REVOLUTION OF THE MIND: The Life of Andr‚ Breton by Mark Polizzotti

REVOLUTION OF THE MIND: The Life of Andr‚ Breton

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This hefty debut biography gives a respectful, impartial account of Andr‚ Breton's (1896-1966) life and of the movement he founded and led. The eclectic Surrealist alumni include many of the century's most famous artists--Dal¡, Giacometti, Max Ernst, Marcel Duchamp, Luis Bu€uel--most of whom eventually left the movement's ranks or were expelled, Polizzotti observes, because of ""the conflict between their need to develop freely and Breton's will to maintain a Surrealist cohesion in his own unstable image."" Born to lower-class parents who encouraged a medical career, Breton began his literary strivings under the influence of Symbolism, the avant-garde poet Apollinaire, and the manic playwright Alfred Jarry. After a fraught association with Dadaism, Breton and his compatriots embarked on Surrealism, drawing on their previous literary experiments and Freud's writings on madness and dreams. Charismatic, cerebral, and autocratic, Breton was dubbed the ""pope"" of Surrealism as its chief organizer and theoretician, and Polizzotti capably, if staidly, recounts the ceremonial sessions of automatic writing, induced slumber, and verbal games like Exquisite Corpse. Breton also engaged in bull-like manifestos and excommunications, such as those of Louis Aragon for joining the Stalinist French Communists and Dal¡ for independence. This puritanical dogmatism was offset by personal idealism and a lyric streak that expressed themselves in romantic attachments and hero worship. Polizzotti recounts Breton's relations with not only the famous (the unimpressed Freud and the philistine Trotsky) but also the biographically problematic--the enigmatic dandy Jacques Vach‚ and the half-mad ""Nadja,"" both of whom Breton mythologized in his work. Surrealism thrived on public outrage, but by the end of WW II it was a spent force, as was Breton. Polizzotti, the editorial director of David R. Godine, is more scrupulous in supplying the external essentials than the inspired madness of Breton's inward experiment.

Pub Date: Aug. 1st, 1995
Page count: 600pp
Publisher: "Farrar, Straus & Giroux"