Wednesday, October 5, 2011

The Surrealist Group as an Individual and an Organisation, again


There has been some discussion as to the different particular characters, the role of such a character, and the circumscription-delimitation, of surrealist groups. A surrealist group is typically circumscribed by a combination of its individual character and its partly implicit "area of recruitment" in geographical and linguistic terms (in fact also in broadly cultural terms, but even less explicitly so). Perhaps this is an occasion for merdarius to restate some points that have repeatedly been scattered in different texts about the nature of surrealist collectivity, and to make some new comparisons and observations about it with the background of the history of the surrealist movement.



Membership, for individuals, is of course a matter of participation in activities (most obviously by showing up for meetings and participating in discussions, games, experiments and walks, but including web-based participations, as well as activities that are very difficult to document such as diffuse development of a collective mythology), and of subjective commitment.

The instance of circumscription of membership: being mostly informal yet rigid, often comes up only when it comes to signing. Declarations, tracts, manifestoes, invitations, open letters, closed letters, etc. Often it is only there that various hangarounds, maybe-members, distance-members and casual participants have to step out of the Schrödinger box and define their membership or not. It is the moment of the devil's contract; selling your soul to the cause of poetry and the imperatives of overindividual dynamics, or retaining your personal conditionals (and career opportunities and the supremacy of civil compromise...).

It will turn out that some who are eager to participate in certain projects (for some especially if they involve a certain public exposure: publications, webpages, exhibitions and performances; for some more a matter of social company) will not have that urge to come out as integral parts of a collective ("fellow travellers" in the negative sense, maybe even "parasites") – sometimes with important contributions to make anyway, but always without the particular mutual trust.

It will turn out that there often is a particular class of surrealists who have an intense and well-established individual creativity and often individual mythology, and who do not have much of a collective discipline but will participate in meetings only occasionally, and will contribute to collective experiments and projects only from a particular characteristic viewpoint; still will continue to manifest a solid solidarity and a commitment to poetry which will make their individual contributions an important part of the collective mythology – the members we will keep putting our trust in regardless of whether they respond to particular demands or requests; which is probably the same category as the pataphysical college called "satraps".

Then there are so-called satellites of different kinds. There we have the unproblematic satellites of exiled members, who moved out but stay in touch. Sometimes these will enroll in locally available groups, facilitating special bilateral collaborations; sometimes they will instigate a new collective activity, which will thus partly appear as a bud-off, yet more or less firmly based in the local conditions. Another kind of fairly unproblematic satellites is participants scattered in smaller towns within the general "area of recruitment" in terms of geography and language, who partake as much as physical circumstances allow them to.

Then, the more problematic and theoretically interesting satellites are those scattered members basing their membership merely on "selective affinities". In their case it becomes critical to what extent the groups have an individuality that is distinct (and visible) enough for a lone individual to actually be able to choose what group to "enrol" in. In some cases it will be a case of merely social preferences, or accident, and typically rely on a certain ignorance of the character of other groups; in others it will be a recognition of the real particularities.

But then, most importantly, the most significant members of a group are not the partaking individual human beings, but the partaking individual modes and mechanisms, and the emergent ambiances and constellations of possibilities. The persons claimed or obsessed by this, or simply contributing to it, typically play a significant but subordinate role. In the end the question of membership is often the question of whether someone is actively or passively becoming available for these intersubjectivities and contributing to them, hopefully in a way which is a dynamic encounter for both parts.



The individual character of each group (or, as some would say, the "authencity", or, why not, the personality of the individual that the group is, or, technically speaking, its methodological/strategical/interest-range/social-characteristics/irreducible-accidentals profile) is what in practice allows distant satellite members, and it is especially important in cases where groups have overlapping recruitment areas. Very often two or more groups simultaneously active in the same geographical/linguistic area is just an expression of a historical split, which is typically a significant one, and one which means a lot to those who were in it, who are able to move more freely, in separate directions, afterwards, but which often make little or no sense to those who arrive afterwards, who didn't experience the conflict but are rather taught it as a mythology, and who can only choose which group to get involved in by chance factors or by savouring the individual character of each group as long as they are openly discernable. And of course there is the tendency for a polemical situation to be swiftly rationalised so that the differences perceived by participants might be quite other ones (though partly self-fulfilling) than the ones at base.

As an obvious example, the two London groups are clearly different, and some of their differences are quite openly manifest, others hidden; probably some mutual recriminations are misguided and some very accurate.

Of course the situation has nowhere been as complex as in Paris, where there were always parasurrealist or subsurrealist satellite nuclei who stayed inofficial partly by the centrifugal pressure exerted by the presence of the one and only unambiguously official surrealist group. Thus in the absence of that group, especially after the dissolution of the group in 1969 and Schuster's subsequent ban on the label "surrealist" (but to a smaller extent also during the second world war), there was a plethora of groupuscules under various more or less fancy names, claiming part of the historical heritage of the official group or not, very often kept apart by personal enmities, employing different strategies and interest-ranges. Amidst infighting, bad feelings and real difficulties, the groupuscule most adamant at keeping up surrealist activity in a traditional-like way, could still not live up to be a group but designated itself less ambitiously a "liaison". Several years later, when reassuming the group label, again with an accumulative and official ambition yet rigidly circumscribed by a number of contingent historical distinctions and personal enmities, it was not as the surrealist group of Paris (that would have been too controversial but also misleading) but more descriptively as that one among the surrealist groupuscules which is a node in the collaborations of the international surrealist movement (Group Parisienne de Mouvement Surréaliste - GPMS) – perhaps not as exclusively as it might have seemed, but giving a clear hint as to its self-image and its individual character.

But even then, membership in this group has been problematical. I'm not talking about the famous split in three groups in 1995 (later more or less remerged), but about the large number of surrealists and surrealist sympathisers who have liked to participate in surrealist activity but has had various reservations against counting themselves as formal members throughout the entire history of this group, leaving on its tracts a bunch (sometimes impressive) of "amis" of the group listed after the group members; sometimes it's like the actual attendants of surrealist meetings constituted a looser collective (actually with a name, "les alchemistes de la rue Pernelle", since the group's meeting café is on rue Pernelle) with an unspecified relationship to a narrower real group (?). This emphatic separation between participation in surrealist activity and membership in the surrealist group, must be partly based on a general postschusterian anxiety over the surrealist label and partly on particular characteristics of the GPMS that I am unable to analyse from afar; it seems to differ from the usual organisation models and hasn't, as far as I know, been explained.

