Tuesday, September 18, 2012
Monday, September 17, 2012
Some people still lean toward either aristocratic or misanthropic views and consider only the brilliant few really interesting, while the hordes of mediocre adherents are as uninteresting in surrealism as they are elsewhere.
Such considerations have typically dominated the public view of surrealism. Just a few decades ago there was a consensus among external commentators that all second-generation (post-war) surrealists were mediocre adherents and only a bunch of poets and painters of the first generation the real thing – but since then several post-war surrealists have become famous and recognised, and instead it is us third-generation (post-breton) surrealists (cf three eras of surrealism) who are considered mediocre adherents. Of course, this kind of recognition is not particularly what we're after, but it is still notable how flexible but slow it is, the mechanisms of recuperation being pardonless like a bandwagon yet clumsy and dimwitted. Strangely, even some individuals among ourselves within post-bretonian surrealism correspond to this two-tier anthropology too (while regarding themselves as luminous exceptions to widespread mediocrity or just modest executors of "objective judgment"?). It could be motivated with a pataphysical leaning: claiming that it is always only exceptions that are interesting, anyone fitting in an existent camp or side or pattern is mediocre and uninteresting. This may seem like an attractive argument, but is obviously formal and superficial to the point of hollowness. There are patterns in everything, and it is usually the fundamental break with available consensus and conformism that creates a dialectical leap opening up a vastness of new possibilities, not the neurotic flight from any structure or belonging. This aristocratic view, at a closer look, regardless of whether it is honestly misanthropic or downright chauvinistic, appears connected with a general fear of touch, fear of intimacy, fear of defending anything, fear of taking sides, fear of intimacy.
And on the other hand, as the obligatory pure negation of the aristocratic argument, still not making it off the ground, there is a formalist materialist position, that no individual contributors are significant, it is only the collective actions of the movement that counts. Sterile as such, when not actually being able to discern the human agents, this still opens up for a lot of important points. Clearly, it opens up for the interesting antihumanist criticism of the aristocratic dualist position: it is not necessarily the human individuals who are the most significant units in the surrealist adventure. There are conditions in terms of time, place, social structures, social habits, trends, ideas, needs and all the objective ongoings of matters of the spirit, which individual endeavours are expressions of and contributions to in part. Most persons (or all) may be mediocre by themselves, as persons, but when stepping into the surrealist adventure, both in terms of stepping out into a poetic exploration of the unknown, and into a compelling tradition and a compelling collectivity presenting a very different constellation of the everyday playground, they are partaking in an objective adventure, where it is more the degree of seriousness, the fortuity of circumstances, the ways of chance, than it is the individual abilities, which will decide just how strong or convincing the works or actions seem and what their historical significance might lie in.
I do claim that everything that is most interesting will play on a surindividual level. On the other hand, the circumstances will always be struggled with in an interaction between the objective situation and directions and the individuals' desires, interpretations and backgrounds. This is why I see very little need to hamper the curiousness I feel about surrealist individuals. Every person in surrealism has a particular constellation of desires and fantasies, an individual trajectory; which surrealism as such at any given time goes on as the non-deterministic synergistic sum of. Therefore I want to know about every single individual. Not the least the ones who never got famous, and those who have remained anonymous even within the movement. For some, it was because they were just shortly involved, sensation seekers or merely curious, that went on to something else; here it is potentially interesting to note what they went on to; what activities and positions do present a lasting and perhaps more socially acceptable alternative to things people may be looking for in surrealism; or from which spheres, circles and activities people are briefly pulled in; sometimes their objectives were clearly surrealist (objectively!) but the historical guise of the movement, cultural or personal differences made it impossible for them to make surrealism their personal base. For some, it was because they were simply less eager to compete for attention, either because of imposed restrictions and that realistic-pessimistic modesty (as was famously the case for some female artists) or of actual carefreeness and independence, ranging from relaxed souvereignity to troubled clinical madness (whenever the former is not just a gesture of fear of touch, the step between them is probably not a big one). Most people involved, even the seemingly quite peripheral, do have a particular vein that keeps them attracted, have a particular understanding of the current relevance, often even have to defend surrealism in its entirety against less understanding social friends...
