PRINT May 1978

Freedom, Love and Poetry

SURREALISM EMERGED IN THE MID-1920S, celebrating life in its artistic and poetic manifestations and castigating both those who, in the name of art for art’s sake, detach art from life, and those who split their life by sacrificing the ideals of youth for the benefits of an artistic career. By adopting Marx’s famous dictum “We have sufficiently explained the world, the point is to transform it,”1 Surrealism committed itself to an interpretation of events in terms of crises resulting from irreconcilable class antagonisms. By adopting Rimbaud’s call “Life must be changed,” Surrealism committed itself to the liberation of the individual from the tyranny of the superego. Revolt against the domination of a ruling class is predicated on the exercise of the will to revolt: liberation from an oppressive superego demands a reorientation of the ego—a conversion, in the sense of a turning. The socialists who believe that art and poetry should simply express the consciousness or aspirations of the working class forget that the worker who revolts against injustice may remain a prisoner of cultural taboos.

Surrealism has always wanted to make poetry the expression of a will to overcome both the antithesis natural/supernatural of the positivists, and the antithesis dream/reality of the psychoanalysts. Feuerbach, for whom the Holy Family was but a heavenly counterpart of the earthly one, was guilty, claims Marx, of “contemplative materialism, that is of a materialism that does not comprehend our sensuous nature as practical activity.”2 Breton, in his turn, reproached Freud for viewing the dream as a “territory of escape,“ and for a notion of the supernatural as the expression of a purely platonic will. To this “inoperative will” Breton opposed “the will for radical change of all causes of man’s deep discontent, a will to overthrow an oppressive social order, a practical will which is a revolutionary will.”3 Among his goals Breton envisaged the need to restructure human love. He adopted Engels’ belief that only after society’s transformation can one hope for a generation of men who are freed from the need to purchase the surrender of a woman (either through money or social pressure) and for the first generation of women free to surrender to men just for no other reason than love. (It seems never to have occurred to Breton that to “surrender” may not correspond to a liberated woman’s concept.)

Breton had in mind Hegel’s thought that will is the consciousness of the personality.4 Reinterpreting Hegelian dialectics in the framework of historical materialism, history for Breton revealed itself to be the history of freedom. The ambition of Surrealism was to foster a morality of history-oriented poets.

Revolt implies resort to violence, and in Breton’s eyes violence was a virtue. He was concerned with asking himself whether a person is gifted with violence before inquiring whether he is apt to sacrifice violence for the sake of compromise. Leon Trotsky certainly never compromised. In 1938 Breton visited Trotsky in Mexico. The outcome of their discussions was a manifesto for an Independent Revolutionary Art, signed by André Breton and Diego Rivera. A passage by Trotsky, obviously influenced by Breton’s ideas, states that while the revolution must establish a socialist regime to foster a centralized plan of production, it must guarantee an anarchist regime of intellectual freedom.

It is far easier to denounce an attitude as counterrevolutionary than to determine what in a given circumstance is the correct revolutionary line to adopt. Breton had been shocked to learn from a posthumous pamphlet of 1942—Their Morals and Ours—that Trotsky had defended his execution of hostages during the Russian civil war in the name of the principle that the end justifies the means.

In 1942 André Breton made a poem-object bearing the inscription Portrait of the Actor A.B. in his Memorable Role in 1713.5 He had been prompted to learn what significant events had occurred in the year cryptically evoked by his initials, as in his signature A looks like 17 and B resembles 13. Among the events of that year he attached considerable importance to the Bulla Unigenitus of Pope Clement XI, which marked the triumph of the Jesuits in their struggle against the Jansenists. Breton noted that this bull, by depriving Pascal and Racine of the possibility of appealing to a higher court, provoked a moral crisis whose consequences are still, more than ever, being felt. Breton made these remarks while commenting on the following lines that he had written partly over and partly under a closed peephole on his poem-object (translating): “From the ‘judas’ (peephole) of Port Royal, destroyed but invulnerable, I see you, Pope Clement, old dog.”

