Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Additional Points about Organising

– turning up more or less randomly in recent discussions:

 

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Monday, September 17, 2012

Interrogation of the 3000



The 2633 surrealist contributors I once mentioned in a blogpost? I am in fact interested in them all. It does look ridiculous, and it is easy to take lightly as mere juvenile-ultranerd fact obsession, "knappologi" (buttonology) or even "compleatism". Ok, no, I do not expect this (or any other of those long lists) to be complete. In fact, I trust reality to be at least so inexhaustible, and the unknown so productive, that I would be not just disappointed but very suspicious about an allegedly complete enumeration. Maybe I just have never learned to restrain my childish enjoyment in collecting and compiling data, maybe I just enjoy playing with large data sets. But then, that's not what it is. Individual surrealists are not just items on a list. (And, by the way, if they were indeed just items on a list, 2633 items would not be a strikingly large data set. Only if considering each item as a meaningful whole with a story of its own, it's a large data set. The same number of mere measurements, or names, or nucleotide base pairs, would not be remarkably many.) Of those thousands of people that have contributed to the surrealist movement, I honestly think that they all make some sense.

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...

M Forshage

Matter in Dreams and the Matter of the Dream


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)...


MF


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...


Surrealism and Philosophy IV

Just a quote from the editor's discussion with Georges Sebbag, briefly alluded to in a comment to an earlier post, based on the latter's book Potence avec paratonnerre; restating the basic point from earlier posts while acknowledging the importance of the evidence held forth.

"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)

Inventing life, invading space

– Synthetisation of Life Experience

(a day in july)



Many authors claim that awake experience is coherent, continuous and unambiguous; while dream experience is discontinuous and just unrelated clusters of various possibilities. Even some friends of the dream maintain this dualism (this divorce as it is called), but preferring dream life, openended, seemingly consequence-less, free of the depressing demands from the laws of nature and pressure for plot continuity... I think this is a misunderstanding.

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
yesterday morning:
All those parts of life that we are not supposed to remember. It seems there is an entire flora of previous lives, normally inaccessible. Only in the early morning one opens the doors to them.

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.

(M Forshage)


Monday, April 23, 2012

Third lecture on atmosphere


"A midnight´s visit is grand. The paint shop nothing."

Hypnagogic phrase and image.

/ Christofer Dahlby

Saturday, April 21, 2012

First lecture on atmosphere




Atmosphere one

Let's hear a tale about the primordial atmosphere. Or, if that is taken specifically as the original atmosphere only, then rather the atmosphere during those emblematic prehistoric days, and then most emblematically that of the Carboniferous era, the rich and intoxicating air at the time, when dense warm forests covered earth, gigantic insects were flying around, bizarre reptiles and amphibians were crawling around, long before the dinosaurs. The transformations of the primordial atmosphere is largely the story about the cycles of oxygen levels.

Oxygen is a lethal substance. Very reactive, and therefore threatening for anything that wants to remain. For us, painfully adapted to life under these directly life-threatening oxygen levels, the very process of life consists to a large extent of spending very much energy on hindering and redirecting the amok of the inflammable oxygen on cellular level. We eat to cope with oxygen, to be able to retain physical integrity, to keep our body, and as soon as we fade or die we start disintegrating.

