Tuesday, June 3, 2014

editorial for now

An icecrawler, with glycol in its blood or not, still takes a nap now and then.
    At the same time as Blogspot statistics showed that The Icecrawler/Heelwalker actually had quite a lot of readers, contributions ran thin. Designed as a collective project, it had then become too dependent on its editor, and when contribitions had since long run short and the editor's capacity was reduced or rerouted, the site had to become dormant. Maybe this is not surprising, considering for example that three of the individuals adding the most input to the general discussion as well as occasional individual texts all currently have their individual blogs. (Does this mean that they are modern enough so that they have an organic relationship with their computer and act through it more directly than they do through discussions and agreements with others, or does it mean that they are traditional enough to simply prefer working with their individual name or nickname as the accumulative heading? Ah, never mind.) (In this particular area, I don't know if it needs to be said that this does not imply that group activity as such is disrupted.) Or does it mean that Icecrawler is an obsolete project that fails to enthuse most of its instigators? Or shall we believe in some natural cyclicity? We'll see. We shall at least not masochistically assume an imperative to frequently update just as a way to argue to ourselves that we exist or to maintain someone's attention at any price. In fact we may even deliberately prefer to keep far away from that logic. A more thorough understanding of what we can do in the illumination from surrealism, and a more thorough understanding of surrealism itself, are not topics that will contest for the attention of the bored general public one week and be outdated the next week. While we must of course recognise the inevitable fact that less frequently updated sites are sites which are less frequently visited looking for updates. Well, this is all in the manner of messages in bottles anyway. A trail of bottles in different colours nightly rocking by our little stretch of coast. The beach forager who finds them is no less random and chosen than the troll who releases them.
    The Icecrawler have just been updated with a large number of items. Some are older, and placed further below to simulate the blog's chronological structure, while others are more recent: in assorted topics, including some discussion over items in the recently published vast surrealist anthology What Will Be.

An exhibition held

We had an exhibition at a commercial gallery (Galleri Lili) in Stockholm throughout the month of April 2014. One of its main focuses was on intermediate forms, and we assembled a relatively large object section in order to investigate various aspects of intermediate objects. The exhibition space was also utilised for a small series of experiments and performances contributing to this investigation.

NYMPH IMAGO- an exhibition about intermediate forms, unknown animals and the crystalised flutter of transformation itself.

As a homage to the revolutionary nature of imagination, the Surrealist Group in Stockholm with friends, issues an invitation to a spring exhibition, a collective attempt to make do with the petrified spirit of the times and conjure forth all the dimensions of reality, to temporary occupy space in order to smuggle down seeds of life between the high-rise buildings.

During three weeks we fill the exhibition space with objects and events which will remain in their moments of transformation: text, image and invisible sea-stars, fossilised nerve signals along the walls and a throng of enigmatic life forms moving in the periphery of the field of vision.

Take a pause from your rusty telephone, drag your body through the payment zones of the city, and help us finding out what it is that moves just behind the set.

Who or what is it that speaks through our mouth, sleeps in our beds, creates in our place? Mythological creatures, socioeconomical contingencies, schizoid partial personaliites, lightnings from the future? What are the prehistorical animals moving between the trembling membranes of the brain?

Through games and speculation you are invited to join forces with the exhibitors and reconstruct, imagine or reveal who was made what and who has made whom, or just to become uncertain about it all at last.

The Stockholm surrealist group and friends

(Coordinators Niklas Nenzén & Lars Rosenström. Original setup of exhibition included John Andersson, Linnea Bergman, Erik Bohman, Christofer Dahlby, Kim Fagerstam, Mattias Forshage, Riyota Kasamatsu, CM Lundberg, Emma Lundenmark, Giuliano Medici, Niklas Nenzén, Lars Rosenström, Hugo Röjgård, Emil Särelind, Ika Österblad. Later participation also by others.)

Games about objects

These were the active investigations into the transformations during the course of the exhibition Nymph Imago:

1. Disguised as an opening performance, MF and EL carried out the game of questioning chosen objects simply by touching them and allowing them to inspire automatic speech.

2. During a game evening with friends and a few curious, we asked participants to pick an object in the exhibition and imagine what two things it was an intermediate between.
3. Similarly but the other way around, we asked participants to pick two objects in the exhibition and develop an image of the intermediate form between them.
4. Furthermore, a number of improvised enquiries and collective drawings were passed around founded in questions raised by the objects.
5. During the closing event, KE was quickly writing poems inspired by chosen objects and reading them aloud.

A slippery mirror in a rainforest - the framework of the integrity of surrealism

An adventure plunging into a luscious thicket, appearing to some as a spaceship, others an old locomotive, others a party of explorers on foot, yet others an incredible caterpillar with hares' legs kicking in all directions amidst an echinoderm's spines and gently waving tubules, is the vehicle called surrealism. A vehicle for adventure, exploration, drifting, getting lost, and at the same time a hull creating a favoured space which is an inducer of an atmosphere of poetic dynamism and a creativity beyond control, as well as a glittering skeleton serving as attachment points for the defence of spiritual security.

It is a manner of a devil's contract. We tap into a strange power source by pooling our own resources with those already there. A remarkable sense of communion occurs, in which we turn out to have access to the experiences of all the others struggling in similar yet differently shaped causes in a substantially same vein; all those that do it, individually or collectively, in other places in the world at this moment – and, even more remarkably, all those that have done it through history. And in fact not only since the inception of explicit surrealism in the early 20th century, but also in a chain of selective affinities of the pre-surrealist tradition which becomes visible only a posteriori through the conquering of the vantage point of explicit surrealism, a historical reality which becomes real retrospectively, adding the experiences of hundreds of poetic adventurers, radical romanticists, investigative hermeticists, visionaries and revolt movements to our own.

This is the core of the sense in which surrealism is, and needs to be, a movement, and in which the surrealist tradition and the pre-surrealist tradition are crucial for it. The trajectory of organised surrealism becomes a nexus connecting threads of various colours into a monstrous and marvellous body of surrealist experience that goes far beyond the organised movement, in time, place and designation. This is the objective entity that some authors have misunderstood (Jean Schuster and subsequent eclecticists and academics that have benefitted from the interpretation) as an "eternal surrealism", as if it wasn't only the revelation of these surrealist aspects within explicit surrealism that realised them as an integrated objective fact in the first place. And then surrealism keeps changing through the historical choices made by those who contribute to it, making certain turns, retreats from blind alleys and progress into uncharted terrains, reassessments of emphases, new absorptions, in accordance with what the collected experience seems to demand to retain its integrity in new settings and situations.

Thus, the care for the poetic phenomenon, the stubborn trust in the unknown, and therefore a recognition of the inexhaustibility and irreducibility of creativity, of desire, of imagination and of play, as well as the refusal to limit one's quest to rational terms and to ideologically separated forums, the dismissal of conventional solutions, seem to be a constant core throughout ever new guises. Or, as we are mid-journey, any formulation of the core remains preliminary; both because formulae hardly catch the essentials, and because we are still in the process of investigating what parts can be renegotiated still within a solidly surrealist framework.

This is also a kind of real imaginary collectivity, which makes surrealism a collective adventure even for those who pursue their own projects alone. But then it is a matter of fact that any such struggles will usually find it natural to attempt to pool resources with other human beings physically present, in order to ascertain its manifestation in everyday life rather than separate from it, to ascertain a playful dynamic beyond any single person's control, to set aside particular individual fixed thoughts and arbitrary circumscriptions, and at the same time provide intimate criticism as well as creative challenges. Of course, communication technologies today allow us to collaborate remarkably close with physically absent people, but since this is restricted to the hours when we in a sense withdraw from everyday life to tune in with our communication devices, and since it entails meeting specifically as free-floating yet verbal subject positions rather than as whole open-ended animals and physical spirits, it will never make actual encounters obsolete. Groups today can have an active very wide geographical periphery, but they still need a geographical center.

