Andre Breton: Gertrude Stein; W.A. Osborne


Less time than it takes to say it, less tears than it takes to die; I've taken account of everything,
there you have it. I've made a census of the stones, they are as numerous as my fingers and some
others; I've distributed some pamphlets to the plants, but not all were willing to accept them. I've
kept company with music for a second only and now I no longer know what to think of suicide, for
if I ever want to part from myself, the exit is on this side and, I add mischievously, the entrance, the
re-entrance is on the other. You see what you still have to do. Hours, grief, I don't keep a
reasonable account of them; I'm alone, I look out of the window; there is no passerby, or rather no
one passes (underline passes). You don't know this man? It's Mr. Same. May I introduce Madam
Madam? And their children. Then I turn back on my steps, my steps turn back too, but I don't
know exactly what they turn back on. I consult a schedule; the names of the towns have been
replaced by the names of people who have been quite close to me. Shall I go to A, return to B,
change at X? Yes, of course I'll change at X. Provided I don't miss the connection with boredom!
There we are: boredom, beautiful parallels, ah! how beautiful the parallels are under God's

immediate absurdity.Consider: had any strange dreams lately? You might like to write a few down, and use them to compose your own surrealist poem!


Gertrude SteinA Mounted Umbrella 

What was the use of not leaving it there where it would hang what was the use if there was no chance of ever seeing it come there and show that it was handsome and right in the way it showed it. The lesson is to learn that it does show it, that it shows it and that nothing, that there is nothing, that there is no more to do about it and just so much more is there plenty of reason for making an exchange. 


One American visitor from this period, Joseph Stella, has left this sardonic account of Saturday night at the Rue de Fleurus: 

Somehow in a little side street in Montparnasse there was a family that had acquired some early work of Matisse and Picasso. The lady of the house was an immense woman carcass, austerely dressed in black. Enthroned on the sofa in the middle of the room where the pictures were hanging, with the forceful solemnity of a Sibylla, she was examining pitiless all newcomers, assuming a high and distant pose(2).


One of America's most prominent literary critics, Marjorie Perloff, has written extensively about Gertrude Stein, whom she sees as a pivotal language poet for her work dissecting the vagaries of language and communication,  that predates the surrrealist movement (5,6). The Nobel lauraete Samuel Beckett was also a fan.

Perloff writes (6, p76) 'For her, verbal configurations are set up precisely to manifest the arbitrariness of discourse, the impossibility of arriving at 'the meaning' even as countless possible meanings present themselves to our attention.  Again, on p77 she acknowledges that 'Skeptical readers will object...arguing that [her] texts [like Susie Abado] are unnecessarily obscure, unreadable, and boring, and that Stein fails to communicate a coherent meaning to the reader. The line between sense and nonsense is, of course, a  narrow one. Remove all vestiges of reference and the text collapses into a series of empty sounds.'


Consider: comparing the work of Breton and Stein. Who was the most revolutionary writer? How does the dissection of language relate to WW1? To medicine?


Psychoanalysis and SurrealismW A OsborneThe SymbolistReferences and further reading

updated: 22/03/2010