Thursday, July 9, 2015

editorial note

Obviously, the Icecrawler is rarely updated. There is no particular plan with that, nor any particular regrets. Of all these reflections and questions that constitute a critical effort, that constitutes a crucial aspect of life, only a few will neither find another outlet nor be forgotten over the passing of months. We are not running over that keyboard of white and black keys spiralling into empty space. There is no such thing as news. Some words are whispered in the squares, and some words are shouted in the forest. There is a continually changing map being drawn.

While a bunch of pdf:s were completed in order to be added to the ”bibliotheca onthoplanctorum” library, technical obstacles have prevented their uploading, and a number of Icecrawler texts intended as introductions to them have been postponed until further. Or smuggled in here without mentioning of context?

Icecrawler/Heelwalker is repeteadly abandoned, mostly accidentally but regularly also whenever the editor stubbornly leaves the room in protest against interpretations or expectations that it would be a personal outlet for the editor. A person is a sad entity to organise a public channel upon. Persons have other things to do. It is not persons that we want to hear. Systematical investigations, critical interpretations, poetic investigations, and sensibility itself, are agents themselves who express themselves in the work of collaborating or lonely humans.

Surrealism is and is not something particular

- A few general notes about poetry as raised in a recent correspondence with editors of the interesting Swedish poetry journal Staden (the city):

The thing is however not just to find the spirit and give voice to the spirit, but not the least to challenge the spirit and thereby find the spirit by losing and finding it and losing it, and give voice to the spirit by giving voice to nothing and thereby force the spirit to take place therein and fill the void.

Many who are poets are mere narcissists, a few are mere epigones. But so what, that isn't what decides whether they are poets or not, because the only question is whether they give voice to poetry. Many seem far to timid to be poets, and if you beseech them to go further they often end up in raw self-pity, contained nostalghia, unhampered misogyny, or all of the above; no, it wasn't that that was the open gate to poetry, that seems more like trying to hold on to the sloppy borders of the fluttering ego when the wind is rising.

But there was a question of surrealism as well. Questions about surrealism often have simple answers and are clearly secondary to questions about poetry. I could assume either of two perspectives.

On the one hand surrealism is nothing particular, except a burning desire to explore the unknown, and accordingly defend the core of poetry against all these domestications of it, and a burning desire to use it as an act of accusation against the present state of the world. For all that it is about, the label "surrealism" is secondary.

On the other hand, surrealism is a historically manifested cluster of sensibilities and coincidences where this has taken shape and been formulated and traded down and questioned, which is alive and demanding in itself (alive and demanding? inspiring and immodest if you want to sound less dramatic, possessing and fate-determining, if not).
    But also then it is still not about a particular kind of poetry (since poetry is as we know "one and indivisible") nor about tying it to certain among its associations; instead the framework it has had and will receive in its new situations are to a large part specifically about connecting it with many of its least expected manifestations and forums, about emphasising its unprejudiced and general character, about pointing out that it is poetry which infuses with life not only all instances of the marvels of dreams and love around us but also the constellations of the bizarre, coincidences of the remarkable, resistance movements, the popular-cultural expressions of popular imagination, scientific expeditions into the unknown, etc.
    And it is not the specific expressions. It is not about how american silent comedies, turn-of-the-century occultism, twenties bohemics, and early popular science has the same aesthetical aura as high modernism itself and becomes part of a glittering beyond with a similar taste in the shared distance from the contemporary, but instead about seeing whatever within for example the Hollywood production and science today that could be the same kind of involontary bastions for the marvellous.
    Surrealism, for those who are surrealists, is not the least about thus "generalising" surrealism, laying bare its structural and methodical core (and if you will its political and poetical core) from the specific historical choices that gave it its original shape, and not in order to devalue them or to eagerly-nervously update or adapt surrealism, not in order to "openmindedly" demand the inclusion ones own petty contemporary preferences in the whole synthetic outlook of an entire movement into some diluted eclecticism, but instead about learning to make oneself attentive towards its many potential guises in the contemporary world and the local environment, in order to, as usual, find allies, and to find the most striking poetry just there where one didn't know it existed in the first place.


The editors found this explication very interesting and it was reedited into an essay (in Swedish) in the recent issue of Staden

One of the editors, Robert Azar, has in fact published quite a lot about his own interpretation of surrealism. I could take this opportunity to quote in translation a few selected highlights excerpted from a long reflexive poem:

Surrealism is the name of an incurable grief. It is that thirst "for which nature did not create a drink".

It advocates truth only against those who banalise human existence. I'm not denying death.

What I oppose is the reduction of memory into a retrospective instance.

Waiting deciphers an answer out of the wash of the waves. Surrealism is the art of waiting.

Surrealism is the art of communicating with the dead.

Surrealism and philosophy V

When I expressed regrets that Georges Sebbag’s groundbreaking book about surrealism and philosophy had such a limited time scope, focusing on the 20s only, Sebbag replied that this was only the first part. He was himself working on the second part which would be more about the 30s and more deeply involve the relationships with Hegelian philosophy, while a possible third part, sorting out the strangely unexplored relationship with poststructuralism or at least some of its more interesting strains in the 60s, he resignedly stated that someone else will have to write.

