André Breton in Mexico : surrealist visions of an “independent revolutionary” landscape



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This report analyzes André Breton’s particular brand of travel-writing that emerges from his four-month-long trip to Mexico in 1938 (“Memory of Mexico” from the Minotaure journal, a “Portrait of Frida Kahlo,” and the speech “Visit with Leon Trotsky”). I show how these writings, to a great extent, poeticize the Mexican landscape, rendering it as a “primitive,” innate expression of the surrealist spirit. I also question how surrealist ethnographic practices, as defined in James Clifford’s The Predicament of Culture, might feed into Breton’s poetic elaboration of his travels. In the last section, I examine Breton’s collaboration with Leon Trotsky, “Manifesto for an Independent Revolutionary Art.” Breton and Trotsky declare art to be entirely free from all social constraints imposed from above—it is an aggressive anti-Stalinist document. I discuss how Breton’s more poetic writings of the period—these travelogues I have mentioned—also constitute an attempt to put into practice this manifesto’s creed. As depicted in Breton’s writings, the Mexican landscape itself realizes a type of alternative Marxism—one not beholden to strict historical-materialist doctrine.