Thursday, October 16, 2008

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.)

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