But then, a few years later, Sebbag himself now publishes ”Foucault Deleuze - Nouvelles impressions du Surréalisme”, providing a case study of the attraction of these two popular philosophers to surrealism. I have not yet had the time to reach far into this book, and as usual am uncertain how far language will allow me; but isn’t this a kind of book that one could expect english-language publishers to be interested in?

A lighthouse of what?

Not quite already from its inception but at least from the mid-30s, surrealism has held forth actions of women amidst it and not just the bodies of women. And at least since the 60s, in many quarters earlier, many of us have been emphasising the importance of that shift, the importance of criticising a mere sexual optimism that goes all too well along with the continued exploitation of women as well as the commercialisation of desire, the importance of recognising issues of sexual politics in everyday life, and to develop new and noncomformist alleys of erotic exploration, and all of this in order to emphasise and deepen the emancipatory and exploratory potential of surrealism, to prove them wrong who make a career out of claiming surrealism to be fundamentally sexist, yet to remain vigilant of all complacency in these respects among ourselves.

Now, the Brazilian surrealists apparently want to put the clock back and ignore the insights of the last 50 years, and return to the good old late 50s when it was daring to use foul language and show nude female bodies, at least within high culture. In the recent, massive, issue #3 of A Phala, a massive part of the overwhelming number of pages are devoted to conventional female nudes, and a good deal of the remaining stuff is modern porn collages and nostalgic reminiscences of 1959 when the surrealists devoted the international surrealist exhibition to the theme of Eros (and managed to remain just a little bit more playful, a little bit more dark, and a little bit more high-strung than the rest of the optimistic liberal ”sexual revolution” disenveloping at the time). It feels more like one more of these fashionable coffeetable books of yesterday’s ”erotic photography” than a surrealist journal.

Female breasts, female breasts, stocking fetishism, female breasts, some titillating sadism, and some optical and geometrical distorsions of female bodies. This is just so stuffy, so nostalgic, and so utterly conventional, while many of us was expecting surrealism to be imaginative, radical, perhaps even intelligent and innovative…

Now, in these 2 tomes there are 93 pages of conventional nudes by non-surrealist photographers (yes, 93), most in 60s style by nude photographer André de Dienes (and including a number of optical/geometrical puns with nudes) but also by more recent standard fetishist Günther Blum plus some anonymous ones picked from random softporn mags and advertising, often placed side by side with Bellmer’s pictures (or occasionally Malet’s, Dalí’s, Molinier’s and Mariën’s) in a layout that is perhaps intended to show some continuity but mostly gives a pedagogic demonstration of the obvious difference: these ever-present conventional nudes have nothing particular to do with surrealism.

Then, of contemporary collage, which there is also quite a lot in here, and which is generally in a rather poor state, one can note that more than 50% have porn cutouts (recognisable female bodyparts, usually breasts) (so then I’m not counting Sauvageot’s classical nude statues who also display their breasts…) Wait, wasn’t a point with collage to show something unexpected? Considering that the abundant retrospective material in these tomes is also very much focused on the 50s sense of eroticism, and that a lot of the contemporary drawing, painting and photo has a lot of female body parts in it too, regardless of the fact that some of this art is in fact very powerful, imaginative or poetic; there is basically tits, and women in uncomfortable positions, staring at you from almost every spread as you flip through these tomes. So monomanic, so strange, so unexciting, so oldfashioned!

And from the more serious point of view: what a massive step backwards, to disconsider the entirety of emancipatory sexual politics, to still ignore women as subjects rather than just objects, and to reduce eroticism (which had a thorough dynamics in surrealism) to fetishism of the female body!

The editorial (short English version in the second volume) does indeed invoke the dark 50s of surrealism as an esoteric golden age. It does hold forth female surrealist contributions during the period, so they are not denied – but it is really a pity that they are not reflected in the editing, nor are any concerns connected with them…

There is very little if any evidence of an ongoing collective activity in Brazil among these pages (unlike the previous issue of A Phala from just two years ago), and in this connection a particular lack is notable of the remarkably many female surrealist artists in the country (eventually, three of them do eventually turn up with some pages of images at the very end of the two-volume work).

Some things within all these pages are obviously worthwhile: some documentation of recent activities in France, Canada and Portugal (while it is notable and slightly weird that the West Coast Surrealist Group is being presented as an active surrealist group, and that the American ex-groupings presented in the massive Invisible Heads anthology is presented as an active group too including new adherents), playful contributions from Recordists and SLAG, Merl’s important essay on mythology (circulated some time ago but for the first time in print), a bit of useful historical info on Sampaio, Cirlot and Malet, and several remarkable pictures such as Kathy Fox’s uncanny material Freud fantasies, Seixas Peixoto’s intense brutish drawings, Virginia Tentindo’s beautiful and hilarious sculptures with partly erotic themes, Enrique Lechuga’s strangely effective chaos/junk-collages (just to pick a few of my favourites) - others are probably very good too but either reproduced very poorly (so many small imagefiles have been blown up to fullpages and ended in blurred pixliness) or just too cramped up within this nostalgic sauna of tits to have a fair chance. Texts are of course mainly in portuguese and largely inaccessible to me (some chunks are in English, French or Spanish). Some very interesting poetic texts in English by above all relative newcomers Bill Wolak and Paul McRandle, well-known great poets Will Alexander and Beatriz Hausner, and relative veterans Ribitch and Graubard, are notable.

