Thursday, October 16, 2008


Long time no posting, reflecting mostly the editor's absurd workload in other areas. I mean, texts do write themselves continuously, but to revise and finish them, and even more to nag people into contributing to and reviewing them, is a hard and tedious work which usually comes to rest at a half-done stage. So of course there is a lot of material available from the past months, but what perhaps feels like the most important parts are still waiting for the final hands. There will be a text trying to update atopos theory and a text about the surrealism and women issue, and who knows whenever the endless discussions within the Stockholm group about mythology, about so-called poetic materialism, and about epistemology, rationalism and religion, will result in presentable texts...

Mattias Forshage

note on urbanity and travelling

from a central european travelogue contributed to this year's SLAG surrealist game festival

/.../Travelling receives a difficult status in surrealism, since surrealism has developed a certain sense of nivellation, not in the sense of global modernisation or of early civilisation effort, that everything is expected to adapt to an enlightened standard, but quite the opposite since surrealists apply a sense of generalised exotism and expect strange and alien things to emerge even in their own home quarters. So what is then remarkable about travelling? As long as you remain in cities, the most remarkable thing is perhaps how great the similarities are. Well, different cities have different things to offer, but more or less the same methodologies can be applied in all of them, and similar spectrums of encounters and ambiances are available in all of them (with significant local specialities). Major european cities, which is the ground which surrealism sprung from, can be mistaken for one another, and are each loveable in this anonymity-specificity. Just like friends./.../

(and we will soon post a text "towards the solidification and relativisation of atopos theory")


two books

As the subject of surrealismology has been up here, let me recommend two new english-language books about surrealism:

Gavin Parkinson's "Surrealism, art and modern science" (Yale University press, 2008) A remarkably well-informed, broad and critically-minded academic book of surrealism, based on a doctoral thesis in art history but necessarily broad in scope in investigating what the developments within physics of the early 20th century (relativity and quantum physics) meant for surrealists, in outlook, theory and art alike, and in what shape it had a function to fill in surrealism. Especially refreshing is the author's irritation over all these ever-repeated vague analogies between modern physics and modern art in general terms of perspectives, sensibility or very newness, demanding that all such comparisons must be actually investigated on the epistemological level.

Nikos Stabakis's "Surrealism in greece - an anthology" (University of Texas press, 2008) For the first time in english a very substantial portion of creations of greek surrealists. But the point - in this particular context - is the introductions, where Nikos Stabakis of the Athens surrealist group lucidly formulates questions and observations on the particular conditions for surrealism in a peripheral country, in a partly very specific and partly highly generisable way which could teach us one or two lessons in how to look for objective surrealism and how to sharpen local interventions in a variety of contexts.

eating it up: limbs, offspring, void and all

To try to sum up the issue of the relationship between surrealism and situationism (at this point still without having read Joël Gayraud's "Le peu de l'ombre" or the recent "Surréalistes et situationnistes, vies parallèles, histoire et documents" by Jérôme Duwa):

Yes, situationism is best considered as one of the dissident surrealist endeavours, organisationally distinct from the surrealist movement in order to gain the independence needed to make certain new emphasises, new experiments, new experiences; experiences which it is subsequently up to us to reintegrate in a general surrealist framework. In the 50s and 60s there seems to still have been a primarily polemical relation between the situationists and french surrealists (note in Joubert's highly recommendable book "Le Mouvement des Surréalistes, ou le fin mot de l'Histoire" 1997 the anecdote of Jean Schuster's chasing off Elisabeth Lenk because she was seeing the situationists too), while belgian and american, probably also british and dutch surrealism was always more positively inclined. And then in the 70s also the french seems to have started reevaluating situationism (el Janaby, LeBrun etc).

So when Tony Pusey and I (and others) were shouting for the need to reintegrate situationism into surrealism in 1988, it was pretty much enforcing already opened doors, and even more so when the Stockholm group kept repeating this over and over again such as in the international letter of 2003 and even in the recent "Voices of the hell-choir".

On the other hand, a perhaps new polarisation has been settling, between certain hyperradical and more or less iconoclastic groups and certain more or less traditionalists guardians of the purity of poetry, and the question is again on the agenda. I have been among those shouting in favour of situationist ideas, but recently I have increasingly been having a problem with many of the young groups (and also not even young ones) who occasionally use situationist rhetorics, reference to situationist ideas, etc as a motivation or legitimation for not caring much about imagination, for announcing new anathemas about pictures, for painting the world in black and white and prefer ultraradical rhetorics over actual analysis, or generally for subsuming poetry under politics, again...

