Conversations: The Autobiography Of Surrealism by Andre Breton


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Paragon House, 1993. First American edition. Hardback.

'The closest Andre Breton has ever come to writing an autobiography, Conversations--based on a series of radio interviews conducted with the founder of Surrealism in 1952.

Eugene Ionesco once said of Andre Breton:
"I put Breton on the same level as Einstein, Freud, Jung, or Kafka. In other words, consider him one of the four or five great reformers of modern thought." In 1952 Breton, the charismatic leader of Surrealism, gave a series of sixteen radio interviews, which, edited and rewritten by Breton himself, constitute by far the best testimony of his intellectual transformation and of the history of Dada and Surrealism. Of all the writings on Surrealism, Conversations is the only book to chronicle its entire history as lived from within by its founder.
Here, Andre Breton traces the development of Surrealism from his early association with the Symbolists to his discovery of automatic writing and his experimentation with the unconscious. (These sessions of "induced slumber" became less frequent after a hypnotized participant chased another across the lawn with a knife.) Breton recounts the Dada leader Tristan Tzara's flamboyant arrival in Paris, his own tumultuous association with the Dada movement, and the Surrealists' ongoing debate with Communism. He explains the Surrealists' rebellion against conformity - to "liberate man using poetry, dreams, and the marvellous" and to "formulate a new declaration of the rights of man."
Woven throughout are wonderful anecdotes of such celebrated figures as Artaud, Picasso, Trotsky, Dali, Bataille, Duchamp, and Bunuel. Writing with unequalled verve, Breton remembers a literary banquet, which thanks to the Surrealists who jumped on a table, ended in a brawl. He tells how Dali, as one of his outrageous pranks, would wear elegant suits onto which he had sewn artificial flies that ingeniously mimicked real ones. And Breton recalls how in a notorious public scandal, his enemies wrote a lampooning pamphlet entitled "A Corpse" and delivered funeral wreaths to his door.
In what is the closest Breton came to composing his intellectual autobiography, he writes with a lucidity and passion that places this volume among his best work. Most of all, throughout the book are the kinds of insights into the Surrealist movement that could come only from the man who embodied it for half a century.'