There has been a series of remarkable big anthologies of international surrealism recently: first came the small-sized but packed What Will Be from Brumes Blondes, the most inclusive of the lot but still well edited and with an edge; then the beautiful and dark La Chasse catalog from Montreal; after that the big Hydrolith #2, which suffered badly from a few really bad editorial decisions but also included very much interesting material (especially from Madrid, who don’t write in English too often), and now finally A Phala #3 where the scattered little pieces of interesting content are difficult to find in the 500 pages mire of bad editorial decisions…


Not only a game of solitaire

Alain Joubert’s text from What will Be? which suggested the need for a reevaluation of the traditional guise of surrealism, including considering abandoning group organisation, and which was criticised on the latter point by MF and MF, seemed so interesting to the Californian surrealists that they requested its translation, and is now available as "Cards on the table" in booklet form, either print-on-demand or free download.

Closet decades and flowerpot vikings

In February, CO Hultén passed away. At this time, he was the last surviving member of the Imaginisterna (imaginists) group that was crucial in surrealist painting and networking in Sweden in the 40s and 50s. Less than a year ago, Gudrun Åhlberg (-Kriland, -Holmstedt) and Bertil Gadö had left us, as did their initial ”secretary” Helmer Lång, and only few years ago Anders Österlin.

Hultén was a very active painter, sharpminded and opinionated, up to a remarkably high age, and he is sadly missed. For such a long time, Imaginisterna was the closest thing to a proper surrealist group that had existed in Sweden. Nevertheless, it must be noted that this was still a mere painter group for mutual help, networking, publishing and exhibiting, and thus far from a surrealist group in the full sense. But such are groups are not only rare on the geographical scale, in Sweden, but it should also be noted that in fact the 50s surrealist organisation was at its lowest ebb globally.

For most of its history, Hultén was the prime motor of the Imaginisterna group, but its origins were a joint effort by Hultén and Svanberg, and the disagreements between the two play a crucial role in the early years of the group. And since Svanberg is the more famous painter, in the world, in the country, and in surrealism alike, Hultén’s role has sometimes gone unnoticed. Instead of writing another Hultén obituary, I will here take the opportunity to talk a bit more about surrealism in the 50s, both specifically as regards the case of Svanberg, and concerning degree of organisation.

C O Hultén (1916-2015)

Invisible international: surrealism in the 50s
The remarkable upsurge in surrealist activity in the second half of the 40s, the number of surrealists and surrealist group and groupings and the number of countries where it was present, very quickly ebbed. The surrealist coordination office Cause had failed to establish itself, very many of the new groups and initiatives had coordinated themselves either in opposition to or in willing isolation from the main movement. The stabilisation of the political and social situation after a precious few years of unsettled questions after the end of the war involved the instalment of a more or less open dictatorships and other repressive regimes in a number of countries, and a climate of ideologically triumphant rationalist-consumerist liberal democracy in others. Surrealist activities in Romania and Egypt had been effectively suffocated, members going into exile or simply quitting; surrealist activities in Czechoslovakia and Portugal went clandestine and maintained radio silence; surrealist activities in England, Canada and USA simply stopped. Contacts with Japan and the whole of Latin America were sparse and activities informal and/or isolated. Only in Belgium there were, like in France, a confusing diversity of groupuscules claiming surrealism’s heritage and occasionally bantering with each other, but in Belgium they were all more or less ”post-surrealist” and more or less no one defended surrealism wholeheartedly and kept up international collaborations in its name.

In fact, there wasn’t a single ”surrealist group of NNN” outside Paris during this whole decade, except for a few shortlived and fairly isolated experiments! The surrealist group in Paris was indeed alone. It had a number of friends scattered all over the world, and André Breton together with others (notably Etienne and Pierre) were still struggling to find the new artists that provided new revelations of the spirit – often successfully, but typically in the form of single exceptions.

While such an experimentation went on on a collective level in the networks that had more or less branched off from official surrealism in the organisational decantation processes in the late 40s; the various (interlocking) networks of cobraists and postcobraists, informalists and lyrical abstractionists, automatists and nuclearists, imaginists and bauhaus-imaginists, etc… Through the 50s, it was Jaguer’s new network Phases that gathered and connected the largest number of nodes, and most of the most still relevant to surrealism, of them. Others were gathered in the Situationist International in a more sectarian, spiteful and hyperradical vein. And we could acknowledge the Popular Surrealist Tendency (TPS) as a more isolated rallying point. And the Pataphysical College as a more diluted and non-committal one.

