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Douglas Lain
Posted on Tuesday, March 15, 2005 - 08:10 pm:   

Reprinted from my LJ

It seems to me that what is passed off as surrealism today isn't. I think surrealism has to come from a revolutionary/anti-capitalist perspective, or it isn't surrealism.

Surrealism is not a style, and it is not contained in any particular iconography or set of images. Surrealism was a revolutionary art movement that was born out of the misery of the machine gun, out of the misery of World War I.

If you believe, as I do, that surrealism is still relevant and not merely titillating, then I think you have to take the position that the horrors of the last century, and of the present, put us in a situation much like the one Andre Breton found himself in after World War I. You have to believe that the so called rational order of society has been exposed as corrupt and useless.

http://www.zazie.at/Portland/00_WebPages/Index.htm

http://www.surrealistmovement-usa.org/

http://www.illumin.co.uk/svank/
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Simon Owens
Posted on Wednesday, March 16, 2005 - 01:55 pm:   

How is surrealism in terms of literature anti-capitalist?

I always took it as breaking sociological norms that we've already set, whether they be capitalist or anti-capitalist and then treating it as if everything is going normally.

I consider several Dave Lynch movies to be surrealist, but I've never found his work to be overly anti-capitalist.
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Carole C
Posted on Wednesday, March 16, 2005 - 02:52 pm:   

Same here. I'm probably exposing my ignorance hideously, but it never struck me that surrealism in painting was particularly anti-capitalist either. Like Simon says above, it seemed to be more about breaking down sociological norms and exposing the unconscious mind - here's a quote 'Surrealism took from Dadaism a love for the juxtaposition of incongruous images, the purpose of which in the Surrealist view was to express the workings of the unconscious mind'. It says in the Surrealist Manifesto that a 'higher reality' in art could only be achieved in art by freeing the mind from the lower world of superficial rationality.

The Dadaists might have been more political, but again I believe their aim was to break down cultural norms in general, rather than being overtly political.

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Carole C
Posted on Wednesday, March 16, 2005 - 03:04 pm:   

On reflection, the Dadaists were certainly anarchists, but would probably have been opposed to any political system, rather than just anti-capitalist.
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Douglas Lain
Posted on Wednesday, March 16, 2005 - 03:17 pm:   

Simon: You may consider David Lynch to be surrealist, but I'm not sure whether you should or not. The fact is that surrealism was an art movement that aimed to be an assault on society, a part of the revolution. I would say that a literary work without a revolutionary impact or ambition can't be truly surrealist.

Carole: The surrealist painters were perhaps the first to debase surrealism. Certainly Dali turned the surrealist project on its head and reduced the movement to another aesthetic for the commodity market. Still if you investigate a bit you'll find that most of the surrealist painters were Marxists, at least intially.

From wikipedia:

Surrealism is an artistic movement and an aesthetic philosophy that aims for the liberation of the mind by emphasizing the critical and imaginative powers of the unconscious.

Originated in early-twentieth century European avant-garde art and literary circles, many early Surrealists were associated with the earlier Dada movement. Surrealism was, from the beginning, an expressly revolutionary movement, in the broadest sense, encompassing actions intended to advance radical political, social, cultural and personal change.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Surrealism
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Douglas Lain
Posted on Wednesday, March 16, 2005 - 03:27 pm:   

Carole: Being anti-capitalist is certainly not surrealist in and of itself, but it is a necessary part of surrealism and dadaism.

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Carole C
Posted on Wednesday, March 16, 2005 - 03:46 pm:   

Well - if they were Marxists, then that would require a high degree of organisation - to a degree even greater than that required in capitalism, and to me it seemed that the Dadaists were all about breaking down organisations.

They were revolutionary though, but as you say above 'in the broadest sense, encompassing actions intended to advance radical political, social, cultural and personal change'.

I still see them as complete anarchists though, rather than espousing any Marxist views - what would be the point of that when it's way more restricting than capitalism? (but maybe they did not know that then)

Just wittering on ...

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Douglas Lain
Posted on Wednesday, March 16, 2005 - 03:57 pm:   

Carole: Breton eventually ended up identifying with Anarchism, but the surrealists and dadaists were originally marxists. The surrealists even tried to work within the communist party, but were, of course, expelled.

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Simon Owens
Posted on Wednesday, March 16, 2005 - 04:36 pm:   

"most of the surrealist painters were Marxists, at least intially."

Correlation isn't causation, as they'll teach in a lot of statistics classes. I would think artists in general more likely to be Marxist than the general public, so finding a correlation between Marxism and a specific kind of art in general seems useless to me unless you can point out very specific examples.

"I would say that a literary work without a revolutionary impact or ambition can't be truly surrealist."

This kind of seems the equivalent of someone saying: "The pope is infallible because he says he's infallible," to which I say, "So what?" If we're going to play by your rules of what you say surrealism is, then there's really no point in having an argument.

If, on the other hand, I ask why something surrealist has to be revolutionary, I come up short. By making something revolutionary, you are essentially dictating to the reader what you consider right or wrong, you've turned surrealism into a moral issue. But if you view surrealist films or literature or art, they usually seem more bent on just derailing from the norms, not dictating whether the derailments are right and wrong.

From Jean-Paul Sartre's example of surrealism:

"...Here, for example, is a door. It is there before us, with its hinges, latch and lock. It is carefully bolted, as if protecting some treasure. I manage, after several attempts, to procure a key; I open it, only to find that behind it is a wall. I sit down and order a cup of coffee. The waiter makes me repeat the order three times and repeats it himself to avoid any possibility of error. He dashes off and repeats my order to a second waiter, who notes it down in a little book and transmits it to a third waiter. Finally, a fourth waiter comes back and, putting an inkwell on my table, says, 'There you are.' 'But,' I say, 'I ordered a cup of coffee.' 'That's right,' he says, as he walks off.

"If the reader, while reading a story of this kind, thinks that the waiters are playing a joke or that they are involved in some collective psychosis, then we have lost the game. But if we have been able to give him the impression that we are talking about a world in which these absurd manifestations appear as normal behaviour, then he will find himself plunged all at once into the heart of the fantastic."

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Douglas Lain
Posted on Wednesday, March 16, 2005 - 05:29 pm:   

Surrealism is a fusion of Marx and Freud, it was born out of Marxist revolutionary foment.

"I would say that a literary work without a revolutionary impact or ambition can't be truly surrealist."

This kind of seems the equivalent of someone saying: "The pope is infallible because he says he's infallible."


No. It's like pointing out that you shouldn't call yourself Catholic if you don't believe in God.

By making something revolutionary, you are essentially dictating to the reader what you consider right or wrong.

I'm not sure why you'd say that. Could you explain? And as to Jean-Paul Sartre's quote I don't see how it supports your position that surrealism can be apolitical or something other than revolutionary. Could you explain that too?

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Douglas Lain
Posted on Wednesday, March 16, 2005 - 05:42 pm:   

I should probably point out that "the fantastic" is only a part of what surrealism is about, and that Sartre doesn't seem to be referring to surrealism in your quote. Could you cite your source?
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Douglas Lain
Posted on Wednesday, March 16, 2005 - 05:46 pm:   

"What is Surrealism?" by Breton, click on the link.
http://pers-www.wlv.ac.uk/~fa1871/whatsurr.html
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Simon Owens
Posted on Wednesday, March 16, 2005 - 06:20 pm:   

"It's like pointing out that you shouldn't call yourself Catholic if you don't believe in God"

Is that true? I know several people who call themselves Jews who don't really practice the religion. I myself am an agnostic, and yet sometimes I refer to myself as Catholic because on both sides of my family leading back by generations are Catholic. In many instances, religious labels give more of a cultural context than anything else.

Simon said: "By making something revolutionary, you are essentially dictating to the reader what you consider right or wrong"

Doug replies: "I'm not sure why you'd say that. Could you explain?"

Sure. Revolution in political terms is pushing towards radical change. If you're pushing for this radical change, then that probably means that you view the current system as wrong and your proposed system as right. Or more efficient. Or whatever.

Perhaps I'm speaking more of the irreal than surreal. I'm not sure exactly how or where they split from each other, but their similar sounding names indicate that the term "irreal" is nodding its head towards surrealism.

However, if you bypass all the long-winded sources and go straight to the dictionary, Doug, it seems to support my argument:



1. A 20th-century literary and artistic movement that attempts to express the workings of the subconscious and is characterized by fantastic imagery and incongruous juxtaposition of subject matter.
2. Literature or art produced in this style.

And then going even further as to produce the definition for Surreal:

1. Having qualities attributed to or associated with surrealism: “Even with most facilities shut down... a few mavericks managed to slip into the park to sample the almost surreal emptiness before the shutdown ended.” (Peter H. King).
2. Having an oddly dreamlike quality.


The second definition of "Surreal" is what I like to hone in on the most whenever discussing surrealism. The fact that it's like dreaming where in retrospect nothing was quite right. All the corners of this fabricated world didn't meet at 90 degree angles and the sense of oddness is profound. This is why surrealism is so powerful for many readers because of the sense of unease it creates.




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Douglas Lain
Posted on Wednesday, March 16, 2005 - 06:58 pm:   

I don't think the dictionary definition is accurate. Instead I'd go with Breton's definition.

The surrealists did think that the dream, the unconscious, and the liberated life were superior to the squalor of rational life under capitalism. Surrealism was not a moralistic position, or at least it aimed not to be, but was instead an liberatory activity.

Check out this webpage:

http://www.seaboarcreations.com/andrebreton.htm
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Simon Owens
Posted on Wednesday, March 16, 2005 - 07:46 pm:   

Funny how in that whole essay he doesn't seem to cite a single piece of surrealist literature.

I'm still not even close to seeing your conclusion about the "rational life" existing only within captialism. Are you saying that if we were socialist or communists or whatever, surrealism wouldn't have anything to do with the unconscious mind? That surrealism and realism would be exactly the same thing coinciding on the same level?

Let's actually look at some surrealist literature, shall we?

In Julia Slavin's "Swallowed Whole," a housewife begins to lust for the teenaged boy who cuts her lawn. To sleep with him would be unconvetional and would be to break away with conservative capitalist ideology. It seems that she has two choices, to either act on her desire or not to act on her desire. But no, there's a third choice. Upon kissing him, she begins to suck him into her and swallows the boy whole, allowing him to live inside her. The boy begins to create an uncanny relationship with her insides, even going so far as to impregnate her and then grieving when he witnesses firsthand the embryo's death in her uterus.

Where is the political, anti-capitalist notions in any of this, Doug? If this story isn't considered surreal, then I don't know what is.

It's not that I'm saying that surrealism can't be political, but I just find it rather ridiculous to claim that something not political rules it out as being non-surreal, while every definition of the word "surreal" says differently. People like you and me use the word "surreal" every day to describe things, and I think you can agree that you don't always use that word in a political sense. So why do you try to push it as a law into literature and art? Just because a bunch of radical Marxists decided they wanted to make surrealism their baby doesn't mean that it's all theirs to have. As someone who loves and reads surreal stories on a regular basis, I find myself rolling my eyes at such an arrogant notion.

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Douglas Lain
Posted on Wednesday, March 16, 2005 - 08:19 pm:   

Um. Julia Slavin is not where I'd start. She's strange but not in any way definitive. Let's start with actual surrealists or Dadaists. How about Tristan Tzara or Andre Breton or Raoul Vaneigem?

Every serious appraisal of surrealism would admit that Breton's Surrealist International was a political group.

Here are some quotes from and about surrealists.

The activity of our surrealist comrades in Belgium is closely allied with our own activity, and I am happy to be in their company this evening. Magritte, Mesens, Nougé, Scutenaire and Souris are among those whose revolutionary will—outside of all consideration of their agreement or disagreement with us on particular points—has been for us in Paris a constant reason for thinking that the surrealist project, beyond the limitations of space and time, can contribute to the efficacious reunification of all those who do not despair of the transformation of the world and who wish this transformation to be as radical as possible. -Andred Breton

<cite>The organization of human societies has changed the world, and the world in changing has brought upheaval to the organization of human societies. But if hierarchical organization seizes control of nature, while itself undergoing transformation in the court of this struggle, the portion of liberty and creativity falling to the lot of the individual is drained away by the requirements of adaptation to social norms of various kinds. This is true, at any rate, so long as no generalized revolutionary moment occurs.</cite>-Raoul Vaneigem

<cite>"A group of people had moved a dining table out into the street and were sitting around it eating and talking. Were they protesting something, perhaps an eviction, or were they celebrating the absurdity of the moment...a reporter came up to the group, took out a pad of paper and a pen and began to ask them questions. With great solemnity someone at the table began to butter the reporters tie. The reporter stepped back." </i> -Lisa Goldstein, The Dream Years 1986, p.54

Just because a bunch of radical Marxists decided they wanted to make surrealism their baby doesn't mean that it's all theirs to have.

Actually the term surrealism is Breton's term. Roll your eyes if you like, but surrealism has a history and that history should shape the how we conceive, understand, and create surrealist works.

I'd also suggest you investigate the role surrealism had in Paris during the uprising of '68.
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Douglas Lain
Posted on Wednesday, March 16, 2005 - 08:28 pm:   

PS. It turns out that the guy who wrote the essay you said didn't quote surrealists was written by a major surrealist. Franklin Rosemont is the founder of the Surrealist Movement in the US.

Here:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Franklin_Rosemont

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JV
Posted on Wednesday, March 16, 2005 - 08:37 pm:   

Most early surrealist literature is crap--only interesting for historical reasons. The most interesting thing about the movement is how it became "debased"--which would be another way of saying it cross-pollinated, so that in the 1970s you wind up with a work like The Infernal Desire Machines of Doctor Hoffman or Passion of the New Eve by Angela Carter.

Nothing about Marxism is revolutionary today, any more than Capitalism is.

JeffV
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Douglas Lain
Posted on Wednesday, March 16, 2005 - 08:49 pm:   

I think Marx is correct in his critique of capital although I'd agree about Marxism.

You're wrong about Breton's work being crap. Also, the word "surrealism" really has been debased. In the 1970's you could find "surrealism" in fashion magazines and advertisements.

I'll have to read the books you mentioned. I'd bet they're very good books.

I stand by my original declaration that surrealism that isn't revolutionary in intent isn't surrealism at all.
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Simon Owens
Posted on Wednesday, March 16, 2005 - 09:13 pm:   

I've already acknowledged that surrealism can by all means be political and revolutionary. But there's tons of even early surrealist literature that isn't revolutionary or political: some poetry works by Charles Baudelaire (1821-1867, credited by many sources as one of the earlist surrealists) fit this mold well.

Here's a quote from Encyclopedia.com, emphasis mine:

"The movement was founded (1924) in Paris by André Breton , with his Manifeste du surréalisme, but **its ancestry** is traced to the French poets Baudelaire , Rimbaud , Apollinaire , and to the Italian painter, Giorgio de Chirico."

Of course, many of these artists were Dadaists, but the source doesn't explicitly state that all work not expressing Dadaism isn't surrealist.

I still stand by my statement that surrealism is the dive into the unconventional unconscious mind, and that by doing so you're not automatically pressing towards anti-capitalism, that the unconscious can be both capitalist and anti-capitalist, or neither.

Many of the early surrealist seemed to start the movement as a tool, a method of attacking capitalism, but still I don't there's anything that kept the genre from doing more than that. At the heart of the movement and in many definitions of it, the root of surrealism is Freudian imagery. *That* is what defines surrealism for me. Not the politics.
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Douglas Lain
Posted on Wednesday, March 16, 2005 - 10:38 pm:   

that the unconscious can be both capitalist and anti-capitalist, or neither.

I completely disagree with you.

At the heart of the movement and in many definitions of it, the root of surrealism is Freudian imagery.

Freud's conception of the unconscious is central to surrealism, but his "imagery" doesn't exist. As to the ancestors of surrealism you should ask yourself what Breton and his gang saw in Baudelaire. Certainly to take the Freud and the dream out of surrealism is to misunderstand and ultimately completely miss surrealism. Those who would ignore the revolutionary aim of surrealism miss what surrealism is in the same way.

Surrealism isn't a literary genre. It was born out of an attempt to destroy all categories.

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Carole C
Posted on Thursday, March 17, 2005 - 02:25 am:   

Well, if it was born out of an attempt to destroy all categories - why try to categorise (and limit) it by making it political? It can be political, sure, but it's really bigger than that. I agree with Simon - there are loads of Surrealist things out there which are not political!

Another point is that most political systems actually seek to contain and repress individuals, whereas Surrealism wished to do the opposite of that. So it can only really be revolutionary in terms of breaking down existing structures.

Communism is the worst offender when it comes to repressing the individual in favour of the machine, and ironically Capitalism has a much better track record in terms of the individual expressing themselves. So, if anything, the Dadaists were much more capitalist in their aims than anything else.

(Ducks for cover)

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Lucius
Posted on Thursday, March 17, 2005 - 02:42 am:   

This attempt to define Surrealism strikes me as being relevant to the surreal in the same way as Sarte's conversation with the waiters.
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simon owens
Posted on Thursday, March 17, 2005 - 07:05 am:   

Weirdly enough, this is the third debate I've had over the definition of Surrealism in the past year. The last time it happened, a friend and I were walking back from a party or something and I made an offhand comment about surrealism perhaps sliding in as a sub-genre of speculative fiction.

What resulted was a very heated argument --- my friend said that speculative fiction tried to rationalize the fantastic, and that surrealism didn't try to do that at all. He definitely had a point, but I wonder what it is about Surrealism that gets people so heated up about defining it? I've never had these arguments about most other genres (with the exception with poetry, for some reason professors love to start debates about what constitutes poetry).
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barth
Posted on Thursday, March 17, 2005 - 08:29 am:   

Simon: "I consider several Dave Lynch movies to be surrealist, but I've never found his work to be overly anti-capitalist."