Quite recently, some people have held forth the "liaison" as if it were an alternative to the group as an organisation model. Clearly, in France it was a defiant-defensive act under circumstances that made explicit group activities impossible (Schuster's ban, diaspora of groupuscules, massive internal contradictions, relative isolation, repression of the ambitions of '68 etc); not something freely chosen as an alternative to a group. As soon as circumstances allowed it, the French came back into a real group, since that is the core form of the historical surrealist experience, and more or less the only form which actually puts the poetic imperatives before personality cultivating and career opportunities.

Core home range

The geographical basis of a group is typically a city, to the extent that surrealism is urban. The French surrealist group has always when existent been based in Paris, the "group of Czech and Slovak surrealists" is at core based in Prague, the Rio de la Plata group with argentine and uruguyan members is nevertheless based in Buenos Aires, etc. However, by analogy with international organisations in other areas (most intimately the communist movement and the psychoanalytical movement) surrealism early showed a tendency to speak in terms of national sections – but rarely actually achieving any organising of such national sections. In some cases the group of a major city claimed to be the movement of the country when counting its individual contacts in other, usually smaller cities (Chicago has done it a lot).

So this is usually more on the level of the "extended city group" than of a real national-level organisation. When it has been about fusing groups in two different cities in a country, this has usually meant that sooner or later the group in the larger city assimilates the group in the smaller city, because the most eager members will be encouraged or determined to take part in as much as possible of the activities of the group in the larger city, while the less eager members will become even less determined, sometimes even actively sifted out by the superordinate group, and actual group activity in the smaller city will cease, or go on in a completely informal and less coherent way.

A classic case being how the Columbus, Ohio group was briefly assimilated en masse into the Chicago group in the 70s; other cases of even smaller groups have perhaps not even been recorded in our internal history as such... A more recent case appears to be the swallowing of the Santander group by the Madrid group? I have no detailed knowledge about Czechoslovakia (currently Czechia and Slovakia), but it looks like activities in Brno (and possibly Bratislava?) have been (repeatedly?) assimilated into Prague-based activities.

A different case is that of the current Athens group, which is more of a fusion between the former Ioannina group and another Athens group, a fusion necessitating a reformulation of the basis for both nuclei and resulting in a truly new group. In fact this is very often the pattern by which a lively group is first formed, on one scale or another. The Stockholm group was formed by the fusion of a trotskyist grouplet and a grouplet of industrial musicians. Back in the earliest days, the first surrealist group was formed as a fusion of the Littérature group and the Aventure group, somewhat later joined by the L'Oeuf dur group, the Rue de Chateau group and the Rue de Blômet group, plus several gravitating individuals. Perhaps it is possible to describe the origins of every single group in these terms; surrealist experimentation may start among a small coherent circle of friends, or a nucleus resulting from a split, but it is only when confronted with another circle of strangers, independently doing something remarkably similar yet strangely different, that a surrealist activity finds its expression in an objective and durable form? But since such fusions occur on different levels it might be difficult to rigidly decide where they have in fact already occurred and where not.

National level

Wherever there are two actual groups in the same country willing to endure, they have typically developed different individual characters, often different enough to take part in different international networks or subnetworks, sometimes different enough not to be recognised by the other as surrealist at all. And it is in this area, concerning the two classic Belgian groups, that we find the perhaps only example where a national organisation of surrealist activity has had any constructive organisational meaning, because if it wasn't for an occasional urge to appear as a national section there would probably have been very little collaboration between the very different surrealist activities in Brussels and Wallonia in classical times.

There were no encompassing organisation in national sections in the 30s in spite of the leninist fad, the few that leaned towards that direction were a bit hanging in the air as there appeared to be no international preference for the particular model; some had occasion to give free reign to the impulse only in FIARI, which nevertheless had very few real national sections but mostly individuals outside France (with the Egyptian section as the luminous exception). In the 40s, the "Cause" organisational effort failed before leaving the ground, and during the postwar decline there was no one around to question the tendency that the Paris group kept calling itself "the surrealist group" and involve as signators of various texts more or less the few individuals in other countries they had contact with (as honorary or satellite members rather than representatives of their countries). Ok, technically, there has been many groups which have employed the designation "the surrealist group" without further specifications, in their respective language, but usually then implying "of this particular place"; not so the French group which obviously regarded itself as "the surrealist group" period. Ok, with somewhat more firm reasons for it than others could claim, being led by the founder of the movement and standing in an interrupted but fairly obvious continuity with the original group, yet hereby implying an ontology not recognising the fact that surrealism as such had become (or had been revealed to be at its core) international.

The different kinds of organisations that were possibly or manifestly the local equivalents of the surrealist group in other countries were at least not formally recognised as such in any kind of over-national structure. On the side there was the Surréalisme-Révolutionnaire, and Cobra, and of course the Situationist International, all formally constituted by national sections (in fact Cobra was constituted not by national sections but by real groups representing countries, allowing for Denmark to be represented by two different groups); in SR and SI, several sections were purely nominal, consisting of single individuals, or haphazard constellations of independent contacts who didn't know each other, or they were ran entirely by exiles in the more central cities; at no point in time there were more than just a few sections who had some autonomy and had an actual collective activity. The "organised international" as an organisational model never became much more than a politically inspired projection space.

International networks and scaffolding

When new activities were reflourishing in the 60s, hardly any attempts seem to have been made on the organisational level to account for or respond to this. Even inside France, by irony of fate, the small Lyon group which might have seemed destined to be swallowed by the Paris group, in fact survived the Paris group in 1969. During the late 80s and early 90s there was this polarisation between an alliance of groups working in a trotskyist style for a rigid "reconstituted international" on the one hand, and an explicitly anarchist dissident network on the other hand. The rigid one consisted only of groups, being official national representatives, but the dissident one was not just loosely associated individuals but also comprised groups (often shortlived groups such as the ExTrance group in the absence of a London group, the Agama Expedition resulting from a split in the Stockholm group, and the Chateau-Lyre group as the then current incarnation of the dissident "Melog gang" keeping its distance from all "officially" aiming regroupments in Paris, the Alabama group whose relations with the "official" Chicago group were deteriorating, etc) as well as subnetworks surpassing national delimitations (like Dunganon and later Droomschaar, and networks of Arabic and Chilean exiles). Many countries had representatives of both, but Swiss, Colombian and Japanese surrealists were all "dissidents", and importantly the Prague group was involved in both networks (while the Phases network apparently was friendly with both but, as always, refrained from taking sides?). Based on the "rigid" initiative, three issues of two international bulletins came out, then came to a halt.