Breton had repeatedly deplored the fact that Trotsky espoused the doctrine of “the end justifies the means.” Actually this proposition implies only that the means must be commensurate with the needs of a stated end. For Trotsky the end was to unite the proletariat in its revolutionary struggle against its enemies: “When we say that the end justifies the means, then for us the conclusion follows that the great revolutionary end spurns those base means which set one part of the working class against another.” What Trotsky did in his pamphlet Their Morals and Ours6 was to point out that those who had accused him of having shot hostages during the Russian civil war had drawn the wrong inferences from the rule that no one should be punished for crimes committed by another. Trotsky explained that in this case, when correctly posed, the question amounted to choosing between the lesser of two evils, either exposing the masses to total destruction or saving them by threatening, and actually shooting, a small number of hostages.

As apologists of violence Breton and Trotsky would have dismissed a concept of morality that downgrades will, as Schopenhauer did. Schopenhauer claims that neither standards of absolute morality nor theories of intentions provide satisfactory criteria for regulating conduct. He dismisses theories of morality without proof for ignoring motives, and theories of good intentions as merely justifiable on the grounds of self love—and hence morally worthless. In the name of nonmotivation Schopenhauer claims that virtue springs from the intuitive knowledge that recognizes in the individuality of others the same nature as one’s own. Schopenhauer concludes that the supreme rule of conduct consists in substituting resignation for the “will to live.” It is the function of art, according to Schopenhauer, to present us with objects of contemplation as substitutes for will.

With Wittgenstein the ethics of nonmotivation are reexamined in terms of a language of behavior: “When an ethical law of the form ‘thou shalt’ is laid down, one’s first thought is, ‘And what if I do not do it?’ ” Wittgenstein substitutes a pronouncement, considered as an action, for the psychologically vague category of motivation. “Wittgenstein focuses his attention . . . on language as behavior, concentrating his attention on pragmatic rules that govern the uses of different expressions, on language games within which these rules are operative.”7 Wittgenstein is interested in games that have metaphysical significance: “It is clear that ethics cannot be put into words. Ethics is transcendental. The world of the unhappy man is different from the world of the happy man.”8 If in the actual world, as contrasted to a metaphysical one, we equate unhappiness with slavery (or misery), we could reasonably claim that the unhappy person is someone who has no freedom of choice.

For the damned of the earth, humanism is in fraternity, will in solidarity, freedom in the conquest of power. We know too well that fighting for liberty, equality, fraternity and ruling in the name of this principle have very different implications. While the doctrine of nonmotivation enabled Schopenhauer to define a doctrine of salvation based on the renunciation of will, Wittgenstein’s behavioristic explanation of a doctrine of accommodation, justified in strictly verbal terms (of the “what if I do not” type) freed the individual from the moral obligation to link standards to facts.

Freedom of choice remains the privilege of a minority, but the struggle against injustice will always be supported by those who for psychological reasons identify themselves with the oppressed. Reinterpreted in Freudian terms, renunciation of the will is nothing but a surrender to the internalized superego that in the name of salvation forbids the gratification of libidinal and aggressive desires.

According to Breton, Rimbaud’s call to “change life” means that we must love, and in his Communicating Vessels he says that, with the exception of the social revolution, “l’amour unique” has been for him the most important single issue. In the name of love Breton investigates events and ponders coincidences, interpreting them as expressions of the unconscious. Breton states categorically that Freud errs when he claims that there are no prophetic dreams. The Communicating Vessels is a reinterpretation of what Engels calls “objective hazard” in terms of the lapsus and the dream. Breton was a poet who wanted to reestablish the communication between love and reality, so often thwarted by economic obstacles.

In the Second Surrealist Manifesto (1932), published three years before The Communicating Vessels, Breton considers political activity to be but an aspect of the various forms of human expression, adding: “He who speaks of expression speaks first about language.” Language’s main function, however, consists in establishing empirical truth,9 as Bertrand Russell has pointed out. The language of expression, which the poet must master, unravels itself through a process of associations in which the signified is replaced by a symbol that is a metaphor. The poet has to wait for the metaphors to happen; he cannot will them to happen. Like the hunter, his tenacity lies in alertly waiting for the catch. To tenacity of will he opposes what is generally known as “inspiration.”

