Friday, November 30, 2007

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?


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