Just to make a long story short: For some reason we received water on earth (the reason is not clear); water is one form where oxygen is strongly bound and largely passivised. But in the water life emerged, bacteria that commenced photosynthesising and thus releasing the oxygen that had been bound in the water. Free oxygen, very reactive, then was bound largely by iron, forming massive layers of iron oxides all over the earth. After long times then more or less all available iron was bound with oxygen, and then free oxygen started accumulating in pure form in the atmosphere. This was quite dangerous, and the original bacteria were retreating to hidden, oxygen-poor environments. But then came the animals. Animals were a new, quickly evolving lineage that survived oxygen, and not only survived but were net consumers of it. But on a geological time scale the respite became brief: after the animals came in the Cambrian and made the earth far more pleasant, then already in the Silurian the plants came, incorporating photosynthesising bacteria offering such bacteria entirely new habitats and a new scale in their previously largely microscopic life; oxygen levels were increasing again. Especially during the Carboniferous, oxygen levels rise dramatically: plants form forests spreading out to cover all land. Hot, wet, oxygen-rich, thronging, crawling; the emblematic vegetation type of the period is a magnificent, infernal and uterine jungle; a grandiose fever hallucination. Huge animals, thick prosperous vegetation (tree ferns, giant clubmosses, cycads), massive forest fires on a continental scale; an immense supply of nutrients, incessant green growth, incessant biological production, dramatic increase in oxygen... But then a similarly drastic decrease during the Permian! This was mainly for reasons of plate tectonics; the continents drifted together to form a super continent, Pangea. This includes an increase of the proportion of land on earth, when all the shallow continental shelves are dried up. The warm parts of earth are more land than sea so much less water is evaporating into the atmosphere. The global air masses get drier, less land is situated close to the coast; the climate becomes dramatically drier: deserts replace jungles. During the Permian, oxygen levels in the atmosphere decrease from 30% to 15%! Then, during the mesozoic era, those more well-documented times when flowering plants, dinosaurs and others diversified, oxygen rose slowly again, and has for a very long time now been around 21%.



Atmosphere two

But let us begin in another end as well. If atmosphere can be taken in a strictly chemical-meteorological sense it can just as easily be taken in a phenomenological-spatial-existential. It is one of the characteristics of poetry that it generates atmospheres, and that this easily can become an aesthetic criterion: an image which does not generate an atmosphere is a lifeless and flat image, which is perceived as arbitrary or cerebral, mechanical or constructed; while an image which generates an atmosphere animates the senses and imagination, invites to revery and co-creation.

An atmosphere is a charged spatiality. It is generated by a presence. A presence which takes occupancy of a place and erects a sense of room. This presence is a trigger of psychic dynamics and thereby in some sense an image. But whatever becomes a poetic image is also a matter of flexible categorisation, and completely dependent on its effectiveness in concrete mental terms. It may even be the very currency of spiritual exchange...

So, we often have reason to return to the formulation of the poetic image as defined by Reverdy and examplified by Lautréamont from Breton's manifesto onwards. Maybe some people haven't heard them to boredom or learned them by heart. It's about the image as "a creation of the mind /arising/ from the rapprochement of two more or less distant realities /.../ the more /.../ remote and accurate /.../ the greater /.../ emotional power and poetic reality"; "beautiful as the chance meeting on a dissecting table of a sewing machine and an umbrella". This concerns the spritual dynamics in a suggestion of an unusual relationship, an unusual displacement, an unusual constellation. On the one hand it has a polemical side, the dynamics of freedom itself, the width of the field of possibilities as soon as one abandons those relationships dictated by utilistic concerns, by realistic assessments and by old habit. On the other hand, not everything is poetic and it concerns very specifically those concrete connections, intercourses and possibilities that are revealed in the specific suggested relationship, which might be able to take us somewhere or not. It is this latter aspect that makes the criterion functioning as a criterion. Atmosphere is a field of possibilities, but not only in the formal, technical sense, but it is also a substantial part of the explanation why an atmosphere is poetic, that it is a sensorily tangible condensaiton of the field of possibilities, moving us with the weight of its yet unrealised dynamic. It is not just the case that we don't know what will happen, but unusual things will also feel tangibly possible; while the outcome is notably uncertain the very act of opening is so directed that the climate prevailing in this beyond entangle ones face with sticky tentacles, poking and blowing on the spirit. And this presence, which in some sense is an image, does not need to be ab image in the classical sense with two separate identifiable elements being connected; it could also be an image emerging from some more metonymical suggestion: a self-reference becoming a vicious circle, a very distinct absence, or something. Anything that is capable of generating an enigma. Because actually it is only when an enigma, only when there is a certain measure of spiritual fuel in a place, and then also a tendency to not be exhaustible by all the interpretations and guesses it gives rise to, and this elusiveness in itself becomes tangible; only then does this producitivity reach its actual gas generation and creates a real atmosphere, a concrete measure of room on its own conditions.