In my view Surrealist poetry is, above all, a vehicle for the expression of emotions that challenge the tenacity of the will by courting the irrational. Wittgenstein himself confronted the utterable, saying: “There are indeed things that cannot be put into words; they make themselves manifest. They are what is mystical.”10

Modern poetry scrambles metaphors and metonymies. In its most radical form a metaphor is a statement of identity of the A is B type. As has been said: “The metaphor turns its back on ordinary descriptive meaning and presents a structure which literally is ironic and paradoxical.”11 Breton said in the First Surrealist Manifesto (1926): “Language was given to man for him to use it surrealistically.”12 How this is to be done was shown by Apollinaire: “When man wanted to imitate walking he created the wheel, which does not resemble a leg. In the same way he created Surrealism unconsciously.”13

When, after World War II, Breton left New York and returned to Paris, he shifted the emphasis from will to desire: “It is upon desire and desire alone that we must rely, for it is desire that holds the keys”—not of course to the revolution, in which (like so many other intellectuals) he had lost hope, but the keys to the creation of a Surrealist myth. As far back as 1935 Breton had said that in an age in which man is less himself than he had ever been before, and when the anguish of living reaches a paroxysm, it would not come as a surprise if one were to be confronted by great artistic outbursts. Hence, in circumstances in which the artist had to give up that personality of his, which he had so jealously tried to preserve, he may find himself in the possession of the key to a treasure, a treasure, however, that does not belong to him, for it is none other than the collective treasure.14 On the same occasion—a lecture that he gave in Prague—Breton informed his audience that for the last ten years his main preoccupation consisted in exploring ways to reconcile Surrealism, viewed as a means of creating a collective myth, with the far broader attempt to liberate man.

In 1948 Breton shifted the emphasis from myth to utopia, noting that myth “has become the most bewildering of words.” Actually it was Trotsky who had written that “if the war did not end in a revolution, the Marxist might have to accept that it was a collective bureaucracy instead of socialism which would become the historical successor of capitalism. In this case one would have to conclude that the socialist program, based on the internal contradictions of the capitalist society, would end in a utopia.”15

From a strictly Marxist point of view, World War II ended in a draw, since the struggle for world supremacy between capitalism and the bureaucracy of the self-styled socialist states has not been resolved. From a Surrealist point of view, I believe that it is the role of the poet to exploit the heritage of both mythology and utopia and to intensify their effects upon life by means of the language of metaphors. The supreme function of the poet is to make mystery manifest through metaphors, while the supreme function of the scientist is to formulate propositions that have predictive value.

According to Hegel, total change can only be achieved through love of God:

The essence of love consists in this, that consciousness surrenders itself, forgets itself in another self, and nevertheless, through this very surrender and forgetfulness of self, attains for the first time to the full passion of self. This mediation of the spirit with itself and the development thereof leads to a complete totality in the absolute.16

I believe that the atheist Surrealist adapts the Hegelian concept of divine love to romantic love, described by Hegel as “the personal sentiment of the special individual who shows himself to be filled, not with permanent interests and the objective content of human existence . . . but only with himself. He seeks to find reflected in another self—that is, to cause this other to reciprocate his passion.” Since, in contrast to love of God, which is totality, romantic love is a private affair, this passion would be the victim of caprice or hazard if it were not turned into a necessity by being conjoined with the sentiments of honor and fidelity.17 Historically, again according to Hegel, the sequence honor-love-fidelity originates in the ethical code of chivalry, and finds its artistic expression in the poetry of Petrarch.