I agree, Lynch's work may not target "capitalism," per se, but certainly Blue Velvet, Twin Peaks, Fire Walk With Me, and Lost Highway could all be read as Surrealist attacks on bourgeois sexuality and mindless presumption that would do a Marxist proud.

But while I might personally agree with Doug's point, I think he's in an uphill fight against many decades of lower case s surrealism coming to mean something very different than Breton imagined.
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al duncan
Posted on Thursday, March 17, 2005 - 09:41 am:   

I'm not sure about the 21st Century baggage that goes with a word like 'anti-capitalist' but on the whole I'm with Douglas here. Whether individuals were Marxist, non-Marxist, anarchist, Marxist-then-anarchist or whatever, they were deeply anti-bourgeois and I think that attitude applies not just to them but to Surrealism itself. Sure, there's the Freudian psychology which is extrapolated into a sort of 'mass personal' revolutionary strategy (fucking with people's minds) as opposed to the 'collective political' strategy (fucking with society); but any movement with a manifesto is pretty political, I'd say. I wouldn't nail it so strongly to communism - Futurism had a big dalliance with fascism, after all - but it was, I think, part of a big early 20th C maelstrom of ideologies that were about far more than just shocking the inner vicar.

There's a bridging point between the Freudian and Marxist ideas as well, I think. From what I understand Apollinaire, a pretty central figure in the whole thing, was an immense fan of de Sade and that doesn't surprise me; it seems to me that de Sade's philosophy sits neatly in the middle ground between Freud and Marx, covering the area of personal politics between the individual and the social. I'd say Surrealism was very much predicated on fucking over the bourgeois every which way, personal, political and every point between the two. As I say, these were guys with manifestos, thinking of themselves as a movement, thinking of their fight against conventionality as a political one.

And the fact that they were making their manifestos for the Machine Age makes it seem quite logical to trace the sense of dehumanisation, fragmentation, dislocation, disruption, etc. which pervades Surrealism, Cubism, Dadaism and Futurism in large part to the futureshock of WW1 with all its absurd, grotesque horrors - tanks, trenches, shellshock. There's a deep contempt for the existing social order of the time and a provocationist attitude at the roots of these movements that is, I think, far more political and probably more specific than we acknowledge if we focus in solely on the stylistic technique, the dissonant juxtapositions. That's partly due, I think, to the same pressures that resulted in communism and fascism. The Romantic Rationalism that gave us the Big Push was pretty fucking corrupt.

I do think the cross-over of Surrealist techniques into the wider world - as lower case surrealism - is no bad thing in many ways; dogmatic manifestos don't really float my boat and I see no reason not to put the techniques of Surrealism to non-partisan purposes. But I doubt that the early Surrealists would have seen the distinction between the personal and political strategies of their art as anything more than a bourgeouis attempt to make it cosy and safe. And too often, I think, sadly, they'd be right, that the attempt was successful in turning this fundamentally anti-bourgeois methodology into something the middle-classes could stroke their chins and nod appreciatively over.

I blame Dali, the motherfucking chickenshit sell-out, not just for commercialising it; but for encouraging the disruption of conventionality to be taken as an ironic game. OK, so maybe Franco's Spain was not the easiest place to turn around and say "You killed my mate, ya fascist fucker" but his response to Lorca's murder was basically designed, I think, to supplicate himself before the Falangists, to tell them in no uncertain terms that they had nothing to worry about from his type of Surrealism.

"Dali responded to the news of his [Lorca's] death with admirable objectivity, shouting 'Olé'. He explained that this was the cry with which the audience at a bullfight rewards a torero who has executed a difficult and dangerous manoeuvre. Dali thought that Lorca must have enjoyed his beautiful death."
- Lorca: A Dream Of Life, Leslie Stainton

To my mind that's just a way of telling the Powers-That-Be that the aim of Surrealism may be to shock, but that it is basically apolitical, anti-political. It is purely aesthetic, purely sensational, a big spectacular mind-game, happy to provoke outrage but ultimately safe as a toothless kitten. Unfortunately, part of Dali's legacy is, I think, that you're fighting a losing battle against that fuzzy lower case idea of surrealism.
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Lucius
Posted on Thursday, March 17, 2005 - 11:00 am:   

While I agree basically with your comments about Dali, I can't ascribe purity of motive to the other early surrealists--there was always an element of self-promotion in the movement, a desire to draw attention to themselves, a tactic that was neither Marxist or revolutionary in character. As revolutionaries, generally-speaking, the surrealists put me in mind of the anarchist Bakunin, whose followers assasinated a number of world leaders, but who never put himself in harm's way. They made a lot of noise, but not much else -- this is not to say that noise is without value, but I sense with some of them, anyway, that Marxism was more fashion statement than political passion. This is, of course, debatable. My view is based on anecdotal evidence, on my reading, and on my experience with "revolutionary" politics in the US, and, as such, is hardly definitive.
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Mr. The Denby
Posted on Thursday, March 17, 2005 - 11:33 am:   

Lucius said:

As revolutionaries, generally-speaking, the surrealists put me in mind of the anarchist Bakunin, whose followers assasinated a number of world leaders, but who never put himself in harm's way.

Isn't that a little unfair to Bakunin? After all, he was jailed for his connection to the Dresden uprising in 1849, sentenced to death twice (before having that sentence commuted to life in prison) and then he was deported to Siberia for several years. I don't know how he was treated during his imprisonment, but it does seem to show his commitment to his ideas.

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JV
Posted on Thursday, March 17, 2005 - 11:45 am:   

I'm with Lucius. I think they used politics, in many cases. I don't think this is a bad thing, either. I do think that the anti-middle class attitude, and middle-class norms is very important, but that's not necessarily *Political* with a capital "P".

This discussion is so rational as to be anti-Surrealistic in so many ways.

Jeff
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Lucius
Posted on Thursday, March 17, 2005 - 12:10 pm:   

You point out a misstep on Bakunin's part. More typical of his behavior--and i don't have references at hand, so can't be specific--was the incident when he stopped by a scene in which the barricade were being manned, and briefly addressed the crowd, then hopped on a train and beat it out of town.

"This discussion is so rational as to be anti-Surrealistic in so many ways."

Surreal in itself. :-)
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Victoria Garcia
Posted on Thursday, March 17, 2005 - 01:10 pm:   

I agree with Doug.

I wish I could find a really good link to Pietro Ferrua's work*. I interviewed him on KBOO a few years ago, as part of their surrealism festival, and he spoke about this very topic better than I ever could.

If I remember my reading (and Pietro's comments) correctly, the original surrealists (Breton's group) tried really hard to be Marxists, when they were young. They made overtures to the communist party in Paris, and even attended meetings for a while. But eventually, everyone fell out with everyone. I don't remember the exact details of this, though as I recall, there's a very good account of it in Mark Polidori's (wonderful) biography of Breton. In later decades, Louis Aragon was actually excommunicated from the movemement by Breton for having too much to do with communism.

Later, they settled into anarchism. The anarchist connection gradually became stronger in the post-Breton generations until we got to where we are now, with The Rosemonts in Chicago.

Cognitive, emotional, and imaginative libration from the confines of commonplace existence is absolutely central to the project. This makes anarchism a very good ideological fit. It seems to me that the organized groups (like Portland and Chicago) do continue to keep this in mind and to incorporate the movement's political program into their activities, and, indeed, into their members' everyday ways of living**. Many individuals who brand themselves surrealists don't, necessarily. Indeed, thanks in no small part to dear Avida Dollars, the word "Surreal" has developed an adjectival meaning that has almost nothing to do with the living movement.

There is a lot of work out there (written, visual, etc.) that wears surrealism's trappings without having surrealism's fundamental intent. On many occasions, I've heard the term "Visionary" applied to the visual work, and it seems useful-- not because "Visionary" is a terribly good descriptor, but because it creates a seperate class for the stuff.

As far as the effectiveness of the movement as a political force- well, for years, that's been very frustrating to me. It's difficult enough to get the public to adopt your ideas about social structure when you don't have to get them to embrace an aesthetic scheme as well. I don't think it's cowardice or self-interest that keeps them from being successful revolutionaries. I think that the task they've set for themselves is just too damned hard.

And as far as the surrealist-- genre connection is concerned: I think that Simon Owen's friend was exactly right when he said that genre rationalizes the fantastic, while surrealism goes in the other direction. It's a completely different cognitive process. I remember playing exquisite corpse with a bunch of science fiction writers once-- it was amazing. Each one of them took the previous person's sentence, and tried to find a very good reason for it to have been said. It produced a piece that, in tone, was the exact opposite of any I'd ever seen produced, in any other context, ever.





*I do still have a very good tract by Pietro Ferrua about the surrealist-anarchist connection. If anyone really wants it, feel free to e-mail me. I'd be happy to make a PDF of it and send it out. It's in French.

** I have never been more aware of how clunkily bourgeois I am as I was when I was hanging around with the Portland group.
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Douglas Lain
Posted on Thursday, March 17, 2005 - 01:17 pm:   

JV: I'm glad that you're participating in this discussion. I know you have published a surrealist anthology and I'm curious to know how you view the term and what motivates you to mount surrealist projects.

You wrote This discussion is so rational as to be anti-Surrealistic in so many ways.

One of the major criticisms that could be leveled against the surrealists, one that was frequently aimed at them in fact, was that they so mystified the public, were so intent on being strange, that their revolutionary content, their real aims, were lost. If it is true that in order to be surrealist a writer or artist must abandon plain speaking and all reason then I will happily abandon surrealism itself and try to sluff off any influence this mostly dead movement has had on my thinking.

Still, I don't think it's true that you have to be irrational to be a surrealist. Instead I would suggest that a person attempting a surrealist project should attempt, in the course of his or her work, to transcend reason. I think the distinction here is the distinction one can make between illumination and confused error.
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JV
Posted on Thursday, March 17, 2005 - 02:06 pm:   

I've published anthologies that contain some surreal stories. Whether they're Surreal with a capital S is another question. I think some of them are, but some of them aren't.

I'm on record as saying that I wanted to take some stories for Album Zutique that I didn't understand. Precisely because to transcend reason you have to take what you don't personally understand--and hope it's not just that...*you* don't understand it. LOL!

I don't mean to seem hostile to the main discussion here. I just am more interested in the permutations that occurred after the Fall of Surrealism. And I don't see a return of Surrealism with a political agenda to be of much use. If a writer comes out of a situation where they are legitimately anti-middle class and it's not a pose and they happen to write Surrealism, great. But I've read tons and tons of Breton's stuff, and I'm trying to figure out the rationale for it being of major literary interest today.

JeffV
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Lucius
Posted on Thursday, March 17, 2005 - 02:06 pm:   

I hardly think that Jeff was saying this was a rational discussion as far as it making sense, I think rather that he was saying it was couched in rational terms. I don't see how you can consider something rationally argued when, in response to JV saying Breton's work was crap, you say, You're wrong. Period. For the record, I think Breton was crap, too...Surrealism was his property, his thing, and he clung to it tlike the talentness oaf he was, because it was all he had. Victoria's story about him excommunicating Aragorn speaks to this measly, proprietary attitude...but that begs the issue. You have a family, you have a home, a job -- in what way do you consider yourself a revolutionary and not a member of the bourgeosie? I assume from what you say you that you consider yourself a surrealist and thus a revolutionary, because you state that you will abandon surrealism etc; yet your writing seems to me to show no sign of surrealism, rather evokes a post-modernist feel. Let's define some terms here. What do you consider "revolutionary" about art? Any art, not just your own. I'm not challenging you here, I want to know. You're using terms that are so blurrily applied, it allows the conversation to slip and slide.

For the record, to define my terms, I don't consider any art revolutionary that is not overtly so. i.e., art that directly encourages political action. The concept of subversive art is too subtle for the times. and the idea that art can be "dangerous" by virtue of shock is way passe....

To Victoria: Almost everyone tries to be a marxist when they're young. That doesn't make them either a marxist or a surrealist. The reason the communists wouldn't deal with them was that they didn't take their "revolutionary politics" seriously.
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Douglas Lain
Posted on Thursday, March 17, 2005 - 02:31 pm:   

Lucius: Having a job and a family isn't bourgeoise. I don't claim to be a surrealist. As to being revolutionary I would admit to falling down on the job.

Art could be revolutionary if it could be lived on a mass scale. Breton may have failed but that was the goal.

I'm at work so I'll leave it there for now.
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Lucius
Posted on Thursday, March 17, 2005 - 03:20 pm:   

Doug....

I think Breton was all puffery. Blowing smoke.
"Art could be revolutionary if lived on a mass scale...." Yeah. And shit would smell good if we all held hands and belived in fairies. I don't even know what those words mean. What has that got to do with automatism? I guess I'd have to ask Andre Breton and listen to an hour of gas.

I think this idea that the bougees are the end of everything...Hell, I freely admit to being a product of the bourgeoise class. To me, having a job and a family, a TV, a cat, a middle class income, which I assume you have and I sure as hell have, drinking a beer now and again, watching the occasional sporting event, etc, are some of the telltales of the bourgeoise. The fact is, most great art, great leaders, great leaps forward, great everything, comes from the bourgeoise. I think surrealism, as practiced by Breton, was a kind of faux-elitism,, a youthful bourgeoise act, a rejection of his own roots such as is practiced by every generation. Breton had nothing left to offer after that; he was not capable of much evolution as an artist, so he clung to it. In a way, he was the ultimate bourgeoise spokesmodel.

I think Jeff said it for me--"I just am more interested in the permutations that occurred after the Fall of Surrealism. And I don't see a return of Surrealism with a political agenda to be of much use. If a writer comes out of a situation where they are legitimately anti-middle class and it's not a pose and they happen to write Surrealism, great."

That's pretty much how I feel.
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Douglas Lain
Posted on Thursday, March 17, 2005 - 03:47 pm:   

Lucius: You wrote: I think Breton was all puffery. Blowing smoke.

Fine. I'm not really up for debating the merits of surrealism. If you want to dismiss it that's fine by me. I do think it's worthwhile to point out that there are a lot of working class people who have jobs and families and even cats.

Jeff wrote and you quoted him: I just am more interested in the permutations that occurred after the Fall of Surrealism.

I think Jeff’s use of the phrase “the Fall of Surrealism” is pretty apt and points to the fact that what is called Surrealism now often isn’t actually surrealist at all.
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JV
Posted on Thursday, March 17, 2005 - 07:27 pm:   

What Lucius said.

And any time generalities come into play, it's all bullshit anyway. The bourgeoise mindset. The marxist approach. None of that speaks to the permutations of individual human beings. And what I find most interesting about the surrealists is the eccentric individuality of the best of them. And that transcends the "movement" that they're associated with.

I dunno. I mean the Decadents coalesced into the Symbolists, both of whom influenced the Surrealists, and then you could say the modern Surrealists--even the ones you mention re Chicago, Douglas--assimilated a host of *other* influences, so they ain't pure Surrealists either.

But I like mutts. I don't care for purebreeds when it comes to fiction.

JeffV
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Douglas Lain
Posted on Thursday, March 17, 2005 - 07:32 pm:   

I'm all for mutts too. But I stand by my original statement. Surrealism that isn't revolutionary isn't surrealism.

Do you disagree?
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Lucius
Posted on Thursday, March 17, 2005 - 07:41 pm:   

You don't want to debate?

Right.

I sense I have offended by disgareeing witn you, something I didn't intend. You put this stuff out there, so I thought you wanted a dialogue--apparently you wanted mostly agreement. I apologize for not agreeing. In my view, surrealism was a juvenile movement from which a few real artists arose. Artistic movements of this sort--artistic movements of any type--serve as a sort of cultural petri dish. Each produce a few geniuses who rise up and create something worthwhile, leaving the movements from which they arose to peter out and eventually dissolve. Jeff's statement, which you like so much, is apt, but, to my way of thinking it would be more apt to say the depletion of surrealism. The enervation of surrealism. Surrealism did not so much fall as it gave out into an oozing liquid putresence, which went into the ground and eventually reacted with the chemicals in the dirt and produced deviant and brilliant talents such as Artaud. But that's a whole other conversation.

Working class, middle class... there's little difference culturally anymore between the two in this country, and before too long, come the oligarchy, there'll be even less. Welcone to the Prole-bourgeoise.

What gives you the idea I didn't understand what Jeff meant?

That's rhetorical.

Good luck with praxis.
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Lucius
Posted on Thursday, March 17, 2005 - 07:48 pm:   

Oh, as to your statement that the surrealists were all about revolution, I disagree. Their manifestos were all about revolution, their art was not, and, taken as individuals, the statement is meaningless.
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Douglas Lain
Posted on Thursday, March 17, 2005 - 07:57 pm:   

Lucius:
I sense I have offended by disgareeing witn you

You're misreading me. I'm not offended. Perhaps you're offended?

What I didn't want to debate was whether or not surrealist ideas about revolution had any value. I'm just pointing out what surrealism is.

In any case, I don't agree with you about Breton, or more importantly, about how the revolutionary ideas in surrealism are valueless. I don't think surrealism was a juvenile movement from which a few great artists arose. I have trouble with the whole "great artist" thing, although I do occassionally pretend to myself that I am one.

Wasn't Artaud a revolutionary?

Remember, my main point was that surrealism had to be revolutionary in its intent in order to be surrealism. Wasn't Artaud intending to be a revolutionary?

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Douglas Lain
Posted on Thursday, March 17, 2005 - 08:00 pm:   

Lucius: Their manifestos were all about revolution, their art was not, and, taken as individuals, the statement is meaningless.

Would you say that, taken as individuals, the surrealists supported the prevailing order?
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Douglas Lain
Posted on Thursday, March 17, 2005 - 08:20 pm:   

The only Artaud I've read is a bit of the Theatre and Its Double. Here's a bit from an essay that starts with a quote from Artaud. Is this reading of Artaud wrong?

