There were two quotes that particularly struck me in André Breton’s Le Manifeste du Surréalisme (1927). The first concerns the state of the mind of a dreaming man:
The mind of the dreaming man is fully satisfied with whatever happens to it. The agonizing question of possibility does not arise. Kill, plunder more quickly, love as much as you wish. And if you die, are you not sure of being roused from the dead? Let yourself be led. Events will not tolerate deferment. You have no name. Everything Is inestimably easy.
To start, this idea is distinctly Nietzschean when brought out of the realm of the dream and into reality. The idea of being “fully satisfied with whatever happens” rings of the idea of embracing the eternal recurrence of life, pleasant and unpleasant, with a continual “Yes”; an amor fati. The dreaming man let’s himself be lead by what occurs without a concern towards morality, for after all, it is a dream. But the crossing over from the dream seems to be the reality of surrealist art. Making sense matters far less (if at all) than expressing or conveying whatever is. Instead of the art being a medium for the artist to express anything transcendental or even simply aesthetically pleasing it seems almost that the artist has become the medium by which the art demands and manifests its own existence; the art controls the artist.
Breton describes a similar lack of control in his incorporating a bizarre sentence and image – “A man is cut in half by the window” – into his poetic works:
…the control which I had had over myself up to that point seemed illusory and I no longer thought of anything but how to put an end to the interminable quarrel which was taking place within me.
This seems to be a new concept in the history of French art: art as internal conflict. In this way Surrealism almost seems to me as a sort of Subconscious Impressionism – it is neither purely self-expressive, nor does it convey the artists perception of another. It is the artist’s impression of the mystery of their own subconscious (which, funnily enough, wouldn’t have been a mystery they would have been aware of or would have looked to solve without Freud’s influence, I think).
The two images I’ve selected to look at in class are two paintings by René Magritte (who I’m actually somewhat fond of):
“The Son of Man” (1964)
“The Man in the Bowler Hat” (1964)