Thursday, November 5, 2009


Our friend Eugenio Castro of the surrealist group in Madrid noticed that the post "the surrealist bestiary" here had several points of convergence with a very interesting old text of the Madrid group, which we here present in a slightly revised english translation. The original text was published in Salamandra 1993 (reprinted in the anthology Los días en rojo 2005), while an english translation was circulated among surrealist groups.

Another new post deals with perspectives on statues and history.

Note also that certain items of theoretical significance are being posted in english on Kormorantrådet/ the Cormorant Council rather than here as long as they concern imaginative geography and spatiality in dreams.



Simultaneously with the contemporary approach to the animal from an ecological perspective, a perspective that proclaims the animal’s excellence as a living being (this necessarily implies the protection of animals from one of the worst human diseases: slavery), another attitude imposes itself as it seeks to exalt and perpetuate the animal, once again, as a real space of emanation and intervention of the marvellous.

The animal is a great unknown, and this transforms it into a geography of the unexplored. In the relationship with the elements and its analogues, through its rituals and games, in all its ways of behaviour, the animal contains an act of inspiration as well as being inspiring.

We condemn the paralysing and despicable inclination due to which the animal is presented with human attributes. The recognition of the animal goes inexcusable through a recognition of the beauty that the animal projects: the song of the whale, the love declaration of the penguin, the headlong flight of a kingfisher, the 180-degrees head turn of the eagle owl, the ‘innocent’ ardor of a nocturnal moth and the luminous trail left behind by the firefly during its courting dance. The animal generates a magnificient succession of alternative currents, ‘true emblems of all its splendour.’ (1) On the one hand, these currents constitute an example of generosity towards itself, an authentic demonstration of ‘passional attitude’, but on the other hand, they challenge every human logical system of relation, including that which complacently passes for human sensitivity. In any case, the animal denotes the notion of the particular and the concrete, which in the universe of the perceptible by the senses – and in its relations with every operation of recognition – configures a paradigm of the revealing.

In this sense everything indicates that the operations of extinction and appropriation performed on the animal, cause, simultaneously with the animal’s eradication, a kind of taming of our emotions, or in more brutal terms, a kind of castration of the human emotional capacity and disposition towards the ‘inspiring’. The criminal activity directed against the Amazonian rain forest and countless other actions perpetrated on a national, regional or local level, monstrously and hypocritically by all States of the world, without exception, leads to the gradual disintegration of an infinitely sensitive space of reality, where the intervention of the marvellous could be found in an unadulterated state. Therefore such operations implacable tends to deprive us of that which, inseparable from every activity of our spirits, corresponds to a horizontal and vertical dynamic of knowledge. Because the animal is wisdom! Its forms of existence include an authentic expression of an intuitive, emotional and passional life, which, as we enter into contact with the poetic thought, opens the true path of sailing towards that island which some beings agreed to call, after resting on its shores, the island of wisdom.

This attitude is not, in any way, that which appears in the Article 2, Section B of the Declaration of the Universal Animal Rights: ‘Man is obliged to put his knowledge into the service of the animal (sic).’ Such an appreciation – the ‘good will’ of which does not suffice – characterises the pathetic nature of general approach of man towards the animal being, exposing openly and unashamedly his determination rooted in a system of rationalist thought that places the faculties of the animal onto a lower existential plane. Far from resuscitating a new sensitiveness that would reactualize and reorientate our relationship towards the animal onto a plane of reciprocity, it continues to express the same obscure presumptions by which man strives to establish, now through declarations, the human capacities as superior to that of the animal. And nothing seems to indicate that in order to aspire to this reciprocity it is necessary to be in the field, or that its recognition would pass for such reciprocity. The contemporary difficulty is obvious of a recovery, under the present form of contact, of a relationship that existed as a result of an everyday contact with the animal in tribal, ‘primitive’ or entirely rural societies, and brought a form of knowledge of the animal being. It will have to reconcile the scientific information (which presupposes – principally objective – the absence of such a contact) with an attitude of longing and passion towards the animal, an attitude that responds to an incipient and fundamental recognition, transcending and overriding, at the same time, the limits installed by a restrictive and socially dissociating form of life (inseparably on the mental and the physical level). Moreover, the absence of practical conditions for the concrete recognition of the animal ‘is not incompatible with theoretical recognition, nor would it be incompatible with feelings.’ (2) What is proposed is a necessary change of disposition as a first step towards the breaking of the equivocal: a recognition of the animal? yes, by our recognition of the wisdom of the animal. Only by giving the latter a paramount significance we can place our knowledge at its service and thus establish the coordinates of a reciprocal relationship. As Mariano Auladén affirms, ‘this would require the placement of the operations of relationship between humans and the animal on the same level as the relationships which humans attempt to establish among themselves. Only a human effort departing from such a premise, independently from the result which we can obtain with our present strength, would enable us to leave the trite path of routine and mental lethargy towards the animal.’ (3)