So, yes, I consider every one interesting. When I have travelled, also surrealists from which I have very different view of critical issues, have been interesting persons to meet and usually enjoyable. Meeting groups, I have often found "lesser players" equally or more interesting than main organisers and great artists; very often those who are not yet comfortable – a ruminating conscience, a voice that does not quite fit in, a "troubled soul", someone with a very odd outlook or just someone more intolerant than others against habits, informal hierarchies, remnants of sexism, complacency, etc, is someone who might have far more to offer in terms of future dynamics than a completely convinced spokesperson.
But again, this does not mean that I correspond to some humanistic deviations (regarding the individuals as more important than the objective necessities of poetry), nor that I want to be the "sheep-dog of the class" staying in touch with everybody. Breaks are breaks and important for the progression of a particular collective – but they are often of primarily local relevance so that somebody who fails to find a constructive way of participating in their local group may still be able to contribute in various international and/or bilateral connections. And clearly, even those who may not live up to standards or may uncritically accept certain reifying interpretations, often make interesting human encounters...
But I do remain suspicious of anyone who is attracted to surrealism without seeing the need to explicitly embody it and take a share of the responsibility for it in an organised and collective guise, specifically by consciously pooling ones own creative and organisational resources both to a physically present group and to the accumulated sea of the surrealist tradition in order to further develop its perspectives and results as an ambitious critical as well as experimental enterprise, and finding the sharpest applications of it to one's own life in present society – embracing, revising and reinventing (and I will not refrain from occasional harsh polemics against someone actively compromising the integrity and dynamics of surrealism).
No, no one will be able to convince me to prune the historical membership roll and dismiss even a few hundreds as inconsequential or mediocre...
The Madrid group is one of the more controversial surrealist groups, and one which we in Stockholm end up in contradictions and more or less polemical discussion with. However this is not because we have more actual differences with this group than with other groups, but merely because they too are fond of critical thinking, investigating consequences of the conclusions, and communicating this explicitly. Some groups just never enter the discussion on that critical and explicit level.
We are happy to notice that also within the Madrid group there has been a recent focus on the dream, with the publication of Julio Monteverde's essay De la materia del sueño (Pepitas de calabaza ed.).
As your editor here have very insufficient language skills in Spanish, I am not able to go into detailed discussion about themes and questions from the book, and perhaps not even to give a decent overview of it, but I'll hazard the latter.
The book is structured as a tour through aspects of the dream. I sense a distinct change in perspective within the book though. This is most easily discerned in that the first half of the book lacks dream accounts and the second half has them, but I get the impression that this is not a mere superficial feature but actually correponds to a slight shift in perspective.
The long introduction and the first few allegedly concrete aspects seem less interesting as they (superficially) appear written in a faithful and rhetorical way; not posing any questions, not really recognising problems, nor providing concrete examples. I don't know exactly what is being said here but I see major risks: if we will be suggesting (as some has indeed explicitly done) a coherent surrealist perspective where all concepts loaded with our appreciation are analogised to the point of being equalised; the dream, poetry, desire, freedom; suggesting all syntheses are already acquired in this sphere, there is no internal problems, hardly any contradiction left, and consequently very little obvious movement or concrete potentiality; and we will have done little but to package our desires in a surrealist ideology. That is why we need careful empirical study of our chosen fields: to make them areas of passionate enquiry rather than just passionate projection.
