Jottings Logo - John Fraser


  1. Mosts
  2. Surrealist Galaxy
  3. Proximities
  4. Intake and Output
  5. Seven Sad Sayings


Surrealist Galaxy

[André Breton] is a little like our Goethe. … What we owe to him alone is the discovery of a space that is not the space of philosophy, nor of literature, nor of art, but rather of “experience.”

Michel Foucault (back flap of André Breton, Conversations.)

Breton showed many artists the way. In France, and throughout Europe, he was the torch that guided their steps.”

Salvador Dali after Breton’s death (quoted by.Mark Polizzotti, Revolution of the Mind, p.622)

Breton was a lover of life in a world that believed in prostitution, For me, he incarnated the most beautiful youthful dream of a moment in the world.

Marcel Duchamp (Polizzotti, p 622)

That Breton was sometimes wrong and his opponents right is now irrelevant. He drew together or influenced many of the greatest creative imaginations of this century and under his severe gaze they produced their best work, were most truly themselves.

George Melly, in George Melly and Michael Woods, Paris and the Surrealists (1991), p 153

When the students took to the streets and, to the consternation of the Gaullists and Commnists alike, made their ‘impossible’ demands, their slogans were drawn not from Marx, Lenin, or even Sartre, but from Breton and the Surrealists.

George Melly, p.149

The world is a surreal place: everyone knows it, just as everyone knows the disjunctions, the bizarre concatenations, the dreamlike illogic, that the adjective implies. Presumably it has always been so. But until Breton named it, there was no word for this state of things—one that, perhaps more than any other, defines our time. So the force of intellect that was Andre Breton, the obstinacy, the rigidity, the rigour, have been transmuted into the rarest kind of immortality. Along with his hero Freud, he is one of that select group who defined for our century a new way of looking at the world.

Ruth Brandon, Surreal Lives, p. 458

“Breton isn’t merely the writer you admire,” Aragon told us. “Every thing in him goes beyond his own words, beyond the things he writes, the things he does. That could very well be his essential function with an almost magical and exceptional gift. He alone can fuse together the various materials that all of us bring him. He can work dazzling transmutations. Avoid dwelling on his moods or contradictions so that you can be surprised by the admirable development that even his weaknesses and character faults can reveal to us.”

André Thirion, Revolutionaries without Revolution, 1975 (1972), pp.190–191, regretting that Aragon’s “amazingly intelligent and well-styled definition of Breton … has been betrayed and weakened in my memory.”


So many significant figures are associated with Surrealism, either as members of the group, or because they were involved with it, or were praised by Breton, or were important presences for the Surrealists, or were influenced by the movement, or were independently surrealistic, sometimes before the fact.

I have listed only figures, groups and works of which I have had at least a glimpse myself, often without having known there were any connections.

I first read seriously about the movement in 1947 in Herbert Read’s anthology Surrealism, with a glimpse of clandestine delights in Henry Miller’s The Cosmological Eye (1939). But I didn’t for some years know that the Minotaure bookstore on the Left Bank, which I came upon in 1949, was Surrealist. It was simply a place with a lot of marvellous movie materials and a section of erotica in which nestled a few pulsatingly clandestine titles by D.A.F. de Sade.

Here, then, are some names. They are culled partly from memory, partly from the following:

André Breton, Anthology of Black Humor, translated and introduced by Mark Polizzotti, 1997 (1979)

André Breton, Conversations: the Autobiography of Surrealism, translated and introduced by Mark Polizzotti, 1993 (1969)

André Breton, Surrealism and Painting, translated by Simon Watson, introduced by Mark Polizzotti, 2002 (1965)

Gérard Durozoi, History of the Surrealist Movement, translated by Alison Anderson, 2002 (1997)

Jennifer Mundy, editor, Surrealism: Desire Unbound, 2001)

The inclusion of a name doesn’t necessarily mean that the individual is there for all or even most of his or her works.


Sometimes, forgetfulness. Or ignorance. But this isn’t a game of logic, let alone a dichotomizing logic. Some things simply don’t feel as though they belong there.

In Violence in the Arts (1974), I try to think my way through the problems posed by the celebrations of “explosive” violence in Surrealism and in French radicalism more generally, and by the cult of Sade.

There’s a melancholy piece on the Web by Antoine Lerougetae about the auctioning off and dispersal of Breton’s archives in 2003, and the indifference to this of the present French intellectual establishment.



A year or two ago someone told me that they’d just spotted Beau Bridges on our best shopping street. Where? Where? But I didn’t get to see him.

There’s still something magical, at least for me, when Names become, however fleetingly, Bodies—flesh and blood and away from their exclusionary bubbles.

Out of curiosity, I’ve been jotting down the names of Names that I’ve been in proximity to—on the street, in a store, at someone’s party, in a small classroom, etc.

I’m surprised by how many of them there are. Others’ lists would be far longer, obviously. But I haven’t been a joiner, a compulsive seeker-out of “events,” a frequenter of watering-holes, and when I was given an autograph album in my boyhood, I only collected a couple of signatures, both obscure. My university was somewhat off the beaten track geographically.

What would be the outer boundary of “proximity? Well, how far away was Gérard Philippe when I saw him being filmed in a Fitzrovia (London) doorway? Twenty or thirty feet, maybe. But most of the others were closer, including George VI and his Queen, who passed within a few feet of school cadets standing to attention in their summer camp in wartime Windsor Park.

Hearing Tyrone Guthrie in a large lecture hall doesn’t count, but having J.B. Priestly waddle past on the way to the lectern of a small one does. Likewise having Judith Malina crouching in front of me at a performance by the Living Theatre and asking, ritually, if she could be my slave does (embarrassing, though), whereas seeing Laurence Olivier, Ralph Richardson, Michael Redgrave, and John Gielgud in performance doesn’t. Nor does happening to be on the sidewalk near my home when (I can hardly bear to say the name) Bill Clinton was driven by.

Being one of a zillion people listening to T.S. Eliot in a University of Minnesota sports arena doesn’t count. But if I’d been one of the students near the front in the packed small room in an Oxford religious foundation when he painstakingly commented on points of phraseology in a recent Church document, I’d have claimed him.

(Claimed? Is this really the autograph album that I never filled as a kid? The bird-watching that I’ve never done?)

Quite a lot of the names wouldn’t be there if I hadn’t been a student and teacher.

But if one were to assign points, having Noel Coward graciously incline his head in acknowledgment of my double-take when I passed in front of his car on a narrow street leading off Shaftesbury Avenue would be worth a lot more than being at a colleague’s dinner table with John Ashberry. As would passing Michael Caine on Piccadilly.

How many of these figures did I actually speak to or with, if only to say how-do-you-do when introduced? Not all that many, I’ve marked them. But I was within a few feet of John F. Kennedy, Richard Nixon, and Adlai Stevenson and have the photos (my own) to prove it.

Insofar as there’s any intellectual point here, I suppose it might have something to do with the intersection of lives in our dispersed “modern” world. But it’s not a point that I’d want to try sticking in a wall.

As it is, I am simply pleased, and rather surprised, to have been, however briefly, within the same spaces as:

Intake and Output

I can’t recall where I found these two lists, and have never tried checking them for accuracy, but they feel right, and for what they’re worth, here they are:

A. Twentieth-Century American writers who were alcoholics.

B. Twentieth-century American writers who weren’t.

Seven Sad Sayings

  1. Nobody calls back.
  2. Everything takes longer.
  3. You can’t have both.
  4. The other line does move faster.
  5. It’s all in your body.
  6. Food kills.
  7. Every improvement makes something worse.

© John Fraser



Return to top