Originally published in France in 1934, this complements previously translated collections of essays by the leading theorist of Surrealism (The Lost Steps and Free Rein, 1996), this time focusing on works written during the period of Surrealist maturation (1924—33). Ranging significantly in content and style, this compendium does justice to Breton's complex character, just as it pinpoints some innate contradictions within Surrealism. Despite that movement's "will towards complete disorientation from everything," Breton demonstrates an acute awareness of reality around him, addressing politics, ideology, art, criminal trials, psychiatry, and mesmerism. Many of his pronouncements betray an intimate knowledge of Marx, Engels, and Lenin, whom he holds in high esteem. "Surrealism's total commitment to dialectical materialism" and to "the admirable cause of the proletariat" prompts him to apply rigid ideological criteria to artists and writers. He dismisses out of hand such literary icons as Claudel, Cocteau, and France, all of whom he condemns as counterrevolutionaries due to their association with the French literary establishment. Meanwhile, Breton extols everything exhibiting even a grain of revolt against the existing order of things. In his effusive praise of Dal°, Eluard, and Russian Futurist poet Mayakovsky, the Surrealist credo remains in the forefront, with its subversion, voluntary hallucination, and "automatic writing." Although Surrealist creative output failed to implement the goal of automatic, or subconscious, writing, Breton considers it the cornerstone of modern art, comparing it to mediumistic composition. It's refreshing to hear Breton acknowledge his indebtedness to certain personalities from the past, particularly German Romantic Achim von Arnim and French Symbolist Rimbaud. The ultimate goal of art, according to Breton, is not to describe what can be observed by all, but to give flesh and blood to the unseen world accessible only to the artist's perception. Breton's flowery prose, permeated with bizarre imagery and disjointed fantasies and punctuated by frequent ellipsis, is made still more challenging to read in the present translation: what sounds highfalutin in French often degenerates into awkward, run-on English sentences.
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