A WAVE OF DREAMS
translated by Adam Cornford
I happen, suddenly, to lose the whole thread of my life: I ask myself, sitting in some corner of the universe, by a smoky dark café, in front of polished bits of metal, amid the comings and goings of large sweet-tempered women, by what road of madness I end up stranded under this arch, which is actually the bridge they call the sky. That moment when everything gets away from me, when huge cracks force their way to light in the palace of the world-I would sacrifice my whole life for it, if it would just consent to persist at such a laughable price. Then, the mind detaches itself a bit from the human mechanism; then, I am no longer the bicycle of my senses, the grindstone for sharpening memories and meetings. Then, I grasp the occasional in myself, I grasp all at once how I surpass myself: the occasional, c'est moi; and having formed this proposition I laugh at the memory of all human activity. At this point, no doubt, there would be some grandeur in dying; at this point no doubt they kill themselves, the people who one day depart with clear eyes. At this point, anyway, begins thought, which is not at all that looking-glass game where quite a few excel, without danger. If one has tried this vertigo, be it only once, it seems impossible to go on accepting the mechanical ideas that today sum up nearly all Man's endeavors, and all his peace of mind. At the bottom of the seemingly purest speculation, one catches sight of an unexamined axiom that escaped criticism, that was attached to some other, forgotten system: one which is no longer on trial but which leaves this rut in the mind, this formula that is not discussed. Thus the philosophers talk in proverbs and demonstrations. They chain up their imaginations in these foreign links, stolen from famous tombs. They think truth has sides, they believe in partial truths.
I lived in the shadow of a great white edifice adorned with flags and outcries. I was not allowed to withdraw from this mansion Society, and those who climbed its front steps made a frightful cloud of dust on the doormat. Patriotism, honor, religion, goodness-it was hard to recognize oneself amidst these countless words that they tossed out at random to the echoes. Still, I slowly disentangled their firmest beliefs. These amounted to very little. "The tendency of all being to persist in its being" is one of their favorite formulas, while hedonism seems quite discredited in their eyes. For them, the pejorative expression "tainted with finalist" suffices to condemn absolutely anything. Lastly, they open the paragraphs of their intellectual life with a phrase that pleases them: "Let us part the veil of words for a moment." That such methods draw them into taking hypotheses for realities, and a posteriori hypotheses at that, they never so much as suspect. Their minds are monstrous hybrids, offspring of the peculiar amours of the oyster and the buzzard. But these hunchbacks of thought have not the least fear that passers-by will superstitiously brush a hand over their deformity for good luck. They are kings of the world and gaolers of the dungeon from which I can hear their cheerful singing and the noise of the keys they brandish.
Now and then, if some visitor inquired in passing about how I passed the time in the seclusion in which, it was said without irony, I confined myself-if someone, not too sure whether to doubt me or himself, had access for a moment to my unwonted existence, my responses would quickly bring to his eyes the China-vase gleam of disbelief. How could he accept that I don't pursue happiness at all? That there is no thought but in words? And yet sometimes, this visitor, carried along by fashion and belief in the strength of a doctrine, would invoke idealism. Then I would begin to understand that once again I had before me a shamefaced realist, one of today's men of good will who live on a compromise between Kant and Comte, who think they have taken a big step by rejecting the vulgar idea of reality in favor of reality-in-itself, the noumenon*, that shabby, paint-peeled plaster figurine. Nothing will make such people understand the true nature of the real: that it is a relation like any other, that the essence of things is in no way tied to their reality, that there are relations other than the real that the mind is capable of grasping, and that are also primary, like chance, illusion, the fantastic, the dream. These various species are brought together and reconciled in a genus: surreality.