So then, in the later chapters of the books, concrete aspects are actually concrete, based in empirical dream examples, acknowledging real patterns of dream formation, real images, real coincidences, real questions. That which actually happens in the dream is, both statistically and subjectively, different from that which happens every day – as well as from the sum of all possible possibilities (it's not like "in the world of dreams, everything can happen, and everybody is in there" as Swedish popsinger Robban Broberg once had it, even though he too had some picturesque examples); it tends to follow a particular dream logic and is structured according to the outcome of dream formation processes, which are a very distinct subset of poetic or imaginational mechanisms.
I salute this book, and wish for its translation into english so we can enter into very detailed discussion about these concrete aspects (on life and death)...
PS another Spanish-language book of a similar format which appeared this year, which I might have taken up here as a dual review had this been a book review site, is Ludión Antiguo (Seriemusidora), collected recent essays from Juan Carlos Otaño of the Rio de la Plata surrealist group. Due to the form of collecting occasional writings, there are several good examples of real contradictions, ongoing discussions, and a fresh surrealist gaze on recent or forgotten themes. Most of the perspective is strikingly orthodox, expecting the devotion to a classic surrealist perspective to be the best safeguard against destructive compromise, conformism and mental laziness in every single situation. But it is not restricted to a defense but also stubbornly explores consequences of the surrealist perspective, and offers some very good critical thinking. And, it is partly easy to read, because there are some English translations interspersing the articles...
"As for the general question of the philosophical ambitions of surrealism, there are several undeniable facts and many different and partly conflicting reasonable ways to try to summarise them...
Philosophy is difficult to exactly circumscribe. If I have written that surrealism has never had a philosophical ambition, this is clearly erroneous. What I want to emphasise is that surrealism is not a philosophical project – in much the same way as it is not a litterary project; not from the beginning and especially not if regarding surrealism as what it has become to its adherents through its particular historical trajectory. The original conception of surrealism is however something partly different, not in spirit but in circumscriptions, priorities and experiences. Undeniably, surrealists have had philosophical ambitions, also in the name of the surrealism, and written philosophical works, and your book shows how important this was in the earliest days of surrealism (to an extent that indeed has surprised me) – but, with the possible exception of the earliest years, this has never been one its major tasks/battlefronts. And if it actually was a central part in the very beginning, this would be specifically because in the general framework of the frenzied idealist nonconformism of the time, philosophy could be seen specifically as a way of changing the world! But it has always been subordinated to the ambitions of understanding the human condition in the light of the poetic experience especially through that poetic experience and specifically aiming for transformation rather than philosophical formulation.
In some later historical situations, such as in the tension with existentialism in the 40s and with poststructuralism in the 60s and 70s, I have a perception that at least in many countries around the world and possibly in France too, surrealism's integrity and superiority has been maintained partly by its very refusal to accept the philosophical level as a central battleground and as an important field in itself, as if saying to these philosophically versed hotshots "you guys may for all we know be right in your philosophical analyses, but for us, this can only be of secondary interest because we seek nothing but to illuminate the poetic phenomenon and ignite life with it".
And meanwhile, as we know, surrealists have been inspired by philosophers, have been inspiring philosophers, and developed concepts and modes of thought of potential major philosophical implications." (MF)
(a day in july)
We have to admit that dreaming has a number of very particular mechanisms proper to it, but also that dreams will tie in with other spheres of experience, and in fact, often the fuller syntheses will be made in dream experience rather than in waking experience, because waking experience is of course still obsessed with pruning the supposedly insignificant and applying identity logic just to simplify.
Yesterday morning, half-awake I was remembering a dream, rationalising it within hypnagogic dream logic, and it turned out to be very very coherent and explain a lot of things I've been actually wondering about. It was just like in my dream about "my elusive Polish offices" that I communicated some time ago. Later in the morning, I was telling EL about it, and she noted that remembering a dream while still not quite awake often arouses memories of many other dreams, otherwise forgotten. I recognised this from my own experience. Ok, this dream element relates to this class of dreams that I used to have, this to this dream person that I have met, all things that one didn't know. When processing the dream before we are under the somewhat insensitive reign of awake rationality, it points out its connections to a wide coherent field of experiences. For all we know, they might possibly all be made up on the spot (but that would indeed be a massive mental achievement), or they might make an instant synthesis of a lot of stories of mixed status, past dreams, dreams
within dreams, possible dreams, forgotten events, possible events, etc.
