Surrealism and the American West: Breton’s “Hopi Notebook” – Kate Conlan
André Breton’s visit to the Hopi villages of Arizona in 1945 had an impact on his view of the world and of the objects he collected. His response to what he witnessed in the month when the United States dropped the bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki was reflected in the notebook he kept on his trip, known as the “Hopi Notebook,” and in the poem he began writing that month, “Ode to Charles Fourier.” His belief in the liveliness of repurposed things, haunted by their former lives, was particularly pertinent to the Hopi katsinam he collected on his trip to the American West and subsequently kept close to him in his apartments in New York and Paris. These things had an impact on surrealist thought through the memories they stirred in him of the dances he had witnessed on the Hopi Reservation that he recorded in the “Notebook” and the “Ode.” Particularly when considered in light of the visit by Aby Warburg, another European intellectual, to the same villages 50 years earlier, Breton’s “Hopi Notebook” adds a missing piece to our understanding of the premier avant-garde movement of the twentieth century through the way Breton continued his effort to capture his evolving understanding of what it means to be human.
Kate Conley is a professor of French & Francophone Studies and Chancellor Professor of Modern Languages & Literatures at William & Mary. She is the author of Surrealist Ghostliness (Nebraska, 2013), Robert Desnos, Surrealism, and the Marvelous in Everyday Life (Nebraska, 2003), and Automatic Woman: The Representation of Woman in Surrealism (Nebraska 1996) and multiple articles and book chapters on the surrealist movement. Her current book project has the working title of “Mapping the Surrealist Collection.”
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