Revolution of the Mind Essay - Critical Essays

Mark Polizzotti

Revolution of the Mind

Andre Breton (1896-1966), a French poet and man of letters, is not well known outside his native land, even though the example of his work and career inspired one of the most significant artistic movements of the twentieth century. Breton spent nearly all of his life in Paris, arrogating to himself a circle that engendered and promoted Surrealism. Indeed, he was often designated its “Pope” because he zealously defended its aims, proclaimed its superiority to other movements such as Existentialism, and vigorously recruited converts and excommunicated apostates, holding court in the world of Parisian cafes.

Surrealism rejected the literary establishment; it attacked the Western bourgeois status quo; it undermined faith in reason; it celebrated the imaginative as a subversive force for good, liberating human aspirations, and recognizing originality. Surrealism accepted no authority except the creative urge; it sought spontaneity and innovation; it proclaimed itself the enemy of the European, classical tradition and of the religious beliefs and institutions that developed in the throes of the Roman Empire’s decline.

These Surrealistic tenets derived from Breton’s reactions against his conservative, provincial upbringing. He detested his mother Marguerite’s rigid Catholicism and his father Louis’ timid middle- class values. For Breton, Surrealism was what might be called “counterculture,” opposing the mainstream and refusing to be coopted by institutions such as colleges, galleries, and publishing houses.

What is Breton’s legacy? Which of his books will last? Polizzotti never answers the question. This biography presents Breton with all his contradictions. Polizzotti neither defends nor condemns his subject, although he provides plenty of evidence for doing so. It would probably amaze Breton to discover that in this biography his life symbolizes both the authoritarianism Surrealism resisted and the creative anarchy it fostered.

Sources for Further Study

Chicago Tribune. November 5, 1995, XIV, p. 4.

Los Angeles Times Book Review. August 27, 1995, p. 3.

The New Republic. CCXIII, December 18, 1995, p. 39.

New Statesman and Society . VIII, December 1, 1995, p. 39.

The New York Times Book Review. C, September 3, 1995, p. 5.

The Village Voice. October 10, 1995, p. SS19.

The Wall Street Journal. August 10, 1995, p. A7.