"Never before," wrote Artaud [in Theatre and Its Double], "has there been so much talk about civilisation and culture as today, when it is life itself that is disappearing. And there is a strange parallel between the general collapse of life, which underlies every specific symptom of demoralisation, and this obsession with a culture which is designed to domineer over life." Modern Art is at a dead end. To be blind to this fact implies a complete ignorance of the most radical theses of the European avant-garde during the revolutionary upheavals of 1910-1925: that art must cease to be a specialised and imaginary transformation of the world and become the real transformation of lived experience itself. Ignorance of this attempt to recreate the nature of creativity itself, and above all its vicissitudes in Dada and Surrealism, has made the whole development of modern art incoherent, chaotic and incomprehensible.
http://www.geocities.com/yoshomon/modernartofrevolution.html
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Nick Mamatas
Posted on Thursday, March 17, 2005 - 11:24 pm:   

This discussion brings to mind the following meaningless and randomly generated essay:

The Iron Fruit: Presemioticist constructive theory in the works of Joyce



Catherine B. W. von Ludwig
Department of English, University of Illinois



1. Presemioticist constructive theory and the neocapitalist paradigm of consensus



The main theme of Pickett's[1] model of Derridaist reading is the futility, and subsequent stasis, of cultural class. The primary theme of the works of Joyce is the bridge between reality and society. It could be said that if the neocapitalist paradigm of consensus holds, we have to choose between Derridaist reading and subdialectic appropriation.

"Narrativity is part of the failure of art," says Marx; however, according to Werther[2] , it is not so much narrativity that is part of the failure of art, but rather the rubicon of narrativity. Sartre suggests the use of presemioticist constructive theory to modify and challenge society. Thus, Lyotard uses the term 'neodialectic objectivism' to denote the dialectic, and thus the collapse, of modern class.

In the works of Joyce, a predominant concept is the distinction between ground and figure. Derridaist reading holds that truth is capable of truth. However, in A Portrait of the Artist As a Young Man, Joyce analyses presemioticist constructive theory; in Dubliners he reiterates the subcultural paradigm of reality.

Derrida's critique of presemioticist constructive theory suggests that consciousness may be used to exploit the underprivileged. In a sense, the characteristic theme of la Fournier's[3] essay on Derridaist reading is the common ground between sexual identity and class.

Presemioticist constructive theory states that context is a product of the masses. Therefore, Lyotard promotes the use of Derridaist reading to deconstruct outmoded perceptions of society.

The subject is interpolated into a presemioticist constructive theory that includes narrativity as a paradox. However, a number of theories concerning the postdialectic paradigm of expression may be found.

Sartre uses the term 'the neocapitalist paradigm of consensus' to denote a cultural reality. Thus, the primary theme of the works of Joyce is the meaninglessness, and subsequent economy, of neotextual art.

2. Joyce and presemioticist constructive theory



"Class is a legal fiction," says Bataille. Dietrich[4] suggests that we have to choose between the neocapitalist paradigm of consensus and predialectic construction. In a sense, the main theme of de Selby's[5] critique of Derridaist reading is the role of the reader as observer.

If one examines the neocapitalist paradigm of consensus, one is faced with a choice: either reject the textual paradigm of reality or conclude that reality, paradoxically, has objective value, given that narrativity is interchangeable with consciousness. Many theories concerning the difference between class and sexual identity exist. It could be said that the primary theme of the works of Burroughs is the defining characteristic, and therefore the meaninglessness, of subcultural class.

"Sexual identity is part of the futility of sexuality," says Baudrillard; however, according to Bailey[6] , it is not so much sexual identity that is part of the futility of sexuality, but rather the stasis of sexual identity. Sontag suggests the use of Derridaist reading to modify society. Thus, the premise of neomaterialist discourse holds that language serves to reinforce hierarchy.

Lacan uses the term 'Derridaist reading' to denote not theory, but pretheory. Therefore, Lyotard promotes the use of presemioticist constructive theory to attack archaic, elitist perceptions of sexual identity.

Marx uses the term 'the dialectic paradigm of context' to denote the paradigm, and thus the economy, of substructural narrativity. Thus, the futility, and some would say the absurdity, of the neocapitalist paradigm of consensus intrinsic to Burroughs's The Ticket that Exploded is also evident in Port of Saints. If presemioticist constructive theory holds, we have to choose between patriarchialist discourse and postdialectic materialism. But a number of theories concerning Derridaist reading may be revealed.

Foucault uses the term 'cultural objectivism' to denote not narrative per se, but subnarrative. Thus, many theories concerning a mythopoetical paradox exist.

Tilton[7] suggests that we have to choose between the neocapitalist paradigm of consensus and Sontagist camp. In a sense, the subject is contextualised into a Derridaist reading that includes reality as a whole.

3. Presemioticist constructive theory and neotextual structuralist theory



"Sexual identity is used in the service of the status quo," says Foucault. The characteristic theme of Tilton's[8] essay on neotextual structuralist theory is not, in fact, discourse, but prediscourse. However, presemioticist constructive theory states that the significance of the poet is social comment.

"Society is intrinsically a legal fiction," says Sontag; however, according to Brophy[9] , it is not so much society that is intrinsically a legal fiction, but rather the economy, and hence the absurdity, of society. Lacan uses the term 'conceptual desublimation' to denote a precultural totality. Thus, if neotextual structuralist theory holds, the works of Gaiman are reminiscent of Pynchon.

Bataille suggests the use of presemioticist constructive theory to analyse and modify class. In a sense, the primary theme of the works of Gaiman is the role of the participant as observer.

Von Ludwig[10] suggests that we have to choose between textual Marxism and neocapitalist theory. It could be said that the premise of Derridaist reading implies that the collective is part of the paradigm of art.

Debord uses the term 'presemioticist constructive theory' to denote not discourse, but prediscourse. In a sense, several destructuralisms concerning neotextual structuralist theory may be discovered.

1. Pickett, Z. (1979) Presemioticist constructive theory and Derridaist reading. Yale University Press


2. Werther, R. B. ed. (1998) Reinventing Modernism: Derridaist reading and presemioticist constructive theory. University of Massachusetts Press


3. la Fournier, P. (1980) Derridaist reading, textual Marxism and Marxism. Harvard University Press


4. Dietrich, I. G. E. ed. (1991) Reading Lyotard: Presemioticist constructive theory and Derridaist reading. Panic Button Books


5. de Selby, K. (1974) Presemioticist constructive theory in the works of Burroughs. University of Michigan Press


6. Bailey, T. E. ed. (1981) The Forgotten Key: Marxism, Derridaist reading and conceptual Marxism. Schlangekraft


7. Tilton, N. G. A. (1974) Derridaist reading in the works of Glass. Yale University Press


8. Tilton, O. G. ed. (1987) The Reality of Rubicon: Derridaist reading in the works of Gaiman. Loompanics


9. Brophy, Z. D. T. (1993) Derridaist reading and presemioticist constructive theory. University of California Press


10. von Ludwig, C. L. ed. (1975) Forgetting Sartre: Presemioticist constructive theory and Derridaist reading. Panic Button Books
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Nick Mamatas
Posted on Thursday, March 17, 2005 - 11:38 pm:   

PS: David Lynch isn't a surreal filmmaker, he's a hyperreal filmmaker. What are you people, all blind or something?
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Carole C
Posted on Friday, March 18, 2005 - 03:56 am:   

I'm probably going to get apples thrown at my head, but I'd just like to pick up on the point Douglas made:

'Art could be revolutionary if it could be lived on a mass scale. Breton may have failed but that was the goal'.

I actually think that is true, and I think it really encapsulates what the Surrealists were all about. It also goes along with what Joseph Beuys always said about 'everyone is an artist'.

Everyone *is* an artist, whether they like to admit it or not (and a lot of people don't) because at the very least, everyone expresses themselves loudly via the clothes they wear, car they drive and so on. Also their life choices. Anyone who has had a job which entails visiting people's houses, soon learns how much is expressed through the environment - you have only got to walk up the garden path and you are picking up clues.

So, if you take the concept 'being an artist' to equal 'being an individual' - then you can see that there are a lot of pressures around encouraging you to NOT be an artist, but to FIT IN.

(I've read a lot of autobiogs in my time, and *never* has anyone said 'I had a happy time at school, and felt that I really fit in'. Every single person has said that they didn't fit in, to a greater or lesser degree).

The surrealists did a great job in breaking down these structures (and it really doesn't matter if they are middle class structures or working class - the working class have crippling structures of their own to contend with), and maybe that's why they are remembered as eccentric individuals/anarchists, rather than as a powerful political movement.

Also, there probably was a lot of hype involved - after all, who would take a urinal as a piece of art if this fact were not vociferously pointed out?

Also, Douglas is absolutely right if he says that at the moment we need to stand firm as individuals, rather than just accept the status quo.

But the real question is why surrealism would be a good tool here? It's just too obscure, and most people either think Salvador Dali/the unconscious mind or Dada/anarchists/urinal.

Also, having seen some written material from the time (and I think I also got a glance at the manifesto), it *was* downright obscure.
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Minz
Posted on Friday, March 18, 2005 - 06:54 am:   

Jeff, Lucius, Nick, you have been officially declared my heroes of the day. I now owe each of you one beverage of choice (within reason), to be collected upon our next pathcrossings.
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Lucius
Posted on Friday, March 18, 2005 - 08:47 am:   

Good one, Nick. Actually, the essay is more const ructive than ths conversation. Society is a legal fiction.

I'll take your beverage, Minz. I'm a desparate man.

Doug, Artaud was a madman who ended his days in an asylum. He was, as I stated, influenced in his ideas if not his work by the Surrealists. He took a kernel of what they said and used it to make something new. Their art was not an influence. So what? The surrealists remain who they were as individuals despite Artaud''s statement and deeds. His idea that creativity had to be recreated notwithstanding, his most effective and accessble work were his most traditional pieces. Perhaps if we were all schizophrenics, our view of Artaud would be different; but we are not. Breton's puffery is not modified or validated by Artaud's existence. Artaud was as full of shit as any artist and a good bit of what he had to say was pure crap. But he wrote some great stuff. I'm a big fan of his poetry, especially the one that begins:

Do evil
Do evil and commit many sins
But do no evil to me

I'm thinking of having that tattooed on my backside along with a portrait of an especially savage-looking sheep,

What's it all mean?
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JV
Posted on Friday, March 18, 2005 - 10:51 am:   

Lucius:

Yes--this sums it up nicely:

"to my way of thinking it would be more apt to say the depletion of surrealism. The enervation of surrealism. Surrealism did not so much fall as it gave out into an oozing liquid putresence, which went into the ground and eventually reacted with the chemicals in the dirt and produced deviant and brilliant talents such as Artaud. "

"Fall of Surrealism" was meant to be a little bit sarcastic/melodramatic.

JeffV
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Douglas Lain
Posted on Friday, March 18, 2005 - 10:54 am:   

Lucius: I'll have to read some of Artaud's poetry.

Otherwise I'll just say that you seem to have rejected surrealism. Which, as I said before, is fine by me. My original point wasn't to convince people that surrealism was good or sell a political vision. My point was simply to point out what surrealism actually is.

Carole: The idea that everyone is an artist is certainly part of what the surrealists were on about.



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JV
Posted on Friday, March 18, 2005 - 10:59 am:   

Doug:

I'm still not quite sure of your purpose in this continuing discussion. It seems to be to hold firm to a point rather than to engage in discussion. Perhaps you want this discussion to be about something else, but a discussion is what all of the participants in the discussion make of it, isn't it?

I don't know that there's much more to say about your initial point--i.e., it would nice if there would be a rebirth of Surrealism based on its (supposedly) revolutionary aspect.

What I find odd about that is that "convulsive beauty in the service of liberty" can be found in modes other than surrealism. It is one of the most important things in fiction, in my opinion, but the Surrealists didn't have a corner on the market for it.

Then you throw in the fact the Surrealists were initially a predominantly male group with females who were either dismissed or served as "muses" and it becomes even more suspect to me, beyond the rhetoric on the pages--i.e., the subculture that grew up around it.

JeffV
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Douglas Lain
Posted on Friday, March 18, 2005 - 11:06 am:   

JeffV: Do you think that surrealism can be apolitical? I'd suggest that the ooze that surrealism secreted consisted primarily of a political vision. You can find that ooze in the Situationists, and Punk rock for instance.

The Sex Pistols or CRASS we're certainly more surreal than Vogue advertisements with Daliesque images, right?
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Douglas Lain
Posted on Friday, March 18, 2005 - 11:15 am:   

JeffV: I'll certainly hold to a point that I think is true.

I don't know that there's much more to say about your initial point--i.e., it would nice if there would be a rebirth of Surrealism based on its (supposedly) revolutionary aspect.

There already has been, over and over again. But those who hold onto surrealist imagery without understanding the political/philosophical position of surrealism may not have noticed.

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JV
Posted on Friday, March 18, 2005 - 12:05 pm:   

I guess the correct answer to your initial assertion, then, would have been:

"Great! So what?"

JeffV
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Nick Mamatas
Posted on Friday, March 18, 2005 - 12:18 pm:   

It strikes me that looking at seminal works and criticism in order to claim that surrealism must today have have a revolutionary/anti-capitalist perspective isn't very much different than digging up some old Hugo Gernsback essay and declaring his instructions The Way To Write Science Stories in 2005.

It's a pretty piss-poor revolutionary/anti-capitalist perspective that doesn't understand the near infinite power of the bourgeoisie to absorb, co-opt, and commoditize various cultural forms of resistance. Culture is superstructure after all; it's not a weapon that strikes all that deep in the first place. So of course cultural manifestations can become something else...like Dali's Alka-Seltzer commercials And there is no use arguing that it isn't "real" surrealism if the capitalists have a hold of it; to argue that is to argue that essence precedes existence which itself cracks up on the rocks of any revolutionary/anti-capitalist perspective one would like to claim.

The interwar years that created Surrealism are gone. It doesn't make any more sense to try to rehabilitate small-s surrealism as a revolutionary project than it does to dust off Free Silver, or Technocracy, or, heck, the idea that SF should inspire kids to learn how to build better radios.

This is last is doubly true as kids all over Asia already build better radios than Gernsback could have dreamed of...while chained to the machines of local factories -- and these better radios are what get us up in the morning for our own jobs, which generally are designed to help our bosses administrate the surpluses of capital that allow them to keep those kids working their 18 hour days.



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al duncan
Posted on Friday, March 18, 2005 - 12:42 pm:   

"While I agree basically with your comments about Dali, I can't ascribe purity of motive to the other early surrealists--there was always an element of self-promotion in the movement, a desire to draw attention to themselves, a tactic that was neither Marxist or revolutionary in character."

I think that's probably a fair assessment, but I think the Surrealists, like many other splinter-groups of Modernism genuinely bought into the idea that subversive art was, in it's own right, revolutionary and that everyone is an artist, with their life as the canvass. I think they were wrong (sorry, Carole; I won't throw apples, but I just think that life-as-art idea is exactly where the Salvador Dali Sideshow rolls into town and sets itself up selling snake-oil); hell, it's those self-serving delusions of self-styled "cultural revolutionaries" that make me run a mile from any movement with a manifesto. But I don't think the bullshit in their beliefs (as I see it)negates Doug's initial Point One -- that those beliefs are a characteristic feature of Surrealism, that what we call surrealism these days is often so devoid of that (misguided? posturing?) anti-bourgeois impetus, 'surrealism' is a pretty vacuous descriptor for it.

I don't think it harms his Point Two either -- that the movement, like many such belief systems, was in large part a reaction to WW1. They might well have been all talk and no trousers, and talking shite for the most part, but I do think they came crawling out of the train-wreck of Romanticism and Rationalism in the first quarter of the 20th Century, and that the historic context has something to tell us about the purposes and products of Surrealist techniques.

Point Three is probably the real point of debate here. I think the complicity and complacency of the benefactors of capitalism (and I include myself here) in the face of -- Christ, where do you start? global warming? the Middle East? whatever -- does put us in an analogous situation to the early 20th Century. There's a similar bitter fear that the Powers-That-Be are sending us all to hell in a handbasket, a (growing?) sense of disenfranchisement which does seem to be feeding into the various anti-capitalist / anti-globalisation factions of anarchists, socialists, environmentalists, pacifists, and so on, not unlike the political turbulence of the era that gave us communism and fascism. Am I right in thinking that the real disagreement here is on whether Surrealism -- which I do think aimed to disrupt that complicity and complacency -- was ever really effectual in those aims? On the one side we have those who'd say "yes, and we can do it again", it seems, while on the other we have those who'd say "like fuck they did; they were posturing twats".

As an aside. I remember an interview I saw with David Lynch once where the most annoying critic in the world ever (Northern Irish guy, can't remember his name off-hand) said to Lynch: "So, Mr Lynch. It's been said that you're very gooooood at getting inside people's heads -- but that once you're innnn there you don't know what to do. What do you say to that?" It was asked with a sort sycophantic-yet-sneering tone that made me picture Lynch just decking the guy, and it's maybe entirely irrelevant to the thread. It just seems vaguely pertinent to Lucius's characterisation of the early Surrealists as posers and to Doug's rejection of 'debased' surrealism which lacks any political drive.

Oh, and "savage-looking sheep"... heh.
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Douglas Lain
Posted on Friday, March 18, 2005 - 02:41 pm:   

JeffV: You asked "So what?"

