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Additional Book Information

Series: NYRB Poets
ISBN: 9781681374604
Pages: 112
Publication Date: October 13, 2020

The Magnetic Fields

by André Breton and Philippe Soupault, translated from the French by Charlotte Mandell

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In the spring of 1919, two young men, André Breton and Philippe Soupault, both in a state of shock after World War I, embarked on an experiment. Sick of the literary cultivation of “voice,” sick of the “well-written,” they wanted to unleash the power of the word and to create “a new morality” to replace “the prevailing morality, the source of all our trials and tribulations.” They had a plan. They would write for a week on every day of the week and they would write fast, as fast as possible, in complete secrecy. When the week was over, the writing would be done. No touching up.

This was how The Magnetic Fields, the first sustained exercise in automatic writing, came to be. Charlotte Mandell’s brilliant new translation reveals a key work of twentieth-century literature.


With distance, a sort of unity has established itself, and The Magnetic Fields have become the work of a single author with two heads. This double gaze has made it possible, as nothing else would, for Philippe Soupault and André Breton to push forward on the path where no one had preceded them, into these shadows where they were both speaking aloud.
—Louis Aragon

Fantastic, disconnected but vivid and poetic as though Breton and Soupault were seeing sea life at the bottom of the ocean’s floor: very few of us have the intensity of spirit to live with that sense of life.
—Kimberly Lyons

The Magnetic Fields opened the verbal floodgates for the writers aligned first with Dada and then with Surrealism: Breton, Soupault, Paul Eluard, Louis Aragon, Robert Desnos, Benjamin Peret.
—Christopher Merrill, Los Angeles Times

Breton and Soupault ushered a freshly new phenomenon of writing into being. Theirs remains the key 20th century collaboration. . . Going forward there was acknowledged precedent for the validity of jointly recording words onto the page as they come, whether borrowed, imagined or otherwise summoned forth from whatever depths.
—Patrick James Dunagan, Periodicities