Monday, September 3, 2007


The march posting on the icecrawler blog was intended to be notes from the discussion within the Stockholm surrealist group on religion in contemporary times, as explicitly requested by the Paris surrealist group, and originally triggered by how many surrealists thought Guy Ducornet’s major atheism initiative required a deepened collective discussion. Niklas Nenzén drafted a text, which to other members seemed to address just a minor selection of questions involved. At a meeting we had a tough but clarifying discussion on current ideological, sociopolitical, geopolitical aspects of religion, which made everybody exhausted and no one was inclined afterwards to sum it up in written form. At that point the Paris tract “To have done with the spectre of God” appeared (read it in french here), and seemed to cover in an acceptable and partly very good form some of these questions, even though it was also suspiciously reconcilient in explicitly preferring western societies to islamic countries (isn’t than a cretinisingly banal and pragmatic question which is entirely irrelevant from the viewpoint of surrealism?). At that point, contributions was starting to appear within the Stockholm group by people who had not taken part in the discussion up to then and/or regarding questions that had not been included up to then. Surprisingly, a defense of oldschool rationalistic atheism turned up alongside a defense for a leibnizian redefinition of the concept of theology. At that point, any call to return to order and to restate what ought to be the focus or circumscription of the discussion was regarded as purely hostile, and the following brawl left no agreements entire. This is the reason why the icecrawler blog has not been updated since then, and why the Stockholm group has not produced a joint statement in the question. At this point, it seemed we are starting to feel detached enough to display some of the statements, and when the editor of this blog threatened to do so several persons (including himself) started very eagerly to revise their texts, so hopefully they will be displayed here within a few weeks.

Until then, a few minor items have been added now in september:
- a short notice about surrealist boxes, from the documentation of an exhibition/event in Stockholm in may 2007 (with a few images)
- a technical note on definitions of surrealism
- an account of the analytical labors triggered by the innocent suggestion of “randomly picking an animal” in this years London surrealist game festival

forthcoming themes along the religion texts:
- fundaments of urbanity
- walking and happiness
- critical examination of the concept “poetic materialism”
- poetic materialism as research program


- Excerpt from a documentation/evaluation of an exhibition/event in Stockholm in May; exhibiting works by John Andersson, Mattias Forshage and Niklas Nenzén, including performances by Christian Andersson, MF, Micke Lundberg and Emma Lundenmark, for the event of the release of four books by MF at Styx publishers. The whole documentation can be downloaded as a pdf, and the books (in swedish) can be purchased from styx

SURREALIST BOXES are confined arrangements of surrealist objects. Primarily it is about invoking and/or investigating the poetical accomplicity and non-utilitarian autonomy of the objects. Thus the individual objects included are selected (or rather present themselves) to the extent that they produce real encounters (taking part in chains of chance events as well as mere glimpses of dynamic and elusive meaning-production and in the end in the radicalisation of living) first with the finder/ boxmaker when they are found (trouvés) and then with each other within the box. (Philosophically, in the process the subject/ object-relation is addressed and challenged. The box format also brings in the notion of portability with everything relating to it regarding notions of freedom, repetivity and male sexuality at the same time as the box itself (Büchse) remains a traditional female sexual symbol and an obvious site for secrets, enigmas and treasures.) Thus, surrealist boxes can be characterised as snapshots of, or experimental setups for, the secret lives of objects in a portable arena. (...)

"Giorgio de Chirico was a painter" (painting by John Andersson)

"...and his own morphological reverbations..." (painting by Niklas Nenzen)

Biological time (box by M Forshage)

What is Surrealism?

(The following short text is a note from a larger manuscript in the area of scientific/ poetic/ revolutionary epistemology by M Forshage, where the abundant references to surrealism seemed to necessitate at least a technical note regarding the definition of surrealism. This is certainly neither the most enthusiastic nor the most practically necessary of texts, but since it relates to a lot of things touched by the hell-choir text and a theoretical discussion on present positions of surrealism in general, it has been added here.)

The apparently easiest way of defining surrealism is to resort to a purely historical definition; surrealism is the movement founded by André Breton and his comrades in Paris during the years following world war 1, which was publicly announced 1924 and then has spread over the world and been developed in many different forms. Such a definition is obviously unsatisfactory since it in itself does not exclude anything at all of the uninteresting rubbish that in many circumstances have been associated with the term, it is just the most sweeping of ostensive gestures.

Many active surrealists would like to try to draw a dividing line by putting themselves into equation, and say for example that surrealism is anything that falls within the collective and individual activities of the active organised partakers in the surrealist movement in each historical collection. As a definition this does even worse though. Not only is a lot of the things that organised surrealists do quite obviously not surrealist (many of them are a lot more general and inclusive activities, and/or rather pertaining to their specific social or cultural forms and habits, and/or to neighboring fields of interest like politics or art) but the definition also does not the job expected from it until the surrealist movement is defined in some qualitative way, and some difference between “real” surrealists and purely nominal surrealists have been accounted for - such a distinction is often very easy to make on a spontaneous basis (sometimes admittedly far too easy and thus misleading) but very difficult to do in an explicit and objective way. Furthermore, if surrealism really is anything at all, a definition which relies on both an extreme formalism which resembles circularity (surrealism is what surrealists do) and on authority as epistemological source (surrealism is what the surrealists say it is) is intellectually deficient.