By what route a concept may appear, by what detour, is rightly a subject to be marveled at. The idea of surreality should have fit flush with human consciousness of extraordinary schools and the events of the heaped-up centuries. But where was it pleased to appear? It was amid quite specific considerations, in the course of the resolution of a poetic problem (at the moment, to be sure, when the moral thread of this problem revealed itself)that André Breton in 1919, setting himself to grasp the mechanism of the dream, regained at the threshold of dream the threshold and nature of inspiration. From the beginning, this discovery, which in that alone was already very great, was exactly that for him, and for Philippe Soupault who with Breton gave himself over to the first surrealist experiences. What struck them was a power they did not know they had-a matchless facility, a liberation of the mind, an unprecedented production of images-and the supernatural tone of their writings. They recognized in everything that issued from them in this fashion, without feeling that they were responsible for it, all that was unparalleled in the few books, the few words that still moved them. They suddenly realized a great poetic unity that proceeds from the prophetic books of all peoples to the Illuminations and the Chants de Maldoror. Between the lines, they read the incomplete confessions of those who once upheld the System: in the light of the discovery Une Saison en Enfer shed its enigmas, along with the Bible and several other confessions of Man under their masks of images. But this was on the eve of Dada, and the moral Breton and Soupault drew from this exploration was that "genius" is a bluff; they were gripped by indignation at this sleight of hand, this swindle that puts forward a method's literary results while concealing the method-and concealing the fact that the method is within everyone's reach. If the first experimenters of Surrealism, whose number is restricted from the start, gave way in their turn to such literary exploitation, it is because they knew themselves capable of one day throwing down their cards, and that they were tasting the first fruits of that great charm issued from the depths. And at first they acted quite calmly, for the world laughed heartily at their songs.
What would make them abruptly imagine the abyss on whose edge they were camped, what would open their eyes to that field of comets they had been tilling unawares, was the unforeseen effect Surrealism would have on their lives. They threw themselves into it as into a sea; and like a treacherous sea, behold how Surrealism threatens to sweep them out into open water where the sharks of madness cruise. I have often thought of the man who assembled the first little sensitive plate from carbon and copper wire, believing he would succeed in recording the vibrations of the voice; and who, once the machine was put together, heard the human voice sound unmistakably. Thus the first surrealists, having reached an extreme of fatigue by the abuse of what still seemed to them a mere game, saw rise up before them the wonders, the great hallucinations that accompany the drunkenness of religions and physical narcotics. At that time, meeting each evening like hunters, we made up the day's tally, the list of the beasts we had invented, the fantastic plants, the images bagged. Falling prey to acceleration, we spent a growing number of hours at this exercise, which delivered us to strange regions of ourselves. We were pleased to observe the curve of our fatigues, the aberrations that followed them. Then the wonders appeared. At first each one of us thought himself the object of a special turmoil, and struggled against that turmoil. Soon its nature was revealed. Everything happened as if the mind, having reached this confluence of the unconscious, had lost track of where it was pouring out. In it subsisted images that took form, that became the substance of reality. They expressed themselves according to this relation, in a perceptible form. They thus took on the character of visual, auditory, and tactile hallucinations. We experienced the full force of these images. We had lost the power to handle them. We had become their domain, their steed. In bed at the moment of falling asleep, in the street with eyes wide open, with all the paraphernalia of terror, we held out our hand to phantoms. The pause, the abstention, of Surrealism made these phenomena disappear, allowing us to understand how they were connected to adjacent phenomena that follow the ingestion of a chemical agent; and fear at first made us suspend the investigations that, after a time, completely recovered their claim on our curiosity. The identical nature of the disturbances provoked by Surrealism, by physical fatigue, and by narcotics, their resemblance to dreams, mystical visions, and the semiology of mental illness, led us to the only hypothesis that could respond to this mass of facts and bind them together: the existence of a mental substance, that the resemblance between hallucinations and sensations forced us to envisage as different from thought-a substance of which thought could only be, even in its perceptible manifestations, a particular case. We experienced this mental substance in its concrete power, its power of concretion. We saw it pass from one state to another, and it was by these transmutations that revealed its existence to us that we were also informed of its nature. We saw, for example, a written image that at first presented itself as fortuitous, arbitrary, reach our senses, and throw off its verbal aspect to don the qualities of a real phenomenon that we had always, outside of our fantasies, believed it impossible to provoke. We no longer had any assurance that everything produced in the field of our consciousness and our bodies had not arisen as an effect of this paradoxical activity in which we suddenly shared. Thus, imagining the converse of our experience, we reduced every sensation, every thought to be criticized, to a word. Absolute nominalism* found in Surrealism a stunning demonstration; and finally, it appeared to us that this mental substance of which I was speaking was nothing other than the vocabulary: there is no thought outside words the whole of Surrealism supports this proposition¤, which today encounters, although it is not new, more incredulity than the vague opinions, constantly given the lie by the facts, of the realists whom one sweeps away to the Pantheon one fine rainy evening.
