André Breton

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I could spend my whole life prying loose the secrets of the insane. These people are honest to a fault, and their naivety has no peer but my own.
André Breton in 1924
Opening of the Max Ernst exhibition at the gallery Au Sans Pareil, May 2, 1921. - Philippe Soupault on top of the ladder with a bicycle under his arm, Jacques Rigaut (upside down), André Breton and Simone Kahn
one of the few editions of 'La Revolution Surréaliste' in December 1926, including poems of André Breton
Littérature n° 1 sommaire.pdf
Paris 9ème arrondissement - Comédie de Paris - Plaque commémorative with Breton's quote: 'Je cherche l'or du temps'

André Breton (19 February 189628 September 1966) was a French writer, poet and theorist of Surrealism. He is known best as the founder of the Surrealist art movement. He wrote the first Surrealist Manifesto, 'Manifeste du Surréalisme' of 1924.


  • La beauté sera CONVULSIVE ou ne sera pas.
    • Beauty will be CONVULSIVE or not at all.
    • Nadja (1928), final sentence
  • Pure psychic automatism, by which one seeks to express, be it verbally, in writing, or in any other manner, (is) the real working of the mind. Dictated by the unconsciousness, in the absence of any control exercised by reason, and free from aesthetic or moral preoccupations.
    • In: 'Manifesto du Surréalisme’, André Breton, Paris, Editions KRA, 1929
  • [T]his cancer of the mind which consists of thinking all too sadly that certain things 'are' while others, which well might be, 'are not'.
    • Deuxième Manifeste du Surréalisme (Second Manifesto of Surrealism; 1930)
  • Art today can only be revolutionary, that is, it must aspire at the complete and radical reconstruction of society, even if for no other reason than to emancipate intellectual creation from the chains which obstruct it and to allow all mankind to rise to the heights that only geniuses could reach in the past.
    • La Clé des Champs (1953) as quoted by Thomas Molnar, The Decline of the Intellectual (1961)

Le Manifeste du Surréalisme (Manifesto of Surrealism; 1924)[edit]

  • 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 new-born 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.
    • first line in 'Manifesto du Surréalisme', Andre Breton, 1924
  • 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.
  • 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 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.
  • I could spend my whole life prying loose the secrets of the insane. These people are honest to a fault, and their naivety has no peer but my own.
  • Surrealism will usher you into death, which is a secret society. It will glove your hand, burying therein the profound M with which the word Memory begins. Do not forget to make proper arrangements for your last will and testament: speaking personally, I ask that I be taken to the cemetery in a moving van. May my friends destroy every last copy of the printing of the Speech concerning the Modicum of Reality
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Surrealist methods would, moreover, demand to be heard. Everything is valid when it comes to obtaining the desired suddenness from certain associations. The pieces of paper that Picasso and Braque insert into their work have the same value as the introduction of a platitude into a literary analysis of the most rigorous sort. It is even permissible to entitle POEM what we get from the most random assemblage possible (observe, if you will, the syntax) of headlines and scraps of headlines cut out of the newspapers:
  • Surrealism, such as I conceive of it, asserts our complete nonconformism clearly enough so that there can be no question of translating it, at the trial of the real world, as evidence for the defense. It could, on the contrary, only serve to justify the complete state of distraction which we hope to achieve here below. Kant's absentmindedness regarding women, Pasteur's absentmindedness about 'grapes', Curies absentmindedness with respect to vehicles, are in this regard profoundly symptomatic. This world is only very relatively in tune with thought, and incidents of this kind are only the most obvious episodes of a war in which I am proud to be participating. 'Ce monde nest que très relativement à la mesure de la pensée et les incidents de ce genre ne sont que les épisodes jusquici les plus marquants dune guerre dindépendence à laquelle je me fais gloire de participer'. Surrealism is the 'invisible ray' which will one day enable us to win out over our opponents. 'You are no longer trembling, carcass'. This summer the roses are blue; the wood is of glass. The earth, draped in its verdant cloak, makes as little impression upon me as a ghost. It is living and ceasing to live which are imaginary solutions. Existence is elsewhere.
    • The last sentences of the Manifesto , 1924
    • First Manifesto of Surrealism; The Abridged Dictionary of Surrealism, reprinted in Marguerite Bonnet, ed. (1988). Oeuvres complètes, 1:328. Paris: Éditions Gallimard.