Many (not the least me and my friends) have tried to abstract forth the most fundamental content of surrealism with flowery language and hyperradical phrases (“the total liberation of man” and all that) but that remains just suggestive characteristics of a content, and still nothing which makes it possible to objectively identify what is actually included and what is not. Such phrases quite simply can not distinguish surrealism from a lot of other things, other forms of revolutionary politics, everydaylife activism, psychological experimentation, imaginative creativity, mysticism, etc – all these things which between them may possibly have a shared core which surrealism reveals (or, if not, rather a virtual core which surrealism constructs), but which taken one by one is definitively not identical with surrealism in any meaningful sense.

(In the connection from where this text is taken, it was relevant to refer, for additional examples, to a sentence from the Stockholm group’s declaration “The objective situation of life june 2002”: “The activities of the surrealists really only pertains to investigating the means of exalting life beyond personal happiness, carreer, money, wage labor, family and common sense” or to the whole tract “The scream in the sack” (elsewhere on the icecrawler pages).)

Well, to start with, we have to bake into the definition a circumscription of its range, admitting a specificity to surrealism, meaning that we can never reduce it to any easier or more complex theory or selection of themes, and that while possibly trying to make such a formulation still never expect it to be exhaustive, and see that surrealism can only be the realisation of any such content in a particular historical form which keeps attracting, is expressed by, and is further developed by, real human beings in concrete social historical connections throghout the world. So here I would like to sketchily characterise the contents by a structural analysis of its themes and activities inspired by Imre Lakatos model for analysis of “research programmes” (with a “hard core” which can’t be questioned, a “protective belt” of more flexible corollaria, and an imbedding in “positive and negative heuristics” which tells how to go about in practice).

For surrealism, the innermost core is obviously POETRY, the concern for which is largely untouchable. Around it are the fundamental attitudes towards poetry, still not negotiable; simply CREATIVITY and NONCONFORMISM. It is NOT the case that creativity is the inner, individual and/or esoteric side while nonconformism is the outer, social and/or exoteric side. On the contrary, they are both equally important as basic pillars in intrapsychic, intersubjective and social aspects.

Level 3, surrounding creativity and nonconformism, are their most important forms: EXPERIMENTALITY (curiosity in methods and in results; no superordinated aesthetic criteria or trusted formulae), NON-CARREERISM (non-utilism in the social sphere) and PERMANENCE (this is not a phase or a game to walk in and out of). Those are what is needed to distinguish between surrealism and all it’s laughing-mirror images, which usually lacks one or more ot these, thus transforming the poetic content to a mere means for one or other form of temporary transgressions, nostalgic roleplaying, philatelism or clowning, moments in an eclectic and utilistic personality development, tools in one or other desired or ongoing cultural carreer or academic carreer. Let us say that anything that fits this far is actually an instance of “objective surrealism” of one kind or another.

Then we can say that the next layer, level 4, are the historically determining forms for this activity; all that which characterises the activity of those who have regarded themselves as surrealists: COLLECTIVE, TRADITIONAL (of course in the sense of actively investigating and shaping a tradition and using it creatively, not in the sense of nostalgy, lack of experiment, reliance on doctrine, habitual behavior), POLITICALLY REVOLUTIONARY, LITERATE, ODD-EDUCATED. These five are in practice indispensable for any organised surrealist activity, but not for each individual surrealist subjectively, and they are not at all necessary for fulfilling an objective surrealism.

The outermost layer, level 5, the purely protective heuristics, sometimes decisive for belonging, the establishing of a typical or normal, recognisable form, is the whole surrealist tradition and everything it suggests, teaches and warns for; including the good and bad experiences made, as well as any shared vocabulary, set of techniques, particular habits and social attitudes. This is the background against which we link up with each other, communicate, and an important part of how we suggest and evaluate initiatives and how we evaluate and criticise them. You can be a surrealist without all of this, especially if you are in a collective surrealist activity where you leave much of this to other members as some specialised field of activity and knowledge (stressing a hierarchy in the group which may be fairly neutral as a mere spatial distribution in center and periphery - hopefully multidimensional-complex rather than unidimensional - , but potentially dangerous). Any objections to surrealism formulated exteriorly to this can be dismissed (and sadly will be dismissed by many surrealists) as simply not relevant because it is not surrealist. At the same time any part of this can be considered outdated, irrelevant or in need of revision by any active surrealists, as long as you do this from the perspective of the more central contents of the concept and don’t start dispensing with these, which would constitute objective revisionism and usually personal renegadism and obvious non-surrealism.

In spite of this attempt, distinguishing between surrealism and non-surrealism remains in some cases difficult without reference to the surrealist experience. However, as far as that can not be explicated in analytical terms, a definition is not the right place to determine its status.

