Bonus points

You know how sometimes you memorize a quote without memorizing where the hell you picked it up? This is my current problem with a statement by Andre Breton: “Un mot et tout est perdu; un mot et tout est sauvé.” Can anyone remember where this came from? I need it to make a sarcastic jab in my (Nicholas) Breton paper (because I live for clever sarcastic jabs in academic papers).


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14 Responses to Bonus points

  1. Ian Keenan says:

    That’s from the poem “Sans connaissance” (“Unconscious”) in the 1932 collection “Le Revolver à cheveux blancs” (“The Revolver With White Hair”)

  2. Jessica says:

    jesus christ, ian. thanks.

  3. Jessica Smith says:

    ian… you don’t happen to have citation info for that, eh?

  4. Ian Keenan says:

    It was published by Editions des Cahiers Libres in Paris.

    I suppose you can also use Andre Breton, Earthlight, tr. Bill Zavatsky and Zack Rogow, Los Angeles: Sun and Moon, 1993, p.124.

  5. Ian Keenan says:

    Sun & Moon

  6. Ian Keenan says:

    Actually, if you’re going to quote the French and cite a US edition, it’s better to use Poems of Andre Breton, tr. Jean-Pierre Cauvin and Mary Ann Caws, Austin: University of Texas Press, 1990, p. 82. The Sun & Moon only has the English versions.

  7. Steven Fama says:

    Thanks too from me, Ian.

    Andre Breton’s line in English goes, “a word and all is lost; a word and all is saved.”

    At about the same time I read that line here on looktouchblog, I came across a John Cage quote that maybe relates to it:

    “Language controls our thinking; if we change our language it is conceivable that our thinking would change.”

  8. Jessica Smith says:

    Thank you, Ian.

    Steve, I think Cage’s rendition is more probably derived from Adorno. Not that Adorno was the first to express the idea. The language in which Breton’s idea is cast (“lost” / “saved”) is rather problematic.

  9. Steven Fama says:

    I’ll have to dig Adorno’s Aesthetic Theory out of the pile — is that the Adorno to which you refer?

    But for now, I’m off to Day 3 of the California Book Fair . . . lots of (insanely expensive) books to look at, a bit of poetry included.

    Hey Jessica, there’s a bookseller from Bham at the Fair — they specialize in incredibly beautiful, unusual looking contemporary books, made by incredibly creative book people. You probably heard of them, but if you have the time I’d suggest that once these folks get back to Alabama you make an appointment just to look at the book-making wonders they have….

  10. Ian Keenan says:

    The poem is really about an incident that appears to be based on a newspaper story where a 14 year old girl is trapped between two floors in an elevator, a man tries to kidnap her, is shot at, puts the girl down, and flees the scene. Breton is interested in the emotions of the two, particularly the girl, during the split seconds of the abduction, using the metaphor of a hut in a rainforest in a scene he evokes for eight long lines.

    The lines in question describe the girl’s naive, conflicted emotions: “(she) smiles shyly between fear and pleasure/ I see her heart this minute it’s distracted cutting it’s the first bud leaping from a pink chestnut tree/ One word and all is saved/ One word and all is lost.”

  11. Jessica Smith says:

    Hm… that sounds pretty… Lolita-esque. I mean… Humbert Humbert-esque. Why would the 14 year old girl have conflicting feelings? The image of young girls in flower, also kind of overplayed. Is the whole poem this misogynestic?

    As an undergrad I really liked Breton, but when I occasionally return to his work I find it disturbing. Do you have anything redemptive to report?

  12. Ian Keenan says:

    I’m just trying to accurately explain the context of the quote. Breton’s my favorite poet. Do your UVA papers and we can discuss good poetry later when you have time.

  13. Jessica Smith says:

    to clarify, i didn’t mean you were humbert humbert-esque. i meant for breton to imply that a 14-yr-old girl wanted to be kidnapped would be. but yeah, you’re right, i should work on my paper. the real paper. not this paper about misogyny in breton.

  14. Ian Keenan says:

    He’s not implying that she wanted to be kidnapped. He’s saying in a way that she’s too young to know what she wants, though I don’t want to reduce the imagery. He is looking for situations shocking and out of the ordinary that create openings for the imagination and for the description of extreme emotion.

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