Surrealpolitik

Surrealpolitik: Surrealism, Politics and Culture

Authors: Donald LaCoss, Raymond Spiteri

Aldershot: Ashgate (2003)

Quick Summary

An edited volume of papers on surrealism, politics, and culture.

Quotes

There are 67 quotes currently associated with this book.

We begin with an example of what is perhaps the Surrealists' first significant intervention into the intricate nexus of culture and politics: the Saint-Pol-Roux banquet of 2 July 1925. What began as a cultured dinner party in Montparnasse organized by the Mercure de France to honor the ageing Symbolist poet, Saint-Pol-Roux, ended with Surrealists being arrested, condemned by the press, and threatened with violent right-wing reprisals. This event and the ensuing controversy not only alienated the Surrealists from other guests at the banquet and reinforced Surrealism's oppositional stance against the European cultural mainstream, but it also marked 'Surrealism's final break with all conformist elements of the time', and signalled Surrealism's decisive turn towards Communism. (page 1)
Tags: [Surrealism & Politics, Culture]
Claudel also sized up the Dada and Surrealist movements with a haughty judicial eye, pronouncing that they had nothing to offer European civilization other than 'pederasty'. Even before the interview, Claudel represented everything the Surrealists despised...so his comments provided the Surrealists with the chance to denounce him as a dangerous fraud. The Surrealists' retort stated categorically that patriotism and the purchase of 'large quantities of lard' for the 'upkeep of a nation of pigs and dogs' was incompatible with poetry; in fact, 'treason and all that can undermine the security of State' was far more poetic than anything that Claudel could produce. As for Claudel's homophobic comments regarding Surrealism, the authors of the open letter simply said that, to the mind of a 'pedant and a swine' who proudly supported the 'infamous sanctimoniousness' of a Western civilization, the comparison of Surrealism to pederasty was apt because of the swirling haze of 'confusion it introduces into the minds of those who do not take part in it'. The Surrealists decided to distribute the tract at the banquet that night, leaving a copy under each place setting to greet the guests when they arrived. (page 2)
Tags: [Surrealism & Politics, Culture]
Saint-Pol-Roux looked on helplessly as the room erupted: the Surrealists exchanged blows with other guests amid shouts of 'Long Live Germany!', 'Victory to the Rif!', 'Hail the workers' paradise!', and 'Hurrah for China!'; Philippe Soupault knocked over plates on the tables while swinging from the chandelier; and the passing crowd attempted to lynch Michel Leiris after he began shouting seditious comments from a window overlooking boulevard Montparnasse. Leiris was arrested and beaten severely while in police custody for his efforts...This was not just an aesthetic spat between generations of writers over poetic style; rather, this was subversion of a social, political and cultural nature...and after 2 July 1925, Surrealism could no longer be considered simply another avant-garde artistic or literary 'ism'. (page 3)
Tags: [Surrealism & Politics, Culture]
By 1925, the Surrealists were making it clear that not only was a revolution needed, but if it was going to succeed, its effects could not be limited to art schools or creative writing workshops. The conventions of consensual reality maintained by the patriarchal, white, Christian establishment in Western Europe had robbed people of their ability to imagine alternatives and wild possibilities by denigrating perception, desire, instinct and intuition. As Thédore Fraenkel said about the Surrealists' revolutionary agenda in 1936, their target was both capitalism and the middle classes, since 'in the bourgeoisie everything is false because it only allows for a disfigured life -- narrow, painful, horrible'; it is 'mean and heartless', it 'lacks intelligence' and 'envisages nothing but what is given, the scientific', thereby polluting ethics, education and expression with toxic myths of family values, religion, fatherland, war and colonialism. (page 4)