So again, yes, situationism is a part of surrealist experience and of surrealist theory development attempts, just like Bataille, Artaud, parts of psychedelia and occultism and even pataphysics etc etc, but just like all of these outside endeavours also in themselves quite different from surrealism in spirit. And there I feel there is reason to give the traditionalists right if they claim that there are surrealist polemics and perhaps even entire surrealist strategies which are fuelled by the seductiveness of the absolutist cerebral negativity of Debord, which will be suffocating for, or just opposed to, real vigilance towards poetry. But on the other hand, to understand and be informed by the situationist theories and the experiences from the situationist movement, I think is of fairly crucial importance for contemporary surrealism.

But then I also would like to adress the question from a more espistemological perspective... So let's speak about Debord, who obviously is an important thinker. (Unlike Vaneigem, who is more obviously surrealist, and basically just a superficial propagandist of simplified themes from surrealism, not entirely unlike certain parts surrealism itself...)

And I think much of the problem lies in Debord's particular anti-empiricism. It is indeed a strong current in France, rooted in traditional french rationalism, but getting a new legitimation when forged with german idealism, such as in the case of Debord's excited hegelianism. Since only the rational is real and only the real is rational, and since the part reflects the whole as much as the whole reflects its parts, then an inspired idea becomes truth, not a hypothesis to be investigated, but truth itself; and a revealing interpretation about one phenomenon must be true as a universal rule about the current situation too! There is no question of checking against reality, since the dynamics of the explanation creates its truth regardless of whatever empirical evidence might say. In this sense, for example Althusser in spite of his contempt for Hegel is just as much a notorious french hegelian as ever Debord is. And both are inspiring and dynamical in their denudation of current society based on their theoretical omniscience, and the question to what extent and under what circumstances their conclusions are applicable is a non-question within the framework of their theories! (OK, this anti-methodological stance is far more developed in Debord than in Althusser who sticks to some methodological rhetorics after all.)

And even if this anti-empiricist trend is clearly discernible in surrealism too, I would say that most surrealists are more interested in the empirical and experimental; most, such as Breton, more on the level of inner experience and particularly revealing anecdotes rather than any controlled observations, repetitions or statistics of course, but still a clearly empirical focus.
Within the Debordian antiempiricism, very much of its dynamics and even truly seductive power lies in its absolute negativism. It is like a novel by Thomas Bernhard. This world is so entirely capitalist, and not just general capitalist but spectacularly capitalist and capitalistically spectacular, so that every single element in it becomes a murderous confirmation of the totality and allencompassingness of the spectacle and fascism of this system, etc etc. In this absolute wholeness of the spectacle, any opposite to it is only conceivable philosophically, as a pure negation, which is then identified with pure revolt and with a sense of pure poetry which is taken from surrealism from severed from context, so that the extended-generalised sense of poetry becomes the core meaning without any reference to the central-literal sense of poetry, which indeed is instead put in absolute opposition to it and considered entirely subsumed under the spectacle. In this way, while still referring to many of the same particular instances of poetry as surrealism does, poetry in the situationist sense is entirely abstract, since it is based in a rational construction of an absolute opposition and not in experience, experiment, empirical foundations, imagination. It seems like it is all based on the very seductiveness of speculative thinking rather than on real experiences in the flesh (which includes the fleshy imagination and the imaginative flesh...) This is very much in congruence with strands of nihilist, negative mysticist, Nietzschean and anarchist ultraradicalism but as I perceive it quite distinct from the romantical anticapitalist, utopian mysticist, current which is the core thread in surrealism. Again, I don't think they are mutually exclusive, but I think it is important that it is the surrealist main frame which must define and evaluate the uses of nihilism and not vice versa.

(MF thought he wrote this text, but others insisted it was merdarius)

night sky rediscovery

(Alone in a multilingual situation. Night train to Bucharest. I haven't gone to bed, I turned out the light and sit there marvelling at the stars. Summer nights in scandinavia, and urban nights everywhere, are pale and you can't see very many stars. So this is my first full sky of stars in half a year.)


den Finsternis hindurch -
Barking forth in the landscape
Great white eyes and beauteous nothingness
That twitching of the neck when darkness means something
that draping of one's bed in calcareous folds
where long lines of hidden Mantids stand waiting
taking off in flight when the moon tells them so
low and multicolored mannequin flight
The dust of which turns to mushrooms and to
severed parts of stagbeetles in this abandoned forest
Hidden gardens of aphatic rest of silver spit
draped as a landscape over the landscapes
dispersed as a sheet over the sheets
With hints of grandiose architecture hidden
and murderous toads and strangely shaped treestumps
and a flattened landscape when darkness - finally - means something

(How funny that language is nothing but certain distant constellations in this darkness
that different languages don't mind being on a collision course when these rails eventually might meet
how reassuring that darkness always lays down its own rules
and the distribution of colors is made up on the spot
and this nice coffin might have been a siberian mammoth bones tent
I will enjoy staring out at this darkness from there- )


Who are the theorists?

and what is surrealist theory?

