Biography of André Breton (1896-1966)

Poet, essayist, critic and French editor born on February 18, 1896 in Tinchebray-Orme, and died on September 28, 1966 in Paris. He/She was one of the promoters of the surrealist movement in France.

Raised in a family of modest condition, from his early student at a Parisian liceo Breton discovered the charms and the power of poetry, occupying this very soon central in his life, even when in 1913 began, without too much vocation, career in medicine. The poets who were to be their preferred since that time were Baudelaire and Mallarmé, which used the poetry not only as an object of aesthetic pleasure, but as a means of spiritual search.

The trigger is the first world war, he/she was mobilized beginning in 1915 in a health service. Readings that took place and the dark experiences in the war made that his sensitivity and his thinking would be affected. Read to Lautréamont, Rimbaud, Jacques Vache, and Freud. Jacques Vaché, whose Breton made a beautiful portrait entitled scornful confession, particularly is one of the most admired for his corrosive humour, he/she attacked the hierarchies, their social values, his mystical vision of art, etc. His suicide, committed a few weeks after the Armistice, placed him forever in the eyes of the poet as an example of absolute strength.

In 1919 he/she published his book Monte de Piedad, which makes the increasingly marked mistrust with respect to the established poetic latent. In this work, it goes beyond the question of the forms, and the nature and the purposes of poetry are implicitly put into question. Particularly noteworthy is the importance which this work has automatic writing, in large part because of the possibility it offers to resolve the conflict between the irrepressible need to script and the word, as a witness and attitude towards life, in addition to the temptation to use silence as a form of communication.

The practice of automatic writing was born out of the observation of the States of semisueno and the method freudiniano of the spontaneous associations-free application. Basically, it consists in scoring the monologue of thought as you reach the spirit outside (reason, logic, morality, taste, etc.) controls that guide the mental activity in the waking state. This annotation is write variable but always greater than normal speed.

The first trials of inner dictation capture resulting magnetic fields, common work of Breton and Philippe Soupault, published in 1920. Poetry that conveys is new, characterized above all by an unusual outburst of images. In 1933, in "Le message automatique", article in Point du juor, Breton insists the difficulties of this method of writing, as well as the risks of deformation involving.

On automatic writing is supported the surrealist project of recasting of human understanding. The assertion "I is another" Rimbaud cobra in it throughout its range. That other talking in automatic speech contains our own subjectivity, but surpasses it. It is important from this point of view that the experience is carried out between two, since it proves the existence of a common mental matter which perhaps puts us in accordance with the great natural currents. Poetry appears not as an activity of ornamentation or as a fun exercise, but as a way of being, an essential of all men need.

The Dada movement arrived in Paris with Tristan Tzara in 1920 and was violently rejected. Breton, Louis Aragon, Paul Éluard, Philippe Soupault and Picabia were spontaneously adhieron to this movement and actively participated in the demonstrations and the scandals that occurred in the years 1920 and 1921, which outraged and disturbed the literary and artistic circles.

But the nihilism that entailed the Dadaist movement was condemned from your own home. Breton had seen from the outset in this movement a means of communication, not an end, and when it filled their expectations away from it. The rupture with Tzara took place in 1922, on the occasion of the attempt of meeting of an International Conference for determination and defense of the trends of the modern spirit, which failed. Around Littérature, the magazine founded in 1919 by Aragon and Soupault with participation of Breton, met numerous poets young, including Paul Éluard, Benjamin Péret, Robert Desno, René Grevel, and painters from the Dada movement, such as Max Ernst, Jean Arp, Michel Leiris, Antonin Artaud, Pierre Naville, André Masson and Joan Miró.

The exploration of the unconscious experiences developed by the Group were carried out under different forms: Tales of dreams; words; writings; drawings obtained in a State of hypnotic sleep, mainly by Robert Desnos; collective games; texts and automatic drawings; etc. In several articles of 1922, Breton continued their reflection on the phenomenon, with the intention of showing a way to a new way of knowledge.

In 1923 he/she published his book clearing of land, whose title, as driven by great swirl of images, most recent poems is an affirmation of hope in man, always thrown forward by a passionate quest for freedom.

In the spring of 1924, Breton published a book compilation, the lost steps, in which appeared the articles written between 1918 and 1923. In it, set the stages of long road that led to the poet to the definition and assertion of surrealism.

However, it was through the publication of the magazine La revolution Surrealiste, whose first issue was published in December 1924, where was agreement group in the externalisation of the ideals of the surrealist group. In the heading of the first issue said "We must conclude in a new declaration of the rights of man". The manifesto of Surrealism had appeared a few weeks earlier, and was of vital importance since it is first and foremost on the fundamental inadequacy of life check man, since it refuses with force the State of fact and all forms of capitulation and resignation, as well as death: "live and let live are imaginary solutions. The existence is elsewhere".

In 1924 he/she founded the surrealist movement with the publication of the "surrealist manifesto", expressing his idea of social revolution: "surrealism is based on the belief in the higher reality of certain forms of Association scorned until the appearance of the same and the free exercise of thought. It tends to definitively destroy all remaining psychic mechanisms and replace them in the resolution of the main problems of life". In this manifesto, also settle the bases of psychic automatism as a means of artistic expression that comes without the intervention of the intellect.

Soon the movement approached politics and in 1927 Aragon, Eluard and Breton joined the Communist Party, although the surrealist idea will soon move away from official communism. Published in 1928 in Paris Le surréalisme et the peinture. In 1929, Breton restated the bases of the group with the publication of the "second surrealist manifesto" and gave a new name to the journal of the movement, now under political slogans: "Surrealism in the service of the revolution".

The manifest did not extend its ideals to the political and social field but if invited every man to exalt and to feed the forces of resistance and rebellion in itself, to reach absolute nonconformity. Thus, it was 1927, Surrealism was approached by communism, what it meant for Breton will work for the arrival of the social revolution, effective participation in the struggles of his time, and the use of surrealism to this end. But, finally, Breton broke with communism in June 1935, the Association of revolutionary artists and writers during the International Congress for the defense of culture.

Breton began working with surrealism to try to destabilize by various means the pillars of the dominant society: alienating work, constrictive family, the homeland that mutilates, the religion that mystifying and, in the last years of his life, the false myths of the consumer society. It seems that neither lost all hope of a reconciliation yet to come between Communism and the total liberation of the self.

That capacity, on the other hand, was manifested by the poet in all of his books since the advent of the manifesto. He/She was attentive to redefine the surrealist requirement when circumstances imposed on him is, as it will in 1929 with the "second manifesto of el Surrealismo", or in 1942 through the "Prolegomena to a third manifesto of Surrealism or not". Thus, the movement evolved and began within the same drawing the features of a new human type with an ethic of rupture, relentlessly interrogating various levels of experience, from its more modest and vulgar until its expression more intimate and more trastornante, aspects human love.

The novel Nadja, published by Breton in 1928, is a clear example of this surreal evolution. The protagonist of this tale (based on a true story) Nadja, is endowed with unusual powers and, at the same time, a weak being, who embodies this idea of life beyond all prudence. Announces the revelation that will occur shortly after his disappearance in the madness, "the full light of love where are confounded, for the full construction of man, obsessive ideas of salvation and perdition of the spirit", citing the second manifesto of surrealism.

From now on, Surrealism established love as the key value. Faith in love resists and must resist to Breton to the disappointments and failures; losing it is unexplained absence, maybe in love of a being is our essential truth. Thus, not only in the poems collected in 1932 in the grizzled revolver, or in 1934 in the air from the water, but also in communicating vessels and crazy love, love is located in the Centre of his inspiration and his thought.

In the communicating vessels, published in 1932, Breton is dedicated to show the close relationship that links the dream vigil by successive analysis of dreams and minimum episodes of the daytime existence. A whole network of relations between emotional and intellectual concerns and foreign events which are independent of them is demonstrated. It seems that conscience could not attend but that which responds, even completely indirectly, the unconscious need.

Love crazy (1937) continues the exploration of those phenomena which Breton designated by the name of random target, where match for more dazzling spirit the natural need and human need, and the building, which could not finish, a morality of desire, which Breton proclaims his innocence, absolute and radiant, in total with the Christian thought rupture: "There has never been forbidden fruit. Only the temptation is divine". It is by the action of the desire as the man comes to establish new relations of participation and transparency with nature. The book also gives testimony in its mode of growth of the unique relationship that unites in Breton to the work and life; It tells not a finished and closed experience, but an experience in process of life, open, in which writings intervenes as a call to the transmutation of the imaginary in real.

These three books that transcend much autobiography, are at the same time closely linked to the existence of the writer. In 1929, he/she broke with his first wife, and after the exhilarating and painful relationship evoked in Nadja and the publication of the communicating vessels, was married in 1934 to the INSPIRER of crazy love. They had a daughter at the end of 1935. Between 1935 and the war, made various trips (Prague, the Canary Islands, London and Mexico) that pointed out the international widening of surrealism, whose ideas had spread throughout the world; and surrealist groups in various countries, mainly Yugoslavia, Belgium, Czechoslovakia, Brazil and Japan had been created.