One sees, then, what the surreal is. But its notion can only be grasped by extension; or rather, it is a notion that retreats like the horizon before the traveler, for, like the horizon, it is a relation between the mind and what it will never reach. As the mind has envisaged the relation of the real in which it indistinctly lumps together what exists, it naturally opposes to this relation the relation of the unreal. And it is when it has superseded these concepts that the mind imagines a more general relation, where these two relations pay neighborly calls on each other-the surreal. Surreality, the relation in which the mind brings notions together, is the shared horizon of religions, magic, poetry, dreams, madness, drunkenness-and of paltry life, that trembling honeysuckle that you believe is enough to populate heaven for us.
A mere nothing dissipates the clouds and the same wind brings them back. Anidea also has its gold fringes. The sun plays a bit with the phantoms. Good dancers without pumps, and what sets the price of their steps is this broken chain at their ankles. O phantoms with changeable eyes, children of shadow, wait for me, I'm coming and already you turn away. Don't pass up the acacia flowers, the guard of honor, the grandstand, I'll be right there; and nevertheless you turn down along other hawthorn alleys with your scarves of reflections and the dominos of perpetual distraction. How to follow an idea? Its ways are full of farandoles. Masks appear at the balconies. The whole of life solicits us as we pass with our wives on our arms, and offers us violets: all the problems in bouquets. My dear, yet another peddler-woman, and down that way, yet another kiss. Dada was a moral trial, and in its own way a phantom. We have lived this haunted existence, which did not at all allow the application of the mind to concepts. At bottom, a vague sentimental inclination to the surreal governed our propositions, a sort of advance taste of the abyss, still nameless, faceless. One fine day the specter tore himself free of his bony hands, in the direction of the heights. A long period of stupor followed this parting of the clouds.
The number of surrealists had grown. Young people who were suited to intoxication, to confusing themselves, to bafflement, without looking back at the ever-glowing blaze of shouts and demonstrations-which has its own charm nonetheless. From the very first they devoted themselves to a vice, they rushed into it. There should have been a circumstance like a ring on the finger of a woman one meets, like a drawing on the wall of a waiting room where one waited for the surrealist idea to take an unawaited turn. This would have happened by the sea, where René Crevel met a lady who taught him to enter a special hypnotic sleep that somewhat resembled the somnambulistic state. In this way he managed to produce utterances of great beauty. An epidemic of trances broke out among the surrealists. Many of them, following this ingenious procedure with varying degrees of exactitude, found themselves possessed of a similar ability, and by the end of 1922-have you noticed how this time of year favors great glimmers?-there were some seven or eight who now lived only for those moments of oblivion when, with the lights out, they spoke unconsciously, like men drowned in the open air. These moments became more numerous every day. Every day they wanted to sleep more. They were intoxicated by their words if these were reported to them. They went to sleep anywhere. All they had to do now was follow the initial ritual. In the café, amid the sound of voices, the bright light, the jostling, Robert Desnos had only to close his eyes and he spoke; and among the steins, the saucers, the whole Ocean collapsed with its prophetic din and its vapors decorated with long oriflammes. However little those who interrogate this formidable sleeper incite him, the tones of magic, of revelation, of Revolution, the tone of the fanatic and the apostle, immediately appear. under other circumstances, Desnos, were he to cling to this delirium, would become the leader of a religion, the founder of a city, the tribune of a people in revolt. He talked, he wrote, he drew. Soon, coincidences came along with the recitations of the sleepers. We soon witnessed the era of collective illusions-and were these illusions after all? These repeated experiments kept the men who underwent them in a state of growing and terrible irritation, of crazy nervousness. They lost weight. Their trances grew longer and longer. They no longer wanted to wake up. They went to sleep watching someone else sleep, and then conversed like people from a blind and faraway world; they quarreled, and sometimes we had to wrench the knives from