Surrealist theory is basically a systematical investigation on the discoursive level of various phenomena focusing on what is revealed through a radical poetical perspective. Sometimes it takes the shape of an explicit historical-theoretical investigation of the role played by a certain phenomenon in surrealism's artistic creations, history, organising and collective mythology, but it must be noted that any simple gathering and comparison of such historical information is a mere academic and reifying task as long as it not clearly a prerequisite for an actual investigation of what the radical poetical perspective might reveal.

In surrealism, textual or artistic genres are not paid any respectful attention as such, and many of its products are indeed hybrids and juxtapositions in that respect, but a consequence of that respectlessness is also that the breaking of genre rules does not mean anything in itself. Surrealists simply pursue their poetic investigations in whatever forms it seems to require, and any larger exposition of surrealist works preferrably put things in different such genres side by side, not the least for the very pedagogic purpose of showing that surrealism keeps refusing any reduction to one means of expression: among such gravediggers, the ones who would like to regard it as mere art are in the majority, but occasionally someone likes to regard it as mere poems or mere politics or mere theory. (Nevertheless it was a sad and misdirected complaint campaign that, twenty years ago, demanded the opening of a surrealist bulletin of theoretical discussion for poems and drawings, and thus removed its raison d'etre and sent in an early grave - local specialisations are sometimes needed in order to get somewhere...)

Co-inventors of surrealist theory are, to start with, all of us who keep doing poetical research on the discoursive level aiming for some sense of clarity, from an explicitly surrealist perspective. Systematic thinking. Some have been doing it a lifetime, some do it for a short period. Some haven't written much at all, some have written much in other genres that tends to overshadow their actually theoretical contributions. Some take particular specialised contexts as pretexts for developing surrealist lines of thought: for example in art criticism, social anthropology, history of surrealism, etc. Others rather keep explicating the supposedly surrealist viewpoint, some keep telling anecdotes ascribing a particular epistemological weight to them, and some keep yelling at each other about the relative applicability within surrealism of various elements of situationist, feminist, marxist, structuralist, poststructuralist, occult or psychoanalytical thought, all of which may or may not be considered actual theoretical activity. On the borderline of the theorist trade we have also a lot of people who were foremostly artists and usually write down their theoretical speculations in explicit relation to their aims and methods in their own artistic work.

Then we have a whole bunch of commentators on surrealism who provided such fertile interpretations that their work - though formally secondary - actually takes the ideas further in one way or another. Often these works were published by people who were actually organised in the movement but still were writing books that were predominantly secondary in form.

Then there are the best critics of surrealism; whose criticisms were often very relevant, offered from theoretical viewpoint that could be considered at least partly objectively within surrealism, and which contributed to theoretical development within the movement at least somewhere.

Finally all of those who were more peripherally associated with the movement (in ways ranging from an intimate dialogue to an abstract influence) but whose investigations in particular areas has been recognised as at least partly perfectly surrealist. The names of some of these will be highly controversial with several of my friends... and the work of some does admittedly consist to a large part of academic or massmedial simplifications of received ideas, but might perhaps nevertheless be somehow interestingly effective in their particular formulations?

All of these partake in some way in the adventure into thinking which is one of the fronts of surrealism, and a necessary consequence of its empirical experimentations in creativity, sensibility, art and life. Again, the genre as such cannot be conceived as separate from other areas of surrealist methods and of surrealist life in general, but the difference is now huge between such specialisations which serve to crop down life, create edges for personality markets, or impose actually merely heuristic categorisations on the world in a rigid and hostile way on the one hand, and those which admit their temporary and conditional status, acknowledge other possibiities and connections with other perspectives, and which are motivated by methodological and/or passionate choices... In the second case, a theoretical perspective is a wonderful tool in conceptualising the marvels of the world.

(This text was at one point substantially longer, when I was giving lists of examples of each type of theorists, but then I realised it should be better to drop those parts, both since they threatened to distract my own concentration on the meaningful, and because I expected that if people would react to this text it would be primarily in order to complain why I had omitted, or included, this or that author or put him/her in the wrong category, which seemed beside the point.)