Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Re: surrealist groups and publicity

The decision by certain surrealists not to disseminate their contributions to the discussion ”publicly” on for example blogs, instead wanting to restrict the discussion to taking place among surrealist groups, is a perfectly legitimate though problematic one, which highlights some of the themes from ”labors of existence” and provides us with a pretext for revisiting them.

What is the public sphere?
It is not the size of the audience which defines the border between the public sphere and the rest, but the ideological implications of the type of communicative act. Very often spreading rumours and idle personal communication will reach more people than printing stuff or exposing it on the Internet. But ”going public” IN A SENSE automatically (but in practice in different ways and different amounts) means offering oneself as an exponent of public ideology (and of the ideology of publicity), as a free laborer for the spectacle, making sure that whatever one might have had to say will be contorted into a ideologically packedged twisted mirror image of it, primarily fulfilling a utilistic purpose of entertainment or cultural investment. Some will say even that it will primarily mean advertising the spectacle of the present order as such, and/or that the intended message or any other ”subversive” content impossibly can ever be mediated, and/or that the medium absolutely determines the message, and/or that the ideology of the society absolutely determines the message, but that appears to be more or less armchair exaggerations of more or less professional pessimists. No such system can be monolithic, closed, absolute, but must always be a product of the struggle between different objective interests, between the needs and compromises of real people, and is always subjected to the effects of ineffectivity, entropy, immense differentiation, chaos factors, chance effects, clinamen, the unpredictable, etc. The most effective subversion may take place, almost by definition, where we least expect it. Recuperated elements backfire, for those who are used to the situationist terminology. If we don’t jump onto the ”squirrel wheel” bandwagon of competing for media exposure, and if we don’t host illusions of ”fair” ”objective” representation, any public appearance can be a part of a strategy of simply sowing potential subversive elements beyond our control. This of course brings us back to the image of the message in the bottle.
”Surrealist publishing thus always remain a case of ”messages in a bottle”: eternally scattering messages in the hope that they will somewhere invent their target, that is, finding someone bold, openminded, depraved and/or desperate enough to respond to the challenge in a way unimagined by us, which may or may not be the same thing as simply bringing in their individual sensibilities to our common causes.” (Labors of Existence)
Now, underground printing as well as Internet publishing are publicity activities which are RELATIVELY low in inherent ideology simply because they are simple, cheap, easily available, they are not dependent on external financiation or on pleasing ”experts” editorial choices - it’s possible to direct almost the whole process oneself. And they usually have moderate circulation. Nevertheless, messages there do take unexpected paths, and especially on the Internet it can turn up in anybodys home due to weird chance phenomena or mere determination in seeking. Obviously, this is a fairly good field for planting whatever the entities of poetic subversion are; but in this connection it is also dependent on how we determine the borders of who we are ready to speak openly to, which makes us return to the question:
What is a surrealist group?
”To draw a sharp line between groups that fulfill the requirements of the narrow sense /of surrealist group/ and the rest, or even to merely work hard to define criteria for the former, will today seem strangely conspiratory or nostalgic or both.” (Labors of Existence)
But, ok perhaps such ”strange nostalghia or conspiratoriness” nevertheless is not unnecessary, if we should establish an ”internal” discussion. Then we could suggest, purely technically, that a surrealist group is an association consisting of a collective of physical persons (on one level, though remember the ”Intersubjectivity” discussion), more or less regularly physically meeting, keeping up a collective surrealist activity on at least a few different fronts (thus ruling out mere artists groups, discussion groups etc), communicating/ collaborating with other surrealist groups and individuals over the world, the group and a large part of the participants designating themselves surrealists (though they need not all be friends among themselves, and need not be approved from Paris or Chicago). Associations fulfilling some but not all of these criteria would constitute the traditional looser bordering category of ”surrealist groupings”. Many such groupings will experience similar dynamics and similar problematics as the surrealist groups, and some may take an equivalent effort/ responsibility in continuing, further developing, defending and/or reinventing surrealism.
This emphasises the difficulty in drawing the line to establishing the participants of an ”internal” discussion. But we are not entirely insensitive to such a need. There are some of these infamous ”internet artists” who simply advertise their personal works and even more their personal neuroses by calling themselves surrealists and occasionally enter into comunication with surrealists through the ease of digital communication. There are fairly large numbers of more or less well-meaning gravediggers who strive for reaching, or maintaining, positions as experts, critics and commentators on surrealism. Also, in certain countries, under certain circumstances, the police will be interested in getting some overview into the movement, particularly its conctact networks but also its organisation and psychology. Now most of us don’t have much taste for the boy adventure games of activist secrecy, but there is certainly a point in trying to reserve a lot of the actual insight for those who are seriously interested (”seriously” here both literally and as a eufemism for non-policiary, non-careeristically, non-spectacularily), and not readily handing in our protocols, membership rolls and detailed agendas to those who will accumulate and/or represent them by mechanisms and for purposes which effectively situates them on the opposite side of our cause.
The compromise we lean towards is using the ”public” means of open debate fora for planting themes, initiating discussions, but still somehow demanding personal contact to reveal too much specified details. That is for example probably the rationalisation of the scarcity of examples in ”Voices of the Hell-choir”, which some may find frustrating or mystifying. At least partly, because there appears to us to be a general rhetorical point of trying to avoid at least some of the knee-jerk defense reactions in that way too, whenever it can be done without a sense of withholding information within a discussion.

There is definitely some sense of transparence and indefensiveness that we struggle for which we are not interested in exposing to the public sphere but only to our serious collaborators, and there is a kind of "etiquette" we should stick to, and some formal expectations we should try to demand from ourselves, but to us it seems to be a very important thing that we should not limit our perspective to whatever conforms to these formal requirements; there is always going to be a "grade" of more or less relevant phenomena in the surroundings, and there is always substantial contributions that might come from unexpected directions.

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