their hands. Real physical ravages, and the difficulty, after repeated attempts, of pulling them out of a cataleptic state that seemed to pass over them like a whisper of death, would soon force the subjects of these extraordinary experiments, at the pleading of those who watched them leaning out from the parapet of wakefulness, to break off the exercises that neither laughter nor doubts had been able to disturb. At that point the critical spirit reclaimed its rights. We asked ourselves whether they were really sleeping. Some, in their hearts, began to deny this adventure. The idea of feigning came back into circulation. As for myself, I have never been able to get a clear idea of this idea [sic]. Is feigning something any different from thinking it? And what one thinks, exists. You will not get me to change my tune on this. Besides, try and explain how simulation can account for the inspired character of the spoken dreams that spread out before me! The great shock of such a performance necessarily called for delirious explanations: the beyond, the transmigration of souls, the marvelous. The price of such interpretations was incredulity and sneers. In truth, such interpretations were less false than was supposed. For without doubt, the phenomena to which a concurrence of accidents made us impassioned witnesses are in no way different from all the supernatural facts that modest human reason tosses along with too-difficult equations into the oblivion-basket of posterity. No doubt about it, this is a modality of Surrealism, in which the belief in trance plays the same role in speaking aloud that speed plays in written Surrealism. This belief, and the preparations [mise en scène] that go along with it, breaks up like speed the bundle of restrictions that fetter the mind. There you see the point at which freedom, that magnificent word, for the first time takes on meaning: freedom begins where the marvelous is born. At that point one also imagines that there are collective surrealisms, as when Surrealism induces an entire people to believe in miracles, in military victories-this collective Surrealism, finally, is what was produced at the marriage at Cana and at the battle of Valmy. And at the foot of this magic mill it is true, this alone is true, that ordinary water was changed to wine and blood while the hills sang. So, denying unbelievers, you too-you have bowed your heads to the armed words that hold up such a large stretch of the sky.
An idea once formed does not limit itself to being, it reflects itself: it exists. Thus the concept of surrreality over two years turned back on itself, bringing with it a universe of determinations. And in this falling back it first of all rediscovered the images that presided over its birth, as a son rediscovers his parents at the moment when his whole body is assembled and ordered into its parts, ready for great mysteries and already forgetful of those old fogies. At its point of departure it found dream, whence it had issued. But now, in the light of Surrealism, dream was clarified and assumed its true significance. Accordingly, when André Breton wrote down his dreams, these now, for the first time since time began, retained their dreamlike quality in the telling . This was because the man who gathered them had accustomed his memory to other relations than the meager realities of waking life. Thus, too, Robert Desnos learns to dream without sleeping. He succeeds in speaking his dreams, at will. Dreams, dreams, dreams, the domain of dreams extends further at each step. Dreams, dreams, dreams, the blue sun of dreams at last drives the steel-eyed beasts back to their lairs. Dreams, dreams, dreams on the lips of love, on the figures of happiness, on the sobs of attention, on the signals of hope, in the yards where a people resign themselves to serving pickaxes. Dreams, dreams, dreams, nothing but dreams where the wind wanders and the barking dogs go out into the road. O great Dream, in the pale morning of buildings, don't be led off again by the first sophisms of dawn, those chalk cornices where, leaning over, you mingle your pure, weak strokes with the miraculous immobility of the Statues! Scatter these intolerable clarities, these bleedings of heaven that for too long have bespattered my eyes. Your bedroom slipper is in my hair, genie with the smoky face, stunning shadow coiled up in my breath. Take over the rest of my life, take over all lives, tide rising with a foam of flowers. Omens above the houses, visions at the bottom of pools of ink and in the coffee-grounds, migrations of birds on the laterality of soothsayers, hearts consulted by bloody fingers, announce-the times unwrap themselves from their draperies-your reign and your cyclone, adorable