In order to proceed however, this vehicle that we were talking about must also make sure not to get caught in the vines or melt into the background. In order to stay focused on an uncompromised sense of the unknown, in order to stay aware of the limitless claims of desire and creativity, it remains necessary to refuse all faith in given options and good behavior, to refuse to abandon the right to denounce the current order on the whole. We can live as nonconformists and manifest and support any deviations from given normality, from the recommended comfortable ways of organising life, that we may see or invent and recognise as instances of sparks of freedom, even if only in the preliminary form of deeply felt refusal. As surrealists, it seems particularly crucial to not give in to any compromises on behalf of surrealism, facilitating its reduction to merely a thing within art, literature, individual life philosophies, or politics. Whichever pragmatical choices each individual makes in order to survive, surrealism itself will remain a source of connection and inspiration only inasmuch as there is dismissal of petty careers in its name and of pragmatical restrictions of its scope. It requires to be put into practice ridden of utilistic concerns, in the manner of play.

Thus, this adventure remains at heart an international, collective, traditional, historically changing, experimental, non-conformist, useless, playful and moral endeavour. But the notions of collectivity, of nonconformism, of tradition, and even more so of wasteful expenditure – efforts that don't pay in terms of prestige and money, are intensely outdated in these times. (Tradition and morals may be popular in conservative views where they are seen as monolithic and imposed by fate, which is quite the opposite from their application here as radical instances of selective affinities and nonconformism.) All this contributes to our remaining marginalised, as well as remaining a beacon of attraction.

But it is not a modest undertaking. It is not one of those Hollywood devil's contracts where you sell your soul for fame, money and mating opportunities. It is rather of the faustian type where you do it by inner necessity, for the knowledge (in one sense or another), for the massiveness of the desire. And at one point or another there is a particular strait of Scylla and Charybdis to face, navigating between the rather arbitrary but apparently strongly attractive poles that we can most easily describe as revisionism and orthodoxy.

Revisionism, as if an old idea have an inherent programmed senescence, or if the world would indeed have changed enough for the basic aims that surrealism was founded to manifest, investigate, fight for, to have become obsolete in some fundamental sense. Yes, often surrealism have strikingly missed interesting things in the past, or been sticking to prejudices, or trying out strategies that failed. But it is only through the continued application of surrealist vigilance and the continued devotion to the dynamics of the poetic quest that these can be identified and evaluated. The surrealist project needs to be continuously revised for the purpose of its own aims; if those aims themselves are revised or forgotten there is nothing to provide coherence and one can only end up with a superficial eclecticism based on petty personal preferences or shaky pragmatism.

Orthodoxy, as if things wouldn't have changed at all, or if the original project launched was not a living thing picking up experiences and new choices and curiosities along the way. Yes, very often a consistent surrealist rigor is sufficient to assess contemporary phenomena presented in a frenzied queue. But, consistent surrealist rigor itself is dependent on relying on the experiences of the movement as such and of oneself, empiricism, experiment and especially the curiosity and sensibility to be able to detect the truly poetic and emancipatory aims in phenomena where they have not been demonstrated before or where they have not been manifested before.

Revisionist choices very often motivate a lack of rigor and coherence, eagerness to shady deals and major compromises, and ultimately lack of commitment and honesty altogether. While orthodox choices very often motivate an unnecessary self-isolation and paradoxically loudmouthed shyness about entering into dialogue, and a wilful inability to identify dynamic potentiality in the present situation and contemporary expressions. For both cases, it can be argued that the very nature of surrealism as a historical movement embodying a focal point of very long-lasting aims and desires falsifies those self-chosen limitations. The cause of poetry demands rigor and vigilance, demands to stay true to both the ruptures historically made and to finding novel paths in the present, needs to recognise new phenomena as instances in a magic mirror of its own immutable core.

Maybe it is just all about the contagiousness of this particular atmosphere, the inexhaustible transformations projected onto the interface from who knows where, the mutual recognition and the productivity of the encounter between the vastness of the unknown and the integrity of the probe. The forest around it keeps changing and there are no set coordinates to say certainly in which direction we are actually moving, but we keep breaking through layers of illusions, we keep making the company of ever new flocks of never-before-seen birds, who recognise their reflection in the gleaming skin of the vehicle just as much as the vehicle recognises itself in the diabolic fire of these birds' eyes.

(Mattias Forshage, published in What will be 2013)

Open/closed A response to Alain Joubert's "Les Cartes sur table: adresse aux surréalistes", the opening essay in What Will Be

(Merl Fluin's post from Gorgon in Furs in March)

Alain Joubert thinks that Surrealism is at risk of falling into obsolescence. He may or may not be right about that. In this time of global revolt and unprecedented repression, is Surrealism as a movement sufficiently informed, equipped and strategised to be proactive on the ground? Can we, for example, negotiate our ways safely and effectively through the heavily surveilled and “militarised” zone of the electronic public sphere, on which many of us are now almost wholly reliant for communication with each other and the wider world? Do we even understand the new forms of organisation, autonomy and activism that are emerging, much less know whether or how to use them? Is there a danger that we’ll just carry on exhibiting, Lulu-publishing and blogging away in a version of Surrealism-as-usual until the jet stream finally washes us all out to sea?

The bleak little outburst above is mine, though, not Joubert’s. His essay rests on the bold premise that Surrealism today needs to take some radical action to get its house in order. But his premise is presented by fiat, not argument. The only “evidence” he offers to back it up is a remark made by André Breton to Octavio Paz in 1964: “I doubt that the world that is beginning can be defined as either affirmation or negation: we are entering a neutral zone, and the Surrealist revolt will have to express itself in forms that are neither negation nor affirmation. We are beyond condemnation versus approval.” I cede to no one in my admiration of Breton, but if one is making an argument that the whole Surrealist movement needs to change direction, a single quote from the great man does not quite seem enough to carry it off.

From this starting point Joubert leaps somewhat unexpectedly to Karl Popper, citing his distinction between “closed” societies, which are “magical and tribal”, and “open” societies, which are those in which “individuals are faced with personal decisions.” Hitherto, says Joubert, Surrealist groups have operated as closed societies, enclaves from which forays or guerrilla-style raids can occasionally be made into the outside world. But now, he says, Surrealism should embrace the model of the open society, which is more in accordance with Breton’s statement of 1964. He’s not, he says nicely, suggesting that existing groups should be excluded from the movement. But it’s simply more appropriate these days for the International Surrealist Movement (his capitals) to operate as a “diaspora” of free individuals. This way of operating will also strengthen the movement, because it will lead to a pluralism and proliferation of Surrealist discoveries, a whole host of new, complementary and non-identitarian truths.

Maybe it’s just me, but I don’t think any of Joubert’s argument makes a lick of sense, and not just because of my instinctive incredulity that any Surrealist would really suggest abandoning magic in favour of individualism. For starters, the argument is flagrantly self-contradictory. We’re supposed to be moving beyond negation and affirmation, and yet we somehow have to choose between two kinds of “society” presented as binary opposites – to say yes to one and no to the other. Um, pardon?

And if we take at face value these two “societies” (I don’t know enough about Popper to be able to take them any other way), then it strikes me that a Surrealist group encompasses both of them at once: it is simultaneously tribal and individualist; it is simultaneously about magic and freedom; it is, in fact, a perpetually unfolding dialectic between those two things. That’s what gives a Surrealist group its distinctive character, distinguishing it from a collaborative network on the one hand and a brainwashed cult on the other. The peculiar experience of being in a Surrealist group seems to be phenomenologically difficult for those who have never had it to understand; it’s the thing academic surrealismologists most often get most hopelessly wrong. (I encountered another in a long line of examples at Tate Britain’s recent launch event for On The Thirteenth Stroke Of Midnight, when the otherwise very sympathetic and certainly well-intentioned Michel Rémy revealed a startling incomprehension that a Surrealist group might be anything other than just a bunch of Surrealists who live in the same geographical area and collaborate with each other every now and again.) But it’s weird, and even a bit worrying, to encounter that misunderstanding from within the movement.

