Thursday, July 9, 2015

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.

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