Friday, November 30, 2007


This is the very last opportunity to make a november update, so we basically add a few minor scraps, and express our hopes that we in December will see more of NN:s revised ideas of “concepts of wholeness” (religion debate) and MF:s translations of his speculations on walking and epistemology, as well as some reports from collective discussions on anti-violence campaigns and on rereading Breton’s surrealist manifestoes again. Those who read swedish are encouraged to take part in games and dream geography projects at kormorantrådet.

In what sense is surrealism urban? (sketch)

Surrealism is indeed a fundamentally urbanistic endeavour, not at all in that it would be inconceavable in a rural setting or uninterested in extraurban environments (as the situationists tended to be), far from it, but in that some urban attitudes lie at its core.

1. Urban identity
Based on flow, overflow, absurdity, on both fast variations and real ambiguities concerning responsibility versus irresponsibility, and loneliness and company. Fundamentally urban is that more or less dynamic notions of cosmopolitanism-humanism-liberalism-individualism-selfrealisation replace the static notions of kin, trade and caste and “place in the order”. Family is distinctly inurban, freedom of association/ organisation exclusively urban; only in an urban setting can nonconformism, radicalism, divergence and refusal be a point of departure and not have a fulltime defensive occupation!

2. Fundamental heterogenity
a) of people in terms of demographics (age, origins, occupations, attitudes & behavior)
b) of environments, architecture and atmospheres (from luxurious and/or official to shabby/decomposing or unstructured/wild along different axises)
c) of supply of commodities, entertainments, information and signs
The urban environment provides not just a wide variation but is dependent on a deeper sense of heterogenity in a lot of factors (many of these are occasionally empirically weak, which is experienced as distinctly inurban and smalltownish (which is a personally important to me as I am working in a horrible narrowminded-conform conservative university small-town, parading as Sweden’s fourth largest city but lacking all sense of urbanity).

3. Abundance
a) of signs (nivellation of signs)
b) of encounters (flexibility, anonymity, abundance of encounters)
c) of possibilities (chaotic patterns, unpredictability, abundance of signs)
providing a ceaseless and in itself meaning-generating flow, within which we make associations and selections making up poetry and chance phenomena, and eventually situations (in the sense of the situationists), opportunities where the usual inauthentic habits and reactions obviously not are valid anymore and the field of possibilities therefore suddenly vastly opens, which might be socially explosive.

4. Mobility
The city provides a concentration not only of people and messages but also of structures (architecture and city planning), all of which makes a unique background for psychological mobility and dynamism. The possibility to move between different spheres of heterogenity, which is the hedonistic pleasure of all urban walkers, and provides the basic psychogeographical data for anynone interested in such questions. As an experimental setting, this is incredible: any random walk will provide you with a chain of messages (anarchistic knowledge) and potentially make you lose your way (with some sense of danger but usually not mortal danger). There is a text about this (walking and happiness from a surrealist perspective) which the author has been trying to translate for quite some time but just never got enough time…
The city is also the only environment where we have trustworthy public transport, making it possible to extend this mobility, go far on sudden associations and clues, into surrounding areas and ambiances; in a convenient form which itself provides exposure to new people, new possibilities, new atmospheres to savour and/or interpret.

Three fundamental negative corrollaries of surrealist urbanity:
* No family
* No regular hours fulltime job
* No car for regular transport
(Having to deal with only one of these factors, it is very often possible to design a personal compromise that makes many aspects of urban lifestyle still available, but anyone leading a life circumscribed by more than one of them usually finds himself/herself excluded from embodying true urbanity)

Or is surrealist urbanity/walking just bachelor bohemic?
No, I don’t think so. Isn’t bachelorism an individualistic organisation of comfort? Isn’t this opposed to flexibility and true curiosity? Isn’t bohemism primarily the absence of planning and commitment? Aren’t both opposed to any systematic experimentation, and thus the very opposite of surrealism?


Poetry in fetters?

