Revolution of the Mind: The Life of André Breton by Mark Polizzotti

Tuesday, May 24, 2011 § 1

The Monumental André Breton Biography: A Detailed Inter(text)ual Interpretation of the Surrealist Movement 

A Book Review by 
David Detrich

Revolution of the Mind: The Life of André Breton (1995) by Mark Polizzotti is a biography of the poet/essayist André Breton, who is the founder of the Surrealist movement in literature, and with his early works such as The Magnetic Fields (1920),  began the literary movement that is an expression of psychic automatism, evolving from the Paris Dada movement after the performance of the Tristan Tzara drama The Gas Heart (1921). It is the role of the biographer/translator to familiarize his, or herself, with the life of the poet, and Revolution of the Mind: The Life of André Breton is based on extensive research on the events which make up André Breton's life, becoming a monumental work on the contribution of André Breton and the Surrealist poets, novelists, and artists to the innovative literature of the 20th Century.

In preparing this book, I have benefited first and foremost from special access to Breton's unpublished papers and correspondence. This access was granted by Breton's heirs, who waived a specific testamentary provision that the papers not be made public until 2016.
                                                           Mark Polizzotti

When the date of 2016 is mentioned, this wish to protect André Breton's papers may imply that Surrealism as a movement is an ongoing literary trend that may have a specific future development. This creates an open structure for biography, and Mark Polizzotti has written with understanding about the events of André Breton's life, complete with relevant comments made at the time of writing.

...I had several notebooks, totaling over 1,000 pages, giving a day-to-day calendar of Breton's life. It's not that I meant to follow chronology slavishly: though the biography is presented in chronological form, my research constantly (and unavoidably) jumped from period to period and aspect to aspect.
                                                   Perry Lindstrom:
                                                   Interview with Mark Polizzotti
                                                   Mark Polizzotti

Revolution of the Mind: The Life of André Breton analyzes the creation of André Breton's early writings, such as the The Magnetic Fields (1920) by André Breton and Philippe Soupault, a collaborative text that shows the poetic style of visionary writing that foreshadows future events in the development of the Surrealist movement.

Once we loved the year's last sunny days, the narrow plain where our eyes' gaze flowed like those impetuous rivers of our childhood. There remain nothing but reflections now in the woods repopulated with absurd animals, with well-known plants.
                                                           Magnetic Fields
                                                           André Breton and 
                                                           Philippe Soupault

The Magnetic Fields represents the early poetic style of André Breton and Philippe Soupault, with the transition in scene from the "impetuous rivers" which thrilled the young poets, to the peaceful "reflections" in the woods of the present moment of writing. Mark Polizzotti describes the collaboration of André Breton and Philppe Soupault as a "two headed author," similar to the Hydra-headed monster that is known from mythology.

Instead, the texts that ultimately composed The Magnetic Fields resulted from a process of collaboration. The "man cut in two" metamorphosed into the two halves of a simultaneous writing consciousness, or as Aragon described it, "a single two-headed author." The other head belonged to Soupault.
                                                          Revolution of the Mind
                                                          Mark Polizzotti

If You Please (1920) by André Breton and Philippe Soupault is a drama that was published the year before The Gas Heart (1921) by Tristan Tzara, and shows the youthful spontaneity of Surrealism in a drama written in a rationalist style, foreshadowing the objective prose and omniscient logic which would lead to the Surrealist novel Nadja (1928).

Valentine: The brilliant words I would like to say stream in the sky like stars which you were looking at. You don't want to laugh?  When you are away from me it is your laugh that I hear first of all.
                                                           If You Please
                                                           André Breton
                                                           Philippe Soupault

Mark Polizzotti considers the individual works of André Breton in Revolution of the Mind: The Life of André Breton, so that the reader will learn in detail how the early poetry was written, and how the idea of automatic writing began. André Breton had studied psychiatry during the years of the First World War, and was trying to evoke a spontaneous monologue from his patients, who he thought would reveal the contents of the unconscious mind.

Although Breton first launched Surrealism as a movement in 1924, he never failed to point out that the true kernel of the "Surrealist revolution," lay in the discovery of automatic writing—and specifically in the composition of The Magnetic Fields—in the spring of 1919.
                                                           Revolution of the Mind
                                                           Mark Polizzotti
After writing The Magnetic Fields André Breton went on to write the Surrealist novel Soluble Fish (1924), and The Surrealist Manifesto (1924), so that the Surrealist movement was launched after the conclusion of Paris Dada. The youthful witticisms of Dada continued with Surrealism, and André Breton created a new genre with the Surrealist novel: a poetic novel written with a high degree of visual metaphor giving the new literary movement an innovative brilliance.

Revolution of the Mind: The Life of André Breton by Mark Polizzotti is one of the most detailed biographical works on the Surrealist movement, with numerous quotations that reveal the precise meaning that André Breton and the Surrealists attributed to the creative works which make up the most significant development in 20th Century literature and art.

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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