siren, incomparable clown of the caverns, o vision leaning back on the coral, color of falls, odor of the wind! 1924: under this number that has a dredge and drags behind it a haul of moonfish, under this number adorned with disasters, strange stars in its hair, the contagion of dream spreads though the neighborhoods and the countryside. Great examples rise from the pure fields. Who is that man by the shore of myths and the sea, all in snow and silence? Another, shut away from everyone, lives in his gypsy caravan with an army of servants. Still another, who scarcely opened his eyes on this world, died in front of the police and his father, as the car passed before the walls of a prison; and that woman, that woman who had written on a café wall: "It's better to wipe off glasses than gunshot wounds." Another, what was he doing in China all that time, between two dreams that sound like salt? Another, another: you painted Night and it was Night herself; and you painted the sky, and it was the whole emerald of destiny. Another dream, yet another dream: the desert over the cities, the shutters all alike and the footsteps padded with life, one would kill for much less. It's for much less that the dream is killed: a pipe in bad romantic style, interiors done the way we like them, and a handsome gold clock on the table. And that full-grown man, isn't he ashamed of his impossible songs? He never imagined that a life is at last being organized. What advantage would he derive from it in his little cardboard clinic, this other who has laid a cold hand on man's feelings and the purity of family relationships? Saint-Pol-Roux, Raymond Roussel, Philippe Daudet, Germaine Berton, Saint-John Perse, Pablo Picasso, Giorgio di Chirico, Pierre Reverdy, Jacques Vachè, Leon-Paul Fargue, Sigmund Freud, your portraits hang on dream's bedroom walls, you are the presidents of the Republic of Dream.
And now, meet the dreamers.
There is a surrealist light: the one that, at the hour when cities blaze up, falls on the salmon-pink display of silk stockings; the one that flames in the Benèdictine department stores, and its pale sister in the pearl of mineral-water warehouses; the one that secretly illumines the blue travel agency in the Place Vendome that arranges trips to battlefields; the one that stays around late at Barclays' in the Avenue de l'Opèra, when the ties molt into phantoms; the light of flashlights on murder victims and the act of love. There is a surrealist light in the eyes of all women. A huge piece of realism has just been knocked down in the Boulevard de la Madeleine, and through this gap you can glimpse a little of the landscape that extends also to the workings at the Moulin-Rouge in the citè Vèron, to the sites where the old Paris fortifications are being demolished, in the fields of statues at the Tuileries, to the Gobelins setting fire to the night with the word PARDON in phosphorus letters, to the vaults of the Mètro where the golden horses of Poulain chocolate prance in cavalcade, in the diamond mines where smugglers risk being greedily laparotomized*, the fuming sulfur-cones where little dogs die. Better than the bright sunshine he loathes, Georges Limbour puts up with this day of the Beyond. No-one has been able to expel him from the top of the staircase from which the crowd threw him into the nights of Mayence, because he had a horror of crosses and flags, of war's triumphant trappings. André Masson attends releases of pigeons at all the crossroads: the beautiful knives he will have seen everywhere are finally ready to be grasped. If the houses of Paris are mountains, it's because they are reflected the monocle of Max Morise: at Argent (Cher),didn't he pollute the great crucifix in the railroad station? Paul Eluard I have seen stomped by cops and mechanics on a piano and among broken bulbs, thirty to one against this somersault of the stars. A little later, I saw him at the feet of champagne in a country of serpentine stones. Then he entered the earth's shadow, where moral eclipses are the chandeliers of a ball unlimited by the ocean, then he came back, he's looking at you. Delteil? He's the young man that Francis Jammes beseeched in the name of his white hair, the young carnivore who spends his days in the Meudon forest with bloody images. Man Ray, who has tamed the world's largest eyes, dreams in his own way with knife-racks and salt-cellars: he give a meaning to light, and here's what it knows how to say. "Suzanne, are you dark or blonde? She changes with the wind, and you can believe in this: water is the equal of man." What is this prisoner in a great trap? The signs that Antonin Artaud makes far away answer strangely in my heart. Mathias Lubeck, you can't be serious, you're