In fact this occured as the boundary was getting blurred between officials and dissidents (consider the various signatories of rather different colours of the 1492-1992 tract! ("...mientran sean los viajeros los que ocupen el lugar de los videntes..."/"as long as tourists replace seers"/"...tant que les voyageurs parviendront à se substituer aux voyants...") Even more odd appears the 1991 tract against Marc Eemans ("Saint-Pol-Roux assassiné!"), signed by a motley international selection including representatives of the Chicago group, large parts of the dissident network, plus the secret remaining Belgian surrealists who were staying out of all international organisation, and the old guard of French 60s ex-surrealists who dissolved the French group and tried to impose the ban on the word "surrealism"!

Around the turn of the millennium, there were still or again tireless attempts to reawaken the international bulletin (which came to nothing), still based on a circle of "core groups", but with the "dissident" milieu largely blended into the official groups, and some of the official groups applying an increasingly self-critical, situationist or in itself dissident outlook, the shining surface of orthodoxy was not just blurred but partly merged into the general environment. Today suggestions along the "rigid" line is brought up again at times, but seem very difficult to implement. I'm not saying intensified communication between active groups would be a bad thing, only that it requires either voluntary-based openness or someone's decision of circumscription. It is probably clear that there is no immediate correlation between how "truly surrealist" or "official" a group is and how active it is. If a few well-established groups are widely recognised as belonging to a core, there is a larger number of groups unproblematically counted in by those groups they stay in contact with but regarded with open suspicion by others; either because of inclusion of "unorthodox" elements, just lack of established record, specific doubts about profiles, or simply doubts as to whether they actually constitute surrealist groups (rather than, i e artists groups or other fora for mutual practical help and co-marketing, local surrealist networks without actual collective activity, nostalgic or wishful structures without much content, one active individual sometimes involving friends, etc).


In small languages, the language community is often an area typically circumscribing the basis for organising. This is not the case when it comes to English, French and Spanish, each spoken in several different countries and often known by people elsewhere. English, French or Spanish- (+ Portuguese) speaking groups will have to be geographically circumscribed and/or have a very distinct individual character.

Especially in very large cities like London and Paris the main groups will gain a certain accumulative character, and attract several members who have the major language as their second or third language only and sometimes have rather poorly developed skills in it. Consider especially the early history of the French group; Paris was the place to be, regardless of whether you knew French or not, and if you were a surrealist, why shouldn't you hang out with the surrealist group? The French group, as several other metropolitan large groups, has often had linguistically defined subsections of exiles mostly speaking their own mother tongue or some other shared language in small open cells, often physically in the midst or near periphery of wider ongoing activities.

Then of course, French as a colonial language but even more as an extranational language for the educated and liberal elites of other countries made knowledge of surrealism travel fast in the beginning, and was what facilitated establishing of surrealist activities early in Serbia, Romania, Argentina, Egypt and Japan; later the French language made Quebec and Martinique strongholds of surrealism of the New World. Language communities have facilitated collaboration between surrealists in Spain and Argentina, or between surrealists in Portugal and Brazil. (Though remarkably rarely between surrealists in the UK and US). There has been something like international networks of Spanish-speaking surrealists, and briefly (as far as I know) for Arabic-speakers. With French as a second language, some groups appears to have been almost bilingual (publishing in two languages in parallell or in a sequence) and nowadays some groups are almost bilingual with English as a second language. Perhaps the only more fundamentally and complexly bilingual group was the French-English one in New York during the war? But then that group was specifically organised as an international group of largely exiles (war-time activities in other havens like Mexico and England might have been equally babelian), claiming no specificity and just providing a meeting point for those individuals having ended up at that spot.


Stockholm group as an example

The Stockholm surrealist group has without any particular consideration about it seemed to find it natural to constitute a pole of organisation for, more or less, active surrealists from all of Sweden (the southern province of Skåne has sometimes had its own epicentra or competing activities), and in fact also scattered heads from Norway and Finland. Notably, the group has never showed an ambition to organise surrealists in Denmark; perhaps this is largely because unlike Norway and Finland, Denmark has a history of surrealist organising of its own (though no recent efforts). The Stockholm group has organised various satellites of all the different categories; a few important "satraps", a few long-standing members exiled in different parts of the world, and also a small number of those with a merely selective affinity. A few of these latter weirdos have weirdly known some Swedish (for unfathomable reasons) but the language has not been a major unifying factor, since so much of the activities and writings of the Stockholm group are in English anyway.

And if we are speaking Swedish, obviously there are people in Finland doing so too, and it is not very different from Norwegian at all, and not so different from Danish. Is there an "ethnic" community? Well, people do speak about "hyperborean" or "thulean" "racial characters" as well as a "scandinavian" "temperament". And we have the general conditioning from cultural forms, national ideologies, and local traditions. Fragments of a shared sense of what is "normal", items of a ridiculous national stereotype which may be real on the statistical level. We are less inclined to recognise all of this, or rather to accept it as something relevant to the aims and instincts that has brought us together under the aegis of surrealism...

Instead the group has a quite distinct individual character. If indeed we started out in "frenzied voluntarism" and orthodoxy, we have nevertheless always emphasised certain things such as collectivity, theory and games, and we've been going frequently in and out of intense focuses on dreams, analytical responses and surrealist organising, and for the past 15-20 years we have continuously emphasised epistemology, objectivity and self-scrutiny, recent years have renewed focus on the imagination, geography, methodology, science, etc. During this we were for brief periods pulled along by the dynamics of certain political movements, of a deleuzian "anti-oidipalism" or a bataillan "low materialism", and of situationism. We've tried very different strategies towards publicity, politics, art and literature, and international initiatives; these do not seem to be constants (but maybe the strategical-experimental attitude towards them is). Our specific way of constituting "personality traits", such as our specific mixture in combining humor and seriousness, polemics and solidarity, openness and closedness, ability and uselessness, silence and noisiness, rush and slowness, soberness and madness, etc, may be far more difficult to characterise, at least for ourselves. And it depends on the angle. People who know us only from our English-language writings have expressed surprise when they meet us and see how much we laugh, while some who meet us in person more than read our writings have sometimes either complained that we drink too little, or experienced us as incurably silly nogooders. As do we all now and then, but then we typically attack it on an analytical level... But we have a strong feeling that our current focus on methodology and its specific methods solidly based in games, imagination, phenomenology and analytical thinking, its strong scientophilic and antihumanistic tendency as well as its silliness and its outbursts of collective and individual creativity, its awareness of the history of the surrealist movement combined with a curiosity towards tendencies of the present, somehow represent something very distinct, something which not only has some clear differences from other groups' approaches but which also has layed bare an objective surrealism in a particular way. Thus, it is possible for some to feel congenial with the Stockholm group's spirit without staying in Sweden or knowing Swedish (and it is possible for a surrealist in Sweden to feel alienated by the group's direction...).