The surrealist group in Paris, the persevering keepers of the flame as organisational center and pole of continuity of surrealism itself, was more isolated than it had ever been since surrealism started spreading over the world in the second half of the 20s. The French surrealist journals of the 50s typically have news bulletins when they have received word from surrealists in another country, and this is not very often. So it looks fairly obvious, but was not openly acknowledged, that the truce or close collaboration between the surrealist group and Phases in the late 50s and early 60s, was a fairly desperate move from the surrealist group to become international and connect with whole circles and groupuscules of people rather than the single individual exceptions that showed up at the local café or in art galleries in the local neighborhood. Phases was in fact the loose structure organising circles of surrealists and perhaps-surrealists in Argentina, Brazil, Sweden, Denmark, Italy, Germany and Poland…

Well, it sort of worked eventually and surrealism rejuvenated itself with a number of new groups in the 60s and a regained sense of internationalism and a sense of radicalism which was not only in opposition to the current times but also in connection with some of its forth-bursting undercurrents. But here, let’s dwell some more in the more bleak, isolated and secret-society-like 50s…

The surrealisation of Svanberg: invention of the surrealist viking culture
Another thing that characterised surrealism in France in the 50s was how surrealism’s inherent lack of love for Judeo-Christian values and Greco-Roman civilisation led to a distinct fad for the old Celts. Celtic mythology and Celtic art were praised, the group established relationships with scholars of bronze-age Celtic culture, there were even rather farfetched attempts to connect specifically the Celtic spirit with the other big fad of the times, lyrical abstraction in painting. But there was also painting with a more mythological, naive, and if you will ”primitive” spirit that perhaps went more easily with the very old aesthetics, both in the unprofessional art brut sphere and in the post-Cobra professional art sphere.

Max Walter Svanberg seemed to fit right in there when he first exhibited in Paris in 1954. The surrealist group in Paris just loved him, and adopted him as one of the movement’s principal new painters immediately. This is well-known and often repeated. Not as often is the other half of the background acknowledged.

Svanberg’s exhibiting in Paris in 1954 was part of an Imaginisterna group show, but Svanberg had in fact just left the group after a final quarrel with Hultén about the direction of the group. They disagreed about the sense and content of imaginism and about the attitude towards surrealism. They had all rejected the cheap aestheticising Dalí-ism (in Sweden represented by the Halmstad group). But Svanberg identified imaginism with his own splendid mythological vision, and strongly opposed this to surrealism. Hultén (along with the others in the group) on the other hand were busy with trying old and new methods of gestural automatism and pretty much in line with contemporary lyrical abstraction; far less eager to keep up a demarcation towards surrealism.

So this well illustrates how the Paris surrealist group at this time was so much more interested in establishing contact with the isolated exceptional visionary than with the collective stratum that was part of a movement specific to the times. And of course, Svanberg’s universe is a powerful statement in itself, it is entirely visionary, and it combines a sense of the archaic and the naive with preciosity and with fetishisms and obsessions that many surrealists can easily recognise as their own. So this selective affinity is not unwarranted or strange.

What is strange is how it is expressed and motivated. All the major texts by Breton and Pierre about Svanberg emphasise that they interpret Svanberg’s vision as reborn Viking mythology. This is a bold trajectory, a fantasy, clearly without any knowledge about Viking culture, and it is difficult to find anything specific in Svanberg’s pictures to suggest this. The archaic-style naive figuration with a mythological directness, and the love of ornamentation, glitter and the golden colour, yes even some specific patterns, may suggest Bronze Age art, but probably far more some kind of Byzantine-exoticising aesthetics. The Bronze Age-suggesting elements surely made the French think of their own variety in their beloved Celtic heritage. And the traditional exoticising boreophilia in France seems to be still focused on the dramatic stories of the Vikings, so they saw no need to make pedantic distinctions in Nordic history between the Bronze Age and the far later, far less aesthetically productive, Viking age… So since Svanberg was a denizen of the Frozen North, then it was easy to project first their own love of Celtic aesthetics onto Viking culture, and then to project this Viking culture as a setting for Svanberg’s vision. It is arbitrary or very prejudiced, but so weirdly so that it is remarkable, it is even contagious, once the establishment has been made, you start seeing connections…

And it also shows Svanberg’s flexibility in the sense that sure, he was opposed to surrealism, but if the surrealists liked him, even if they strangely called him a viking, then who was he to criticise them? (This could be termed openmindedness, or narcissistic opportunism, depending on where you’re coming from.)

 * * *

So, the 50s Paris surrealists preferred an isolated Martian whom they could make into a sandbox Viking shaman to a struggling collective who were keeping a sense of surrealism alive in the late avantgarde. ”Official” surrealism at the time was pretty much under ”occultation”, a small band of devoted believers keeping the flame alive, in opposition to major contemporary historial trends of course but also at a distance from all the groupings and epicentra that represented more or less of an equivalent of surrealism in a lot of countries all over the world. A secret society. Until things changed in the 60s.


In the hood

So it seems like again there is a certain duplication of efforts in Stockholm and Madrid: at the same time as the blogpost of surrealist walking as militant enquiry, Emilio Santiago of the Madrid group published an "investigacion surrealista del imaginario de un barrio" of the Móstoles area in the recent Salamandra #21-22 (as revealed in the pdf version). There is, like in the material from Spain in Hydrolith #2, a wealth of articles about urban and suburban (and here also maritime) phenomenology. And a very beautiful picture of two windows with branches. Also a bunch of articles on the concept of "Poetic materialism", including one on "scientific method and poetic materialism".