In all its categories, the animal awakens an intricate web of correspondences in their highest degree of transparency. The poet will make them his own; surrendered to a state of metamorphosis the poet will establish with the animal, ‘in contrast with the scientist and his methods of enquiry based on plain descriptions of the animal’s physiology and his habits’ (4) a relationship animated by a dialectic between the unknown-marvellous-revealing that leads him to a new magic recreation. The poet will employ means of analogy and poetic imagination as a vehicle for translating his knowledge of the animal, from a perspective which would exalt, once again, the animal’s totemic and symbolic role. The animal has not lost its fabulous essence seen by travellers in past times, an essence confirmed by the tradition of the imaginary. Similarly, the image of the animal as an instructor and inductor of his wisdom has not disappeared. This role surfaces in indigenous cultures (‘…we have been here for thousands of years and long time ago the animals instructed us.’) (5) It is the modern and the contemporary man who has rid his spirit of the awareness of these phenomena that were traditionally consubstancial to him. The reestablishment of relationships based on the principle of the marvellous entails an attitude by which the faculties of the animal are to be recognized.

As an eagle over the forest, as a sheldrake on a female shelduck, the animal accelerates a reunion with the lost mythogenic consciousness of life. This will become the foundation stone in a construction of a bridge, the determination of which implies that the desire of Joseph Jablonski that one day man should know, again, how to identify the animal world as his totem, will begin to be fulfilled. In any case, such a provision does not cease to incite a form of reconduction towards that being (it remains to us to place and contemplate that day in our time). In this way, the end of the false fascination expressed in the condescending vision of the animal, a vision that predominates at the present time, would begin; the end of a vision that turns against him ‘the double stigma with which the modern man tries to defend his enslaved reason: the useful-the harmful.’ (6)

Neither a perverted action (appropriation, murder) nor an obscene one (the animal as entertainment for the masses, i.e. circuses, zoos, art exhibitions…) can lead, in spite of man, to a decimation of the animal. At the same time, no such actions can prevent us from seeing in the spiral of its forms of life a space of enchantment from which to reenchant what we vaguely take as the Human Condition.

As Mariano Auladén asserts, ‘…the animal is not property, it is a REVELATION. It is not a cultural object, but a CREATOR OF ACTS.’ Such manifestations will open for us the source of a true recovery of sensibility regarding the animal world. In their critical consideration, these manifestations proclaim the absence of awareness that the modern and contemporary man holds of the animal world. The repercussions of such an absence are omnipresent: man projects his base condition on the animal and extends it over the animate and inanimate continent of new references. To this attitude we, surrealists, would like to respond with a formula to convert the historical time that restricts it to a mythogenic time that would transcend it.

The creation of a Surrealist Bestiary corresponds to these ideas. As long as the surrealist thought will demand a mythogenic perspective of life, it will communicate an attitude of exaltation and recognition of the animal’s behaviour (way of life) and its own morphology from the view point of a dialectic of imagination that would transmutate it onto a totemic level.

