Source of "FIRST TRANSFORMER MANIFESTO" is
title:Manifestoes of Surrealism
by Andre Breton
translated by Richard Seaver and Helen R.Lane
So strong is the belief in life, in what is most fragile in life
-real life, I mean-that in the end this belief is lost. Man,
that inveterate dreamer, daily more discontent with his
destiny, has trouble assessing the objects he has been led to
use, objects that his nonchalance has brought his way, or
that he has earned through his own efforts, for he has agreed to work, at
least he has not refused to try his luck (or what he calls his
luck!). At this point he feels extremely modest: he knows
what women he has had, what silly affairs he has been in-
volved in ; he is unimpressed by his wealth or poverty, in
this respect he is still a newborn babe and, as for the ap-
proval of his conscience, I confess that he does very nicely
without it. If he still retains a certain lucidity, all he can
do is turn back toward his childhood which, however his
guides and mentors may have botched it, still strikes him
as somehow charming. There, the absence of any known
restrictions allows him the perspective of several lives lived
at once; this illusion becomes firmly rooted within him;
now he is only interested in the fleeting, the extreme fa-
cility of everything. Children set off each day without a
worry in the world. Everything is near at hand, the worst
material conditions are fine.
The mere word "freedom" is the only one that still
excites me. I deem it capable of indefinitely sustaining the
old human fanaticism. It doubtless satisfies my only legiti-
mate aspiration. Among all the many misfortunes to which
we are heir, it is only fair to admit that we are allowed the
greatest degree of freedom of thought. It is up to us not to
misuse it. To reduce the imagination to a state of slavery
-even though it would mean the elimination of what is
commonly called happiness-is to betray all sense of abso-
lute justice within oneself. Imagination alone offers me
some intimation of what can be, and this is enough to re-
move to some slight degree the terrible injunction; enough,
too, to allow me to devote myself to it without fear of mak-
ing a mistake (as though it were possible to make a bigger
mistake). Where does it begin to turn bad, and where does
the mind's stability cease? For the mind, is the possibility
of erring not rather the contingency of good?
Man proposes and disposes. He and he alone can determine
whether he is completely master of himself, that is, whether
he maintains the body of his desires, daily more formida-
ble, in a state of anarchy. Poetry teaches him to . It bears
within itself the perfect compensation for the miseries we
endure. It can also be an organizer, if ever, as the result of
a less intimate disappointment, we contemplate taking it
seriously. The time is coming when it decrees the end of
money and by itself will break the bread of heaven for the
earth! There will still be gatherings on the public squares,
and movements you never dared hope participate in. Fare-
well to absurd choices, the dreams of dark abyss, rivalries,
the prolonged patience, the flight of the seasons, the artifi-
cial order of ideas, the ramp of danger, time for every-
thing! May you only take the trouble to practice poetry. Is
it not incumbent upon us, who are already living off it, to
try and impose what we hold to be our case for further in-
It matters not whether there is a certain disproportion
between this defense and the illustration that will follow
it. It was a question of going back to the sources of poetic
imagination and, what is more, of remaining there. Not
that I pretend to have done so. It requires a great deal of
fortitude to try to set up one's abode in these distant regions
where everything seems at first to be so awkward and diffi-
cult, all the more so if one wants to try to take someone
there. Besides, one is never sure of rally being there. If
one is going to all that trouble, one might just as well stop
off somewhere else. Be that as it may, the fact is that the
way to these regions is clearly marked, and that to attain
the true goal is now merely a matter of the travelers' ability
Soupault and I baptized the new mode of pure expression which we had
at our disposal and which we wished to pass on to our
friends, by the name of SURREALISM. I believe that there is
no point today in dwelling any further on this word and
that the meaning we gave it initially has generally prevailed
over its Apollinarian sense.
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. Psychic automatism in its pure state,
by which one proposes to express-verbally, by means of
the written word, or in any other manner-the actual func-
tioning of thought. Dictated by thought, in the absence of
any control exercised by reason, exempt from any aesthetic
or moral concern.
