André Breton Breton, André (Vol. 9) - Essay

Breton, André (Vol. 9)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Breton, André 1896–1966

Breton was a French novelist, essayist, and poet. The founder of surrealism, Breton viewed himself as the infallible pontiff of the movement and instituted surrealist publications, symposiums, and expositions in France, Mexico, and the United States. (See also CLC, Vol. 2, and Contemporary Authors, Vols. 19-20; obituary, Vols. 25-28, rev. ed.; Contemporary Authors Permanent Series, Vol. 2.)

André Breton felt that the poet's specific role is to produce emotional states in which the union between opposites is experienced as true.

Art historians are apt to view Surrealism as a form of escape from reality, reducing it thereby to a variant of the doctrine of art for art's sake. Surrealists refuse to surrender to the abject conditions of reality. Breton has said that an urgent task of the revolutionary poet in wartime was to write love poems. His Fata Morgana is a hymn to love written in America during the last war…. For the Surrealists, words and colors are but a means of exploring the identity of opposites, while chance encounters and games without rules are events loaded with poetic meaning.

Sartre has criticized Surrealism for its failure to achieve its goal and produce the synthesis between opposites. He was thinking in terms of an aesthetic solution which Breton expressly excluded by postulating that the contradiction is resolved at the vanishing point of the mind's eye…. Art historians and critics measure the Surrealist contribution in terms of a retreat from Cubism or an advance toward Abstract Expressionism; they are involved with development of style. Breton despised this approach. He was categorically opposed to purely aesthetic exhibitions of Surrealist works…. (p. 101)

In poetry Breton went beyond Mallarmé, who merely flirted with chance. Breton gambled with chance. Chance is to the poet of an atheist era what inspiration was for the poet graced by God, while automatic writing is the Surrealist's counterpart of religious and psychoanalytical confession. (p. 102)

Nicolas Calas, "The Point of the Mind: André Breton" (originally published in Arts Magazine, December 1966–January 1967), in his Art in the Age of Risk and Other Essays (copyright © 1968 by Nicolas Calas; reprinted by permission of the publishers, E. P. Dutton & Co., Inc.), Dutton, 1968, pp. 100-03.

[Breton's poetry is] a miraculous widening of experience and "exaltation" of life. The famous statement on surrealist language which Breton calls "Les Mots sans rides" (1924) demands that the full significance of language and its essential youthfulness be restored, so that it can intensify and expand everything it touches. It is not simply a matter of juxtaposing the words to create new elements, but of rejuvenating the word itself. All the surrealist word games, puns, anagrams, and aphorisms with double meanings are part of this attempt to heighten the power of language and to widen its scope.

Along with the word play goes the play of images, the goal of both being "to multiply the short-circuits," as Breton says in the second manifesto (1930), that is, to sabotage as frequently and as definitively as possible the usual "realistic insanities" and to show what is on the other side of the accepted reality. The surrealist image is necessarily shocking—it destroys the conventional laws of association and logic, so that the objects which compose it, instead of seeming to fit side by side naturally and normally, "shriek at finding themselves together." But the same electrical force that splits up the habitual relationships of the ordinary world has the power to fuse all that has previously been separate. Breton will frequently use the metaphor of electricity in his theoretical writings, with all its implications of intensity, shock, fusion, and a highly dramatic quality proper to surrealism. He thinks of poetry as a "conductor of mental electricity" and his criterion for the success of art is the achievement of a particular "fusion of the mind and the heart in a verbal or plastic mold which shows itself in some way to be electrically appropriate to it." (pp. 69-70)

Breton's poems, even the first ones, written long before his theories on art were formulated, show the same traits he will require of all surrealist poets and artists. The interplay of words and images is complex, particularly in the techniques of fusion and generation of new words and images, and the poems are in no way descriptive of any conventional vision of reality. (pp. 72-3)

The short prose poem called "Age" … is typical of Breton's earliest poetry. Some of the other poems in the collection Mont de piété are like Mallarmé in tone, or like Valéry; this one is closer to Rimbaud, beginning: "Aube, adieu! Je sors du bois hanté, j'affronte les routes, croix torrides."/(Dawn, farewell! I leave the haunted woods, I brave the highways, sweltering crosses). But the images already show … striking juxtapositions….

        Shirts clotted on the chair. A silk hat starts
        off my chase with its reflections. Man … A
        mirror avenges you and treats me as a con-
        quered prey, naked. The moment returns to
        cast a patina on the flesh.
        Houses, I free myself from dry walls. Some-
        one is shaking something! A tender bed is
        mocked with crowns.
        Reach the exhausting poetry of landings.
                                          (pp. 73-4)

The poem is just as complicated, as irrational, and as alienating to the reader as any later poem, and perhaps more so. Most of Breton's early poetry lacks the sentimental undertone of his more famous work, but it is no less a demonstration of many-level vision and language. It is surrealist in form if not in content. (p. 75)

Surrealist play at its best is supposed to produce in the reader an involuntary sense of surprise which is disturbing to his ordinary perception of the universe and to his ordinary verbal framework. "Clair de terre" replaces the ordinary "clair de lune" as "plutôt la vie" replaces the ordinary "plutôt la mort," so that the positive present terms substitute for the distant clichés. The poem contains many such tricks: …

    Rather life than these thermal establishments
    Where necklaces wait on you
    Rather life long and unfavorable
    Even if the books were to close here on shelves not so soft.

The nightmare world to which even life is preferable is made up of things serving the wrong purpose, of necklaces (a half-pun on students, "écoliers") doing the housework and soft bookshelves holding up the books, the latter image having the same disquieting effect as the soft watches of Dali, Méret Oppenheim's fur teacup, Man Ray's nail-studded iron, or "these overripe stones" ("ces pierres blettes") we are forced to imagine earlier in the poem. To introduce the most uncomfortable images by a "these" is to engage the reader in the poem, to make him consider at close range the stones turning soft like fruit. The qualities by which we ordinarily define our universe, like the hardness of stones and the stability of bookshelves, have given way to less stable qualities suited to the new space where, says Breton in his article on Matta, there is "a constant interchange of the visual and the visonary." If the poet sees the stones as soft, they are potentially soft. (p. 76)