Here's an answer from a book I bought entitled "The Politics of Surrealism" by Helena Lewis:

So "...cherish Surrealism precisely because it has been attacked and misunderstood by both Left and Right. Admire it for refusing to be untrue to itself by following the precepts of socialist realism. Rescue it from conservative critics [and artists] who profess to admire its art while stripping it of its revolutionary ideology. Indeed, Surrealist art without Surrealist ideology is the form without the substance, as those artists believed who demonstrated in New York at the MOMA retrospective exhibit of 1968. They objected to the 'sanitized' apolitical version of Surrealism that the Museum had presented."
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Douglas Lain
Posted on Friday, March 18, 2005 - 02:44 pm:   

Nick: I have a quick question before I respond to your points.

Are you saying that the cultural front is not a contestable ground or are you saying that surrealism has to evolve if it wants to keep its revolutionary character or are you saying that surrealism no longer has any revolutionary potential but other cultural movements might have revolutionary potential?



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Nick Mamatas
Posted on Friday, March 18, 2005 - 03:20 pm:   

I'm saying that the cultural front is not a very interesting contestable ground, as its impact is necessarily secondary. It does attract a lot of neat people as a ground, of course, since it is easier to be an artist than, say, a coal miner, and easier to frown at a bad review than it is to dodge the bullets of Pinkerton finks.

Surrealism certainly has no real revolutionary potential as a movement, since its existence as a part of Modernism fighting a war against then-hegemonic Realism is a battle that was won decades ago by the Modernist side.
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Douglas Lain
Posted on Friday, March 18, 2005 - 04:26 pm:   

al: I'm not sure why people who would say this "like fuck they did; they were posturing twats" would want to make or even think about surrealist stuff.
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al duncan
Posted on Friday, March 18, 2005 - 08:03 pm:   

As Nick said -- "It's a pretty piss-poor revolutionary/anti-capitalist perspective that doesn't understand the near infinite power of the bourgeoisie to absorb, co-opt, and commoditize various cultural forms of resistance."

I think you can see the Surrealists as posturing twats, cultural revolutionaries or a bit of both; but whichever way you look at it, you can still think that they came up with some damn good techniques for disturbing the reader or viewer. I can see why, even if you don't think the politics is sound, you might still see value in the techniques, want to use them and think about them, put them to an aesthetic use, but completely divorced from a particular political agenda. That's where this is partly just an argument over labels. Surrealists versus surrealists. The surrealist usage irks me because I think it's used too glibly, often, I suspect, because it gives an intellectual cache where "weird and disturbing" doesn't.

But I think you can also be interested in Surrealism politically and have doubts about its validity. You can be fucked-off with the current political situation enough that, in looking for something you can do to change it as a writer, you have to try and learn from what others have done before you, how they succeeded and how they failed. I'd put myself in that camp, neither revolutionary nor Marxist, but interested in the idea of whether art can have a political impact, certainly concerned about not just being another happy camper trying to win the Knobbly Knees competition while the world outside goes to shit. I'm interested in how the fascists used art, how the British Empire used posters of 'Little Belgium' being raped by the 'Evil Hun' to gain volunteers for WW1. Coca-Cola's appropriation of Christmas. The Levi's campaign in Britain that sparked off a mad 50's nostalgia for an era that didn't exist in another country entirely. Posturing aside, if advertising works then I don't see why art can't at the very least work as anti-propaganda, anti-advertising. I'd be fuck all use with a molotov but I can maybe chuck a good metaphor or two at the lies. (Posturing aside... aye right.)

Thing is, I don't think the Surrealists really pulled off what they were trying to do largely because I think they were, to some extent, pulling the wool over their own eyes (Dali is the apotheosis of that for me), but I'm sympatico with Modernism in general -- as a synthesis of Rationalism and Romanticism, politically and aesthetically -- so I'm interested in the Surrealists as much for the political failures as for the aesthetic innovations. Unlike Nick, I think Modernism got creamed by the Realists and ran away and hid in the academic wilderness (or in SF... but that's another thread), and is currently even less culturally effective now that Realism's stepped aside to let the Romantics raise their flags and spout about democracy. When the children of Leo Strauss are running the show, damn right it makes me think about Surrealism, Cubism, Futurism and any fucking -ism that might just have something I can learn from.
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al duncan
Posted on Friday, March 18, 2005 - 08:12 pm:   

"...it is easier to be an artist than, say, a coal miner, and easier to frown at a bad review than it is to dodge the bullets of Pinkerton finks."

That's too easy and sweeping a dismissal, Nick. It might be true of many self-styled "cultural revolutionaries" in the nice, cosy world of here and now in the US or UK, but Lorca's bad review was a bullet in the head.
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Douglas Lain
Posted on Friday, March 18, 2005 - 10:03 pm:   

al:

I agree that you can have doubts about the politics of surrealism and still find aspects of surrealism useful, but I don't understand how somebody can ignore the political aspect of surrealism, or dismiss the value of the center of the surrealist project, and still want to be associated with the term. Surrealism is about two things: the unconscious and revolution. Eliminate one or the other and you don't have surrealism anymore.

Without the revolution surrealism is just Freud, voodoo, dreams, automatic writing, seances, and other bizarre things. Interesting stuff, but what surrealism was about was putting these strange things into the service of the revolutionary project.

The politics of surrealism changed over time. They went from being nihilistic rebels, to the Communist Party, to Trotsky, to the arms of the anarchists. The politics of surrealism isn't fixed, but it's there. The structure of society is a major concern in surrealism.

You wrote:

When the children of Leo Strauss are running the show, damn right it makes me think about Surrealism, Cubism, Futurism and any fucking -ism that might just have something I can learn from.


This seems about right to me. I certainly don't think that surrealism has all the answers, but how can we learn anything from surrealism if we don't acknowlege what it was?



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Nick Mamatas
Posted on Friday, March 18, 2005 - 10:22 pm:   

That the Spanish fascists considered intellectuals in general and Lorca in particular dangerous doesn't mean that Lorca's art was a revolutionary weapon.
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Douglas Lain
Posted on Friday, March 18, 2005 - 10:32 pm:   

Nick: What's a revolutionary weapon and what isn't depends on the context in which it appears. Look at what happened after Breton visited Haiti for example.
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Nick Mamatas
Posted on Friday, March 18, 2005 - 10:38 pm:   

What's a revolutionary weapon and what isn't depends on the context in which it appears.

Informed by the context, not depends. Otherwise, only contexts would matter and revolutionaries could safely wile away their time in English departments and parliaments until "the right moment."
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al duncan
Posted on Saturday, March 19, 2005 - 06:37 am:   

That the Spanish fascists considered intellectuals in general and Lorca in particular dangerous doesn't mean that Lorca's art was a revolutionary weapon.

Not what I meant, Nick. From my understanding, Lorca didn't even see his art as a revolutionary weapon; he wasn't particularly outspoken or activist, and he was happier playing the social butterfly than the cultural rebel. His work was a bit avant-garde, and he had some success in taking his La Barraca theatre company out to the villages in an attempt to make the theatre accessable to the working class and the rural communities, but in general he wasn't really that much of a threat to the Falangists. His death was more of a revolutionary weapon than his art, in so far as the fascists shot themselves in the foot by creating a backlash around the world. Pity it was only a flesh wound, but c'est la vie.

No, I just mean that being even just a controversial artist (never mind a "my words weel keel you" cultural revolutionary) is not necessarily as easy a ride as your comparison implies. Me talking about art and politics from Glasgow's Bohemian West End, yeah, that's piss-easy, but it would be a gross generalisation to say that art is just an easier option than the life of your average [insert classic proletariat figure here... coal-miner, steel-worker, factory-worker, whatever], that really all us mouthy bastards ever have to contend with is, at worst, a critic pricking our little egos. That just strikes me as a bit of a cheap shot, fair enough in some cases (like, if I suddenly proclaim myself El Presidente of the People's Independent Front Of Scottish SF, please kill me) but a bit too glib to let slide as a generalisation.

I mean, revolutionary or not, Lorca got shot. Rushdie got a fatwah. Birmingham Rep had to close down a play just a few months back because (apart from the death threats) the protests outside the (glass-fronted) building degenerated into riots and it was no longer considered safe for the audience never mind the writer. Paul Robeson was more of a bona fide activist in terms of Civil Rights, so he may not be a great example, but his attempts to make a change on the cultural level too -- as the first black man to play Othello, fucking with the lines of Ole Man River to make a pointed comment of resistance, and in touring shit-poor mining towns in Wales -- did put him in the shit. He got rioting bigots in the theatres, blacklisting under McCarthy, surveillance and so on... again not an easy ride.

Was Lorca's art a revolutionary weapon? That's another question entirely; but that's way too loaded a metaphor for me to get myself cornered in. I can see art as a political tool, sure, and Lorca was idealistic enough to use it that way a wee bit with La Barraca, but I wouldn't try to characterise him as some sort of Martyr to the Cause, dead in the line of duty. I would say, though, that the right-winger's fear and hatred of intellectuals and artists is a bit more than random prejudice in a lot of cases, that they're not considered dangerous for just sitting in their rooms and playing with their seditious ideas; it's the potential dissemination and implementation of that sedition (or even just disregard for tradition) that makes the fascists or McCarthyites percieve a Lorca or a Robeson as a danger to the status quo, an enemy of the state. And given the right wing's familiarity with propaganda, advertising and How To Use People's Romantic Fantasies To Build A Fascist State, maybe their fears of art as a political tool aren't entirely unfounded.
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al duncan
Posted on Saturday, March 19, 2005 - 09:21 am:   

Without the revolution surrealism is just Freud, voodoo, dreams, automatic writing, seances, and other bizarre things.

No, not at all. Without revolution surrealism is all those things, but more, I'd say, it's the key strategy -- the way in which a surreal effect is generated, largely through the juxtaposition or merging of jarring images / ideas as an attempt to simulate or manifest the unconscious. Collage is a good example of a specific method of generating such cognitive dissonance. Just using that effect doesn't, I agree, make you a Surrealist, but I think there's a middle ground of small-s surrealism which does have to be political but not neccessarily revolutionary, and that's quite different from what is essentially just a stylistic technique... button-pushing.

I mean, the Surrealists showed us the big red buttons to push. Dali, the gleetguzzling charlatan, having sold his mate down the river to save his own skin, realised that you could just press the buttons for the sake of pressing the buttons. Others press the buttons for aesthetic reasons which may be entirely apolitical -- or radically political but not revolutionary -- or revolutionary in their fantasies but not even remotely radical in reality -- or just impossible to judge because the co-option and commodification of the revolution might be due to a counter-revolutionary reactionary impetus gaining the upper-hand or it might be due to a huge big fuckin flaw in the original idea that makes the revolution a this-is-not-a-pipe-dream from the start.

Thing is, the whole concept of cultural revolution is kinda fuzzy for my liking. Is the aim to overthrow a government, say, or a broader political aesthetic -- Romanticism or Rationalism -- i.e. to affect the forces on which the state rests rather than the specific mechanisms of state? Is calling that kind of aesthetic/political paradigm shift a revolution more of a metaphor? How do you judge when the change is substantial enough to merit being called a revolution? What level of structure are we talking in society -- administrative apparatus, class system or the whole goddamn idea of hierarchy? If your aim is simply to replace the state and its class system with a socialist meritocracy, is that really an ambitious enough project to be classed as revolution against the rational order? But if the aim is to completely scrap the rationalist idea of hierarchy itself, democratising art and power in a total transformation of the way society works, is that really a practical enough project to be classed as revolution or is it just what Lucius calls blowing smoke?

As pedantic academic, I think we should really take the Surrealists' self-definition and say "that's what Surrealism is", but I think the boundaries are blurred between revolutionary and radical even within that group. Things are further complicated by the influence of de Sade and the relationship of morality and neuroses central to Freud. De Sade is more focused on inter-personal relationships, and on the internal forces shaping our lust for power, but he's still quite radical and political in many ways. To me there's no clear demarcations between the cross-overs from revolutionary to radical to political to moral to psychological.

Soooo.... for me Surrealism sits at the revolutionary/radical end of that spectrum. But in shifting politics from nihilist to Marxist to Trotskyite to anarchist I think it's fair to consider how a more Sadean form of the technique can shift it entirely away from the social structural revolutionary concerns of Surrealism to a focus on person-to-person power, but still be considered radical/political (and it seems to me there's a lot of Surrealist-inspired stuff out there that was very Sadean in its concerns with cruelty and brutality). I'd call that lower-case s surrealism to distinguish it from the core movement, but I think it's close enough in nature that to deny that label is just thrawn.

That lower case s surrealism has, I think, for most people, now come to relate to a political/moral type which shifted further away again from the origins, losing some of the Sadean radicalness by becoming less about interpersonal politics and more about the internalised politics of the Freudian subconscious (the distinction between Freud's subconscious and Jung's unconscious being a bit of a key marker for just how Freud viewed the psyche as a power-struggle). That's still an interesting territory to explore, even if you don't consider the hard-line Surrealist agenda a sound one.

I draw another line where that lower case s surrealism is used to relate to purely psychological effects of cognitive dissonance, where it's really just labeling a technique of weird juxtapositioning that doesn't at least in some way serve as a challenge to the political/moral status quo, breaching not just the rules of reality but the rules of humanity. That Sartre example upthread strikes me as a good example of that lower-case s surrealist because the waitor says "That's right, sir" rather than just plonking an ink well down instead of a cup of coffee. Plonking an ink well down instead of a coffee cup is just weird, absurd. It's the way the waitor's reaction rings a "that's just wrong" alarm bell in us that makes it surreal.
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Nick Mamatas
Posted on Saturday, March 19, 2005 - 12:57 pm:   

Rushdie got a fatwah...and a supermodel girlfriend as a consolation prize. How many "normal" people get their hands lopped off or a bullet to the head for crimes like stealing bread, lifting the burqua over their face, writing a pamphlet, etc. without becoming a cause celeb outside of a collective "Oh those poor oppressed people...let's bomb their cities into freedom!" sort? Same with the black left here in the US, historically. The oppression of artists is overblown -- and generally happens as they're using their art in some broder political framework (in Robeson's case, generally Party organized) than just the content of their art.

I've had a few death threats sent my way myself, after writing about attempts by the far-right to infiltrate the anti-globalization movement, and around the re-publication of the Bush biography Fortunate Son. Never got one for a science fiction story. When do I get to be a folk hero?
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Douglas Lain
Posted on Sunday, March 20, 2005 - 12:28 pm:   

My opinion of Rushdie is that, despite whatever literary qualities his fiction may possess, he has done the work of a commissar in the last few years. I can't think of a better example of an oppressed artist who has no liberatory potential or stance.
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al duncan
Posted on Monday, March 21, 2005 - 08:21 am:   

When do I get to be a folk hero?

Don't worry, Nick. If they ever carry out the threats I'll write a ballad and sing it round the folk pubs of Glasgow, with a finger in one ear and a toora-loora-ley. "Well there was a young man, Nick Mamatas by name / And he paid the price, O, the price o' his fame". There'll be fiddles and everything.

Seriously: "The oppression of artists is overblown". First, lemme unload that "oppression of artists" phrase into something less implicitly hand-nailed-to-the-forehead, don't-you-oppress-me, self-dramatising and therefore, pretty much by definition, overblown -- I'm not talking about "oppression" just "risks a wee bit less derisory than a snub in the local paper's review section". No Martyrs for the Cause, just mouthy bastards working on whatever platform they've chosen to use -- working through mainstream politics, direct action or the anti-agitprop of art -- pissing the wrong people off and paying for it. Whether the anti-agitprop of art is an effective strategy at all may be disputed, but I’ll get back to that. First:

There's a number of criticisms here, yes?

How many "normal" people..."

That's a numbers game. Might be admitting that the risks are real, might be saying that they're not. Either way, it's implying that the dead mouthy bastards are insignificant against the vast mass of "normal" people killed by the same fuckers. But the "non-normal" artists are just a part of that vast mass. You wouldn't dismiss the gays who died in the holocaust by saying "How many "normal" people got gassed for crimes like being Jewish, being gypsies, writing a pamphlet, etc.?" The artists (or the gays, in my example) are just another part of that vast mass. The fact that they're a minor part proportionately doesn't make them individually less significant than the [insert poor, hard-working, non-artistic / non-gay victim here]. Why should we distinguish them from the "normal" people at all? For...

becoming a cause celeb

OK, that's criticism #2, yes? The risks may be real but the significance is invalidated by the pay-off of being a folk hero? Rushdie's supermodel girlfriend and all that. To some extent, I agree here. Martyrdom and canonisation can be ways to blind ourselves to the actualities by separating out and idealising these particular victims as special. But being made a “cause celeb” doesn’t mean that was the aim. Some artists are, I'm sure, drawn to court controversy by the promise of groupie houri in liberal Heaven, so to speak. But those are generally the Dali's of the world. I doubt that Rushdie wrote The Satanic Verses with the idea in mind of fatwah, fame and sweet, sweet fucking. And more often than not the artists who really want to play that game are the ones, like Dali, who play it safe, make sure that the controversy is not actually politically pointed. That doesn’t mean someone writing a book about the far-right’s attempts to infiltrate the anti-globalisation movement is only doing it to “get attention”. Or that Pullman just wanted to get famous by pissing off the bible-thumping book-burner types. Or that the Bezsht playwright wasn’t trying to make a serious point about the treatment of women in the British Asian community, rather than just kick up a stink that would make her the darling of the liberal literati. Some artists are insincere. Some are sincere.

But this also ties in to the artificial distinction between "normal" victims and these others. Again, I say, that's a false distinction. The victim who’s been repackaged as a Martyr, is no different under the hype from the victim who’s been forgotten. But I do see a criticism #3 here, yes? That the response is “overblown”, that that’s part of the co-option process, appropriating that victim and turning them into an empty icon. You can wear your Che Guevara t-shirt and go along your merry way with no fucking concept of what he was fighting for. You can bemoan the death of Lorca and still have gone on yer wee package holiday to Spain in the 70’s while it was still under Franco.

