André Breton

By: Lucy Sante
February 19, 2014


ANDRÉ BRETON (1896–1966) was a poet, essayist, aesthete, and impresario, who brought Surrealism into being, both as a team banner for the literary and artistic works of his friends and allies, and as a descriptive term for a current running through all of artistic and intellectual history: the deliberate and disruptive employment of the subconscious in conscious work of the imagination. And he saw its possibilities for society, erotically and politically. “’Transform the world,’ said Marx; ‘Change life,’ said Rimbaud; for us those two commands are one,” he wrote. He was astonishingly productive, especially considering that he was constantly embattled. Some of this was his doing; he was handy with the deliberate provocations. Some was a result of factional disputes — unavoidable, since Paris was a thicket of factions. And some was the natural outcome of his strenuous efforts to keep the Surrealist line consistent and the Surrealist mob in line. He was forever expelling people; endless manifestos and ukases got passed around; Breton’s every enthusiasm — some brilliant, some fleeting — was picked up by his epigones. But still. Much beauty was made along the way, by him (see Nadja) and others. And anyway Surrealism is so far under our skin by now we can’t even see it anymore; we take it for granted.

HILO HERO ITEMS by LUC SANTE: Dashiell Hammett | Pancho Villa | James M. Cain | Georges Bataille | Félix Fénéon | Émile Henry | A.J. Liebling | Jim Thompson | Joe Hill | Nestor Makhno | Hans Magnus Enzensberger | Captain Beefheart | William Burroughs | Ring Lardner | Lee “Scratch” Perry | Serge Gainsbourg | Kathy Acker | Arthur Cravan | Weegee | Alexander Trocchi | Ronnie Biggs | George Ade | Georges Darien | Zo d’Axa | Petrus Borel | Blaise Cendrars | Alexandre Jacob | Constance Rourke | Damia | J-P Manchette | Jean-Paul Clebert | Pierre Mac Orlan | Comte De Lautreamont | André Breton | Robert Desnos | Arthur Rimbaud |


On his or her birthday, HiLobrow irregularly pays tribute to one of our high-, low-, no-, or hilobrow heroes. Also born this date: Helen Gurley Brown, Matt Dillon, Yoko Ono.

READ MORE about members of the Hardboiled Generation (1894-1903).