The Surrealists, being socialists, are romantics who freed love from the fetters of honor and fidelity. To the question, “What kind of hope do you place in love?” Eluard answered, “Hope of always loving, regardless of what happens to what I love.”18 To the same question, Magritte replies, “A man should consider himself privileged when his passion obliges him to betray his convictions in order to please the woman he loves. The woman has the right to ask such a token and to receive it if it helps to exalt love.” Breton’s position is more radical, since he views love as having absolute value: “Love as I conceive it has no barriers to cross nor any cause to betray.” Hence love, for Breton, can only end through accident or objective hazard, a theme he was to develop a few years later in his Communicating Vessels.

Maurice Heine, well known for his studies on the Marquis de Sade, answered this question by quoting the Biblical ye shall be as gods—words pronounced by the serpent when he suggested to Adam and Eve that they eat of the forbidden fruit. From this Heine draws the conclusion that the end of love is the end of our divinity. Heine’s view of love is traceable to the doctrine of those Gnostics who, with the Carpocratians, considered carnal love as a means of achieving spiritualization through the fusion of body and soul.

Gnosticism’s substitution of an egocentric view of religion for the theocentric one of orthodox Christianity makes of it a preromantic movement. As R.M. Grant phrased it, the Gnostic approach to life “is a passionate subjectivity [that] counts the world lost for the sake of self-discovery.”19 Following a tradition that goes back to Plato, the Gnostic would study the allegorical meaning of myths for the sake of acquiring greater insight into the understanding of himself and the world.

Both Marxism and Surrealism can be viewed as atheistic versions of Manichaean Gnosis, since both claim that eventually man will be sufficiently enlightened to become the master of his own destiny. We know today that a heretical troubadour’s chosen lady covertly signified the Church of Love of the Cathars, not the blessed Virgin of the Catholics, and, furthermore, that the Cathars were Manichaeans. Denis de Rougemont has explained how, in contradistinction to what Hegel thought, “Courtly love established a fealty that was independent of legal marriage and of which the sole basis was love.”20

In a society dominated by Christian ethics, erotic texts and illustrations play a subversive role. In this light, Sade’s erotic novels should be read as a passionate defense of atheism. Sade contends that the existence of evil makes it hard to believe God exists, and that if, contrary to reason, He does exist, then He must be evil for tolerating such suffering. If we accept the serpent’s assurance that by eating the fruit of evil we become equal to God, God will have become unnecessary. As Georges Bataille penetratingly diagnosed, what Sade teaches us is that sexual union is a half measure between life and death. Only by tearing assunder the couple’s union does eroticism reveal its truth: violence. Bataille adds: “Violence alone corresponds to the notion of a sovereign individual.”21

Since love makes gods of us, the mythical androgyne became a key symbol of Surrealist aspirations. Historically, it stands for man’s will to resolve the contradictions of dualism. Originally identified in Orphic cults with Zeus born of an egg, or with Dionysus, the androgyne was in classical times evoked by Plato. From there the symbol was taken by the Gnostics and applied to Adam, viewed as a bisexual being before Eve was taken out of his side. After having been treated as symbol of the mystic wedding by both alchemists and German mystics, the androgyne served Balzac in his novel Seraphita as symbol of angelic love.22 The androgyne is to romantic poetry what Oedipus is to depth psychology.

Breton’s Poem Considered
In the light of Marx’s dictum “Philosophers have only interpreted the world, the point is to transform it,” Lenin appears as the Marxist version of Plato’s statesman/philosopher. For Plato the philosopher is a lover of wisdom (sophia). But how wise is a lover? In Novalis’ Hymns to the Night the Sphinx asks: “Who knows the world?” “He who knows himself,” is the reply. The Sphinx’s next question: “What is eternal mystery?” “Love.” And then, “With whom does love lodge?” “With Sophia.”

