Introduction - Surrealism, history and revolution 21
21 Introduction Surrealism, history and revolution How could Breton’s revolutionary attitude ever be anything other than a swindle? […] nothing is ever changed by a great big soft strumpet armed with a gift-wrapped library of dreams (Georges Bataille). 1 The 1917 English translation of Auguste Cabanès’s compendium of French historical curiosities, Le Cabinet Secret de l’Histoire, was entitled ‘The secret cabinet of history, peeped into by a doctor’. 2 Doctor Cabanès was a medical historian, a quintessentially late nineteenth-century man of letters whose authority was drawn from his experience as a practising doctor. The diagnostic tone of his earlier work La Santé des Grands Hommes (The Health of Great Men) offered an alternative vision of history as a series of hitherto un- suspected ailments. 3 In Le Cabinet Secret de l’Histoire, the qualified status of the peeping historian is just as vital. Cabanès lists intriguing possibilities about the disease that had afflicted Marat, recalls the activities of one of Robespierre’s doctors and digresses through di- verse examples of medical ephemera peripheral to ‘serious’ historical moments. 4 This book and its contents might also be understood as a secret cabinet of history, constructed through selective research but tending deliberately towards the obscure, the forgotten and the unpalatable. 1 G. Bataille, ‘The Castrated Lion’, Bataille’s contribution to the pamphlet ‘Un Cadavre’ (1929), G. Bataille, The Absence of Myth: Writings on Surrealism, M. Richardson (ed., trans.), London and New York, 1994, p.29. 2 A. Cabanès, The Secret Cabinet of History,...
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