The mere word “freedom” is the only one that still excites me. I deem it
capable of indefinitely sustaining the old human fanaticism . . . Imagination
alone offers me some intimation of what can be, and this is enough to
remove to some slight degree the terrible injunction . . .
… We still live under the reign of logic . . . But the methods of logic are
applied nowadays only to the resolution of problems of secondary interest.
The absolute rationalism which is still the fashion does not permit
consideration of any facts but those strictly relevant to our experience.
Logical ends, on the other hand, escape us. Needless to say that even
experience has had limits assigned to it. It revolves in a cage from which it
becomes more and more difficult to release it. Even experience is dependent
on immediate utility, and common sense is its keeper. Under colour of
civilization, under pretext of progress, all that rightly or wrongly may be
regarded as fantasy or superstition has been banished from the mind, all
uncustomary searching after truth has been proscribed. It is only by what
must seem sheer luck that there has recently been brought to light an aspect
of mental life—to my belief by far the most important—with which it was
supposed that we no longer had any concern. All credit for these discoveries
must go to Freud. Based on these discoveries a current of opinion is forming
that will enable the explorer of the human mind to continue his
investigations, justified as he will be in taking into account more than mere
summary realities. The imagination is perhaps on the point of reclaiming its
… I believe in the future resolution of these two states, dream and reality,
which are seemingly so contradictory, into a kind of absolute reality,
a surreality, if one may so speak. It is in quest of this surreality that I am
going, certain not to find it but too unmindful of my death not to calculate to
some slight degree the joys of its possession . . .
… I am resolved to deal severely with that hatred of the marvellous which is
so rampant among certain people, that ridicule to which they are so eager to
expose it. Let us speak plainly: The marvellous is always beautiful, anything
marvellous is beautiful; indeed, nothing but the marvellous is beautiful . . .
It was in 1919, in complete solitude and at the approach of sleep, that my
attention was arrested by sentences more or less complete, which became
perceptible to my mind without my being able to discover (even by very
meticulous analysis) any possible previous volitional effort. One evening in
particular, as I was about to fall asleep, I became aware of a sentence
articulated clearly to a point excluding all possibility of alteration and
stripped of all quality of vocal sound; a curious sort of sentence which came
to me bearing—in sober truth—not a trace of any relation whatever to any
incidents I may at that time have been involved in; an insistent sentence, it
seemed to me, a sentence I might say, that knocked at the window.
I was prepared to pay no further attention to it when the organic character of
the sentence detained me. I was really bewildered. Unfortunately, I am
unable to remember the exact sentence at this distance, but it ran
approximately like this: “A man is cut in half by the window.” What made it
plainer was the fact that it was accompanied by a feeble visual
representation of a man in the process of walking, but cloven, at half his
height, by a window perpendicular to the axis of his body. Definitely, there
was the form, re-erected against space, of a man leaning out of a window.
But the window following the man’s locomotion, I understood that I was
dealing with an image of great rarity. Instantly the idea came to me to use it
as material for poetic construction. I had no sooner invested it with that
quality, than it had given place to a succession of all but intermittent
sentences which left me no less astonished, but in a state, I would say, of
Preoccupied as I still was at that time with Freud, and familiar with his
methods of investigation, which I had practised occasionally upon the sick
during the War, I resolved to obtain from myself what one seeks to obtain
from patients, namely a monologue poured out as rapidly as possible, over
which the subject’s critical faculty has no control—the subject himself
throwing reticence to the winds—and which as much as possible
represents spoken thought. It seemed and still seems to me that the speed of
thought is no greater than that of words, and hence does not exceed the flow
of either tongue or pen.
It was in such circumstances that, together with Philippe Soupault, whom I
had told about my first ideas on the subject, I began to cover sheets of paper
with writing, feeling a praiseworthy contempt for whatever the literary result
might be. Ease of achievement brought about the rest. By the end of the first
day of the experiment we were able to read to one another about fifty pages
obtained in this manner and to compare the results we had achieved…
Those who might dispute our right to employ the term SURREALISM in
the very special sense that we understand it are being extremely dishonest,
for there can be no doubt that this word had no currency before we came
along. Therefore, I am defining it once and for all:
SURREALISM, n. Pure psychic automatism, by which it is intended to
express, verbally, in writing, or by other means, the real process of thought.
Thought’s dictation, in the absence of all control exercised by the reason and
outside all aesthetic or moral preoccupations.
ENCYCLOPAEDIA. Philosophy. Surrealism rests in the belief in the
superior reality of certain forms of association neglected heretofore; in the
omnipotence of the dream and in the disinterested play of thought.