Wednesday, March 18, 2009


"Fun and Games" department

Surrealism is a hydra and its different heads keep sniffing out different secluded corners without always pointing out explicitly the coherence with where the other heads are slithering. And some people are surrealists or call themselves surrealists without ever engaging in more than a fraction of surrealism's areas of activity.

Surrealism is admittedly "a collection of methods and themes held together by a certain spirit", but only inasmuch as they have been demonstrated to interrelate by way of this spirit, by André Breton originally or by subsequent surrealist activity. Probably things have been missed, probably certain things lose their relevence over history, possibly Breton and the french surrealists, and other surrealist groups, have exercised a certain arbitrariness and subjectiveness, simply adding things they felt were important or fun for no other reasons than being important or fun?

In fact both antisurrealists and surrealists are eager to revise/update the very selection of themes. But from opposite viewpoints: antisurrealists because there are a few pieces they can bear and even appreciate if disconnected from the radical unity of the broad outlook and instead applied on some arbitrary selection of their personal favorites; surrealists because they always need to consider the possibility that especially with changing times, different local conditions, new people, there might in fact be other areas, subjects, methods and interventions that are the most relevant from the viewpoint of the surrealist perspective than has been known hitherto as such. The only ones who consider the bouquet of surrealist themes fix and intransformable are the hypocrite "friends" of surrealism: mostly the liquidationists (ex-surrealists, art people, academics and publicists) who think surrealism is sympathetic and oh so interesting in the context of interwar France rather than something adressing essential problems of the human condition (and possibly some dogmatics who think Breton was infallible, but I don't know if there are any of that kind).

But surely it must be possible to choose a particular aspect/ field and focus on that? Of course, some degree of specialisation is often unavoidable and very very useful. Lack of specialisation indeed may lead to lack of discovery and to a sense of banality. While specialisation on the other hand of course may lead to lack of grasp of totality, and the abandoning of a totalising radical perspective in favor of within-disciplinary - in one sense or another purely formal or academic - concerns.

For surrealism the problem is not that specialisation is going on, but the fact that some specialisations will be not about choosing a particular aspect to emphasise but about trying to reduce the entirety of surrealism to that aspect - and thus, to deny its breadth and heterogenous applicability - and specifically reducing it to an aspect where it has a useful function to fulfill in society and its selfunderstanding; that is, producing ideology. Of course this is typically the case with those who consider surrealism as basically art. Art you know is a typical civil career, a field of transformation of radical creative investigations into commodities, of unusual radical subjectivities into brand names (it is not only this, but it is obviously one of its more prominent functions in present society), and it is specifically the facet of activity to which surrealism is most commonly reduced and put to use in official culture in most countries. There are also those who consider it basically literature, philosophy, film, politics, that it is only about romanticism, about revolt, about imagination, about psychology, I don't know what. We also have repeated experience with the attempt of leaving art out of the equation while reducing surrealism to some kind of political philosophy: basically, the situationist deviation. Or rather: the exciting dynamic breakthrough out into the situationist desert.

But what about playing games? Compared with other ways of circumscribing surrealism to a single specialisation, surrealist games is the one facet which seems most relatively immune to hostile reductions (or fateful wellmeaning ones), since it remains obvious that it is at once an attempt to investigate aspects of a new radical sense of everyday life and an adventure for thought and the senses and with a necessary collective aspect and clearly non-commodity-producing and non-careerist. There are surrealist game playing societies out there. Some of these may be animated by academics or housewives or sensationseekers who don't have an explicit aim to change their lives as such but only to have an interesting weird pastime. Nevertheless, the dynamics of playing games are under present circumstances so much closer to the core aims of surrealism. The highlights of the gameplayers' experience itself constitute an experience of actual creativity, a glimpse of shortcircuits and inexplicable wholeness of the mind and of the senses and of experience, of a poetic vision (which art does too) plus concretely the reenchantment of everyday life, and a glimpse of another possible mode of social organisation, and its concrete contrasts and fruitful challenges visavis the current order of organisation (which art very often isn't).

But let's not forget about art. There are groups out there who focus on creative experimentation in the form of art without denying that there is something else to surrealism as well. The Phases network has been about this all the time, hasn't it? For a more tight-knittedly grouplike and ambitious example, see the current activity of CAPA, the Collective of Automatic Painting in Amsterdam. Apparently these manage to contribute substantially to surrealism through focusing on its most wellknown part. There are clearly problems with that, but it would be quite pointless to claim them illegitimate.

So what about current groups like the brazilian DeCollage (apparently already disbanded?), the swedish 4X, the chilean Derrame and the moravian StirUp? Of course there are dozens of groups and networks around with no or almost no connections with the surrealist movement and knowledge about the surrealist tradition, but the four mentioned examples are groups that take part in or substantially overlap with surrealist collaborations and appear to claim a more comprehensive relationship with surrealism - but frankly, for many of these, I personally just don't have information enough to have much of an idea of whether the other aspects of surrealism in their cases are actually repressed, or acknowledged but put in suspension, or ongoing but simply not publicised.

So, in general, but also for all the specific examples, where does the transformation occur between specialised public exposure and degradation through useful limpingly partial representation? Where does the transformation occur between the personal subject as a tool for investigation and experimentation and as a brand name for a career in the art market or elsewhere? - Obviously the latter of these questions, but in an important sense also the former, would be pointless to apply to game players... So, could there be a surrealism without this or that ingredient? Yes, obviously, but if it would be without a conception of poetry as a broad phenomenon appearing in many guises and radically applicable in everyday life, it would seem to be not surrealism. Could there be a surrealism of mere playing? Wait, how could there be a "mere playing"?

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