Tribalism and individualism, magic and personal decision-making, these are not mutually exclusive, and the Surrealist group is the arena par excellence for bringing them all into play: what is closed is also already open. Perhaps we might try thinking about some of these questions not in terms of Popperian open or closed societies, but rather by considering the Surrealist group as an open system in a Prigoginian sense: exchanging energy and information with its environment, seething with disorder and process, subject to feedback loops and non-linear fluctuation patterns that at points of high intensity can erupt, change and transform into new shapes and even whole new systems.

Maybe the aspects of Surrealism’s socio-political environment to which I pointed in my opening paragraph are pushing Surrealist groups towards a Prigoginian “bifurcation point” when the movement will either disintegrate or be utterly transfigured into something new. In that case, Joubert will have been right that Surrealism today is at a watershed. But I see no convincing case so far to abandon group organisation in the face of it. When push comes to shove, I’ll stand with my tribe,  individually and magically.



I cannot but agree fully with Merl's piece (above and in its original place), though I might take the opportunity to repeat old complaints and address a wider phenomenon that Joubert's view peripherally tangents: the general provincial (or even patriotic) and nostalgic view of surrealism that reduces surrealism to France, French language, the Paris group, from the 20s to the 60s. Of course this is mainly maintained by academics, critics, art collectors, anti-surrealists and all kinds of passive surrealismophiles, who all want to confine surrealism more narrowly in time and space to something managable, surveyable and collectable and who are unable or uninterested in noticing a deeper motivation in surrealism and the continued relevance of that motivation. For them it is just natural. But sometimes sympathetic fellow-travellers and scattered veterans, even active surrealists, express rather alarming and/or foul-smelling opinions and slips of the tongue identifying surrealism with surrealism in France, identifying French language as the true domain for surrealism, identifying the surrealist movement with the Paris group, identifying surrealism since the 60s with mainly a hiatus in activity characterised by the crisis, upbreak and continued crisis of collective activity in France.

Joubert's observations are readable, interesting and worth consideration. There is a point in considering the possibility to rethink organisation issues, there is a point in considering surrealist action rather than surrealist letter, there is a point in emphasising the aspect of active myth, even metaphilosophy (whatever that is) and utopia-criticism, there is a point in reconsidering. When keeping in mind Joubert's lucid account of the 1960s crisis in France we can be sure that he's not unaware as to what is at stake. But it is a pity that he has not really considered the vast experience of the surrealist movement since, outside France and even within France, which is obviously relevant when considering the future of surrealism... I cannot but consider this as part of the same kind of blinds as when Tetrault, Mordant and Saban all campaigned for the necessity for contemporary surrealism of studying the depressed and obscure anthology La Civilisation surréaliste 1976 as if it was the most critical, promising, summarising and contemporary benchmark summary of the surrealist position...

Joubert lists a number of hastily sketched questions, some of which are sharp and relevant, others little more than witty aphorisms; some are mere repetitions in the most innocent form of whether we might dare reconsider some traditional views in surrealism which have in fact often been criticised or even abandoned in modern activities the past 50 years, and whether we should consider contemporary movements and lines of thoughts, and modes and genres of expression not common in old surrealism, which have in fact often been considered and sometimes even made crucial parts of surrealist activity in various countries for the past 50 years...

And most importantly, outside France, the group as a natural unit for surrealist activity has never come anywhere near becoming obsolete (except for internet artists who don't want to meet at all, and perhaps for some Canadians). [Adding afterwards some links to treatments of the topic at this blog: just above, a few years ago and somewhat later.] Within France, the situation might indeed be more complicated and loads of historically amassed contradictions and complications threatingly hang over any urge for surrealist initiatives, but why choose to consider the hardships and doubts of the liaison and scattered groupuscules in the 70s as more significant and more contemporary than the rich experience of the Groupe Parisienne de Mouvement Surréaliste from just before 1990 to now? Again, calls for reconsideration, reflection and path-choosing will be a handy genre for pointing out problems and possible openings, but will be much more useful if not denying or neglecting experiences made up to now...


Open/closed/closed - political and other implications of organisational heterogenity

Miguel Perez Corrales who (like me) were on the editorial board of What Will Be, has posted a number of blog entries highlighting various part of the contents, which may provide inspirational glimpses to those who do not have the book. Sometimes the angle is surprising, and I had a rather hard time understanding the point of his criticism of either Swedish surrealist veteran Ilmar Laaban, about whom I had written a memorial article, or of me, in one of the posts. As a historical background to the heterogenity of surrealist organisation in the late 40s, where Laaban was involved in several more or less "dissident" forums, I had cited a number of reasons that were historically important for people not to rally uncritically to Breton at that particular time, and I even said that there was a point with a lot of them. Miguel dismisses them with that they mostly smack of stalinism.

Divergences in the 40s
It is an interesting fact that it was indeed the La Main à Plume and other groups in occupied Europe, which had a certain number of, at the time, left-opportunist quasi-stalinist members (several of whom later developed into actual stalinists) - but also many trotskyists and others -, that were the ones who insisted at the time on maintaining the epistemological project within surrealism that is connected with surrealism's hegelianism and which Breton was largely abandoning in his New York exile. The French group during the decades just after the war were indeed more interested in emphasising the esoteric aspect of surrealism's epistemology and the utopian and anarchist aspect of surrealism's politics, but hegelianism and marxism were part of the outlook of many important individuals and subgroups even in France during those times, and had a substantial revival with the revival of surrealist activities themselves in the 60s. Allowing stalinism a monopoly on Marx's thought is something that fashionable liberals and the most simplistic anarchists do. Nevertheless, isn't one of the most crucial things about surrealism's epistemology to see the broad ways in which a traditional, poetic and secret discipline like hermetism/esoterism overlaps with a systematic theory in the philosophical language about change, identity and meaning such as hegelianism (not without precedents: many radical romantics, radical occultists and symbolists did this)? And isn't one of the most crucial things about surrealism's politics that it has affinities with a broad range of emancipatory and revolutionary movements and may join forces with any such specialised agents for periods but cannot be reduced to either? Most of us agree that it was a mistake to join the French stalinist PC in the 30s, but an understandable mistake which had its reasons, and that it was a much more stupid and hardly understandable mistake to do it the 40s (though many surrealists out of respect for the Belgian surrealists or for Jaguer or for Jorn would excuse that too). But this is another question than that of abandoning a systematical theory on society and history (marxism) in favour of some timeless principles (anarchism and utopianism), or abandoning an explicit poetical, epistemological and metaphysical philosophy in 19th century terms (hegelianism) in favour of one obscurely expressed in "timeless" renaissance, medieval and late antiquity terms (hermetism). In both those cases it's not about betting on one horse for the moment, it is more about investigating overlaps and complementing possibilities or of failing to do so. It is also another question than that of either trusting Breton whatever he says and does and wait for him to tell you how the surrealist movement should be organised after the war, or critically considering Breton's position and choosing yourself how to organise. The latter is not less surrealist than the former, and is of course in no way stalinist by implication... We could even note that Breton himself, always an intelligent man regardless of whether one thinks he may be criticised or not, was not sure how to proceed with organisation after the war and famously pondered the question for a couple of years before he relaunched the old surrealist group at the insistance of many of his friends. The plethora of surrealist journals, grouplets and networks in the mid- to late 40s (and also the vast number of adherents rallying to the relaunched group) is indeed one of the most fascinating things about the history of surrealism.

