- NAME: André Breton
- OCCUPATION: Philosopher, Artist, Literary Critic, Editor, Publisher, Journalist, Author, Poet
- BIRTH DATE: February 18, 1896
- DEATH DATE: September 28, 1966
- Did You Know?: French writer and critic André Breton is considered the founder of Surrealism.
- PLACE OF BIRTH: Tinchebray, France
- PLACE OF DEATH: Paris, France
Best Known For
French writer and poet André Breton is best known as one of the founders of the Surrealist movement in literature and art.
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André Breton was born on February 18, 1896, in Tinchebray, France. After a brief medical career and military service in World War I, he settled in Paris and joined the city's artistic avant-garde. In the early 1920s he became one of the founders of the Surrealist movement. He wrote a Surrealist manifesto encouraging free expression and the release of the subconscious mind, followed by the novel Nadja and volumes of essays and poetry. He died in Paris in 1966.
"I believe in the future resolution of these two states, dream and and reality, which are seemingly so contradictory, into a kind of absolute reality, a surreality."
"Beauty will be convulsive or will not be at all."
André Breton was born into a working-class family on February 18, 1896, in Tinchebray, a small town in Normandy, France. As a young man, he attended medical school, taking a particular interest in the study of mental illness. When his education was interrupted by his service in World War I, he worked in the psychiatric wards of military hospitals. He also read the writings of famous psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud, whom he would meet in 1921.
Breton was also interested in the work of Symbolist poets like Arthur Rimbaud and Charles Baudelaire, and in the political theory of Karl Marx. He soon came into contact with other aspiring writers who shared his interests, including Guillaume Apollinaire. In 1916, Breton joined the group of artists associated with the subversive Dada movement in Paris, including Marcel Duchamp and Man Ray.
By the early 1920s, however, Breton had shifted his allegiance to another group of intellectuals who would become known as the Surrealists. In 1924, he published Le Manifeste du Surréalisme (The Manifesto of Surrealism), a document announcing the new movement's embrace of all forms of liberated expression and its rejection of social and moral conventions. The Surrealists were fascinated by the fine line between reason and irrationality, especially as manifested in dreams, erotica and mental disorders. They encouraged writers and artists to adopt spontaneous means of expression such as free association and a stream-of-conscious method called "automatism."
Breton was one of the co-founders of Littérature, an influential journal that featured the first written example of automatism, titled Les Champs magnétiques (The Magnetic Fields). He also promoted visual artists such as Pablo Picasso, Joan Miró and Max Ernst by reproducing their work in the journal La Révolution Surréaliste (The Surrealist Revolution).
In the 1920s and '30s, Breton composed two more Surrealist manifestos and other texts about Surrealism, including Les Vases Communicants (The Communicating Vessels) and Qu'est-ce le que le Surréalisme? (What is Surrealism?). He also wrote poetry and fiction. His most famous novel, Nadja (1928), is a fantastical love story between the narrator and a mysterious, possibly insane, woman. L'Amour Fou (Mad Love), published in 1937, is a poetic meditation on obsessive love.
Breton's commitment to Marxism led him to join the French Communist Party in 1927. Although he left the party in 1935, he remained dedicated to Marxist philosophy. In 1938, he traveled to Mexico, where he and revolutionary leader Leon Trotsky collaborated on "Manifesto for an Independent Revolutionary Art," which examines art's connection to social upheaval.
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