Etymologically an atmosphere is a "breathing ball". A circular room where we could possibly live and breathe. A bearable environment. A poetic bubble. The visualisation of this point where things can start happening, the sensorily tangible extension of the field of possibilities, the charged spatiality, is actually the alpha and omega of a substantial part of surrealist art.

 (CO Hultén)

 (Kay Sage)

Atmosphere in art

Historically it is entirely due to Chirico that atmosphere assumed such a central role in surrealism. Chirico was crucial for the direction of several of the pioneers of the surrealist adventure in pictorial art; Tanguy, Magritte, etc. But note also how strong this tendency is in some of the other immediate sources to surrealist pictorial art; Atget, Rousseau, Moreau. Or? In surrealist art, this is clearly one, but still only one, of the main tracks.

But in the beginnings of surrealism, literary sources were more frequently acknowledged and cited. Only through these we can say that atmosphere is a topic in the manifesto of surrealism of 1924. Of course concerning the image, in the already mentioned orchestration of Reverdy's thoughts and the cultivation of the autonomous and dynamic image, but even more with the launching of the specifically surrealist sense of the Marvellous. This is actually introduced with a discussion of the gothic novel and especially Lewis. So here we find support that atmosphere has an affinity for the gothic, for the fairy-tale-like, immense, occult, for romanticism, for grandiose nature and grandiose decay. But the early surrealists also took part in the exaltation of modernity, and not in its most plain and disgusting forms like the machine, war, the factory, commerce, money; but in its most profoundly and dynamically contradictory or ambiguous aspects. More than anything, atmosphere resides in certain zones where the gothic coincides with the modern in a dismissal of time, or continue wrestling in raging contradictoriness, of a kind actually becoming a lever for the spirit: natural science, the fleamarket, adolescent-boy-literature adventure, film, criminality, utopia, revolution. And of course not everywhere in those.

But we were still in the origins and constitution of surrealism. Equally interesting is to see how the "Chirico track" in pictorial art continued to be productive, and now finds two prominent representatives, magicians in staging such spatial scenery, in my own closest environment in John Andersson and Niklas Nenzén.

But also that other main tracks in surrealist artistic struggles has come to revolve in relation to the very same questions and mechanisms; psychological morphology – as it expressed the eagerness to abandon all the conventional (in the sense of art history) representation of projecting three dimensions onto two, momentarily framed selection, central perspective, middle-sized objects represented by contours and coloured surfaces; preferring an investigation of a realisation inspired by modern physics of an inner space beyond kantian categories and realistic school tricks, – also becomes atmospheric in how it associates to dramatic and threatening weathers and thereby atrmospheres in every sense of the word, and equally much by generating an ambiguity in scale and in the spontaneous interpretational efforts in spatial terms, staggering moving from microscopic worlds over oceanic and atmospheric systems all the way to galaxies, nebulae and other cosmic entities, and back again. Abandoning the compulsion to represent opens a manifold of possibilities, not the least in how we in the appropriation still expect representation, and spontaneously interpret by means of representing potentialities, and then since all unambiguousness on that level have been abandoned in the abandoning of the convention, the spectator is actually forced to real productivity in this sense.

Two modes of visions. Two classes of suggestions. And there are no sharp dividing lines. Not the least as the common usage of architecture as a structural element in the chiricoan tradition to raise a frame for the invoked spatiality to take place in, or between or beyond, also fills the function of establishing a grid addresing the basic questions of space through resembling the architectural organisation of the sponge or the coral, or the arrangements of vertebral columns on the submarine cemeteries. And not the least since the slowly condensating atmosphere becomes pillows of clouds and then a landscape of shrubs and crowns of deciduous trees and rocks and waterfalls (remember Gainsborough's tricks when painting a landscape!) and that particular uncanny opening in the forest. And the very creeping-thronging of organic shapes from here and there turns out have a growth algorithm and an interactive chaos factor, and is in itself a jungle as well as a simple city scene. We wil expect something to be coming down this particular street. The street vendors barricaded in the monumental flowerpots today are offering the ingredients of a completely new disease. What an absurd bathing suit, what an interesting sky of stars! It was for that reason the window was left ajar, but the rat trap remains suspended, while the neighborhood is quickly decaying and sea birds are recolonising.

