Dada and Surrealism: Texts and Extracts
The Dadaists attached much less importance to the sales value of their work than to its uselessness for contemplative immersion. The studied degradation of their material was not the least of their means to achieve this uselessness. Their poems are "word salad" containing obscenities and every imaginable waste product of language. The same is true of their paintings, on which they mounted buttons and tickets. What they intended and achieved was a relentless destruction of the aura of their creations, which they branded as reproductions with the very means of production . . . Dadaistic activities actually assured a rather vehement distraction by making works of art the centre of scandal. One requirement was foremost: to outrage the public.
(Walter Benjamin, 'The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction', 1936)
Press Notice, Zurich, February 2nd 1916
Cabaret Voltaire. Under this name a group of young artists and writers has been formed whose aim is to create a centre for artistic entertainment. The idea of the cabaret will be that guest artists will come and give musical performances and readings at the daily meetings. The young artists of Zurich, whatever their orientation, are invited to come along with suggestions and contributions of all kinds.
Hugo Ball, 'Dada Manifesto' (read at the first public Dada soiree, Zurich, July 14th 1916)
Dada is a new tendency in art. One can tell this from the fact that until now nobody knew anything about it, and tomorrow everyone in Zurich will be talking about it. Dada comes from the dictionary. It is terribly simple. In French it means "hobby horse". In German it means "good-bye", "Get off my back", "Be seeing you sometime". In Romanian: "Yes, indeed, you are right, that's it. But of course, yes, definitely, right". And so forth.
An International word. Just a word, and the word a movement. Very easy to understand. Quite terribly simple. To make of it an artistic tendency must mean that one is anticipating complications. Dada psychology, dada Germany cum indigestion and fog paroxysm, dada literature, dada bourgeoisie, and yourselves, honoured poets, who are always writing with words but never writing the word itself, who are always writing around the actual point. Dada world war without end, dada revolution without beginning, dada, you friends and also-poets, esteemed sirs, manufacturers, and evangelists. Dada Tzara, dada Huelsenbeck, dada m'dada, dada m'dada dada mhm, dada dera dada, dada Hue, dada Tza.
How does one achieve eternal bliss? By saying dada. How does one become famous? By saying dada. With a noble gesture and delicate propriety. Till one goes crazy. Till one loses consciousness. How can one get rid of everything that smacks of journalism, worms, everything nice and right, blinkered, moralistic, europeanised, enervated? By saying dada. Dada is the world soul, dada is the pawnshop. Dada is the world's best lily-milk soap. Dada Mr Rubiner, dada Mr Korrodi. Dada Mr Anastasius Lilienstein.
In plain language: the hospitality of the Swiss is something to be profoundly appreciated. And in questions of aesthetics the key is quality.
I shall be reading poems that are meant to dispense with conventional language, no less, and to have done with it. Dada Johann Fuchsgang Goethe. Dada Stendhal. Dada Dalai Lama, Buddha, Bible, and Nietzsche. Dada m'dada. Dada mhm dada da. It's a question of connections, and of loosening them up a bit to start with. I don't want words that other people have invented. All the words are other people's inventions. I want my own stuff, my own rhythm, and vowels and consonants too, matching the rhythm and all my own. If this pulsation is seven yards long, I want words for it that are seven yards long. Mr Schulz's words are only two and a half centimetres long.
It will serve to show how articulated language comes into being. I let the vowels fool around. I let the vowels quite simply occur, as a cat miaows . . . Words emerge, shoulders of words, legs, arms, hands of words. Au, oi, uh. One shouldn't let too many words out. A line of poetry is a chance to get rid of all the filth that clings to this accursed language, as if put there by stockbrokers' hands, hands worn smooth by coins. I want the word where it ends and begins. Dada is the heart of words.
Each thing has its word, but the word has become a thing by itself. Why shouldn't I find it? Why can't a tree be called Pluplusch, and Pluplubasch when it has been raining? The word, the word, the word outside your domain, your stuffiness, this laughable impotence, your stupendous smugness, outside all the parrotry of your self-evident limitedness. The word, gentlemen, is a public concern of the first importance.
Hugo Ball, from 'Kandinsky' (a lecture given at the Galerie Dada, April 7 1917)
Three things have shaken the art of our time to its depths, have given it a new face, and have prepared it for a mighty new upsurge: the disappearance of religion induced by critical philosophy, the dissolution of the atom in science, and the massive expansion of population in present-day Europe.