I might even say it seems like this is the closest we get to an actual synthesis of life experience, an instant but gradually disenveloping interconnected multitude of stories.
There is a chapter in my novel "Konsten och dödsstjärnan" about "autobiogeography", the construction of a world for a meaningful past of oneself. Of all these different pasts that pop up, some of them can be unproblematically correlated with other events regardless of how picturesque or unbearable they seem (yes it seems I have spent a lot of time in Uppsala, yes it seems I was living in Florida, yes I was sleeping at the bus station in Bodø in northern Norway), others are not contradicted by other data even though they can't be quite remembered (they say I visited Bjursås in Dalarna when I was very small, I know I went birdwatching a lot with my friend Bo and with my friend Ola and with others though I don't remember any of this very well and I always imagine myself having been birdwatching all alone, I have notes from a weekend in a tent on an island in the archipelago in 1999 that I absolutely cannot remember), others still seem a lot more difficult to integrate in one's selfimage even though there is little to actually contradict them (did I actually have a relationship with this woman? was I really taking a lot of drugs with this guy as he claims? what was it about the Polish office?) etc.
All right, enough lecturing. This is the story that was revealed to me
First I unexpectedly meet a friend at a bus in Uppsala. I didn't know he had a connection to the town. I keep trying to deny I have one. I used to spend a part of my life there, and every now and then I go back to try to find new and more neutral ways of seeing it. He doesn't seem to know where he's going, and that suits me fine. We stay on the bus. The buses are uncomfortable, and mostly we can't speak to each other because the loudspeakers of the bus run an ad for the buses themselves over and over again, saying that more than 80% of the population of the city recognises the buses. Well, no big surprise, there is no other public transport here. Stupid town. I have to let others guide me so that I can get a new view of it.
But there are also other areas that seem biographically charged. This time, I had been to the dentist, in the small archipelago town Gustavsberg. I lived near there earlier, but only this morning I suspect the town was named after Gustav Meyrink, the author of Golem. It is a quick visit, and I wonder what I am to do, thrown out into the world at this early time of the day. There are vast open spaces, a rural market site, with very few people, but I go sit down at a long wooden table stretched out on a temporary lawn in the middle of a meadow. There is a big kiosk along one side of the table. I should go buy a cup of coffee and some candy. But I remain sitting there, looking at my phone, trying to remember what I'm supposed to do and when I've seen this place before. I realise there is a big west asian kiosk along the other side of the table. I should go buy a cup of turkish coffee and some baklava. But I remain sitting there, now vaguely remembering that I've been here before, with my friend Bo, birdwatcher and ambulance driver, and maybe we have been planning something for today too? I send him a text message, saying I am now on site, and he could join me or direct me elsewhere. It does not matter that I haven't seen him in ten years.
Because now it all gradually reappears. He and I used to travel widely at the time, and wherever we went he had some old friend staying in some old vicarage or rundown mansion that he wanted to pay a visit. But here, south of Gustavsberg, at a place called Beatelund near Storängsudd, just near Lämshaga where the major capitalist Peter Wallenberg, the de-facto king of this part of Stockholm, rebuilt a mansion for a school for his grandchildren and apparently wrecked an important birdwatching site (but I haven't been here since to see), here, I get a strong feeling that this is not just a story or a dream, it is in fact a memory that has been inaccessible, and that is why I have been mixing up the names Beatelund and Storängsudd already in my notes from the time, I couldn't remember that I've ever been to the mansion or big farm, Beatelund, only to the beautiful pastures on the peninsula, Storängsudd; but this is it, this is the one time I was there.
So back when Bo and I was there, it was all a bit uncanny, it felt like intruding in a real 19th century home, maybe they were ghosts, or just because they were wearing so much white cotton, it's too bright, it hurts my eyes, the priest's daughter desperately looking for someone to marry, just to get a successor at the farm. What was it that my friend had done there before? Actually I knew some of this. I remember, back in 1964. Maybe someone may object that this is before I was born, and he would have been a small child. Nevertheless, in 1964, one fine morning, Bo realised that he was in love with his housekeeper and asked her to marry him. As they could get no children (maybe they realised that already before this while living in sin) they instead conjured forth a Golem. It was named "the Space Invader" because it assumed space out of nothingness. Later this character has been reinterpreted and a video game based on the reinterpretation. The Space invader was a sad apparition, in dark rough clothes (wadmal) with a big slouch hat, roaming the beaches and killing cattle. It also managed to catch, and infect with an immortal virus, the red parrot Almara (ok, I get it, alma ara), which up to then had been a local helper spirit, like a sprite, but now instead became more of a truth-telling ghost, always fluttering around making fun of people who were getting themselves into accidents.
I realise I have to get away. Wherever I go there will be stories of my journeys with Bo, and of the old lore of each that place that will be connected with either his or my life in an uncanny way. I should get back to where I live ("bo" in Swedish), if I only had a home. There is a long wait for the bus. I get to know the other people waiting, an old Iranian woman, a clumsy young hippie couple, a gay couple who live at the top floor, who walk around in sandals and have a deadly fear of bugs and birds and germs, and who told a long story about their recent holidays on nothern Öland, which were such a disaster, because as soon as the went out of the car, the ground was just sand, it was like swimming, you had to struggle to get anywhere at all. I am very relieved when the bus arrives to cut their story short. But then I seem to have had no overview of my luggage, I have to run back and forth to see which bags are mine, I dont remember, it seems a lot of this equipment are actually Bo's, a lot of cameras, maybe also lighting and sound recording equipment? Can this really all be for birdwatching, or is it his ghosthunting equipment as well? The busdriver seems relaxed about waiting for me, but I make very quick decisions about what's mine and not, and I leave everything else there on the sidewalk.
Monday, April 23, 2012
Saturday, April 21, 2012
Friday, March 30, 2012
Not having time to edit any ambitious discussions in March, I could instead give a certain snapshot of surrealism in Britain based on the fact that a surprising number of surrealist publications has come from there recently. Hopefully the necessary discussion of publicity and organisation inside will make it meaningful as an Icecrawler text. As the interested will already know, there are three surrealist groups in England (SLAG, Leeds, LSG) and some initiatives outside groups.
And allow me quickly pass over SLAG:s e-zine "Rabid estranged juvenile delicacies" for one or the other reason; because I was involved in it myself, because it came already the previous year, because it is available only in electronic not printed form? It is a rather packed piece, focusing on games and collective investigations but also including remarkable individual contributions, many of which have been previously posted at the robber bridegroom blog, and it is available from here.
There was a very recent skirmish over the stupid idea to launch an initiative of surrealists supporting the 4th international, which I also won't be going into here (anyone interested could consider the webpage, the critique, the metacritique, and the metametacritique).
Taste of phosphor
Just like the Leeds surrealist group is in fact the most long-lasting and reliable pole of organisation in British surrealism (ever!), its rather new journal Phosphor is already established as a reliable point of reference. It is unlike the other British publications in that it is in fact informative and rather extrovert, and perhaps also in that is traditional and international (relates to tradition and the organised international movement in a very explicit way). In fact it may be better described as a local facet of international surrealism rather than the organ of a local group, always with a considerable amount of space given to material from the Prague group, with that combined with materials from Madrid, Paris and Chicago seemingly outweighing self-produced material. Which is a bit of a pity, because it is typically the accounts of the ambitious games and experiments of the Leeds group which is the most interesting material in the journal. There is always a substantial international review section as well as some introductory material to Czech surrealism (never British), which both in part seem redundant for the initiated, but thereby also offer necessary distinctions and good news for an external audience (if there is one). Phosphor has a strict layout (no scattered phrases or marginal drawings) and most of the material is compartmentalised into (explicit or implicit) sections with similar space allotment in each issue. Usually there are also a few examples of very good poems and documentary photographs, and the steady flow of amazing drawings by Bill Howe, as well as some more lightweight articles and short-stories.