Ilmar Laaban arrives at the Bureau of Surrealist Investigations in Stockholm in 1986
Then it is a completely different thing that Laaban of course had no sympathy whatsoever for stalinism. Refugees from the Baltic states in the 40s rarely had! It was not the least his activity as a Trotskyist in his youth in Estonia that made it necessary to escape Soviet occupation. While in Sweden he quickly started increasingly leaning towards anarchism during the late 40s. And made it a point, anecdotally, to refuse to stand as a member of the editorial board of imaginist journal Salamander for one issue where one writer insisted on a point which could be considered stalinist in an article about Mayakovsky.

But then, I also fail to see any particular "rationalism" in the positions of Waldberg (nostalgia for interwar surrealism, a dash of bataillian mysticism, and a good dose of bourgeois art-world-professional pragmatism) or Caillois (uncompromising insistence on the rigor of the quasiscientific aspect of surrealist experimentation, avoiding any pragmatism, and later turning towards a certain aloof poetic mysticism). As far as I know the "humanism" of Matta was an invective thrown at him a posteriori and bore no relationship to the ideological sense of humanism that surrealism would necessarily oppose (Or maybe he himself was responsible of some ambiguous comments about returning the focus to man when recognisable figures re-entered his paintings? Still far from ideological humanism though)...

"Humanist" paintings by Matta...

Well, of course, we surrealists are used to seeing raging anti-surrealists using factually motivated criticism of Breton as a pretext for presenting surrealism on the whole as completely illegitimate. But does that really mean that anyone who says that Breton can be criticised, speaks in unison with the stalinists and is allied with fashionable antisurrealist academics? No, I don't think so. Personally, I find it important that a surrealist today is struggling with the accumulated experience and ideas of surrealism and of the brilliant pathfinder Breton. His ideas have a bearing on our daily behavior only inasmuch as we are able to scrutinise what is their liberating core sense and what is historical contingency and temporary tactics including misguided tactics and directions. If Breton is made infallible, then he becomes a "great spirit" in the pantheon of minds, which we can feel inspired by at will, but whose experiences are less crucial to our own, whose organisational concerns need not be ours, whose ideas and actions is something more distant from us, which we are left to leave without concern in our daily life. That is reverence and canon; it is not the sense of being a movement.

Mattias Forshage

Egg timers scattered throughout the vegetation

Decades are seaweed dangling from our hands as we gesture. Sometimes slowly, sometimes quickly. There is something in the middle of the pond. Emergence is imminent. Counting would have to know what entities are the ones that count.
    This March, the surrealist group in Leeds, still considered a young group, celebrated the 20th anniversary of the "New Man" game which constituted the group in a profound sense (the group was in fact launched already the preceding year).
    At the same time, the surrealist group in Prague celebrated their 80th birthday (it can be argued that surrealist activity in Prague has been continuous ever since 1934, but it has hardly been uninterrupted, going through a large number of reorganisations and clandestine phases).
    The years themselves are hardly significant, but the experience they signify is, and the celebration itself may be, and the conjunction of celebrations would perhaps seem to. If we are looking for emergences, and synchronisation mechanisms, that is. Or just vast piles of seaweed, new man or not.

New York, editorial note

Those interested will probably have discovered it by now, but during the last year one of the more prominent resources of information on historical as well as contemporary surrealism online has been Paul McRandle's Surrealist NYC blog. Starting out as a documentation of surrealist activities in New York in the 1940s, it soon broadened into contemporary international surrealist notes, and more importantly, to occasional posts from the editor's own walks, discoveries and reflections through New York (I'm waiting eagerly for more of that kind). That step was absolutely necessary, moving from giving the impression that "Surrealist New York City" is identical with the New York experienced by European refugees in the 40s, to the pertinent questions of what "Surrealist New York City" is on the whole; what aspects of the life and phenomenology of that exceptional city that could be identified as the surrealist city, the ghost structure connecting different neighborhoods, different historical anecdotes, different future anecdotes now perceived merely as distinct impressions of possibilities, according to the psychogeography of poetry rather than of discipline, habit, business, commerce, or tourism...
    The way European surrealists experienced New York in the 40s may provide interesting clues to this city of course, but native surrealists just as much, and certain other currents moving in the environment for the purpose of a nonconformist and poetic sense of experimentation, community and exploration without very strong ties to surrealism historically.
    Surrealist New York City is a city which is distinctly there but which remains to be uncovered. All good luck in this task and others to Paul McRandle and other New York surrealist comrades!

New York excursus 2

Dream 2: 
When I finally come to New York it is not at all like I have imagined it. It is just like Stockholm but somewhat bigger and with more limited options in terms of small shops.
    I am desperately looking for a Monica Zetterlund record (Swedish jazz singer), and when I finally get to the jazz section it turns out it is sorted according to composers and not performers, so maybe I could find some of her Bill Evans recordings but not anything by internationally obscure Swedish composers. Instead I look at dvds and find that there are plenty of more or less new science fiction films about alien fleets arriving in New York with allegedly diplomatic missions and ambiguous implications. All these small planes accompanying the big spaceships among the clouds over New York. That is more like a real imaginary New York.
    But I am hungry and have little money, I have indeed bought a hotdog but I didn't get any bread with it. Eventually I find a free table, just abandoned by some family who have not eaten much of their servings, so there are plenty of sausages and fries and things around, and I am thinking whether I should eat it all or not. I pour out a substantial slab of Dijon mustard on the table (I seem to be carrying Dijon with me at all times) and realise that there is still no bread.
    But I am leaving town soon, for a week-long trip a bit to the south, some localities in New Jersey I need to visit and then Philadelphia. I will have to be back in a week because I remember I have been booked for a poetry reading at an obscure New York venue at that time. And when I am packing my stuff, I suddenly remember Paul M (of surrealist nyc). I need to see him when I am in New York! Why had I forgotten? And there is no time to contact him now. Might he possibly be informed enough about what's going on on the New York poetry scene that he will see my name even though the venue is obscure and might just turn up?

Postscript:Then when I actually went to a Swedish second-hand recordshop and bought me a Zetterlund cd, it had a version of Take Five with Swedish lyrics, as "I New York"(In New York). I wouldn't really call this a coincidence, I probably listened to it as a kid and had just forgotten all about it... But then, what is a coincidence concerning New York at all? A city that has marketed itself as the cultural and economical world capital for many decades will show up everywhere. It is more a matter of seeing the layers of the city, and look for only the particular new york which is the "surrealist NYC".

Dream 3:
And this morning, I was back in New York, but couldn't find my way to a hotel. I was taking leave of my parents who were in one hotel, but as I was finishing their dishes and wanted to throw away all the tomatoes and badger hairs (from brushes) that were piled up in the sink, they said that it's only certified newyorkers who get access to a compost, just like in the case of phonebooks and libraries, only for certified newyorkers. I thought I might not need phonebooks and libraries to get around, as one of my surrealist "superpowers" were that I often find books and maps in the street, extract the information I need and then leave it for someone else to discover (utilising the particular method called "the floating library" by our friends the Kalvarium group in Malmö). But even if I do find some books in the New York street here, I still have no idea where I am, and I get completely lost when trying to move in a circle and get back to my parents' hotel. In fact I end up in what looks like an old hospital garden and the path ends blindly at a stone wall. I look over it, on the other side there is one pair of turkey vultures and one couple of humans making out, with a metro bridge and far away the sea as a backdrop.

M Forshage

Gifts of compensation

I´m not sure what an artwork is. A sympathetic viewer may hold that an artwork is an item in a class of objects that we have agreed to contemplate in a privileged way, experience freely and discuss openly. A more hostile viewer may argue that an artwork is a commodity that promises to satisfy certain contrived and mystified needs. Both views are relevant, and hardly contradict each other, since they share an emphasis on the social function of artworks. What I´d like an artwork to be – as someone who makes visual images – is probably a shapehifter, a gestalt switch-machine or the transformative meeting-place of interacting living forces. An object that functions like a catalyst, an Alkahest, Prospero´s wand, an internal combustion engine. But more often than not, the concept of art and the category of artworks, as social constructions, are a hindrance or a nuisance to me, or something like an inheritance that must be spent in order to permit these rawer and more subtle qualities to shine through.

