Thursday, May 19, 2011

the surrealist object part II

- the first steps in poetic semantics of objects

You have noted that so far I have been talking only about the act of constitution of the surrealist objects, the moment of sublation away from the utilistic sphere, the conditions for poetry to possibly emerge.

At this level, surrealist understanding of the object up to now has claimed to rest on mainly two foundations, first that of the object primarily being an object of desire (thus actualising the whole background of Freud's theories) and second that of the object being a unit of objectivity (thus actualising the whole background of Hegel's philosophy). The Freudian and Hegelian contexts are preconditions for the surrealist concept of the object, but it is very likely that the relaxed way they are assumed are missing aspects of the respective theories which it will be interesting to return to before the end.

Equally important but often less explicitly discussed in a theoretical context have been the recognition of the aspect of sensory-imaginational realism, clearly at heart of surrealism but developed theoretically rather in parallell by gestalt psychology, and by Bachelard's and Alleau's symbology (and in some way, but often rather twisted, and I don't them well enough anyway, in structuralism, philosophical phenomenology and semiology?)

So the next step is what goes in the poetic moment, when this "liberated" object actually starts establishing all new relationships it might, largely by means of our associations. I am just beginning my analysis in this field. And since I have recently been talking in a few places of the characteristics of poetic semantics, I hasten to say that this is exactly the same question, and it is probably the same as in the case of pictorial art too, only it will hopefully be easier to see some basic patterns if we retrict ourself to "assemblages" (= the meeting of objects) because we don't have a big problem in circumscribing the least signifying units there.

* There is one sphere of epistemic associations, or metonymical in the narrow sense; the ones that evoke aquired knowledge of previously established associations of the object, so-called background knowledge, which so to speak restores the object into the context it was taken out of. Obviously, this is an ambiguous category here.

* There is one sphere of biographical associations, the arousal of memory of (real or imagined) events where the object was brought up. This is a sphere which involves very individual elements, is partly dependent on simple empiricism and "life experience", and a sphere where most of the strictly speaking emotional response is evoked.

Those two spheres are in a sense central, because they will make up a big part of the experience, in spite of being quite different and separate from a response on the poetic level, but will, once the poetic-level response is there, often be hijacked by it and integrated into the poetic experience.

The poetic response itself is largely on the level of analogy. Or, say some, symbolism. There is a great deal of terminological conflict, ambiguity and opacity here, and care has to be taken in the end (if I may, just by pleading, not wake some of my friends' hobbyhorses red in tooth and claw here? cf i e "Laws of motion")

In here, let's first make a distinction between a static and a dynamic sector.

The static sector is that of established signs, those things that we may not call symbols but rather synthemes if we follow Alleau; the things that have a simple or unambiguous translation or refer to something deliberately hidden. This is the sphere of conventional signs, of conventional systems of symbols, of symbols in Freud's sense, and of those associations that some claim have a biological basis. (In fact, even though evolutionary biology and developmental psychology will have some interesting things to say about this, the old question of environment versus heritage is as uninteresting as usual, because as usual the biological perspective is unable to demonstrate something else than uncontroversial fundamentals as long as it sticks to its own strict methodology and avoids mere speculation, while the empiristic social science perspective is unable to demonstrate anything else than the variability of traits and never their origin or meaning. Both perspectives might deliver interesting suggestions, but when they claim to contradict or even disprove each other they are usually out of their league.) Concretely, this sphere will try (and sometime succeed) to impose certain limits on associations, and it may clearly increase the field of epistemic-metonymic associations (my first category above) by relating to usages in various traditional mythologies, secret languages, folklore, magic and religion (which, in their turn, will also invoke more or less reified moments of dynamic symbolism, to which we then turn):

The dynamic sector is the one we surrealists know well from Reverdy's definition of the poetic image and Lautréamont's standard example, and moves in the direction of symbols in Alleau's sense; connections that produce meaning rather than refer to a preconceived meaning. This is the sphere of poetry strictly speaking. But it must be noted that poetry is an integrative framework that will at will employ all the other modes of association in a dynamising movement. And that by becoming productive, triggering poetic response, cascades of images, atmospheres and suggestions that in turn will provoke concrete suggestions on different levels of both poetic creativity, extrovert action and transforming life experience and life strategies, this is also where they fulfill the famous Feuerbach thesis and start changing the world. And once I have reached this point in my argument, I need to halt and go back to work – maybe this is all in vain and already solved in either of those obscure disciplines that I'm not quite oriented in...)

A suivre.

M Forshage

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