ENCYCLOPEDIA. Philosophy. Surrealism is based on the
belief in the superior reality of certain forms of previously
neglected associations, in the omnipotence of dream, in
the disinterested play of thought. It tends to ruin once and
for all all other psychic mechanisms and to substitute itself
for them in solving all the principal problems of life. The
following have performed acts of ABSOLUTE SURREALISM:
Messrs. Aragon, Baron, Boiffard, Breton, Carrive, Crevel,
Delteil, Desnos, Eluard, Gerard, Limbour, Malkine,
Morise, Naville, Noll, Peret, Picon, Soupault, Vitrac.
They seem to be, up to the present time, the only ones, and
there would be no ambiguity about it were it not for the
case of Isidore Ducasse, about whom I lack information.
And, of course, if one is to judge them only superficially by
their results, a good number of poets could pass for Surreal-
ists, beginning with Dante and, in his finer moments, Shake-
speare. In the course of the various attempts I have made to
reduce what is, by breach of trust, called genius, I have
found nothing which in the final analysis can be attributed
to any other method than that.
Young's Nights are Surrealist from one end to the other;
unfortunately it is a priest who is speaking, a bad priest no
doubt, but a priest nonetheless.
Swift is Surrealist in malice,
Sade is Surrealist in sadism.
Chateaubriand is Surrealist in exoticism
Constant is Surrealist in politics.
Hugo is Surrealist when he isn't stupid.
Desbordes-Valmore is Surrealist in love.
Bertrand is Surrealist in the past.
Rabbe is Surrealist in death.
Poe is Surrealist in adventure.
Baudelaire is Surrealist in morality.
Rimbaud is Surrealsit in the way he lived, and elsewhere.
Mallarme is Surrealist when he is confiding.
Jarry is Surrealist in absinthe.
Nouveau is Surrealist in the kiss.
Saint-Pol-Roux is Surrealist in his use of symbols.
Fargue is Surrealist in the atmosphere.
Vache is Surrealist in me.
Reverdy is Surrealist at home.
Saint-Jean-Perse is Surrealist at a distance.
Roussel is Surrealsit as a storyteller.
I would like to stress this point: they are not always Sur-
realists, in that I discern in each of them a certain number
of preconceived ideas to which-very naively!-they hold.
They hold to them because they had not heard the Surreal-
ist voice, the one that continues to preach on the eve of
death and above the storms, because they did not want to
serve simply to orchestrate the marvelous score. They were
instruments too full of pride, and this is why they have
not always produced a harmonious sound.
But we, who have made no effort whatsoever to filter,
who in our works have made ourselves into simple recep-
tacles of so many echoes, modest recording instruments who
are not mesmerized by the drawings we are making, per-
haps we serve an even nobler cause. Thus do we render with
integrity the "talent" which has been lent to us. You might
as well speak of the talent of this platinum ruler, this mir-
ror, this door, and of the sky, if you like.
We do not have any talent;
Ask Robert Desnos, he who, more than any of us, has
perhaps got closest to the Surrealist truth, he who, in his
still unpublished works and in the course of the numer-
ous experiments he has been a party to, has fully justified
the hope I placed in Surrealism and leads me to believe
that a great deal more will still come of it. Desnos speaks
Surrealist at will. His extraordinary agility in orally fol-
lowing his thought is worth as much to us as any number of
splendid speeches which are lost, Desnos having better
things to do than record them. He reads himself like an
open book, and does nothing to retain the pages, which fly
away in the windy wake of his life.
Surrealism will usher you into death, which is a secret so-
ciety. It will glove your hand, burying therein the pro-
found M with which the word Memory begins. Do not
forget to make proper arrangements for your last will and
testament: speaking personally, I ask that I be taken to
the cemetery in a moving van.
Surrealism does not allow those who devote themselves to
it to forsake it whenever they like. There is every reason
to believe that it acts on the mind very much as drugs do;
like drugs, it creats a certain state of need and can push
man to frightful revolts. It also is, if you like, an artificial
paradise, and the taste one has for it derives from Bau-
delaire's criticism for the same reason as the others. Thus
the analysis of the mysterious effects and special pleasures it
can produce-in many respects Surrealism occurs as a new
vice which does not necessarily seem to be restricted to the
happy few; like hashish, it has the ability to satisfy all man-
ner of tastes-such an analysis has to be included in the
1.It is true of Surrealist images as it is of opium
images that man does not evoke them; rather they "come to
him spontaneously, despotically. He cannot chase them
away; for the will is powerless now and no longer controls
the faculties." It remains to be seen whether images have
ever been "evoked."