I think this is a fair point but I'd say it's not a completely black-and-white case of that packaging process being purely in the service of sensationalism and safe sentimentalism. There can be positive results from that idealisation; Lorca's death galvanised anti-fascists around the world. And it's not only artists who become cause celebs -- c.f. the backlash after Matthew Shepard's murder, which also galvanised opinion into action. Steve Biko, Nelson Mandela, Solzhenitzen -- these cause celebs serve as symbols in the public domain and, like all such symbols are a double-edged sword, attractors for supporters who are themselves, either sincere or insincere. The insincerety of some doesn’t invalidate the... mouthiness that got this or that poor bastard into trouble in the first place, or make the suffering less unpleasant. Whether you’re a cause celeb or not, death, imprisonment or house arrest are still not to be sniffed at.

So, leaving aside the numbers game, the question of motivation, and the liberal canonisation process, the key criticism, criticism #4, relates to the anti-agitprop idea of art (I told you, I’d get back to it). Is the content of art really essentially harmless, such that artists really only end up in the schtick when they’re...

using their art in some broader political framework?

My arguement is that it’s not. I’m not going to try and raise some liberal icon up as a hero whose works “changed the world” though, because then I think we’ll just get into a ‘smash the graven image, put it back together, smash it another way, put it back together’ debate largely focused on those other criticisms. This icon was a phony. That one’s overhyped. The key issue is are the political effects of art, actual or imaginary, not all this fluff about this or that artist. So instead I’ll say I think the proof is in the pudding from the other side. The agitprop of the Soviets or the Fascists. The effects of propaganda in North Korea. Taking out the politics entirely actually, I’d just point to the effectiveness of the Levi’s marketing campaign in 80’s Britain, which sold not only button-fly jeans but a whole Romantic lifestyle to British kids, who swallowed the 50’s nostalgia of it hook, line and sinker. The songs they used in the adverts (Ben E. King, Sam Cooke, Percy Sledge) took the charts by storm. Chinos took off again as well as jeans, because they had that whole sand-coloured GI chic thing going for them. A wave of bullshit washed across the UK whereby 50’s America was set up as as a paradisaical dreamland devoid of any McCarthyism or Civil Rights issues. That’s a pretty harmless example of fashion frippery but it's evidence that advertising men use art to sell dreams, lifestyles, not just products.

The whole Straussian philosophy of the NeoCons is predicated on this and I think it’s worthwhile as an SF/Fantasy writer bearing in mind that you can be, to some extent, selling the Romantic dream of Good-vs-Evil, characterising Evil in a certain way and ultimately encouraging the Gunsmoke view of Us and Them, White Hats and Black Hats, “our boys” and the “towel-heads”. Or you can excise that from your work. Or you can address it, adamantly, noisily, as a goddamn mouthy bastard. The outright activists, the signed-up members of the Party (whichever Party that might be), will clearly be a more visible threat, but those who choose to ignore the partisan, activist approach and be mouthy bastards through their art can still be considered a threat. For what? For...

crimes like... writing a pamphlet.

Essentially, I’m including the artists with the “normal” people, saying that if you include the pamphleteers, looking beneath all the sound and fury, you should include the artists too, that dismissing all of them wholesale as poncy twats whose suffering is as nothing against the plight of the poor [insert honest, hard-working victim here] is just too damn glib. I’d be happy to think that art can never be a political tool if it meant art can never be a political tool in the hands of the fascists, Stalinists, NeoCons or just plain corporate fuckwits like the Coca-Cola Corporation with their Christmas message of “Santa drinks Coke, kiddies”, but that’s too damn complacent for my liking. I work on the assumption that “two can play at that game” -- that the art can be politically challenging -- because there’s already one player making moves all the time, crowbarring Romanticism to their own political agenda. I’m way too much of a nihilist to buy into any manifesto, promote any particular partisan agenda, but I do think art -- even Science Fiction -- can function as anti-agitprop in opposition to the cowboy rhetoric of the Straussians.

So while it's totally valid to puncture the inflated self-opinions of those who'd idealise the "poor comrade artist's struggle" I think you can also overblow, from a cynical, nihilistic perspective, the worthlessness -- i.e. understate the risks of being a mouthy bastard. As a cynic and a nihilist meself I think it's generally fair play to puncture the illusions of self-serving phonies; and crudely political "down with that sort of thing" art is, largely, IMO, a big bag of shite which deserves to be knocked off its self-built pedestal. I’m right behind you in that respect, Nick. But pragmatically, realistically, I think it's an idealistic illusion in its own right to snort at the very idea of art as a political tool. Sure, there are a lot of political or politicised artists that fit your caricature. But I think the caricature itself is a bit of a nihilist's ideal, an icon of worthlessness which has feet of clay and more than a few cracks in it.
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Nick Mamatas
Posted on Monday, March 21, 2005 - 11:50 am:   

Oh, I don't snort at the idea of art as a political tool, though of course, much (not all) political art is very boring.

I do tend to snort at the canonization of "martyred" artists, more so than even other martyrdoms. These sort of shorthands tend to short circuit actual political arguments and political clarity. Here's an example that doesn't involve any arists, torn from the pages of real life (well, one of the anti-war demos in 2003 in NY):

Revolutionary to social democrat: We'll never support the UN, it's an imperialist tool! Reformists always side with imperialism...you killed Rosa Luxembourg!

Social democrat to revolutionary: Your call for an anti-imperialist insurgency in Iraq will lead to MILLIONS of deaths, just like Pol Pot!

The difference is that Luxembourg and Pol Pot were far more influential political figures than, say, Lorca, so at least this sort of shorthand -- counterproductive as it is as a conversation -- actually makes sense in expressing political differences. People showing up at a demo with blank pickets as some sort of conceptual art, on the other hand, take themselves out of the fight, even if they can point to marginally more effective gestures in the past.

There's a sort of faux-individualist cast to artistic activism that is self-neutralizing. Artists aren't alone in this -- the various grad students who find "resistances" in every coffee break and dawdling bathroom break tend to abuse Gramsci's conception of organic intellectuals in their bold insistence that they are doing something when mostly they ain't. But artist-activists tend to be even more annoying in their privileged powerlessness...to the point where all they can point to is the occasional oppression as "proof" that their art "means something." They wouldn't be oppressed otherwise, right? But of course, the nature of oppression is that it is fairly arbitrary, no? Why complain if only the "deserving" get oppressed?
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al duncan
Posted on Monday, March 21, 2005 - 12:39 pm:   

much (not all) political art is very boring.

There's a sort of faux-individualist cast to artistic activism that is self-neutralizing.

Fuck yeah. I think those two statements go hand-in-hand, and I agree pretty much absolutely. The "not all" minority is usually, to my mind, the works of artists who aren't in thrall to either a dogmatic theory of How Things Are or a self-serving image of Outlaw Artist. Didactic and / or adolescently rebellious just makes for dull, self-indulgent toss. Blank placards? Fuck that shit.

Way I see it, art is good at giving people a sensational and intellectual box-of-tricks for them to get inside and rummage through all the neat stuff. You can put political ideas in there and try and make them exciting and interesting enough that the reader or viewer will want to play with them, but if you cram the box full of a pile of crap, filling it right up to the top to show just how committed you are to the Cause, then the reader can't get inside to play with the cool stuff. Whether it's dogma or posturing, it's self-defeating.
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Douglas Lain
Posted on Monday, March 21, 2005 - 02:07 pm:   

Nick:

A while back you wrote: Cultureal manifestations can become something else...like Dali's Alka-Seltzer commercials And there is no use arguing that it isn't "real" surrealism if the capitalists have a hold of it; to argue that is to argue that essence precedes existence which itself cracks up on the rocks of any revolutionary/anti-capitalist perspective one would like to claim.


Whether or not idealism is incompatible with revolutionary perspectives is perhaps too large a subject for this thread, so I'll put it to the side.

You wrote:
The interwar years that created Surrealism are gone. It doesn't make any more sense to try to rehabilitate small-s surrealism as a revolutionary project than it does to dust off Free Silver, or Technocracy, or, heck, the idea that SF should inspire kids to learn how to build better radios.

This is where you and I differ: I think that surrealism has evolved along with the times. It has often changed names, but it has kept its anti-capitalist and anti-rational core as it hass moved along. Surrealism is, like Vandermeer pointed out, an ooze that contaminated the Situationists, Punk Rock, DIY culture, and so on. When somebody publishes a weird comicbook or prints of a bunch of unicorn decals and calls it surrealism I view it as a part of the continued attempt to neuter what is a living political movement.

And when I see talented progressive people forgetting the political history of surrealism I get an urge to remind them of this history and point out the living embodiment of surrealism in people like Svankmajer and the Chicago and Portland Surrealist groups, and so on.
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Nick Mamatas
Posted on Monday, March 21, 2005 - 10:03 pm:   

What exactly is surreal about punk rock or DIY culture?

For that matter, what exactly is revolutionary about Situationism?
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M.K. Hobson
Posted on Tuesday, March 22, 2005 - 11:21 am:   

What is "DIY" culture? Whenever I hear "DIY" I think of "Do It Yourself", like those shows on the Home Channel where they teach you how to tile your bathroom or install a washer/dryer combo.

And while I guess those shows could be described as surreal, I don't think that's what we're talking about here ...

Definition, please!

M
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Nick Mamatas
Posted on Tuesday, March 22, 2005 - 12:41 pm:   

DIY culture does mean "do it yourself" but refers to an element of the punk ethos: book your own punk rock shows in your own basements, make your own zines, produce your own records, create your own microsociety within but distinct from the dominant culture, etc. It generally refers to artistic production, but can also refer to creating microeconomies (squatting, barter, "un"schooling, etc) and other cultural elements.

DIY, obsessed as it is with authenticity, is generally rather annoyingly derivative of bourgeois realism, but not nearly as polished. Call it lumpenprole realism.
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Douglas Lain
Posted on Tuesday, March 22, 2005 - 01:43 pm:   

Nick:

I figure you know why most people consider Situationist politics to be revolutionary, and I'm betting you're already familiar with the connections between Punk and Dada/Surrealism.

If not I'll be glad to point you in the direction of a few books on the subject. The most popular book on Punk and Surrealism would be Lipstick Traces by Greil Marcus. Marcus gets stuff wrong, but the basic outline is there. And there is an excellent book by Sadie Plant called "The Most Radical Gesture" which I used to own but which is now out of print.



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Douglas Lain
Posted on Tuesday, March 22, 2005 - 02:17 pm:   

Losing "The Most Radical Gesture" still bugs me.

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Nick Mamatas
Posted on Tuesday, March 22, 2005 - 05:25 pm:   

I figure you know why most people consider Situationist politics to be revolutionary

Yes, because "most people" have no idea what they are talking about.

I'm betting you're already familiar with the connections between Punk and Dada/Surrealism.

Yes, there are no real connections between Punk (a different beast than DIY culture at any rate) and Dada/Surrealism. That's why I asked the question, to see if you knew something I didn't, so that I could learn. LIPSTICK TRACES is arguably one of the poorest bits of historical/cultural journalism ever written.

Instead of appealing to the common ignorance, I'd recommend making a solid argument. I'd also recommend keeping better track of your claims. You started by saying ". I think surrealism has to come from a revolutionary/anti-capitalist perspective, or it isn't surrealism" and now your argument has shifted to "It has often changed names, but it has kept its anti-capitalist and anti-rational core as it hass moved along.... When somebody publishes a weird comicbook or prints of a bunch of unicorn decals and calls it surrealism I view it as a part of the continued attempt to neuter what is a living political movement."

So, the questions now are:

What makes revolutionary/anti-capitalist perspectives the CORE of Surrealism? Remember, pointing to some eighty year old manifestos doesn't count.

If r/a-c is the core, how does this operate? How does either a producer or consumer of surreal works experience production/consumption differently if they lack that perspective? If there is a lot of faux surrealism out there that differs from the "real" surrealism only in that it lacks the r/a-c, please demonstrate how this absense of a "core" affects the work or its reception.

If Situationism, punk, DIY etc. are surreal, please show half a dozen prominent examples of surreality from these milieu. Then show how they are revolutionary/a-c. Note that a simple self-claim that they are revolutionary does not count; P. Diddy this last autumn claimed to be a revolutionary because he organized an ad campaign to get young people to vote for John Kerry. What's so revolutionary about that?


Finally, please demonstrate the existence of "a continued attempt to neuter what is a living political movement." This will require two steps: showing that surrealism is a living political movemwent, and showing that non-r-a/c surrealism is an attempt (this suggests planning, design, goals) to neuter the former.




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Douglas Lain
Posted on Tuesday, March 22, 2005 - 07:11 pm:   

What makes revolutionary/anti-capitalist perspectives the CORE of Surrealism?

Even though you say I can't I'm going to point to those manifestos again. Asking me why surrealism is revolutionary is similar to asking me why Marxism is revolutionary. Surrealism is a political/psychological strategy of liberation. That's how it started and that's what it continues to be.

Why shouldn't I point to the manifestos or the work of self proclaimed revolutionary surrealists today? What criteria should I use instead of the historical record or the intent of those who call themselves surrealists.

If Situationism, punk, DIY etc. are surreal, please show half a dozen prominent examples of surreality from these milieu.

Raol Vangeim is a situationist theorist who, along with Guy Debord is central. He's written about Surrealism, and despite being critical of it, he admits to being influenced by surrealism.

If r/a-c is the core, how does this operate? How does either a producer or consumer of surreal works experience production/consumption differently if they lack that perspective?

Just as the communist manifesto is still a revolutionary text even when you buy it from Borders, books like "the Society of the Spectacle", or even "The Dream Years" continue to have revolutionary content even as they find their niches in the capitalist economy.

If there is a lot of faux surrealism out there that differs from the "real" surrealism only in that it lacks the r/a-c, please demonstrate how this absense of a "core" affects the work or its reception.

Faux surrealism doesn't have political content or has reformist content and usually ends up working strictly with psychic material, dream like images, and sometimes not very well. The most obvious example of faux surrealism would be the way the fashion industry has used old surrealist imagery to sell clothing.
http://www.fp1.com/sept98/features/staleywise2000/fullshow/img/19.jpg

A good example of core surrealism would be the work of surrealists who oppose US Imperialism.
http://www.zazie.at/Portland/00_WebPages/GlobalPrison.htm

I think the differences between these two examples are pretty obvious.

Finally, please demonstrate the existence of "a continued attempt to neuter what is a living political movement." This will require two steps: showing that surrealism is a living political movemwent, and showing that non-r-a/c surrealism is an attempt (this suggests planning, design, goals) to neuter the former.

I'll point to the Portland Surrealist Group, the Chicago Surrealist Group, and the pro-situ anarchists as examples of living surrealism. Jan Svankmajer also seems to me to be another example of living surrealist with surrealist goals.

I disagree that the attempt to neuter the movement has to be conscious. After all, a manager who attempt to suppress workers by blocking union efforts often isn't aware of what he's doing, or that he's underming and suppressing workers. I think the attempt to suppress surrealism is systemic.
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Douglas Lain
Posted on Tuesday, March 22, 2005 - 07:15 pm:   

If Situationism, punk, DIY etc. are surreal, please show half a dozen prominent examples of surreality from these milieu.

In the punk scene I'd point to CRASS and the X-ray Spex, and the Pistols as influenced by surrealism. Punk tended to vacillate between debasing surrealist ideas and acting them out. DIY as an attempt to put the tools of artistic production into everyone hands seems connected to the idea that art should be lived and not consumed. Also there is a connectio to DYI culture and Punk.

I would certainly agree that the ideas of surrealism haven't been perfectly adhered to within punk and DIY circles. But, then again, Marxist ideas haven't been perfectly adhered to in Marxist groups throughout history either, right?

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Nick Mamatas
Posted on Wednesday, March 23, 2005 - 01:21 am:   

Asking me why surrealism is revolutionary is similar to asking me why Marxism is revolutionary. Surrealism is a political/psychological strategy of liberation. That's how it started and that's what it continues to be.


Nope, not at all. Really, not even close. I can see why Jeff and Lucius just shrugged their shoulders at this point. You may as well say "Asking me why surrealism is middle class and white is similar to asking me why network television is middle class and white. Surrealism is a way for middle class white people to thumb their noses at their old and dusty fathers while not actually doing anything that would rock the the boat. That's how is started and that's what is continues to be."

You're simply assuming what you actually need to prove.

Raol Vangeim is a situationist theorist who, along with Guy Debord is central. He's written about Surrealism, and despite being critical of it, he admits to being influenced by surrealism.


This isn't in any way an example of surreality within Situationism. This is, at best, an example of some Situationist saying that he has been influenced by Surrealism. I'm reminded of a panel I was on at San Diego Comic Con; during it Terry Brooks explained that he was not influenced by Tolkien, but rather by Faulkner.

Doesn't make it so.

Just as the communist manifesto is still a revolutionary text even when you buy it from Borders, books like "the Society of the Spectacle", or even "The Dream Years" continue to have revolutionary content even as they find their niches in the capitalist economy.


I noticed you managed to name exactly zero surreal works in this attempt. I didn't ask whether one could buy Situationist works or SF novels in a store, I asked, if surrealism without r/a-c perspectives were not REAL surrealism (your initial claim) that you should show this to be show by showing us some Surreal works that have this core and some (faux)surreal works that do not, and then explain how the difference manifests within the text.


The most obvious example of faux surrealism would be the way the fashion industry has used old surrealist imagery to sell clothing.
http://www.fp1.com/sept98/features/staleywise2000/fullshow/img/19.jpg

A good example of core surrealism would be the work of surrealists who oppose US Imperialism.
http://www.zazie.at/Portland/00_WebPages/GlobalPrison.htm

I think the differences between these two examples are pretty obvious.