Novalis’ aphorism “Poetry is the absolute reality. This is the kernel of my philosophy” (Fragments) is basic to the understanding of Breton’s own poetry. Novalis’ views that “fantasy is the complementary opposite of logic, that the fairy tale and the symbolic story govern poetry, while conversely that everything which is poetic must be legendary and symbolic, and that the poet must worship chance,” are ideas that have since been espoused by the Surrealists. Furthermore, when Novalis says that he wants “the world to be romanticized in order to rediscover its original meaning”—then adding, “Romantization is nothing but an elevation to a higher quantitative order,” he is suggesting that we choose fantasy and symbolism as an alternative to realism. Novalis’ famous novel Henri von Ofterdingen is a symbolic story of regeneration which the author had been prompted to write after the death of the 14-year-old Sophie whom he had passionately loved. In this fantastic tale, filled with allusions to esoteric rites, Novalis described an episode in which, by means of a little blue flower, Henri von Ofterdingen delivers Matilda from her enchantment—only to lose her as she is being metamorphosed into stone. Figuratively, Matilda denotes the Eastern maiden, while the blue flower called by its Greek name Cyane denotes an astral force that will purify man.23

In Nadja (the name is the diminutive of the Russian word for hope) Breton evokes Melusine, the winged siren with a serpent’s body. Novalis’ Sphinx and Breton’s siren are both enchantresses. For Novalis, love is the basis of all possible magic. Commenting on remarks of Novalis, “A charming young girl is more of a true magician than one believes,” and “all spiritual contact resembles that of the magic wand,” Breton took them to mean that magic preserves all its efficacy in our daily life, even when deprived of its ritualistic appurtenances.24 In Nadja, Les Vases Communicants and L’Amour Fou,25 Breton, following these recommendations of Novalis, combined logical sequences with fantastic ones, and setting them as it were under the spell of Melusine. Her legend is traceable back to the Druid high priestess Hertha, the Gaulish Isis who, under the name of Melusine or Melosina, is the siren who reveals the analogical alliances of opposites in the occult forces of nature.26

In L’Amour Fou Breton called his new love (Jacqueline) “the star of my life,” while in Arcane 17 the association of the beloved to the stars is suggested by the reference to the Tarot trump card 17 (the card of hope). In that poem the siren reappears through the association with Melusine and Elisa (Breton’s new love). Surprisingly, in this poem Melusine is called the “woman child,” although Elisa herself was a widow who had recently lost the adolescent daughter who was her only child. This incongruity has been tackled by the Catholic writer Michel Carrouges27 and by Professor Anna Balakian. Carrouges unconvincingly maintains that the siren woman child symbolizes the revelation of nature’s secret to her lover, while Anna Balakian28 believes that she overcame the contradiction since for her “the symbol of the woman child is this affirmation of faith in the purity of the union of man to the woman.” The former is inappropriate here, while the latter is a travesty of Breton’s ideas, for it implies that he recognizes the distinction between pure love and carnal love. Breton recalls Novalis’ Hymns to the Night in a passage of Arcane 17 where he imagines a couple transported in the unity of the heart and the senses in a night of diamonds and mirrors.29 We know how far from chaste Breton’s view of love was from the following passage of L’Amour Fou: “The sex of man and that of woman are attracted to each other [literally aimantés means “magnetized”] through a series of endlessly renewed uncertainties: real hummingbirds that could have gone as far as hell to straighten their wings.” Breton is quite obviously punning aimant (magnet) with aimant (loving). The magnet could possibly also serve as a reference to the philosopher’s stone.

In the 17th card of the Tarot we see, against the background of a sky illuminated by eight stars, a naked young woman holding an urn in each hand. From the golden one she is pouring aqua vita (a flaming liquid), from the silver one, aqua clarissima (pure water). Behind her, on the one side, a rose with a butterfly posed on it, and, on the other, a frail acacia, the mimosa of the desert. According to Oswald Wirth,30 the aqua vita is poured to revitalize stagnant waters, while aqua clarissima is poured on the acacia, a rite symbolizing the rebirth of the doctrines of Osiris. As for the maiden herself, she symbolizes the new Eve, and is placed directly beneath the planet of Venus, which is the star of Lucifer, the annunciator of light.