In Les Vases communicants … there are three images of primary importance. There is the optimistic image of the constantly widening circle of possibilities, including and conferring unlimited expansion upon everything that exists; the explanatory image of the communicating vessels itself, with the secondary image of a capillary tissue connecting the interior world to the exterior world; and the most essential and most complex image of two men, one consciously immobile at the center of the whirlwind ("Removed from the contingencies of time and place, he really appears to be the pivot of this whirlwind itself, the supreme mediator") and the other immersed in his immediate circumstances, the fog made up of "the density of the things immediately perceptible when I open my eyes." Since these men personify sleep and wakefulness, they are really an extension in human terms of the communicating vessels of interior vision and the exterior world. (Surrealist man is, of course, a combination of both, a resolution of the "real" and the "unreal.") When Breton announces, later in this same essay, that poets must find a way to "put man back at the heart of the universe, to abstract him for a moment from the events that would decompose him, to remind him that he is, for all the sorrow and joy external to him, an indefinitely perfectible place of resolution and echo," he is returning to the same image. In some senses, this is the basic perception for him, and all the other images he uses to depict the surrealist universe depend on this one…. (pp. 77-8)

[In Les Etats-Généraux] Breton suggests the actual insignificance of the individual personality, since the memory may be only a product of the imagination. There is no justification for the individual's belief in his own nature as a fixed, reliable starting point for experience. Such uncertainty about the continuation of the self is a necessary product (and cause) of vertige: linked to the consciousness of duality, it will never be absent from surrealist thought even in its moments of highest optimism.

Breton and the other surrealists, although they try to regain the child's attitude of presence and immediacy, are constantly haunted by the sense of inner disunity and by the more obvious outer division between man and his surroundings. Breton's consciousness of isolation and distance pervades his writings from 1924 to 1932. In Poisson soluble (1924) the poet imagines himself alone behind a window, all he observes contributing to his sense of ennui:

       The hours, the pain, I keep no rational ac-
       count of them; I am alone, I look out of the
       window; there are no passers-by, or rather
       no one passes…. You don't know this gen-
       tlemen? It's Mr. The Same. May I introduce
       Mrs. Mrs. And their children.

In Le Revolver à cheveux blancs (1932) windows separate the watcher within from odd and vaguely threatening spectacles: …

    I am at the window far off in a terror-stricken city
    Outside, men in opera hats follow regularly on each others' steps.

Or, as "windows of hell," they frame bizarre and erotic gestures for the benefit of someone watching from without; or again, they are frames for the marvelous: …

   Beautiful windows with their flaming hair in the black night
   Beautiful windows of warning cries and kisses.

The probable reference to red curtains ("flaming hair") is simply a positive interpretation of the "windows of hell" in the poem just mentioned, since the cries and kisses could refer to the same kind of sadistic-erotic spectacle (although the two poems differ in every other way). The oppositions in color (red, black) and possibly also in emotion (cries, kisses) form the structure of the spectacle in each case, all three of these poems demonstrating a theatrical impulse within the poem characteristic of much of Breton's poetry. (pp. 79-81)

In this same collection the associated and familiar theme of the double is strikingly presented in the poem "Rideau rideau," where the poet's life is played out on the scene of a theater, the baroque spectacle including not only the actor playing Breton, but another man in a Breton mask, and on a level below the stage, a silhouette of Breton outlined on a white wall in fire, with a bullet in his heart. In a less dramatic form, "Les Attitudes spectrales" indicates the voluntary and inevitable split between the poet and the world and the parallel separation within the poet himself in a light manner completely devoid of self-pity: …

  I attach no importance to life
  I do not pin the slightest butterfly of life to importance
  I do not matter in life
  But the branches of salt the white branches
  All the bubbles of shadow
  And the sea anemones
  Descend and breathe inside my thought
  Tears well up which I do not shed
  Steps I do not take which are steps twice over
  And which are remembered by the sand in the rising tide …
  I was already as old as I am now
  And I watched over myself my thought like a night watchman in an immense factory.

Here all the objects which penetrate his contemplation give the impression of delicacy or lightness, as if any harsh or heavy elements must be deliberately eliminated from the poem. Even the suggestion of sadness which enters ("des pleurs") is quickly covered over by his denial of personal concern ("que je ne verse pas"). As the poet is detached from the action, he is equally detached from his own thought: only the sand remembers the steps which have been taken. The facile word play matches the lightness of the images: "attacher … épingles," "des pas … pas … sont deux fois des pas." This poem extends the separation within the poet to the point where he can convincingly speak of his eyes having watched himself burning, a theme expanded in the quiet and beautiful "Vigilance." In the latter poem, the poet dreams of setting fire to his own room and himself sleeping within it, so that free of material obstacles he may enter the world of primary unity both invisible and unaware of the dragging steps of the living and the unpurified….

  I see the bones of the sun
  Through the hawthorn of the rain
  At last I touch only the heart of things I hold the thread.

In this pure and serious atmosphere there is no trace of ennui. The initial suffering is only seen, not felt, and the isolation from the passersby is voluntarily chosen by the poet who is finally able to replace his unhappy consciousness of duality and of distance by a sense of unity and presence….

The life of presence nothing but presence.

Like the man immobile in the middle of the whirlwind in Les Vases communicants …, he rediscovers the calm vision at the center of things where play is no longer necessary to expand the perception and where all separations are resolved within an infinite series of possible links continuously recreated by the poet's imagination: "Je tiens le fil." (pp. 81-3)

For Breton, woman as the incarnation of irrationality is the eternal marvelous; in [L'Amour fou] he says quite simply that l'amour absolu, which takes place on the same level as l'amour fou and as Benjamin Péret's amour sublime, is man's only guarantee that all his endeavors are not undertaken in vain, and in Arcane 17 (1945), he maintains that earthly salvation can come only through the redemptive power of woman…. In L'Air de l'eau (1934) there are two love poems which exemplify surrealist poetry at its best and surrealist vision in its simplest and most moving form. The first poem begins with the paradox "Every time for the first time" ("Toujours pour la première fois"); since at each moment he falls in love with the woman again (dynamically opposed to the static condition of still loving her) as if he were actually seeing her for the first time, he can say that he scarcely knows her even by sight (=recognizes her). Her appearance seems to change and so his love for her is always new, in spite of what we might call the "real" conditions within the surrealist vision. "Reality" here assumes a less narrow sense, for as the woman enters an imaginary house and disappears behind imaginary curtains, the poet who watches her from his window is suddenly aware of: …

            The unique rending
            Of the facade and of my heart
            The more closely I approach you
            In reality.

