Here and Nowhere: Surrealism 法國超現實主義

It is hard to hear a new voice, as hard as it is to listen to an unknown language. We just don't listen. Suppose we do, we, then, get irritated and say it is but a heresy. We just don't like it. That's all.

There are times we are untrue to ourselves--to tell the truth of what we believe, of what we feel. We never dare ask a simple question, though it appears to be ludicrous in one way or the other. And that is the reason why Breton's voice irritated us.

But what is Breton's new language all about?

What is his belief? What is his disbelief?

Belief? You are a dummy, boy. One would say.

But so what. You can't live without a belief. You have to believe in learning to disbelieve. That is the question. That is what Breton believes.

Early in life, Breton believed, and still believes, that basic revisions of notations of reality, eternity, life and death, chance, the dream, love, and the sacred are mostly urgent. They require man, if he is true to himself, to make a new adjustment to material existence.1

But we are always untrue to ourselves.

Still it irritates Breton little or not at all. Still he makes immediate life his concern. Still he addresses to living people.2

He says--

He never believes in any scientific analysis. It is brain-racking indeed.

He never believes in positivism. It is hostile to any intellectual or moral advancement.3

He never believes in Logic. It is no less than a whip.

Yet he believes that these are all the imprisonment of the soul. What is the soul imprisoned? We don't know. But Breton unpretentiously says:

    I loathe it, for it is made up of mediocrity hate and dull conceit.4
He believes in the marvelous. Only the marvelous is beautiful, he says.5

He believes in "the future resolution of these two states, dream and reality, which are seemingly so contradictory, into a kind of absolute reality, a surreality."6

Breton's search for revelation, Balakian says, is the pursuit of liberty as a modern Lucifer, through layers of darkness, treading on uncertain ground, a "terrain vague," the field, which has its own analogical meanings.7

But could a modern Lucifer--as we can see--be so compassionate with human afflictions, with the imprisonment of the soul? One will doubt that.

Undoubtedly the pursuit of liberty is by no means a way to honor or something like that. It is the way-away from the imprisonment of the soul. It belongs to Surreality. It belongs to Man. Not Lucifer.

Lawrence once declared that "men are free when they are obeying some deep, inward voice of religious belief. Obeying from within."8 It is on this deep, inward belief that Breton sets out his journey.

The journey is hard. The field all darkness. But, it is true.

We are through and through horrified by these scenes, for we scarcely confess our desires, our unconscious frailty. Simply we repress our desires. Breton says,

Let me come back again to the waking state. I have no choice but to consider it a phenomenon of interference.... It scarcely dares express itself and, if it does, it confines itself to verifying that such and such an idea, or such and such a woman, has made an impression on it.9

Accordingly he turns away from reality (the waking state) in quest of Surreality, thinking that dream process is the unification of the waking and the un-waking, and man's lost soul, through dreams, can be re-covered. Thus "the incurable human restlessness" will come to an end. So, Breton sits down and starts writing his philosophical Surrealism. He states that:

Surrealism is based on the belief in the superior reality of certain forms of previously neglected associations, in the omnipotence of dream, in the disinterested play of thought. It tends to ruin once and for all all other psychic mechanisms and to substitute itself for them in solving the principle problems of life.10

It is the belief, which Breton obeys from within, that makes Surrealism genuine. According to his statement, Breton seems to be a bragger, no matter that his observation is true. True not to every one, of course, but to himself. He boasts--quite literally.

And we never boast, don't we?

Now, the truth: Breton is not a metaphysical bragger. Instead he would rather act than merely talk. "Far more serious," he says, "in my opinion--I have intimated it often enough--are the applications of Surrealism to action. To be sure, I do not believe in the prophetic nature of the Surrealistic word."11

What is the prophetic nature of the Surrealistic word then?

That is the word bound to habitual associations and abstractions which bridle mental activities and chain the soul. For Breton, language is "a vehicle by means of which intrinsic truths surge from the psychic depths of conscience, precluding the possibility of the existence of abstract thought separate from its symbolization."12 Only by recognizing this fact, could one restore language to its original innocence and purity. When one can communicate with this innocent and pure language, he is free of himself from any obligations of politeness. So to speak, TO HISELF HE IS TRUE IN LANGUAGE AGAIN.

Language is, in fact, useful only when it enhances our ability to make new discoveries of life. There are times we don't know how to talk because we don't know what to talk. We don't know what profound meanings our language have--so, we talk.

But shouting is irritating (this is a magnificent word).

"Be still," Lawrence would say, "when you have nothing to say; when genuine passion moves you, say what you've got to say, and say it hot."13

Automatism is the liberation of language.

There are two operations in automatism: (1) the fortuitous encounter of words; (2) the deciphering of words. The fortuitous encounter of words is the general technique employed by Breton, constructing the basis of the poetic image, inducing the spontaneous revelation of associations, and creating successive images which combine to form the poetic metaphor. The deciphering of words is important to the readers because, by doing so, the readers can participate in a poem and interpret it in his own sense.

A splendid idea, isn't it? What is a poem to you except the one that you can understand and feel it from the bottom of your heart.

That is the absolute reality. Your soul freed.

Provocative images, in Breton's opinion, are merely means to awaken the unconscious mind of man. There's no harm at all. "The mind becomes aware of the limitless expanses wherein its desires are made manifest, where the pros and cons are constantly consumed, where its obscurity does not betray."14

But we are afraid of the images as the day we have eaten the apple and hidden ourselves in the bushes.

We don't listen to a new voice. We dare not open our eyes. We don't like it: we don't explain.

Breton explains for us:

SURREALISM, n. Psychic automatism in its nurse state, by which one proposes to express--verbally, by means of the written word, or in any other manner--the actual functioning of thought. Dictated by thought, in the absence of any control, exercised by reason, exempt from any aesthetic or moral concern.15

And Balakian provides another explanation:

. . . the experiments in automatic writing had been undertaken not to establish norms but to discover for each his own inner flame.16

Dreams and automatism are but toys for Breton. He will discard them immediately if they become stale.

All he seeks is the liberty of the soul, unbound by any absolute rationalism.

He establishes a surreality--here and nowhere--on earth.

He allows us to confess what we love and what we hate with an innocent and pure language.

He makes us believe in his belief of sincerity of life.



1 Anna Balakian, Andre Breton: Magus of Surrealism (New York: Oxford University Press, 1971), p.4.

2 Ibid.

3 Andre Breton, Manifestoes of Surrealism, trans. Richard Seaver (The University of Michigan, 1969), p.6.

4 Ibid.

5 Ibid., p.14.

6 Ibid.

7 Balakian, p.66.

8 D.H. Lawrence, Studies in Classic American Literature (Penguin, 1977), p.12.

9 Breton, pp.12-3.

10 Ibid., p.26.

11 Ibid., p.44.

12 Balakian, p.92.

13 Lawrence, p.23.

14 Breton, pp.37-8.

15 Ibid., p.26.

16 Balakian, pp.81-2.

by Thomas Shum