Breton obviously knew that Paracelsus had identified Melusine with Venus and thus, through these successive associations, Breton’s siren comes to represent the new Eve. In his version Breton interprets the pouring of aqua vita to mean that the poet will accomplish the will of a fire that is to revitalize the stagnant waters of dogma. Nevertheless, out of theseputrefied dogmas (whose potential stench can at times become unbearable), there could eventually arise a new, resplendent dream and, as Breton goes on to say, “It is to this pool that I bring the perturbations and ferment of dissident ideas.”31 For Breton, the cool waters denote the freshness of youth and the generosity of love which the poet must include in his work.32 It is from the mixture of these liquids, Breton says, that he will produce his alchemical mutations.33

Near the end of this long poem, Breton quotes Eliphas Levi (1810–1875) as having said that during the initiation ceremony of the Eleusinian Mysteries “a flying voice whispered in the ear of the adept the enigmatic phrase ‘Osiris is a black god.’” Actually the author of The History of Magic34 was not referring to the Eleusinian mysteries. Levi maintains that Osiris and Isis are generating powers, not creators, which means that Osiris is not a god:

Even for the great hierophants of the Egyptian sanctuary, he is the igneous or luminous shadow of the intellectual principle of life, and hence in the supreme moment of initiation a flying voice whispered in the ear of the adept that dubious revelation “Osiris is a black god.” Woe to the recipient whose understanding had not been raised by faith above the purely physical symbols of Egyptian revelation . . . It was as if the initiator said to him: “My child, you must mistake a lamp for the sun, but the lamp is only a star of night. Still the true sun exists; leave therefore the night and seek the day.”

As an atheist and a defender of dreams, like Novalis, André Breton considered himself to be a poet of the night. Like the sphinx, he presents an enigma. After explaining the mystery of Osiris, Eliphas Levi interprets the riddle posed to Oedipus to mean: “Divine or die.” Of course, the Tarot cards are for divination. At the very end of Arcane 17, Breton mentions Auguste Viatte’s 35 study on the occult sources in the work of Victor Hugo, and quotes a passage in which Viatte compares Victor Hugo’s description of the Fall of Satan to the Abbé Constant of Testament of Liberty in which the fallen angel, who from his birth refused to become a slave, carried a shower of suns and stars into the night, but Lucifer, the banned intelligence, gave birth to two sisters, Poetry and Liberty. Therefore the spirit of love will borrow their traits to subdue and save the rebel angel.36 (Abbé Constant is the name under which Eliphas Levi wrote before the Church had condemned his ideas.)

In Arcane 17 Breton pays tribute to dark figures of the past whom he calls the shadows caught between conflicting fires (a reference to the adept who confused the lamp with the sun); the shadow of the frenetic Charles Fourier (1772–1837), the quivering shadow of Flora Tristan, the endearing shadow of the Père Enfantin (1796–1864). Fourier is the greatest of the utopian socialists and a subject of Breton’s impressive Ode à Charles Fourier (1947).37 Flora Tristan was a descendant of Montezuma and grandmother of Gauguin. For her extreme generosity and passionate nature Breton situates her in the very center of the French Romantic movement. In the last years of her life Flora became the faithful companion of the Abbé Constant, and it was he whom she charged with the task of putting her notes into final shape. They were published two years after her death by Constant under the title L’émancipation de la femme ou le testament de la Paria.38

It was undoubtedly under the inspiration of Flora that the Abbé Constant wrote L’Assomption de la femme,39 which was condemned by the Church for its contention that the Virgin Mary’s assumption prefigures the liberation of women. Like Novalis, the Abbé Constant, as he confesses in the introduction of The Assumption of the Woman, had suffered from a tragic love for a very young girl who had been placed under his spiritual charge in preparation for her First Communion.

Constant takes the verse where Solomon’s beautiful black woman (“brown” in Constant’s text) says “The watchmen that go about the city found me, to whom I said ‘Saw ye whom my soul loveth?’ ” (Song of Songs 3:3) to mean “Man of intelligence and love who watches the city that is to come, you have encountered the girl widow, you have witnessed her anguish, and you have stopped her tears.” And he goes on to say: “From our childhood to our death we dream of but one beloved, although we often believe that we have found her upon earth, while we are still enamored with our heart’s dream.”40 Thus in the eyes of her lover Elisa could personify the girl-widow while remaining an image of the woman-child.