[From chapter: Introduction: Revolution by Night (Spiteri and LaCoss)]
Tags: [Surrealism & Politics, Revolution]
Herbert Marcuse has identified 'the surrealistic effort' as one that asserts that there are forces operating in the world '[with] which we refuse to come to grips. We are subject not only to the causality of reason, as explored in the natural sciences and in common sense, but also to "irrational," surreal or subreal (in terms of accepted rationality) forces'. In tackling this cultural repression, Surrealism provides 'more than a mere enlargement of our perception, imagination, reason'; it is also a project for the 'restructuring and redirection of the mental faculties [...] to undo the mutilation of our faculties by the established society and its requirements'. (page 4)
Tags: [Surrealism, Surrealism's Promise, Rationality]
To prevent further calamities [after the atrocities of WWI and WWII], the poisonously narrow and limiting conditions of life under the bourgeoisie needed to be dismantled by braiding together the complexities of individual revolt and the many-headed beast of collective rebellion -- social realities had to be recovered in all their intensity and transformed into deeper, higher and more real levels of reality by delivering the means of production (material and mental) into the hands of the most exploited peoples...thus affiliation with Communism seemed to be the necessary first step to the Surrealist revolution, and those who were uncomfortable with this more explicit political position soon distanced themselves from the movement. But this does not mean that the Surrealists' revolutionary ambitions were strictly confined to participation in the PCF. In the 1920s, the Surrealists explored Leninist-Marxism because of 'what was then understood to be the triumph of the Russian Revolution and the dawning of a Workers' State', and when the USSR revealed itself to be a place 'where the most servile kind of obedience is expected, where the most basic of human rights are rejected, and where all social life orbits around the policeman and the state executioner', the Surrealists became strident anti-Stalinists. By the end of the Spanish Civil War, they found themselves more openly aligned with Trotskyists and anarchists; after World War II, when it was immediately apparent that Stalinist state-capitalism and American Marshall Plan market expansion were as threatening to humanity as fascism had been in the 1930s, the Surrealists collaborated with anarcho-communists, anti-imperialists, internationalists and other movements committed to radical freedom. (page 4)
Tags: [Surrealism & Politics, Revolution]
All too frequently, previous discussions of the politics of Surrealism have been devoted to the brief period during which the Surrealists were card-carrying members of the PCF (for a few months in 1927, though the period is often incorrectly said to span the years between 1925 and 1933), with occasionally some brief mention of the Surrealist recruitment of Trotsky in 1938. The majority of these histories claim that Surrealist interest in politics faded after 1935, and that the movement itself faded into obscurity during the mid-1940s, eclipsed by the accomplishments of the postwar existentialist literati and the rise of Abstract Expressionism in New York. However, this is simply not the case: since 1919, the Surrealists have responded to the partitioning of lived experience with a double strategy: the first stage unmasked the depth of alienation inherent in modern society, and the second move reintegrated splintered life by a fusion of the conscious and unconscious mind. Consequently, the interior realities of the individual were given the same value as the collective forms of the social. One could dispel alienation by restlessly exposing, disassembling, and rebuilding morality, knowledge, aspiration and desire; Surrealist politics sought to maximize the disruptive forces unleashed by the quest to recover the lost potential of human experience, encouraging a heightened awareness of how the centuries of repressive ideology had whittled away at absolute human liberty. Armed with Rimbaud's 'derangement of the senses', Marx's 'emancipation of the senses', and Freud's dissection of bourgeois sensibility, the Surrealists launched a campaign of personal and political deconstruction that would restore free play between internal and external reality, subjectivity and objectivity, representation and perception, and dream and action. (page 5)
Tags: [Surrealism & Politics]
Breton based his argument in the Manifesto on a critique of the model of human agency that prevailed in bourgeois society. The basic flaw with this model was that it limited the scope of human behaviour to acts that conformed to an arbitrary model of rational action and which encouraged a thoroughly pragmatic approach to life. Yet rationality foreclosed the possibility of imaginative engagement with the full compass of human experience. Unlike the child, for whom the imagination 'knows no bounds', in the adult the imagination was 'allowed to be exercised only in strict accordance with the laws of an arbitrary utility'. In this way the imaginative liberty of childhood was subordinated to the arbitrary authority of culture. (page 6)
Tags: [Surrealism, Surrealism's Promise, Surrealism & Politics]
Breton identified the 'reign of logic' as the principal means employed to suppress the imagination's innate rebelliousness. The influence of positivist philosophy and analytic reason had banished all forms of magical thinking from contemporary life; humanity, having lost any sense of its own purpose, consequently found itself incapable of accepting responsibility for its own destiny. As a result, 'experience has found itself increasingly circumscribed', leaning 'for support on what is most immediately expedient', 'protected by the sentinels of common sense', and 'any kind of search for truth which is not in conformance with accepted practice' was now forbidden. (page 7)
Tags: [Surrealism, Rationality]
On the one hand, the Surrealists attempted to engage in 'politics': they issued tracts and statements on current political crises, sought out radical political groups that appeared sympathetic to their goals and objectives, and even constituted groups such as Contre-Attaque (1935-36) with the deliberate aim of participating in political action. On the other hand, Surrealism was unwilling to forsake 'the political', which for Surrealism may best be described as an experience of freedom grounded in the imaginative possibilities revealed through creative endeavour. It is this experience that constituted the link between the artistic or literary plane and the social plane, between culture and politics in Surrealism. As Breton noted in the Second Manifesto of Surrealism: 'The problem of social action [...] is only one of the forms of a more general problem which Surrealism set out to deal with, and this is the problem of human expression in all its forms'. (page 9)
Tags: [Surrealism & Politics]
[T]he Surrealist belief [was] that creative endeavor required a radical kind of liberty inseparable from a broadly conceived political revolution. (page 10)
Tags: [Surrealism & Politics]
Other Surrealists shared Aragon's contempt for communism. Eduard called it 'a mediocre regime which, just like capitalism, depends on the crude and repulsive order of physical labour.' The group did not yet see revolutionary politics as the means of satisfying their grievances against the world; Breton told Jacques Baron: 'We just don't bother ourselves with politics'.

