Tuesday, October 5, 2010


I am intrigued by the exciting situations that surrealism faced in the 40s and then in the 60s, when surrealism seemed to be somehow – involuntarily – in line with the times, but it wasn't obvious at all in which direction to set off, large numbers of people were attracted by the movement, people in it had been doing very different experiences, the field of possibilities was wide open, paths needed to be chosen. This relates to what Michaël Löwy emphasises in "Morning star" (*) as the "untimely" character of surrealism, because it feels like at every point one of the latent main issues for surrealism is to find the point of non-contradiction between staying at history's edge and dismissing the contemporary in its entirety. I think that the sublation/solution of this is present in surrealism, but it is one of the several things present in surrealism which we often fail to rationalise, and very often get ourselves stuck in rather lame explanations and contradictions that don't quite live up to the synthetic potential inherent in surrealism. In the 40s, in the 60s, and to a lesser but quite visible sense in the present, some people emphasise the role of being "keepers of the flame", on embodying the tradition, and others emphasise the need of radical abandonments and explorations, as if either made any sense without the other...

I will keep talking about those particular dynamic historical situations elsewhere, so let's go back to the sense of dialectical edge. Of course, ignoring the contemporary and focus on that which – in an untimely way – is of inner necessity, is one way of expressing a latent content of the times, one which represent a potentiality and a possible future. But there are many untimely things which are just nostalgic or clueless too, and many which have a great potential without ever finding their connections. Only some possibilities find the paths of associating with other countercurrents, and communicating with people who are looking for change, for negation, for dynamics; suggesting frameworks and imagery for a latent desire for freedom. It is in this sense that I mean surrealism appears to have been timely in its untimeliness in the 40s and 60s.

I am also speculating that surrealism could very well have been similarly timely in its untimeliness in a similar way in the 80s and around 2000, but the movement was too small to make much impact in and through the movements of the times. In the 80s, it was obviously quite problematical, since what I am referring to as the timely current where surrealism could hang on is that period's transgressive aestheticism, the taste for incomprehensibility, hedonism, black humor and sadomasochism, the resurrections of Sade, Bataille, Artaud, Blanchot as fashionable points of reference, etc, which took place now mostly under the aegis of poststructuralism, cynicism and individualism and can be associated with some senses of postmodernism and neoliberalism. To partake in and be able to twist back the objective direction of such a twisted current would indeed have required not only an immense integrity but also a considerable strength! And then around 2000, it was perhaps a minor repetition of the 60s on its way in the sense that a new footing, a new framework for radicalism was being forged, in an even more heterodox way but still remaining a sharp anticapitalist focus – surrealism did take part in this, but never became one of its more visible currents, and then the movement faded.

(*) Great book which fairly recently came in an english translation, with a strangely twisted subtitle. The original's "surréalisme et marxisme" had been openmindedly changed by the editors into "surrealism, marxism, anarchism, situationism, utopia" - not only removing the relational preposition emphasising the unified theme of the book, now suggesting it to be a loose collection of essays about this and that not necessarily considering things in relation to each other, but also violating the broad and unorthodox sense of marxism the author employs by separately adding these various other brands of radicalism which the author makes a point of not separating from marxism in his notion of it.

/M Forshage

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