God is dead. A world disintegrated. I am dynamite. World history splits into two parts. There is an epoch before me and an epoch after me. Religion, science, morality—phenomena that originated in the states of dread known to primitive peoples. An epoch disintegrates. A thousand-year-old culture disintegrates. There are no columns and supports, no foundations any more—they have all been blown up. Churches have become castles in the clouds. Convictions have become prejudices. There are no more perspectives in the moral world. Above is below, below is above. The transvaluation of values came to pass. Christianity was struck down. The principles of logic, of centrality, unity and reason were unmasked as postulates of a power-craving theology. The meaning of the world disappeared. The purpose of the world—its reference to a supreme being who keeps the world together—disappeared. Chaos erupted. Tumult erupted. The world showed itself to be a blind juxtapositioning and opposing of uncontrolled forces. Man lost his divine countenance, became matter, chance, an aggregate animal, the lunatic product of thoughts quivering abruptly and ineffectually. Man lost the special position that reason had guaranteed him . . .
The artists of these times have turned inward. Their life is a struggle against madness. They are disrupted, fragmented, dissevered, if they fail to find in their work for a moment equilibrium, balance, necessity, harmony . . . The strongest affinity shown in works of art today is with the dread masks of primitive peoples, and with the plague and terror masks of the Peruvians, Australian aborigines, and Negroes. The artists of this age face the world as ascetics of their own spirituality. They live deeply buried lives. They are forerunners, prophets of a new era. Only they can understand the tonalities of their language. They stand in opposition to society, as did heretics in the Middle Ages. Their works are simultaneously philosophical, political, and prophetic. They are forerunners of an entire epoch, a new total culture. They are hard to understand, and one achieves an understanding of them only if one changes the inner basis—if one is prepared to break with a thousand-year-old tradition. You will not understand them if you believe in God and not in chaos. The artists of this age turn against themselves and against art . . . They seek what is essential and what is spiritual, what has not yet been profaned . . .
TRISTAN TZARA, from 'Dada Manifesto on Free Love and Bitter Love', (c1920)
It seems that this exists: more logical, very logical, too logical, less logical, not very logical, really logical, fairly logical.
Well then, draw the consequences.
Now think of the creatures you love most.
Tell me the number and I'll tell you the lottery.
TO MAKE A DADAIST POEM
Take a newspaper.
Take some scissors.
Choose from this paper an article of the length you want to make your poem.
Cut out the article.
Next carefully cut out each of the words that makes up this article and put them all in a bag.
Next take out each cutting one after the other.
Copy conscientiously in the order in which they left the bag.
The poem will resemble you.
And there you are—an infinitely original author of charming sensibility, even though unappreciated by the vulgar herd.
TRISTAN TZARA, from 'Monsieur Antipyrine's Manifesto', 1916
DADA remains within the framework of European weaknesses, it's still shit, but from now on we want to shit in different colours so as to adorn the zoo of art with all the flags of all the consulates. We are circus ringmasters and we can be found whistling amongst the winds of fairgrounds, in conventions, prostitutions, theatres, realities, feelings, restaurants, ohoho, bang bang.
To win the energies of intoxication for the revolution—this is the project about which Surrealism circles in all its books and enterprises. . . an ecstatic component lives in every revolutionary act.
(Walter Benjamin, 'Surrealism', 1929)
ANDRÉ BRETON, from 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 . . .
The mere word "freedom" is the only one that still excites me. I deem it capable of indefinitely sustaining the old human fanaticism . . . Imagination alone offers me some intimation of what can be, and this is enough to remove to some slight degree the terrible injunction . . .
There remains madness, "the madness that one locks up", as it has been aptly 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 . . . would not be threatened . . . indeed, hallucinations, illusions, etc., are not a source of trifling pleasure. The best controlled sensuality partakes of it . . . 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 . . .
It is not the fear of madness which will oblige us to leave the flag of imagination furled . . .
We still live under the reign of logic . . . But the methods of logic are applied nowadays only to the resolution of problems of secondary interest. 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 colour 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 harbour 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 . . .
. . .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 . . . the dream finds itself reduced to a mere parenthesis, as is the night . . .
. . .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 . . .
. . .I am resolved to deal severely with that hatred of the marvellous which is so rampant among certain people, that ridicule to which they are so eager to expose it. Let us speak plainly: The marvellous is always beautiful, anything marvellous is beautiful; indeed, nothing but the marvellous is beautiful . . .