It can never be sufficient to make art. One must start somewhere else. What I experience in making images is being two instances in a continuum; both giver and reciever, or creator and spectator. Therefore I tend to expect that the given transfer from one state of mind to another is what also occurs in the transfer of an image from one person to another. Or in the case of artworks: what should have effect. So by pursuing this effect, I drift away from art, and get back to art, without settling. This movement may also represent two states of mind to reconcile, like dreaming and waking life.

What the giver and reciever see in the artwork before and after the change is interesting in itself. But what they experience in the mind-state that they fleetingly share in the change is what really matters to me. ”My” mind is usually unable to contain such a shift, so instead a temporary body or a new and specialized organ is developed: the particular artwork. The change the artwork makes can perhaps most bluntly be described as offering a vehicle for the transportation of unconscious aspects into conscious reflection. Still, the experience is not particularly mine. The personal ”art coefficient” of the giver is, with Duchamp´s words, ”like an arithmetical relation between the unexpressed but intended and the unintentionally expressed”. We need at least two minds or mind-states to perform that equation.

Sometimes the vehicle is secondary, while the difference or discrepancy between states of mind and how they can join means everything. Waking up and falling asleep are the mysteries that that point to this. Vast amounts of poetic insight into this liminality is being sacrificed because vehicles were not jotted down on a sketch pad or in a note book. No need to regret the loss though, since hypnagogic, hypnapomic and alike states (lucid dreams, not the least) let us assume that the point of transfer may unfold itself as a place in its own right, like a hovering non-euclidean domain in the very act of cognition, more or less continually, and certainly in areas outside of art-appreciation.

Consider for example what happens when we step into new psychic atmospheres by way of some unforeseen arrangement, like the sun passing behind a cloud at the exact moment of a crow´s caw on one´s walk through a forest. Whether such passages happen by chance or are created willfully as artistic devices, in both cases the effect is that a gap between what´s previously experienced as on the one hans natural processes and on the other hand personal efforts is bridged. Hereby micro-reenchantments of the world are instilled, that may lie close to superstition. Artworks then can perhaps be seen as teachers that contribute to the progress of the attention necessary for reenchantments to happen, without a need for superstitious rationalization. They may have personality and be original, like spiritual entities, but all they do is point and mimic. They may grasp your attention through their authority or their charisma, but they never actually rely solely on authority and charisma.

That artists really follow hints from nature´s hidden form-creating principles was clearly understood in ancient times. In Aitareya Brahmana, a Vedic text from roughly between 1700–1100 BC, we can read: ”Works of art created by humans are an imitation of divine forms; by utilizing their rhythms, a restructuring of the vibrational rate of the limited human personality is effected.”
Although ”a restructuring of the vibrational rate of the limited human personality” in my view can correspond to the above described dynamic of the relation between giver and reciever, my imagination may not be plastic enough to recognize divine forms as such. But, by taking a hint from cognitive linguists Lakoff and Johnson´s ”embodiment hypothesis”, I call these lucky arrangements metaphorical situations or metaphorical objects. Lakoff and Johnson´s research suggest that the laws of thought are metaphorical rather than logical and that truth is a metaphorical construction rather than an attribute of objective reality. They suggest that the ontology of our lifeworld is given from metaphors drawn from our experience of having a body, not from the physical sciences or from coherent metaphysical systems. This means that our understanding of one idea, or one ”conceptual domain”, is informed by the terms of another (e.g.: understanding quantity in terms of directionality, like ”prices are rising”).

By recognizing metaphor as an epistomological principle one of course arrives in the domain of poetry. Owen Barfield, in Poetic diction, has this to say about the poetic process: ”Seeking for material in which to incarnate its last inspiration, imagination seizes on a suitable word or phrase, uses it as a metaphor, and creates a meaning. The progress is from meaning, through inspiration to imagination, through metaphor, to meaning; inspiration grasping the hitherto unapprehended, and imagination relating it to the already known.”

In view of conceptual metaphors it makes sense to me that I, as a figurative artist, am not sure what the difference between an artistic object and a situation is. Or should be sure. For in decisive ways, an artwork can not be an object of knowledge; it reveals too many loose ends stretching into the world of imagination and into the imaginations that make up the world. What I can do, is to try to grasp artistic objects through the situations they evoke, regardless of whether these situations are depicted or imaginary. To me, captivating ideas appear like symbolic mise-en-scenes, filmic stills or picture-poems, that may or may not want to be further objectivized. Making ”sense” of them is to explore the general relationality of their life in thought. And laying out the frozen pattern of divine rhythm, merging the known with the unknown in visual metaphor, is the ongoing self-reflection or epistemological feedback of the body-mind.

In fact, visual and linguistic representations are very close, if not sometimes interchangeable. Once while fever-sick, in a hypnagogic revery, I constructed a series of written situations / objects to make my thoughts about the ontology of artworks clearer to myself: that the ”objectivity” of the world is corporeal and poetical rather than physical and conventional. The following phrases can be seen as ”vehicled” language-counterparts to how I approach and create images. I quote these situations here, with brief explications:

”Her eyebrows are adjacent to outer space, the yellow dress takes her away from the beach.”

This image suggested itself as an expression of the feeling-essence or singularity of an astronaut leaving the mothership, floating in space attached only by a rope. But by decoding the situation thus the sign-function of the image takes precedence. So the point here is to forget the astronaut, the information. There were and will be astronauts before and after astronauts, so to speak.

”On a day of overcast weather his goalie hat attracts sunlight to his eyes.”

A simple everyday magic act is a reliable starting-idea. An idea (putting on a goalie cap for shade) magically attracts a desired situation (sun). Semiotically speaking, a concept is displaced or moved from one logical context to another.

”When the rattling door closes, the area is filled up with the barn´s silence.”

Atmospheres are essential. Tangible weather or change of weather is nature´s way of creating them. They also thrive on stillness and the dynamic of presence and absence. The silence of composition.

”His hands have grown out of apples, he can spit the seeds out of a glass of water.”

Imagination can be kick-started by pursuing reversed causality, simultaneity, or spontaneously renegotiated object-relationships.

Through these modes of thinking I try to postpone or delay discursive information in favor of the image´s purely sensual clues. An artwork to me is therefore at best initially in some way repulsive or resistant against a certain type of decision-prone curiosity. And vis-a-vis expectations preferrably to some extent incomprehensible.That an image may be saturated with precise thought and still delay enough information to benefit communication on the levels of emotion, intuition and imagination is the possibility I favor. The real power of Prospero was not in his wand but in his books, that is: less in someone having the power to decide what something is than in something being given as potentially available to everyone. That an artwork remains ”nothing but sensual clues” is something worth pursuing, I think, even to the point of trying to convey (subconscious) thoughts that are ”more real than perceptions”. So: corporeal thoughts.

The artistic object may then resemble the ”Frog Prince” from the Grimm brothers´ fairy-tale. Like the frog who´s not yet transformed to a prince, the artwork presents itself as something that either has a fixed or a dual identity, depending on if you ”know the story” or not. Knowing the story of an artwork is nothing complicated, but it is as easy to forget as it is to learn, and in my view Magritte expressed it most succinctly with the phrase ”Ceci n’est pas une pipe”. Or as I like to understand his phrase here: the artwork represents nohing in the world other than your own understanding of the particular arrangement you´re viewing. An understanding that is on the move away from the well-grounded opinion or that is expanding beyond ”my” perspective.