not going to re-enlist in the colonial army? He says he's ashamed of not being tattooed. Jacques Baron, on his boat, has just met some beautiful white women: do you remember, my dear friend, one evening when I had left you near Barbès, there were so many vagabonds, you weren't thinking then about oriental seas, you had acted completely on impulse toward the summer. André Breton, there's someone I can say nothing about: when I close my eyes, I see him again at Moret, on the Loing, in all the dust-clouds of the towpath. By his curly hair we have long recognized Philippe Soupault, who used to talk to chair-menders, who would laugh astoundingly around noon. Denise, Denise: in the little street where people stop, doesn't the café of colors always sing marvelously when you pass, and don't they always kill themselves in the canal, in the Rue Longue, everywhere you take your pure shadow and your clear eyes? Jacques-André Boiffard refuses to cut his favorite black suit, gently. He wears a velvet cap. He is looking for a position but does not want work: public announcement. Magic has no secrets at all from Roger Vitrac, who is preparing a Theater of Arson, where people die as in a forest. He is also preparing to reestablish the cult of Absinthe, whose strainer-spoons have been overturned. Jean Carrive, the youngest known surrealist, is above all remarkable for a magnificent sense of revolt: he stands up to the hereafter with a store of blasphemies. Pierre Picon extends his protectorate over Spain. Francis Gèrard, foolhardy like no-one else, has just thrown himself into the waters of existence: would you happen to know of a woman for him, extremely beautiful, who would make him at twenty a man lost forever? Simone comes from the land of hummingbirds, those little flashes of music, she resembles the time of the lindens. Overpowered by the spectators at the Petit Casino, and in various cafés of the capital, Robert Desnos has several times put death to the test for a word: Words, he says, are you myths like the myrtles of the dead?* Earthquakes-that's where Max Ernst, who paints cataclysms the way others paint battles, feels the greatest relaxation and pleasure: it's odd that the earth isn't quaking constantly. René Crevel has never noticed that the world is solidly fixed with the help of meridians and parallels: he is more of a sleepwalker than anyone else. Tremendous rages, ferocious resolve, make Pierre Naville an odd character: I would think that he's willingly fated to a sort of assassination attempt against life; I would like to know palmistry to find out whether he'll be very unhappy. Marcel Noll, my old friend Noll: you won't try to desert, but whose slave are you if not the phantoms in the depths of your eyes? People, you see, they're just so much dust. Imagine, Charles Baron has checked out of the hotel where you were neighbors. He gives me news of his brother. He has not at all lost the favor of that admirable woman to whom I once again offer my homage. But the one who's capable of anything, the one who is quite simply on the heroic level, the one who has never secured himself against life, the one we meet at the Soleil Levant, the one who defies common sense with every breath-that's Benjamin Pèret, who has a little whale on a leash, or perhaps a little sparrow. What a shame that Georges Malkine is in Nice today! From now on I no longer have the slightest idea of elegance, and much of the mystery of this ill-litcity has left with him for the Cote d'Azur. Maxime Alexandre? He thinks I've forgotten him. One doesn't forget despair. The latest news I have of Renèe Gauthier is bad. It constrains me from talking about this young woman completely split between a sort of passion and the ingenuity that nothing could make her lose. My dear Savinio, leave Rome behind and come here, pushing in front of you the cart piled with the bodies of Niobe's children. Everyone I have mentioned here awaits you. Great things are definitely going to happen. We've hung a woman from the ceiling of an empty room, where every day worried men, bearers of heavy secrets, happen by*.That's how we met Georges Bessière, like a blow of the fist. We are at work on a task that is enigmatic even for us, in front of a volume of Fantomas pinned to the wall with a fork. The visitors, whether born in faraway climes or on our doorstep, contribute to the elaboration of this formidable machine for killing what is in order to achieve what is not. At 15 Rue de Grenelle, we have opened a romantic inn for unclassifiable ideas and hunted revolts. Whatever hope lives on in that desperate universe is going to turn its last delirious gaze toward our derisive little booth: "We must arrive at a new declaration of the Rights of Man ."
