Surrealism and the ‘Fissured Subject’: Breton, Éluard, and Desnos
Although known as one of the most doctrinaire movements of the historical avant-garde – mostly due to Breton’s intense theorising and dominating personality – individual Surrealists approached the problem of the divided and decentred subject from substantially different angles. Surrealism began as a poetic movement around the circle of Breton, Soupault, Louis Aragon, Paul Éluard, Benjamin Péret, and Robert Desnos. By the end of the 1930s most had broken with Breton, if not the foundational tenets of the movement itself. This study examines collections of Surrealist poetry from the mid-1930s from Breton, Éluard, and Desnos as examples of the variant understandings of the subject within Surrealism. Breton published The Air of the Water (1934) in the midst of his most intense articulation of Surrealist theory in Communicating Vessels (1932) and Mad Love (1937); Éluard published Public Rose (1934), Easy (1935), and The Covered Forehead (1936) just a few years before his break with Breton in 1938; The Neck-less (1934) was published by Desnos a half-decade after being ‘excommunicated’ from the Surrealist group by Breton, though he never ceased to consider himself a Surrealist. In each case, the poet’s understanding of the ‘fissured subject’ and his vision of the potential for that subject is both Surrealist and entirely individual.
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