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)...


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)