His emotional distance is thus overcome, and this also for the first time each time he sees her. The less simple qualities of the poem depend on a certain lyrical (irrational) form of observation and association, intelligible on an aesthetic and emotional plane. The odd angle at which the curtain is hanging, for example, reminds him of the way a group of jasmine pickers he once saw on a road near Grasse seemed to stand on a diagonal; and then the unexplicit element of threat in the position of the curtain and of the jasmine pickers leads the poet to imagine, or rather, to see the woman surrounded by dangers and by dangerous temptations, by branches that might scratch her in the woods and rocking chairs balancing precariously on bridges. The fact that she is inside a house (imaginary or "real") is in no way a protection from this sort of danger existing on the level of genuine feeling, against which there is no defense.

All the poems of this collection are complex in vision but simple in tone, as is all surrealist love poetry and all surrealist painting at its best…. In the poet's dream the woman is presented in a series of limitless vertical images, indicative of the optimistic vision of surrealism; the tendency is always toward la fête, toward the celebration of woman and of life, in the same way as the superréel is opposed to the subreal, or sousréel, of a "miserabilistic" prosaic world. The mirror does not give off sunlight but the more romantic moonlight, and is itself a moon as eternally young as the face reflected in it; such condensation of the image is typical of surrealist poetry and art, both of which demand from the onlooker more than he is commonly willing to give. The metaphor here exemplifies Breton's statement: "For me the only evidence in the world is that provided by the spontaneous, extra-lucid, insolent relationship that is established, under certain conditions, between one thing and another thing which common sense would never think of bringing together." Consequently, for him the word "therefore" is detestable and "the most exalting word is the word LIKE, whether it is pronounced or implied." (pp. 84-6, 88)

Breton's love poetry stands out from his other poems by its extraordinary strength: the poems in L'Air de l'eau, for instance, are as complex and as eloquent as L'Amour fou, as compelling in vision and as unified in feeling. That this latter quality goes precisely against one of the rules given, the year after the publication of L'Air de l'eau, for disorienting the senses is a typically surrealist contradiction. (p. 89)

Through his own vision and through the marvelous power of surrealist love, the surrealist poet overcomes his sense of disunity and estrangement, at least temporarily…. After the passionate self-analysis of some of the poems of Le Revolver à cheveux blancs and the hallucinatory visions of the love poetry in L'Air de l'eau, the poet is now turned toward the world and in Les Etats-Généraux of 1943 he is able to place even "le risque," or the romantic current of surrealist adventure, with its "imposing apparatus of temptations" into a more general and less credulous perspective. This poem has as its theme the harmony of universal dependence, the equality of all peoples and "the imperceptible and yet irresistible inclination toward the best." It is, like many of the poems of Aragon, unashamedly sentimental and optimistic. The "exaltation of life" Breton so frequently invokes and which inspires all his extraordinary images merges here with an undisguised humanism, as the separation occasionally sensed by the poet is transformed into a more lasting involvement.

Surrealist optimism is never free of responsibility; for Breton, as for Aragon, art matters desperately because it is the only moral counter to destruction…. For Aragon, "Art ought to be read like the paper." For Breton, art must not depend on daily events, but it must be just as significant as any of them. He is condemning not only the "art for art's sake" which has no bearing on the world (nonsitué) but all egotistic art of sheer pleasure and description, no matter how realistic and how tasteful. If he attacks the notion of taste as strongly as Aragon, it is not in the name of the common man who cannot enter the delicately arranged paradise of the elite—in fact, Aragon's vicious poems in Persécuté-Persécuteur exemplify the anger and pity Breton wants to avoid. Breton discerns in mere taste a frivolous quality akin to sensuality and incompatible with the sérieux of surrealist concerns. Furthermore the notion of "taste" depends on the assurance of a fixed universe for its fixed values, in opposition to the mobile universe of the surrealist vision. Surrealist art is not the prisoner of any predetermined way of seeing things. The judgment it implies is always a fresh one, fitting the criteria of the moment while not inflexibly committed to any system or structure; it is neither dissociated from the actual world nor subordinate to it. The surrealist revolution is meant to take place in all realms and to retain its validity in all situations.

[There] is always another side to the optimism; Breton remains conscious of the sharp dualities he has never ceased trying to reconcile in the unitary reality he calls "L'amour la révolution la poésie." The words he addresses to Charles Fourier (Ode à Charles Fourier, 1947) are addressed also to himself:

  Toi qui ne parlais que de lier vois tout s'est délié
  (You who spoke only of linking look how everything has come apart).

Poetry is able to form no more than an ephemeral link between the disparate surfaces, even in the newly open universe Breton describes; poetic fusion, in which he places all his hope, may not last:

  Car les images les plus vives sont les plus fugaces
  (For the most vital images are the most fleeting).

The ending of the poem Sur la route de San Romano (1948) has often been quoted as an example of surrealist faith:

      L'étreinte poétique tant qu'elle dure
      Défend toute échappée sur la misère du monde.
      (The poetic embrace as long as it lasts
      Prevents any sight of the misery of the world.)

Yet in the light of the above quotations, the "tant qu'elle dure" here may imply, as strongly as the "fugace," the ephemeral quality of surrealist poety, based as it is on the quick and spontaneous image. Of course this is also the basis for its beauty. (pp. 89-93)

In Xénophiles (1948), Breton reaches the lowest possible depth of surrealist despair:

           Ceux qui s'avancent sont ridicules
           Les hautes images sont tombées.
           (Those who go forward are ridiculous
           The lofty images have fallen.)

Breton and the other surrealists put their entire confidence in the reconciling power of the image ("The image never deceives") and in the creative strength of the interior vision. When the images fall and the vision fails, they have no recourse.

But without the extremes of exaltation and despair surrealism could not be the "place of resolution" Breton considers it. The vagueness of the terms used in his theory and his criticism—"révélation," "interrogation," "solicitation," "création," "représentation," "figuration"—leaves room for all the ambiguities of art; the odd mixture of genuine emotion and visual precision in his poetry and their interdependence engages the reader, as surrealist theory says it should, in a disquieting world of separations and unity, total contradictions and partial understanding. Many of his images are clearly based on the obvious or implied dualities of soft and hard, clear and dark, absence and presence, one and many, elaborate costumes and nakedness, and so on. Like his theory, Breton's poetry betrays a constant awareness of opposites, sometimes deliberately provoking them to upset the habitual perceptions of the reader, sometimes temporarily resolving them into a new and always ambiguous compound. That the ambiguity should persist even within the newly created unity is as essential to the character of surrealist art as is the ephemeral nature of the images. For the vision to be always fresh and the visionary to be always active, the art he creates must not be allowed to stultify him with its perfection or its permanence. All surrealist effort is directed against the stability to which we are accustomed—if it were ever to produce its own form of stability, it would instantly betray its revolutionary nature…. (pp. 93-4)

Mary Ann Caws, "André Breton," in her The Poetry of Dada and Surrealism (copyright © 1970 by Princeton University Press; reprinted by permission of Princeton University Press), Princeton University Press, 1970, pp. 69-94 (footnotes deleted for this publication).