It was not until the summer of 1925 that the Surrealists began to reassess their resources and what they meant by 'revolution'. The public had remained cheerfully immune to threats of the Terror and an Oriental scourge however vividly these horrors were evoked in the columns of La Révolution surréaliste. Breton realized that the social order was not going to yield before mere invective whose extravagant violence rendered it ridiculous. If their revolution was not to deteriorate into an impotent nonconformism it had to be given some tangible content, if necessary social content, and join forces with other revolutionary intellectuals. Critics like Marcel Arland had been quick to pigeonhole the Surrealists' revolt as a symptom of a 'nouveau mal de siècle' or to identify the group as a latter-day generation of 'poètes maudits'. To avoid this forcible assimilation into a literary avant-garde which they despised, no better means was to hand than affiliations with proletarian politics. The press furore aroused by the Surrealists' behaviour at the banquet in honor of the poet Saint-Pol-Roux, where they had shouted overtly political slogans for the first time, proved that this was the way to make the public take notice of their protest. (page 21)
Tags: [Surrealism & Politics, Revolution]
Surrealist pamphleteering was predominantly destructive because Surrealist politics remained what they had been from the beginning: the politics of protest. Satire and insult were its main weapons. It proceeded by contradiction and not by argument. It was haphazard and undisciplined, shifting its ground from one phrase to the next. Its tone was invariably violent and tended to swing feverishly between the outraged and the outrageous. It expressed unmistakably the political views of poets -- of idealists impatient beyond all endurance at the failure of the real to emulate the imaginable. (page 26)
Tags: [Surrealism & Politics]
A striking series of contrasts may be drawn between Communist propaganda and the Surrealist literature of protest. While the former was addressed to those who might one day make the revolution, the latter was written for its potential victims. The Surrealists' aim was to demoralize their readers and to provoke a class-betrayal on the model of their own. As René Crevel wrote of his most recent book: 'I don't care to see Ete-Vous Fous? as anything more than a modest contribution to public demoralization'. While the Communists interpreted contemporary events in the light of the inevitable economic collapse of capitalism, the Surrealists exposed the moral and cultural symptoms of the same débâcle. Communist theory explained the substructure of the social system and the Surrealists denounced and ridiculed the decrepit superstructure. They sought not so much to convince as to move, not so much to argue the cause of a particular program as to arouse the feeling of revolt and to prompt the demand that something must be done. While the Communists instructed the proletariat in the strategy of revolution, the Surrealists were trying to bring about the emotional climate in which the revolution might break out. (page 27)
Tags: [Surrealism & Politics]
Although it was ostensibly the particular character that Communism assumed under Stalin that accounted for these setbacks, there were many other factors that would have prevented any lasting association between the Surrealists and the militants. The Surrealist argument, for instance, that the common roots of both Surrealism and Marxism in the Hegelian dialectic would make them readily conciliable was highly dubious. On the philosophical plane, the Surrealists grossly distorted their original ideas in order to make them acceptable to the Marxists. Jules Monnerot writes of the unfortunate efforts they made to fit themselves into 'a sort of pseudo-Hegelian orthopedic apparatus'. It was these efforts which explain the misuse or excessive use of Marxist jargon in Surrealist works. They recited the rubrics of Marxism-Leninism like a catechism. They swallowed down the bitter pill of materialist determinism even though, as taught by contemporary communists, it involved a dualism of the kind which it was the avowed aim of Surrealism to surmount. The sincere will to believe was not sufficient to bring faith. Surrealist Marxism was condemned either to remain superficial or to distort Surrealism more profoundly. To quote Breton: 'Personally, the violence that I had to inflict on myself did not enable me to toe the line for very long'. (page 32)
Tags: [Surrealism & Politics]
Lenin...rejected the possibility of any kind of liberation within the terms of the existing substructure since such a hypothesis would make its overthrow less urgent. Breton claimed, on the contrary, that greater awareness of the unused and stifled potentialities of man would make the demand for revolution still more urgent. Psychological awareness would fortify social awareness. Changing the picture which men had of the laws governing the world would make still more necessary the transformation of the substructure. The existing social order, far from being an insuperable barrier beyond which, if it was finally broken down, lay a land where all man's problems would be solved, was for the Surrealists no more than a fragile screen standing between man and the real problems which he had yet to face. (page 33)
Tags: [Surrealism & Politics]
There was a crucial difference between the ends envisaged by Surrealists and by Marxists. If both saw the revolution as the prelude to the founding of a world based on the desires of men, their ideas about the content of these desires were not the same. For the Marxists they were material while for the Surrealists they were primarily subjective and spiritual. The resulting human 'goods' in the view of the latter would be individual rather than social. The joys of 'la poésie fate par tour' would be experienced in privacy even when they were accessible to all. As André Masson remarked: 'What is surrealism if not the collective experience of individualism?' (page 33)
Tags: [Surrealism & Politics]
First, and most obviously, the Surrealists claimed to watch over the ideals represented by the Communist revolution. Secondly, and no less important, the Communist revolution was required to act as a guarantor of the real effectiveness of Surrealism. It is for this latter reason that the political history of Surrealism leaves the impression that the Surrealists were using Communism for their own ends. Communism was their shield against absorption by the Paris literary and artistic world, against a decline into dilettantism and bohemia. (page 34)
Tags: [Surrealism & Politics]
It may be that the term 'politics' when applied to Surrealism is a misnomer. The Surrealists seldom advanced beyond the stage of political agitation, since they rejected or were incapable of the sustained application which commitment demanded...Time and again they took up a political cause with fire and enthusiasm, pursued it for a while and then let it drop, leaving to others the spadework which could alone lead to any real achievement...Perseverance in any single line of political action would ultimately have been contrary to the very spirit of Surrealism. In the simplest terms: action, which was relative and contingent, was bound to betray the Surreal, which was absolute. Prolonged action belittled or infringed the global nature of Surrealist desires. (page 35)
Tags: [Surrealism & Politics]
The Surrealists' demands for a society based on the psychological needs and desires of mankind rather than imposed by the dictates of utility, logic and mindless economic determination, are still profoundly relevant. So too are their efforts to overcome the divorce between the artist and society and to improve the spiritual quality of life. The Surrealists, says André Masson, had to dream politically or cease to be. But they were unable at the same time to act politically. Perhaps it is unjust to blame them for this failure. As Victor Crastre writes, and his remarks about Breton may be applied to the Surrealists as a whole:

The debate between politics and mysticism is an eternal one: the pure revolutionary and the creator of new social forms are never the same man...The man who combined the two vocations would be a sort of monster (of perfection). From this point of view what might be considered as Breton's failure has been on the contrary the condition of his salvation. (page 36)
Tags: [Surrealism & Politics, Dreams]
Whereas Naville presented Surrealism with a choice between two possible courses of action, Breton called on the marvellous to defuse this antinomy. The reality of the mind was no less valid than that of facts; moreover, this opposition was resolved in the experience of the marvellous, where the image constituted an articulation between the subjective reality of the mind and material facts. The 'appeal to the marvellous' was an appeal to the revolutionary dimension of Surrealist experience -- what Benjamin later called 'profane illumination'. (page 58)
Tags: [Surrealism & Politics]
The appeal to the marvellous was symptomatic of the problematical status of Surrealism as a mode of political action. The marvellous was nothing other than the resonance of creative endeavor in the quotidian, yet it could only be represented as an estrangement of the quotidian, a sudden shift in perspective that disrupted the normal circulation of signs...For Surrealism to succeed on a cultural level it had to dress politics in metaphor; yet for it to succeed politically, it had to strip culture of its metaphoric veils. Surrealism never overcame this impasse, which inscribed its political position as an over-determined subtext in Surrealist productions; hence the fugitive, provisional character of Surrealist political manifestations. Although cultural endeavour could have political repercussions under certain conditions, in Surrealism's case these repercussions were not an actuality, and they consequently assumed the form of a series of missed or failed encounters. (page 72)
Tags: [Surrealism's Failure, Surrealism's Promise, Surrealism & Politics, Culture]
The passage from the overtly Marxist LSASDLR [surrealism in the service of revolution] to the luxuriously illustrated Minotaure [in the early 1930s] reflects Surrealism's political migration from a 'red' period of communist activism into what I wish to call its 'noir' period. Characterized by a renewed interest in formal innovation, mental aberration and automatism, this period's affinity with both the roman noir and film noir derives from its use of style and psychoanalysis 'in the service' of realism. That is, its mannered proliferation of stylistic motifs exceeds its own formalism in order to evoke latent forces of terror and social dissolution at work in 'reality'. This change in the group's tenor constitutes neither an 'exasperated' retreat from politics nor, for that matter, a failure of the movement to establish an effective political platform. Instead, this 'noir' period accomplishes what might be considered a sublation of the group's overt political activities, a dialectical synthesis which 'negates the negation' of their activism in returning to earlier Surrealist interests like automatic writing and the interpretation of dreams. Its political use-value lies in its reassessment of the moral and epistemological bases of Surrealism's political platform, in response to a historical moment rapidly becoming -- to cite the title of an article in Minotaure 3-4 -- an 'Age of Fear'. (page 94)

