Tuesday, June 3, 2014
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)