The importance of André Breton shows signs of being endless. The virtual Surrealist revival that has been upon us in the last decade is not the first, nor is it likely to be the last recrudescence of that poet's vision. For, as John Ashbery has observed, we are all Surrealists now: "It is becoming plainer every day that Breton's 'future resolution of the states of dream and reality' is no longer just around the corner." Yet Breton remains perhaps the least widely read modern poetic preceptor. Indeed, in America he has scarcely been read at all; he continues to influence through the diffusion of his ideas, while his poems remain largely in French and/or out of print. Which is not to say that the embargo affects only him. Better poets than he … have fared even worse on these shores. (p. 262)

Breton's context is not ours, though he prophesied ours. We may all be Surrealists, but we are Surrealists in our bones, whereas Breton, having invented the idea, was one in his head. What with the extreme types of abstraction currently rife in all the arts, poetry included, this poet's écriture automatique is now little more dismaying than Lewis Carroll's "nonsense". Thus our admiration for Breton takes on a degree of reverence that undermines the aggressions of his work. He is simply a hero, like Napoleon, like Rimbaud, and the smoke has cleared from his battlefields. But he remains a splendid poet, too, and his admission to the official Pantheon should be conducted immediately, with due public pomp and articles in the Times, if only to give us a balanced view of what's been happening in this century. (p. 264)

Peter Schjeldahl, in Poetry (© 1971 by The Modern Poetry Association; reprinted by permission of the Editor of Poetry), January, 1971.

It is impossible to write about André Breton in any other language than that of passion. To him the powers of the word were no different from the powers of passion, and passion, in its highest and most intense form, was nothing less than language in its wildest, purest state: poetry. Breton: the language of passion—the passion of language. Perhaps even more than an exploration of unknown psychic territories, his lifelong quest represented the regaining of a lost kingdom: the original Word, man before men and civilizations. Surrealism was his order of chivalry and his entire life was a Quest of the Holy Grail…. A quest whose goal lies neither in the future nor in the past, but at that point of convergence that is simultaneously the beginning and the end of all time: the day before the beginning and after the end.

Breton's indignation at the "infamous Christian idea of sin" is something more than a violent rejection of the traditional values of the West: it is an affirmation of the original innocence of man. This distinguishes him from almost all of his contemporaries and successors…. [Breton's] life and his work are proof that he was not so much the heir of Sade and Freud as of Rousseau and Meister Eckhart. He was not a philosopher but a great poet, and, even more important, a man of honor in the old sense of the word. His stubborn refusal to entertain the idea of sin was a point of honor: the notion struck him as being in effect a stain, a blot not on man's life but on man's dignity. Belief in sin was incompatible with his conception of man…. For Breton, sinning and being born were not synonymous.

Man, even man debased by the neocapitalism and pseudo-socialism of our time, is a marvelous being because he sometimes speaks. Language is the mark, the sign, not of his fall but of his original innocence. Through the Word we may regain the lost kingdom and recover powers we possessed in the far-distant past. These powers are not ours. The man inspired, the man who really speaks, does not say anything personal: language speaks through his mouth. Dreaming favors the explosion of the World because it is an affective state: its passivity permits desire to be active. Dreaming is by nature passionate. Here, too, Breton's opposition to Christianity had religious roots: in order to express itself, language destroys the conscious self. Poetry does not redeem the poet's personal self: it dissolves it in the vaster, more powerful reality of language. The practice of poetry demands the surrender, the renunciation of the ego…. Poetic automatism, as Breton himself often emphasized, is very close to asceticism: a state of passivity must be reached, a very difficult task, for it requires the suspension of all criticism and self-criticism. It is a radical criticism of criticism, an interdiction of consciousness. In its way, it is a via purgativa, a method of negation aimed at calling forth the appearance of true reality: the primordial language.

The basis of "automatic writing" is the belief that speaking and thinking are one and the same thing. Man does not speak because he thinks; he thinks because he speaks. Or rather, speaking is no different from thinking: to speak is to think…. Any change in the verbal structure results in a change of meaning. Strictly speaking, what we call synonyms are merely translations or equivalents within a language; and what we call translation is really only an approximation in another language or an interpretation. Words such as nirvana, dharma, tao, or jen are really untranslatable; the same is true of physics, nature, democracy, revolution, and other Western terms that have no exact equivalent in languages outside of our tradition. As the relation between the verbal structure and the meaning becomes more intimate—in mathematics and poetry, for instance, not to mention nonverbal languages such as music and painting—translation becomes more and more difficult. (pp. 47-50)

There is a strong magical element in Breton's view of language. He not only made no distinction between magic and poetry; he also was convinced all his life that poetry was a force, a substance, an energy truly capable of changing reality. At the same time his ideas were so precise and penetrating that I would not hesitate to call them scientific. On one hand, he saw language as an autonomous current possessed of a power all its own, a sort of universal magnetism; on the other hand, he conceived of this erotic substance as a system of signs governed by the twofold law of affinity and opposition, similarity and difference. This view is quite close to that held by modern linguists: words and their constituent elements are fields of energy, like atoms and their particles. The old notion of analogy is coming to the fore once again: nature is a language, and language in turn is a double of nature. To rediscover man's natural language is to return to nature, before the Fall and History: poetry is the proof of man's original innocence. The Social Contract becomes for Breton the verbal, poetic accord between man and nature, word and thought. Considered from this point of view, the oft-repeated statement that Surrealism is not a school of poetry but a movement of liberation becomes more understandable. A way of rediscovering the language of innocence, a renewal of the primordial pact, poetry is the basic text, the foundation of the human order. Surrealism is revolutionary because it is a return to the beginning of all beginnings.