But why are we talking about art? Atmosphere as a phenomenon is, just like other allegedly aesthetical phenomena, even more relevant for an offensive approach to life than specifically for art. Recognising, deepening, creating atmospheres in everyday life. Which isn't isolated from artistic activity. Maybe it is just a matter of what kind of artifacts one leaves behind. Pictorial art is one of several useful ways of generating and investigating atmospheres.

So atmosphere belongs in surrealist aesthetics, whenever the word aesthetics is taken in the wide sense necessary in order to not make surrealist aesthetics a contradiction in terms.

Surrealism keeps confounding morals and aesthetics. Refuses not to. Entirely focused on poetic effects and their deeper content and connection with everything else. Inseparable from a moral perspective and a whole-generating framework. The part which is actually subordinated is the formal, superficial, stylistic aspect – since this is merely the means of the particular individual, or the particular experiment, and couldn't have a central role. They are means for sensibility, sensibly chosen and sensibly exercised, regardless of whether experimentally or calculatingly, incidentally or insistently. The little tools of the spirit and the small ingredients in an alchemical recipe for conjuring an atmosphere. Not to be ignored.

And let's skip the discussion of the spirit here.

Yes a pictorial creativity with a core point in the sensible realisation of atmosphere generated by the presence and sensitivity of the spirit. A series of unheard of suggestions of bubbles in which it would be possible to breathe. Uncanny thought.

MF?


(Thomas Gainsborough)

Surrealism and Philosophy III


The recent appearance of Sebbag's Potence avec paratonnerre – Surréalisme et philosophie did not - unfortunately - make my own ideas of a serious scrutiny of the conjunction surrealism and philosophy redundant (it is still open for someone else to do the broad historical synthesis). A serious and solid work, Sebbag's book nevertheless focuses entirely on the philosophical background and possible philosophical project of French 20s surrealism. If coming from a less reliable author, this could be interpreted as an attempt to confine surrealism to France and the pre-war era. But Sebbag was an activist of the French surrealist group 1964-69 and never supported schusterian liquidationism but at numerous occasions has acted as a sympathiser of the international surrealist movement and as a knowledgable writer on surrealism. Indeed, this is the kind of thorough yet reasoning empirical study that we often miss in what is being written about surrealism, and if we accept that the subject of the book is limited, it is in fact very useful and appears in parts quite brilliant; demonstrating a remarkable effort in source research as well as in thinking, based in solid knowledge about what surrealism is, it appears not just recommendable but very instructive. 

So there is not much about Bachelard, about Bataille, about the 30s objectivity craze including objective chance, about the sublime point, about the trajectories of Freud and Hegel and Marx and hermeticism, about inspiration from and controversies over modern physics, about gestalt psychology, about phenomenology, about symbols and imagination, about opposition to existentialism, about non-oidipal reinvention of everything, about the Alquié controversy, about the 60s rejuvenation and the thinkers and topics it brought into the discussion, about complex contradictions with structuralism and poststructuralism, about conjunctions with philosophy pulled in by Czech, North American, South American, British surrealists, etc etc – everything from the 30s onwards, including many (but not all) of these topics are mentioned on a few pages, in the book's third section of smaller essays on "Concepts surréalistes" and in the very loosely coherent chapter of lists of philosophers called "L'homme est un flamme parlante", but they are not fully discussed and not integrated into a general discussion of the relationship between surrealism and philosophy.

Instead, it is mostly about the concepts of the pre-surrealist and earliest-surrealist project of determining the "modern spirit" and the nonconformist postsymbolistic poetical idealism that fuelled that notion. It is about what is being illuminated when posing the introduction's pseudoquestion whether the poetic idealism of the early surrealists was novalisian, schellingian or berkeleyan... (why not hegelian or hermetic or gnostic? but primarily: why would there necessarily be a contradiction?) It is about exactly how much those authors or Kant or Nietzsche meant, and to what extent Bergson and others actually played a role for the surrealists in spite of their denial, and the ambiguous but enthusiastic use of French moralists and rationalists. It is about the philosophical implications of Lautréamont's Poesies, about the discussions with the "Philosophies" group, about Janets versus Freuds concept of automatism, about the notion of surreality, about the concept of the spirit and the defense of it. It is about the metaphysical and epistemological projects sketched in the earliest surrealist manifestoes.

