Friday, January 6, 2012

ps about surrealist groups

To add a perhaps somewhat more pointed tone to the discussion about surrealist groups (Icecrawler october) we could emphasise that there is also a distinction between a group in the widest sense (a pole of communication, collaboration and potential collective dynamics) and a group with a distinct dynamism of irreducible collectivity. Characteristic for the latter is of course that it goes beyond the sum of pooled resources and has a life of its own, a direction, an atmosphere or an explosive power beyond what anyone intended for it ("emergent properties" in the language of modern philosophy and natural science that badly wants to avoid the Hegelian vocabulary of a "dialectical leap").

And therefore, it is important for a surrealist group that it is at all times ready to omit the names of individual contributors – it will sometimes want to list them all for the purpose of the devil's contract, and it will often want to point out individuals as more or less involuntarily responsible for single emissions for the purpose of facilitating communication, interpretation and tracing of personal mythologies, not for achievements; it will always be ready to omit names because it is the invocation of the collective spirit as a creative entity which is the game and the experiment; and as a necessary counterweight to individualist careerism and personality market, individual anonymity is always an attractive option. In fact we could see an important dividing line between those surrealist that still put surrealist activity in the first room and keeps pondering how to implement Nougé's warning that Breton quoted in 1929 ("I would like to see that those among us who are beginning to make a name for themselves erase it") and those who treat surrealism more as a label and a contact network by putting surrealist activity second to their own credentials and individual artistic oeuvre.

And we could add that it is important for a surrealist group that it is at all times ready to abandon representativeness. Even if it the surrealist group from an ontological and historical viewpoint is an instance of surrealism, it will get hampered by this fact if it worries too much about managing the label. The surrealist label gives us access to a wealth of previous experiences and to a vast framework of experimentation and collaboration; but in order to let the ludic collective spirit free in this experimentation it is necessary to sometimes forget the label. Surrealist groups have been known to feel obliged to more or less postpone all actual surrealist activity for the sake of first sweeping the doorstep by trying to correct and attack all misunderstandings and misrepresentations of surrealism first. Considering that this society will keep producing an endless stream of such misrepresentations, such a strategy may potentially keep a surrealist group perpetually in a state of irritating preparations by fighting obstacles that are not necessarily obstacles. Now, in practice, I know of no surrealist group that has actually completely abandoned experimentation, games and creativity for sterile polemics, but there are several which seem to have regarded the latter as the primary collective focus while the former are pursued peripherally, in smaller groups, on spare time or in secrecy. Nothing wrong with secrecy of course, it just becomes self-contradictory to create the misrepresentation of surrealism as being a primarily polemical undertaking specifically in order to rectify misrepresentations.

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