Breton's earliest poems bear the traces of a passionate reading of Mallarmé. Not even in his moments of greatest violence and verbal freedom did he ever abandon this predilection for words that are at once precise and precious. Words with iridescent colors, a language of echoing reverberations. He was a "Mannerist" poet, in the proper sense of the word: within the European tradition, he belongs to the family of poets descended from Góngora, Marino, Donne—poets I cannot be certain he read, poets whose poetic ethic I fear he would have disapproved of. Verbal splendor, and intellectual and emotional violence. A curious but not infrequent combination of prophecy and aestheticism that makes his best poems both objects of beauty and spiritual testaments. That is perhaps the reason why he worshiped Lautréamont, the poet who discovered the form in which to express psychic explosion. That may also be the reason for Breton's instinctive and openly avowed repugnance for the simplistic, brutal destructiveness of Dada, even though he considered it a "revolutionary necessity" that was both inevitable and healthy. There were different reasons underlying his reservations concerning other poets. His admiration for Apollinaire is somewhat hesitant because to Breton poetry was the creation of realities through the Word, and not simply verbal invention. Novelty and surprise in art pleased him, but the term invention was not to his liking; on the other hand, the word revelation shines in many of his texts. Speaking is the noblest activity of all: revealing what is hidden, bringing the buried word back to life, calling forth our double, that Other which is us but which we never allow to exist—our suppressed half.

Revelation is resurrection, exposure, initiation. It is a word that calls for rites and ceremonies. Except as a means of provocation, of insulting the public, or rousing it to rebellion, Breton detested open-air spectacles: fiestas should be held in catacombs. Each of the Surrealist expositions revolved around two opposite poles: exhibitionism and secrecy, consecration and profanation. Consecration and conspiracy are consanguineous terms: revelation is also rebellion. The Other, our double, is a denial of the illusory solidity and security of our consciousness, that pillar of smoke on which we build our arrogant philosophical and religious constructs. The Others, proletarians and colonial slaves, women and poets, primitive myths and revolutionary utopias, are equally violent threats to the beliefs and institutions of the West. Breton reaches his hand out to all of them, to Fourier and the Papuan of New Guinea alike. Rebellion and revelation, language and passion are manifestations of a single reality. The true name of this reality is also a double one: innocence and marvels. Man is the creator of marvels; he is a poet because he is an innocent being. Children, women, lovers, the inspired, and even the insane are the incarnation of the marvelous. Everything they do is uncanny and they do not realize it. They know not what they do: they are not responsible, they are innocents. Magnets, lightning rods, high-tension wires: their words and their acts are senseless and yet they have a meaning. They are the scattered signs of a language in perpetual motion that opens out before our eyes a fan of contradictory meanings that in the end becomes a single, ultimate meaning. The universe speaks to us and to itself in and through them.

I have mentioned a number of Breton's words: revelation and rebellion, innocence and marvels, passion and language. There is another one: magnetism. He was one of the centers of gravity of our time. He not only believed that we humans are governed by laws of attraction and repulsion; he himself was the personal incarnation of these forces. (pp. 50-2)

In my adolescence, in a period of isolation and great elation, I happened to read a few pages which I found out later are Chapter V of L'Amour fou. In them he tells of climbing the volcanic peak of Teide, on Tenerife, in the Canary Islands. This text, which I read at almost the same time as The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, opened the doors of modern poetry to me. It was an "art of loving," not in the trivial manner of Ovid's Ars Amatoria, but an initiation to something that my later life and the East have given me further proof of: the analogy, or, rather, the identity between woman and nature. Is water feminine, or is a woman a succession of waves, a river at night, a beach at dawn tattooed by the wind? If we are a metaphor of the universe, the human couple is the metaphor par excellence, the point of intersection of all forces and the seed of all forms. The couple is time recaptured, the return to the time before time. Against wind and tide, I have endeavored to be faithful to that revelation: the powers the word love has over me have remained intact. Or as Breton says: ["We will never again escape from these leafy fronds of the golden age."] This stubborn belief in a paradisiac age, coupled with the vision of the primordial couple, can be seen in all his writings, from the first to the last. The woman is a bridge, a place where the natural world and the human are reconciled. (pp. 53-4)

Surrealism is no longer in the vanguard, according to the critics. Quite apart from the fact that I thoroughly dislike that military term, I do not believe that novelty, that being in the vanguard of history, is the essential characteristic of Surrealism. Nor were the Dadaists as frantic worshipers of the new as the Futurists, for instance. Neither Dada nor Surrealism adored machines. Surrealism desecrated them: it built machines that produced nothing, "dust-raisers," melting watches. The machine as a method of criticism—of the cult of machines, of men who worship progress and their buffoonery. Is Duchamp the beginning or the end of painting? Through his oeuvre, and even more importantly through his negation of "the work of art," Duchamp closes a period of Western art (that of painting properly speaking) and opens another which is no longer "artistic": the dissolving of art in life, of language in the circle of word games, of reason in its philosophical antidote, laughter. Duchamp undermines modernity with the same wave of the hand with which he dismisses tradition. In Breton's case, there is also his vision of time as an invisible, innocent present hidden beneath the flow of hours and days. The future fascinated him because it seemed to him to be the realm of the unexpected; not what will be according to the calculations of reason, but what might be according to the imagination. The destruction of today's world would permit the appearance of real time, not historical time but natural time, governed not by progress but by desire. This was what a Communist-libertarian society meant to him. In his eyes there was no essential contradiction between myths and utopias, poetry and revolutionary programs. (pp. 55-6)

He detested eclecticism in the realm of thought and promiscuity in the realm of eroticism. His best pages, both in his prose works and in his poetry, are those inspired by the idea of free choice and its correlative, fidelity to what one has freely chosen, whether in art or in politics, in friendships or in love. This idea was the axis of his life and of his conception of love: a passion whose many facets have been polished by freedom. Our age has delivered love from the prison bars of the past century only to convert it into a pastime, one more consumer item in a society of busy consumers. Breton's vision is the exact opposite of almost everything that in our day passes for love and even for eroticism (another word in wide circulation, like a coin of very little value). I have the greatest difficulty understanding his boundless admiration for Sade's works. I can see why Sade's spirit of absolute negation moved him and excited him, but how can this total negation be reconciled with a belief in love as the radiant center of the golden age? (pp. 56-7)

Breton reintroduces love into eroticism, or, more exactly, consecrates eroticism through love. We find again, underlying his opposition to any and every religion, a passionate wish to consecrate. And even a passionate wish to reconcile. Commenting on a passage in the New Justine—the episode in which one of the characters mingles his sperm with the lava of Etna—Breton observes that the act is one of loving homage to nature…. Breton's admiration for Sade was almost boundless, and all his life he believed that

So long as we have not freed ourselves of the idea of the transcendence of some sort of good … the impassioned representation of innate evil will continue to have the greatest revolutionary value.