The marvellous 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 . . .
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 practised 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 . . .
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. 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.
ENCYCLOPAEDIA. Philosophy. 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.
Young's Night Thoughts are surrealist from cover to cover. Unfortunately, it is a priest who speaks; a bad priest, to be sure, yet a priest.
Heraclitus is surrealist in dialectic.
Lully is surrealist in definition.
Flamel is surrealist in the night of gold.
Swift is surrealist in malice.
Sade is surrealist in sadism.
Carrier is surrealist in drowning.
Monk Lewis is surrealist in the beauty of evil.
Achim von Arnim is surrealist absolutely, in space and time
Rabbe is surrealist in death.
Baudelaire is surrealist in morals.
Rimbaud is surrealist in life and elsewhere.
Hervey Saint-Denys is surrealist in the directed dream.
Carroll is surrealist in nonsense.
Huysmans is surrealist in pessimism.
Seurat is surrealist in design.
Picasso is surrealist in cubism.
Vaché is surrealist in me.
Roussel is surrealist in anecdote. 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 naively!—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 marvellous 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 . . .
SECRETS OF THE MAGICAL SURREALIST ART
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 clamours 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 . . .
Q. "How old are you?"
A. "You" (Echolalia)
Q. "What is your name?"
A. "Forty-five houses" (Ganser syndrome, or beside-the-point replies).
There is no conversation in which some trace of this disorder does not occur. The effort to be social which dictates it and the considerable practice we have at it are the only things which enable us to conceal it temporarily . . . In the very short dialogue that I concocted above between the doctor and the madman, it was in fact the madman who got the better of the exchange. Because, through his replies, he obtrudes upon the attention of the doctor examining him—and because he is not the person asking the questions. Does this mean that his thought at this point is the stronger? Perhaps. He is free not to care any longer about his age or name.
Poetic surrealism, which is the subject of this study, has focused its efforts up to this point on reestablishing dialogue in its absolute truth, by freeing both interlocutors from any obligations of politeness . . . The words, the images are only so many springboards for the mind of the listener . . .
. . .the surrealist atmosphere created by automatic writing, which I have wanted to put within the reach of everyone, is especially conducive to the production of the most beautiful images. One can even go so far as to say that in this dizzying race the images appear like guideposts of the mind. At first limiting itself to submitting to them, it soon realises that they flatter its reason, and increase its knowledge accordingly. The mind becomes aware of the limitless expanses wherein its desires are made manifest, where the pros and cons are constantly consumed, where its obscurity does not betray it. It goes forward, borne by these images which enrapture it, which scarcely leave it any time to blow upon the fire in its fingers. This is the most beautiful night of all, the lightning-filled night: day, compared to it, is night . . .
The mind which plunges into Surrealism relives with glowing excitement the best part of its childhood . . . It is perhaps childhood that comes closest to one's "real life" . . .
Surrealist methods . . . 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:
A burst of laughter
of sapphire in the island of Ceylon
The most beautiful straws
HAVE A FADED COLOUR
UNDER THE LOCKS
on an isolated farm
FROM DAY TO DAY
A carriage road
takes you to the edge of the unknown
preaches for its saint
THE DAILY ARTISAN OF YOUR BEAUTY
of silk stockings
A leap into space
Love above all
Everything could be worked out so well
PARIS IS A BIG VILLAGE
Watch out for
the fire that covers
of fair weather
The ultraviolet rays
have finished their task
short and sweet
THE FIRST WHITE PAPER
Red will be
The wandering singer
WHERE IS HE?
in his house
AT THE SUITORS' BALL
as I dance
What people did, what they're going to do
. . .Surrealism, such as I conceive 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 . . . 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 that are imaginary solutions. Existence is elsewhere.
ANDRÉ BRETON, from The Second Manifesto of Surrealism, 1930
Everything tends to make us believe that there exists a certain point of the mind at which life and death, the real and the imagined, past and future, the communicable and the incommunicable, high and low, cease to be perceived as contradictions. Now, search as one may one will never find any other motivating force in the activities of the Surrealists than the hope of finding and fixing this point. From this it becomes obvious how absurd it would be to define Surrealism solely as constructive or destructive: the point to which we are referring is a fortiori that point where construction and destruction can no longer be brandished one against the other. It is also clear that Surrealism is not interested in giving very serious consideration to anything that happens outside of itself, under the guise of art, or even anti-art, of philosophy or anti-philosophy — in short, at anything not aimed at the annihilation of the being into a diamond, all blind and interior, which is no more the soul of ice than that of fire.
