More on André Breton and Haiti

I have just discovered a fascinating book (originally published in Quebec as Les Écrivains Noir et le Surréalisme) titled The Black Surrealists by Jean-Claude Michel, a teacher in Miami. I don’t recall this book being cited in Robin Kelley’s Black Brown and Beige (reviewed earlier on this blog), which is a shame because it contains a wealth of information on Surrealism and the Caribbean, as well as a considerable amount of poetry translated into English.

The chapter on Breton’s visit to Haiti contains engaging details of  the poet’s stay on the island and includes a riveting account of the lectures that ended in the uprising against Elie Lescot.

Below are two brief excerpts from this chapter. “Mabille” is Pierre Mabille, physician and author of Mirror of the Marvelous.

•••

Once more Breton would proclaim his creed during this lecture:

I can say that surrealism has historically responded to the necessity of conciliating [the] human condition in its both material and spiritual aspects. We would always reject the dissociation of those aspects from each other […]

•••

Whatever the case may be, it is insignificant to establish or not Breton’s effective influence at the outset of those events which contributed to Lescot’s resignation. At least one can speak of propitious circumstances or even of this objective chance, which determines all occurrences for the the surrealists. The hope of an economic renewal in the aftermath of World War Two, an impoverished mass voicing his rights through those young leaders, Breton[‘s] words and many other factors would have originated those events.

Breton spent more than 4 months in Haiti, and because his activities in this country, his friend Mabille would be expelled later by the junta in power. Said Breton about this matter: “Although Mabille could make me responsible for his dismissal by the French government, he was once more generous enough [to] discard this matter which could have affected our relationship.”

However, although surrealism contributed to the resignation of a dictator, it was not able to break off this tragic succession of tyranny and oppression in this unfortunate country. But in the literary and artistic domain, no one can underestimate the importance of a certain cultural renewal provoked by the passage in Haiti of Aimé Césaire, Wilfredo Lam and André Breton.

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