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Soluble Fish by André Breton

Tuesday, May 24, 2011 § 0

Soluble Fish by André Breton: Metaphor as a Poetic Art/Form Transforming the Surrealist Novel

A Book Review by 
David Detrich

Soluble Fish (1924) by André Breton is a sophisticated poetic novel which is one of the first works of Surrealism, and with the Manifesto of Surrealism (1924), began the new literary movement which followed Paris Dada in the decade of the 1920s, after the success of the drama by Tristan Tzara called The Gas Heart (1921). Surrealism represents a significant new movement based on the esthetic theory of psychic automatism, and the youthful charm and brilliance of André Breton is evident in this early innovative text.

The park at this time of day, stretched its blond hands over the magic fountain. A meaningless castle rolled along the surface of the earth. Close to God the register of this chateau was open at a drawing of shadows, feathers, irises. The Young Widow's Kiss was the name of the country inn caressed by the speed of the automobile and the drapings of horizontal grasses.
                                                           Soluble Fish
                                                           André Breton

This passage describes a painterly scene which reveals the metaphor of a "park" with “blond hands,” an erotic image hidden in the unconscious awareness of the narrator, and expressed as a metaphor. And when this sentence is followed by, “A meaningless castle rolled along the surface of the earth,” I imagine a chess piece, an image which could be made into a film,  and which continues the theme of Paris Dada: the whimsical, and meaninglessness of chance occurrence. The theme of "shadow, feathers, irises," is reminiscent of Unica Zürn's drawings, and from the narrative perspective of someone who is "close to God," the poetic novel Soluble Fish begins with images which represent the irrational, yet are showing a spiritual enlightenment which sets the tone for the literary writing of the 1920s, a sophisticated metaphysical inter(text)uality which influenced the first works of Surrealism.

 Tell your mistress that the edge of her bed is a river of flowers.
                                                           Soluble Fish
                                                           André Breton

André Breton introduced the idea of poetic dialogue in Soluble Fish, a trend that has continued in the Surrealist novel through the first decades of the 21st Century. This innovative technique created the genre of the Surrealist novel: where the characters speak in poetic lines of painterly images, expressing a subtle eroticism based on post-Dadaist metaphor.

But above all, Soluble Fish is haunted by figures of elusive women: women "with breasts of ermine" and transparent hands, who wear "garments of the pure air," who dematerialize into shadows and veils during lovemaking, then disappear forever.
                                                          Revolution of the Mind:
                                                          The Life of André Breton
                                                          Mark Polizzotti

The eroticism of Soluble Fish reveals a sophisticated French culture, with scenes that parallel the Marquis De Sade, where different aspects of sexuality are considered by the young lovers. The "breasts of ermine" create a continuity with the ancient past, when women dressed well, and after "lovemaking" "disappear forever." These memories may be a treasure that lasts forever, and show the impermanence of a lifetime of experience. In the years when Soluble Fish was being written, André Breton worked at La Nouvelle Revue Francais, and had met Pablo Picasso. His writing shows an understanding of the esthetics of modern art, with visual images that express the transition in poetics from Dada to Surrealism.

His identifications with nature are in cadenced steps with his pursuits of love: a series of mysterious women mark his poetic vision; and in a passage called "a kiss is so quickly forgotten," he takes us into the burning forest where his eyes become flowers of the hazelnut tree, the trails beckon to him, his hair is transformed into mushrooms...
                                                            André Breton
                                                            Magus of Surrealism
                                                            Anna Balakian

The romantic relationships of Soluble Fish continue in André Breton's next novel Nadja (1928), and with the novelists and short story writers of the Surrealist movement he has idealized the idea of love. This is a love for the esthetics of poetry, modern Surrealist painting, and for the poetic novel. When Nadja speaks of the "blue wind," this art awareness is a form of self-representation as a modern Surrealist self-portrait, a sense of the future perfect which Jacques Derrida calls the pluspresent.

Looking back I no longer see clearly, it is as if a waterfall stood between the theatre of my life and me, who am not the principal actor in it.
                                                            Soluble Fish
                                                            André Breton

The narrator of Soluble Fish is being good hearted in his service to the literary community, and Philippe Sollers in Event expresses a similar thought, where the narrator has produced a work of inter(text)uality that has become: a collective consciousness composed of visionary experience with scenes that have a filmlike quality, and featuring a close reading of a text that is similar to their own. I have told the story of a red headed waterfall in my Surrealist novel-in-progress: The Convergence of Two Narrative Lines Ascending, a waterfall that whose red hair flows forward through time.
                                                        
To write false novels.

Whoever you may be, if the spirit moves you burn a few laurel leaves and, without wishing to tend this meager fire, you will begin to write a novel. Surrealism will allow you to: all you have to do is set the needle marked "fair" at "action," and the rest will follow naturally.
                                                           Manifesto of Surrealism
                                                           André Breton

The idea of a "false novel" is a novel which may not adhere to a specific genre, and in this sense the Surrealist novel is a new genre created by André Breton. In Manifesto of Surrealism (1924) André Breton invites the young reader to write a Surrealist novel, and echoes the advice of Tristan Tzara in writing a Dadaist poem. The use of psychic automatism, a technique used in pyschoanalysis to reveal the hidden desires of the mind, free from the moral constraints of the Super-ego, which represents the wisdom of the parental, or authoritarian voice of the mind, psychic automatism reveals the truth of the consciousness, and with Surrealism, this truth is put into poetic form, or into painting.

Now it is tenderness that takes hold once again, the boulevard like a swamp seasoning the luminous signboards with salt. I bring back wild fruits, sunny bays that I give her and that in her hands are immense jewels.
                                                           Soluble Fish
                                                           André Breton

With Soluble Fish by André Breton has become the novelist of his dreams. Soluble Fish has begun a trend that continues to be of relevance in the early decades of the 21st Century, with its innovative style of poetic creativity that has inspired young writers throughout the world.

Soluble Fish is a poetic text included in the book Manifestos of Surrealism (1969) by André Breton published by The University of Michigan Press.

David Detrich lives in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan where he has just completed The Convergence of Two Narrative Lines Ascending, an ultramodern Surrealist novel written in minimal squares. He is working on Dream the Presence of the Circular Breast Starfish Topography, a monumental Surrealist novel written with innovative typographical design. His first novel Big Sur Marvels & Wondrous Delights (2001) is available from Amazon. He is the editor of Innovative Fiction Magazine and Surrealist Star Clustered Illuminations.

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