“…il y a là une porte entr-ouverte,au delà de laquelle il n’ya plus qu’un pas à faire pour, au sortir de la maison vacilante des poètes, se retrouver de plain-pied dans la vie”
(Les Vases communicants, p.11)
(…there is a door,half-opened, on the other side of which just one step has to be taken, in leaving the shaky house of poets, to find oneself squarely within life.)
Particulièrement attaché à la métaphore de la « maison de verre », Breton s’est livré dans les « Vases Communicants » à une analyse de quelques-uns de ses rêves comme s’il n’existait aucune frontière entre le conscient et l’inconscient. Pour lui, le rêve est l’émanation de ses pulsions profondes qui lui indique une solution que le recours à l’activité consciente ne peut lui apporter.
The Communicating Vessels
What Freud did for dreams, André Breton (1896–1966) does for despair: in its distortions he finds the marvelous, and through the marvelous the redemptive force of imagination. Originally published in 1932 in France,Les Vases communicants is an effort to show how the discoveries and techniques of surrealism could lead to recovery from despondency. This English translation makes available “the theories upon which the whole edifice of surrealism, as Breton conceived it, is based.”In Communicating Vessels Breton lays out the problems of everyday experience and of intellect. His involvement with political thought and action led him to write about the relations between nations and individuals in a mode that moves from the quotidian to the lyrical. His dreams triggered a curious correspondence with Freud, available only in this book. As Caws writes, “The whole history of surrealism is here, in these pages.”
Three Letters from Sigmund Freud to André Breton
“In 1916 Breton served as a medical aide in the psychiatric center at Saint-Dizier where he came in contact with mental patients evacuated from the front. It was here that he first heard of psychoanalysis and began to read Freud’s works. He recorded patients’ hallucinations and delusional experiences and subsequently tried to “interpret” them, relying on psychoanalytic principles.
After the war, Breton along with other Dadaists experimented with what came to be known as automatic writing. This consisted of writing rapidly without pausing to reread or correct, or writing while in self-induced trance states, or recording the hypnogogic phenomena that occur just before sleep. Several years later, by then the acknowledged leader of the Surrealists, Breton utilized
actual dream material in his poetry and lyrical “interpretations.”
Some of the early Surrealist works are recordings of the dreams of artists and writers, and for a time there was actually an agency in Paris for the collection of dreams from the populace at large.
Breton first corresponded with Freud in 1919, and paid him a visit in 1921. Through this direct contact and from reading (particularly The Interpretation of Dreams), Breton utilized psychoanalytic ideas in the development of his concept of “lyricism” in poetry. By this he meant expression free from conscious control-spontaneous composition. In the two Manifestos of Surrealism (1924, 1930) and other writings, the “discovery” of the un conscious mind and its influence on artistic expression became one of the main ideological tenets of the Surrealist movement.
Freud’s reaction to this enthusiastic embrace of his ideas (Breton’s Les Vases cmnmunicants was dedicated to him) was polite but skeptical. While Breton was writing Vases, which contains some 50 dreams collected by various surrealist artists, he asked Freud to make a contribution. In response Freud said, “. . , a mere collection of dreams without the dreamers’ associations,
without the knowledge of the circumstances in which they occurred, tells me nothing, and I can hardly imagine what it could tell anyone.” Despite the master’s rather cool response, Breton continued his explorations of “unconscious” phenomena, although in later years his interests turned more to mysticism and the occult. Nevertheless, and despite Freud’s caveat, psychoanalysis has contributed important elements to the Surrealist view and, contemporarily, to the critical response to art.
In 1932 Breton published Les Vases comtnunicants (“The Communicating Receptacles”) and sent a dedicatory copy to Freud. This prompted the following rather acerb letters and Breton’s “retort.” I have been unable to obtain Breton’s letters to Freud. While not explicitly stated, it seems clear from the third letter that the originals were written in German.
Vienna, December 13,1932
En 1961, Judith Jasmin s’entretient avec le poète André Breton dans son atelier de Paris. Pour situer les téléspectateurs, la journaliste demande d’entrée de jeu à l’écrivain de lui définir le surréalisme. Celui que ses détracteurs surnomment le « pape du surréalisme » voit ce mouvement comme une « réaction contre le rationalisme et contre le positivisme scientifique ». Pour André Breton, les artistes surréalistes adoptent une attitude libre de tout intérêt esthétique ou moral dans leur production. Ils laissent à l’inconscient une large place dans leur processus de création.