But with this one reservation, in the dialogue between Sade and Rousseau, Breton is irresistibly inclined to side with the latter: with Rousseau the friend of primitive man, the lover of nature, as with Fourier the utopian. Love is not an illusion: it is the intermediary between man and nature, the place where terrestrial and spiritual magnetism intersect.

Each one of the facets of Breton's works reflects all the others. It is not the passive reflection of the mirror, however: it is not a repetition but a reply. A play of contrary beams of light, a dialogue of glimmers. Magnetism, revelation, a thirst for innocence, and also disdain. Is there hauteur here? Yes, in the etymological sense of the word: Breton is a winged creature whose kingdom is the upper air, a bird whose realm is lofty heights. All the words of this family apply to him. He was a soaring spirit, a man exalted; his poetry uplifts us. Above all, he maintained that the body of the woman and the man are our only altars. And as for death? Every man is born several times and dies several times. This is not the first time that Breton has died. He knew, better than anyone, that we die more than once: each one of his central books is the story of a resurrection. I know that this time it is different, that we will never see him again. His latest death is not an illusion. Nonetheless, Breton lived certain instants, saw with his own eyes certain evidences that are the negation of time and what we call an everyday outlook on life. I call such moments poetic instants, even though they are experiences common to all men: the only difference is that the poet remembers them and endeavors to reincarnate them in words, sounds, colors. The man who has lived these instants and is capable of pondering their meaning knows that the self cannot be redeemed because it does not exist. He also knows that, as Breton repeatedly insisted, the boundaries between waking and dreaming, life and death, time and a timeless present are fluid and vague. We do not know what it is really like to die, except that it is the end of the individual self—the end of the prison. Breton broke out of this prison many times; he expanded time or denied it, and for a measureless instant coincided with the other time. This experience, the central core of his life and his thought, is invulnerable and untouchable: it is beyond time, beyond death—beyond us. Knowing that this is so reconciles me to his latest death and to all dying. (pp. 57-9)

Octavio Paz, "André Breton or the Quest of the Beginning," in his Alternating Current, translated by Helen R. Lane (English-language translation copyright © 1973 by The Viking Press, Inc.; reprinted by permission of The Viking Press, Inc.), Viking, 1973, pp. 47-59.

There is one essential area in which André Breton's manifesto succeeded and proved indeed to be that Porte Albinos (The White Gateway) which he conceived in the companion piece to the Manifesto, entitled Poisson soluble. Those who catch surrealism's principal message can proceed to the region of Absolute spring and take away from God, as Breton suggested, that which they had surrendered to God. Not the revolver, not the dream, not even love, but language was to be in his own intellectual and human development the constant among the variables, the Porte Albinos of freedom and the structure of his reality…. The one who writes must be the objective recorder of the data but must restrain himself from correction; and verbalism is viewed not as a form of communication between two or more human beings but rather as an activity which we might characterize as recorder and amplifier, leaving the activator of the phenomenon in a state of attentiveness and self-enlightenment.

Psychiatrists, from whom Breton learned the procedure, subject their patients to this kind of betrayal through language in an effort to unravel and release those inhibitions that cause traumatic behavior. Breton used the device for exactly the opposite purpose: to uncover what, in the non-pathological individual, could lead from constriction to liberty: liberty for unprogrammed activity, liberty of the mind to take a more total advantage of its vision of the common habitat. The information gleaned from the verbal register was not meant to serve as an index of existing alienation but was rather to become a clue to latent power, which according to Breton was identifiable with love, which in turn was identifiable with conjunction not only in terms of the male-female principle but of human relation with the three kingdoms of the natural world: the animal, plant, and mineral…. "Words make love": it is, I believe, in this global sense that the word "amour" must be taken with all that the word connotes of involuntary attraction, union, recognition and ecstasy as a release of creative energy. This motivating principle of word unions was the apex of Breton's poetry. (pp. 48-9)

In emphasizing the involuntary character of the encounter of nonsequential word groups and of the images they conjure, Breton did not agree with his elder colleague Pierre Reverdy that this was an active, voluntary exercise on the part of poets. He came to see in this kind of rapprochement not a consciously inventive process but a self-instructive one, a training device rather than one of artistic expression. In other words, the poet did not bring these words or images together; rather, he observed them gravitate toward each other by making himself open-minded or dream prone so that he would not impede their course and not interpret their collision in terms of meanings that have been inculcated in him by his culture.

In rejecting the principle of active verbal associations, Breton appears to be rejecting the notion of what he called "elliptic" art, what Mallarmé had so well practiced in the latter part of his career, particularly in those obscure sonnets. If we were to make a concrete analogy, we might say that the surrealist poet, as Breton understood the term in the early stage of his career, is not a manipulator of a power plant, who at will turns on the switch and generates light but an observer of the verbal lights generated…. Thus he describes in the first part of the First Manifesto the passive character of a man in the face of the convulsive character of words. In the next page he describes the state of surrealism created through the practice of language with a galaxy of images—the word "image" replacing that of "light"; the movement of the image creates in the observer a vertigo comparable to the effect of a pharmaceutical stimulant; it takes over as the sole compass of the mind. Two elements of this part of the discussion are interesting and significant in terms of the evolution of Breton's own art. He states that the purpose of his discovery is not to guard jealousy for himself a divine and unique secret, but to put it, as he says, at the disposal of everyone. In other words, if we define this unfurling of disconnected images as surrealist poetry, they would have meaning only to the perpetrator; the object would be meaningful only to its subject, and what Breton would have communicated to his readers would not be the result of his own self-probe but the methodology by which each could do the same and all become surrealist poets. It would appear, then, that Breton was going counter to Mallarmé, not only in his rejection of elliptic poetry but also in the rejection of the notion that poetry is a lonely and elitist means of communication for the happy few. Language would not be the expression of one man's expansion of consciousness but a clarification of one of the channels of the expansion. Psychic language is then a creation. Breton's faith in the validity of this process is sustained by his conviction that automatic language is equally available to all, the common treasure, commonly corrupted; all men, equally deprived of spontaneous language by the curbs society has put on their imagination, reach, in Breton's view, a negative equality from which he presumes them to be recuperable for a collective dream of life in high gear. (pp. 50-1)

How did the initial monitoring of the surrealist language lead Breton from the practice of automatic writing to the strategic invasion of the unlimited spaces of desire and illumination? It was not a rapid process but one which took him from 1924 to 1959, at which time he published Constellations, his final poetic work…. (pp. 51-2)

Breton's surrealism was not a static posture but … underwent very significant evolution….