Le Surréalisme et la Peinture (Surrealism and Painting; 1926)[edit]

  • L'amour est toujours devant vous. Aimez.
    • Love is always before you. Love it.
  • L'œil existe à l'état sauvage.
    • Eyes exist in the savage state.
  • As we liked to do as children, extracting from the soft forest floor the light chestnut trees only a few centimeters high at the base of which the chestnut continues to shine to the sun its clods of soil from the past, the chestnut conserving all of its presence and witnessing with its presence the power of green hands, of shadow, of airy white or pink pyramids of dances.. ..and of future chestnuts which, under new dust, would be discovered by the marveled sight of other children. It is in this perspective that the work of Hans Arp, more than any other, should be situated. He found the most vital in himself in the secrets of this germinating life where the most minimal detail is of the greatest importance, where, on the other hand, the distinction between the elements becomes meaningless, adopting a peculiar under the rock humor permanently.
    • Anthologie de l’humour noir, André Breton; as quoted in "Arp", ed. Serge Fauchereau, Ediciones Poligrafa S. A., Barcelona, Spain, 1988
  • Under his (Marc Chagall, ed.) sole impulse metaphor made its triumphal entry into modern painting.
    • Chagall – a biography, Jackie Wullschlagger, Knopf, Publisher, New York 2008, text from inside-cover
  • Divine Dali!
    • In the prologue of The Diary of a Genius, Salvador Dali, London Pan Books, 1976, 1980 p. 35
  • I say that the eye is not open when it is limited to the passive role of a mirror – even if the water of that mirror offers some interesting peculiarities.. ..that eye impresses me as no less dead than the eye of a slaughtered steer if it has only the capacity to reflect – what if it reflects the object in one or in many aspects, in repose or in motion, in waking or in dream? The treasure of the eye is elsewhere! Most artists are still for tuning around the hands of the clock.. ..without having the slightest concern for the spring hidden in the opaque case. The eye-spring.. ..Arshile Gorky – for me the first painter to whom the secret have been completely revealed.
    • Introduction to the exhibition of Gorky’s first show, Julien Levy Gallery, March 1945; as quoted in “Arshile Gorky, – Goats on the roof”, ed. by Matthew Spender, Ridinghouse, London, 2009, pp. 257-258
  • Truly the eye was.. ..made to cast a lineament, a conducting wire between the most heterogeneous things. Such a wire, of maximum ductility, should allow us to understand, in a minimum of time, the relationship which connect, without possible discharge of continuity, innumerable physical and mental structures.. ..the key (of the mental prison, ed.) lies in a free unlimited pay of analogies.. can admire today a canvas signed by Gorky, 'The liver is the Cock’s Comb', which should be considered the great open door to the analogy world.
    • Introduction to the exhibition of Gorky’s first show', Julien Levy Gallery’, March 1945; as quoted in “Arshile Gorky, – Goats on the roof”, ed. by Matthew Spender, Ridinghouse, London, 2009, p. 258
  • In short it is my concern to emphasize that Gorky is, of all the surrealist artists, the only one who maintains direct contact with nature – sit down to paint before her. Furthermore, it is out of the question that he would take the expression of this nature as an end in itself – rightly he demands of her that she provide sensations that can serve as springboards for both knowledge and pleasure in fathoming certain profound states of mind.. ..Here for the first time nature is treated as a cryptogram. The artist has a code by reason of his own sensitive anterior impressions, and can decode nature to reveal the very rhythm of life, in the discovery of the very rhythm of life.
    • Introduction to the exhibition of Gorky’s first show', Julien Levy Gallery’, March 1945; as quoted in “Arshile Gorky, – Goats on the roof”, ed. by Matthew Spender, Ridinghouse, London, 2009, p. 258

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