Hymenopteran pace

Just after I wrote the text about Peter Dubé’s anthology I happened to read a book of poetry by Swedish author Leif Holmstrand, which I had picked up at a secondhand poetry sale just for its beautiful title (”stekelgång”, which is the walk of a wasp, but also the wasp’s route, a wasp tunnel, and a wasp iteration). The author’s name was at most vaguely familiar. But the poems were beautiful and very fascinating. Just as I’d been asking, again, whether there are particular imaginational forms in the phenomenology of homosexual desire, this was now a powerful love poetry which focused on concrete sensual detail (which is metaphysical in the framework of love poetry) without pronouns and without explicit gender markers also in the bodily descriptions. Eroticism in a weirdly universal guise?
It turned out that the author was an established name in alternative side of the cultural market, quite active in sexual politics and famous as a ”queer artist”, and also a visual artist. While in visual art, this was mainly about ”addressing topics” and therefore usually not embodying poetic spirit, also the more recent poetry published was quite powerful and with a relentless poetic focus. Chance signs keep showing us many of the best poets when we can't be bothered to keep track of the literary field...
Paper wasp dismembering a stick insect

Surrealism and Tradition

(another excerpt from the postface to the Swedish edition of the Manifestoes of Surrealism. The paragraph about automatism was posted here earlier.)

A theme running through the surrealist manifestoes, which is not their main point but nevertheless very significant, is the retrospective invention of a surrealist tradition. This means laying bare a line of radical poetic thought culminating in surrealism itself. In contrast with the standard image of an avantgarde modernist movement wanting to make tabula rasa with tradition and invent itself as something absolutely new, surrealism has always and everywhere worked with finding precursors to socialise with, constructing the line, globally as well as locally, leading up to surrealism.

It is this very invention, the surrealist tradition, that Jean Schuster radically misunderstood when he proclaimed the dissolution of the French surrealist group and thought he was able to dissolve historical surrealism as such in 1969. Schuster was talking about the distinction between historical surrealism and timeless surrealism, and for him it followed logically that if historical surrealism had a beginning it must have an end. And why not there and then? Okay, but why? But if it was mainly hubris and lack of overview that convinced him that he was able to assess that surrealism was at an end, or that he had the authority to make this end come about on his own initiative, then his misunderstanding of timeless surrealism was far more fundamental. What he didn't understand is that timeless surrealism, all these elements to a radical poetic practice from all times and all societies, didn't exist in an independent way but formed a line only to the extent that this was tied together in historical surrealism. It was historical surrealism that was able to identify and connect such elements of timeless surrealism, and it was historical surrealism's search for sources of inspiration and for accomplices beyond time and space that made it meaningful to point out the quality of timeless surrealism in these. The surrealist movement has continued to explore and recognise such relatives in various cultural contexts, while external academics and critics recognition of in some meaning objectively surrealist bodies of work in art and initiatives outside surrealism remains a rather vain and in the end utterly pointless attempt at aesthetic genre determination.

The first manifesto lists a long row apparently disparate authorships as surrealist in the one or the other particular respect, while the second manifesto instead emphasises the ambiguity of the testimony of all the dead, and spits on some old heroes. In both texts the basic elements of the tradition are glimpsed here and there. In later texts other elements are added; "Limits not frontiers of Surrealism" emphasises British sources, while in "Prolegomena" Breton is a bit isolated and instead pronounces his own personal line, which is partly identical with the available surrealist tradition and partly his later discoveries, here fulfilling the function of suggestions into the canon of surrealism. Lautréamont and Rimbaud is the very foundation, while other recurring points of reference in these texts are of course Herakleitos, Flamel, Sade, Hegel, Nerval, Marx, Engels, Baudelaire, Moreau, Jarry, Freud, Lenin, Chirico...

Schematic historiography insists that surrealism was born from Dada. But the core of surrealism took shape as a radicalisation of French late symbolism and general modernism in 1919, before its initiators were familiar with Dada, and Dada became, from the viewpoint of surrealism, rather a mere temporary form of organisation, a brief period for making certain important experiences through emphasising certain partial domains of the spirit of the surrealist, and soon it had emptied its potential as a distinct direction. In that respect, Dada is for surrealism a similar entity as certain postsurrealist movements: pataphysics, abstract expressionism, lettrism and situationism, all interesting experiments with picking and refining selected aspects of surrealism, which soon were exhausted. No, the genealogical precursor of surrealism is instead symbolism, which was the particular form for insisting on poetry which the surrealists were based in and departed from and scolded. Other immediate but less direct precursors were absurdism, occultism and anarchist terrorism: often mediated via suspect sources and mere schoolboy admiration. Genuine fields of theory which had often been appropriated only through tendentious selections are represented by Hegel, Marx and Freud (*). On top of that there were whole areas of scholarship having presented themselves through similarly tendentious varities, such as various esoterics (alchemy, gnosticism, certain neoplatonism, kabbala, astrology, spiritism), modern natural science, pre-romanticism and romanticism (**).

