Saturday, April 21, 2012
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.