In the spring of 1919, two young men, André Breton and Philippe Soupault, one a student of law and the other of medicine, both in a state of moral shock after the carnage of World War I, embarked on an experiment in writing. Sick of the literary cultivation of an individual voice, sick of the “well-written,” they wanted to unleash the power of the word as such, the better to create “a new morality” that would stand in place of “the prevailing morality, the source of all our trials and tribulations.” They devised a plan. They would write over the course of a week; they would write for only so much time on each day of the week; they would write fast and then faster. When the week was over, the writing would be over, and they would not go back to it or clean it up in any way. Finally, the project must proceed in perfect secrecy. They must not tell anyone what they were up to. This was how The Magnetic Fields, the first sustained exercise in automatic writing as a form of literary composition, came to be. Charlotte Mandell’s brilliant new translation reveals a key work of twentieth-century literature anew.