The latest issue is number three, on the theme of "Memory reclaimed". In it, the local game material feels somewhat less inspired than usual and consists largely of examples from or overviews of a couple of different games rather than full data. Just like in my own experience, it seems like a focus on memory will easily remain on the level of biographical/generational interest, and it requires some substantial effort to sublate the mnemonic images to something of general interest by working with a synthetic/poetic response AND/OR an analytical response in terms of psychoanalytical and epistemological interpretations, such as studying the ontogenetic production of the desire compromise called personality and the anecdote compromise called life experience... Here, there are some haunting images surfacing within the material (as one could expect) but typically not much is done with them. The appendigial shoes game is far more simple and also quite effective, once again proving the emergent convergences and emergent poetry of improvisations of the collective imagination.
So in this issue the brightest light is in fact a historical piece: Krzysztof Fijalkowski's essay about Luca – which could have been both bolder and longer but nevertheless with admirable clarity sketches some of the vertiginous epistemological or methodological questions Luca raised, particularly about the need to reinvent everything, and the background in Romanian surrealism they grew out of, and just by the way it adresses the epistemological level it feels like the item most fruitfully grappling with the issue theme. The second most theoretically ambitious piece is one by Lurdes Martinez of the Madrid group, characteristically extending the extremes in a very explicit, controversial and interesting way, here taking Madrid's debordist dualism to new heights in terms of principled nostalghia when praising a few dusty old speciality shops and some photo album from the 50s: "Everything has suffered the deadly hollowing-out of its most intimate conditions /.../ And this destruction of the natural and human environment to which I refer /.../ has given way to absolute uniformity of living spaces and forms of relationship". Weren't we surrealists the guys who kept claiming that poetry could manifest itself anywhere, and in unexpected forms? Among the rest of the material, which I will not cover in its entirety, there is also a very good poem by Kenneth Cox, a new streak of automatic drawing from Bill Howe, and Gareth Brown as always keeps up an eye towards contemporary developments in radical politics.
Phosphor is very readable – but also rather predictable. I enjoy it much, but it also makes me long to see some strange imbalanced entity presenting detailed, feral or odd lines of investigation from the entire group or individual members thereof. However, in the current form Phosphor comes very close to something that could serve as presenting living surrealism to the reading British public, and with just a small effort to get rid of some remaining internalist jargon and some unnecessary obstacles for readers (as opposed to the many necessary obstacles inherent in the immodest scope of poetry and the perspectives of its offensive defense), it would do this job extremely elegantly, while indeed pushing some of the heavy stuff along with it.
Tailbiting struggles of patricide
Coming from outside, the journal project Patricide has stirred a lot of suspiciousness, discussion and contradictions among surrealists during its brief history. I have been asking its editor questions about it, I have contributed to it, and I have considered the very lack of traditional surrealist aesthetics a relief (all surrealists say there is no such thing as a surrealist aesthetic, and then still so much of the output looks so similar), as well as the mix of active surrealists and various isolated artists a very interesting experiment. There has been sympathetic but vague statements of intention, expecting a solid direction to eventually emerge. With the fourth issue, on "the sound of surrealism" (mostly concerning the question of surrealist music) I am beginning to lose my patience.
