Surrealpolitik: The Magnetic Fields

Authors: Andre Breton, Philippe Soupault

London: Atlas Press (1985, first published in 1920)

Quick Summary

Generally considered to be the first surrealist work and the first systematic use of automatic writing. Breton and Soupault apparently spent eight to ten hours a day in disciplined channeling of unconscious phrases, but personally to me the result just calls into question what is meant by automatic writing. It sounds as if automatic writing, by definition, means a rapid outpouring of the pre-conscious mind as unmediated as possible by rational thinking, with no editing allowed, and with "laudable disdain" for any "literary quality". Yet it is not, for one thing, pre-linguistic, as it comprises words, and not only that, but sentences, and not only that, grammatically correct sentences that also frequently make rational sense. And some amount of selecting and editing has surely taken place, as it combines the work of two men and separates itself into chapters. So then what is automatic writing in actual practice? Disregard for narrative convention, certainly, and a rich supply of surprising and delightful poetic phrases. A liberating and rewarding practice, to be sure, but I can't shake the feeling that it is also somewhat overblown and misnamed.


There are 2 quotes currently associated with this book.

The purpose of automatic writing is to discover the marvellous but not to fabricate it deliberately. Les Champs Magnetiques, unquestionably inspired by the development of the psychoanalytic method, is not a series of exercises intended to demonstrate the results of this method, but arose above all from the application of a distinctly new type of literary discipline, and the application of a deliberate experimental principle concerning the factor of varying speed when writing spontaneously...The first principle ruling the production of Les Champs Magnetiques was that none of its words, phrases or sentences, once having found their way to paper through the authors' intermediary, were to be in any way altered or improved...The discipline involved in automatic writing is that of vigilantly resisting the temptation to interrupt the stream of consciousness, or rather of the theoretically subjacent consciousness, or to interfere with or in any way alter post facto the results obtained 'with laudable disdain as regards their literary quality'. The other factor...of capital concern to the authors during their collaboration is that of the range of varying speeds at which the dictation of the subconscious may be registered. (page 14-15)

[From chapter: Introduction by David Gascoyne]
Tags: [Surrealism, Rationality]
We were shown around cheap dream manufactories and shops full of obscure dramas. It was a splendid cinema in which the roles were played by our old friends. We lost sight of them and we went to find them again always in the same place. They gave us rotten dainties and we told them about our plans for future happiness. They fixed their eyes on us, they spoke: can one really remember those base words, their sleep-sick lays? (page 26)
Tags: [Surrealism, Literary/Poetic]