Breton Remembers

 
 


The Exquisite Corpse was born, if we remember correctly (and if that is the proper expression), around 1925 in the old house at 54 rue du Chateau, since destroyed. There Marcel Duhamel, long before devoting himself to the perusal of American literature, made enough from his whimsical (if grandiose) participation in the hotel industry to lodge his friends Jacques Prevert and Yves Tanguy, who did not yet excel at anything except the art of living, while enlivening everything with their spirited outbursts. For a while Benjamin Peret also stayed there. Absolute non-conformism and universal disrespect was the rule, and great good humour reigned. It was a time for pleasure and nothing else. Almost every evening we gathered around a table where Chateau Yquem deigned to mingle its suave note with that of other, equally tonic local brews.

When the conversation—on the day's events or proposals of amusing or scandalous intervention in the life of the times—began to pall, we would turn to games; written games at first, contrived so that elements of language attacked each other in the most paradoxical manner possible, and so that human communication, misled from the start, was thrown into the mood most amenable to adventure. From then on no unfavourable prejudice (in fact, quite the contrary) was shown against childhood games, for which we were rediscovering the old enthusiasm, although considerably amplified. Thus, when later we came to give an account of what had sometimes seemed upsetting to us about our encounters in this domain, we had no difficulty in agreeing that the Exquisite Corpse method did not visibly differ from that of 'consequences'. Surely nothing was easier than to transpose this method to drawing, by using the same system of folding and concealing.


As a reminder, here you have some of the sentences obtained in this way, chosen among those that gave us the greatest impression of bewilderment and never-seen, of which we much appreciated the shaking value.

The completely black light lays down day and night

the powerless suspension to do any good.

*

The anaemic young girl got the waxed mannequins turned red.

*

Monsieur Poincaré, if you want, kisses on the mouth,
with a peacock feather, in an ardour I never saw before,
the late Monsieur de Borniol.

*

The made-up shrimp hardly enlightens some double kisses.

*

Rue Mouffetard, love-shivering, amuses the chimera who shoots at us.

*

The very moved Pathos, thanks singing the bullet of
chopped vetiver between Line and Prâline.

*

Caraco is a beautiful whore: lazy as a doormouse
and glass-gloved for doing nothing,
she strings pearls with the turkeys of the farce.


Ill-disposed critics in 1925-1930 gave further example of their ignorance when they reproached us for delighting in such childish distractions, and at the same time suspected us of having produced such monsters in broad daylight, individually, and more or less laboriously. In fact, what excited us about these productions was the assurance that, for better or worse, they bore the mark of something which could not be created by one brain alone, and that they were endowed with a much greater leeway, which cannot be too highly valued by poetry. Finally, with the Exquisite Corpse we had at our command an infallible way of holding the critical intellect in abeyance, and of fully liberating the mind's metaphorical activity. All of this is as valid on the graphic as on the verbal plane. We must add that along the way a considerable enigma arose, posed by the frequent encounter of elements with similar associational origins in the course of the collective production of a sentence or a drawing. This encounter not only provoked a vigorous play of often extreme discordances, but also supported the idea of communication between the participants—tacit, but in waves; this would have to be reduced to its rightful limits by control of the estimate of probabilities, but in the final analysis we believe that this communication tends to be confirmed as fact.

Because of the predetermined decision to compose a figure, drawings complying with the Exquisite Corpse technique, by definition, carries anthropomorphism to its climax, and accentuates tremendously the life of correspondences that unite the outer and inner worlds. These drawings represent total negation of the ridiculous activity of imitation of physical characteristics, to which a large and most questionable part of contemporary art is still anachronistically subservient. If only some salutary precepts of indocility might be opposed to its present array, take offence at the exclusion of all humour, and bring it around to a less larval sense of its means.

 

How it all began...

André Breton comments on the origination of the cadavre exquis.

From the catalogue of an exhibition at La Dragonne, Galerie Nina Dausset, Paris,
7-30 October 1948, entitled "Le Cadavre Exquis: Son Exaltation", p.5-7, 9-11.1

Photos, Man Ray: Paul Eluard and Breton in 1930