Further, the Abbé Constant sees John the Evangelist, whom he calls the Apostle of love and liberty, as the bard who prophesied the revolution of the “Christ-people” which will come with the “violence of the aquiline wind.”41 This revolution is to be made in the name of the “Eternal Solomon” to free women who are the slaves of man, “our sisters, the prostitutes, who are ‘folies d’amour’ ” For Constant, woman is the poetry of our life. When love will come to guide masculine force, when poetry will uplift thought and when woman will reign, only then will we understand the real meaning of these three revolutionary words: liberty, equality and fraternity.

Arcane 17 is a poem of hope founded upon love and freedom. Melusine, the woman with the body of a serpent, is the siren whose triumph is prefigured by the aquiline wind of revolutions. Hope in revolution is evoked in the poem when the vision of the birds over the Roche de Bonaventure in Canada are fused in the poet’s mind with the unfurled banners of the revolution, the red ones of the Socialists and black ones of the anarchists. In the name of love and freedom Breton conjoins the widow and bereaved mother with the tomb bearing the proud inscription of the anarchist, “neither god nor master.”

In a great poem of his youth, Poisson soluble,42 Breton associated the widows, who traditionally wore veils, with the widow-bird (veuve in French). I suspect that even in Poisson soluble the birds are associated in the poet’s mind with the alchemists, who are said to speak in the language of birds (a language Rimbaud had in mind when he spoke of “the alchemy of words”). Hence it is in enigmatic terms that in Poisson soluble—a play of words with poison soluble—Breton evokes the new Eve: she remained beyond our desires, as flames are. She was somehow the first day of the feminine season of the flame, a unique March 21 of snow and pearls.

In the Tarot the New Eve is denoted by card 17. As has been said, the numbers 17 and 13 cryptically denote André Breton’s initials. While in the Tarot deck, Arcane 17 symbolizes hope, card 13 symbolizes death. Wirth,43 in his interpretation of the occult meaning of the card of death, mentions the alchemist’s blackbird, which has been depicted in a closed vial pecking at a human skull. In Arcane 17 Breton evokes it when he speaks of a bird “hermetically closed upon the beloved mortal remains.” Breton makes the blackbird the complementary opposite of the butterfly, symbol of the soul that in card 17 is posed on a rose and which, when motionless, the poet says, imitates for an instant “an axe of light planted in the flower.” He adds shortly after that “man sees that wing trembling, which in all languages is the first letter of the word ‘resurrection.’ ” Since the wings of the posed butterfly look more like a “V” than any other letter, Breton is interpreting resurrection in terms of a victory of revolutionary forces that he hoped would follow the end of World War II.

Breton attributed a double meaning to the morning star as he derived its formation from the fusion of two mysteries into two rays of light, freedom and love. He recalls the time when “the concept of freedom shined with an extraordinary prestige” during the French Revolution, only to remind the reader that in the period between the two world wars freedom had lost its brightness, having been reduced to its “negative idea”—which he disapproved of, since “unlike liberation, which is struggle against sickness, liberty is health.” He believed that “liberty is not subject to any contingency” and that the need to liberate oneself is an outcome of a “love of freedom.”

These poetic meditations reach a climax when Breton invokes Victor Hugo’s addition to the myth of Lucifer, the figure of the Angel of Liberty. Breton said that in the Fall of Satan Victor Hugo imagined that “the Angel of Liberty, born from a white feather that Lucifer lost during his fall, penetrated into the darkness with a star on its forehead that was first a meteor, then a comet, then a furnace.” But gradually the image becomes more precise: it is that of revolt itself, for only revolt is creator of light. And this light knows only three ways: poetry, liberty and love, which finally converge to form the cup of eternal youth in the most exposed spot of the heart, which is the part most susceptible to illumination. Breton here attributed intrinsic value to love, love of freedom and love of woman, symbolized by the New Eve.

