cover image The Lost Steps

The Lost Steps

Andre Breton. University of Nebraska Press, $19.95 (135pp) ISBN 978-0-8032-1242-8

Poet, essayist, novelist, sometime Trotskyite, and surrealism's founder and main provocateur, Breton is perhaps overshadowed by the work of painters in the movement, such as Max Ernst and Giorgio De Chirico, who are among those contemporaries he discusses in this collection of reviews, missives and appreciations from the years 1917-1923. Blending personal anecdote, ad hoc musings and historical generalizations, most of the 24 short works here (many are only three pages or so) take stock of a particular author's influence (for example, Lautreamont or Jarry) or argue for placing him within the then current exchange of ideas and styles (a somewhat breathless appreciation of Apollinaire; several often moving tributes to his friend Jacques Vache; appraisals of exiles Duchamp's and Picabia's doings in New York). The essays, ordered chronologically and first published together in 1924 (the year of the first surrealist manifesto), move from captivation with, to a dismissal of Dada, as the young Breton (1896-1966) tries to find the right mix of bravado, nonchalance and punditry: ""Moreover, I ask you, could anything do us more harm than a materialization?"" The translation by Polizzotti, editorial director of David R. Godine and author of last year's outstanding Breton biography Revolution of the Mind, is excellent, capturing the self-aware, posturing tone that would later drive surrealism's obsessive eros and dread, which were perhaps best captured in Breton's 1928 novel Nadja. However, Breton's readings of fellow artists shed little light on our own; there is little here that merits investigation by anyone but enthusiasts, especially given this slim volume's prohibitive price. (Nov.) FYI: This volume is Nebraska's third of five planned Breton translations, part of its continuing French Modernist Library series.