Pazar, Aralık 07, 2014

Reflections on André Breton - Isidore Isou

“He said to me: “You are an opportunist.” It's true. But I think in the sense that Lenin was, or Nietzsche, or Rousseau; in the sense that I want to transform the world; I want to enforce proper conceptions on the vile and unimportant.”

Reflections on André Breton
Isidore Isou

Read at the Demonstration in the Salle des Sociétés Savantes in 1947
Published in 1948

Translated by Anna O’Meara

His generation is actively mediocre. It hasn't produced a Proust, a Bergson, a Valéry, or a Picasso.

Even compared to the ones that produced Mallarmé, Verlaine, Rimbaud, all of whom are now nothing but dust, shining worms in the grass of poverty.

For men who still dream of Descartes as a marble statue, presenting the impossible, who treat him with reverence; no one notices those with attentive expressions, minions to greatness. They judge impartially. They look for people to have haughty conversations with them. We often may be inclined to permit them this luxury.

Breton is no seer, but perhaps sees the most among the invisible. He tries to form unique questions. And so I feel obligated to say hello to him in passing. He has a knack for chewing up, crushing, and vomiting out his multi-colored food, mixed and dynamic with tiny moments in French literature (colors that become reduced to gray.)

I called Breton when I was organizing a demonstration and he filled the room. I think I saw him after the publication of my second book purely for political questions; he looked like a lion to some and as though he'd attack to others. We, however, dreamed of luring him into revealing himself and he predicted this, because the first words he said to me were: “Despite my wishes, I haven't seen you until now, because I was afraid of offending the paparazzi.” Surely, people prefer Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy, or at least Rita Hayworth (for her legs), but since we aren't interested in baseness...

I am not modest, but he gave the impression that he knew me: “For some time, I have been looking for something new.”

He kept this amiable air, even through the evening quarrel.

But here's the coarse of events: on the phone, I asked him to come to the demonstration.

He said: “Yes, but I would like to meet you first.”

Me: I will come with my friends.

Him: I would prefer to meet you alone.
We met at the Rhumerie Martiniquaise. He was a big he-she (sometimes more he and
sometimes more she.) He was very sensible (in the good sense of the word); not a
pontificater as some say. He was intelligent like his books, and I held a conversation with him as though he were one of my best friends.

Certain things showed he was conscious. He said, “One of your Lettrist friends told me he wanted to eliminate me. In our day, people don't usually want to eliminate the uneliminatable.”

“...Apollinaire is more important than I am, but his work is less important.”

This is what destroyed Breton; he never had to battle with the notion that he was mediocre the way Mallarmé, Kant, and Spinoza battled...

“When Tristan Tzara came to Paris, I saw how methodical he was, which shows in his
'Introduction.' I took to his disposition through my modest means.”

Me: I should tell you that I'm shocked that you accept Lettrism despite the fact that the other men who you know don't.

Him: They are traitors to the idea that surrealism works toward the new and accepts new ideas.

I laid out my political ideas, which sparked the following argument. I have the tendency to be persuasive, argumentative, and convincing. He smelled my intent very quickly. I said a few words about how youth is forced into a diaper of inferiority, but it is economically and socially capable of revolution before the proletariat. He said to me, “I don't think about youth.” (If he had thought about it, he wouldn't be a “Trotskyist.”) Perhaps we can demonstrate together for the idea of youth.” He went to the demonstration and stammered as always; and afterwards he said: the dadaists and surrealists don't have demonstrations anymore. They are now just a legend, swollen and pre-defined.”

After I published my second book, he invited me over: it was here that the quarrel began to unfold.

Primo. I told him that I had recently read a passage from Aragon that touched me and
angered him. “How? You can't be moved by Aragon...etc, etc. I don't read that anymore...etc, etc.”

However, you can't accuse me of specifically liking Aragon. But people are complex and free, and think differently. People shouldn't be more afraid of what they like than of what they despise; nor should they be predictable, suffocated by a single idea as though they are gyrating and blind; they become mechanic like stylized writing.

I tried to discuss this further, but I was in his house, on his turf.

Secondo. Breton said: “As for youth, I convinced my friends to send a letter to “Combat.” I explained that there is something new about this diaper; also the question of their housing; my friends talked about this idea all night until they came to agree.

I understood that Breton stole and pastiched works from all sorts of predecessors, who
formed pieces of a monstrous whole, large and poorly put together. Beginning with Apollinaire and moving to Jacques Vaché (outside of confessing small, humble thievery from Freud and Bergson); he also wore out and striped down Tristan Tzara in a diplomatic way. This attitude included a bloated tapestry of others, but never included an idea of his own. He was the wind who blew through the balloons, through the lungs of his neighbors. Again, he wanted to make my ideas into a sauce, a garnish in his melting pot of matadors from literature. I was alright with him splashing it in there, but only after I published them, not before. I know that I am talented enough to ask this.