Breton abandoned the passive form of surrealist language fairly early in his career; the fact was consciously acknowledged by Breton;… by the time he wrote L'Air de l'eau in 1934 he had already abandoned "automatic writing." (If we need outside evidence to support what is self-revelatory in the poems themselves!) It is obvious that in Poisson soluble, which is a much more thorough work of automatic language than Les Champs magnétiques, and is the companion and illustrative piece of the Manifesto, Breton is his own monitor as he transcribes the psychic rhythm of his flow of language; but by the time he is writing the long poems of the War years, he is producing intricately structured works. The unleashing of verbal energy in the course of the forty years of practice culminates in the series of prose poems, Constellations…. (p. 52)

After writing free verse for more than thirty years, Breton arrives in Constellations to the prose stanza, reminiscent not of Baudelaire's poems in prose, nor of Reverdy's, but of Rimbaud's Les Illuminations in its compactness and concrete ellipsis. (p. 53)

The immediate inspiration of Constellations was the series of gouaches of Miró which date from the 1940's. But the structured ellipsis of Breton's word paintings bears a direct connection to Mallarmé's Un Coup de dés jamais n'abolira le hasard. In Mallarmé's poem, "Constellation" is a single word, central in the void where the poet's will meanders and confronts the absurdities of chance. Un Coup de dés is a sad masterpiece, a one man's journey in a cosmos whose rules are outside of his dominion, where his will and the whims of objective chance are pitted in uneven battle, and the struggle culminates in the poet's disastrous awareness of his losing score. As we shall see, Breton's Constellations is a cosmic venture in which man joins nature through his manipulation of language which extends the receptivity of his five senses and achieves, over and above the verbal synaesthesia, an ontological one as well.

When Mallarmé died, they found on his work table reams of mathematical formulas. It is interesting to note that Breton also, in this last stage of his poetic activity, refers to mathematics. He had always been fascinated by the law of probability. Here in his last poems we find a mathematical series. We are in the realm of numbers, and numbers are the tools both of organization and of chance.

Breton is no longer a simple monitor here. He sets out to structure the forces of chance and thereby returns to the poetic ellipsis from which he had originally sought release. But if indeed there occurs at the end of his career a conciliation between the forces of the unconscious and the conscious in terms of the poetic act, and if the general appearance of these poems reminds one of the deliberate crytographic writing of Mallarmé, the vision derived from similar poetic mechanics is of an entirely different character.

Breton tells us that the twenty-two units of Miró's painting progress as a mathematical series, deliberate yet drawing from the resources of chance. He calls it "une succession délibérée d'oeuvres," the result, as he sees it, of a successful combination of dexterity and chance (adresse et hasard)…. [The] two words Breton uses to characterize Miró's feat, "adresse et hasard," could be used to define his own verbal composition.

What these poems show, in fact, as they multiply and elaborate certain fundamental images in mathematical progression, is that Breton is one of the most prominent nature poets of the twentieth century. But as a nature poet, he does not describe its manifestations, but rather, what he has come to believe to be the central mechanism of nature: the phenomenon of metamorphosis, reflected in human nature in the functioning of love.

We observe that Breton's vision of nature relies neither on the pathetic fallacy of the Romanticists nor does it represent the objectivity and impersonality of natural laws, senseless in their relation to human intentions. Breton does not try to draw nature into his own private orbit, neither does he let himself fall adrift in nature's scheme as an uncomprehending, alien element. He expected no solace from God, no confidentiality from nature, no exit from the human condition. Rather, he enters into the universal pattern whose metamorphic form and activity he has grasped and can convey through a mode unique to the human species: language. By the use of language to parallel natural metamorphoses, he arrives at a more profound sense of the convulsive nature of all existence. Although the alchemistic language was a device he explored in his earliest writings, resplendently in Poisson soluble, the structured use of this device reached its apogée in Constellations.

Whereas structuralist criticism has been trying to show in literary works subconscious organization contradictory to the rational intentions of the authors in question, in Breton's last set of poems we have the case of a poet superbly versed in the psychic, syntactic and connotative functioning of language, who puts this knowledge at the service of poetry. In his deliberately structured language, channelling the powers of the unconscious, he draws his lexicon from three broadly separate reservoirs: the specialized language of bio-botanical terminology (words that have never before appeared in poetic context!), the demotic speech of daily usage, and the visionary language to which his predecessors, Rimbaud and Mallarmé, had accustomed him.

As you read these compact poems you have to work for the meanings they contain rather than convey. It is not a question of de-coding but of grasping the multitudinous digits of the code. Poetry becomes a scientific occupation both for the writer and the reader. You receive multiple meanings simultaneously not in the graphic combination of linear and vertical annotations, as they were induced in Mallarmé's Un Coup de dés, (i.e. through superpositions and juxtapositions), but rather in the manner of the ancient rebus of the Cabala and of latterday alchemists from whom Breton derived his model: the one in the other image, "l'un dans l'autre," contained and containing, which Breton found primordially and essentially characteristic of the nature of the universe and of the humans within it. This use of the rebus image had often been manifested in Breton's poetry by the substitution of the preposition "de" for "dans." The most spectacular example of a total poem constructed in this fashion is of course L'Union libre where the beauty of the woman and her power over him are not simply likened to manifestations of natural scapes but actually contained in them.

In Constellations one of the more obvious thematic recurrences of the one in the other image is that of the embrace suggested by the evocation of a series of images of clinging plants such as the vine, the clematis, the madder. At the heart of clusters of images they suggest the interdependence of things and beings. The word-images are graphically simple, presented on a purely non-connotative basis; any connotation that the reader will derive is subjective and of course arbitrary. But the subtle recurrences of such images, unheeded the first time perhaps, remembered the second, soon loom as patterns even as in a musical composition, and they create a magnetic field of connotations for the reader.