I agree. The latter piece, which you claim as "core surrealism" has no surreal elements at all. Is it supposed to be an example of automatic writing, of an exquisite corpse, or what? It's a poorly argued leaflet put on the web, not surreal at all except, hilariously, for its branding.

I'll point to the Portland Surrealist Group, the Chicago Surrealist Group, and the pro-situ anarchists as examples of living surrealism.

You've confused masoleum pieces for "living surrealism."

After all, a manager who attempt to suppress workers by blocking union efforts often isn't aware of what he's doing, or that he's underming and suppressing workers.

How ridiculous. Of course he is.

In the punk scene I'd point to CRASS and the X-ray Spex, and the Pistols as influenced by surrealism.

Exactly what do any of those bands have to do with surrealism?

DIY as an attempt to put the tools of artistic production into everyone hands seems connected to the idea that art should be lived and not consumed.

DIY culture has no interest in putting the tools of artistic production into everyone's hands; it's simply a claim of a privileged layer that they too should be as privileged as their slightly socio-economic superiors. Cornell students fuming that they didn't get into Harvard aren't all that interested in making sure everyone gets an excellent college education either.

Artistic democratization is also not necessarily surrealism. You might as well say that both the Comintern and the Fourth International had this idea of collective ownership, so they were the same thing, no matter that the former was committed to the systematic dismantling and the assassination of leading members of the latter for various incredibly important political reasons.

But, then again, Marxist ideas haven't been perfectly adhered to in Marxist groups throughout history either, right?


Which is why someone making a claim about Marxism would a) spell out what Marxist ideas actually are, and b) demonstrating, using those same Marxist ideas, how "faux" Marxists would and have gone astray (generally due to the waxing and waning of class struggle and even class composition).

Simply pointing to a plum and a purple shoe and saying "Both are the same color, therefore one equals the other in their core, which I have arbitrarily decided is color, and that all differences no matter how actually profound are secondary because I wish them to be so" doesn't prove much at all.
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Carole C
Posted on Wednesday, March 23, 2005 - 03:03 am:   

It's just possible that people in punk bands did not have a surrealist thought in their heads, apart from a sort of generalised anarchy. Johnnie Rotten might be quite conservative deep down, (which I believe he is - otherwise why go in for a TV reality programme?) He might love capitalism. I can't see the point of trying to push some theory onto movements unless those people have expressly said what their motivation and beliefs are. Punk may have been similar to Dada, in that it was anarchistic (or faux anarchistic), but that does not make it the same. Also, I might be missing something here, but where are the qualities that (apart from that) make it surrealist?

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Brendan
Posted on Wednesday, March 23, 2005 - 08:28 am:   

Surrealism as a movement ended like 70 years ago. So what exactly is the point of this thread? I think the word "surreal" is often misused. As far as I am concerned, there is the literary movement, which consisted of a relatively small group of mostly French writers in the early part of the last century. Then there is the adjective "surreal". But the latter just means "dream-like". It seems to me that this word "surreal" is often misused.

Punk is not surrealist. It is punk.

Surreal is Le Con d'Irene, by Aragon.
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Douglas Lain
Posted on Wednesday, March 23, 2005 - 10:33 am:   

Carole: You're right that Punk probably had more in common with Dada than surrealism. But the main thing about all three anti-art movements was that they were attempts to reject the prevailing order and put poetry, art, or music into everybody's hands and lives directly.

Brendan: There are still books being published, paintings being painted, and political tracts being written that aim at being surrealist.

It seems to me that what is passed off as surrealism today has little in common with the surrealism of the '20s.

You may remember that I wrote:

Surrealism is not a style, and it is not contained in any particular iconography or set of images. Surrealism was a revolutionary art movement that was born out of the misery of the machine gun, out of the misery of World War I.

If you believe, as I do, that surrealism is still relevant and not merely titillating, then I think you have to take the position that the horrors of the last century, and of the present, put us in a situation much like the one Andre Breton found himself in after World War I. You have to believe that the so called rational order of society has been exposed as corrupt and useless.


http://www.zazie.at/Portland/00_WebPages/Index.htm

http://www.surrealistmovement-usa.org/

http://www.illumin.co.uk/svank/

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Douglas Lain
Posted on Wednesday, March 23, 2005 - 11:23 am:   

Nick, I somehow missed your entry yesterday. You wrote:

You're simply assuming what you actually need to prove.

What I'm side stepping is explaining surrealism and defending it. I don't have the time or inclination to do that. The simple fact that it was born out of revolutionary ambition and that there are surrealists who continue to view surrealism as a technique of revolution is something I point to as a fact.

Here:

After World War II, the Surrealists found themselves isolated from the mainstream of left-wing politics because t hey adamantly adhered to their own libertarian socialist position. But the movement continued its astonishing levels of creativity, its influence has grown immeasurably, and it has never abandoned its unique sythesis of Marx, Freud and Rimbaud. -Helena Lewis, the Politics of Surrealism, from the Foreword

you wrote: I noticed you managed to name exactly zero surreal works in this attempt.

Actually I pointed to two examples of surrealism, but didn't chose "surrealist" literary works because, after all, surrealism isn't a genre of literature.

I wrote that managers aren't aware of suppressing the workers when I meant to write that managers aren't ALWAYS aware. In fact, often enough, managers think they're working for their employees as they attempt to break up the union.

You wrote:

The latter piece, which you claim as "core surrealism" has no surreal elements at all. Is it supposed to be an example of automatic writing, of an exquisite corpse, or what? It's a poorly argued leaflet put on the web, not surreal at all except, hilariously, for its branding.

Actually the political stance of the second example, a stance that I've been arguing is more central to surrealism than any aesthetic or technique, is what makes it surrealist.

You might as well say that both the Comintern and the Fourth International had this idea of collective ownership, so they were the same thing, no matter that the former was committed to the systematic dismantling and the assassination of leading members of the latter for various incredibly important political reasons.

Actually, these were both Marxist groups, right? Just as Baptists and Catholics are both Christians? And after all I was only looking for connections between two things which I'm saying share common ground. We're not seeking an equivalence.

I don't have the time to write a thesis for you, Nick. So your request that I outline the entire history of surrealism will have to go unfulfilled. Luckily enough others have written on the subject. I do strongly recommend you read Helena Lewis' book. You might also read Raoul Vaneigem's "Cavalier History of Surrealism" and, if you can find it, Sadie Plant's "The Most Radical Gesture."










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Nick Mamatas
Posted on Wednesday, March 23, 2005 - 12:57 pm:   

The simple fact that it was born out of revolutionary ambition and that there are surrealists who continue to view surrealism as a technique of revolution is something I point to as a fact.


So we're back to where I came in; after Jeff V. shrugged and said "So what?" Your response to that "So what?" has been to spin out various conspiracy theories, to make expansive claims about false surrealism, etc., but when pressed for any sort of specifics at all, you just shrug and say that you're not interested in that. That's hardly revolutionary; one remembers Lenin's dictum: "Never abstain."

But the movement continued its astonishing levels of creativity, its influence has grown immeasurably, and it has never abandoned its unique sythesis of Marx, Freud and Rimbaud. -Helena Lewis, the Politics of Surrealism, from the Foreword


And Helena Lewis is correct BECAUSE...?

Just because someone has a book deal doesn't mean that they are saying anything that is accurate.

Actually I pointed to two examples of surrealism

Nope. You didn't. It is beginning to dawn on me that your definition of surrealism is so dysfunctional that you cannot even identify how it actually exists. You're entirely hemmed in by a private language that has no connection to Actually Existing Stuff when it comes to Surrealism.

In fact, often enough, managers think they're working for their employees as they attempt to break up the union.


Not so. They may TELL employees that, but that sort of naive Pollyannaism just doesn't exist. Check out the history of union busting, from the Pinkertons to today's death squads, with everything in between (law firms that specialize in busting, capital flight, etc.)

Actually the political stance of the second example, a stance that I've been arguing is more central to surrealism than any aesthetic or technique, is what makes it surrealist.


So I was correct; your definition of surrealism is so far from reality that it is useless, except in so far that it appeals to you in some private way (my guess: silly middle-class guilt about writing/art). By this standard, Volume 1 of Capital is surreal, Nepalese Maoists are surreal, the dozen or so senior citizens that show up in Madison Square Park under the CPUSA banner to encourage people to vote for the Democratic Party every November are all surreal. This, despite the fact that none of the above claim to be surreal, that one of them predates surreality, one of them exists in a tradition devoid of surreality, and that the third sought to liquidate surreality as "decadent."

Actually, these were both Marxist groups, right?

Nope. Both claimed to be Marxist groups. Part of holding a position requires looking at other claims critically -- that's how one can come to a conclusion about X and !X actually being different. And then, when someone else disagrees, one can actually have a real discussion of the issues.

Arbitrarily paging through your library in order to find some out-of-context quotes that seem to back up your point, changing your point with nearly every utterance, and finally demonstrating that you really have no idea what surrealism is, isn't any of those things.

We're not seeking an equivalence.

What you think you're seeking is not nearly as relevant as what you are doing. You are claiming equivalence, even as you say you're not "seeking" it, as you did when you said that a leaflet utterly devoid of any surreality is nonetheless surreal due to its doctrinaire genuflections toward The Revolution.

That IS making an equivalence, and a foolish one.

So your request that I outline the entire history of surrealism will have to go unfulfilled.

I made no such request; I simply asked for a few examples of surrealism-r/a-c and "fake" surrealism. You didn't offer anything that held up to more than a second of scrutiny, and when that was pointed out, you simply changed definitions of both in order to keep from altering your opinion.

Anyway, as this does rather quickly boil down to you speaking in a private language and everyone else dealing with actually existing usages of words and concepts, I'm out of this discussion, as you simply won't have it.

Spending one's life talking only to onesself, btw, is a rather pisspoor excuse for a revolutionary/anti-capitalist perspective, and this itself was one of the major criticisms of surrealism even back when it was a artistic current that meant anything.
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Douglas Lain
Posted on Wednesday, March 23, 2005 - 01:45 pm:   

Nick:

The problem with debating this stuff with you is that your tone and need to belittle distracts from the good stuff.

I actually think there is good content in this comment below and that a discussion of the guilt of the artist would be worthwhile.

So I was correct; your definition of surrealism is so far from reality that it is useless, except in so far that it appeals to you in some private way (my guess: silly middle-class guilt about writing/art).

But before and after you've said stuff that just isn't true.

I never claimed that there was a conspiracy against surrealism.

I never equated communism with surrealism, so your comment about the CPUSA is a distraction.

Some managers believe the bullshit, many middle managers believe that the unions will be bad for the workers. I've experienced their naive sincerity first hand.

To deny that Comintern and the Fourth International aren't both Marxist is misguided. One may interpret Marx correctly and one may be entirely in error, but they're both working from Marx.

Lewis is correct in her definition of surrealism as a synthesis between those three thinkers because that's what surrealism aimed to be. This isn't a philosophical argument, it's a historical fact. Her assesment of their impact is debatable. I suggest you read her book to discover if she backs up her claims, I think she does. In any case while the success of Breton and company is debatable what they aimed to do is not.

I'm not claiming an equivalence between DIY, PUNK, and surrealism. I was talking about how bits of surrealism oozed into other things.

I haven't changed my point at all. My point was that surrealism wasn't originally an aesthetic or style but a revolutionary movement, and that those who want to be surrealists today should keep the political content of surrealism in mind.

I gave you two examples of surrealism, one false and one real. You haven't been at all clear as to why these aren't good examples. Instead you've (perhaps intentionally) confused the issue by pretending I was equating Marxism with Surrealism. The political content of the piece I used as an illustration of real surrealism was not simply Marxist.

Anyway, as this does rather quickly boil down to you speaking in a private language and everyone else dealing with actually existing usages of words and concepts.

I don't see how my use of the word surrealism to mean a political liberatory movement that synthesized Freud and Marx is private. That was what the word meant when it was coined and continues to be what is meant by scholars and surrealists today. You might say that I'm in a very small subcultural ghetto, but it's not my private definition.

Again, I recommend you pick up Lewis' book, or really any book that focuses on the history of surrealism.
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Nick Mamatas
Posted on Wednesday, March 23, 2005 - 03:12 pm:   

You often start complaining about tone when you've run out of things to say, but can't bear to change your mind.

You in fact DID equate Communism and Surrealism. You can say that you did not all you like, but the fact remains that you did. It's right here for everyone to read:

Actually the political stance of the second example, a stance that I've been arguing is more central to surrealism than any aesthetic or technique, is what makes it surrealist.


Thus, my note about CPUSA, Capital, etc. is NOT a distraction, it is simply using the tool you gave us in trying to figure out what you mean. WHY does the political stance of Capital not make it surrealist, if that SAME stance makes the leaflet surreal? It's political stance, and not its aesthetic or any artistic technique, right?. So, by definition, stuff with very similar political stances are ALSO surreal.

That's your definition of surrealism.

I gave you two examples of surrealism, one false and one real. You haven't been at all clear as to why these aren't good examples.

I've been totally clear. I said, very specifically: "The latter piece, which you claim as "core surrealism" has no surreal elements at all."

That is as clear as day. Your response to this was to say "Actually the political stance of the second example... is what makes it surrealist."

Thus, you AGREE that there is nothing surreal in the leaflet, except for its political stance, which you consider sufficient.

Thus, the political stance of something is sufficient for it to be surrealist. If that is so, then EVERYTHING with that stance is surreal. If it does, than Capital and the CPUSA are surreal.

It's all very simple. If you start with an indefinsible premise, you will invariably come to the wrong conclusions.

Here's what is clear to me: Some things have an association with the surreal: for example, they may be the products of a group that decalres itself surreal, or they may juxtapose images in a way reminiscent of surrealism. Of this group, things Doug Lain likes, he calls surreal. Those things he does not, he calls "false" surreal.

That's not a definition for the rest of us.

I don't see how my use of the word surrealism to mean a political liberatory movement that synthesized Freud and Marx is private.

Because that's not what people mean when they say "surrealism." Surrealism wasn't a political movement, it was an artistic movement, leading members of which attempted to draw politics into it. That part of the movement failed, as readily as the early connections between the temperarance and feminist movements failed and the spiritualist and socialist movements failed.

By your definition, the Frankfurt School was also surrealist.
By your definition, the small, far-right Prohibition Party is a feminist group.

This is the point I made with my second post: capitalism is a dynamic system. Surrealism, a set of aesthetics and techniques, has been fully integrated into bourgeois culture. Saying "Back in the old days, this was revolutionary!" is true, and no great shakes ("So what?" _- Jeff VanderMeer). Saying that Surrealism was political first, and indeed, that it can be political only and that only the political stuff is surreal is something else. What that something else is is wrong.

To deny that Comintern and the Fourth International aren't both Marxist is misguided. One may interpret Marx correctly and one may be entirely in error, but they're both working from Marx.


You are a very naive thinker. Just because someone -- like the Comintern, or your manager at work -- says something is true doesn't mean that it is true. Read a little bit about the history of the Comintern before you glibly mouth off about it.

Again, I recommend you pick up Lewis' book, or really any book that focuses on the history of surrealism.


I have. That's part of how I know you're wrong. The rest of how I know you're wrong comes from reading this thread, and observing, once again, how you can't even keep your own claims straight.
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JV
Posted on Wednesday, March 23, 2005 - 03:31 pm:   

Doug:

The bulldog has you by the throat. Whenever this happens to me, I throw in the towel.

JV
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Douglain Lain
Posted on Wednesday, March 23, 2005 - 03:49 pm:   

Nick you wrote this:
You in fact DID equate Communism and Surrealism.

And then pointed to this as proof:

Actually the political stance of the second example, a stance that I've been arguing is more central to surrealism than any aesthetic or technique, is what makes it surrealist.

I don't see how you can think I'm equating Communism with Surrealism in the above quote.

Surrealism was its own thing. It was also a revolutionary movement. Capital and the CPUSA don't share the same exact same stance with the essay I quoted nor with the PSG or Surrealism generally. You're making an equivalence because of shared content, something you thought I had to do in order to demonstrate commonalities between Punk and Surrealism earlier in the conversation.

Surrealism wasn't a political movement, it was an artistic movement, leading members of which attempted to draw politics into it.

It was a revolutionary movement that attempted to use art as a tool. Later it became more obviously political when the surrealists tried to join the CP.

Saying that Surrealism was political first, and indeed, that it can be political only and that only the political stuff is surreal is something else. What that something else is is wrong.

What I've been saying, since the beginning, is that if you think surrealism is still relevant rather than just merely titillating then you should explore how it was revolutionary. People who think that surrealism speaks to the times should at least be aware of the revolutionary goals of the original surrealists.

If you don't think surrealism is relevant then you're right. The proper response is to say "so what."

You are a very naive thinker. Just because someone -- like the Comintern, or your manager at work -- says something is true doesn't mean that it is true. Read a little bit about the history of the Comintern before you glibly mouth off about it.

I'll bounce that back to you:

You're a very naive thinker. I believe that people sometimes delude themselves when they delude others.

Question: Do you think it's possible to understand the Comintern without knowing anything about Marxism?

The rest of how I know you're wrong comes from reading this thread, and observing, once again, how you can't even keep your own claims straight.

You seem to think that IF you say something in the right way, or with the right emphasis, you've won the argument. I'll point again to how you quoted me to prove something the quote in no way implied.

Did you really read Helena Lewis' book?





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Douglas Lain
Posted on Wednesday, March 23, 2005 - 03:49 pm:   

JV: The dog's bark is much worse than his bite.

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Nick Mamatas
Posted on Wednesday, March 23, 2005 - 10:00 pm:   

You don't see how: "Actually the political stance of the second example, a stance that I've been arguing is more central to surrealism than any aesthetic or technique, is what makes it surrealist."? makes a claim that surrealism is based on political stance, which is revolutionary/anti-capitalist?