It has been noted and deserves to be repeated that surrealism lays bare a line of continuity which is only partially contained by each of its exponents. NN is a surrealist "in xxx" and not in general: it is their active linking with each other in a line leading up to surrealism that clarifies this particular part of their work. Therefore surrealism cares little for trying to solve contradictions within and between these precursors. Surrealism is what is distinct here; while the incarnations of different parts of it, single sources of inspiration for it, don't need to be distinct in any way which is clear to anyone who are not themselves active as surrealists, and they take place there only to the extent they are inspiring as accomplices or useful as tools. That brings us to the very important passage in the Prolegomena speaking about the carpenter's tool bench, which has been noted to primarily emphasise a particular vigilance in maintaining as distinct those different frameworks which are employed. Surrealism never wanted to do rational syntheses of the freudomarxism kind. Freud was utilised as completely valid concerning those processes in the mind where his theories were at their sharpest, at their most heroically revelatory. Marx was utilised as completely valid for an analysis of society. The communist party was utilised, temporarily, as completely valid for organising the action on the social level. The surrealist group's own experimenting and theorising was and has remained completely valid for the themes and ambitions that are its own.

Anyway, we know that Hegel, Marx and Freud all can be used, and have been used, for quite a scope of this and that. Breton's utilisation in the 20s has been far from alone in surrealism, even if they certainly have been integrated into the collective experience not the least in that particular guise. The tradition of surrealism is not the least an unusual body of education. The freedom to invent the presurrealist tradition means among other things the freedom to use old writers to specifically whatever one's own curiosity and longing dictates, specifically what creative shortcuts emerging in the meeting, in coincidences, rather than the most rigorous reconstructions of the real author intentions or the currently fashionable interpretation trend at the university. This particular outlook and insight – wide but without complete overview, in chosen details both intimate and truly perverse – into selected old traditions, disciplines and authors is one of the things that characterises surrealism, in the 20s as well as today. Having an education without ever having gone to university has not been quite as unusual in France as it is in Sweden (at least now since the workers movements independent routes of education have been wiped away), in France where there has really been a sphere of public intellectual discussion outside the academies with a traditional central role for independent intellectuals.

It is of great importance for understanding surrealism to see that it is firmly founded in such an independent environment, that it has been positioning itself visavis cultural movements and popular movements rather than visavis academic trends, and that all of its fundamental theorists have lacked an academic education within the areas they can be said to have been most active in. This separates surrealism already to start with vastly from movements like existentialism, structuralism, poststructuralism and postmodernism, which have not just originated from but actually largely played within the universities.

Indeed it is surrealism that is largely responsible for having created that tradition where Rimbaud is a milestone in the evolution of poetry, and where Jarry and Lautréamont are great names, where the "small romantics" are as important as the big official names, etc. This reformation of the history of literature has hardly been one of surrealism's aims but is a mere byproduct. In contrast to, in turn, the deliberate reformation of the history of literature that the romanticists brought about, which the surrealists in their turn certainly make use of but for another purpose. Or, for that matter, to the poststructuralist selection of surrealism, that makes Artaud, Bataille, Char and others stand forth in the cultural context of recent decades as if they were isolated authorships and not lighthouses within a collective movement...

Mattias Forshage

(*) Let us examplify this bias with Breton's refences to Hegel in the Second manifesto, which may seem quite confusing to a Hegel reader. It has been shown that what Breton refers to is actually Hegel's French translator Augusto Vera's rather free summary of Hegel. From a completely other perspective came, later in the 20s, Kojève’s wellknown introduction of Hegel in France, which turned Hegel into the kind of phenomenological phillosopher he is mainly regarded as in that country. And what is the kind of marxism that the surrealists refer to? It is to a large extent the crash course cultivated within the Third International as the dogma it had become already in the Second International, namely Engels’s popular writings and especially the "Anti-Dühring". It is those and not any careful study of Capital (and of course not Marx’s youth writings, which were then still unpublished) which is the basis of the marxism of the surrealists. And the agenda in their specifically political lines of reasoning is largely what is dictated by the stalinist Third international in its French populist guise, which the surrealists try to fend themselves against but still fulfill and solve in passing, at the same time as they also study various fragments of less light source texts and especially the instance of contemporary advanced marxist theory in Trotsky's writings, and in the studies and agitation by the Left Opposition just taking shape at the time and in which the surrealists well knew several central agents personally.

(**) Especially romanticism has, in these texts from the 20s, a remarkable and somewhat bizarre French bias. At the same time as the surrealists gush forth antinationalist phrases and for polemically antinationalist reasons explicitly salute "thinking and writing in the German language" they have very little insight into this German tradition, just a few translations of Hegel, Marx. Engels and Novalis, and they can still speak about "the outbreak of romanticism in the year 1830" and discuss the romantic movement as if romanticism is synonymous with the late and pale French romanticism!

Life as a polygone

(I was re-reading some of my books about isolated Swedish romanticist poet Stagnelius.)
One of the many theorists who've gone through a bit of a reevaluation through the history of surrealism is old Platon (for some reason known in English as Plato). If in the earliest days he was briefly hailed for his lack of realism, for most of the classic years Plato was considered to be on the idealist, confusionist, religious side. Since the 40s however (with a case made by Jean Brun, among others), many individuals within surrealism have found his writings inspiring and greeted him as a partial precursor.