Nicolas Calas



1. Karl Marx, “Theses on Feuerbach,” in Frederich Engels, Ludwig, New York, 1941, p. 84.

2. Ibid.

3. Andre Breton, Les Vases communicants, part II, Paris, 1967, pp. 140–43 (first edition 1932).

4. G.W.F. Hegel, “Absolute Freedom and Terror,” in Phenomenology of Mind, tr. J.B. Baillie, London, 1931.

5. André Breton, Le Surréalisme et la peinture, Paris, 1965, p. 284.

6. Leon Trotsky, Their Morals and Ours, 1938 (first published in book form New York, 1942).

7. Allen Janik and Stephen Toulmin, Wittgenstein’s Vienna, New York, 1973, p. 223.

8. Ludwig Wittgenstein, Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, 6, 421.

9. Bertrand Russell, An Inquiry into the Meaning of Truth, London, 1940.

10. Wittgenstein, op. cit., 6, 522.

11. Northrop Frye, “Theory of Symbols” in Anatomy of Criticism, Princeton, 1966 (given as lecture 1932).

12. In First Surrealist Manifesto, Paris, 1924.

13. Guillaume Apollinaire, preface to Les Mammelles de Tiresias, Benedikt and Wellworth, New York, 1966.

14. Andre Breton, Position politique du Surréalisme, Paris, 1935.

15. Quoted by Dwight MacDonald in “The Root Is Man,” Politics, April–July 1946.

16. G.F.W. Hegel, “Romantic Art,” in Philosophy of Art, tr. William Bryan, New York, 1879, p. 111.

17. Ibid.

18. “Recherches sur la sexualité,” Revolution Surréaliste No. 12, Paris, December 1929.

19. R.M. Grant, Gnosticism and Early Christianity, New York, 1959, p. 9.

20. Denis de Rougement, Love in the Western World, tr. Montgomery Belgion, New York, 1966, pp. 182–218 (first edition 1952).

21. Georges Bataille, L’Erotisme, Paris, 1957.

22. Albert Beguin, “The Androgyne,” Minotaure XI, Paris, 1938.

23. Novalis’ story of the blue flower, symbol of eternal love, has been traced back to the astral blue flower of wisdom mentioned in such Cathars legends as The Man of All Colors and The King of Crows. For further information on this subject see Deodat Roche, Mythes et légendes du Catharisme, 2nd ed., Argues (Aude), France, 1951.

24. Andre Breton, “Sur l’Art Magique,” Le Surréalisme, même No. 2, 1957 (reprinted in Perspective Cavalière, p. 142).

25. Published respectively in 1928, 1933 and 1937.

26. Eliphas Levi, The History of Magic, chapter 2, English edition, New York, 1969.

27. Michel Carrouges, André Breton et les données immediates du surréalisme, ch. VI. section “L’amour,” Paris, 1950.

28. Anna Balakian, André Breton, New York, 1971, p. 209.

29. André Breton, Arcane 17, New York, 1945, p. 104.

30. Oswald Wirth, Le Tarot des imagiers du Moyen Age, Paris, 1927. My quotations are from the Tchou edition, 1966, pp. 218–225.

31. Arcane 17, p. 125.

32. Arcane 17, p. 126.

33. Arcane 17, p. 131.

34. Eliphas Levi, ch. 10.

35. Auguste Viatte, Victor Hugo et les illuminés de son temps, Ottawa, 1942.

36. Arcane 17, pp. 172–176.

37. Arcane 17, p. 68.

38. André Breton, “Flora Tristan 1803–1844,” Le Surréalisme, même No. 3, 1957.

39. Abbé Alphonse Louis Constant, L’Assomption de la femme, ou le livre de l’amour, Paris. 1841.

40. Constant, pp. 17–18.

41. Constant, pp. 40, 45, 67.

42. Poisson soluble, 1924.

43. Wirth, p. 189.