Another rich source of words of multiple containing and contained connotations are the homonyms and words used in more than one sense or context. Of this group we find in Constellations in key positions words like héraut, navette, gland, palette, braise, calice: they serve indeed, in the function he had attributed to language in the First Manifesto, as "springboards to the mind," leaving each reader to tide over from one possible meaning to the next, all catalyzed by the single word unit. Many of these have depository meaning, like palette, coffret, calice, boîtes. The most important perhaps of these depository words is "fossile," that container and transformer of the animal and vegetable world into the mineral, the supreme and durable container. In fact, the integral connection of all things and beings, working through the combined forces of creation and destruction toward the basic unity of the two processes, is centrally ascertained by the image of fossil, very prominently featured in these word tapestries. (pp. 53-5)

As anyone who has read Breton's poetry in continuity is aware, light and fire images were recurrent and resplendent in his poems from the very beginning. What happens to these in the final counting of the numbers? They are combined and contained in the most unlikely places, and carry on the pattern of the container and the contained. Light through water, through ice, through a leaf, from enclosed trees. Most often what emerges is the light created through fire. But the phenomenon of fire is not conveyed through the usual process of combustion; instead, it is revealed in its inherent aspects, in the state of what the alchemists would call "ignited nature." This ignited matter emerges in Constellations in the form of igneous rocks, feldspar, incandescent thorns, and in the incarceration of the color red in lead, in water, in land, and in wood. Fire and water are also involved in another set of images that convey fertility and all that the fertilizing process involves in nature and in terms of decomposition and recomposition.

Along with the containing and contained images, we also have the connecting ones, involving principally birds and women. An obvious one, already familiar in Breton's poetry, is the egret (aigrette), here carrying an acorn. In the case of the woman images, the love process is closely related to the establishment of intimate connection with the whole range of protoplasmic existence, an elaboration of the earlier poems. Woman plays a role analogous to the encircling vine, the rainbow, the bird carrying seed.

In Constellations words not only make love but Breton makes love with them: he penetrates language and through language establishes a deep and intimate relationship with the physical world. Far from being automatic, poetry thus becomes a very studied and learned activity in which the poet as molder of language seizes on the propitious, aleatory associations of his mind, tests them against nature's laws, cultivates them by directing and constructing around them. It is not by chance that the dominant images of these twenty-two tapestries are "navette," and words relating to weaving. We are involved with the poet in a back and forth activity and in a virtually manual linking of threads. We are introduced into the throes of process and through process we venture toward the secrets of life itself.

Each object designated has more than one function, and it is always in a state of change. We proceed in the evolution of Breton's poetry from metaphor to metonymy where the part suggests the whole, the microcosm evokes the macrocosm. If in the case of William Blake a universe is mirrored in the grain of sand, in Breton's cosmography it is contained in a far wider range of animal, mineral, vegetable entities, constantly woven together or engaged in dialogue with each other, the sand with the vine, the morning star with the shepherd.

What is the role of the poet in the contemplation of all these phenomena and conditions of living reality? He is identified with homely, humble workers involved in manual labor: the cobbler, the silk-weaver, the miller, the juggler—all workers, they can relate to the work of the poet in the sense in which Rimbaud classified the poet as a worker, among what he called "horribles travailleurs," in his Lettre du voyant.

But Breton is also evoking a series of creators of magic. Back in Poisson soluble he had envisaged himself with a five-leaf clover on his left shoulder. Here the magical gamut includes the dexterity of children playing games, the wonders of fairy tale prestidigitators such as Oberon, all building up to the most miraculous hand of all, that of the artist: Miró's presence first of all, whom Breton long considered the purest surrealist of all the artists who joined him, and then on from the hand that draws to the hand that writes. Toward the end of this series of what we might call myth capsules, in no. 18, entitled "L'Oiseau migrateur," he is obviously again identifying the poet: "le petit homme nu, qui tient la clé des rébus, est toujours assis sur sa pierre" ["the small nude man, who holds the key to the rebus, is forever sitting on his rock"].

But the identification of the poet is a double one. If on the one hand he is grouped with dexterous artisans, epitomized in the patient and sedentary weaver, on the other hand we have another set of images, those of people in movement: the migrant and the vagabond, the shepherd, the pilgrim progressing like a latter-day Theseus through a labyrinth. We had already met Breton earlier in his work in the labyrinth image; what is evolutionary here is that the labyrinth has become vertical. If in Poisson soluble we remember the young poet as a masked man, holding the keys of the mystery of life, here we see him alighting from the labyrinth—as he had promised he would—and shooting for the stars.

The steps of his progress are transcribed in his language. He has dug (je creuse, je moule, je l'abime, je vrille); he has woven; he has proceeded from the street maze to the pad-locked woods; his forces have burst out of their limits (with verbs like sublimer, evaser, extravaser) pushed up through spirals until no. 12 which is entitled "le 13 l'échelle a frôlé le firmament." He proceeds toward the rainbow in no. 15, toward the universal attraction which he recognizes as the quality of space in no. 20, and in the final piece, entitled "Le Passage de l'oiseau divin" he alludes to the flight of the butterfly, escaping even as it dies. In fact, here the upward movement joins another series of images that have been gradually building up to make an impact on our consciousness, a series which unlike the others here mentioned, was not previously predominant in Breton's normal referential system: that of music. In Poisson soluble we had had a suggestion of the music of the earth; here we build up to the music of the spheres. Poetic composition finds its closest ally in harmonic composition. References to musical instruments and musical function recur from one piece to the next, too numerous to enumerate here, but leading to an embrace between the creation of the hand and of the ear in that deeper unity of the creative power, of which they are seemingly different but intrinsically concerted manifestations, each in its way fueling the projectile of human desire.

The trajectory that Breton traced from 1924 to 1959 is a voyage from birth in water to absorption into the cosmos.

We may conclude that the Manifesto was indeed a very revolutionary document, not in terms of the limited meaning of political and social revolution, but as a broad recuperation and alignment of the attributes that constitute the common treasure. In retrospect he appears as a moment in history, offering an alternate choice to the sense of the absurd which was the more common reaction that was to accompany man's awareness of the cracking of the anthropocentric universe. In its global nature Breton's was rebellion without alienation. If, as we examined the progress of his poetic craft, we discerned powers of poetic construction more sophisticated than even Mallarmé's, we know full well that in his own mind his art had a secondary importance to his comportment as a human being. Beyond the literary destiny of his poetry was the significance of the new ontological posture it proposed. He used language as a staff and an aura to proclaim and to illustrate his efforts toward a redefinition of human destiny. (pp. 55-8)

Anna Balakian, "From 'Poisson Soluble' to 'Constellations': Breton's Trajectory for Surrealism," in Twentieth Century Literature (copyright 1975, Hofstra University Press), February, 1975, pp. 48-58.