Manifesto of Surrealism

by André Breton

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Last Updated September 5, 2023.

Andre Breton's Manifesto of Surrealism (1924) discusses the idea that we "are living under the reign of logic." Breton talks about humankind's imagination and how it can, to a degree, hold a sense of madness. Breton admits that while the insane are (in his opinion) at fault for their actions, he believes they are also somewhat victim to their imaginations. Humanity, as a species, is a dreamer. As we age, we become modest and satisfied, turning back to our childhood in remembrance of a more charming time to contrast with what now seems a fleeting life.

Breton talks of how children's imaginations carry them through the first years of life, when the world is at their fingertips and they have no need to worry about material conditions; however, once we turn twenty, this becomes less acceptable, and we must turn to the real-world problems at hand.

Breton discusses our tendency to adopt a "realistic attitude, inspired by positivism" that births books and plays and draws from newspapers—an attitude that has unflattering tastes and borders on stupidity.

The activity of the best minds feels the effects of it; the law of the lowest common denominator finally prevails upon them as it does upon the others.

Because of our search for a logical understanding, we've all but eliminated any acceptance of superstitious theories or the search for meanings that don't directly conform to what society accepts. Breton credits Sigmund Freud with bringing a part of our mentality that we neglected to concern ourselves with back into the light, creating a new acceptance of the discussion of humanity's imagination and dreams.

Dreams during a sleeping state are a part of our psychic activity that's often neglected, and Breton shows disdain for the fact that people give more weight to "waking events" than those that occur in our dreams. He discusses the idea that, within their boundaries, dreams show signs of continuity and organization. He'd like to sleep in order to "surrender [him]self to the dreamers," hypothesizing that maybe his dream one night follows that of the preceding night and so on.

Breton asks why we don't grant dreams a certainty that we don't even grant to reality. For, theoretically, couldn't dreams also help answer life's fundamental questions? He offers the suggestion that maybe it's not because of reality that he grows old, but because of the way in which he treats his dreams.

Our waking state then becomes a "phenomenon of interference." Breton personifies ideas as women and says that while the mind functions normally, it dares not express itself without admitting that the idea (the woman) has made an impression.

Breton goes on to discuss the idea that the speed of thought and the speed of speech are equal and that the speed of thought doesn't defy language. It was from this concept that he and Philip Soupalt developed "thoughtwriting," deciding to write their thoughts on paper and compare what they had each come up with.

He defines the term surrealism "once and for all" as an attempt to express the way thoughts function, either verbally, by written word, or through any other form of art. Surrealism is based on a belief in neglected associations, in dreams.

The mind which plunges into Surrealism relives with glowing excitement the best part of its childhood.

Breton concludes by stating that the world is only "relatively in tune with thought." He credits surrealism with giving us the opportunity to explore our thoughts and dreams once more.

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