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

No comments: