Monday, November 13, 2006

hell choir pt 2

Several groups in their rhetoric instead utilise a subjectivistic mode, work hard to emphasize the poetic aspect of surrealism through suggestion and invokation, through poetic visions, personal mythologies and radical subjectivity, and through more or less mystification. Within this rhetoric there is sometimes a tendency to regard either or both the propagandistic and the analytical efforts as degrading or compromised. There is very little conscious concern about the reader, and instead the heroic ambition of trying to express ones sensibility in its full content at any price.
In a sense the latter is the mechanism of poetic communication. However within this mode it is also often established a notion of the fragility of the poetic, thus regarding the propagandistic and even more the analytical mode not only inadequate but actually dangerous. The individual creativity and the surrealist tradition are cared for like precious gems, evoked and hailed, and exposed mostly in safe connections (own, more or less slick, journals and other highbrow, peaceful fora); never questioned, confronted, scrutinised. This type of defensiveness was a major conflict line in that old polemic between the french and the swedish group over ”The scream in the sack”. The original tract was an attempt at stating the direction of the swedish group in clearest possible terms. Guy Girard responded with sharp criticism and seemed to mean that this attempt was 1) necessarily destined to fail to convey anything of the spirit of surrealism and 2) actually contrary to and dangerous to the ambitions of surrealism. It turned out to be an issue of controversy even within the swedish group; we all agreed for sure that surrealism and poetry in general in a sense is about expressing that which is not yet intelligible, a sort of utopian communication, a way of letting the irreducible speak without compromise. This is one thing. We can never reduce poetry to formulae, and have no ambition of doing so. On the other hand, simple logic tells us that poetry cannot be IDENTICAL with surrealist activity or surrealism on the whole (neither as a movement nor as a spirit). Real existing surrealism is rather a cluster of activities/attitudes celebrating poetry, cultivating poetry, investigating poetry and confronting poetry in various constellations and with various methodologies (2). Anyway, about the real activities of surrealism, it is definitely a matter of choice at any time whether to speak in a suggestive/ invokative, ”poetic”, more or less mystifying and/or unintelligible way OR an intelligible way. It’s possible that a lot of important information gets lost in the concentration of these circumstances into simple sentences, but the majority of the swedish group thought, and still thinks, that it’s at least worth a try.
The individual sensibilities and the nonconditional importance given to these by a very general surrealist attitude are often, within this rhetoric, stressed to the point of denying surrealism its current historic particulars, the set of standpoints and themes reached through the historical experience so far. This type of rhetoric appears to be most common in countries where organised surrealism has had a very long presence, and there may be a wide variety of positions more or less derived from surrealism. To prove in this situation that one’s own brand of surrealism is the true one could perhaps best be argued through the objective historical organisational/personal continuity with the bretonian movement and its accumulated plethora of themes, and not with any particular characteristics of the direction of that surrealism? (On the other hand, the close ties with the rest of the international movement is an alternative legitimating factor, but this was clearly more relevant in the 80s before information technology made it easy for any homegrown artist to take part in an international movement…)
A small amount of mystification can be poetically fruitful in creating uncertainty about certain things taken for granted; but any larger amount of mystification is always manipulative, charlatanic and/or selfdeceiving. (It is necessary to keep in mind the distinction between mystification and mystery. There is a very real sense of mystery in the world which it is a fundamental tenet of surrealism to recognise. But not only to recognise, but also to investigate, experiment and play with. The sense of mystery, wherever it is essential, withstands that. It does not require pious carefulness, avoiding all risktaking and all questioning.) The ”poetic” rhetoric, and the attitudes of those who employ it, frequently are overprotective concerning the individual visions so as to not really contribute them to interfertilisation, to collective ludicity, collective intelligence, collective critique, instead admiring them from outside as reified exhibition items on piedistals. This protection of the individual imagination as if it was an endangered animal could in a sense be considered contrary to the methodology and spirit of surrealism, in which collectivity, play and experimentation are fundamental.
Nevertheless, this subjectivistic mode is of course also a greenhouse for real poetic discoveries in the subjective sphere, and is capable of conveying a particular coherence and intensity both collectively and individually. Surrealism would be a lot less convincing if it wasn’t for the some classic cases of creators having fearlessly cultivated their personal mythologies and imaginary universa; often these have become part of our collective experience.

