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Surréalisme of André Breton Posted by on May 5, 2011 in Culture, Music, Vocabulary

Imagine if you were to completely open your mind, without the slightest form of compulsion or restraint, set it into the most “passive mode“, and start writing, just writing, not caring about any considération logique ou esthétique (logical or esthetical consideration)… Give free reign to your subconscious to express itself in plain words.

If you were able to achieve this sensational experience, then that’s how close you could get to the essence of “surréalisme“, as it was defined by its main fondateur (founder), the French André Breton.

* * *

In doing so, André Breton appears as le produit intellectuel pur (the pure intellectual product) of exactly two major figures that preceded him:

– First, le Docteur Sigmund Freud, who identified the concept of “le subconscient“, or “the subconscious“, in modern psychoanalysis.

– Second, Karl Marx, whose Communist “manifesto” promised to set la classe du prolétariat (the hard working class) free from the yoke of the capitalist class.

* * *

The deep double influence of le père de la psychanalyse (the father of psychoanalysis) and le père du communisme (the father of communism) is indeed claire comme de l’eau de roche (crystal clear) in Breton’s own manifesto. A manifesto to which, surprisingly enough for a big fan of “unrestrained imagination”, Breton gave the rather unimaginative title of “Manifeste du Surréalisme” (“Surrealist Manifesto.”)

This document, the “Surrealist Manifesto“, was published in two versions, and was to leave a deep impact in literature, music, as well as les arts visuels (visual arts), with Salvador Dali being a case in point in that respect (in painting as well as in film.) The initial version of the Manifesto was personally rédigée (drafted) by Breton in 1924, while the second followed five years later, but this time written only under his supervision.

With André Breton’s “Surréalisme“, Sigmund Freud’s “subconscient” (“subconscious”) joins the rank and file of Karl Marx’s “révolution permanente” (“permanent revolution”)!

* * *

Instead of advocating the freedom of workers, as Marx did in his manifesto, Breton’s manifesto proposed to free le subconscient from what his movement regarded as the oppressive chains of logic, traditions, self-censorship, and so on.


* * *

With that being said, however, no matter how well-intentioned the “surrealistic” and openly “subversif ” (“subversive”) content of Breton’s call was at the time it was issued, une lecture critique (a critical reading) of his work would certainly question the “wisdom” behind it.

Comment cela? (How so?)


If we were to see le surréalisme for what it is, a simple and spontaneous call to plunge deep into the dark pools of our subconscious, meaning into what is precisely *below* our consciousness (the prefix “sub-” in the word “subconscious” means “below”), and not *above* our consciousness, then by establishing a simple symbolic analogy with other works of Platonic inspiration, such as Dante Alighieri‘s “Divine Comédie” (“Divine Comedy”), one can then easily see what le surréalisme would effectively correspond to.

* * *

Where would the path of le royaume du subconscient (the realm of the subconscious), warmly recommended by the surrealists, would ultimately lead to, according to the Platonic perspective of Dante’s magnum opus, “La Divine Comédie” (“The Divine Comedy”)?

* * *

Indeed, seen within this perspective platonique (Platonic perspective), Surrealism would then appear as the equivalent of an open invitation kindly addressed to humanity, urging it to take a sort of “aller simple” (“one-way ticket”) for a “chute libre collective” (“collective free fall.”) Instead  of leading “upwards”, in an ascending journey towards higher levels of consciousness, to Dante’s “Paradisio” in this case, it would on the contrary lead “downwards”, below consciousness level, straight into the abyss of “Inferno“, Dante’s hell.

* * *

Once again, the aim of this critique d’inspiration platonique (critique of Platonic inspiration) is not to question the motivation or la bonne intention (the good intention) of Breton and his followers. In fact, most of them seem to have held the best intentions in advocating the emergence of this kind of “révolution” in l’esprit humain (the human mind.) But then again, and as we’ve just seen in the analogy made with Dante’s magnum opus, “le chemin vers l’enfer est pavé de bonnes intentions” (“The road to hell is paved with good intentions.”)

* * *

* Vocabulaire:

Arts visuels: Visual arts

Bonne intention: Good intention

– Une chute libre: A free fall

Clair comme de l’eau de roche: Crystal clear

– La Divine Comédie: The Divine Comedy

– L’esprit humain (the human mind)

– Le fondateur: The founder

– L’Inconscient: The Unconscious

– Manifestes du Surréalisme: Surrealist Manifestos

– Le père de la psychanalyse: The father of psychoanalysis

– Perspective platonique: Platonic perspective

– Le produit intellectuel pur: The pure intellectual product

– Rédigé: Drafted

– Le subconscient: The subconscious





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  1. Andreas:

    Hello, Hichem
    Thanks for the blog: both insightful and interesting to read. It’s so beautiful to communicate with a highly intellectual person(And I don’t give compliments at all). I’m also very fond of Plato’s ideas; and as I study Italian, I’m going to read the Divine Comedy.
    PS I an writing in English because I haven’t practiced my French for a while because of some problems that I had and the ideas somehow do not form in my head in French. Hope to get into French groove soon.
    PPS I’ve found your name in wikipedia, so I have known it for a while already.

    • Hichem:

      @Andreas Merci bien, Andreas, et bonne chance avec la Comedie Divine dans sa langue originelle.
      Si tu veux approfondir ta connaissance de l’Italien, tu peux consulter l’equivalent de notre Blog en cette langue:

  2. Andreas:

    Salut, Hichem

    Je participe à ce blog déjà il ya quelques ans. C’est un blog vraiment magnifique:

    • Hichem:

      @Andreas Merci de rester fidèle à notre French Blog, Andreas!