The surrealists' main forerunners in the tireless effort to find forerunners are of course the romanticists, and they had a clearer stand on the philosopher. Or did they? In romanticism, the literature historians show us there is two very distinct ways of advocating "platonic love".

One view is the one clearly advocated by Platon (though I wouldn't want to go into polemics over this, since I am hardly a Platon scholar and have no wish to become one), where hailing the beauty in the physical world, including indulging in carnal love, is in perfect continuity with pure spiritual love, and there is a spontaneous progression towards the pure idea. For the romanticist activists, this idea often took the shape of a radical shortcut, the "immediate transcendentalism" that sees earthly love as directly holy and a part of the absolute and of heavenly order. This is of course close to various brands of radical mysticism, and when dislocated into an atheist framework, basically a surrealist attitude.

However, among romanticists, this platonism competed with the reinterpretations of late antiquity, where especially Plotinos (known in English as Plotinus, in French as Plotin) is famous as the main proponent of "neo-platonism". Plotinos saw a radical break between earthly beauty and ideal beauty, and not just a break but a contradiction, so that earthly love was a deadly trap keeping our soul from seeking its true destiny and pleasure in the ideal world. The radical denunciation of matter in the gnosticist movement is a clear parallel here, while the magic and ritual practices connected with classic hermeticism at least partly seems to redirect the attention to the material world once more.

Classic hermeticism was revived by Italian renaissance philosophers, who connected its classical texts with neoplatonism and studied Plotinos. Yet again, matter came sneaking up, and hermetic philosophy became an important tradition in Europe only in conjunction with the material work of alchemy imported from the Arab world. Classic alchemy of course is all built on a polarity between the high and the low, but more than anything on transformation, and specifically the transcendental potential thus present in whatever is low, and of patient and careful interaction with base matter. Again, a reinterpretation in terms that we may perhaps recognise as overlapping with surrealism.

In romanticism, we see a rather clear dividing line between more platonic and more plotinic temperaments. Organised revolters and visionaries like Novalis and Schlegel have a more sociable mind and a more "platonic" temparement which tends to ascribe a holiness to earthly love because there is no contradiction and earthly love is indeed everything but merely earthly. On the other hand there are the loners, the tormented, who see manifest beauty as a burden which needs to be overcome for higher goals to become visible, and who may for example visit prostitutes to handle their lowly drives in the hope of clearing their minds - Stagnelius is a prime example, going between a gnosticist and a plotinistic expression, with a powerful poetry emerging in the tormented contradictions over love, but without a hope for love (nor a place for women). Loners are typically good at abysses and bad at perspective.

Surrealism is basically romantic, but has an opportunity to be a lot clearer than romanticism on a number of issues. The basic surrealist attitude towards love, as expressed throughout the history of the movement as well as its poetry, got its classical formulation relatively late in Benjamin Péret's "Noyau de la Comète", the essay introducing his anthology of sublime love. Péret's insistence on refusing to separate the sensory and the ideal, the carnal and the spiritual, forms not just a pregnant formulation of the attitude that has been intuitive elsewhere, and thereby forms a sort of a demarcation criterion for love in the sense of historical surrealism. And famously, Breton (in Arcane 17) suggested that the major breaks in surrealism can be regarded in terms of attitudes towards love. Indeed Aragon's libertinism, Eluard's hypocrisy, Artaud's disgusted gnosticism (a radical 20th century cousin of Stagnelius), Dalí's aristocratic fetishism, all fall short of the hope connected with love; all failing to reconcile the carnal with the spiritual and failing to connect real practice with ideal notions, in one way or another plotinic rather than platonic, if you will...

But the major point with love is hardly to defend distinctions, but to dismiss its reduction to one or the other practical purpose, whether it is to find an outlet of supposed biological drives, to receive recognition in the eyes of others, to build up a modest defense against frightening loneliness, or to fulfill ones bestowed destiny and raise a family. Love should be expected to be always transformative and impractical. And that is why it is the sibling of poetry.


The Dignity of Art

In the 20s, surrealist attitudes to art were partly polemical. In order to lay bare the true creative mechanisms and their accessability for everyone, there were powerful attacks on the dignity of art. Surrealists emphasised automatic texts, dream accounts, then collage, then found objects. Exhibiting a urinal had just earlier been a great scatological joke as well as a serious questioning of the boundaries of art and art’s self-understanding and pompous dignity. Of course, from the surrealist viewpoint, these were never primarily provocations and nivellations, it was always about the actual findings and their poetic potential, but also very much polemically about the accessibility of this potential.

The coup ”worked”. Pranks and provocations were accepted as a part of art, and also the more democratic, less educated and more unintelligable visions such as those brought about by the surrealists were accepted as a part of art. Eventually, and that was a later development, conceptual art was established; creativity and skills of realisation were both altogether abandoned as criteria. And what happened to the dignity of art? Well, it’s still there, but only as a power structure. Only in the structure of institutions and funding agencies that decides who is an artist and who is not, and then it is up to the certified artists (who have a proper art education and a cv with received grants and a backing gallerist) to decide what is art and what is not. There is no dignity in art except for this power structure. Everybody will react, when something pretentious and ugly comes in their way, by thinking ”ok, never mind, it’s obviously art” and look away as when ignoring a drunk in the street. Provocations through art don’t work well, and provocations of art are self-contradictory as they often pay well within official art. It is futile to question the concept of art through art, because that’s what a major chunk of official art is doing and there is little left to question. Except the institutional form itself. Which is perhaps best questioned not by grand or small gestures within its own sphere, but by maintaining essential creativity outside of it. As millions of sunday painters, autodidacts, obsessed, odd visionaries, absentminded scribblers, children, madmen, street artists, surrealists, housewives, underground artists, and study-circle attendants do on a daily basis anyway.