The countless kinds of Surrealist images would require a
classification which I do not intend to make today. To
group them according to their particular affinities would
lead me far afield; what I basically want to mention is their
common virtue. For me, their greatest virtue, I must con-
fess, is the one that is arbitrary to the highest degree, the
one that takes the longest time to translate into practical
language, either because it contains an immense amount
of seeming contradiction or because, presenting itself as some-
thing sensational, it seems to end weakly (because it sud-
denly closes the angle of its compass), or because it derives
from itself a ridiculous formal justification, or because it is
of a hallucinatory kind, or because it very naturally gives
to the abstract the mask of the concrete, or the opposite, or
because it implies the negation of some elementary physi-
cal property, or because it provokes laughter. Here, in
order, are a few examples of it:
1st. Whether we like it or not, there is enough there
to satisfy several demands of the mind. All these images
seem to attest to the fact that the mind is ripe for some-
thing more than the benign joys it allows itself in general.
This is the only way it has of turning to its own advantage
the ideal quantity of events with which it is entrusted.
These images show it the extent of its ordinary dissipation
and the drawbacks that it offers for it. In the final analysis,
it's not such a bad thing for these images to upset the mind,
for to upset the mind is to put it in the wrong. The sen-
tences I quote make ample provision for this. But the mind
which relishes them draws therefrom the conviction that
it is on the right track; on its own, the mind is incapable
of finding itself guilty of cavil; it has nothing to fear, since,
moreover, it attempts to embrace everything.
2th. The mind which plunges into Surrealism re-
lives with glowing excitement the best part of its childhood.
For such a mind, it is similar to the certainty with which
a person who is drowning reviews once more, in the space
of less than a second, all the insurmountable moments of
his life. Some may say to me that the parallel is not very
encouraging.But I have no intention of encouraging those
who tell me that. From childhood memories, and from a
few others, there emanates a sentiment of being uninte-
grated, and then later of having gone astray, which I hold
to be the most fertile that exists. It is perhaps childhood
that comes closest to one's "real life"; childhood beyond
which man has at his disposal, aside from his laissez-passer,
only a few complimentary tickets; childhood where every-
thing nevertheless conspires to bring about the effective,
risk-free possession of oneself. Thanks to Surrealism, it
seems that opportunity knocks a second time. It is as though
we were still running toward our salvation, or our perdi-
Surrealist methods would, moreover, demand to be
heard. Everything is valid when it comes to obtaining the
desired suddenness from certain associations. The pieces
of paper that Picasso and Braque insert into their work
have the same value as the introduction of a platitude into
a literary analysis of the most rigorous sort. It is even
permissible to entitle POEM what we get form the most
random assemblage possible (observe, if you will, the syn-
tax) of headlines and scraps of headlines cut out of the
And we could offer many many more examples. The
theater, philosophy, science, criticism would all succeed in
finding their bearings there. I hasten to add that future
Surrealist techniques do not interest me.
It's a shame that the
violation of the laws governing the Press is today scarcely repressed,
for if it were not we would soon see a trial of this sort: the accused
has published a book which is an outrage to public decency. Several
of his "most respected and honorable" fellow citizens have lodged a
complaint against him, and he is also charged with slander and libel.
There are also all sorts of other charges against him, such as insulting
and defaming the army, inciting to murder, rape, etc. The accused,
moreover, wastes no time in agreeing with the accusers in "stigmatiz-
ing" most of the ideas expressed. His only defense is claiming that he
does not consider himself to be the author of his book, said book
being no more and no less than a Surrealist concoction which pre-
cludes any question of merit or lack of merit on the part of the
person who signs it; further, that all he has done is copy a document
without offering any opinion thereon, and that he is at least as for-
eign to the accused text as is the presiding judge himself.
What is true for the publication of a book will also hold true
for a whole host of other acts as soon as Surrealist methods begin to
enjoy widespread favor. When that happens, a new morality must
be substituted for the prevailing morality, the source of all our trials