Sunday, March 7, 2010

Excerpt from Introduction to the Discourse on the Paucity of Reality (1924), André Breton



Poetry evidences in our days such peculiar requirements. See what importance it attaches to the possible, and its love of the improbable. What is, or what might be—how insufficient that appears to be. Nature, it denies your rule. Objects, what does it care about your properties? . . .
Now consider words . . . Words are likely to group themselves according to individual affinities, which generally have the effect of making them re-create the world each instant upon its old model. Everything goes on, then, as though a concrete reality existed outside the individual; I might say, as if such reality were immutable. In the establishment of pure fact, pure and simple, if that is what we are after, we must have absolute certainty in order to advance something new, something the nature of which would shock common sense . . .
But, as I have already said, words, by virtue of the characteristics we find in them, deserve to have another decisive function. Nothing serves to modify them, since they respond in their own way with such promptness to our appeal. It is enough that our criticism should bear on the laws governing their assemblage. Does not the mediocrity of our universe depend essentially on our power of enunciation? In its most sterile seasons, poetry has often furnished proof of this; what debauches of starry skies, precious stones, dead leaves. Thank God a slow but sure reaction against this has finally developed in men's minds. Things said over and over again today meet a solid barrier. They have riveted us to this vulgar universe. It is from them we have acquired this taste for money, these constraining fears, this feeling for the native land, this horror of our destiny. I believe it is not too late to recoil from this deception, inherent in the words we have thus far used so badly. What is to prevent me from throwing disorder into this order of words, to attack murderously this obvious aspect of things? Language can and should be torn from this servitude. No more descriptions from nature, no more sociological studies. Silence, so that I may pass where no one has ever passed. Silence! After you, my beautiful language!
The object of language, they say, is to be understood. But understood how? Understood no doubt by me, when I listen like a child asking for the continuation of a fairy tale. Let them beware! I know the meaning of all my words and follow naturally a syntax (syntax which is not, as certain fools believe, a discipline). This being the case, I cannot see why there should be an outcry when they hear me declare that the most satisfactory image of the earth I can offer at this moment is that of the cardboard hoop. If such an ineptitude has never been advanced before me, then certainly it is not an ineptitude. Furthermore, I cannot be taken to account for a statement of this kind without my demanding the context. A rather dishonest person one day, in a note contained in an anthology, made a list of some of the images presented to us in the work of one of our greatest living poets. It read:
'The next day the caterpillar dressed for the ball' . . . meaning 'butterfly'.
'Breast of crystal . . . meaning carafe'.
Etc,
No, indeed, sir. It means nothing of the kind. Put your butterfly back in your carafe. You may be sure Saint-Pol-Roux said exactly what he meant.
Do not forget if for no other reason the belief in a certain practical necessity prevents us from ascribing to poetic testimony an equal value to that given, for instance, to the testimony of an explorer . . . To satisfy this desire for perpetual verification, I recently proposed to fabricate, in so far as possible, certain objects which are approached only in dreams and which seem no more useful than enjoyable. Thus recently, while I was asleep, I came across a rather curious book in an open-air market near Saint-Malo. The back of the book was formed by a wooden gnome whose white beard, clipped in the Assyrian manner, reached to his feet. The statue was of ordinary thickness, but did not prevent me from turning the pages, which were of heavy black cloth. I was anxious to buy it and, upon waking, was sorry not to find it near me. It is comparatively easy to recall it. I would like to put into circulation certain objects of this kind, which appear eminently problematical and intriguing. I would accompany each of my books with a copy, in order to make a present to certain persons. Perhaps in that way I should help to demolish those concrete trophies which are so odious, to throw further discredit on those creatures and things of 'reason'.
Who knows? There might be idle machines of a very scientific construction: Plans for immense cities might be minutely outlined which, although we never could carry them out, at least might classify the present and future capitals. Absurd automatons, perfected to the last degree, which would function like nothing else on earth, might give us an accurate idea of action.
Must poetic creations assume that tangible character of extending, strangely, the limits of so-called reality? May the hallucinatory power of certain images and the true gift of evocation which certain people possess, independently of the faculty of memory, no longer be misunderstood? The God within us does not, indeed, rest on the seventh day. We still have the first pages of Genesis to read. It perhaps remains for us only to hurl on the ruins of the ancient world the foundations of our new terrestrial paradise. Nothing yet is lost, for we know by certain signs that the great illumination follows its course. The perils into which reason leads us, in the most general and debatable sense of the word, in subjecting the works of the spirit to its irrevocable dogmas, in depriving us of the mode of expression which harms us the least—this peril, doubtless, is far from being dispelled. The deplorable inspectors who pursue us even after we leave school make their rounds of our homes and our lives. They make sure that we always call a cat a cat and, since after all we accept this to a great extent, they refrain from sending us to the galleys or the poorhouse or the penitentiary. Nevertheless, let us get rid of these officials as soon as possible . . .

above copied from: http://home.wlv.ac.uk/~fa1871/surrext.html

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