In fact, the propagandistic and the subjectivistic modes both tend to evoke a kind of INFALLIBILITY of surrealism, though very differently phrased. If in both ways it is important to state that surrealism has the solution to all problems and that there are no problems within surrealism, in the propagandistic mode this may appear like a strategical point of strengthening one’s argument by not admitting any weaknesses, in the subjectivistic mode it would be more of explicitly actually putting one’s whole faith in the possibility of miraculous solution to everything in this sphere. In a sense this contains the fundamental mechanisms of mystification. As a long as one speaks ”vaguely”, in the sense of ambiguously, prophetically, rich in images and adjectives, mythological markers and bold arrogance/ selfreliance, in a way the solution to all problems will probably lie within this. This is true not only for surrealism but also for astrology and all kinds of religious prophecies. It is only when this is boiled down to less ambiguous sentences that start ruling out things and not only suggesting infinite possibilities that it will be part of a theoretical framework which can actually unambiguously forward our knowledge on our means and of the landscape we are acting in. (3)
It also makes it a lot easier to agree between groups, whenever communication is reduced to mutual hailing some basic concepts, ranting about some others, allowing everybody to address them as themes in games, polemics and poetry any way they like, never really asking what someone else actually means by them, never asking for clarification, never exposing differences, weaknesses, totally new areas of investigation or even of agreement…
This is one of the most important factors in the evident lack of theoretical progress in surrealism in general after the second world war, and also the failure to rally to any newer more radical movement as Breton proclaimed; since a mutually agreed vague surrealism indeed infinitely contains the solutions to all problems there is no need to look for any new developments or new insights, and since a vague surrealism is ABSOLUTELY radical there can not logically be any movement more radical. Surrealism keeps containing the most radical possibilities in every single field, and all of those who actually try to formulate actual theories or new strategies within specialised fields will always have the disadvantage of being particular and not drawing upon a poetic totality framework, so they can easily be dismissed as sterile academics or activists, and whatever is useful in their theories (if it becomes too evident that there is something at all) can always be claimed to have been present in surrealism all the time anyway. Yes, in a sense it was probably there, quite implicitly and undevelopedly. In the same sense it was probably present in Nostradamus’s prophecies as well. In a sense, it’s somewhat embarassing to see how much homage is still payed to authors of classical great theoretical breakthroughs like Freud, Marx and Hegel, occasionally also to Böhme, Dee, Swedenborg, Darwin, Spinoza, Nietzsche, Fourier, Tristan, Kropotkin, Sade etc, while almost no attention at all is the payed to those who scrutinise and forward, synthesise or parallel, their ideas in our own times. A lot of surrealists actually take pride in maintaining their distance to various currents like contemporary hermetism, natural science, feminism, any strand of post-structuralism, cultural studies, queer theory etc, just because these are not surrealism. No, obviously they’re not, but whoever allows them a serious study might find out that they may have a lot to teach us in spite of that and partly even just because of that.

There is of course a certain danger of blindness in evaluating the analytical mode of rhetoric within a pre-dominantly analytical/ critical/ objectivistic framework such as the present. But the analytical is very much capable of biting its own tail, and a number of difficulties or dangers with it are easy to point out from within.
First of all, the simple fact that this a dominating mode of speech in several fora outside surrealism, and for several participants in surrealism thus prepares the ground for their desertation into for example academia. And like all other established rhetorical modes, it often degrades into a means for itself, into habit and complacency. It may breed the regressive pleasure of being able to ”crush” others’ positions and initiatives; actually we are surrounded by examples of how the exertion of this critical assault not only is a forum of a certain pathetic selfreassuring sadism but also an excuse never to really consider anything apart from the already known, so typical in many marxist and situationist-inspired intellectuals, as well as in more or less intelligence-aristocratic supposedly apolitical critics of art and literature etc. Also the lust for selfcriticism and critical scrutiny and ”updating” of our heritage often connected with this mode may be blinded by superficial fashions and insignificant spectacular phenomena, thus potentially disrupting internal coherence and becoming severely eclecticist.
From psychological, democratical and group-dynamical perspective too strong an emphasis on the critical will inevitably turn out to be psychologically restrictive for a lot of people with insufficient selfconfidence, creating an atmosphere where ever fewer people take initiatives, and those supposedly fragile themes (emotional or poetical) take an ever-decreasing place. Even if surrealism on the whole is non-utilistic and therefore spurns effectivity and rapidity, an overcritical attitude may serve to slow down output to virtually nothing, which is not necessarily bad in itself except for that one of the things thus strangled is external communication and communication within international surrealism.
Even if it can’t be properly accounted for in an analytical context, there is of course also a critique of the analytical perspective from the viewpoint of ”pure” sensibility and emotion – it may often FEEL like it misses the point.
The groups and individuals that have been stressing the analytical rhetoric, often have been active in countries where surrealism failed to recently establish itself as an organised movement during classic times. The present agents in these countries thus may find it natural to ask themselves how this came about; if there are any particular discrepancy in the conditions visavis other countries. Those questions are very interesting. Potentially they are also quite misleading if they tend to overemphasize dissimilarities between national cultures in modern capitalist countries, and refer to national characters as explanations. With or without theoretical arguments they may lead to decreasing interest, decreasing communication and decreasing solidarity with other surrealist groups. In the worst case they may even end up in seeing a need to develop separate national surrealisms.