So, if there just would have been a subtitle saying something about "the philosophical outlook in the origin of surrealism" or similar, rather than the somewhat misleading "surrealism and philosophy". And if we all do remember that surrealism is in fact an objective entity, international, historical, ongoing, which we contribute and relate to, which was successively revealed by the first surrealists in the 20s and later and which we are responsible together for the current meaning of – rather than a contingent doctrine constructed by those first surrealists which we can just sympathise with and perhaps try to apply as closely to the original form as possible...

It will be a standard reference, but with 650 pages in French (even though it is mostly clear academic French rather than obscurantist rhetorical French) it will hardly be one of these remarkable interventions that will, locally or globally, change our selfimage or educate the general public what surrealism is about. And my own knowledge of French is clearly insufficient to go into any detail and interpret, highlight or debate any of the conclusions (so please regard all my comments as very preliminary).

Lecture #2 on atmosphere


This image by Niklas Nenzén was posted at the terrestrial cephalopod some time ago, but is here put back into context so to speak.

Manners?


The recent argument about the surrIV initiative (surréalisme-au-service-de-la-4ème-internationale?) produced no further discussion about organisational or political issues. Some applauded the tracts entirely; one surrIVist and a few other surrealists went on entirely about manners and hurt feelings; while yet others couldn't but agree with our point but were also concerned about our lack of courtesy in tone. This is an undesirable digression.

Indeed criticism (even when far more timid and careful than ours) leads to hurt feelings. Hurt feelings are a poor guide for behavior, and will create a focus on ego-reinforcement, an insistence on irrelevant details and abstract generalisations at the same time, unless held in check by some constructive machinations or participation in some dynamic process that will facilitate the focus on essentials, such as an ongoing surrealist activity.

It is not about not caring for individuals and their feelings. But caring for individuals and their feelings in terms of mere short-term tact, carefulness and respect for people's compromises and rationalisations, means respect for conformist individuality, manners and lifestyle, respect for the obstacles against creativity, knowledge and freedom. It appears more congenial with surrealism to care about individuals and their feelings in terms of sublation; of challenging and provoking ideological concepts such as prepsychoanalytical psychological fictions and liberal concepts of life, behavior and society; terms of uncomfortable truths, unknown triggers of creativity, liberating refusal, radical criticism and long-term strategy. Since most of us are still struggling with oidipal-defensive fears and defense strategies, still struggling with systems of compromises of everyday life, struggling to "keep it together", we will often feel uncomfortable with any addressal of critical or complicated issues. We need to have a framework of holding such gallopping defensiveness in check, and I claim that surrealist activity is such a framework. Surrealist activity with its extremely immodest focus on essentials, on nonconformism, and on emergent overindividual subjectivity, has – hooray – a potential to make us disconsider our boring old defensive emotions. In a surrealist context, we are focusing on truth and poetry so much that we may even be enthusiastically curious about any actual critical issues in even the most rudely formulated criticism against us, anything that could teach us to stop repeating some irrelevant clichés and defences, to avoid stopping just short of new discoveries, and avoid getting carried away by our own reasoning to the point where we accidentally miss some of the essentials ...

Again, the "human aspect" that is interesting here is all about finding ways of igniting, transforming and collectivising subjectivity for the cause of poetry, more or less the opposite of respecting people's egos by delving in hurt feelings and questions of manners. Indeed, how this very focus on essentials through surrealist activity made the early surrealists sublate bourgeois ethics codes is one of the constructive and lasting achievements of the movement. We shouldn't take the step back to excavate them again and lose sight of more farreaching aims.

MF

Of heaven and hell, and good life

A long dream April 2012:

I am in a hurry rushing through Western Stockholm to keep an appointment with JE, supposedly at half past five, I'm going to be late (the landscape is a hybrid of several parts of the outer city and inner suburbs of Western Stockholm; it's occipitality is supposed to be indicated by its hilliness, in fact a poor indicator). I should have taken the metro instead. I see the platform of Thorildsplan station, a lot of people are standing waiting, but all the signs are unlit. Finally a train comes, but just rushing through; the station is actually closed, but they have failed to keep eager passengers out.

South of the main street the style is more continental, small irregular streets and picturesque small stores. I am climbing a steep hill where JE's school is supposed to be on top (I remember plenty of schoolyards on tops of hills). I find him up there and it is somehow part of my mission to drag him from courting a female colleague or student.

We go on a walk with the surrealist group. We find a strange old tower, some kind of medieval museum (like the alchemical tower on the west end of the Charles bridge in Prague), but the only thing they exhibit is toy cars of iron scrap. Apparently I'm distracted and lagging behind, CA comes back to drag me along, encouraging me to come along "out on the other side" to look how NN and JE "are fooling around and making laughing-stocks out of themselves for the whole city". The "other side" thing refers to the fact we pass under a valve, a small tunnel, to come out on the seaside (like those London tube station just north of the Thames, where you get out to the riverwalk on the south side). Not very eager to see NN and JE fooling around, I still come along.

And it's actually a sensational view. It is just like a large back alley, but one which is a part of the sea, a fiord arm, but the sea isn't there just now, the tide has drawn back. It is all just like an open cave, the ground is fantastically amorphous, delving organic forms mixed together like in a surrealist painting – the colours are dusky yet obscene, it looks a bit like internal organs but nevertheless mostly like modelling clay covered with drying slime (or when excited furniture architects have gone wild with a plastic spraygun...); just like in a normal maritime scene it is all evenly seasoned with small pools, tufts of seawrack and mixed human garbage like shopping carts, old dolls and plastic containers.

It makes me wonder if maybe these dramatic tide landscapes are in fact a condition for surrealist mentality, and this is why there never could have been a surrealist group in Sweden, only in for example Norway and Galicia, because there has to be a fundamental vision of a landscape without homogenity or onedimensionality, based in the experience of the tidal coast, where one had to wade around and collect mussels and stuff as a poor child laborer, in order to be a surrealist...

So I am standing in awe, thoughts and admiration before this landscape (remember that even if grandiose it is not bigger than a larger back alley or a theatre prop); only after a while I notice NN and JE have climbed up the gushing rock- and wrackformations and are sitting squatting each in a small niche, I think they are trying to imitate birds, skuas or albatrosses, or maybe dodos. CA stands laughing next to me, he finds it unambiguous that their squatting positions proves the've gone aside for a dump and actually are sitting there each in their little cave pushing. Admittedly there are single turds to be distinguished in the richness of shapes and litter around us, and just like any "worthless place" of more or less remarkable beauty it's unavoidable that one of the most popular "uses" will be to simply dump waste of one or the other kind, which will contribute to richness of forms, and to the deep emotional ambivalence for the place... Still I am not convinced by CA:s interpretation, I think our friends look philosophical and simultaneously blank as they crouchingly look out over the little alley, indeed with the same combination of wisdom and utter lack of thinking (with a dash of cruelty) as a big bird...

Then I find a dead dog, it arouses much compassion in the other tourists, because they think it's a harmless pup, they can't see that it's on it's way transforming into a sea monster which will be a crime against its phylogenetic position, in fact it already started to demonstrate some characteristics of a sea urchin, and others of an octopus...

We should continue our walk, I'm lagging behind again, thinking I should go to the toilet in the museum in the tower first. Toilets are upstairs, but when I get there the whole floor is empty, it feels like an old bomb shelter, a homeless person's lair, but there is nothing at all there, no toilet, no furniture, just empty. Maybe it is just an obsessive thought but I think I can hear them turning the key in the door behind me; so have I finally ended up in my prison on water and bread for the rest of my life?

It is an american house where I live together with a woman and her brittle old parents. Just for fun we have hidden the telephone in a cookie jar, so when it's ringing the signal comes echoing eerily from an indeterminate place in the room: the old man can't find the phone, looks through the entire house in panic, he's losing it and going mad in the process. In the interrogations much later I said he could have ignored it, if it was important they'd probably call back on his mobile later anyway. My dead grandfather, apparently interrogation leader, soberly explains that old people do not always have cell phones.








