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Title: The poetics of hermeticism : André Breton's shift towards the occult in the War years
Author: Clouston, Victoria J.
Awarding Body: Oxford Brookes University
Current Institution: Oxford Brookes University
Date of Award: 2012
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André Breton, leader of the Surrealist movement, which he had founded with others in 1924 in the wake of the First World War, left Nazi-occupied France in 1941. Sailing from Marseilles, with an enforced three week stop in Martinique while waiting for onward passage, he chose to carry the spirit of Surrealism into ‘exile’ in the United States until 1946, rather than risk its extinction by remaining in war-torn Europe. Following his journey into exile, this thesis traces the trajectory of Breton’s thought and poetic output of 1941–1948, studying the major works written during those years and following his ever deeper research into hermeticism, myth and the occult in his quest for “un mythe nouveau” for the post-war world. Having abandoned political action on leaving the Communist Party in 1935, he nonetheless remained preoccupied with political thought, searching to find a means of creating a better society for a shattered post-war world, while at the same time maintaining a close connection between art and life. Realizing that any political system would inflect Surrealism to its own ends, Breton sought to find a means of achieving his aim through a return to the role of the ‘poet-mage’ of Romanticism. We follow the poet on his quest during these years, revealing his in-depth exploration of the tenets of Romanticism in which he discovers the roots of Surrealism, demonstrating also how he was affected by his re-reading of Victor Hugo, with whom he identifies to a certain extent during his time in exile. We study his poetic output of these years, in which we follow from their earliest stages indications of the shift in direction, away from political action towards hermeticism and the occult. On his return to France in 1946, we see Breton come under sustained attack from his detractors for his journey into hermeticism. Undaunted, he holds to his course, apparently unaware of his misreading of the spirit of the time. Although Surrealism is far from dead, its leader seems from this time to lose his creative inspiration and while his writing continues, his poetic output dwindles to almost nothing. However, even some years after Breton’s death, Julien Gracq predicts that it is “no longer unreasonable to imagine [...] that one day Surrealism will have an heir, a movement whose form we cannot predict”.
Supervisor: Aubert, Nathalie ; Parkinson, Gavin Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available