The animal, a being whose existence is inseparable linked with a total sense of the marvellous, and whose majestic presence fabulously completes and presides the universe of the imaginary, contributes here to the realization of the immanent attraction that exists between the desire for a myth and its satisfaction. It offers to our sensitivity and knowledge an invitation in a way of challenge:

Let the flight of thousands hummingbirds create through the agitation
of their wings an equal number of air currents which will surround man
and erase him, return to him his absolute presence that would irreversible
identify him - this was for Marianne Van Hirtum already a practical condition -
with the perennial image of the Enchanter.

The Surrealist Group in Madrid
Madrid, 1993


1. The Anteater’s Umbrella. A Contribution to the critique of the Ideology of Zoos, The Surrealist Group in Chicago, 1971.
2. Claude Levi-Strauss, La Pensée Sauvage
3. Mariano Auladén, “Quiyi-yi-yi-yi-yi-yi-yi-yi”, Luz Negra, Comunicación surrealista nº 2, Gijón, 1981, p 5.
4. Mariano Auladén, ibid.
5. Claude Levi-Strauss, ibid.
6. Mariano Auladén, ibid.

On the shoulders of giants

I always figured that the old scholastic notion of "standing on the shoulders of giants" was a way to describe accumulated learning and express an indebtedness towards tradition. On closer inspection, though, there is no lack of written sources that belie this metaphorist interpretation. Isidore of Sevilla - to name only one - informs us that "just as, in individual nations, there are instances of monstrous people, so in the whole of humankind there are certain monstrous races, like the Giants, the Cynocephali, the Cyclopes, and others." In his Etymologies, in which he attempts to collect all the knowledge of his age, we find peoples in the most varied sizes with organs redistributed in the most striking fashions. Faces on the stomach, a one legged people habitating distant parts of the world, asians without noses - the variations of medieval man shames the monotony of the contemporary human body. And to still think in metaphors? What a cretinizing way of turning flesh into mere words.

East Berlin worked as an important corrective to such lifeless abstractions. During our trip, M and me went to visit the Marx-Engels Platz and were confronted by the gargantuan stature of earlier generations of men. Standing on M's shoulders, I still would not be able to reach the head of Engels. One of the virtues of socialist realist art is how it expresses material truths through scientific-aesthetic techniques. Instead of "translating" Marx and Engels into men of a present-day size, it lets us experience the wonder of human variation. The finger nail of a 19th century man is the size of my palm! His feet like my thighs and his torso the thickness of a recycling igloo. Instead of trying to comfort us by making dwarves of giants, the sculptor forces us to take stock of both a historical distance and the slumbering possibilities within our present, cookie cut limbs.

Confronted by these statues of the labor movement's great thinkers - as well as by the nameless workers of a similar height that surround the Platz - one understands the urgency which must have inspired works such as "The Housing Question" and the investigation of the living conditions of English workers in that island's great industrial cities. I cannot begin to fathom how those early-industrial giants managed to fit into apartments smaller than those we live in today. After a 12+ hour working day, they had to crawl their way through narrow corridors only to be forced into fetal position, packed like herrings in what passed for a home. The ever new editions of Swift's Gulliver's Travels (a perspective that is often lost sight of today) - what a clever intervention into the great 19th century struggles over social space. The books - no larger than today - must have been the perfect size for a worker to build his own coat library.

But however remarkable the size difference is, what really got our attention was the variations in the actual composition of the human body that the statues hinted at. Specifically: the genitalia of giants.

Concerning the crotches of giants

Socialist Germany apparently tried to make a clean break with bourgeois sexual morals, at least when it came to the variations of genitalia over time. I was aware of how the introduction of a "two-sex" system replaced an aristotelian performative-misogynist theory of sex with a biological-misogynist one in the early-modern period. But just as the political ideology of the day tends to reduce (political) history into a teleological story about the progressive realization of representative democracy, I have taken for granted that today's sexual organization has been present - at least biologically - throughout human history with only slight variations. Changes, even revolutions, in sexual practices, family structures and theories of reproduction and pleasure - sure! But the biological "substrate", the actual genitala, has always seemed to be an invariant which the purely social variations connects and disconnects to in different ways.

