Monday, September 17, 2012

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)

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