The Harmony Past Knowing: Research on & Experiments in Translating Surrealism


  • Dawson F Campbell Student


André Breton & Philippe Soupault, French Literature, Surrealism, Automatic Writing


Approaching 100 years of the Surreal, it seems appropriate to return to the beginning. When André Breton and Philippe Soupault conceived Surrealism in 1919 with the creation of the first experiment in automatic writing, Les Champs magnétiques (Magnetic Fields), there was no way they could have imagined the prodigious influence that their movement would have on artistic culture up to a century later. Indeed, Surrealism has had a global effect, ergo we must turn our attention to the translators who helped disseminate the Surreal around the world. Scrutinizing Surrealism’s translators, however, brings us to an impasse: while they do, of course, discuss their translations, they provide no theoretical or conceptual model for translating the surrealist experiment. This paper, in conceiving two conceptual models for Surrealism, aims to devise—and, finally practice with a quasi-experimental translation of “Gants blancs” (White Gloves) from the seminal 1920 œuvre Les Champs magnétiques—a unifying theory for faithfully translating the experimental spirit of Surrealism while crafting a language true to, what Breton calls, the “convulsive beauty” of the source.