have often thought about the man who first came up with the idea of recording the vibrations of the voice: he put little sound-sensitive plates, carbon and copper wires all together into a machine and then actually did hear the unmistakable sound of the human voice. In the same way the first surrealists forced themselves into states of utter exhaustion with the excesses they viewed as mere games, and saw the marvellous arise before them, the overwhelming hallucinations more usually produced by ecstatic religious states or narcotic drugs. At that time we used to meet in the evenings like hunters, comparing what we’d bagged that day, the tally of beasts we’d invented, the fantastic plants, the images we’d shot down. In the grip of a tremendous momentum, we spent more and more time on the practices which led us into our strange inner lands. We delighted in observing the curve of our own exhaustion, and the derangement which followed. For then the marvellous would appear. At first each one of us thought himself subject to some peculiar mental disorder and struggled against it. Then it revealed its true nature. It was as if the mind, having reached a turning point in the subconscious, lost all control over where it was drifting. Images which existed in the mind took physical forms, became tangible reality. Once we were in touch with them they expressed themselves in a perceptible form, taking on the characteristics of visual, auditory and tactile hallucinations. We experienced the full force of these images. We could no longer control them. We had become their domain, a setting for them. In bed, at the moment of falling asleep, in the street with eyes wide open, with the full apparatus of dread, we held out our hands to phantoms. Rest, abstention from surrealism made these phenomena disappear, gave us space to comprehend how close they were to the phenomena induced by chemical preparations, and at first we suspended our experiments through fear, but they gradually reclaimed their rights over our curiosity. The nature of the troubled mental states brought on by surrealism, by physical fatigue, by narcotics, and the way these resembled dreams and mystical visions together with the semiology of mental illness led us to evolve this proposition which, alone, can explain and link all these factors: the existence of a mental substance. The similarity between hallucinations and sensations compelled us to think of this mental substance as being different to thought, with thought itself, in all its perceptible manifestations, being only one particular example of it. The way we experienced it was through its concrete power, through its power to become concrete. We saw that it could pass from one state into another, and that these transmutations evidenced its existence as well as its nature. We would see a written image, for example, which had initially emerged arbitrarily, as if by chance, reach out to our senses, divest itself of its verbal element and take on the substance of phenomena we had only previously experienced in our imaginations, never knowing it was possible to induce them outside, in a tangible form. We now felt that every mental and physical experience we had was a direct result of our participation in this paradoxical exercise. Then, imagining the opposite of what we were experiencing, we reduced each sensation, each thought we wished to analyse, to a single word. Absolute nominalism was dazzlingly exemplified in surrealism and it gradually dawned on us that the mental substance described above was, in fact, vocabulary itself. There is no thought outside words: the whole surrealist experience evidences this proposition, nothing new in itself yet greeted, nowadays, with more scepticism than all the vague opinions (constantly contradicted by facts) of realists who are swept along to the Pantheon one lovely rainy evening.” — Louis Aragon, from A Wave of Dreams (1924), translated by Susan de Muth (2003)



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