Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Civilisation revisited

We have discussed La civilisation surréaliste here at the Icecrawler earlier, partly in reaction to emphases by Ody Saban and Thomas Mordant about its crucial role. Then, in part as a metacritique, Thomas Mordant gave a speech about it at a gathering of surrealists from several countries in Prague in connection with the opening of the Czech-Slovak surrealist group's major retrospective exhibition "Jiny vzduch" ("Other air" or "Another air"). A long rhetorical speech, it was made even longer by the need for threeway interpretation (French-Czech-English), and the succeeding discussion had no opportunity to cover many of the crucial questions touched. Only a few of us were present in Prague, but we continued discussing it in Stockholm.

We could say our view is unmoved, but probably far less distant from that one expressed by Thomas than we or he might have thought it to be. We could very well take interest in the surrealist civilisation as a concept, though not necessarily as a book, and especially not as required reading or the obvious point of departure for contemporary surrealist activity. For that, the book remains far too obscure and impenetrable, as well as far too immersed in the specific hard historical circumstances of the two contributing groups at the time – and in that sense far more a document of the times (70s) than something pointing towards the future, far more pertaining to the relationship between the two specific surrealist groups in Paris and Prague and not oriented towards international surrealism, far more a development of a framework on a philosophical level than one of everyday practice.

As a concept, civilisation is one of those we could shy away from due to some bad associations, or reclaim and use in a way of our own choosing. And this is not a matter of mere taste or random choice, but specifically of what associations one will be able to trigger under what circumstances. Civilisation could be various things. It could be the overall social organisation or the process of organising it; it could be any such general social framework or one which is specifically contrasted against barbarism (a barbarism that may be identified with "primitive society" or with capitalism or with any heterogenic or unordered mores) and in that case it could be something present around us or something more unattained (a general direction or a specific ideal order, attainable or unattainable).

Probably Bounoure and Effenberger were pointing specifically to the simultaneously immanent and utopian phantom of an overall social organisation present in surrealism and most specifically in the central role of games in surrealism. Yet still they were addressing it as the hitherto uninvestigated second pole visavis the surrealist revolution, and thus in distinct contrast to it. Was the surrealist revolution accomplished, or was it just taken off the agenda when bad boy Schuster had claimed to dissolve the movement? In fact, is it possible to emphasise the surrealist civilisation while not caring much for the surrealist revolution? Yes, it seems it is, but does not this lead to arriving at pragmatical optimism (easily cooptable as practical reformism; personal therapy, more imagination in art, more heterodoxy in the universities, possibilities of artist's careers) or principled pessimism cum eschatology (the "third ark" position of safeguarding the few real splendors of this culture while current civilisation falls apart around us)? Both these options may in fact be viable personal motivations for single comrades, but it is certainly not from those angles we can except surrealism to be a continuing source of revelations and a point of departure for subversive investigation of the world.

So in the middle of this we have the immanent sense of a surrealist civilisation; in the sense of the diffuse sketch of blueprint of viable or desirable social relationships revealed in surrealist games and other interrogations of the unknown. So this is partly about how things actually work out due to real human dynamics, needs and imagination, very often without preconceived ideas, rational thinking, conscious leadership etc – all those points pointed out by more or less functionalist/anarchist antropologists, or biologists interested in self-organisation in complex systems. Sure, this is an interesting area of enquiry, but only to a very small extent specifically surrealist. We remain always more interested in the unknown, and the very potentialities inherent in these modes of interactions with regards to a confrontative questioning of a consensus view of reality and conformist habits. And there, the games are not just a methodological standard for interactions, not just an theoretical example, but also a mere framework of the actual collective experience of potentialities, and not just potentialities in general but also those specific potentialities actually reached within the game as poetic suggestions.

So we can't really be enthused about civilisation without imagining the humongous infernal machines that will erect this civilisation. So we are devising a game specifically about that just now (we were doing this anyway, based on our 2010 enquiry into the phenomenology of the infernal machine, reactualised by some suggestions from Nikola Tesla...).

We will just never favour what we already know.


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