Since his adolescence, in which he/she discovered Cubism, Breton liked a very marked by the painting. It considered the artistic expression as a testimony of human aspirations that narrow sighted civilization had repressed and that, faithful to the "inner model" and not be dominated by the representative Convention, unified physical perception and mental representation. Surrealism and painting was first published in 1928 and subsequently prepared a last edition in 1965, which was enriched with numerous texts on painters and certain aspects or certain moments of artistic creation.

In September 1939, on the occasion of the start of the second world war, Breton was mobilized as a physician assistant at the Aviation School of Poitiers. After the disaster of June 1940, he/she spent some time in the South of France, not yet occupied by the German army. In Marseille it was embraced by the hospitality of the American Committee on aid to intellectuals, with other writers and painters suspected for the Vichy regime. There he/she wrote two of his major poems, "Right margin" and "Fata Morgana"; Although the latter was banned by the censorship as contrary to the spirit of national revolution. The publication of the anthology of black humour, conceived between 1937 and 1940, had also been criticized enough.

Deprived of any possibility of expression, the poet received a visa for the United States and embarked with his wife and daughter in March 1941, in the same boat as the writer Victor Serge and the Ethnologist Claude Lévi-Strauss, whose book Tristes tropics gives some quick strokes of that trip.

On the island of Martinique, he/she discovered the poetry of Aimé Césaire and befriended the poet. He/She wrote in his notebook of a return to the native country, desire pages extending the work since then. A book was also born of this short stay: charming snakes Martinique, published in 1948, with the collaboration of the painter André Masson. The poet was dazzled by tropical nature and reflected on the contrasts that alternately has human and spirit about the iniquities of the colonial system still in force and that continues to denounce.

It established their stay in New York since the summer of 1941 until early in 1946, where he/she worked to survive as a radio announcer in the broadcasts of voice of America. Was reunited don various friends in the United States, such as Marcel Duchamp and Max Ernst, and an international exhibition of Surrealism organized in 1942 with them and other new contributors and launches the magazine VVV: "victory over the forces of regression and death unleashed currently on Earth... Victory over what tends to perpetuate the subjugation of man by man... Victory also over everything that is opposed to the emancipation of the mind, whose first indispensable condition is the release of the man". Of this magazine, only four issues were published, and at last, appeared at the beginning of 1944, the great poem "The States General" was published.

The main event of this period was the meeting with Elisa in 1943, after the failure and subsequent rupture with his former partner. He/She was the main inspiration of the arcane 17 book, which was published in New York in 1945. Breton began to write it during the trip they made together to Gaspé, at the mouth of the San Lorenzo, in the summer of 1944. It is a work of hope, as he/she gives it to understand its title referring to diecisieteava blade of the tarot, the star, symbol of eternal rebirth. Through human passion, the myths of Osiris and Melusina of fertile of utopian thought dreams, the book celebrates the immutable power of regeneration and restarting, whose livelihoods are rebellion and love.

After a stay on Indian reservations in Western United States, where he/she outlined the Ode to Charles Fourier, and then another in Haiti, where one of his lectures caused among students such ebullience by a series of chain reactions the Government was ousted a little later, Breton returned to France with Elisa in the spring of 1946.

A surrealist group widely renovated and consisting mostly of very young people it is reconstituted around. The poet began publishing newsletters, flyers that fix position of Surrealism about political and social problems. They began to publish several magazines, including Neon, 1948-1949; Medium, 1953-1955; Le Surréalisme Meme, 1956-1959; Bief, 1959-1960; and La Brèche, 1961-1965.

Exposures occur one after another; in Paris, for example held three different between 1947 and 1965. The texts that Breton wrote during this period are contained in two collections: the key of the fields, published in 1953, and uninhibited perspective, where he/she met certain types of writings in 1970, four years after his death. In 1959, the Constellations, parallel to twenty two gouaches of Miró proses, performed a particular interpretation of painting and poetry, which is one of the main contributions of surrealism.

André Breton died on 28 September 1966, attacked by asthma and a heart attack. His body lies in a Paris cemetery, close to Benjamin Péret, his lifelong friend, disappeared a few years earlier, in 1959.


André Breton. The convulsive beauty. Catalogue of the exhibition. National Museum of modern art. Paris, Centre Georges-Pompidou, 1991.

BONNET, M. André Breton. Naissance de l'aventure surréaliste. Paris, José Corti, 1975.

GRACQ, J. André Breton. Quelques aspects de l' écrivain. Paris, José Corti, 1948.

LEGRAND, G. Breton. Paris, Belfond, 1977.

SHERINGHAM, M. André Breton. To Bibliography. London, Grant and Cutler, 1972.

Links on the Internet; Page about André Breton (in French); Page about André Breton (in English)