[From chapter: Surrealism Noir by Jonathan Eburne]
Tags: [Surrealism & Politics]
Striving less, for the time being, to 'change life' or to 'change the world' than to understand the nature of causality itself, the Surrealists attempted to read the cultural universe of the early 1930s in terms of the forces which threatened it: its dark motives, its ritualized patterns of behaviour, its terrifying outbursts of violence...I wish to argue that Surrealism's noir period is nonetheless driven by serious political concerns insofar as this dystopian theme actually performs analytical work in the service of the group's political philosophy. Increasingly suspicious of the dangers of stylizing actual terrorist violence, the Surrealists instead make style itself the terrain for better understanding the 'superior reality' of the historical, unconscious, sexual and social facts whose complex structure conditions lived experience and determines political change. (page 95)

[From chapter: Surrealism Noir by Jonathan Eburne]
Tags: [Surrealism & Politics, Terror]
As Dalí writes, paranoia's systematized confusion is thus 'corrosive to reality', insofar as it shows lived experience, the nominal relation of the self and the world, to be, in the worlds of a later Lacan, imaginary, a 'heap of broken images' fit together by the subject to form a concrete idea of reality. I call this Surrealist understanding of political as well as psychological reality 'noir' because it subjects individual action to a play of images, reflections and haunts, whether mobilized in service of an atmosphere of gothic claustrophobia or of hard-boiled ambivalence. Noir fiction and film dramatize the struggle to make sense of this play of images on the level of its characters, whose moral 'ambiguity' is a result of their own unconsciousness of the constructedness of reality. On the level of narrative, however, the stylistic universe of the story makes possible the analysis it denies its characters, becoming itself a kind of epistemological engine for investigating the structure of 'reality' that makes action possible. (page 107)

[From chapter: Surrealism Noir by Jonathan Eburne]
Tags: [Surrealism & Politics]
The intersubjective, 'public' symbolic space has lost its innocence: narrativization, integration into the symbolic order, into the big Other, opens up a mortal threat, far from leading to any kind of reconciliation. What one should bear in mind here is that this neutrality of the symbolic order functions as the ultimate guarantee for the so-called 'sense of reality': as soon as this neutrality is smeared, 'external reality' itself loses the self-evident character of something present 'out there' and begins to vacillate, i.e., is experienced as delimited by an invisible frame: the paranoia of the noir universe is primarily visual, based upon the suspicion that our vision of reality is always already distorted by some invisible frame behind our backs... (page 109)

[From chapter: Surrealism Noir by Jonathan Eburne]
Tags: [Surrealism & Politics, Truth & Real, The Other]
I maintain that this noir period enables rather than performs the group's political work. Indeed, it provides the basis for a new 'morality of revolt' which advocates a massive, collective restructuration of society upon diverse fronts -- from mental institutions to literature to family structure to political parties -- instead of the merely destructive violence of Aragon's 'Red Front'. (page 110)

[From chapter: Surrealism Noir by Jonathan Eburne]
Tags: [Surrealism & Politics]
Dirty, dark, loud and hysteric, the 1938 Exposition's substitution of interference and disorientation for the traditional orderliness of the exhibition space touched on more than simply aesthetic issues. Without banners, slogans or explicit political declarations, the Surrealists' idiosyncratic installation defined a form of ideological critique that concentrated on the disruptive potential of process, ephemerality, instability and visual frustration against the period's exhibitionary commonplace of stasis, solidity, sanity and visual primacy. However, the failure of scholars to see the prewar show as anything more than an aesthetic or anti-aesthetic event stems at least in part from a failure to adequately treat the spatial and performative dimensions of Surrealism, even as these dimensions arguably fostered the movement's most provocative and ideologically charged work of the period. As the movement's 1938 staging recast the bourgeois eighteenth-century interior of the Parisian gallery in which it was housed, it also pointed to what museological spaces of the day hid: that walls were not neutral, that display strategies were not objective, and that careful taxonomies and rooms enfilade held up the fragile foundations of national chauvinism, authoritative rule and art history alike. (page 181)

[From chapter: Elena Filipovic, Surrealism in 1938: The Exhibition at War]
Tags: [Politics & Art, Activism, Surrealism & Politics, Culture]
[T]he live 'hysteric' served as the perfect cipher for the Surrealist exhibition's provocation against both modernism and its most authority-weighted institutions. Remote from the productivist/rational/utopian concerns of what is now understood as high modernism, the Surrealists violently rejected, in particular, architectural modernism throughout the life of the movement. During the 1930s, Dali even conflated hysteria with the 'terrifying and edible beauty' of Art Nouveau -- that architecture whose asymmetry, undulating curves and 'perversity' offered a corrective, in the Spaniard's view, to the right angles and functionalism of the modernist architecture championed by Le Corbusier. An edifice as hysterical body, womb, psychic envelope or crumbling ruin emerged as the only possible counter for Surrealism to the repressive authority of Architecture. (page 195-196)