But maybe we are distilling our individual character by not focusing on our native language? We are apparently not much interested in translating things into Swedish for example. Almost everybody in Sweden speak English anyway. Unlike other small languages where it is considered a heroic task to keep the local language alive, among other things by publishing a lively original and translated literature, in Sweden there are few incentives to publish the necessarily very small editions of translations when it is so much easier to read English originals or English translations. Translating something into Swedish is typically more of just an attempted advertisement coup, to try to make the narrowsighted massmedia notice something (and often fail). Of course, translation is fun, and is a good ground for a sometimes very productive intercourse with interesting texts and with languages, but publishing translations all too often seems like a waste of time, effort and invested money. And since we know the subtleties of English less well than native English-speakers, there is perhaps not so much sense in our contributing to translating things from other languages into English either. Maybe we are just rationalising some laziness and the unavoidable bad experiences from the world of publishing here?

And some of our writings may perhaps be more stiff, repetitive and unimaginative than necessary, simply by our more limited vocabulary and more limited fingertip skills in English?

Maybe we are failing to catch on to relevant tendencies of the times, and establishing relevant contact surfaces, and occupying available arenas of subversion, just because we seem, with the exception of certain periods or certain individuals, usually very detached from what is going on in swedish literature and swedish art, and often from swedish politics? Maybe we are simply unable to live up to the necessities possibly imposed on us by a sense of responsibility for being the national node of surrealism? Yet it would seem that to the extent that we actually would be such a node, an important aspect of that would be specifically to not care about all this crap in the midst of it... to choose a direction not consciously as a response to perceived external imperatives but on an overindividual level as the sensibilities and desires conditioning and conditioned by the dynamism of the manifest collective activity as such...


This is all about groups being the core of surrealist activity. Only in a group physically meeting regularly there can be the gradual development of a communicative sense of superindividual association, playing, vigilance; only when walking together and playing games at the same table (or same lawn, or whatever) there can develop a particular sense of overindividual organisms which are central to the sense of surrealist activity. I have no understanding (but this might just be my personality) of being active as a surrealist in a place, or even visiting a place, without seeking out the surrealists there, just to check who they are, see what experiences they have to share, and see if there emerges some particular common ground for further experimentation, play or investigation.

I'm not ignoring other routes. Of course practical collaborations, and communication and friendship between individuals, go on almost as easily with digital communication nowadays. Much more than old romantic time-consuming letter-writing, this allows for a rich development of the network of contacts around groups, for quickly sharing thoughts and works, for instigating various experiments, games and projects that are not geographically based at all but cut across all major subdivisions and categorisations (except that they typically leave behind those who are old or technophobic or poor enough to stay away from the internet), and a rich communication between groups. This is great, but it does not replace the particular sense of communication and activity based on the physical meeting, experimenting, emotionally intense discussions, and worthless hanging around of individuals. Digital communication is rather the next level; a poor basis for acquiring experiences but a great tool for communicating them. Clearly, the networks thus constituted are the suitable global organisation of surrealists: with groups as basic units, and individuals wherever there are no groups and wherever they have either found a group to relate to as their primary group (based on personal friendship and/or recognition of the group's individual character) or they have the time and facilities to establish a solid network node on their own. Since no one controls a network of that kind, every node will establish its own constellation of contacts, and the structure actually consists of a large number of partly overlapping structures. This is what a network is, and this is what we actually have.

There is no use for the national level in organising; nations have little relevance to our non-local aims, our shared tradition and methods, and to our real structures anchored in the combination of solidly city-based groups and selective affinities. There is no use for any n-th attempt to resurrect the dream of a controlled international with sections that has to fulfil particular criteria and be officially stamped as real by those who know best.

Whenever the groups have distinct characters, it is possible for people to join them from a distance and based on selective affinities. Physical distance will of course always limit the participation in the group activity though. Surrealists who are isolated by circumstances anyway will of course be able to develop the most fruitful collaboration with the group they feel the closest affinity with. And dual memberships seem to enhance communication and collaboration. But some people who prefer some distant surrealist group over in fact locally available surrealists, who are not eager to meet and try to find points of contact with the surrealists of the same city, may perhaps act on psychological projections, and, more importantly, voluntarily abstain from the most central sense of surrealist activity, that of collectivity, of the substantial collectivity of developing intersubjectivity in a group of poetic explorers (or super-powered weirdos). That experience can never be removed from the very core of surrealism. No networks based on partly real, partly imagined communities along linguistic, national, ethnic or stylistic lines can replace it.


Friday, May 20, 2011

Founding blocks of contemporary surrealism, civilised or not

Jar of moles, photograph by Paul Cowdell

We have now published a new edition of the surrealist manifestoes (the Bretonian, that is) in Swedish. Long out of print, the translations have now been subjected to thorough revision and furnished with a thorough afterword. In connection with this, I have had reason to think about what constitutes more recent manifestoes of surrealism than the Bretonian, and in what sense they are manifestoes. It is no surprise that most declarative texts in recent decades apply only to particular issues or individual countries. No one has an obvious vantage point to speak for surrealism as such, and no one has quite the overview of the experience of the movement to make a comprehensive summary.

In this situation, it has felt a bit surprising that certain francophone surrealists boldly claim that there is one book which is the foundation stone, the most advanced base camp, of contemporary surrealism; and this is Bounoure's anthology La Civilisation surréaliste from 1976. (The Montréal surrealist group tried to instigate an ambitious international study project of the book before "disbanding", and Ody Saban has given it this particular status in recent polemics against the Turkish surrealists.)

What? La Civilisation surréaliste?

Common place (cf Hydrolith)

I would have thought a candidate would be the "Platform of Prague" (english translation here) from 1968, the French and Czech surrealists jointly and boldly trying to summarise the perspectives of surrealism as an ambitious continuation and updating scheme in the 60s complex transversion between two paradigms of surrealism (which I have called post-classic and post-Bretonian, or 2nd and 3rd generation, in the model of the "three eras of surrealism" (Cf also "Surrealism's Phoenix act in the sixties"). This text is the very first attempt to thoroughly integrate some lessons of changed conditions with upheld surrealist tradition, and there is no wonder that it might have been partly wrong in its hunches, and that the uprising of may 68 in itself disproved some of the points, while the repression against the Czech as well as the crisis and dissolution of the French group made several other points quite obsolete.

I would have thought a candidate would be the "Lighthouse of the Future" from 1974, in which the Chicago surrealists and their associates most strikingly summarised their ultraradical perspectives for a modern living surrealism, which bluntly denied contradictions and problems within surrealism and with a probably tactically motivated carefreeness claimed that this in fact largely modernised and once again radicalised and heroified surrealism was in fact nothing but traditional surrealism.