The general editorial principle appears to be to make an unprejudiced mixture of active surrealists with random artists (more or less careerist, more or less relevant all together) on a mail-art accept-all-submissions liberal basis. Some of these external artists are indeed such whose work I enjoy and am happy to have got an opportunity to discover (especially Leslie Guy), and editor Neil Coombs' own photographs are often great. Some of the material in Patricide is great, funny, unexpected, thoughtful. But a lot of the contributions are typically irrelevant, more or less conventional, lazily self-sufficient, and symptomatically ignorant about surrealism. And here, the "unprejudiced" editing turns into a statement: that surrealism is in fact more or less anything, that any pedestrian or careerist artist and their view of surrealism is just as valid in terms of surrealism as the most frenzied psychonauts, the hardest-working organisers, the longest-standing activists and the most well-read or clear-thought specialists – that the surrealists' view of surrealism is no more relevant than that of anyone. With previous issues themes, "seaside surrealism" (if interpreted as "oddities on the beach") or "the uncanny", anyone can say something interesting, which could perhaps make sense from a surrealist perspective. The same would be true for "sound" by itself – but "sound and surrealism" is a not only big but difficult subject, you typically have to know something about surrealism to say something very interesting about it, and this "unprejudiced" principle appears fatal when it equates actual surrealism with prejudices and clueless musings about surrealism.
In this issue as before, I note that – contrary to some comrades' hints – it is not the case that it is the surrealists' contributions that are interesting and the various hangarounds that are not interesting. Well, to some extent, here the most informed and thoughtful contribution is by the the authoritative and experienced surrealist musician Johannes Bergmark, while some additional good points are made by Shibek, and Ron Sakolsky provides a selection of important background information, but there are also points by one or two unknown dudes, and some of the card-carrying surrealists mess up some of the facts badly. With the editor sympathetically acknowledging his lack of a clear idea of the topic, he does in fact set out to ask some of the surrealists (and some others). One of the surrealists tells him that alchemy is the same as collage, combining two elements to produce a new third; and another one that alchemy is nonsensical superstition, but then adds that it could also be interpreted as a metaphor for the human totality experience (something like metaphysics in the widest sense). This is frustrating, I thought alchemy was important to surrealism, and surrealists would know what alchemy is about. Of course, being an elusive, secret and actively ambiguous discipline, it will give rise to a manifold of interpretations, but haven't we all seen in some historical studies that it is about metamorphosis, the transmutation of matter (and, by manifest analogy, man and the world) through hard work which is primarily artisanal and mystic, and then perhaps in some sense artistic and/or scientific? Then, when the editor asks what is the place of sound/music in surrealism in comparison with other genres, and one surrealist very sensibly replies something like "oh, interesting things could be done with it, just like with other things, it's not a matter of ranking ways of expression", another one explains that sound has been unacceptably neglected and must now resume its rights because there is a capitalist conspiracy in favor of the visual sense against the audial sense (!).
It is typical in a surrealist journal to perform a certain "nivellation" in terms of putting the great surrealist classics, the best work of one's surrealist contacts, and one's own very finest efforts on the same level as one's various more or less groping attempts, often failed experiments, often unripe artworks, often exagerrated polemics and arrogant new-adept certainty – and this is something good because it emphasises that the communion with the tradition and with great works is an active relationship of creative acquisition and mutual enquiry and not a matter of reifying admiration. Coming from newcomers, it is easy to sympathise with a certain lack of experience and knowledge which is completely made up for by enthusiasm, unreasonable passion, the very wealth of (often mistaken) ideas and ambitions, and with an eagerness to learn more about the tradition.
