Dreams & Encounters
Flower of Lovers Rejoined by Steven Cline
I am part of a circus which just moved into a city and, while I rest, or prepare myself in my modest trailer, André Breton arrives at my door. He is dressed as a british explorer, with pale beige jacket and trousers, and a pith helmet. He is aged between forty and fifty. He seems I think he is a lion tamer, but I don’t remember what is my role in this circus. I explain to him the difficulties and the limits of living the Surrealist adventure in solitude.
The theme of the meeting of two poets in a circus reminds me, in retrospect, of the marvelous world of Raymond Roussel’s novels and stories, that I discovered at that time. In 2004 I had not yet met any Surrealist ; I had only exchanged one or two e-mails with Marie-Dominique Massoni and she send me few issues of the magazine S.U.RR. It was not until 2006 that I joined the Surrealist Movement’s activities.
I’ve had two dreams featuring Andre Breton. The first found us standing in a copy shop in Carbondale, Illinois. Breton was thin and in a rumpled old suit like he’d been through an ordeal, but seemed cheerful. He explained that he was able to watch the 1969 moon landing and had been tutoring at the local university to make extra money. I remember thinking how happy I was to run into him in southern Illinois of all places, and that he spoke English fairly well. It was like he was still alive but didn’t want many people to know.
The second dream was more than a decade later; Breton was the lone person in a large indoor swimming pool. He was facing the other direction as I came up behind him to say hello. We talked a little, but in this dream it seemed that he didn’t know much English. He also seemed distracted and didn’t turn his head. Shortly thereafter someone like a French Stalinist came through the door at the other end of the room and declared: “From now on, all contemporary protest is counter-revolutionary!” Breton pushed off from the side of the pool where he’d been resting to swim towards the Stalinist. I saw that he had become one of the Mer-People and could swim very fast since his legs had been replaced by a giant fishtail. I was looking forward to hearing Breton argue with the Stalinist or pull him into the water but the dream ended.
Yes I have, and not only with André Breton, Desnos and Peret were in a room with him and we have a conversation but I can‘t remember what we talked about and suddenly they dissapeared and I was in a strange hotel alone.
The first time I played the seance game with André Breton occurred in a hotel room in New York City in 1946. He and several other surrealists revealed a board game upon a small, round seance table. The opening move fell to the winner of a round of Rochambeau, which I won by luck, allowing me to pick the places on the board on which stone pieces would be set. We followed a script setting the scene for the seance and as I played against Breton he made a move that opened a hidden compartment within the board connected to the table itself. There was, in fact, no element in the room not that was not part of the game or script, including everyone present.
I was in an old style district in Patra, Greece back in the 1930’s. The sun was setting which made the skies the color of deep orange. I was standing by the doorway of an old Café, and I was looking at the empty road out there as it was almost dark. At some point, André Breton called me from the back of the Café to go bend over in front of him and see how I looked from that position and without second thought I bent over and he started writing in a note pad. I did not seek any explanation for this action, all I knew is that I liked what he asked me to do. He then told me with a serious tone to stand upright, and as I stood he said: “I will be back shortly”, and fled out the door that I stood before. I followed him towards to doorway and stopped and noticed the street had become busy with people walking up and down the road. At this point, I was thinking Breton would return and some type of fear got a hold of me without knowing the why. I saw him from afar coming towards me, and for some strange reason I wanted to hide but the Café’s entrance was made of glass windows and his eyes were always on me as he was approaching. As he approached close to me, he asked me to go to the hotel he was staying and we started walking away from the Café. On the way to the hotel, I was noticing his outfit. A deep gray suit with a beige shirt and a deep gray tie. What I liked the most was a red handkerchief in the front left pocket of his suit. Arriving at the hotel, a murder had just occurred, so he rushed and took me by the hand to his room and said: “This is where we will stay”, and started writing again, always in that serious attitude. The elevator communicated with his room and as the doors were opening, people would just stop the elevator and stare at us to see what we were doing. It did not bother us a bit. I was sitting next to him looking at his face as he was writing. He stopped writing and then glanced at me allowing me to see something I wanted all this time, a smile. This was the end of the dream with the unique André Breton.
Rêve de la nuit du 22 au 23 novembre 1979.
Je me vois endormi, allongé sur un lit installé dans une sorte de corridor. En face de moi, sur la paroi opposée, se trouve un meuble aux allures de vitrine, faiblement éclairée, comme dans un musée. À l’intérieur sont présentés quatre objets sur de petits socles, objets que j’affirme être des masques en bronze. Ces masques ont l’aspect de griffes couvrant le bas du visage et me font immédiatement à penser à ce « descendant très évolué du heaume » qu’évoque André Breton dans L’Amour fou. Ils sont répartis par paires : deux petits dans la partie inférieure de la vitrine; en haut, deux grands. Surviennent alors un homme et une femme, que, semble-t-il, je connais, qui sont peut-être même des amis, mais dont l’apparition me cause une certaine angoisse. Je fais semblant de dormir. En passant devant la vitrine, ils prennent chacun un des deux grands masques, sans ouvrir la vitre, devenue soudain absente. Ils sortent. Quelque temps plus tard, ils reviennent en sens inverse. Ils me tâtent le corps en passant. Je saisis de mes mains leurs avant-bras, que je serre de plus en plus fort. Je me réveille en tenant mon sexe, flasque, entre les doigts de la main gauche.
Constat de hasard objectif
Au matin du 3 juin 2014, j’ouvre ma messagerie et découvre un courriel m’apprenant le décès d’Étienne Leperlier. Étienne, que je connaissais assez peu, ne l’ayant rencontré qu’une fois à Conches et une autre fois à Paris au vernissage d’une de ses expositions, était maître-verrier. Il était l’un des sculpteurs sur verre les plus renommés actuellement en France. Mais avant tout, à mes yeux, il était le frère de mon ami François Leperlier, poète surréaliste, connu pour sa redécouverte de l’œuvre de Claude Cahun, à laquelle il a consacré plusieurs volumes qui font autorité. J’ouvre ensuite le courriel que m’envoie chaque jour, comme à des centaines d’abonnés, le site André Breton : tous les matins, vers 6 heures, je reçois une image ou un document dont le choix, opéré par une machine, est totalement aléatoire. Aujourd’hui le hasard choisit de m’envoyer un manuscrit, écrit sans doute par Pierre Naville et annoté par André Breton, sur Francis Picabia. La première phrase qui donne son titre au texte me saute aux yeux comme un rappel de la triste nouvelle que je viens de recevoir : « Verrons-nous le retour des verreries ? ».
In response to the question “Have you ever dreamt of André Breton?
A friend once made a joke – a fake ad for a book about André Breton’s secret bergsonianism. It was an effective prank partly just because it was utterly pointless, I am sure someone in a French literature department in a university somewhere is writing exactly that book as we speak. My own contribution to the genre is an insight from a dream this morning, sleeping badly due to a stomachache. In this state the contents of this dream, about a recent book about André Breton, came to me all at once as a ”dump” rather than as a storyline experienced. It concerned what Breton was actually doing those mythical “blank months” of 1936 when none of his biographers have been able to account for his doings and whereabouts. These new findings revealed that he was in love with a woman. (Maybe she was named Margo, like the youth flame dug up in Polizotti’s biography) or Marlo (the wife of the Incredible Hulk’s sidekick Rick Jones)?) Her father was a famous physicist, and he considered Breton’s references to modern physics (in for example “Crise de l’Objet”) so superficial that he forbade his daughter to meet with this charlatan. Breton’s love for this woman took the shape of an eagerness to perform a sacrifice. So secretly, he left Paris and went to København to study with Niels Bohr! At the same time as other surrealists and intellectuals, including Ernst, Dalí and Bataille, happily posed with their rather superficial understanding of modern physics, and this was one of the major themes in the legendary one-off dissident-surrealist publication Inquisitions, where Bachelard, one of the rather few who had a more solid insight into physics, published his famous text about “surrationalism”. Breton’s apprenticeship with Bohr was quite successful, but as he returned to Paris he also decided, for some reason, to keep this episode secret. Maybe the woman had found someone else in his absence, maybe his vanity took over and he was worried about looking ridiculous, but he just never mentioned it, and the references to physics in his writings became increasingly brief.
* * *
Now as far as I know, awake, the year 1936 in Breton’s life is quite detailedly chronicled, and among other things (such as going to London), he was still in the earlier part of his marriage with Jacqueline Lamba. Yet the story presents an interesting pendant to the famous story about Bataille, that he was studying to became a priest, but then suddenly rejected christianity “because it made a woman he was in love with cry”. Apparently, the book in question is a kind of part 2 to Gavin Parkinson’s book Surrealism, Art and Modern Science. Since Louis de Broglie and Jacques Spitz appear too young, a likely candidate for the famous physicist is Paul Langevin (1872-1946) an antifascist activist and a communist whom Breton met in the “Comité de vigilance des intellectuels antifascistes”. When I look him up, I find that he did indeed have a daughter, Hélène Solomon-Langevin, born in 1909 and a communist too, yet already by 1929 she was married with another communist physicist, Jacques Solomon. (Later she spent time in Auschwitz, but returned and lived long after.) Furthermore, it is interesting from the viewpoint of method. One striking thing in the entire work of André Breton is how he almost always manages to avoid making a careful study to get an overview of a field of interest. Also when he is expected to have and provide such an overview (like in the Anthologie de l’humour noir and the L’Art magique) he stubbornly refuses and instead presents an inspired little selection and some stunningly interesting reflections based on them, for certain with implications for the whole subject matter but still without the actual overview. The only example I can think of right now (there are probably a few more) when he does the contrary, actually sits down to read a number of books in order to master a subject matter and provide an introduction to it, is his study of German romanticism written as a preface to the French edition of Achim von Arnim 1933. Another characteristic of Breton’s intellectual method is to choose mentors, mentors whom he would faithfully trust in the particular field for which he chose them (not in others) and follow up all their suggestions and recommendations in this field. Why not Niels Bohr? And for some of us, André Breton became exactly that kind of mentor. In his field of expertise (which is vast, since it deals with the adventure of the human mind, known as poetry) his expertise is indisputable and his viewpoint always calls for listening, but other aspects of him may at times be fully ridiculous. Yet in that particular field, his personality is subordinated to the real objective necessities (I mean the spiritual necessities, not some short-term goal), transformed into an instrument of sensibility, objective necessities, and of a masterful personal sensibility as the voice of that necessity. Of course, in moments of lagging concentration, merely personal necessities or historical restraints entered his judgment and he became a mere voice for his opinions, which are often mistaken or poorly informed (but empirically clearly worth considering in every case). One may have a whole series of these inescapable voices, sitting in rows on one’s shoulders, pointing out the implications of one’s own choices, deeds and thoughts. Some of them are historical figures of an inspirational stature, some of them are elective teachers chosen to teach one a lesson, some of them are certain regular discussion partners whose most crucial points are easily internalised like this. Of course, mentors in this sense needs to be chosen by selective affinities rather than assigned, and of course, one is entirely free to ignore their advice – but not without having listened to it. All these goddamn birds perching on one’s shoulder.
* * *
If I send this dream and its subsequent reflection from 2013 as a response to your enquiry, I will have sort of answered your question, but I will still have avoided the part which was possibly the interesting part about it, imagining the real situation of finding a character who would be the real André Breton at the door. I have to say I hardly ever dreamed of meeting André Breton (possibly decades ago, but not in any dream that seemed important enough to memorise) and that for me he is not a mythological character in the sense that I sense some unexpected dynamics unfolding from this scene. As characters, there are many other surrealist pioneers, luminaries and minor players who will trigger my imagination more, and I find it more interesting to fantasize about comrades with striking names from contemporary activities that I’ve never met…
When ever I am filled with doubts or lonely I fill my mind with those times and then dream them while asleep. It is a wonder that so small a group could accomplish so much.