La Civilisation surréaliste stands in stark contrast to these two texts. First of all, it is ultracomplicated and in fact – for most – almost completely unreadable. It has not appeared in another language, and few of its articles have even been translated – because it is hardly possible. Bounoure's style, which dominates the book, is ultrarhetorical and opaque, he continues the souvereignity and complex structure of Breton's rhetorics while removing most of the lyricism, the almost infallible sensibility (Fingerspitzgefühl), and the playful interposing, of Breton. A sentence which makes immediate sense seems to be for Bounoure a suspect populist sentence and cannot be tolerated. (Certain other contributors are far more readable, but Bounoure dominates the book strongly, together with Effenberger, the opacity of which I am unable to tell if real or increased by the transition into French).

Second, the atmosphere of the book is one of rationalising a defeat and holding up an untransparent integrity under occultation in the hardest of times; it sums up most of the disappointments and ressentment-rationalisation strategies of the French surrealists for coping with the dissolution of the group.

Common place?

Third, it does all this mostly by raising the experiences of surrealist activity to a high level of abstraction, what we usually call philosophical. There is little actual analysis of contemporary society, little accounts for concrete methods and experiences (there are some but they are not a very big part of the book). Instead there is very much of building up complex lines of reasoning based on sketchy antagonistic opposition between conformist and poetic perspectives, all hanging in the air. It deals with language, general economy, communication and play on the most general level. It says nothing about surrealist organising and strategies, and the strategies it examplifies is something like continuing to safeguard the secret potion in the big witch kettle in the darkest hermit cave (the good old "ark" strategy).

And, come on, it is after all thirtyfive years old. I had rather thought that a foundation of contemporary surrealism would result not from the obscure rhetorics of philosophical reformulation in the face of defeat of French comrades in the 70s, but from a comparison of the experiences of the currently active groups. All are important here, but there might be reason to put a particular emphasis on those groups who have rather consistently tried to venture on heterodox investigations while at the same time claiming the whole surrealist tradition (such as Madrid, Stockholm, SLAG (London) and SET (Turkey), and others); and they who seems to have implemented surrealism as a distinct presence in the midst of a broader radical environment (perhaps especially Greece, Turkey and Chicago, but what do I know about this really...), and they who had made particular theoretical efforts, etc... We'll need to insist on covering the breadth of experience as well as the particular characteristics of the contemporary activities in comparison with the classical ones (and here I humbly refer back to our "Voices of the Hell-choir" from a few years ago, which has been superceded by subsequent thought in particular questions but remains an attempt to summarise a point of departure here).

Mattias Forshage

A note on illustration

A note on illustration

(a postface in the recently released Swedish edition of Amos Tutuola's "My life in the bush of ghosts")

About the illustrations

During the period when I was reading the translation [by Niklas Nenzén] my inner voice said on one occasion:

– That is my favourite novel.

And it was soon obvious from the hypnagogic flow – often just a few details to improvise from, or additions here and there to my already rendered images – that my subconscious was boiling with a very special kind of enthusiasm this time. In a dream, for example, I met Bela Lugosi in his Dracula regalia, and he announced, eagerly but in a very friendly way, his own proposal for an augmentation, including himself, of the illustration of the smelling-ghost that initiates the suite of images. From the outset, two things were clear to me: 1. I wanted to avoid styles that were too obviously reminiscent of African art; 2. I didn´t want to merely, like an empty mirror, give a dutifully exact representation of Tutuola´s specific character. Instead I was looking for the enhanced option, for example, to make the ghost world multifaceted and link it to other ghost worlds, death realms and so on, just as the way one reads a book about Africa, for instance, is not only that one experiences "Africa" but that one also includes one's own environments in a fusion with things one has seen and things one has never seen before. And as usual with the subconscious, there is, for those who enjoy such things, I dare say, plenty of witty points and a funny, peculiar kind of humorous finesse.

John Andersson

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Remarkable richness of reality

Horror cinema and surrealism

Partial in favour of horror? To this crime I plead guilty. Friends of mine have noted that I will seek out and enjoy odd remarkable scenes and atmospheres even in such movies that are quite obviously poorly done, poorly held together, largely banal, or quite despicable. There is an important overall lesson hidden here, in that surrealist appropriation of cinema is shamelessly hedonistic in the sense that it focuses on anything that manifests and stimulates the poetic spirit, regardless of the quality of the craft, the smartness and brilliance, the cultural value, sociological interpretations, deconstructivist interpretations, deliberate populism, cult value or irony. On the other hand, the banalities I happily endure for the sake of these scattered moments and aspects are dependent on my selective affinity for this particular genre – confronted with the same level of banality in action or science fiction, or especially comedy or porn, it won't take me many minutes to give up the waiting for moments of poetic productivity, which are probably there in those genres too.

Nevertheless, I will argue that horror is one of the major forms of popular surrealism. It very often represents that necessary fundamental break with realist conventions, both in literature, film and other media, and in life experience. Indeed, in life experience such realist conventions are even more stifling than in fiction, by reducing everything to a banal version decided by the least common denominator, represented by the least ambitious or hopeful reconstruction of a normality, denying all deep ambiguity, the complex sum of possibilities and determinations, the entire sphere of the unknown... This entire sphere of unusual events, overdetermined and multilayered reality, significant chance, adventure and radical doubt, calling all conventional consensus views and all lazy dull habit into question, is typically labelled as "supernatural", and, wherever the contrast becomes acute with the conventional reductive interpretation of things and thus the strategy of habitual work-consumption-rest treadmill, as "horrifying". So all of this fiction, the popular representations of this entire sphere of events, the popular imagination about its implications, are typically grouped together under the heading of "horror".

It must be admitted that genre conventions abound in horror cinema too, and a glaring lack of imagination is often all too obvious, but there is also a remarkable breadth of subverting, ignoring and going beyond these conventions, both in low budget fan flicks and big hollywood productions. If fantasy and science fiction seem to have to a larger extent frozen in genre conventions than horror, those two genres have somewhat less surrealist potential in that they typically play in more static "other" worlds, which are very often mere allegories or mere displacements of highly conventional quasirealist-sentimentalist drama into exotic settings and exotic makeup. In contrast, horror typically focuses on the transitions-breakthroughs-ambiguities with the "normal" world of our everyday experience, therefore potentially pedagogic-subversive as to the real exploration of such breaks/portals in real life.