An old girlfriend of mine comes home in the evening, I'm telling her enthusiastically that I am going to bed early because it is a very important day tomorrow. And I tell her about the closed metro station at Thorildsplan. I try to explain to her that I would prefer to sleep alone, but I do it so politely that I actually happen to suggest that we should sleep together; so I push together two plastic sofas so that they together form a big square pink plastic bathtub, and I start making the bed; it's always a little uncomfortable to sleep in bathtubs. Actually I was planning to go to bed very soon, so I go down to the kitchen and order some pancakes separately before dinner.

So it's some kind of hotel? or rather a holiday village? at least some kind of holiday resort (a bit like the main tourist building on Stora Karlsö island). In the main part of the building there is above all an art exhibition, an installation that makes no sense, but it is also the major dining hall. It's not half past five yet, long before official dinner hour, I have to go to bed, I dont know when my pancakes will be ready. And since I didn't remember to tell them it was only for me, I will probably get pancakes for the entire family, and I will have to ask for a bag to bring the rest with me – in fact I've never asked for a "doggie bag" in my entire life (I can't remember that I would ever have not finished my food) and it's going to be slightly embarrassing and quite exciting. The artist and some suspect character (the hotel manager?) are sitting talking very quietly in the middle of the installation/restaurant hidden in a labyrinth of sheets of transparent plastic. If I am the only one eating at this hour I suppose they deliver the pancakes to my room instead. I go out, and find the surrealist group again, and my brother. My brother is getting into a fight with NN about the artwork, my brother claims he understands it because he knows the artist, NN says he understands it because he knows something about art. It's just two ways of approaching the matter.

I return to my living quarters. This time the apartment is not directly in the corridor, instead the doors in the corridor open towards a big porch facing the forest edge where all private quarters are in the form of small cottages. And the pancakes have arrived. What pancakes! They cover the ground, they fill the entire space between the porch and the cottage. Each pancake (rolled) is big like a log, and I have got at least twenty of them (difficult to say because it seems my neighbor has ordered some too). This is food for a whole polar expedition. It is incredibly beautiful. What does it matter that the pancakes are lying directly onto the ground, it is a fresh forest landscape, there are just twigs, leaves and needles, it's not like that formless and dirty tidal landscape, in which you would not want to eat food straight from the ground. I'm sitting looking at the pancake landscape for some time. The pancakes are glittering, their patterns of moon landscape and the interference in the transition between individual rolls where they are lying pressed against each other, it is so beautiful and at the same time so profound. They are sorted in rows according to filling. Strawberry jam seems to dominate, but some are more golden in colour, I tear of an endpiece to taste, as small as I can, a little piece the size of a grilled chicken – it is full of apple sauce and it's trickling with syrup, and the taste is exquisite.

Later I am walking on a country road in a dull autumn landscape (looking entirely like southeastern parts of Swedish province Sörmland), realising it is a long way back to Thorildsplan. Some cars pass, yes indeed during the long and actionpacked way here it happened a couple of times that people stopped their cars because they found it suspect to see someone walking and thus offered a ride, just as a social control measure masked into "plain decency" – as usual in the countryside. So maybe I should actually hitchhike back. If I can do it without raising too much attention.

I have to turn across an open ruderal field with tiny sharp edges, probably a small household quarry turned into a parkinglot turned into a junkyard. There I meet an american family, I am a bit nervous that they would find me strange and report me to the police. But I can keep a superficial conversation going in the american manner, yes I can. But as we go through the sparse grass someone bumps into an old hay bale, and under it there are a lot of beetles. I even find a bolboceratid (horned fungus dorbeetle), fantastic! And since we are in eastern US it cannot be the single north european species Odonteus armiger. I get very excited and demonstrate the creature's horns for the ladies; who react with alarm and disgust. Ok, maybe I lost my chance to interact smoothly and unsuspiciously there...


 Gotska Sandön

Røst (in the foreground)


Interpretation:

Ok this maybe contributes to atopos theory, to clarifying material factors in the geopolitical distribution of surrealism, to the analogy between beetles and horses (which IÖ also dreamt about in response), and provided an elegant one-sentence-shortstory. "Just for fun we have hidden the telephone in a cookie jar, so when it's ringing the signal comes echoing eerily from an indeterminate place in the room: the old man can't find the phone, looks through the entire house in panic, he's losing it and going mad in the process."