And, again in comparison with the frog-prince, the artwork is something whose ”true essence” depends upon the engaged faculties of the reciever to become living, meaningful, engaging, beautiful. There is of course no ”true essence” corresponding to one correct interpretation, at least not in any expressible way. In one way, the artwork functions as a veil we move through on our way to another veil. This movement seems very real to us, since it has a feeling-tone, since it awakens an emotional response and since it has a specific character or momentum. But the visions themselves which we sometimes mistake it for are illusory. Plato said: the image moves toward the objects and away from them, with a ”tone of desire”. Artistic freedom, as it seems to me, lies in moving with one´s desire and in the understanding of how images merge with physical objects on the ”as if”-condition. Therefore I remain suspicious against art that seems too stuck in the art world, fulfilling a concept of art, for the same reasons that I´m wary of art that depends too much on naturalism.

At the same time – and this often feels like a paradox – the artwork is unusually concrete, material and objective. In the lacunae of thoughts, when the passage between veils is permitted by the spectator, its ”thereness” may be overwhelming. In the artist´s hands the artistic object remains in a raw state, which the spectator has to accept in order to, again with Duchamp´s words, ”determine the weight of the work on the esthetic scale.” The reciever is the one who has to permit the transmutation, which is ultimately not representable by words, by computer screens or by brains. It demands not only a shift of consciousness, but also a thoughtless confrontation, akin to the moment of ”the princess kissing the frog”. It is the overwhelming sense of nearness to the truth, which keeps one going “back from bark to bark to the white-hot kernel” (Breton) without being overcome with or stopped by the inherent absurdity of thought activity.

Making image after image, without this feeling of nearness to truth would be absurd. A world without dusky meaning, without secret signs, is a life acquainted with shadows only. The artist is one such shadow. Empedocles proposed the sign, that if you´re reborn as a poet, a prince or a healer you may have arrived at your last incarnation. The artwork then, to paraphrase the philosopher, is never nearer to us than when it´s neither frog nor prince, but embodies the moment in between.

Frog-poets, frog-princes and frog-healers are all in the making of the change.

Niklas Nenzén
(reposted from the lavishly image-populated and high thought-density Niklas Nenzén webpage)

Your City, part 1

- the technical aspects

Psychogeography consists of drifting-exploring and mythologisation-reenchantment, and if you will of detailed empirical studies. Mythologising your city is a basic poetic task and a task which is usually carried on spontaneously anyway, but emphatically the surrealist tradition holds a few emphases and distinctions which makes its view particular.
    Spontaneous mythologisation has two parts: One is the acknowledgment of historical charging: places of anecdotes about one's predecessors. The other is the rememberance of autobiographical charging: places of anecdotes about oneself.
    These are used by everybody, but there is a huge difference as to how selectively and sensibly they are used.
    A third mechanism, also in general use, but more sensible in its essence, is the exerting of geographical sensibleness itself: recognising places where it feels like something is going to happen, something weird or fantastic or horrible or just unknown, or might be happening if you're only looking the other way, or might have happened and is bristling with eagerness to tell about it.
    But first, let's go back to historical charging. Historical charging is dependent on documentation, and on population size, and on accumulation of madmen, intellectuals, revolutionaries, artists, philosophers etc. The general pattern (with abundant exceptions) would be that small cities often have very little of it, metropolises often have an overabundance, which may even be overwhelming and/or numbing. It is also a matter of the length of the history record itself; so that European cities have more than American cities, south European cities more than north European cities, etc. Length of documented history often goes hand in hand with age of physical artifactual elements too, and as everybody knows, as a rule of thumb old architecture more easily speaks to us than younger, and crude old city planning allows for more excitement than modern city planning. Of course, in some places this means that an "old town", a historical city center with remaining old buildings and street plan, will seem like a thick pastry with immediate atmosphere, layers of anecdotes, and often enough more like a museum than a real environment. This is the trivial level of historical charging.
    Autobiographical charging and sensibility are far less varying than historical charging between sites in terms of absolute conditions; it is of course more a question of where one has been hanging around to make some interesting experiences (of course, very often there is a sharp difference between where one spends most time and where one gets the more interesting experiences).
    Concerning both, from the surrealist viewpoint, selectivity and sensibility are crucial terms. There is no point in becoming a tourist guide. The importance of a thorough historical-geographical investigation is not in listing all the places where something as occurred as items on a list or fetishes, but making them available as suggestions of sites to look for atmospheres and connections. It is not a question of recognising places where things have happened because of the things that have happened there, only because of what objective potential of the place those anecdotes are revealing, what still unrealised parts they suggest, what local charging and what contrast to utilistic use and to surrounding areas it has. What manifest atmosphere of potentiality a place has, as revealed by its anecdotes. Thus it is about the actual spirit of the actual places. Selectivity is not primarily up to your own opinions.
    But, it must be emphasised, it is also a part of your own assuming a prehistory, placing yourself in a tradition. When you actively do that, the places that your precursors have rummaged become an integrated part of your own psychogeographical landscape. In smaller cities, there might be just one or two examples of local poets, revolutionary sects, imaginative criminals and old wizards to build on. There it seems important to investigate every such instance of odd/nonconform usage of the place and its sense of place. In larger cities, there is often the experience of an old surrealist group and perhaps some other objectively affiliated movement to assimilate, various old insurrections, romanticists, symbolists, occultists, alchemists, utopists, etc etc. There is easily lore available for a full "alternative" version of the official history. On top of this, many people with quasireligious and/or unrestrainedly nerdy interests readily allow themselves to get trapped in amazement at the simple fact that freemasonry, occultism, utopianism, various brands of christian, jewish and islamic mysticism all have played a major part in the imaginary structures of those intellectuals or rich guys who have thought out the city planning. In order not to get overwhelmed, it is important to choose particular threads that attach to the associative tentacles of one's own projects, enquiries and sensibilities. This quantitative overload then is a major problem in Paris and Prague, a bit of a problem in London and Berlin, hardly a problem in Stockholm and New York, not at all a problem in Helsinki and Leeds.
    But then there is the third aspect mentioned, that of geographical sensibility, which is the more important. Beyond the spontaneous occasional recognition of this, surrealists have developed methods of actively investigating this and also of experimentally invoking it. This is the strategy of surrealist walking, and of various games involving spatial movement. This is a vast field and a series of essays in itself.


Michel Rémy launched his English-language anthology of English surrealist poetry as On the thirteenth stroke of Midnight, Surrealist poetry in Britain (2013). Just like the bad experiences and failures are usually emphasised by anyone discussing the history of surrealism in Britain, also the historiography and anthologising of British surrealism has a long history of failed projects. Paul Hammond's big anthology never surfaced, Alistair Brotchie's big anthology never surfaced, mine and Jonas Ellerström's big anthology in Swedish never surfaced. Rémy is the one that managed to get a few books out, get his PhD title on it, get a popular overview published (a small, entertaining and not very well edited fragment of the full story), a few coffeetable artbooks, and get recognised as the leading expert. Now the history of the group between 1936 and 1947 has been subjected to numerous overviews with academic, anecdotal or polemical bias, and still not to a detailed critical analysis. While the history of the numerous groups, groupuscules, journals and initiatives from 1967 on, has still not been even decently summarised, much less evaluated. In fact, the single most important published analysis of the latter seems to be a little article by Rémy himself in the obscure surrealist journal The Moment ("The cantankerous sunstroke and prickly wagtail, Surrealist activities in England" The Moment #2 1979), which very few have read. And, judging from the recently surfaced anthology, Rémy himself has not read or remembered what it was about at all.

This poetry anthology is a good poetry anthology in terms of the 30s and 40s. Rémy knows the topic, and the material available is limited, so the selection is rather uncontroversial: there are a bunch of good poems that simply has to be in an anthology like this and very many that hardly could be because few but the overzealous historian finds them readable at all. I could have included a few more poets from these times, but there aren't really any whose omission upsets me. The little section with collective declarations and the other extra material is beside the topic but makes a lot of sense to show another part of the width of the surrealist project and of the activities of the group.

