Department of Needed Translations: André Breton

I recently had the opportunity to examine the Bibliothèque de la Pléiade edition of André Breton’s Œuvres Complètes, as well as the rare illustrated Album André Breton volume. The first volume came out in 1988 and the fourth, and final one, just appeared in 2008. The Pléiade editions are beautifully produced books, although one wishes that they were a little bigger in size to allow for slightly larger type face.

I’ll limit my remarks here to volume three, which covers the years 1941 to 1953. It contains a wealth of material yet to be translated into English, including—incredibly—the major poem Les États Généraux (an excerpt translated by Jean-Pierre Cauvin appears in the Black Widow Press Poems of André Breton, but the full text is—to my knowledge—not in English). Among the other remarkable pieces in this volume are the texts of the eight lectures Breton delivered in Port-au-Prince during his visit to Haiti from December 4, 1945 to February 16, 1946.

One other fascinating and untranslated piece in volume three is the text of a notebook Breton kept during the trip he and Elisa took to the southwest in 1945 (the ultimate aim of which was to secure a divorce in Reno from Jacqueline, his second wife). The subject of the notebook is a roughly monthlong sojourn (August) in Arizona and New Mexico among the Hopi and Zuni pueblos. Several pages of the original notebook which feature small sketches by Breton are reproduced. He details several ritual dances he and Elisa witnessed and includes an account of an unpleasant incident in which a pueblo resident objects to his notetaking at a dance ceremony. A Hopi police deputy inserted himself, but—despite the language barrier—Breton asserted his genuine interest in the culture and succeeded in talking his way out of trouble (notebook in hand).

Now, who will publish these texts in English?

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