But the major point I see myself is the two surrealist landscapes, and their relationship based on primitive dualism: back and front, hell and heaven, anus and genus.

Maybe I should say that I recently reread the great recent Marvel comics miniseries where Dead Girl and Dr Strange do a teamup heading down into the deepest regions of hell to fight a band of dead villains (lead by "the Pitiful One") who found a way to take revenge on the living. Dead Girl and Dr Strange get romantically involved, and Dr Strange cures his painful hemorrhoids. In this story the anal morphology of hell is emphasised, and the bad smell is frequently mentioned.

Thus it is not difficult to see the fiord arm/ back alley as hell/ anus. As it's obviously among other things an alley in London (declared by more than one author to be "hell on earth" and likened to a rectum) and being "on the other side" as CA emphasised. There is a lot about crapping and turds. The morphology of the place is gushing, thronged, endless, surrealist, even the dog cadavers are transformed and transgress their conditions.

Equally beautiful and surrealist but in quite another tone is the pancake landscape. Being in a forest edge is significant, as is my association to the Baltic island Stora Karlsö. In fact, in my associations, Karlsö is just a more biographically recent available standin for Gotska Sandön, a more isolated island, just a little flat sand area in the middle of the Baltic, which more than one author has likened to a pancake. So have I, even though I've been interpreting Gotska Sandön as the more domestic variety of Røst, the outermost island in the Lofoten chain of northern Norway, which is also one of these flat, pancake-like islands, but with a quite labyrinthic outline, like a maze or a failed pancake, I did describe it as a pancake in a novel, and there and elsewhere I have attached hopes to it as the "dream landscape on earth", a sort of utopia in the middle of the Norwegian Sea. Now of these three islands it is in fact only Gotska Sandön which has coniferous forest, but the forest in the dream is probably a generalised forest representing the dream landscape as such, the forest as well as the isolated island is simply a privileged dream place. The origin of the particular conjunction of the forest and the pancakes was the anecdotal conclusion from my recent experience of calling in sick from all meetings an entire weekend on the verge of collapse - by cancelling all appointments I finally had an occasion – o so long wished for – to 1) take a walk in the forest and 2) make pancakes. Especially in its imbecil simplicity it becomes a rather beautiful image of good life (eudaimonia). And in contrast to the unambiguously anal character of the fiord bowel, the sexual symbolism of the pancake landscape is interesting. If we shouldn't refrain from picturesque clinical details we can acknowledge how the the hairyness of twigs and needles do not stand in the way for the exquisite pancake taste as a cunnilingal fantasy. Yet still the rolled pancake is hermaphroditic in its sexual symbolism (it is obviously a log, and at the same time a soft juicy nexus of folds) and may transgress simple sexual dualism already there? By being "contradictorily" genital it is nevertheless reinforcedly genital and non-anal, yet still it foremostly contrasts something celestial and utopian against the infernal and dystopian in the bowel fiord alley.

But also, once again, that the two landscapes are equally beautiful. But I recall now that it was only the tidal inferno that was called surrealist already within the dream... pancake heaven was perhaps more dreamy, more romantic, certainly surrealist but less specifically surrealist? Is this just the old fundamental aesthetical question from Milton onwards? Why did Swedenborg become such a bore, and who gave a shit about heaven when there was hell to sing about? Already as romantics and hegelians and even more as surrealists we would already initially dismiss the sterile choice between the two poles in a given dualism? Both do indeed seem equally productive, and the contrast between them more like forcing a blunt logical structure onto two actually autonomous fields, like one between earth and air in bachelardian terms? Not the least to point out that aerialness is still a material category and nothing "pure", mental, cerebral or abstract; and it is obviously here in the heavenly world that one focuses on banal earthly pleasures like good sleep, being in a pair, exquisite food, jam and sex. Yes indeed. Just not take sides. "It's just two ways of approaching the matter."

Mattias Forshage

Friday, March 30, 2012

a british fauna

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.


Rabid delicacies

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.


Less delicate

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!


MF