[From chapter: Elena Filipovic, Surrealism in 1938: The Exhibition at War]
Tags: [Politics & Art, Activism, Surrealism & Politics, Carnival]
In the end, the Surrealists' move toward a rethinking of the exhibition space in 1938 caused little more than temporary local derangement. Misunderstood in its day, Surrealism's dirt was easy to sweep up, the blackened gallery walls quickly repainted white. A cartoon from the period epitomizes the problem: the exhibition's public recognized the disorder as nothing more than impotence; for them, the gallery and everything it represented remained unscathed by the Surrealist intervention. But, perhaps this misunderstanding stemmed from a deeper and more problematic relationship of artistic production and politics. For visitors who were disappointed that the Surrealists had not filled the exhibition with anti-fascist banners or explicit signs of their ideological engagement had good reason to lament: hysteric and ridiculously prankish, the Surrealist exhibition did leave a certain notion of politics behind. And, perhaps therein lies the 1938 Exposition's ultimate force: its refusal of the traditional forms of organized politics...[I]t was not about putting the gallery's white walls in the 'service of the revolution' -- it was a matter of insisting on a consciousness of an exhibition's walls and of the body as impacted by them. All the better to point -- if only temporarily, if only impotently --- to the imbrication of these walls and these bodies in the politics of power. (page 202-203)

[From chapter: Elena Filipovic, Surrealism in 1938: The Exhibition at War]
Tags: [Politics & Art, Activism, Surrealism & Politics]
Despite [Breton and Trotsky's] effort to find a common platform in 'For An Independent Revolutionary Art', one that would combine theory and practice, what begins to emerge instead, both in the manifesto and in other related essays, are the fundamental differences in their basic conceptions of imperialist capitalism and how to combat it in order to set up a socialist sate...[Surrealism's] interactions with trotskyist groups...stem back to the heated arguments between Breton and Pierre Naville in the mid-1920s. Saville, originally a member of Breton's coterie, left Surrealism for the Communist Party in 1926 after experiencing one of Breton's notorious personal attacks. That year he published a pamphlet, La Révolution et les intellectuals. Que peuvent-faire les Surréalistes?, in which he argued that Surrealism and Marxism were incompatible, as the Surrealists were too individualist and bourgeois to contribute to the collective, 'disciplined action of class struggle' necessary to overthrow capitalism. Breton responded in December 1926 with Légitime défense, which rebutted not only Naville's attack but also the refusal of the entire Communist Party to take Surrealism seriously. (page 205-206)

[From chapter: Robin Adele Greeley, For an Independent Revolutionary Art: Breton, Trotsky and Cárdenas's Mexico]
Tags: [Politics & Art, Activism, Surrealism & Politics, Revolution, The Left, Capitalism]
The continual difficulties and internecine squabbling over the next decade between the Surrealists and the Trotskyists make the outward success of Breton's meeting with Trotsky in Mexico all the more surprising. In fact, a close look at these differences of opinion indicates that not only did the Surrealists have very little idea of what Trotsky actually stood for, but the reverse was also true. There is little solid evidence that the Surrealists comprehended Trotsky's role in Soviet leadership -- his arguments, for instance, with Lenin over the question of labour unions, his views on the Chinese revolution, or his attitude towards anarchism. And although Trotsky had no doubt heard of Breton and the Surrealists, his knowledge of their work was extremely limited. His mistrust of certain principles fundamental to Surrealism -- the theory of objective chance in particular -- was in many ways linked to his general incomprehension of modernist literature and the visual arts. For the Surrealists, what was most important by 1938 was that Trotsky was anti-Stalinist, and that his 1924 book, Literature and Revolution, advocated freedom of cultural expression as necessary to any true proletarian state. In 'For An Independent Revolutionary Art', Breton would restate Trotsky's famous dictum from Literature and Revolution that 'art must, above all, be judged by its own laws, that is to say the laws of art'. (page 207-208)

[From chapter: Robin Adele Greeley, For An Independent Revolutionary Art: Breton, Trotsky, and Cárdenas's Mexico]
Tags: [Politics & Art, Surrealism & Politics]
Breton sets up a quasi-Hegelian dialectic, in which the 'thesis' of life is continually faced with the 'antithesis' of death, resulting in a holistic synthesis of the two that marks a continual life-cycle. But unlike Hegel's insistent rationalism, Breton sees this synthetic totality as emerging as much out of irrational forces as out of rational logic. In fact, it is his observation of the synthesis of the contradictory poles of the rational and irrational in Alvarez Bravo's photographs that attract Breton to them. That Breton hopes to harness the energies of this particular dialectic is evident in his choice of Alvarez Bravo's extremely disquieting image of a murdered striking worker as the title image to his essay. Rather than locating the worker's death purely in relation to the materialist circumstances of trade union politics, as Trotsky would have done, Breton (through Alvarez Bravo) places it evocatively within the much larger sweep of Mexico's long history of anti-imperialist struggle. (page 216)

[From chapter: Robin Adele Greeley, For An Independent Revolutionary Art: Breton, Trotsky, and Cárdenas's Mexico]
Tags: [Politics & Art, Surrealism & Politics, The Left]
Unlike Trotsky's persistent view that culture was ultimately a subsidiary issue, Breton and the Surrealists conceptualized it as central both to any understanding of power relationships under capitalism and to any theory of social change. In fact, Surrealism's dedication to cultural theory marks its fundamental opposition to Trotsky's more orthodox Marxism...Along with other Western Marxists such as Antonio Gramsci and Walter Benjamin, the Surrealists argued that a critique of culture in relation to politics was crucial to any revolutionary analysis of capitalist society. Susan Buck-Morss, writing on Benjamin, notes the key lesson he learned from Surrealism: that the cultural contents of history were "the source of critical knowledge that alone can place the present into question."...While Benjamin questioned Surrealism's absolute faith in the transformatory power of aesthetics, both shared a commitment to cultural analysis and artistic production as essential to Marxism that was far from Trotsky's view.
(page 218-219)

[From chapter: Robin Adele Greeley, For an Independent Revolutionary Art: Breton, Trotsky and Cárdenas's Mexico]
Tags: [Surrealism & Politics, Culture]
Instead of a Marxist view opposing a non-Marxist account as [historian Alan] Rose argues, what we have are two different modes of conceptualizing Marxism itself. On the one hand, Trotsky focused almost exclusively on the purportedly objective problem of economic exploitation, giving little thought to (among other things) exactly how culture or individual agency might actively be incorporated into Marxist theory. Breton and Surrealism, on the other hand, formed part of a Western Marxist tradition that saw true revolution as occurring on the level of culture as much as any other. (page 222-223)