Animal Walks

One of the games suggested in this years London International Festival of Surrealism (16-29.vii.2007) (the festival before and after and who were the participants) was called “Animal Farm” (rules were simples: pick a random animal and identify with it when taking a walk) and had some appeal to the Stockholm group, but first a good dose of critical remarks on the analytical difficulties…

The major difficulty of doing the animal walk with a zoologist in the group is the part of randomly picking an animal. What is random in this connection? The suggested method of picking one at random from a book relies heavily on what kind of book it is, and most popular books will be subject to the same particular bias as most people’s intuitive choices. Other books will be subject to other biases.

First of all, being mammals and genetically programmed to react empathically to things resembling possible mates and/or possible offspring, and having a strong tendency for complacency, narrowmindedness and chauvinism, most people display a strong mammal-chauvinistic bias, preferring middlesized more or less furry things with large eyes. Childhood programming by toys, popular science and TV entertainment (and usually very little by direct personal experience) make us imagine most ”typical animals” as belonging to either of two categories: domestic animals of farms, and wildlife of (african-indian) savannah (this may be slightly different in other parts of the world and even more in other generations). A few birds and perhaps an occasional reptile will come along with the mammal lot there. But in many everyday language situations, many people actually use the word animal as synonymous with mammal, as in the phrase ”animals and birds”. If pressed such people would probably see two different meanings of the word, animals sensu lato and animals sensu stricto, because otherwise it is a bit difficult to conceive what would be the more inclusive term for the whole animal kingdom – creatures? beasts?

Thus, for people without a well-developed zoological imagination or zoological education, picking an animal by random from a book or from one’s own mind will probably conform to this bias.

Systematic attempts of picking a random animal would have to be based on some assession of animal diversity. Potentially there is an infinite number of ways of doing this, but the ones readily available are species diversity or phylogenetic diversity.

If random picking an animal is based on an assessment of overall diversity of animals in terms of species numbers; then almost all animals are insects. There are some significant portions of crustaceans, arachnids, molluscs and (admittedly) vertebrates too (predominantly fish though) and all other groups are close to zero fractions. This will produce a species diversity bias, which thus is strongly in favor of entomological choices.

It is notable that one readily available chance method, that of picking an animal by closing one’s eyes and then opening them and picking the first animal seen will, unless it becomes a human (many people will not count humans as animals) or unless the person has poor eyesight, most probably result in an insect.

But the other option in assessing overall animal diversity is the systematists way of imagining the animal kingdom in the representation of a phylogenetic tree showing out hypothesis of the evolution of the group. In this way, an extremely species-rich lineage such as insects, and an extremely subjectively important lineage such as mammals, will only be individual lineages among large numbers of others. As this perspective tends to give dominance to lineages that have been separate for long times, it sees an animal kingdom strongly dominated by (often species-poor groups of) marine invertebrates, usually more or less wormlike. This is a phylogenetic diversity bias.

With the zoologist in the group being a systematist, there was no option but to base the selection on the phylogenetic diversity bias prespective. Starting from a random point picked in a strongly schematic tree of the animal kingdom, each player described an imagined walk with left and right turns, back and forth movements, occasional leaps, etc, which were followed by someone else on a more detailed tree of the particular region in the tree. So it was simply a blind walk in a labyrinth, the topology of the labyrinth being a phylogenetic tree. Whenever the persons walk led to a terminal in the tree, and the person did not retreat from there, the animal represented by that terminal was the result.

In this way, EL became a crinoid (sea lily, featherstar, ”hair-star”, including the medusahead, gorgonhead etc) – marine echinoderms, easy to imagine as starfish with long and strongly branched arms, often stalked and sessile, otherwise slowly crawling on the ocean floor. A crinoid had played an interesting part in a dream by MF involved in the collective ”moon novel” project where it was mythologised into the character of the ”evolutionary runneress”.

KF became a shark. The night before he had been telling an anecdote of meeting potentially threatful reef sharks while scuba diving in Belize.

EB became a centipede, in popular culture (like in Burroughs’ Naked Lunch) usually represented by large scolopenders, extremely swift and venomous predators, sometimes with phosphorescent colors and sometimes with poisionous cuticular exudates substantiating the ghost stories of people getting bad rashes when scolopender had been running over their body at night.

JE became a nemertine, a ribbon worm, a very common group of marine slimy, flat, simultaneously extremely fragile and extremely flexible worms, one species being able to stretch out to 30 m length.

MF became a siphonophoran, a ”state medusa”, one of Ernst Haeckel’s favorite animals (in Kunstformen der Natur and elsewhere), a kind of jellyfish made up by a large colony of hydroids showing spectacular degree of specialisation into ”swimming persons”, ”prey-catching persons” (with the nettle cells), ”sex persons” etc, often producing a gas-filled sailing bladder (for example the famous portugese manowar, probably the most famous but certainly not the most spectacular siphonophoran).

If someone would have ended up with an animal that didn’t make sense to them even after having learnt about it, it would have been considered a false hit and the process repeated, but as it were everybody felt quite happy with their results which all seemed very significant.

Now this was only the first step of the game and the point was to take a walk as that animal, and see what alterations and novelties it suggested in sensory input, body awareness, social relations etc. So the rest is up to the different participants.