accessed 18 December 2008].