The findings of historical materialism tell us otherwise. Because the German artists where not held back by prejudice or political agendas, they could represent the genitalia of our predecessors without resorting to mystifications. The representations, limited to Marx and Engels, are however very limited. I only wish that they had been accompanied by Luxemburg or some other woman - if that is not an altogether too inexact expression - so as to give some kind of hint as to the extent of the variety of genitalia (and other organs) in those early days of the labor movement. With this limited selection in mind, this is what I managed to observe and deduce about the genitalia of giants:

Marx' genitalia corresponds closely to what is referred to as a "penis" today, at least as far as I can tell. The artists, though working with scientifically developed techniques, were not primarily interested in early capitalist anatomy but in creating a homage to two very important theoreticians of the labor movement. Thus, they are both clothed. I do however get the feeling that the sculptor is making a point of the mentioned correspondence by giving the author of Capital a slight erection that shows through his cast iron pants. Apart from his extraordinary size and immense muscles, he is eerily similar to you or me. (A small note: Marx is depicted as sitting, which hints at the possibility that the "boils" that he presumably got as a result from long hours at the British Museum might be a code of sorts.)

At first glance, Engels seems to completely lack sexual organs. But as you move closer, you see fine silver threads extending from his absent crotch towards other parts of the statue as well as to its immediate surroundings. The "web" hosts a number of small black and brown organs that only connect to the main body by those thin milk-like threads. The organs have eight jointed appendices. As far as I can tell, their function is to allow the organs to move along the libidinal strings when the slightest vibration signals the presence of a potential "sexual goal" (to borrow a term from Freud). One of the organs seem to limit its movement to a triangle formed by Engel's ear, collar and shoulder. The threads in the triangle are particularly plentiful, and the density allows one to spot certain patterns in the seemingly anarchic way in which the lines of communication are drawn. Recording and shivering at the slightest tremble in the strings (they are made from some kind of extremely elastic bodily fluid), the organ moves back and forth in the triangle but always to return to a site at the statue's ear lobe. From this base of operation it whispers into the seemingly attentive hollow just above it.

It would be easy to see a certain tragic dimension in this neverending murmur into the ear of a mere representation of man, and the connected rythm of frantic activity and motionless wait of these caressing-communicating organs awake a suspicion: they may not be part of the statue at all. What if this residue of sexual organizations wiped out by the enforced primacy of reproduction ("normality" in the technical sense defined by Dr Freud) somehow managed to survive, attempting to form symbiotic bonds with new bodies? Trees, signposts, window panes, dreaming animals and humans? It must have encountered several difficulties: the unresponsive window pane which refused to stir even when told about the most delicious connections made, the animal suddenly awake - unaware of the perverse possibilities offered - might shrug, move a bit too violently and undo an entire night's labor of love.

But to find tragedy would likely be no more than a relapse into anthropocentrism. It would be presumptous to assign consciousness to such organs, at least any remotely similar to our own. Rather than a project leaving a trail of heart breaking disappointments, it might be better defined as a constant attempts to attach and calibrate itself to more than a century's worth of potential hosts. Then, finally hitting on the very forms and proportions of the host it has attempted to replace, it finds a certain functional "contentment" in the replica of a man. In a reversal of the way that the dreamer's hand searches for and finds its crotch, the organs searches for and find their resting place.

Freud may have kept clear of biology when formulating the object of his science for obvious both practical and theoretical reasons. The "limit"-concept of "drive" is a practical demarcation necessitated both by differences in method and the actual structural conditions of the psychic apparatus (which appears to be dissimilar to those of biological science). This construct of strings and miniscule organs seems to allow for sexual activity in the forms of caressing, strangling, exploring, corresponding. Such functions are not unknown to psychoanalysis: on the contrary, they are perverse elements present in all kinds of sexual organizations and the building blocks of the pregenital configurations. What is striking though, is that the variation of sexual organizations that today are confined to the psyche are here given an immediate, physical form. Engels' libidinal web is highly original in both its relative autonomy towards any given body (both in its ability to make and maintain connections and structures whose connections with a body can be disconnected and reconnected according to chance and optimizations of functionality - and in its ability to if necessary change host) and in the functional, more or less immediate correspondence between biological and sexual organization. While the tongue or the dick or the cunt today varies its significance according to the demands of the psyche (within the material boundaries given by its physical shapes and capabilities), the libidinal web might be proof of a period in human history when this variation rather than shifting significances and practices was actively remolding and reforming organs according to the demands of desire.