Une route bordée de sapins serpente dans la montagne. La pleine lune illumine le paysage d’un glacis bleu argent. Des surréalistes de tous âges, toutes générations confondues, défilent silencieusement. Ils marchent en file indienne. Chacun d’eux porte à la façon d’un drapeau une grande palme à laquelle se mêlent des fleurs de mimosa. J’aperçois André Breton. Il paraît très jeune, encore adolescent et il s’entretient très amicalement avec chacun des marcheurs, l’un après l’autre. Lorsque vient mon tour, je comprends que le jeune Breton a donné à chacun une énigme à résoudre. Il s’agit d’une question importante dont la résolution aura de vastes effets tant au niveau individuel que social.
Pendant mon sommeil, j’avais distinctement entendu l’énigme que je devais résoudre. Mais à mon réveil, je l’avais oubliée. Sentiment d’intense frustration.
2 février 2012
Triant de vieux documents dans une pièce obscure, je remarque un formulaire d’état-civil, sur papier bistre, établi à la fin du siècle dernier au nom d’André Breton. Je lis donc qu’il mesurait 1 mètre 48 et pesait 35 kilos. Je le savais de petite taille, mais pas tant, tout de même ! Et d’un poids si léger ! Mais de telles mensurations l’apparentent donc bien au petit peuple des lutins, ce qui m’assure de la force et de l’actualité du surréalisme.
24 juillet 1994
Jean-Pierre Guillon (1943 – 2012)
Allongés de tout notre long au sommet d’une falaise, nous sommes quatre ce jour-là à faire office de guetteurs et à garder l’entrée du défilé, Hervé Delabarre, moi et nos deux épouses. Sur la route en lacets que surplombe notre poste d’observation, et qui était tout à l’heure déserte, nous voyons soudain s’avancer un homme : c’est André Breton. Il porte une cape noire ; un bijou égyptien incrusté de diamants pend à son cou, et sa chevelure est une longue crinière bleue. Pour l’avertir du grave danger qui en cet endroit, selon nous, le menace, Hervé l’interpelle : mais je ne garde au réveil aucun souvenir de ses paroles, pas plus que de la nature exacte du danger redouté.
Une même question nous préoccupe tous quatre : pourquoi ces cheveux bleus ? Régine Delabarre, établissant soudain une relation, mystérieuse pour nous autres, mais évidente pour elle, entre la couleur de la chevelure et le bijou que porte ce jour-là André Breton, nous en donne en deux mots la réponse : « LE VOYAGEUR ».
8 mars 1966
(Ce récit de rêve est extrait du livre de Jean-Pierre Guillon, « Les Nuits du veilleur de nuit », paru aux éditions La Maison de verre, à Paris, en 1996.)
C’est le matin. Nous sommes dans l’appartement, J.R. et moi. Une belle lumière blanche illumine les lieux. Je tente d’accéder à la salle de bains, mais André Breton qui habite avec nous, y est enfermé. Nous sommes très proches de lui, nous entretenons une amitié sincère, pourtant une aura respectueuse nous le rend parfois inaccessible et il s’évapore un peu, comme l’eau de la bouilloire qui forme un petit nuage au plafond… Ce matin, il est déterminé à ne pas sortir de la salle d’eau. En effet, il est occupé à se couper soigneusement les ongles avec un coupe-ongles. Son costume crème se découpe joliment sur la mosaïque rose pâle de la pièce. Je ne sais pas comment je le vois, ni même comment je sais qu’il est affairé à la manucure, car la vitre de la porte de la salle de bains est ciselée de manière à empêcher la vue. Mais je vois, je sais. J’abandonne l’idée d’entrer dans la pièce. Un quart d’heure plus tard, je reviens. La porte est ouverte, j’entre. L’appartement, qui jusque-là était en tous points conforme à la réalité, s’est doté d’une nouvelle pièce. En effet, je constate que la salle de bains donne sur une chambre. Je surprends André Breton en train d’y faire l’amour avec une femme noire, tapageuse, sensuelle, tout droit sortie de quelque fantasme exotique du XIXe siècle
Je vois en rêve un disque vinyle, c’est l’album d’un certain groupe WITT, dont le soliste s’appelle Mills. Le titre de l’album est L’Enfant ailé international, et les pièces enregistrées sur le disque sont tirées de la bande sonore d’un dessin animé ayant le même titre. Sur la pochette du disque on peut lire un commentaire d’André Breton.
6 mai 1973