Surrealpolitik: A Cavalier History of Surrealism

Author: Raoul Vaneigem

Edinburgh: AK Press (1999)

Quick Summary

A valuable critique of Surrealism in the spirit of something like an embittered offspring. Vaneigem comes off as somebody who knows the flaws of Surrealism better than anyone but ultimately still loves it even while essentially tearing it apart for all its absurdities and hypocrisies.


There are 11 quotes currently associated with this book.

To Surrealism's credit, assuredly, is the creation of a school-for-all which, if it did not make revolution, at least popularized revolutionary thinkers. The Surrealists were the first to make it impossible, in France, to conflate Marx and Bolshevism, the first to use Lautréamont as gunpowder, the first to plant the black flag of de Sade in the heart of Christian humanism. These are legitimate claims to glory: to this extent, at any rate, Surrealism's failure was an honorable one. (page 8)
Tags: [Surrealism]
As...Surrealism ignored the negativity embodied in Dada, being nevertheless hard put to it to institute any positive project, it succeeded only in setting in motion the old ideological mechanism whereby today's partial revolt is turned into tomorrow's official culture. (page 9)
Tags: [Surrealism, Surrealism's Failure, Surrealism & Dada]
Unfortunately Surrealism had been an ideology in the profoundest sense from the beginning; it was always doomed to be part of the game of old and new in the cultural sphere -- and could have avoided this destiny only if, say, the Spanish Revolution had triumphed over both the Stalinists and the fascists and hence made possible a transformation of Surrealism into revolutionary theory. (page 29)
Tags: [Surrealism, Surrealism's Failure, Surrealism & Politics]
In 1946 the pamphlet Liberté est un mot vietnamien [Liberty Is a Vietnamese Word] protested against French repression in Indochina. Inaugural Break (1947) was a denunciation of Stalinism...however, [immediately] they found themselves obliged go hail the Hungarian uprising in Hongrie, soleil levant [Hungary: The Sun Rises].

In 1960 Surrealists were the initiators of the "Declaration on the Right of Conscientious Objection in the Algerian War" -- the so-called "Declaration of the 121". Eight years later, whatever residue still went by the name "Surrealist" was singing the praises of Cuba!

Along the way the Surrealists worked with the anarchists of Le Libertaire, and for a time supported Garry Davis's Citizens of the World movement. (page 30)
Tags: [Surrealism, Surrealism & Politics]
A pamphlet published on 7 June 1947 by the Revolutionary Surrealists, a dissident Belgian group, had issue a salutary warning to the movement as a whole...:

Landlords, crooks, Druids, poseurs, all your efforts have been in vain: we persist in relying on SURREALISM in our quest to bring the universe and desire INTO ALIGNMENT...First and foremost, we guarantee that Surrealism will no longer serve as a standard for the vainglorious, nor as a springboard for the devious, nor as a Delphic oracle; it will no longer be the philosopher's stone of the distracted, the battleground of the timid, the pastime of the lazy, the intellectualism of the impotent, the draft of blood of the "poet" or the draft of wine of the littérateur.

But, as though to give the true measure of their protest, and certainly exemplifying the grotesquerie which would thenceforward dog Surrealism in its dotage, the aforesaid signatories declared without further ado that they placed their entire faith in the Communist Party! (page 32)
Tags: [Surrealism, Surrealism & Politics]
[T]he melancholy of everyday life was the stirrup that enabled Surrealism to take its wild ride through the world of dreams. (page 37)
Tags: [Surrealism, Surrealism's Promise]
[Surrealism] given credit for having so very rarely failed to measure the revolutionary ethic of freedom. The Surrealists' denunciation of oppression was well-nigh continual, and the violence of their tone cannot help but arouse our sympathy. The fact remains that these young people, who ought by rights to have turned themselves into theorists and practitioners of the revolution of everyday life, were content to be mere artists thereof, waging a war of mere harassment against bourgeois society as though it fell to the Communist Party alone to mount the main offensive. (page 39)
Tags: [Surrealism, Surrealism's Failure, Surrealism & Politics]
The bases of a practical approach to religion were laid down in L'Action immédiate by René Magritte, E.L.T. Mesens, Paul Nougé, Louis Scutenaire and André Souris:

We are convinced that what has been done to oppose religion up to now has been virtually without effect and that new means of action must be envisaged.

At the present time the Surrealists are the people best fitted to undertake this task. So as not to lose any time, we must aim for the head: the outrageous history of religions should be made known to all, the lives of young priests should be made unbearable, and all sects and organizations of the Salvation Army or of the Evangelical variety should be discredited by means of every kind of mockery our imagination can devise. Think how exhilarating it would be if we could persuade the better part of our youth to mount a well prepared and systematic campaign of disruption of church services, baptisms, communions, funerals and so on. Meanwhile roadside crosses might usefully be replaced by images promoting erotic love or poetically eulogizing the natural surroundings, particularly if these happen to be grim.
(page 41)
Tags: [Surrealism, Activism, Surrealism's Promise, Surrealism & Politics]
On every occasion, and at every stage, the Surrealists invoked the desired unity of poetry, love and revolt. (page 50)
Tags: [Surrealism, Surrealism's Promise, Surrealism & Politics]
[N]o matter how often they denied it, the Surrealists were continually (and curiously, for readers of de Sade) drawing the Christian distinction between carnal and spiritual love. Here, once again, the point of view of real practice was never grasped. What could be more Sadean than the dialectic of pleasure in its dual relationship to love on the one hand and insurrection on the other? Even the nihilist Jacques Rigaut acknowledged that any reconstruction of love must follow this path: "I have ridiculed many things. There is only one thing in the world that I have never been able to ridicule, and that is pleasure." (page 50)
Tags: [Surrealism, Surrealism's Failure]
[Quoting Paul Nougé of the Belgian Surrealist group:] We must turn what can be ours to the very best account. Let man go where he has never gone, experience what he has never experienced, think what he has never thought, be what he has never been. But help is called for here: such departures, such a crisis, need to be precipitated, so with this in mind let us create disconcerting objects. (page 54)
Tags: [Surrealism, Surrealism's Promise, Surrealism & Politics]