In one of Marcel Allain's novels, when the mysterious Red-Heart, after a thousand wanderings and thirst and drawn-out dangers, their mirages, arrives in the depths of the celestial Empire at the legendary tomb where he hopes to find the ring that gives power, what does he see, as the night-birds take wing from the dusty slab of the desecrated crypt? The well-marked print of a Wood-Milne heel. And no doubt, my friends, this time too we are letting go of the prey to chase a shadow, no doubt we are questioning the abyss in vain. But it's the shadow, it's the silence, that we pursue for all eternity; it's the great defeat that endures. By what accident do we not read on city monuments: To Phaeton, from a Grateful Humanity? What difference does it make? He had a taste for vertigo, and he fell!
If I suddenly consider the course of my life, if I forget that seduction of the mind-and it's easy to do-if I get some grasp on the sense of that life that passes me, that escapes me, suddenly... What does all that mean? Suddenly. I expect nothing from the world, I expect nothing from nothing. The meaning of that life, ah, that, but: what does a discovery signify to me, and what is relevant in its notion? To be aware! The stone falling into the gulf is aware only its acceleration, and isn't really even aware of that. Man must be seen as a prey to his mirrors, crying out in the pathetic tones of his theater: What to become? As if he had any choice. Great uselessness, foaming sea, I am your eroded cliff. Rise, rise, child of the moons, o tide: I'm the one who's getting worn down, whom the wind blows away. It's just a habit, when the night is too thick, with its specters, its frights, if I hold out my hands to the beams of the lighthouses turning far-off. If I add, from that mental trait that delineates them, the famous constellations, it's just a habit. If I sing softly. If I come, if I go. If I think. If I open only the eyes that have seen nothing.
But among all the tunes I hum from time to time, there is still one that gives me today an illusion of Spring and meadows, an illusion of true freedom. I've lost the tune, and then I get it back. Free, free: it's the time when the wind's chain of bright links flies away through the moirè of the sky, it's the time when the bullet becomes the slave of ankles, when manacles are jewelry. It so happens that on the walls of his dungeon the recluse carves an inscription that makes the sound of wings on the stone. It so happens that he sculpts above the join the feathered symbol of the world's loves. It's because he dreams, and I dream, carried away, I dream. I dream of a long dream where everyone would dream. I don't know what will become of this new venture of dreams. I dream on the shore of the world and of night. What was it you wanted to say to me, men far removed, yelling through cupped hands, making fun the sleeper's gestures? On the shore of night and crime, on the shore of crime and love. O Rivieras of the unreal, your casinos, with no age restriction, open their gaming rooms to those who want to lose! It's time, believe me, not to win any more.
Who's there? Ah, very good: show in the Infinite.
* * *
Translator's Note: This essay was first published in 1924, in the avant-garde journal Commerce. It is the only sustained account by an original participant of the "period of trances" that preceded the formal constitution of the Surrealist group. It also constitutes one of the very first expressions of Surrealist theory, especially the theory of the Marvelous.
*In Kant's philosophy, the unknowable reality of the phenomenon or object of perception (Tr.).
*Here Aragon uses the word to mean a belief that objects of perception have no existence independently of the words that name them(Tr.).
*Punctuation (or lack thereof) as in original (Tr.).
*"Notion" is here used in its Hegelian sense as a higher form of concept, beyond the previous stages of Being and Essence, leading to the fusion of theoretical and practical, subject and object, in the Absolute Idea. Aragon is thus proposing in surreality a still higher form of thought, one that subsumes Notion. For further development of Aragon's Hegelian themes, see "Le reve du paysan" in his Paysan de Paris, 1924 (Tr.)
*Breton, Andre, Clair de terre, (Paris, Gallimard, 1966: cited by author without publication data) *Laparotomy: an operation involving the cutting open of the abdominal wall(Tr.).
*There is an untranslatable play on words here: Mots, Étes-vous des mythes et pareils aux myrthes des morts?(Tr.)
*The Bureau of Surrealist Inquiry, 15 Rue de Grenelle, opened in 1924 (Tr.).
*La Revolution surrealiste 1,1924 (Tr.)