In conclusion. I proposed that I speak with his friends about my political ideas, because our movement was considered a “member” of surrealism. Exploited by gossip columns, we were permitted to win over this “party,” along with other, more precise victories. According to Breton's lectures at Yale, this “membership” seemed acceptable. We set up a meeting at the Place Blanche café, where he met (appeared) each Wednesday night with his regulars.

My first blunder: I arrived half an hour late. This made him impatient. Not yet furious (“What a faux pas,” he said later.)

All around him were his good, faded old women; viciously lined up. Victor Brauner kept an eye on their nails in a humid, poisonous, and lively trance.

He chewed up scandals like a sorcerer, between his chest and gums, and so I couldn't shoot an arrow at Breton without him counterattacking with mastery. I think Brauner liked Breton best because it was his job, his daily bread. Love was in his nature, and, a foreigner. I don't like foreigners who wriggle and nibble for peanuts and protection, allowing other people to define their paths in life.

We the naïve are thought to be objective and impartial. However, the spirit of his group, the possessed troop of Breton's milieu, was to know nothing but café strategies. They pass political literature from hand to hand, from mouth to mouth; old tricks, arguments, and warrants.

In truth, they listened to my ideas and understood what I was saying well enough, agreeing with some things and disagreeing with others.

To be precise, I explained new economic theories: my own. However, Breton knew nothing of economics or politics, Ricardo or Walras, Le Play or Schumpeter, and instead chimed gossip about the next events coming up in the quarter.
He had the attitude of the old Bonzes who say that everything has already been done and gives the impression that he's done something honorable through the bad ideas in his first serial.

I got up and refused to continue when the conversation took on this tone (or so it seemed to me.)

This was when Breton lashed out. As if he'd done this before, he had me easily. I didn't resist annihilation from his volubility, because then I would have to lie.

He yelled, “You care about nothing but your own glory. You don't believe in your friends, you just employ them.”

He dared to speak of my friends, he who had been booed and spit on by them, beginning with Soupault and Vihac and ending with Desnos and Prévert, who were his former friends; this man who would spinelessly fuck Buddha and Apollinaire. He would magnanimously hold any ass.

He said to me: “You are an opportunist.” It's true. But I think in the sense that Lenin was, or Nietzsche, or Rousseau; in the sense that I want to transform the world; I want to enforce proper conceptions on the vile and unimportant. While Breton is a backward opportunist, a hypocrite, without force (as though he has tuberculosis, resembling his drinking neighbors) who do nothing with their day but go to this or that café; La Place Blanche, Les Deux Magots, and no further.

I said to myself (which he thought to be very serious): “You can keep exhausting these points, but I, Breton, am not going to.” And he lied, he who had come to Paris for the 2nd and 3rd recruitment when he started with none and after a painful period, he had smiles reinforcing him, and hands on board to double-check him (because he is very servile toward women), and he finally succeeded in amassing about 10 men at most, who would tranquilly meet on Mondays at the Deux Magots where they would chant Monsieur Breton's name.

And in the end, Breton exhausted his arguments and he yelled a supreme insult: “You will be certainly be accepted as one of the washed out followers.” We said, “Yes,” integrating everyone who decided to be among us, and he began to yell, he who wrote a stringy paper every week like a priest of Mauriac, Claudel, Tharaud, etc.[1]

I know very well that this is all very petty and unimportant, but hopefully I have deviated the reader from the haughtiness of their neighbors. I've also averted the fact that he makes up a mediocre generation who believes too much in life and not enough in books. Who doesn't look further than their own inconsistent navel.


1. We can never learn anything from a discussion with a man who writes books. The first shock of the disappointing encounter comes from the fact that I tried to relate a real person to a created image. He is now just a man who can't chew his food, who sits with the forgotten; André Breton the poor grazer.

2. Putting creative goals in perspective, compared to the ladder of past achievements, up until the haughtiness, he was without pity. In order to uproot the sentimentalism of our time for certain sensations or amazements,, it is necessary to learn to hold contempt.[2]2

3. Our generation measures its quantum importance (each one of us) by the paths we
take alone, without winks from understanding eyes behind us. one of menstruation.

[1] “I saw Desnos praying and speaking in a mania, and he had the attention of the silence around him, the hope of verbal discovery from men who had always hated him before.” That's the passage from Aragon. I think, in reading this, we form a tight-knit group of Lettrists, and you who hate us now will love us one day.

[2] The first time he clenched his fist was in a treacherous interview with us. His generation cannot judge valor. His attitude toward men and books is based on his mood and apoplectic romances. Breton thinks like a whore; with crises and emotions (cf. the changes in Artuad, Bataille, etc.) It is necessary to read his tone as Greatness comes from contempt. As for me, apart from all of this, he remains the man who defined Dada through automatic writing.