[From chapter: Robin Adele Greeley, For An Independent Revolutionary Art: Breton, Trotsky, and Cárdenas's Mexico]
Tags: [Politics & Art, Surrealism & Politics, Culture, Capitalism]
[S]ome...decried Surrealism as reactionary or counterrevolutionary, since these [post-1940] works seemed to be encouraging fantasies rather than actually organizing people's dissatisfaction in a more 'practical' manner. Critics pounced on Surrealism for being obsolete and immaterial to the harsh conditions of the postwar world, saying that Surrealist activity succeeded only in doping the masses into quiescent states of subordination with their illusions, metaphysical evasions and reverie. (page 268)

[From chapter: Donald LaCoss, Attacks of the Fantastic]
Tags: [Surrealism & Politics]
During a conversation published in the early spring of 1948, the interviewer, Aimé Patri, spurred Breton to respond to some of these charges. 'Since your return from the United States, a number of people have been claiming that Surrealism is dead,', Patri proposed. 'Even some of your intimates have reproached you for abandoning the old Surrealist revolutionary spirit'. Of particular confusion in this regard was the Surrealist insistence upon the 'poetic and historical function' of mythic and utopian thinking, investigations that seemed to 'entail an escape towards the past or outside of time' and an obvious affront to the doctrine of historical materialism that the French Stalinists proclaimed that they were exercising. Breton responded by saying that his exposure to the daily functions of myth among the Hopi and the Haitians convinced him that the 'latent' content of waking life could be mobilized s a means of cultural resistance under adverse political and economic conditions. (page 268)

[From chapter: Attacks of the Fantastic, Donald LaCoss]
Tags: [Surrealism & Politics, Everyday Life, Culture, Myth]
[I]t was not the Surrealists' belief in the practicality of the utopian mythologies of Fourier's peculiar socialism that led them to advance his schemes; rather, Theory of the Four Movements and Incoherent Industry were hailed by the Surrealists for their potentially liberating effect on the imagination, and their ability to do so in a way that far exceeded any other available remedies of the day which insisted on closed political systems. (page 271)

[From chapter: Attacks of the Fantastic, Donald LaCoss]
Tags: [Surrealism & Politics, The Left]
An embittered traveling textile salesman who had been imprisoned by the Jacobins and later spied on by the secret police apparatuses of Napoleon and the Bourbon Restoration, Fourier felt that he understood the ways that the Enlightenment's revolutionary ideals could be hijacked to serve tyrants and capitalists. The alienating tedium of work, the criminal waste of overproduction, and the ugly violence of destitution and class oppression seemed to multiply rather than diminish under this new world order. Fourier was disgusted by the degree to which people's lives could be ruined by an emerging class of professional profiteers and financial speculators and prophetically foretold of a coming age of inequity and misery built by the opaque mechanisms of a so-called 'free' market. (page 272)

[From chapter: Attacks of the Fantastic, Donald LaCoss]
Tags: [Surrealism & Politics, The Left, Capitalism]
It was through the critical rejection of all existing political, social and moral codes that Fourier said he first caught a glimpse of the mechanisms of 'passionate attraction' -- natural impulses and cadences that occur on a level below the threshold of thought processes and which persist regardless of civilization's attempt to repress them through the artificial constructs of moralization, rationalization, guilt, fear and intolerance. If one were to recalibrate his or her life to that unified rhythmic pulse buried under the noise and tumult of modern life, and work toward building social formations that were similarly fine-tuned to these rhythms, then human life would evolve into a new, more natural harmonious order of cooperative unity, free passion, profound fulfillment and ludic pleasure. (page 273-274)

[From chapter: Attacks of the Fantastic, Donald LaCoss]
Tags: [Surrealism's Promise, Revolution, Carnival, The Left, Everyday Life, Rationality]
[Fourier's] Theory of the Four Movements offers detailed accounts of life following this cataclysmic transmogrification. The auroras of the northern and southern circumpolar regions become more active and more frequent, eventually expanding to link together like the rings of Saturn and filling the earth's skies with rippling curtains of colour, light and heat. Over time, the outer edge of the earth's aurora-ring will extend to the corona of the sun, and the ensuing radiation will trigger a magical change in the natural world -- animals will learn to play musical instruments, stars will copulate and spray us all with their sexual fluids, weather patterns will shift, new moons begin to revolve the earth, and the chemical composition of the world's oceans change to 'aigresel', a tart, potable liquid. Even the human body mutates under the rays of the 'northern crown' as human beings overcome the need for sleep and grow taller. Humans will also sprout an 'archibras' ('ancient arm'), a prehensile tail with a sensory organ at its tip that will act as a fifth limb and enable one 'to swim as fast as a fish', to 'reach a branch twelve feet high', to triple one's natural leaping velocity, and to form a revolving, conelike 'inverted parachute by means of which one can fall from a considerable height without risking more than a bruise'. (page 274-275)

[From chapter: Attacks of the Fantastic, Donald LaCoss]
Tags: [Surrealism & Politics, Humor, Revolution, Psychedelia, Carnival, Capitalism, Rationality, Myth]
But what is truly radical in Theory of the Four Movements and Incoherent Industry is precisely that they are both wonderfully weird reads. It is their outrageously and unabashedly unfeasible criticism of capitalism, repressive family values and Western civilization -- not their prescriptive acumen -- that make these texts so revolutionary. Practical policies like Five Year Plans, Monnet Plans, and Marshall Plans would never correct the most damaged and miserable features of human existence; that could only be addressed by redefining the very terms of the problem, by opening new avenues of alternatives, by contemplating the unthinkable and doing the unattainable. 'Poets and artists in particular would be inexcusable if they tried to guard against "utopias"' solely on the basis of their supposed viability, Breton told Patri in the 1948 interview. Imagining the unimaginable is the responsibility of all creative people, often requiring them 'to draw, at least initially, from the vague realm where utopia reigns'. This may be escapism, but as one underground newspaper [note: Harbinger no.4, November 2001] of late has explained, those who most forcefully discourage escape often turn out to be prison wardens of one sort or another. (page 276-277)