. . . The simplest Surrealist act consists of dashing down the street, pistol in hand, and firing blindly, as fast as you can pull the trigger, into the crowd. Anyone who, at least once in his life, has not dreamed of thus putting an end to the petty system of debasement and cretinization in effect has a well-defined place in that crowd, with his belly at barrel level . . .
. . . let us not lose sight of the fact that the idea of surrealism aims quite simply at the total recovery of our psychic force by a means which is nothing other than the dizzying descent into ourselves, the systematic illumination of hidden places and the progressive darkening of other places, the perpetual excursion into the midst of forbidden territory . . .
André Breton, from Introduction to the Discourse on the Paucity of Reality (1924)
Poetry evidences in our days such peculiar requirements. See what importance it attaches to the possible, and its love of the improbable. What is, or what might be—how insufficient that appears to be. Nature, it denies your rule. Objects, what does it care about your properties? . . .
Now consider words . . . Words are likely to group themselves according to individual affinities, which generally have the effect of making them re-create the world each instant upon its old model. Everything goes on, then, as though a concrete reality existed outside the individual; I might say, as if such reality were immutable. In the establishment of pure fact, pure and simple, if that is what we are after, we must have absolute certainty in order to advance something new, something the nature of which would shock common sense . . .
But, as I have already said, words, by virtue of the characteristics we find in them, deserve to have another decisive function. Nothing serves to modify them, since they respond in their own way with such promptness to our appeal. It is enough that our criticism should bear on the laws governing their assemblage. Does not the mediocrity of our universe depend essentially on our power of enunciation? In its most sterile seasons, poetry has often furnished proof of this; what debauches of starry skies, precious stones, dead leaves. Thank God a slow but sure reaction against this has finally developed in men's minds. Things said over and over again today meet a solid barrier. They have riveted us to this vulgar universe. It is from them we have acquired this taste for money, these constraining fears, this feeling for the native land, this horror of our destiny. I believe it is not too late to recoil from this deception, inherent in the words we have thus far used so badly. What is to prevent me from throwing disorder into this order of words, to attack murderously this obvious aspect of things? Language can and should be torn from this servitude. No more descriptions from nature, no more sociological studies. Silence, so that I may pass where no one has ever passed. Silence! After you, my beautiful language!
The object of language, they say, is to be understood. But understood how? Understood no doubt by me, when I listen like a child asking for the continuation of a fairy tale. Let them beware! I know the meaning of all my words and follow naturally a syntax (syntax which is not, as certain fools believe, a discipline). This being the case, I cannot see why there should be an outcry when they hear me declare that the most satisfactory image of the earth I can offer at this moment is that of the cardboard hoop. If such an ineptitude has never been advanced before me, then certainly it is not an ineptitude. Furthermore, I cannot be taken to account for a statement of this kind without my demanding the context. A rather dishonest person one day, in a note contained in an anthology, made a list of some of the images presented to us in the work of one of our greatest living poets. It read:
'The next day the caterpillar dressed for the ball' . . . meaning 'butterfly'.
'Breast of crystal . . . meaning carafe'.
No, indeed, sir. It means nothing of the kind. Put your butterfly back in your carafe. You may be sure Saint-Pol-Roux said exactly what he meant.
Do not forget if for no other reason the belief in a certain practical necessity prevents us from ascribing to poetic testimony an equal value to that given, for instance, to the testimony of an explorer . . . To satisfy this desire for perpetual verification, I recently proposed to fabricate, in so far as possible, certain objects which are approached only in dreams and which seem no more useful than enjoyable. Thus recently, while I was asleep, I came across a rather curious book in an open-air market near Saint-Malo. The back of the book was formed by a wooden gnome whose white beard, clipped in the Assyrian manner, reached to his feet. The statue was of ordinary thickness, but did not prevent me from turning the pages, which were of heavy black cloth. I was anxious to buy it and, upon waking, was sorry not to find it near me. It is comparatively easy to recall it. I would like to put into circulation certain objects of this kind, which appear eminently problematical and intriguing. I would accompany each of my books with a copy, in order to make a present to certain persons. Perhaps in that way I should help to demolish those concrete trophies which are so odious, to throw further discredit on those creatures and things of 'reason'.
