A Surrealist leaf from Haiti’s revolutionary history

At this moment of physical devastation in Haiti, recalling an event from the country’s rich revolutionary past is a small gesture of solidarity with its people. This passage is from Franklin Rosemont’s long essay André Breton and the First Principles of Surrealism. “Lescot” is Élie Lescot, staunch ally of Franklin Roosevelt and one of Haiti’s pre-Duvalier strongmen.

From Chapter 13

“On their way to France in December 1945, André and Elisa Breton stopped off both in the Dominican Republic and in Haiti. In the former country they were guest of surrealist comrades E.F. Granell and his wife Amparo, with whom André had visited briefly en route from Martinique to New York five years earlier. This time they were welcomed by the entire group that had formed around the journal La Poesia Sorprendida.

“In Haiti, as guests of cultural attache Pierre Mabille, they were permitted to observe voodoo ceremonies (from which whites almost always have been excluded). Here Breton discovered the work of Hector Hippolyte, the self-taught, unlettered painter and voodoo practitioner whose works were to have a place of honor at the International Surrealist Exhibition a couple of years later.

“Breton had a role in bringing down the Haitian dictatorship when, addressing the university students in Port-au-Prince, he avouched the revolutionary spirit of surrealism and its absolute refusal to accept any bond of servitude. His words were considered ‘electrifying’ by the students; they adopted a militant and even insurrectional tone in their newspaper, La Ruche, which in a special edition, under the headline ‘Hommage à André Breton‘, published his speech along with other surrealist material. Suspended from the university, the youths organized a strike, which won the support of the workers and grew to immense proportions. Terrified, dictator Lescot fled the island.”