But, lo and behold, after the 40s, what then? Hardly anything! There are very few single later poems by some veterans (Bridgwater, Del Renzio, Maddox, Melly, Morris, Rimmington), and then two (2) younger surrealists added (Anthony Earnshaw, John Welson), one of whom is alive... This is remarkable. An anthology of English surrealist poetry or poets in the 30s and 40s could very well be made, but anyone knowing anything about the existence of surrealism since, would want to make sure to clarify this circumscription in the subtitle of the book, and would not add a couple of token contemporaries, as exceptions to prove a rule or so... Surely, Earnshaw and Welson are important figures in the connection and merit their place in an anthology, but they are out of place in an anthology about 30s and 40s surrealists, and are in fact almost as much out of place as single representatives of later times: both have been working as part of larger networks, and though fine poets they hardly stand out above several others. Does Rémy really think that all the other recent surrealist poets in Britain are mediocre poets who haven't written anything that would defend it's place in an anthology? Not Alan Burns and Ken Smith, not Haifa Zangana, and not even acclaimed John Digby and Salah Faiq for fuck's sake – if poets like Michael Bullock and Roger Cardinal are considered but visiting foreigners, Siegfried de Crescendo and Rattus are considered too obscure, and many others like Stuart Inman, Peter Overton, Kenneth Cox, Anne McGrath, Philip Kane, Merl Fluin, Josie Malinowski and others are just all too contemporary?

In the chronology of this book, detailed up to the closedown of the London Gallery in 1951, a total of three single years are mentioned after that date. The last one is 1979, with a paragraph ending "failure to restructure activities". Earlier in life, Rémy knew that the background to this failure was that through 1977-80 there were indeed a number of ambitious attempts in various guises to restructure activities. And even if you might not want to be too hard on a sympathetic academic and expect him to keep track of the contemporary scene, the groups in London the past ten years etc, you might have expected him to have heard about the launch in 1993 of the Leeds surrealist group. which is usually omitted in academics' accounts of surrealism in Britain, and perhaps simply because they have not conformed to what is perceived as the modus operandi of British surrealism: ravaging internal quarrels and quick failure. Staying together and gathering constructive experience for more than 20 years, isn't that exactly a "success in restructuring activities" in this respect?

So has Michel Rémy been considered the expert of English surrealism for so long that he feels he will get away with anything, and has no need of remembering that which he knew which was chaotic or controversial? Is the thirteenth stroke of midnight intended as when it is already too late?

Mattias Forshage

PS Did someone notice that the two Alans of British surrealism, Alan Burns and Alan Davie, both were reported deceased this very year 2014? Any other Alan waiting to step up and fill their alanine shoes?

Conceptualising surrealist walking

Spontaneously, it makes sense to regard surrealist walking as militant investigation. I was recently invited to talk in a connection implying this consideration, even though it was, luckily, not an event of conceptual analysis but a discussion trying to suggest the points of, and invoke and examplify the process of, surrealist walking.

(Conceptually, since this is one of those places that do that: the concept of "militant investigations" as developed in Italy in the 60s by Romano Alquati and friends, is a dynamic and inspiring concept regardless of how widely one accepts currently available items in the margin as instances thereof.
 And the practice of surrealist walking is a continuingly rewarding practice which is not dependent on legitimation in political or philosophical terms to be meaningful.
 "Militant investigations" is the systematical practice of mapping everyday lives, conflicts and desires so as to reveal new patterns and new openings on a substantially empirical basis. Very often it is used to reveal real conflicts and real needs on workplaces, but just as fundamental is the organisation of everyday life. And the area of relevance benefits from being widened from the spheres of organising household labor and consumption to all aspects of everyday life.
 Conceptually: "everyday life" includes the area of play, love, sleep, dream, idling and fun, and "real needs" includes all needs of stimulation and provocation including intellectually, emotionally and poetically, and "social relationships" include all the potential unexpected encounters, love affairs, etc. Militant investigations in a wide sense are the empirical investigation of social reality and everyday life, with an aim to transform. Eleventh Feuerbach thesis, you know.
 Social reality is the sum of all social relationships, and the radical transformation of social reality equals social revolution.
 Specifically, militant investigations works in assuming that people's everyday experiences that are often disregarded as meaningless are part of meaningful patterns that reveal something which can be used in order to challenge the social order. It works by highlighting the invisible, and it works by discovering which contradictions that make sense in everyday life.)

Readers of this blog may know surrealist walking. Typically you just wander spontaneously, usually in the urban environment, alone or in a group, but trying to stick to the special kind of availability than distinguishes betweens urges of habit, laziness, cowardice or least resistance, and urges of discovery, curiousness, desire, inner necessity, and poetry. Being in a group easily provides release from certain utilistic constraints: one needs no idea of direction, and can always assume (if it is difficult not to worry) that someone else is leading. But there are also far more systematic approaches which are easily available to a single individual too, and indeed very often call for a splitting up of the group into divergent excursions and later reassembly for comparing notes. As surrealists, we typically arrange such driftings as games, focusing on a particular method of moving or of interpretation or a particular theme or sphere of association. Or a plethora of methods, and the autonomous movement of a living entity of which the individuals are merely parts.

Surrealist walking investigates the environment (typically the urban environment) in a transformational sense: moving as vagrancy, moving without authorisation, moving beyond utilistic transport; moving through a "sea of signs" (making oneself available to emergent patterns of meaning amidst the vast flow), through a "forest of symbols" (discovering the layering of patterns of meaning, the hiddenness of certain poles of intense meaning) , through a "succession of ambiances" (clear domains of tangibly different fields of possibilities inspiring different kinds of thoughts, actions, fantasies and interactions), through a "web of encounters" (bouncing from one intersection point between trajectories to another in a sequence that generates an adventure); demasking, opening up and generating meaning as it goes. It is indeed the successive revealing of "another city", which overlaps with the one on the official maps, but through a gestalt switch instead structured in accordance with desire and sensibility, a network of ambiances and surprises. It is about the reenchantment of lifespace. Making the city a liveable place by disenveloping the undervegetation in plain sight, and let our relationship with the place and our spatial movement be as meaning-generating as it would be.
A crucial aspect of this seems to be the "suspension of metaphysical judgment". A direct contrary to the miserabilist approach of no-nonsense "common sense" which aggressively assumes that things that coincide are necessarily random and have no connection, that things that speak to you actually spoke about something else and have nothing to tell you; surrealists tend to assume that coincidences make sense, that what you meet is relevant in connection with your present adventures and worries, that what you find is a response to what you are looking for, as a way of rebuilding a meaningful world, not as if it was all expressions of some particular fate or hidden will, not in the manner of the clinically paranoid as something that you need to obey or escape for otherwise you will get hurt, but simply as an inevitable part of life, as an expression of the ways by which meaning is generated. Messages speak, associations abound, interesting connections are preferred, doubts arise, hidden patterns emerge, insights awake, worlds in which the imagination enjoys to work claim space.

Of course a lot of this general manner of drifting and interpretative movement is codified by some of the surrealists' successors, the lettrists and situationists, and its inception into radical movements today very often as distinct post-situationist interpretations with different proportions of anarchism, poststructuralism, heterodox marxism, desire philosophy and live-role-playing in their foundations. Through this part of tradition, there is an increasing tendency to focus on the dynamics and disregard the ambiances; attentive to factors that facilitate movement in one direction or another but less likely to exert a sensibility to the places themselves and acknowledge their spirit. Such drifting is typically fuelled, and attracted or repelled by, the spirit of places but without recognising it and questioning it. Modern activists are well aware of the contradiction between free availability and imposed control over space, and sometimes may have a tendency to interpret all available signs as signs of this particular conflict (at worst seeing the landscape only as a massive bulletin board for signs of exclusion and the occasional scattered stickers with shouts for freedom). But signs of what you were already looking for are not signs in the sense of free movement and in the hope of discovering hidden patterns, it is necessary to move beyond the preconceived conflicts to see other potential conflicts arising, and especially the utopian suggestions, be they already put into practice or just feral hunches.