This is something which horror has in common with surrealism, which typically also focuses on such convergence points characterised by ambiguity and poetic productivity. It is this inclusive-integrative-dynamic sense of reality which is a fundament of surrealism, making up the simple etymological sense of its "over-reality" as well as remaining one of the several parts of its continuous identity as historically integrating its experiences and strategies.

But what about fear? Some films make me scared, some don't the least. I think that is an aspect which is usually irrelevant for the fundamental points of horror cinema.

I will not give an overview or history of horror cinema here, nor a list of recommendations, nor a delineation-comparison with horror in other genres such as literature and comics. I will discuss some central aspects of horror cinema from the surrealist viewpoint. In an objective manner – yet inevitably my constellation of emphases will be personal.

The real strangeness of things around us

The basic convergence of surrealism and horror has its growth medium in the weird goings-on in everyday life, in the paranoid-type vigilance triggered by them and enhancing them, the willful or resistant abandoning to the attention towards the unusual, weird and potentially strongly meaningful in the world. This is about all the unusual possibilities conventionally overlooked, all the uncanny atmospheres conventionally denied or rushed through. If some horror movies still tend to lean towards on one hand stark rationalisations (it was all just a scheme carefully orchestrated to scare someone) or to bland psychologisations (it was all just imagination), it is far more common to retreat to a kind of loose piecemeal extra-scientific ideology: ghosts, spirits, powers, the supernatural – but what is that? Just a class of interpretations, ranging from lame rationalisations to imaginative mythologisations, of manifestations of the unusual and unknown in everyday life.

It is one of the main points of surrealism to not deny the unusual phenomena and their dynamism, but still reject all these more or less religious poor explanations, avoid succumbing to premature rationalisations. In the movies, let them go on with their fairytale concepts, they're not fooling us, we know that the dynamism of weird happenings, chance and significant casual events is an aspect of life itself, and such a dynamism can be remarkably effectively simulated and savoured in the particular fiction of the horror movie. It contributes to teaching us to see. It orchestrates and emphasises those poetic atmospheres where everything is hanging in suspense and anything seems possible, the moments of the surreal. On the most simple level this is obvious in films of hauntings; all these haunted houses, the poltergeists, the insistent messages and the chaotic disturbances. It's partly very banal, still often very effective, sometimes orchestrating a liberation of the anti-utilitarian, fetishistic or just poetic surrealist sense of the object, sometimes luminous juxtapositions, constellations of things, true poetic images, classic surrealist assemblage. A literally convulsive beauty is sometimes achieved in the very "over-the-top" absurdness of many stories; where strange events and convergences, personal tragedies and emotions are so densely accumulated together with the unfettered expressionism of blood and gore (for this particular line, Re-animator (1985) remains a centerpiece). In a way this is the old formula of Walpolian Gothic, plausible human reactions to implausible courses of events, the mechanics of the mind encountering the world of inclusiveness where anything is possible, the so-called paranormal or maybe the surreal. Yes, on an aesthetical level, this is clearly a kind of expressionism, but since surrealism is not an aesthetic it doesn't mind employing other aesthetics for its purposes...

Another particular point is very strong in 70s horror movies, when theatrical conventions are long abandoned but conventions of realist cinema are still not adapted; the filmmakers have the means to tell a story realistically yet they refuse for the sake of the uncanny atmospheres. They just need to take the time to zoom in on the weird details, to allow extended moments of suspense between lines of dialogue, between action and reaction, between moments, to just skip some of rationalisations or uninteresting details. Neither the directing nor the acting achievements strive primarily to give us some illusion of reality (which is just conventional anyway), but primarily to create atmospheres. This is why the much denigrated Boogey-man (1980) is such a gem, and one of the several reasons why Dario Argento is the greatest horror director today is that he has retained much of this non-realistic storytelling since the 70s.

The notion of atmosphere is partly vague – we typically connect it with situations, we may connect it with persons and objects, we definitely connect it with place. As connected to place can also be a point of convergence between horror and surrealism. The sense of "soul" of place, a sort of intense significance which can be experienced at a particular geographically located nexus, is of course what is in horror quickly interpreted as hauntings.

But it is not just haunted houses, be they the classic mansions, ruins or hospitals, or modern office buildings, factories, garages, tunnels and basements; one can find explorations of such creepy or uncanny atmospheres also in forest glades, beaches, corn fields, old trees, mountains, lakes and bogs, boats, metro systems, open squares, etc – any such place which may be associated with such an atmosphere in real life. (But that old mansion does remain a privileged place; I can't say 60s classics like The Haunting (1963) and The Innocents (1961) have lost any of their direct appeal – and modern examples like, say, Darkness (2002), The Haunting in Connecticut (2009), House of Voices (2004), Saint-John's Wort (2001), The Orphanage (2007), remain so exciting regardless of the various particular deficiencies in the scripts.) What the specific historic factors are that make these places abandoned or obsolete yet charged with meaning and unresolved conflicts varies, and will contribute much to the interpretation and less to the experience.

There are many horror films which are "site-specific" in that they probably really are the product of someone having visited a creepy place, noting "geeze, this place is scary, someone ought to make a horror movie here", and actually having gone ahead and done it. Such films (two random examples picked from the pile: Death Tunnel (2005) of an American haunted sanatorium and Catacombs (2007) of the Parisian catacombs) can actually be seen as a neighboring subgenre of the surrealist documentary-style poetic exploration of atoposes and abandoned sites. They just wanted to convey the real atmosphere of the place, and chose to do it through the piece of fiction it inspired in them.

Those depths of the minds

What is called "psychological horror" is often effectively cultivated in cinema, and also often makes sense from a surrealist perspective. Again, we may not always consider it to be scary, and we may not consider it to be a deviation from a desirable normality, but instead we may see it as more or less admirable, inspiring and informative manifestations of the real ambiguity of things and the actual accessibility of the unknown. The very paranoid-type vigilance connected with the noticing of the unusual details or the atmosphere of place, typically sooner or later leads to some kind of questioning of the self, or rather of that self-righteous phantom which is the supposed monolithic detached integrative distinct individual person. To what extent does the creative mind participate in forming the reality we perceive as external? To what extent do others partipicate in the processes we regard as our own thinking? To what extent do parts represented within us have not just distinct interests from each other, but also different modes of perception and lines of reasoning, to what extent do they have secrets from each other?

Faced with unusual enough events, most people, in a horror film like in everyday life, will ask "Am I going mad?". But doesn't madness then just become a type of hastened rationalisation, just like it was to invoke "spirits", "ghosts" or "forces"? Is just losing control, losing illusion of control, which is the scary thing, or does it have to trigger a particular acute contradiction? And the often fairly obvious psychoanalytical interpretations we can cook up – just because we can point out patterns and mechanisms that will account for the type of phenomena manifested, they nevertheless remains toothless in accounting for the very dynamism of their phenomenology. (Freud just started breaching this didn't he?) But from a surrealist viewpoint it is arguably this phenomenology and its poetic productivity which is the starting point. The worlds they invite us to, how these are included in the field of possibilities. For philosophers, such basic questions are cerebral exercises; for children, madmen and poets they are undetermined and flesh-real: Are my parents actually evil monsters? Is it all a conspiracy? Is someone hiding under my bed? Are they all dead? Am I dead? Do we embody mythological forces and play out some grand drama we don't understand? Was it I who killed my friend? Is it I who am the monster?

The beyond

Parts of this, questioning the delimitation of the self and the mind, have already started looking out at more vast perspectives. And this is perhaps another aspect of horror, the "beyond" – that which far exceeds our understanding and our schemes, Lovecraftian horror, the overwhelming. Perhaps this is an element where it is not possible to do as I have done so far, to calmly claim that surrealism and horror are interested in all the same things, only surrealism wouldn't necessarily care if they are scary or not and may in fact possibly regard the fear as merely a simple reaction against losing control when faced with the unusual – be it pleasureable or not, be it childish for proving the existence of such thresholds or admirable for being a symptom of the seriousness of the contradiction. For if the overwhelming is calmly savoured or sprightly investigated, it seems like it maybe wasn't really overwhelming, but either just an aspect of poetic hedonism in general, or something we have categorised in advance. And indeed, this perhaps remains one of the fundamental differences between religion and poetry, whether one is happy with fitting those glimpses of the strongest psychic dynamism into a traditional and socially utilisable rationalisation, or letting them remain unexplained and dynamic. Sometimes just a bit too dynamic. Difficult to handle. The centrifugal force, the vertigo – the shards of everything broken in the process...

This can be things that are just far too big, too close or too rich, as in a fit of fever or a drug trip. It can also be those situations where it is simply not possible to understand the motives of everybody else, simply not possible to communicate with them. This is when the paranoia has become not just a method but a full framework which paradoxically creates a thick transparent film between oneself and the rest of the world; it has such a wealth of meaning that it isn't possible to grasp, it isn't possible to interact with in some way which makes sense to oneself. This may be cosmic schemes, alien elder races, or it may be, as in those settings which are maybe the most scary of all; those that are very close to the common alienated interactions of our everyday life, in the streets, in the shops, at work and at school, and especially at home. All the modern zombie films, no hope, no communication, and all the most horrifying family drama, with The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) as the unsurmountable portal star. Such critique of the family is an example of the sometimes very sharp or profound social criticism in horror. That aspect might be interesting and enjoyable, but again, just like the manifold forms of black humour, and, I dare argue, fear itself, is probably not among the central points making up the attraction of the genre itself.

The body the monster

Finally, to return to another perhaps solidly surrealist point which is indifferent to fear and focuses on poetic phenomenology, there is the monster. The unusual creature, the physical exception, the individual whose being expresses its deviation and strangeness, the body turned image and image turned flesh; the central horror hero.

The transformations into these strange creatures, both physically and mentally, both the ontogenetic metamorphosis and the possession or the empathy, in whichever form, the transformation remains a fundamental trope of poetic phenomenology. (Bachelard's discussion of the animalness in Lautréamont is a classical discussion of this that makes much sense to horror cinema). The metamorphosis in itself; the unfolding of viscera and skin into strange new shapes, these fragments and suggestions of insects, of genitals, of larvae, of trees, of ferocious beasts, of dinosaurs, all the morphological gore.

Monsters are fantasies in physical shape, and they are mythology in its irreducible parts. Strange beings. In this the two categories of monster and superhero often overlap, at least with the classical "film monsters" and the Marvel comic book monsters of the 70s, or with many of the present-day antiheroes, paranormal investigators etc. I've been so impressed by the constellation of moving physical manifestations of weird fates in 13 Ghosts (2001) specifically as a superhero group, and film monsters like Freddie Krueger and Pinhead the Cenobite are commonly recognised as either superheroes or some kind of rockstars. Clearly, with classic literary monsters like Dracula and Frankenstein's monster, just like with modern comics mascots like Hulk and Hellboy, it is very existential, about monster-being; the phenomenology of the outsider. This has a sentimentalist aspect, where one is always at the risk of giving up the dynamics by suddenly becoming accepted into the fuzzy community of the normals, and then a fairly uninteresting destructive dynamics in the resentment in realising that one wasn't fully accepted after all. More importantly, monsterdom has a shamanistic-Rimbaudian aspect, this systematic disorder in the senses, the strange series of hardships and pains and pleasures, in order too see more clearly. The poet role. One we perhaps have to approach to the extent we want to make ourselves available to all these unusual phenomena, this wide range of possibilities, this abundance of meaning, which characterises horror, and even more poetry.

Again, the surrealist potential in horror appears to have little to do with to what extent it invokes horror. The most important part is that it is a relative free zone from many realistic rationalisations and constrictions, and therefore in fact will be able to show us more of that which is actually real, and be poetically productive in much the same way as reality itself is – if we only allow it.

Mattias Forshage

(published in Patricide #3 2011)

the surrealist object part I

Two realms of objects

Gestalt psychology once emphasised the fundamental difference in the phenomenology of natural objects and artifacts. So as not to assume any particular metaphysical implications of these, we might rather say that there is a fundamental difference between discrete single objects as typically examplified by artifacts on one hand, and non-discrete objects as typically examplified by natural objects. So, artifacts are usually discrete, easily distinguished from each other, usually geometrically regular (or more or less complex assemblies of individual geometrical units), usually brightly coloured, easily sorted, stacked, and counted; they can be understood teleologically, in terms of intended function. Natural objects are usually the opposite: usually merging together, difficult to separate from each other and to understand the individual units among, indeed quite ambiguous in such ontological terms, and furthermore typically geometrically irregular and with heterogenous and often diffusely blending colours, unintelligable in terms of intended function without advanced theories (either a "secondary teleology" through a functionally focused adaptationist evolutionary biology, or theism).

Of course this is by no means a sharp border, there are several untypical objects from both sides. Every archaeologist will complain that it can be very difficult to separate artifacts among natural-looking objects. And there is nothing stable about them. Things are pulled out of the diffuse logical flow (in this sense "natural") and transformed into artifacts by slight manipulations and sometimes by this act of choice and removal out of original context itself. An obvious example is how shells, beautiful stones, interesting roots, dead insects, skeleton parts, etc, are picked up, collected and transformed into aesthetical and occasionally scientific objects, and how fruits and other plant parts as well as dead animals are picked up as food items. On the other hand, discarded and abandoned artifacts enter the sphere of unseparable natural objects; littering and ruins. In a sense, art is a big endeavour to create artifacts with the opacity of natural objects, which will be able to produce meaning far beyond the simple statement of their intended function, in a way that simulates or indeed becomes nature.

