I am in the process of reading Ferdinand Alquié’s The Philosophy of Surrealism (an important book I hope to return to in the near future) and came across the striking passage below from André Breton’s Soluble Fish (1924). Alquié includes this brief excerpt while discussing water imagery in the section titled “Derealization” of Chapter 2, “Revolt and Revolution.”
Automatic writing, as I understand it, was not meant to predict the future, but this passage seems remarkable in its prescience. This is the Bernard Waldrop translation, as it appears in Alquié’s text:
We shall, at great expense, set at the bottom of the water machines that have ceased to serve, and also a few others that began to serve, and it is a pleasure to see the mud voluptuously paralyzing what functioned so well. We are the creators of wrecks…We take our post of aquatic command of these balloons, of these nasty vessels constructed on the principle of the lever, winch, and inclined plane. We run hither and yon to make certain everything is lost.
Here is the passage in the Richard Seaver and Helen R. Lane translation as it appears in Section 7 of Soluble Fish, included in Manifestoes of Surrealism:
For the moment we are taking the machines that have ceased to be useful, and also a few others that were beginning to be useful, to the bottom of the water, at great expense, and it is pleasure to see the mud voluptuously paralyze things that worked so well. We are the creators of wrecks; there is nothing in our minds that anyone will manage to set afloat again. We take our place at the underwater command post of these balloons, these bad vessels built on the principle of the lever, the winch, and the inclined plane. We start up this or that, in order to assure ourselves that all is lost, that this compass is finally constrained to pronounce the word South, and we laugh up our sleeves at the great material destruction under way.
Incidentally, the members of the Surrealist Movement in the United States have released a statement, dated May 24, 2010, titled “Another Paradise Lost! A Surrealist Program of Demands on the Gulf of Mexico Oil Disaster.” Unfortunately, it does not yet appear on the group’s web site.