Therefore the concept of outsider art or art brut is, as has been noted before, becoming superfluous at the same time as it contains that which is of uttermost importance. It becomes art itself, because there is no official art to be outside of, except as for its institutional structure itself, which is usually of extremely little interest.

But still, some people animated by inner necessity will even now continue to try the route of official art, of art schools, grant applications and gallerists, just to try to procure an opportunity to be able to create all day without starving for it. A lot of really beautiful things are in fact being done also within the art world. People are that desperate. If you go looking for interesting art, you will probably find some. Of course it is a small fraction of all the aspiring artists out there, but since these are very many, it’s still quite a lot. Surely far fewer than those who do similar or equally or more interesting things without trying to squeeze it or themselves into the art institution, but since self-promotion is the major work task of any contemporary artist it is often easier to find these exceptions within the art world than it is to find those who struggle less for recognition and are often happy to stay out of the limelight. Thus, even for extremely suspicious surrealists, there is a lot of good art to find from card-carrying artists who struggle in the art world, it is enough to fill exhibitions or journals or assemble alliances for those who want to do that.

But just because we are devoted to poetic visions this doesn’t mean we have any business promoting the careers of careerists who happened to hit a pregnant ore. The major demarcation criterion will not lie in who is capable of producing striking and powerful works, that is a little bit too wide circumscription, but rather in the attitudes of the artist. It is certainly not the attitudes of the artist that makes a work good or not, but it is definitely that which makes the company of the artist bearable or not. It is possible to collaborate with people who see art as something serious enough to demand a setting that recognises the challenges it poses, who do not do things to please, who do not do things to impress the impressarios, the critics, the tutors and the celebrities, who do not do things to make their name known, but who take their own creative urge seriously enough to dare stay in the shade if necessary and not to start bartering with it as soon as an opportunity arises. It is in fact those who are more serious about the possibilities of art who are usually more modest about their own contribution and more prone to participate in investigations, experiments and games. With a basic attitude that the point of creativity lies in creation and not in the market and institutions it is far easier to take part in playing games, in collective enquiries, in uncertain adventures without guarantees, in manifestations and initiatives and refusals in other media, based on what the dynamics of the creativity, of the random or fate-given discoveries, of the poetic spirit, seems to demand.

But what happened, in this context, to the democratic dimension of denigrating the dignity of art? Well, the production of images overflowed and the art institution swallows anything. We hardly need to convince anyone. And there is no need to stain art, pull it down into the gutter with us. Art has no dignity left, and there is nothing to win in attaining the position of being art. On the other hand, denying any significance of art by postulating definitions where art is anything bad which is determined by the art institution, and anything good outside the art institution is by definition not art, as is perhaps suggested by Madrid surrealists or at least their sympathisers, seems like a pointless semantic trick or an inconsequential battle against windmills.

So, some of the simplest procedures in the surrealist bag of tricks, originally overdetermined by their polemical function, are at this point very little but well-known party tricks and hardly vehicles for transgression and vision. Especially collage. Which has become a bit of an identity politics affair for surrealists rather than an enquiry into the unknown. The idea with collage was that anyone would be able to make up atmospheres, haunted spaces, and remarkable new combinations, in an impersonal language independent of acquired drawing and painting skills. Exquisite corpses may be traditional too, but in exquisite corpses there is still the element of creating something new outside of your own control, while in collages you have picked all the elements yourself and paste them together in a form that is, despite good intentions, often pleasing to the eye far more than to the imagination, and often pleasing to the eye simply because they remind you of Max Ernst or of some other classic surrealist art that you hold dear, or because the parts are interesting in themselves.

Pictorial creation still makes an unrelenting sense, as vehicle of imagination and the exploration of the unknown.

Lost and found 2

a coincidence of the less interesting kind or just a reflection of fashion: just after my little blurb on found photographs last summer, I picked up an entertainment reading pocketbook with a nice cover, which turned out to be a fantasy novel written based on such found photography. Hell, the guy made an effort to stick to a rather harrypotterish young-adult-prose suspense story, but in a slightly different setting this would have been a perfectly surrealist game. The novels (there is an original and a sequel) are not bad at all. No, I have never believed it would be worth the effort to pick up a novel by that Rowling, but young-adult-fantasy is not hopeless as a framework for atmosphere, nice invented mythology, and exploratory-worthy twists, as clearly shown by Ursula K LeGuin and Philip Pullman earlier. And these novels of "Miss Peregrine and her peculiar children" now (by Ransom Riggs) are clearly worth the effort too, for those who do read novels and don't mind a bit of silliness and conventionality, a tolerance which is necessary prerequisite to read novels regularly anyway...