Bookish Matters

The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid.

—Jane Austen, Northanger Abbey

Monday, November 26, 2012

Manifesto Monday—A Surrealist Writing Exercise

My, it has also been a long time since I did Manifesto Monday! You may put down the lack of posts to me furiously working on a story.

I studied surrealism somewhat as an undergrad, but recently when discussing my thesis with my major professor, she suggested I look into surrealist literature, because some of my stories border on surrealism (upon hearing this, I thought back upon Breton's Nadja*, a novel I enjoyed, but whether my writing bears any similarity I can't say). So today's manifesto is an excerpt from the 1924 Le Manifeste du Surréalisme by André Breton. The excerpt describes a surrealist writing exercise. For the entire manifesto, go here.

Written Surrealist composition


first and last draft

After you have settled yourself in a place as favorable as possible to the concentration of your mind upon itself, have writing materials brought to you. Put yourself in as passive, or receptive, a state of mind as you can. Forget about your genius, your talents, and the talents of everyone else. Keep reminding yourself that literature is one of the saddest roads that leads to everything. Write quickly, without any preconceived subject, fast enough so that you will not remember what you're writing and be tempted to reread what you have written. The first sentence will come spontaneously, so compelling is the truth that with every passing second there is a sentence unknown to our consciousness which is only crying out to be heard. It is somewhat of a problem to form an opinion about the next sentence; it doubtless partakes both of our conscious activity and of the other, if one agrees that the fact of having written the first entails a minimum of perception. This should be of no importance to you, however; to a large extent, this is what is most interesting and intriguing about the Surrealist game. The fact still remains that punctuation no doubt resists the absolute continuity of the flow with which we are concerned, although it may seem as necessary as the arrangement of knots in a vibrating cord. Go on as long as you like. Put your trust in the inexhaustible nature of the murmur. If silence threatens to settle in if you should ever happen to make a mistake -- a mistake, perhaps due to carelessness -- break off without hesitation with an overly clear line. Following a word the origin of which seems suspicious to you, place any letter whatsoever, the letter "l" for example, always the letter "l," and bring the arbitrary back by making this letter the first of the following word.

*I think about Nadja occasionally, always of those gloves. "I don't know what there can have been, at that moment, so terribly, so marvelously decisive for me in the thought of that glove leaving that hand forever." When I lived at Lavender Corner in Bellingham with Katie, we had a painting of orange gloves beside a Tiffany lamp, and I thought of this as the Nadja painting. I miss that painting.

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