from “My Last Sigh”


These are a few sections from My Last Sigh (The Autobiography of Luis Bunuel).  The translation is by Abigail Israel. 

The book came out in France in 1982.  The translation is copyrighted 1983 (the year Bunuel died).  I re-read it last year. 

Bunuel’s a great filmaker.  He was born in Spain but he made most of his films in Mexico and France.  He worked in cinema from 1929 to 1977.  Surrealism was an important part of his life.

Fom My Last Sigh:

“Your freedom is only a phantom that travels the world in a cloak of fog.  You try to grab hold of it, but it will always slip away.  All you’ll have left is a dampness on your fingers.”

“All of us were supporters of a certain concept of revolution, and although the surrealists didn’t consider themselves terrorists, they were constantly fighting a society they despised.  Their principle weapon wasn’t guns, of course; it was scandal.  Scandal was a potent agent of revelation, capable of exposing such social crimes as the exploitation of one man by another, colonialist imperialism, religious tyranny- in sum, all the secret and odious underpinnings of a system that had to be destroyed.  The real purpose of surrealism was not to create a new literary, artistic, or even philosophical movement, but to explode the social order, to transform life itself. ”

“….There’s no doubt that surrealism was a cultural and artistic success;  but these were precisely the areas of  least interest to the surrealists.  Their aim was not to establish a glorious place for themselves in the world of art and literature, but to change the world,  to transform life itself.  This was our essential purpose,  but one good look around is evidence enough of our failure.

Needless to say,  any other outcome was impossible.  Today,  we see the place of surrealism in the world as infinitesimal.  Like the earth itself, devoured by monumental dreams, we were nothing- just a small group of insolent intellectuals who argued interminably in cafes and published a journal; a handful of idealists,  easily divided where action was concerned.  And yet my three-year sojourn in the exalted -and yes, chaotic- ranks of the movement changed my life.  I treasure that access to the depths of the self which I so yearned for, that call to the irrational, to the impulses that spring from the dark side of the soul.  It was the surrealists who first launched this appeal with a sustained force and courage, with insolence and playfulness and an obstinate dedication to fight everything repressive in the conventional wisdom.  Where these aspects of the movement are concerned, I see nothing to repudiate.” 

“Another enduring aspect of surrealism is my discovery of the profound conflict between the prevailing moral code and my own personal morality, born of instinct and experience.  Until I became part of the movement, I never imagined such warfare, but now I see it as an indispensable condition of life itself.  More than the artistic innovations or the refinements of my tastes and ideas, the aspect of surrealism that has remained a part of me all these years is a clear and inviolate moral exigency.  This loyalty to a specific set of moral precepts isn’t easy to maintain; it’s constantly coming into conflict with egotism, vanity, greed, exhibitionism, facileness, and just plain forgetfulness.  Sometimes I’ve succumbed to temptations and violated my own rules, but only, I think, in matters of small importance.  My passage through the heart of the surrealist movement helped firm up my resolve, which is perhaps, at bottom, the essential thing.”

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