What IS the political stance of the leaflet you posted? Revolutionary/anti-capitalist. That's why you posted it.

What is the political stance of Capital the CPUSA, and Nepalese Maoists? Revolutionary/anti-capitalist.


Capital and the CPUSA don't share the same exact same stance with the essay I quoted nor with the PSG or Surrealism generally.

Logic dictates that if you find that a r/a-c stance is sufficient to make the leaflet surrealist, then the same stance MUST be sufficient to make the three things I list surreal, as they have the same stance.


That essay, to the extent that its stance is actually present within the breast-beating and breathless rhetoric (it's rather poorly developed) does dovetail very smoothly into the analysis of Capital or the CPUSA or Nepalese Maoists. Thus, they are surrealist.

And of course, as you've noted, Surrealism has a rather mercurial history, even in its political phase: some were anarchists, some were heavily influenced by Trotsky, others were in the orbit of the various CPs. Clearly, if Surrealism is broad enough to legitimately contain all those currents, it is no leap to suggest that it must contain the political stance of Capital itself.

Keeping an idea in your head for more than thirty seconds at a time: it does a position good.

What I've been saying, since the beginning, is that if you think surrealism is still relevant rather than just merely titillating then you should explore how it was revolutionary.

No. What you've been saying, from the beginning, is something different. You've been saying:

It seems to me that what is passed off as surrealism today isn't. I think surrealism has to come from a revolutionary/anti-capitalist perspective, or it isn't surrealism.

Thus, you claim that r/a-c is a NECESSARY condition for Surrealism.

Later, when pressed for examples, you pointed to an online leaflet. When I noted that said leaflet had no surreal elements to it, you altered your position by stating that its political stance was a SUFFICIENT condition for Surrealism.

The issues of relevancy, titlliation, and historical exploration only come up in your myriad attempts to leap out of the corner you already painted yourself into. The response has been, multiple times, "So what?" Then you carry on about your equivalency claim, until you end up in a corner again. Then you deny you've ever said any such thing.

I believe that people sometimes delude themselves when they delude others.

What a fanciful abstraction! Has nothing to do with union-busting, unfortunately. The ruling class is the most class conscious of classes.

Question: Do you think it's possible to understand the Comintern without knowing anything about Marxism?


Nope. I also don't think it's possible to understand the antebellum South, the French Revolution, or the current situation in the Middle East without knowing anything about Marxism. But that's not because these eras and historical lynchpins were lousy with Marxists (they weren't/aren't) but because Marxism is a framework for analysis and prediction.

Marxism, I'd say, gives the best explanation for why the Comintern was not a Marxist group, in fact, and explains best how Marxism became a dominant ideology (an imaginary relationship with real life) for those member nations.

I'll point again to how you quoted me to prove something the quote in no way implied.

I did no such thing. You're just simply unaware of the implications of what you say, because this discussion has little, ultimately, to do with either surrealism or revolutionary politics, and a lot to do with Doug Lain's self-concept as a revolutionary and as an artist.

And no, I didn't read Lewis's book. Never said I did. Remember what your actual suggestion was: to read her book or any book that focuses on the history of surrealism. I've read several on the subject. That's how I know that you're wrong.
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Arthur Rambo
Posted on Wednesday, March 23, 2005 - 10:20 pm:   

"It (surrealism) was a revolutionary movement that attempted to use art as a tool."

Let's say you're right, that the above statement is correct down to the last nuance of meaning.

So fucking what?

You're trying to animate a corpse that's been dead for 70 years with puppy breath.

Surrealism was an artistic movement that attempted to use revolution for its own purposes.

That's a little more true.
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Brendan
Posted on Wednesday, March 23, 2005 - 10:56 pm:   

Doug:

Just because something aims at being surrealist, it does not make it so. I could aim at being a renaissance painter, but no matter how hard I try I will not succeed. The time in which I live excludes me from such an ambition. Surrealism is the same, the only difference is that it is somewhat more recent.
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Sleepy
Posted on Thursday, March 24, 2005 - 08:33 am:   

Thanks guys for the wonderful posts. You just provided a great cure for my narcolepsy.
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Douglas Lain
Posted on Thursday, March 24, 2005 - 10:29 am:   

Nick: The revolutionary/anti-capitalist stance in the PSG flyer is not the same as the revolutionary/anti-capitalist stance in the CPUSA. The core of surrealism is missing from the CPUSA. The surrealist thing was a fusion of Marxism and Freud, remember?

If the Marvelous sought by surrealism is to fully materialize, a revolt as deep as our dreams is essential. We will dream together!

See, the CPUSA wouldn't go on about the Marvelous, would they? Why? Because they're not surrealists.

And now here's a little story starring Nick Mamatas:


A man was walking his dog when Mamatas spotted him and inquired, "Is this your dog?"

"Yes."

"I see it is a female dog. Has she had puppies?"

The proud owner of the dog affirmed it.

Diabolically Nick concluded, "This dog has two properties. First, it is your dog, and second it is mother. Let's add up the predicates: this dog is your mother."





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Douglas Lain
Posted on Thursday, March 24, 2005 - 10:35 am:   

Rambo and Brendan,

Please feel free to dismiss surrealism. You think it's dead? Fine by me.

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Nick Mamatas
Posted on Thursday, March 24, 2005 - 12:26 pm:   

Would the CPUSA go on about the Marvelous? When did this new claim enter the conversation? Ah yes, when two facts ran head on into one another:

1. Doug Lain Is Wrong.

2. Doug Lain Is An Educated Middle-Class Man, And Thus Never Changes His Mind, Unless An Authority Tells Him To (Whether Said Authority Is Actually Right Or Not).

Where are specific appeals to the Marvelous in any of these prior claims:

I think surrealism has to come from a revolutionary/anti-capitalist perspective, or it isn't surrealism.

I would say that a literary work without a revolutionary impact or ambition can't be truly surrealist.

I stand by my original declaration that surrealism that isn't revolutionary in intent isn't surrealism at all.

Those who would ignore the revolutionary aim of surrealism miss what surrealism is in the same way.

Remember, my main point was that surrealism had to be revolutionary in its intent in order to be surrealism. Wasn't Artaud intending to be a revolutionary?


Hmm, nowhere. Now, let us see what the Marvelous is.

Let us not mince words: the marvelous is always beautiful, anything marvelous is beautiful, in fact only the marvelous is beautiful. ...

In the realm of literature, only the marvelous is capable of fecundating works which belong to an inferior category such as the novel, and generally speaking, anything that involves storytelling. Lewis' The Monk is an admirable proof of this. It is infused throughout with the presence of the marvelous. Long before the author has freed his main characters from all temporal constraints, one feels them ready to act with an unprecedented pride. ...

It may seem arbitrary on my part, when discussing the marvelous, to choose this model, from which both the Nordic literatures and Oriental literatures have borrowed time and time again, not to mention the religious literatures of every country. This is because most of the examples which these literatures could have furnished me with are tainted by puerility, for the simple reason that they are addressed to children. At an early age children are weaned on the marvelous, and later on they fail to retain a sufficient virginity of mind to thoroughly enjoy fairy tales. ...

The marvelous is not the same in every period of history: it partakes in some obscure way of a sort of general revelation only the fragments of which come down to us: they are the romantic ruins, the modern mannequin, or any other symbol capable of affecting the human sensibility for a period of time.


So, according to Breton's descriptions, the Marvelous is only tangentially political, and is best conceived of as an aesthetic element that can be found in culture, in specific works or art, and in the unusual and overdetermined instances of surreality in the natural and social world: a moment when a dream breaks into reality. Indeed, here are a couple specific examples (from Nadja and Free Rein):

Breton meets a woman he finds attractiveand who tells him that she calls herself Nadja "because in Russian it's the beginning of the word hope, and because it's only the beginning. "

While in Mexico, stumbling upon a delapidated hotel he called Tumbledown Palace and finding, in a "dark and immensely empty" room with a piano, a young girl wearing a ruined evening gown. She's sweeping the floor and "smiling like the dawn of the world."

So, is the Marvelous part of Surrealism's supposed core r-a/c stance. No. Is it even a political concept? No. To the extent that the Marvelous can be made political, it dovetails very nicely into what the CPUSA, or Nepalese Maoists, or the bits of Capital that deal with the fetishism of commodities would describe as instances when alienation is overcome.

Thus, we see once again that, if we declare that revolutionary politics is SUFFICIENT for a leaflet to be surrealist, then clearly, Chapter 1, Section 4, of Capital is a work of surrealism as well, as are the once thunderous speeches of Gus Hall or the tromping down from the air-starved mountains of Nepal to engage in a People's War (people not included).
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Douglas Lain
Posted on Thursday, March 24, 2005 - 01:48 pm:   

1. Nick Mamatas is a sophist. (And thus nearly always wrong.)
2. Nick Mamatas will never relent.
3. Nick Mamatas says one thing and then the other:

So, is the Marvelous part of Surrealism's supposed core r-a/c stance. No. Is it even a political concept? No. To the extent that the Marvelous can be made political, it dovetails very nicely into what the CPUSA, or Nepalese Maoists, or the bits of Capital that deal with the fetishism of commodities would describe as instances when alienation is overcome.

He contradicts himself as he goes. Either the marvelous has no political content or it's just like what Marx talks about in Capital, but not both. He wants to make Surrealism both apolitical and just like Marx at the same time. Clearly surrealism is about overcoming alienation as described by Marx, but surrealism, unlike Marx, thinks that strange events, voo-doo, the dream, juxtapostions, etc... must come to the front in order to overturn this alienation. Again: Freud+Marx.

By Nick's accounting of surrealism Breton's manifestos wouldn't be considered surrealist. But really, Nick isn't interested in defining surrealism, he's just having fun being a sophist and playing silly tricks.

Nick wants me to agree that all revolutionary/anti-capitalists movements are the same, except when they're not.

My dog is not my mother.

Okay Nick, your turn.
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AnnaT
Posted on Thursday, March 24, 2005 - 02:42 pm:   

This conversation fascinates me. It is so politically irrelevant as to make me wonder why so much energy is being spent by so many for so what. But I have truly enjoyed Nick and Carole's contributions, as being both spot on, and attempting to link this to reality. You might enjoy this.
On Sincerity in Literature
http://www.sovlit.com/sincerity/

and a bit about the history of Soviet porcelain.

Avant-garde porcelain from Revolutionary Russia
http://www.hermitagerooms.com/exhibitions/RussianPorcelain/index.asp
a different view of same:
http://www.socialaffairsunit.org.uk/blog/archives/000316.php
and then, continuing the revolution:
Porcelain Thawing Season
http://www.sovart.net/index_en.html
as far as the bourgeoisie, surrealists lived off them from the beginning, and not even from the ones with average worth. It takes stinking wealth to support a surrealist 'movement', especially the comrades who foment from tenured positions in public universities. At least Daumier was honest about his need for capitalists, pricing his works cheaply and producing many--works that skewered the faults of the very people and class who bought his work. He lived quite poorly, never trying to go upmarket.

As for today, the present world should be vitally concerned with surrealism--the surrealism of the neocons who have been the only real revolutionaries to come out of Chicago. Their "your reality" is the ultimate surrealism, but it is winning. When even the middle-class rag, Time, runs an article, "All the news that fits your reality"
http://www.time.com/time/columnist/poniewozik/article/0,9565,544296,00.html
it's time, I think, to stop talking about the power of surrealist poetry and to start getting involved in what's going on today. The reason I'm saying this is that I've known a lot of academic revolutionaries who are full of self-congratulatory we-are-the-world cant, and if they lost their jobs, they aren't even good as worker-of-the-world machinists.

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AnnaT
Posted on Thursday, March 24, 2005 - 02:59 pm:   

I take that back about "the only revolution" in Chicago. Louis Sullivan did revolutionise architecture.
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Nick Mamatas
Posted on Thursday, March 24, 2005 - 03:05 pm:   

He contradicts himself as he goes. Either the marvelous has no political content or it's just like what Marx talks about in Capital, but not both. He wants to make Surrealism both apolitical and just like Marx at the same time.

Nope, the problem, Doug, is that you literally do not know how to think.

You said that the political stance of the leaflet was sufficient to make it surrealist.

I said, if that were so, that would make Capital surrealist.

After a day of you dancing around the obvious problem with such an implication, you changed your your claim to the fact that the leaflet talks about the Marvelous is what makes it surreal.

I simply pointed out that the Marvelous is not a political stance.

The only actual claim I'm making is that the Marvelous is not political. Everything else is simply contingent: if you, Doug, are right about X, then that means that Y and Z are also true. Except that Y and Z are not true, which casts rather a lot of doubt on X.

If we wanted to find some applicable bit of politics that we could associate with the Marvelous -- that is, if I could expect some consistency from you, which would necessarily include the claim that the Marvelous is the political stance you were talking about when defending your PSG leaflet as surreal -- the Marvelous would clearly be a synecdoche of the concept of alienation, which is also present in Capital.

The point is: what you declared an example of "real" surrealism is not, in fact, surreal.

Your initial defense of why it is surreal (its political stance makes it surreal) necessarily includes a lot of other non-surreal things.

Your second defense contradicts your first; as you appeal to an aesthetic (the Marvelous), not the political, after all.

One can only anticipate that your third defense would be that the Marvelous is too political, so there, nyah nyah.

Well, if that is so, then we're back to the beginning, because if the Marvelous was political rather than aesthetic/rhetorical, the only useful r/a-c concept we could relate it to would be alienation. And all sorts of other non-surreal r/a-c stuff involves Utopian promises to overcome alienation (huzzah huzzah).

This is difficult for you to comprehend for only one reason: Doug Lain Will Not Be Corrected By His Social Inferiors.

As far as why this is important: remember your initial claim that surreality without revolutionary politics is not "real" surrealism. The problem is that someone who encounters a surreal work has no way to tell from that encounter what is real and what is not. You simply make a vulgar appeal to biocriticism. Breton fancied himself a revolutionary (I fancy him a dilletante, myself) so whatever he crapped out of his flabby butt must also be revolutionary.
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Nick Mamatas
Posted on Thursday, March 24, 2005 - 03:14 pm:   

It is so politically irrelevant as to make me wonder why so much energy is being spent by so many for so what.

Oh, I wouldn't call what is being expended here "energy."
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Lucius
Posted on Thursday, March 24, 2005 - 03:28 pm:   

"as far as the bourgeoisie, surrealists lived off them from the beginning, and not even from the ones with average worth. It takes stinking wealth to support a surrealist 'movement', especially the comrades who foment from tenured positions in public universities."

Well, that makes them revolutionaries... doesn't it? :-)
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AnnaT
Posted on Thursday, March 24, 2005 - 03:38 pm:   

Ah, yes, Lucius! Good one.
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AnnaT
Posted on Thursday, March 24, 2005 - 03:47 pm:   

But what's the difference between a revolutionary and a parasite? If they're revolutionaries, then them also being parasites negates the revolution. Viva la dead argument!
This reminds me of another revolutionary,
the poet Kobayashi Issa (1763-1827) who wrote,

Writing shit about new snow
for the rich
is not art.
- Translated by Robert Hass

but what about writing shit about new snow that is really boot polish, for the masses? Is that art, and is it revolution, or just revolting?
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AnnaT
Posted on Thursday, March 24, 2005 - 03:58 pm:   

Lucius, I blame you for the inspiration! I'm starting a movement. It's called The Huevos Revueltos.
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Douglas Lain
Posted on Thursday, March 24, 2005 - 04:12 pm:   

Nick: Round and round the mulberry bush.

You explained how the marvelous can be political. I would agree that it isn't always political. Surrealism was a political movement that attempted to put the marvelous into service for the revolution.

My point continues to be this: IF you think surrealism still has value today THEN you should keep in mind its revolutionary ambition. If you don't think surrealism is still valuable then I won't argue.

The distinction between real and unreal surrealism only makes sense if you hold surrealism as valuable. Awhile back I said that if you don't believe in God you shouldn't call yourself a Catholic.

Doug Lain Will Not Be Corrected By His Social Inferiors

This is just crazy talk. After all you are my Social Superior!

How do you know that Breton's butt was flabby? I happen to understand that it was very tight and attractive butt.











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AnnaT
Posted on Thursday, March 24, 2005 - 04:38 pm:   

"Revolutionary ambition", Douglas? I'm sorry but I can't resist.
Give us one example of it today, and how it is revolutionising whom. And what, may I ask, is "the revolution"? Castro's, where writers and all artists are heavily restricted? The Bolivarian one, where the same thing is happening? Have you ever seen a public library in a communist country, or visited a bookstore there? Have you ever had the pleasure of having your work, even your fictional work vetted for political soundness before it is allowed to be published? Have you ever noticed that work in the service of the revolution looks at surrealism as it does any enemy of the people, and is, instead, into realism of the heroic order only? Go to the Moscow Underground. There's lots of art there, but no floating hats or melting watches. I suppose you would call it art for the bourgoisie if you saw it anywhere else. I love those sculptures, by the way. They are all of "the people", even though what they celebrated was a cruel lie, and the elitist revolutionaries ruled as despotically as the tsarists before them. Revolution is a soiled currency of a word, and most "revolution" is counterfeit.
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Douglas Lain
Posted on Thursday, March 24, 2005 - 05:26 pm:   

AnnaT: What you say seems true enough to me. But the world is still sinking every day and I can't think of a better word. Can you?

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Nick Mamatas
Posted on Thursday, March 24, 2005 - 05:43 pm:   

The distinction between real and unreal surrealism only makes sense if you hold surrealism as valuable.

Actually, it only makes sense if you swap out "surrealism" for "the imaginary revolutionary construct that Doug Lain thinks surrealism must have been" which was my point all along.

So, again, if the Marvelous is political -- and you must agree that it is political in the way I described as you just said that I "explained how the marvelous can be political" -- and if this political Marvelous is what makes the PSG leaflet surreal, why is if the first chapter, fourth section of Capital, not surreal?

You have two choices:

1. PSG is surreal due to Marvelous, and is political due to Marvelous. This is also a declaration that Capital is surreal, since the Marvelous is political in the way I explained. Choose this one to acknowledge that you have so tortured the term "Surrealism" that anything with any revolutionary content can fit into it, aesthetics aside -- this of course will render the term meaningless.

2. PSG is surreal due to Marvelous, but Marvelous is not political after all in the PSG leaflet. This relieves you of the burden of trying to explain Capital as surreal, but also drives a massive whole through your initial thesis that politics, not aesthetics or techniques, makes something surreal. Choose this one to acknowledge that your own personal example actually constitues proof that your claim is wrong.

So, which ridiculous position would you like to, finally, plant your flag upon? Unfortunately, the way you've already explained everything through your many posts, you don't have a third option.
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Douglas Lain
Posted on Thursday, March 24, 2005 - 05:50 pm:   

My dog still isn't my mother.

If this political Marvelous is what makes the PSG leaflet surreal, why is if the first chapter, fourth section of Capital, not surreal?

Clearly surrealism is about overcoming alienation as described by Marx, but surrealism, unlike Marx, thinks that strange events, voo-doo, the dream, juxtapostions, etc... must come to the front in order to overturn this alienation. Again: Freud+Marx.

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AnnaT
Posted on Thursday, March 24, 2005 - 06:02 pm:   

Douglas, I see the problem you (and we all) are faced with. The only suggestion (completely unsnide, I assure you) I can make is that it's better not to talk revolution, but just to hunker down and try to tackle specifics, maybe not as grandly, but with less grandiose ambitions and more actual work, things can change. I say this knowing, cynically, that an organisation that starts out leftist and revolutionary as anything, always ends up being as institutional (if it survives) and as rift with intrigue and work-shirkers as any corporation. Them's the truth, I'm sad to say. And the second truth is that it is terribly hard to really have a revolution, and if there is, the result can be Iran. It is rarely the Czech Republic, but even there, it's no paradise, and is riven by corruption and class stratification. Going back to being Marxist isn't the choice of the people there, however. But, here's an article you might like to read.
An exile looks back at America
http://www.publicscrutiny.net/2002/ps0103-millett.html
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Nick Mamatas
Posted on Thursday, March 24, 2005 - 06:23 pm:   

Clearly surrealism is about overcoming alienation as described by Marx, but surrealism, unlike Marx, thinks that strange events, voo-doo, the dream, juxtapostions, etc... must come to the front in order to overturn this alienation. Again: Freud+Marx.


You need to re-read the leaflet you offered up as "true" surrealism again. It doesn't put the Marvelous or any surreal aesthetics/techniques at the front at all, but sees it as an end result. To wit:

If the Marvelous sought by surrealism is to fully materialize, a revolt as deep as our dreams is essential.

The leaflet spells out, fancifully and abstractly, in the manner of a "revolutionary leadership" with no actual connection to the working class, what a revolt as deep as our dreams may entail:

With only our labor power to give, the working class, in its widest sense, can achieve this annihilation through collective revolt. Mass occupations of buildings, land, and essential workplaces combined with neighborhood assemblies and community self-defense alliances could make a difference. The formation of mutual aid networks could replace our dependence upon capitalism for meeting survival needs. A rent and work strike alongside an oil boycott might become dangerously motivating.

No tales of the dream, voo-doo (racism, how nice!), strange events, juxtapositions, etc. Let's just motor straight away to a pre-revolutionary period of dual power, leavened heavily with middle-class shopkeeper values cleverly disguised as Brand-A anarchism, then one day the Marvelous will erupt as suddenly and as fully formed as the General Strike did. No work needed.

Your leaflet puts the end of alienation after a revolutionary moment, not as the iskra of a revolutionary moment. In this, it is just like Capital, the work of that profoundly funny Surrealist, old man Marx.

So we're back to where we started. If that leaflet is surreal, so it Capital. If the leaflet isn't surreal, then we are agreed: surrealism was an artistic movement with a political veneer, not a political movement that sometimes toyed with art to free the masses and get the chicks.



The problem with your framework is that it turns Surrealism into an excercise in biocrit, with none other than Doug Lain playing the part of one of the experts from the Antiques Road Show. "Sorry sonny, this may look Surreal, but it lacks the RevolutionTM brand on its underside so it's just a cheap knock-off. You'll get two bits at auction, if you're lucky. Shoulda read up on the stuff in college, like I did! No surcease from alienation for you, now back to work."
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AnnaT
Posted on Thursday, March 24, 2005 - 06:46 pm:   

Ach, I didn't think I'd add. Sucked down into the whirlpool, but . . . Communication is the only way to even breathe the thought: revolution. That's why JV is so very right. Song has it over poems, any day. And those songs that catch don't mess about the unclear. They are clear as bells: "They turned Paradise into a parking lot", "little houses, on a hillside" and the ultimate flash song, with words in every language, but always to the point. It goes:
Da DA da
Da DA da
Da DADA DADA DADA
But here's an example of what I would call revolutionary work. Both the organisation and the poet. The fact that they don't scream "Revolution" probably helps them to achieve some incremental change in a society that is otherwise morally set in concrete sinking fast in its own muckheap of moral slime.
The Poetry of Laor and the Courage to Refuse
A Personal and Political Moment
By DAVID ZONSHEINE
http://www.counterpunch.org/zonsheine11052004.html

and just yesterday I received this letter from the group, in support of their current campaign.
http://taketheirguns.org/campaign.htm
Now that is working for the revolution, I think. And they don't waste a moment thinking that Freud and Marx are going to save the moment. In fact, this whole conversation would make them either laugh or cry.
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JV
Posted on Thursday, March 24, 2005 - 07:23 pm:   

Mandingo milkshake made the illegal friends of the torn into manifold destinies of gold that like the fankicks on icicles turned on the widgets that in turn created their ducks like silver ducts through which swam the bills that churned inside of him like buckets of mud and when he finally figured out the pork deficit of the world, then porn parlors made more sense than lack--the illegitimate fans of the moronsense flapping wings like cell phones tattere and flagged into the syphilitic moons of the braziered universe that while it maddened maddened well and truly, juicy as old leather pulled from the tongue of sin.

Viva la revolucion!
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Lucius
Posted on Thursday, March 24, 2005 - 07:29 pm:   

Viva Huevos Revueltos!
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AnnaT
Posted on Thursday, March 24, 2005 - 08:40 pm:   

Hooray for mandingo milkshakes, especially when they taste like old leather pulled from the tongue of sin. We need revolucions to stamp out people who say, in reaction to something truly subversively wonderful like octopuses disguising themselves to look like walking coconuts (a great disguise, by the way, sure to make no one notice)
http://www.nature.com/news/2005/050321/full/050321-14.html
""When we noticed one was walking, I thought my gosh, this is amazing. It's the first underwater bipedal locomotion I know of."
Now, if people are really saying, "Oh my gosh," aren't you as alarmed as I am? How can this be tolerated? The pusillanimous shall not inherit the vocabulary of wonder, if I can help it.
But onwards. There's miles of milkshakes to drink
and old leather to stink
before us comrades can think of sleep.
I'm setting up a cell (code knocks: the DADA song) at my place for the Huevos Revueltos. Bring your own milkshakes, to be divided amongst us all according to the principles of the Huevos Revueltos, who of course have no principles whatsoever.
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Brendan
Posted on Thursday, March 24, 2005 - 11:32 pm:   

Doug:

It is not "dead" in the sense that we can still read and enjoy whatever we please, but if someone currently calls themselves a "surrealist" writer they are mis-using the word.

In my opinion it is actually harmful to the memory of real surrealism, because instead of respecting its uniqueness, its individuality, people use the label for anything that takes their fancy.
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des
Posted on Friday, March 25, 2005 - 12:57 am:   

I was asked to run a Surrealist Exhibition at University in 1967 - and I and some friends (froma Group I formed called the Zeroist Group) just stuck up some collages made from old magazines. More like Dada I suppose.
We were congratulated, however, and had lots of visitors.
People thought that was what Surrealism was in the Sixties, I guess. ;-)

At the end of the day, the meaning of any word is its use. That is what Surrealism is, imho. Like the word 'bespoke', it means what you think it ought to mean.
I'm an arch-descriptivist, not a prescriptivist.
Pretentious, moi?

des (who loves Happenings)http://www.weirdmonger.com
http://www.nemonymous.com
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Douglas Lain
Posted on Monday, March 28, 2005 - 01:56 pm:   

Nick: I'm not interested in judging individual works. I was making a larger point about what surrealism aimed at, and why surrealism might be attractive today.

The question of whether the liberation of the dream is a tactic or the end goal is an interesting question but brought up here it only confuses the issue. Traditional Marxism isn't interested in the marvelous or dreams at all and the surrealists were.

Again my goal was not to provide standards by which to judge surrealist literature, but rather to remind people that surrealism aimed at transcending literature, or at liberating it.

I said earlier that a person shouldn't call himself Catholic if he doesn't believe in God. I suppose that works the other way too, if you don't believe in God you should feel free to call yourself Catholic (perhaps because you enjoy wafers, or think the Bishop's outfits are neat), but I'm not confident that there would be any substantial reason to take the label if you reject the central premise behind it.

Personally I don't call myself a surrealist because I write stories, am interested in literature, and seek a literary career. I don't think these ambitions jibe with the surrealist project.

However, I do believe people working as literary artists can be influenced by surrealism, but not if they have no conception of what surrealism was.

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Douglas Lain
Posted on Monday, March 28, 2005 - 02:03 pm:   

That fourth paragraph needs rewriting. Let me try it again.

A believer would hold that you shouldn't call yourself Catholic if you don't believe in God. However if you're not a believer there is no need to agree. The idea of Catholicism isn't worth respecting or protecting from the atheist perspective.
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Nick Mamatas
Posted on Monday, March 28, 2005 - 10:58 pm:   

Finally, after all that, you can only make an argument from dubious authority.

I agree that one must believe in God to be a Catholic. Catholicism is a religion that holds to the existence of God. Remove it, and there is nothing else.

This is NOT analogous to revolutionary politics and surrealism. You can stomp your foot about it and cite ninth-rate books on the subject all you like, but the facts are clear; if you can't SHOW me true surrealism and false surrealism, then your conception is wrong.

You pointed to a piece of surrealist work and declared it "false" for no real reason. You pointed to a political leaflet and declared it "true" surrealism based on its political stance, a stance that exists in many many obviously non-surreal works. Then you claimed that a non-political element, the leaflet's appeal to the Marvelous, was what made it surreal.

So, you are either wrong about political stance being fundamental, or wrong about the Marvelous being apolitical.

You are stuck in a contradiction of your own making. The problem is, obviously, that your conception of what surrealism is has failed. So into the dustbin it goes.

What's so hard to understand? If your claim is true, you should have easily been able to do what you have failed rather miserably at doing. That's how we know your claim is false.
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Douglas Lain
Posted on Tuesday, March 29, 2005 - 10:37 am:   

Nick: Nice bot. You might want to program in a few more of your catchphrases, though. This one wasn't able to randomly generate anything substantially connected to what I'd said.

For instance, your bot spewed something about arguing from authority. That kind of nonsequitur gives a bot away.

It did generate a few sentences that seemed to refer to something I'd said earlier (did you pull some of the bots phrases from this very thread?). Do you remember the two examples of surrealism I pointed out earlier, one which was overtly revolutionary (advocating liberation from the prison of modern life and escape into dream) and the other which was attempting to sell a line of clothes? Anyhow, your bot spouted gibberish about these examples.

It's very funny program but not quite as intelligent as, say, Eliza.

I have a bot too. LIsten:

Dougbot--///::: Marxism is a political philosophy with a critique of capitalism and a theory of labor value. Remove the critique of capitalism but keep the theory of labor value. It's still Marxism right? Even as it advocates for Capitalism?

Dougbot--///::: Juggling is the tossing of objects into the air and the catching of them. Remove the catching of them and it's still juggling, right?

Dougbot--///::: Surrealism is the attempted synthesis of Freud and Marx. Remove the Marxism and you still have surrealism, right?

Dougbot--///:::You are trapped in illogic of your own making. The problem, obviously, is that your argument has failed. Into the dustbin you go.

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Nick Mamatas
Posted on Tuesday, March 29, 2005 - 02:57 pm:   

Do you remember the two examples of surrealism I pointed out earlier, one which was overtly revolutionary (advocating liberation from the prison of modern life and escape into dream) and the other which was attempting to sell a line of clothes?

That IS the argument from authority. You didn't point out two examples of surrealism, you pointed out one, and claimed that the other, non-surreal piece, was also surreal because of its political stance.

Well, everyone else knows that that can't be true, because many many other works share the same stance and aren't surreal (Capital etc.). So why does Doug Lain continue to think it is true? Because Doug Lain says so. It CAN'T be because of the Marvelous, because

1. the Marvelous is not a political stance, and
2. if one wished to torture the idea of the Marvelous sufficiently to make it political, it would be an element of overcoming alienation, which would again make all sorts of non-surreal political work by definition surreal.

If the only way to determine the surreality of a work is to find out what Doug says about it, then the concept of surrealism is valueless.

Surrealism is what you say it is because you say that's what it is. That's not logic, reason, fact, an understanding of history or art or politics, it's just pure rhetorical and authoritarian footstomping.

Btw, you're also wrong about Marxism (there are plenty of Marxist variants that exist without the labor theory of value, and variants that use Marxism to predict and explain capitalism without necessarily believing that capitalism will ever collapse) and juggling (there are many forms of juggling which don't require tosses, such as plate-spinning).
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Douglas Lain
Posted on Tuesday, March 29, 2005 - 05:11 pm:   


Nick: I didn't invent surrealism and am not claiming any special right to judge surrealist works. I'm just pointing out what surrealism was.

I am interested to hear about juggling wherein the juggler throws the ball up but doesn't catch it. If this is true then I'm a juggler.

What I would really love to read is your exact same specious argument again, so please respond just as you have before.
-----
This response was written by Dougbot(tm).

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The Surrealist
Posted on Tuesday, March 29, 2005 - 05:55 pm:   

Will you two just get a fucking room!
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The surrealist
Posted on Tuesday, March 29, 2005 - 05:57 pm:   

Seriously, this is about the time in "Moonlighting" when Cyball Sheperd and Bruce Willis would start tearing each others clothes off.
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Nick Mamatas
Posted on Tuesday, March 29, 2005 - 06:15 pm:   

I'm just pointing out what surrealism was.


Nope, you were pointing out what surrealism IS, and claiming a magic ability to tell "true" from "false" surrealism.

And you were wrong.

As usual.

PS: The Marvelous is still not a political stance.
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Douglas Lain
Posted on Tuesday, March 29, 2005 - 06:50 pm:   

Nick:

Oh, i was pointing out what surrealism is and claiming a magic ability to tell true from false surrealism. Oh, i was wrong. Please go on. Please go on.
---
This response was brought to you by Dougbot (tm).
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Nick Mamatas
Posted on Tuesday, March 29, 2005 - 10:45 pm:   

Don't mind if I do.

Today's ridiculous evasion:
I'm just pointing out what surrealism was.


Very first post:

It seems to me that what is passed off as surrealism today isn't. I think surrealism has to come from a revolutionary/anti-capitalist perspective, or it isn't surrealism.

"Was" and "is...today" aren't the same thing.

It's not so much catching you with your pants down anymore so much as it is pointing out that you don't even own a pair.

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Dougbot
Posted on Wednesday, March 30, 2005 - 08:52 am:   

Oh, i with my pants down anymore so much as it is pointing out that i dont even own a pair.
---
This response was brought to you by Dougbot(tm).


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Douglas Lain
Posted on Friday, April 01, 2005 - 07:11 pm:   

How should one describe the anti-capitalist revolutionary core of surrealism? Michael Lowy writing for the socialist journal Radical Philosophy calls it 'Gothic Marxism.'

The term `Gothic Marxism', on the other hand, is illuminating, provided that we understand the adjective in its romantic sense of a fascination with enchantment and the marvellous, as well as with the spellbound aspects of pre-modern cultures and societies. We find references to the English Gothic novel of the eighteenth century and certain German romantics of the nineteenth at the heart of the work of both Breton and Benjamin.
http://www.radicalphilosophy.com/default.asp?channel_id=2188&editorial_id=10470
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Douglas Lain
Posted on Friday, April 01, 2005 - 09:14 pm:   

Here's an illuminating quote from an interview with Jan Svankmajer:

JS: "Conspirators is actually a film about liberation, and about gaining a freedom. It is not art, but a film. Just as, for example, André Breton would not say "Surrealistic painting", he would say "Surrealism in painting". In the same way, I speak of Surrealism in film. Surrealism is psychology, it is philosophy, it is a spiritual way, but it is not an aesthetic. Surrealism is not interested in actually creating any kind of aesthetic. It was drawn as an element from various different artists, but it does not exist."
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Douglas Lain
Posted on Tuesday, May 10, 2005 - 08:03 pm:   

Returning once again to this thread because I'm bored.

Nick wrote:

Nope, you were pointing out what surrealism IS, and claiming a magic ability to tell "true" from "false" surrealism.

At the time I chose not to respond. But now I will respond by pointing out the obvious, (I guess I'm just not quite sure that everybody will see the obvious).

I originally said that IF surrealism was still relevant today THEN we ought to look at what surrealism WAS.

And I still think Nick is a big old sophist.
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Eric W.Bragg
Posted on Thursday, December 29, 2005 - 12:56 pm:   

This is Eric W.Bragg and I am a homosexual and a surrealist. Surrealism wants nothing to do with capitalism, shitheads!

Eric W.Bragg
Gay Surrealist

http://www.surrealcoconut.com

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