The games of surrealism inherently counter a lot of the restraints and dangers in each of these rhetoric modes. Playing brings about collectivity as such, openness towards intersubjective phenomena, at the same time a recognition and a surpassing of the specific conditions brought in by the individual. At least ideally games provide confrontation with the truly unexpected, with entirely new possibilities, and with a new intersubjective subjectivity and communication, and thus elements of a new sense of civilisation. All of this is from a methodological perspective. In fact it is also an important experience in the ludic sphere that the results of our games often turn out unfortituous and predictable. Sometimes it will do little else than create a superficial feeling of solidarity, or confirm the individual’s personal directions, or, which is more interesting to note here, reinforce the dominant rhetorical mode of the group, integrating that rhetoric already in the design of the game.
There are polemical games: which merely in a playful way pay homage to our basic concepts or our heroes, or derides/ridicules central concepts of miserabilism or certain classic enemies or politicians etc (examples would be either the typical or just the uninspired rounds of for example Time-Travellers Potlatch, Ouvrez-vous, For/Against, etc, and a lot of uninspired individual contributions to all kinds of games). Such games are, I would say, not surrealist games in a strong sense, in that they do not employ any actual creativity, do not let the unknown play any part, do not create any particular ambiances or any new knowledge.
The way of playing that corresponds to the largest degree with the subjectivistic mode is mythologising games, functioning through gathering any objects or themes and by any ludic means integrating and cultivating them in a poetical or mythological framework, creating as endresults potentially fruitful ambiances, not the least for the purpose of creating a sense of belonging, cohesion and personal meaning. In that, this mode can be referred to as a quasi-religious mode. It tends to partly collectivise the individual emotional response and develop the shared mythology. A lot of these themes, like central concepts (love, desire, marvellous, night etc) and major sources of inspiration (lautréamont, marx, hegel, freud, breton etc) will then confuse the spectators (and some of the participants) by appearing to be analytical concepts and tools, while they are actually filling the function of mere mythological signs.
The reverted mirror image of that mode would be the objectivistic stance connected with the analytical mode of rhetoric. This will take as its starting point any objectively given phenomena (including as a subclass subjective fantasies!), gather and develop these by experimental/aleatory means (including subjective associations), and then collectively interpret them within an analytical framework. The endresult will there typically consist of the new aspects and new possibilities revealed by the specific chance constellations, and so it may be called a quasi-scientific mode. It tends to focus on the poetical-epistemological potentialities, the new knowledge objectively produced by the ludic and intersubjective development of the arbitrary distribution of meaningful elements.
In spite of the different games’ firm basis in either mode, they do (more than anything else) still retain the potential of superceding their limitations, merging and producing genuine novelties on either level.

(2) Oops, now we’re getting into those tricky spheres of semantics where Guy was actually able to snub us effectively when we had said surrealist tradition was a collection of themes, which is obviously wrong, and so we corrected it into saying that it is the spirit uniting these themes.
(3) The philosophically educated reader will find this argument very popperian. The fact that I agree with this fundamental epistemological point of that boring old fart does not mean that I defend other philosophical views of his, and certainly not his political ones.

No comments: