Date of Award

Spring 1-1-2015

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

French & Italian

First Advisor

Elisabeth Arnould-Bloomfield

Second Advisor

Warren Motte

Third Advisor

Patrick Greaney

Fourth Advisor

Karen Jacobs

Fifth Advisor

Anne-Gaëlle Saliot

Abstract

In 1937 André Breton declared in his surrealist novel L’Amour fou, “what I write is my life, my house,” suggesting a direct relationship between his writing and his home which was uniquely curated, wall to wall with collected objects. Breton’s statement, no doubt made in affirmation of the Surrealist project to revolutionize everyday life offers reflection on the complex experience of writing as a practice inspired by daily encounters with our material surroundings. The fact that Breton chose to live among a myriad of objects in his atelier, at 42 rue Fontaine, suggests the construction of an intimate relationship between his work, his house, and the material collection he inhabited. By the end of his life, Breton possessed more than 15,000 items in his home: man-made and natural objects, books, manuscripts and other miscellaneous curiosities and ephemera. “Andre Breton the Collector: A Surrealist Poetics of the Object” explores this facet of Breton’s life and work which has been largely overlooked in scholarship. By situating the surrealist interest in the object as a vehicle for artistic experimentation the 1930s, I argue that Breton’s collecting can be viewed as a revolutionary and poetic practice within everyday life. In four chapters I draw from an investigation of archival art-objects and documents. Chapter one contextualizes the history and theory of Breton’s collecting practice. Chapter two discusses Breton’s acquisition and writing about oceanic ethnographic objects—such as the “Uli” effigy—as an anti-colonial gesture during early twentieth century Primitivism. Chapter three explores Breton’s layout practice within different albums and presents a detailed reading of his Scrapbook as a collection of newspaper articles, photographs and ephemera compiled during WWII while exiled in North America. Chapter four shows how Breton used the Scrapbook collection for the writing of his novel, Arcane 17 during his trip to the Gaspésie in 1944. This dissertation explores how Breton’s collecting practice directly influenced his literary and artistic production in Surrealism, ultimately defining a poetic of collecting in his work.

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