By Breton, André; Matthews, J. H.; Breton, André
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Extra info for André Breton : sketch for an early portrait
The celebrative nature of Breton's mode of criticism endowed his prose writings about painters, poets, and thinkers he respected with a quality setting it apart from commentary of the sort he viewed as contributing nothing to anti-rational comprehension. For the latter had more to do with sympathy than with measuring achievement by criteria which could be applied in objective judgement. Pleasing an audience to whom such judgement seemed reliable would have marked failure, for Breton. It would have entailed compromise of his own standards, no less demanding for being left unstated, merely implied, or announced only obliquely—as when he spoke admiringly of Picabia's taste for adventure without attempting to specify in which direction he saw his friend as having ventured.
If we ask what those statements have taught us about Breton's ideas on poetry—about his ideas on the poetic content of pictorial art in general and on Picabia's painting in particular—we see no way to avoid concluding that we really have learned little. We find ourselves, at this stage, more conscious of questions raised than of questions resolved. Frustration, rather than satisfaction, is likely to be the response of readers of good will who, having turned to André Breton for answers, discover that his texts fail to provide any.
During the early nineteen-twenties, André Breton was advancing, certainly, to a position from which he would see reconciliation with poetry take shape in surrealist doctrine. But he was doing so in a less than systematic fashion, more by trial and error, we suspect, than he later wished to admit. In his 1924 manifesto, surrealism was sharply but narrowly focused on the concept of verbal automatism. The end of the road traveled by Breton up to the Manifeste du surréalisme is clearly visible today.