[From chapter: Attacks of the Fantastic, Donald LaCoss]
Tags: [Surrealism's Promise, Surrealism & Politics]
[A]fter ten years of seeing Europe crushed under the boots of fascist murderers and their self-serving political collaborators, the time had come for an even more revolutionary flavor of liberation that had exceeded the fantasies of Marx and Engels -- there was a need for a set of ideas that would totally reorder the very fabric of the universe in the service of freedom, and the Surrealists saw this as the best reason for a renaissance of Romantic socialism and Fourierist poetics. In a postwar political climate dominated by the viciously cynical Jesuit device of 'ends justify means', talk of Fourier introduced two things that were sorely lacking: a blackly humorous critical (and therefore revolutionary) spark and an unwavering dedication to the complete emancipation of human beings. 'Action, even in the rigorous and unquestioned form it takes today for those who fight in the name of liberty, will only be valuable so long as our interpretation of the world...will not have the brakes slammed on it', Breton thundered. The revolutionary poetry of Fourier's socialism was exactly the kind of critical extravagance that a truly free and freedom-respecting society should be able to tolerate and welcome. (page 279-280)

[From chapter: Attacks of the Fantastic, Donald LaCoss]
Tags: [Activism, Surrealism & Politics, Humor, Revolution, Carnival, Fascism, Capitalism, Rationality]
The freedom of interpretation was seen by the Surrealists as a litmus test measuring a society's dedication to liberty. And, of course, for Surrealism, a substantial portion of this interpretive process included those critical and cognitive resources outside of instrumental reason, such as instinct and intuition. Fourierism had made provisions for these components of the human mind. What distinguishes some of the more interesting utopian writers from others in their field was their ability to incorporate the twilight territories of the human psyche into their social schema; in Fourier, it was his inclusion of behavioral motivation and deep creativity borne of the chaotic forces of emotion, perception and the sexual drives that made his theories so tantalizing...Utopianists like Fourier...do not shy away form even the most inexplicable of psychosocial factors and subsequently their writings veer into the poetical register. (page 280)

[From chapter: Attacks of the Fantastic, Donald LaCoss]
Tags: [Surrealism & Politics]
With the rapid narrowing of choices for expression and living in postwar Europe, the Surrealists reacted by reclaiming some of the most radical notions of liberty available -- notions of liberty so swollen with unlimited potential that life would seem magical and wholly unlike anything available to them. And it was this need for a language of unbounded imagination and emancipation that drew Breton to the critics-utopian socialists like Saint-Simon and Fourier (and Sade as well). One cannot underestimate the visionary power of the reformist writers of the first half of the nineteenth century, Breton wrote. What is so vibrant in their writing is not the viability of their social reform schemes, but rather their unrestricted power to dream with the same quality of 'extreme freshness' that one finds among non-European artisans of ritual objects and self-taught art brut creators...Beyond the scientific laws of physics and biology, there should be no limits as to what can be proposed or imagined in a truly free society. (page 281-282)

[From chapter: Attacks of the Fantastic, Donald LaCoss]
Tags: [Surrealism & Politics]
Breton's warning about maintaining the distinctions between 'the effort of liberation' and 'the struggle for liberty' in postwar Europe alludes to [Fourier]. Breton cautions that 'some are preparing to take advantage of this confusion to the detriment of liberty', just as Fourier had warned of those bourgeois-liberals who thought that progressive politics meant only that one had the right to prevent abject poverty by toiling in a coal mine or textile mill and, if one were male and paid enough taxes, voting every few years. In 'Ajours', the short collection of generally anti-authoritarian essays that he had tacked on the end of the 1947 reissue of Arcane 17, Breton's saw a similar set of constraints that recently liberated people had decided to put on themselves and one another, and was discouraged by those who would consciously choose not to be free by enslaving themselves to noxious resurgent ideals like patriotism and militarism...Freedom from fascism was not enough, 'we must "remake human understanding"'. It was imperative that 'human life be re-impassioned, made valuable again'... (page 285)

[From chapter: Attacks of the Fantastic, Donald LaCoss]
Tags: [Surrealism & Politics, Fascism]
'Without its Empire, France would be nothing other than a liberated country', one leading French politician gloated at the time [1946]. 'But thanks to her [sic] Empire, France is today a victorious country', an opinion that Communists saw no need to criticize. The Surrealists, however, reacted immediately to the atrocities in Indochina and in a language that is impossible to interpret as 'apolitical'. And while there is no mention of copulating star systems or endlessly blazing Northern lights, one can see the hand of Fourier's radical thinking between the lines of their blistering collective declaration, 'Liberté est un mot vietnamien'. (page 286-287)

[From chapter: Attacks of the Fantastic, Donald LaCoss]
Tags: [Surrealism & Politics]
'The press in so-called "free" France, subject to censorship now more than ever, remains silent about the secret war in Asia,' the Surrealist tract began. But make no mistake about it -- such a battle was taking place, 'an imperialist war executed in the name of people who have only just been liberated themselves from five years of oppression against another people unified in common consent by their desire for liberty', one that had been nimbly engineered by a conniving 'admiral-monk' and his 'cruel capitalist tyranny of bureaucrats and priests'. To cover up this shameful affair, 'not a word can be heard about the fierce repression being done to hide a scandal from the French people which upsets the entire world'. In 1946, 'as in 1919, capitalism has abused that noblest of key words -- 'freedom' -- in the name of patriotism and with the intent to secure total control, thereby preserving its traditional imperialist policies and reassembling the power of its bourgeois financiers, army and clergy'. The war in Vietnam also held a 'grave significance' for Communist officials, as it revealed their contempt for 'the anti-colonialist legacy that was once one of the most impelling forces of the workers' movement' and their 'flagrant disregard for the right of self-determination' of which they so often proclaim themselves the defenders. 'We call upon those who can still think clearly and with some modicum of honesty to remind [the Communists] that it is impossible to maintain freedom here while imposing slavery there'. (page 287)

[From chapter: Attacks of the Fantastic, Donald LaCoss]
Tags: [Surrealism & Politics]
"As always, we Surrealists still hold that our foremost objective be the liberation of humanity, and we cannot keep silent when confronted by a senseless and repugnant crime such as this. Surrealism only has meaning so long as it stands against a regime whose membership views this indignity as a joyous re-awakening, a regime that, from the moment of its inception, collapsed into a mire of compromise and extortion and that can only be a calculated prelude to the implementation of a new totalitarianism." [from the collective declaration, 'Liberté est un mot vietnamien'] (page 288)