This obviously has a great significance for the historical validity of both anatomical studies and the present configuration of the psychic apparatus. A more modest area of research might be to analyze in what ways these arcane strings and organs of Engels' are connected with his great communicative efforts in the service of the labor movement. Is there a connection between his immense web of correspondents and confidants and his immense web of delicate, ever growing milky lines? Or between this elastic secrete and his preoccupation with proteins in his Naturdialektik and Anti-Dühring?

PS. It might be noteworthy that the sculptor's arrangement with a sitting Marx and a standing Engels is reminiscent (or possibly the other way around) of Max Ernst's Capricorn (also present in Berlin at the time); compare ME & M&E.

PS 2. We might owe much more than is readily apparant to our gigantic forefathers. Take wages for example: Marx himself tells us that the wages of the working class tend towards a level where it can simply pay for that which is necessary to reproduce its labor power. But he also tells us that that which is considered "necessary" is to some extent decided by the culture and traditions (and demands of capital) in any given society. This "inertia" coupled with the likely very rapid shrinking of man during the few generations leading up to the 20th century might very well have produced a favorable situation for a number of generations. The level of wages was decided with the physical needs of immense bodies in mind. So, as the bodies shrank, an ever greater part of the wage could be used for other purposes. Imagine the riches available to a working class the size of rats!

Appendix 1: City planning as class struggle in the sphere of anatomical science.

Living on Rosa Luxemburg Strasse, we visited her Platz in the belief that we would find a place of a similarly thought provoking nature. What we found was at first glance very disappointing - the most boring kind of conformism. The genitalia is as present in the activities of the city planners of Berlin as in the preoccupation of artists: it might have permeated the whole intellectual life of those days and produced unforseen effects in the most diverse fields of work. But the contradictory ways in which we find it at Rosa Luxemburg Platz might force us to reevaluate the perhaps all too one-sided, positive way in which we appraised the tendency's presence in regards to Marx-Engels Platz. For where the artists seem to have made a clean break with narrowminded prejudice, the city planners seems to be trapped in it. This should be obvious from a schematic overview of the place: a triangle, and under it two orifices. And as an unwelcome bonus: in the triangle (representing pubic hair) an advertisement for a "Hooters" restaurant near the Zoo. Thus, the present rulers of Berlin try to humiliate the dead, as if to say: "Go ahead workers, suck on the teets of the dead sow of insurrection." Depressing, really, until M points out that their order might very well be built on quicksand - or paving-stones.

For in contrast to the surrounding streets, the triangle is made of cobble stones of a size suitable for throwing. Having thus exorcised the feelings of defeat, we realize that just as the triangle differs from what you might find on a police woman so too does the orifices. Not only eggs, urine and shit, but a whole system of tunnels spanning a city of millions. One might be tempted to make use of one of the pet problems of Trotskyism: how do we define the "socialist countries": As "degenerate workers' states"? As "state capitalism"? And what forms do class struggle assume in such social formations? A triangle and two subway entrances may give us an idea of how one aspect of this struggle took shape in the fields of urbanism and anatomical science. Within the confines of the given order, the primacy of reproduction and sexual conformism is mutated; someone (perhaps a sleeper agent from Sex Pol? Hard to imagine that Reich's comrades would all just disappear or abandon their common project) makes pubic hair take part in the preparations for a renewed insurrection, and develops the two-way street logic of orifices into a ever-growing series of possible destinations. And, ironically enough, enlists the unaware city planners of today in forever expanding and modifying these series.

Appendix 2: Die Toten Mahnen Uns: Michael Jackson, the Paris Commune and the Beach Volley Ball of Reaction.

(to be added)

/Erik Bohman