The distinction approximately corresponds with that between indoors and outdoors environments. An indoors environment is one intentionally structured, usually geometrically arranged, dominated by artifacts and their rational arrangement for a purpose. Outdoors is structured by other factors than reason and intelligence, and is dominated by natural objects - though in many cases, such as cities, baroque gardens, and agricultural fields, there will indeed be a superimposed artificial and gemetrically regular structure, but however one which will be immediately subverted by the action of weather, plants and animals; there will be leaves, twigs, dust and seeds moving around, snow and pools of water, emerging plants and mushrooms, as well as a more or less rapid weathering and irrational rearranging of the artifacts through the actions of weather, irresponsible or responsible humans, as well as by other animals and plants of course.

It seems like the ambiguity and transition in this respect has often been interesting to surrealists. The transformation of natural environments into manifested projection spaces for the imagination have often aroused a great interest; brut architecture, utopian city planning, theme parks, park planning, japanese gardens, futuristic visions, have all had their share of attention (often including suspiciousness) from surrealists. So has, and far less ambiguously so, that which moves in the other direction in the relationship, becoming secondary nature: ruins and abandoned environments, worthless places, vast ruderal areas, junkyards.

And a special polemical case in this very matter is the category of surrealist objects. Surrealism takes objects out of their functional context and allow them to develop a natural-like semantical richness. The shared component in all surrealist objects is that they have been made poetic objects by having been taken out of their given context and allowed to develop a network of relationships, associations and determinations that are unrestricted by functional context. Then for the artifact-type objects this means more to take them out of utilistic context, and for natural objects to take them out of natural context. However, in both cases we must take care not to fall in the trap of establishing a new quasi-functional concept based on aesthetics in the narrow sense and/or anecdotal/selfbiographical sentimentality. Those objects which are put on a piedestal for being beautiful or for reminding someone of a beautiful event or period in life are only "liberated" in a weak sense, they are transposed into another utilistic context, less restricted for sure, and since that particular purpose is largely conditional and focused on a subjective level (also where the objects are marketed as commodities) they often have occasion to transgress it. Because it is only when they are allowed to be "worthless", to be isolated and reconfigurated without particular goals, that they can develop quite new unexpected relationships and insights. This state is far easier attained in an unordered accumulation of curiosities, or in a playful assemblage, or in a crowded exhibition, than when tastefully displayed with appropriate margins and spaces, but its not impossible among conventional aesthetical objects, nor in conventional art, or low-brow home decoration in general, nor by chance in the toolshed, the cellar, or even the marketplace.

Natural objects, merged as they are in the environment, are mostly in a sense asleep: associatively, imaginatively, symbolically, communicatively – and remember that these four aspects are all different, even though they partially overlap with each other. Bringing them out of context is a way of stirring them to wake them up, and it may be to an existence in slavery under some practical work task, or in tragical-pregnant isolation stretching out to establish relationships in all directions... Surrealist objects lie around longing for their freedom, planning for it, and occasionally allowing us to catch a glimpse of it, everywhere.

Some clarifications

I hope I don't have to say that it would be absurd to interpret these distinctions in terms of value; all different modes of being an object are perfectly legitimate ways of being an object. Of the two sleeping modes, the artifacts are characterised by their straightforward rational use value for us, and the natural objects by their non-rational use value for themselves (which may seem excitingly alien to us). The awakening mode, the objects released from utilistic connections from either camp, assumes a poetic use value, for themselves but in complicity with us.

If we are nowadays rather immune to the danger of getting dazzled by the artifacts after progress and rational solutions proved to be of limited application, there may still be an obvious risk of romanticising natural objects simply by being inexperienced with them and remaining uninformed about them: they may all seem so admirably inhuman, irrational and free for anyone who has no analytical tools for observing patterns in nature and thus keeps missing their modes of connection, modes of repetition, modes of labor, modes of economy, modes of utilism; such a person would believe every natural object encountered will be in itself free of determinations and thus a surrealist object. But of course, that person is likely to mostly stay in the city or at least not look very carefully around, in order to maintain that strange bias where only artifacts are typical objects and all natural objects are strange harbingers of a hidden world of wonders. It would be alien to me to suggest that natural objects are not interesting, exciting and beautiful objects in their capacity of natural objects, their own utilistic connection, (which is partly about their negating the artifact mode of utility and partly about aesthetical and psychological response to their general morphology, their organisation principles, their visual signals, etc) - but still that is what exactly what has to be superceded to make them surrealist objects rather than either scientific objects, aesthetic objects, objects of mere wonder and entertainment, or natural objects in their own right. I am talking about where they too are taken out of context. And this does not mean the vast sphere of antropomorphising, to regard the facial expressions of animals, the atrocities of insects, the mysterious behaviors of plants, as mere jokes for their unfettered variations of human analogues. I am talking about new and poetic contexts, where they may or may not evoke wonder or associations to their lifestyles and evolution, may or may not evoke transgressions of the notions of the human, but regardless of whether they do or not, remain open to establish new connections. Releasing them from their utilistic connection simply by stubborn ignorance of it is a very fragile form of liberation; it not only demands the same ignorance and non-familiarity of every observer, but tends to nivellate and therefore in the long term depreciate the whole world of natural objects.

Just like the poetic use of a shoe seems to presuppose observing the very transcendence from being a vehicle for containing feet and separating them from the possibly hostile ground into something else, and would not be the same thing for someone who had never considered using shoes; in the same way the strange shape of a mushroom will be a carrier of poetry rather than of superstitions when it is first understood and then abandoned that it is a mere temporary sexual organ of the fungus body interweaving the ground, and its sudden appearance comes from a very determined structure of chitine growing fast by absorbing very much water but then manifestating that structure only in an irregular form exactly conforming to the temporary configuration of the surrounding - now all of this is perhaps a bit mysterious indeed, but if we are excited about that, we are excited about the life of fungi, which biology has far more to teach us about than poetry has. There is a sense of wonder about a mushroom which simply does not depend on whether one associates to the particular forest habitat where it grew or not, whether one knows how it tastes or not, whether one has seen hundreds of mushrooms like it or not, whether one knows about the sexual mysteries of fungi or not, etc - and it is only when that particular sense of wonder is succesfully invoked that the mushroom becomes a surrealist object, a "liberated object", rather than an object of exoticism.

M Forshage