But typically in a cultural journal with a surrealist label, there is this other type of "nivellation", where the active embodiment of surrealism, and the discussion, playing and activism of the surrealist movement is put on the same level as any musings of the well-meaning unknowledgeable, clueless self-promoters, and active mediators of official misrepresentations. It does not have the unexperienced enthusiast's lack of knowledge but rather something like the cynicism of accepting whatever more or less unrelated ongoing artistic projects as the real thing and not offer suggestions of novelties, no fresh blood. Patricide is more and more appearing like the newcomer without much enthusiasm, energy or new discoveries, but also without very much willingness to learn what has been found out so far. In this issue we get the false impression that "surrealism and music" is an almost completely virginal field, where no real results have yet been made. The few contributions that indicate there has been a rich discussion in surrealism (from the "no music" doctrine, to the massive interest in jazz, to the rock'n'roll-psychedelia connection, to the "surrealism and black music" doctrine, to the improvisation edict, to today's rather pluralistic interest) stand out as isolated secretsayers or madmen whose voices in the desert are not worth more than the hollow platitudes of standard dictionaries. It remains a crucial question for these madmen to consider how eager they are to publish in contexts relativising their solid ground; and there are still some good arguments contradicting each other here.
Massive milkflow down the faces of representatives
The real joker in the deck is a new anthology by the London Surrealist Group, The overflowing milkmaid with curved feet. For a long time the LSG appeared to have no collective activity at all, only scattered individual updates on a blog, but some time ago collective games became more common again, and now a very mixed batch of materials has been collected into an anthology (there is also a new webpage and a sound project). It is difficult to see some particular shared or emergent characteristics, apparently LSG remains consisting of a core group with rather distinct individual projects, and a constantly changing circle of brief members including oral-live-poets, assorted academics, aspiring fine arts students, singer-songwriters and photomodels who are often easy to find self-exposed on the internet without explicit reference or obvious link to surrealism. From the outside it is very difficult to assess what kind of internal group dynamic this is an expression of, or creates opportunities for. However, it is important to note that in the new anthology this motley crew has had the decency and seriousness to not cite author's names for most of the contributions, which is surprising and indeed very admirable (and especially so when some of the contributors may have appeared suspiciously exposure-eager elsewhere).
And, of course, frustrating for the historian-nerd... But also, in the gossip-tangled mess of British surrealism, it probably provokes a more careful reading and focus on what is actually said. In this case, the initial impression of heterogenity, of a very wide variation range in quality, is sustained and deepened. Of course, "quality" of individual items would be secondary to collective curiousness, integrity, vision and honesty – but the latter is also not transparently emerging from the material or presentation. With haphazard layout, the contributions overlap and occasionally perhaps merge in a sympathetic way, but one which still feels like a collage rather than an actual collective direction or entity. And there is no introduction to the group and no explicitly shared statements. There are a few games, but only some are given on a collective level (phrenology walk, an exquisite corpse, perhaps the definitions in the margins?), others dismemberedly by only an individual contribution to them (first-encounters-with-surrealism-enquiry, monster walk, tarot walk). Most of the contents give the impression of a rather thoroughly mixed buffet of individual contributions of considerably varied strength.
The drawings are in fact mostly good (from Layden's characteristic morphological transformations over repetitive wave patterns to blindfold-automatism), as are the photographs (mostly documentary, including double exposures and visual puns) – while the collages are considerably weaker (from industrial-type dustbin-concoctions to expressive but very traditional xylography collage). Among the poems, there are a few oral-poet dynamic jive sermons that may or may not have much to do with surrealism, along with some fresh gallopping-rant-type automatic texts ("Youth Juice" and "Coral Rain"), a lot of poems that seem unnecessarily derivative or sentimental-preciose, and a few which are just great (such as "Multistage Aigrette" and the untitled one handwritten above it). Articles are even more heterogenous. Except for the game accounts, there is some of the habitual tedious whining over public misunderstandings of surrealism (the concept "surreal") with some of the abstract self-boasting and self-deceiving flowery propaganda (the final statement about the absolute genius of creativity) and an apparently pointless mystification (Hicklebaum), but also some interesting theoretical sketches (about the analogy concept) and simple but good introductions (about automatic writing) or rather interesting chronicles by outside sympathisers (about contemporary surrealist cinema).
So, a lot of the material herein is clearly worthwhile, but far more, the anthology itself is a very encouraging sign of ongoing collective activity. Good luck; looking forward to seeing more!