If we postulate POETRY as being a shared core, certain characteristics and above all a potential, of a rather heterogenous class of phenomena, then this immediately leads to the view that among other things many elements in the religious sphere (magic, mysticism, demonology, pantheism, alchemy, synchronicity, dream interpretation, escatology, telepathy, and in general generation of meaning, mythology and reenchantment) must be regarded as an real or potential forms of unconscious poetry, rationalised into a sphere of systematic power exertion and stupidification. It has actually been one of the major pastimes of surrealism to pick up such scattered elements of poetry (from different contexts including religion not the least) and place them in a new connection, which often has been artistic and sometimes political (both designations in a wide and formal sense, referring to language/ means/ forum rather than aims/ spirit) but ultimately primarily surrealist: for the moment we may characterise that as pertaining to profane reenchantment of the world by means of cultivating the specific dynamics of the poetic phenomenon.

In that sense then, it is a surrealist thing to highlight and utilise such elements from the religious sphere as poetic materials, with dedicated respectlessness towards the servile hodgepodge usually surrounding them. It is not a surrealist thing to believe they carry scandalous truths revealing deep secrets of higher powers; anything of the kind is just naïve mystification and as overenthusiastic as sloppy metaphysical fantasy.

Nevertheless, we should also be cautious about regarding our own conceptualisation of poetry as poetry as necessarily more true and less self-deception than all other rationalisations. Paradigmatic for the concept of poetry are single aesthetic products by individual non-anonymous creators for an aesthetic sphere in the widest sense (not just the clique or guild of professional artists or the cultural market, but the whole world of aesthetic objects within a culture which regards them as a particular sphere, proofs of the cultural level of the society in question). We work hard to emphasize that the only thing interesting about these aesthetic objects are whatever part they take in poetry as a universal category, which is to be found just as much (or actually far more) outside that cultural sphere. But we should be aware that for many phenomena from other cultural contexts, acknowledging them as poetry may in a sense actually just seem like imposing on them certain cultural standards alien to them, even though what we intend is of course the revelatory condensation of their whole point.

Well, practically speaking there is a width among surrealists regarding to what extant they feel comfortable in this type of sacral atmosphere, enjoy reading such texts, and keep track of the theoretical connections. To find the poetical elements in there does require exposure to start with. But as it concerns voluminous systems, entire subcultures, and particular mechanisms for generating meaning, it is also obvious that the harvest may be somehow proportional to the effort. Superficial juggling with such mere semiotic signs for secrets and wholeness is of course very often unbearably banal. And in this field just like others, there are hordes of stupid followers, hordes of dull academics, smaller amounts of intelligent scholars, and large chunks of mythology and philosophy which may be poor or rich but regardless of which demand some provisional acceptance without faith in order to reveal its perspectives. Of course there is the risk of “going native”, of becoming carried away by ones acquired overview and special reading skills, fascinated by stuff which lack any sense outside the system, and happy about futile subtleties, the well-known process of turning knowledge into ideology. On the other hand, those who feel discomfort in the same sphere may systematically and morally refuse to see any nuances, denouncing any such study as “cuddling with religion”. Such pie thowing duels are probably not the interesting part of surrealism’s perspectives on religion.

My suggestions as to the paragraphs of major issues in such a discussion, listed in an order which is my own, just one temporarily preferred of the several possible orders of importance (which I’m not sure I’m willing to defend myself):

Religion as a theme for surrealists:
1. to identify and snatch loose poetical elements from the religious sphere (see above)
2. to understand how religion remains paradigmatic for many concepts, and even more many forms of systematisation and manipulation, of ideology, doctrine, faith, community, engagement, solidarity, profoundness, inspiration, intuition, possession etc, also for the occurences of these themes within other widely different spheres (some of these may have a fully operational and fully acceptable profane application available by simply removing the religious context, while in some the religious implications will not be that easily shook off; what is the difference?)
3. to understand how religion is a complex and dual-edged weapon among others in everyday life politics and geopolitics
4. not to back the least from a total refusal of god and church
5. not to choose to get satisfied by any humanistic-rationalistic platitudes in this sphere, and instead keep insisting on freer thought, playing on the loose, unrestrained quest for knowledge, richer mythologies, surrationalism and reenchantment.