The conflicts in the urban environment are thus not just the ones in terms that are perhaps conventionally targetted by militant investigation (conflicts between access and exclusion, free popular use and controlled use) but also conflicts between actual use and possible use (in terms of playful, poetic, wild or utopian use) and conflicts in atmosphere and directionality which surrealist methods may perhaps be specifically useful for finding (conflicts in emerging patterns of meaning, but also conflicts in categories and implications of found objects and material association chains). The transformation invoked is both the change already implied in the investigation, rendering the environment meaningful, readable, savourable, and the direct changes of slight disturbances as well as the opening up of paths through the urban landscape, and the change suggested by conceptualising new use of places, including the various forms of exchange and alliances with other people encountered there.



Cole's take on Expulsion
 Some people enjoy expulsions as a theme of anecdotes from yesteryear, something that was important in modernist movements and political movements back in the days, and which may still be a current ingredient in activities to the extent that the groups are "dogmatic" and has not adapted to modern times.
    Speaking of the contexts that I am acquainted with though, expulsions is not a matter of dogmatism, in the sense that it is not the question of differences of opinion being a reason to expel someone. There are groups where the line is laid down by a leadership, maybe even a leadership in another country, or an extraterrestrial leadership, but of course surrealism has no such leadership. In a struggling nonconformist group expulsions are entirely about confidence.
    A person may have some weird opinions, or may neglect their tasks, or may ruin certain events by being very drunk or very depressed or very stupid, and that will be causing various practical problems, but is rarely a reason to lose confidence in a radical sense. But if a person shows that it may for example deny its friends and disregard its convictions and belonging and ambitions just to get an article into a paper or get a commission on a painting or receive a prize or get picked into the critics selection, then that proves that the person lets its career weigh as much as or more than demands that poetry might put on us, especially in the form that one interprets and organises them within the framework of the collective, and, consequently, that this is an illoyal and unreliable person who should not be allowed to be in a group where it should be possible to trust each other. If a person is simultaneously member of another organisation which puts strong demands on its membership, and which might just one day by decree demand the person to change strategy completely or change circle of friends (such as in a communist party or a religious sect) then it is obvious that the double membership threatens the integrity of the group and the person is unreliable.
    Exactly how much one feels one should have a right to demand from one's comrades is of course entirely dependent on how much one perceives is at stake. Most people should be able to understand that in a situation of dramatic social upheavals, and/or massive physical threat from fascists, and/or intense attention from the police and secret police, then it becomes more sensitive with whom one forms affinity groups and shares one's dreamworlds... Then surrealists are nonconformists, have no love for the current order of things, and no obligations towards the current power structures, in fact they typically rather desperately dream of dramatic change. And this is exactly that which was the point of the situationists when they claimed (wrongly, by the way) that it was the discipline and expulsions which was the best thing about the surrealists: they implied that everything was at stake all the time and revolution could come anytime. In most cases this is a tactical misjudgement, but strategically it has some obvious points: a reminder of the necessity to maintain nonconformism and not make compromises that will demand hard work in defense, not form alliances that will obstruct any radical moves.
    Well, in fact, this is probably to a great extent the very same thing that is the dogmatism of dogmatic groups of the sectarian type: the temperature is turned up enough for the participants to really believe that everything is at stake all the time and everyone who is not with us are against us, and an erroneous stand on the situation in Ukraine or the revolution in Iran or the Nth council of the christian church must be a sign of a profound tendency to betray.
    From a methodological viewpoint, the advantages of a contrary strategy are obvious. The anarchist strategy, usually employed by surrealists, is rather that there is a point in gushing forth one's confidence and one's innermost ideas to anyone who wants to join the playing and seems basically serious about it. This has a utopian dimension in itself, that it makes sense to treat superficial social relationships as if they had already been filled with a profound content in terms of one's most passionate shared interests, and thus it is reasonable and rather important as a political strategy. Secterian suspiciousness is not only dreary and a turn-off and a prelude to massive empirical disappointments, but it also goes hand in hand with a "fascist type of human" or whatever a Reich would have said.

    In the Stockholm group we have hardly ever used the tool of expulsion. We usually expect lack of trust to be mutual and obvious, and keep empirically studying it if it's not. Nevertheless it would seem that several partings of way have occured rather too late. We happily make mistakes and sometimes learn from them. We don't care very much if ex-members or hangarounds praise us or badmouth us in connections where we have no interest of appearing, we survive if they claim to represent us, we have more interesting things to consider if they claim they know what the group is all about and that their own more or less bitter afterthoughts are highly relevant to the group several years after. This is sometimes on the comedy level, and the agents are indeed often still valued friends. Since the social circumstances in the country have been relatively peaceful, it is currently only in computer-game terms that we have died a few times over, shot in the back and sold out by a few eager carreerists, bitter blackmarket dealers, impulsive flibbertigibbets, or political opportunists. So far.
    But even if our inertia then might make ruckus-seeking anecdote lovers disappointed, we are happy to equally disappoint the humanist advocates of civil politeness. Surrealist activity is not an area where it makes sense to pay respect to the integrity of private life, individual choices and each and everyone's specific constellation of compromises, shortcomings and banalities; it is rather the opposite, an area where the individual's resources is pooled into a collective organism of collective sensibility and collective criticism where each participant contributes to developing how it should act to live up to the demands of poetry in hard times. As surrealists, we have a fruitful relationship with truth and personal friendship and even weakness itself, and respect for that which deserves respect, but we don't do civil manners and courtesy.

Stuck's take on Expulsion

Lost and found

In surrealism there has typically been quite a lot of "found photography", but perhaps not enough in quantitative terms for it to be noted as a "stylistic" element for surrealism by the art historians. It has made more sense for those who give surrealism an immediate meaning in terms of methods and attitudes of appropriating the world; chance findings, sub-surface meaning, poetic atmosphere, strange juxtaposition, paranoic-critical method, vigilance towards the unusual, are an important part of popular imagination and therefore commonly found in anonymous creation. While "funny" websites are typically filled with "found photography" from the world of contemporary advertising and shrill colours, there is perhaps also a bit of a peak of interest in art books of found photography from older times, with black-and-white and certainly more inviting pictures. Odd street scenes, group portraits in weird settings and forming larger shapes, portraits with masks, various kinds of portraits and interactions involving animals and small children and juxtaposing roles, unusual nature phenomena, things that look like something else, involontary double exposures, still-lifes with weird constellations, etc. Often very enjoyable, and stimulating for the imagination. Especially when without ironic comments.

And suprisingly enough, a cheap one among them ("Found Photography" in the Thames & Hudson Photophile series) had an introduction where some French writer (named Anne-Marie Garat) discussed in completely reasonable terms the surrealist significance of found photographs! ("beneath the surface of ordinary appearances and the banality of everyday life, the world is full of ambivalence and uncertainty. Within the predictable order of things lies the potential for all kinds of adventures /.../ the bizarre photograph, which seems to go against all reason, uncovering unknown enigmas or perhaps giving us a sense of déjà vu, a mysterious, intuitive awareness of a world beneath the one we know, with all its menacing duplicity /.../ the unusual combination of elements creates a disturbing effect – what is seen is more than what is seen /.../ this quest for bizarre images may derive from a game we play as children: we see a face in a tree, a giant in a cloud, a landscape in the veins of a block of marble." She sounds like an outsider yet knowing what she is talking about, but it is indicated that she is perhaps not entirely innocent in this sense by the inclusion in the book of a portrait of Raymond Roussel and his mother?