Who knows? There might be idle machines of a very scientific construction: Plans for immense cities might be minutely outlined which, although we never could carry them out, at least might classify the present and future capitals. Absurd automatons, perfected to the last degree, which would function like nothing else on earth, might give us an accurate idea of action.
Must poetic creations assume that tangible character of extending, strangely, the limits of so-called reality? May the hallucinatory power of certain images and the true gift of evocation which certain people possess, independently of the faculty of memory, no longer be misunderstood? The God within us does not, indeed, rest on the seventh day. We still have the first pages of Genesis to read. It perhaps remains for us only to hurl on the ruins of the ancient world the foundations of our new terrestrial paradise. Nothing yet is lost, for we know by certain signs that the great illumination follows its course. The perils into which reason leads us, in the most general and debatable sense of the word, in subjecting the works of the spirit to its irrevocable dogmas, in depriving us of the mode of expression which harms us the least—this peril, doubtless, is far from being dispelled. The deplorable inspectors who pursue us even after we leave school make their rounds of our homes and our lives. They make sure that we always call a cat a cat and, since after all we accept this to a great extent, they refrain from sending us to the galleys or the poorhouse or the penitentiary. Nevertheless, let us get rid of these officials as soon as possible . . .
André Breton, from Mad Love (L'Amour fou), 1937
Lautréamont's "Beautiful as the encounter of a sewing machine with an umbrella on a dissection table. . ." constitutes the very manifesto of convulsive poetry. . .
. . . In any case, what is delightful here is the dissimilarity itself which exists between the object wished for and the object found. This trouvaille, whether it be artistic, scientific, philosophic, or as useless as anything, is enough to undo the beauty of everything beside it. In it alone can we recognise the marvellous precipitate of desire. It alone can enlarge the universe, causing it to relinquish some of its opacity, letting us discover its extraordinary capacities for reserve, proportionate to the innumerable needs of the spirit. Daily life abounds, moreover, in just this type of small discovery . . . You only have to know how to get along in the labyrinth. Interpretive delirium begins only when man, ill-prepared, is taken by a sudden fear in the forest of symbols. But I maintain that for anyone, watchfulness would do anything rather than pay a second's notice to whatever remains exterior to his desire.
What attracts me in such a manner of seeing is that, as far as the eye can see, it recreates desire . . .
Convulsive beauty will be veiled-erotic, fixed-explosive, magic-circumstantial, or it will not be.
. . . chance is the form making manifest the exterior necessity which traces its path in the human consciousness . . .
. . . Behind ourselves, we must not let the paths of desire become overgrown. Nothing retains less of desire in art, in science, than this will to industry, booty, possession. A pox on all captivity, even should it be in the interest of the universal good . . . Still today I am only counting on what comes of my own openness, my eagerness to wander in search of everything, which, I am confident, keeps me in mysterious communication with other open beings, as if we were suddenly called to assemble . . .
. . . It is only by making evident the intimate relation linking the two terms real and imaginary that I hope to break down the distinction, which seems to me less and less well founded, between the subjective and the objective. . . . I intend to justify and advocate more and more choice of a lyric behaviour such as it is indispensable to everyone, even if for only an hour of love, such as surrealism has tried to systematize it, with all possible predictive force.
. . . What is strangest is inseparable from love, presiding over its revelation in individual as well as in collective terms. Man's and woman's sexual organs are attracted to each other like a magnet only through the introduction between them of a web of uncertainties ceaselessly renewed, a real unloosing of hummingbirds which would have gone to hell to have their feathers smoothed . . .
We will never have done with sensation. All rationalist systems will prove one day to be indefensible to the extent that they try, if not to reduce it to the extreme, at least not to consider it in its so-called exaggerations . . . Surprise must be sought for itself, unconditionally. It exists only in the interweaving in a single object of the natural and the supernatural, in the emotion of holding the lyrebird even as it is felt to be slipping away . . .
Nothing could be more worth an effort than making love lose this bitter aftertaste which poetry, for example, does not have. Such an enterprise cannot be entirely successful until on the universal scale we have finished with the infamous Christian idea of sin. There has never been any forbidden fruit. Only temptation is divine. To feel the need to vary the object of this temptation, to replace it by others — this bears witness that one is about to be found unworthy, that one has already doubtless proved unworthy of innocence . . .
Gerry Carlin & Mair Evans