BRETON, André

André Breton French 1896-1966

André Breton was a writer, poet, anarchist and anti-fascist. He is known best as the founder of Surrealism. His writings include the first Surrealist manifesto ( Manifeste du surréalisme) of 1924, in which he defined surrealism as ‘Pure Psychic Automatism’.

He was born into a working-class family from Tinchenbray (Orne) in  Normandy and wrote poetry and studied medicine and psychology at a young age. During World War I, Breton worked in a neurological ward in Nantes, where he met Alfred Jarry and Alfred Vacheé whose anti-social attitude and disdain for established artistic tradition influenced Breton considerably.

In 1919 Breton launched the review Littérature with Louis Aragon and Philippe Soupault. He also associated with Tristan Tzara who was a Dadaist.   Although originally a Dadaist, Breton eventually broke away from this group, owing to aesthetic differences. In 1924, he published the Surrealist Manifesto, which outlines surrealist preoccupations and is considered to be the beginning of the Surrealist Movement. It also established Breton as the spearhead of Surrealism, a role he would maintain for the entire duration of the movement.

In the manifesto, Breton defined surrealism as “pure psychic automatism, by which an attempt is made to express—either verbally, in writing or in any other manner— the true functioning of thought. The dictation of thought, in the absence of all control by reason, excluding any aesthetic or moral preoccupation.”

During his lifetime, Breton produced a tremendous body of work that contained poetry, novels, criticism, and theory. Of his oeuvre, the collection of poems Mad Love (1937), the novel Nadja (1928) and the critical text Communicating Vessels (1932) are considered to be his most valuable contributions to the literary world.

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