[From chapter: Attacks of the Fantastic, Donald LaCoss]
Tags: [Surrealism & Politics, Fascism]
[A]s the Surrealists saw it, people had become dangerously complacent about the limits that the State put on 'emancipation'. Nazi Germany and the Iron Curtain were not the only threats to freedom -- from the French bureaucratic monoliths and colonial wars of the late 1940s to the union sacreée of the national security state in the US today, more and more people allow themselves to settle for less and less liberty, as Fourier had studied for himself and which the Surrealists had taken to heart. (page 290)

[From chapter: Attacks of the Fantastic, Donald LaCoss]
Tags: [Surrealism & Politics, Fascism]
The internalization of boundaries that the State has put around freedom for a 'liberated' people -- the cowed, passive acceptance of rising levels of domination, restriction and repressive policing -- was a key factor in Fourier's disgust for Western civilization. Concomitant with the rise in repression in bourgeois-liberal European society, Fourier had also spotted sharp increases in the level of artifice that distracted and deluded the senses and the instincts. Anticipating the mid-twentieth-century research by Freudo-Marxists Wilhelm Reich and the Frankfurt School on the psychosexual origins and psychical costs of patriarchal State power, Fourier was alarmed by how unnatural, stifling conventions of thought and behaviour had been reified into civilized values of conformity and consent, and he deemed them to be ultimately toxic to the human animal. In their perpetually ungratified state (Fourier calls them 'suffocated'), passions became twisted and poisonous, resulting in crime, malice, selfishness and war.

This puts Fourier's thinking on human liberty on a trajectory that takes us to Herbert Marcuse and beyond. Fourier's criticisms of the consensual mentality and its pathologies of war, and the Surrealists' warnings about the inevitable ramifications of the hypocritical, lazy and compromised definitions of liberty allowed to circulate after 1945, lead us to Marcuse's thinking about 'unfreedom' in the lands of 'free' enterprise and 'free' elections...In seeing a third term of unfreedom in the imperialist war in Vietnam and in the bureaucratic micromanagement of everyday life which was parodied by the Da Costa Licence to Live, the Surrealists were attempting to extend the expectations of free people, a fight that was not without political implications. (page 291)

[From chapter: Attacks of the Fantastic, Donald LaCoss]
Tags: [Surrealism & Politics, Fascism]
Fourierian refusal can be found woven throughout Rupture inaugurale, a pamphlet put out a month after the declaration on Vietnam that spelled out the Surrealists' unwillingness to adhere unfalteringly to any formal political formula, no matter how apparently desirable to them...Surrealists continued to tout Fourierism as an alternative to the totalitarian excesses of Stalinism throughout the 1950s; in the mid-1960s, while many of their contemporaries in Paris were dabbling with fashionably trendy forms of Maoism, Surrealists were agitating for an incredulous but unstoppable dialectical combination of Trotsky and Fourier: 'Trotsky, Fourier -- the Invincible and the Unlimited, whose fusion clarifies in us the nature and the range of our revolutionary hope'. (page 292)

[From chapter: Attacks of the Fantastic, Donald LaCoss]
Tags: [Surrealism & Politics]
'Ecart absolu' -- 'Total Refusal' of all known theories -- was an integral part of Fourier's social analysis first formulated in Theory of the Four Movements to explain his absolute disdain for civilization and his singular cosmogonic view of the world. 'The surest means of making useful discoveries was to deviate in every way from the paths followed by the dubious sciences [Fourier's term for politics, political economy, metaphysics and morality] which had never made the slightest discovery useful to society...I made it my business to remain in constant opposition to these sciences'. Fourier's Incoherent Industry, a text which began as an abolitionist's pamphlet before spiraling off into a beautifully frenzied textual collage, continued that line of inquiry and explicitly tied the Total Refusal method to an aggressive condemnation of the fundamental rot pervasive throughout Western civilization's most precious values. The 'incoherent industry' of Fourier's title referred to the perverse, 'non-associative' (disjointed, exploitative, dangerous and inefficient in Fourier's terms) labours required to keep capitalist civilization alive -- capitalism, of course, relies on an economic, industrial and financial base that is necessarily opaque, fractured, fragmented, and alienating for its workers. Fourier saw his method of complete disdain for all existing philosophical, scientific and epistemological systems as a means for clearing the slate and making way for innovative new discoveries, 'thus, l'écart absolu stemmed from the sense of the irrationality of moral restrictions and the vast possibilities of liberation implied in abolishing them'. In this respect, Fourier's écart absolu is akin to the Surrealists' own 'non conformisme absolu of the Second Manifesto of Surrealism; it is also similar to Breton's 1942 dedication to always being the one who dares to say 'no'. (page 293)

[From chapter: Attacks of the Fantastic, Donald LaCoss]
Tags: [Surrealism & Politics]
The facts of Surrealism's involvement with the politics of its day are only too well documented, if often neglected: the explicit and public politicization of Surrealism began with its denunciation of the French war against the native insurgents in Morocco in 1925, thus also making of this inaugural moment for Surrealism an intervention against European colonialism; to this we might add the internal dialogues from 1925 onwards on the nature of Surrealism as a movement: is Surrealism merely a movement in art or is it, indeed, a movement in culture, a movement that may properly be considered a social movement? In 1927 with the manifesto 'Au grand jour', five of the leading members committed themselves to the Parti communiste francais (PCF), thereby beginning one of the most curious pas de deux-as-danse macabre in the history of the intersection of politics and culture. The miserable and in many ways pathetic relationship between the Surrealists and the PCF not only bore out the accuracy of the radical anarchism of Antonin Artaud who, on the occasion of 'Au grand jour', without denying his inner relation to Surrealism, would take his distance from the movement in proclaiming the utter madness of Surrealism's involvement with any established political party, least of all the PCF. (page 300)

[From chapter: Failure and Community: Preliminary Questions on the Political in the Culture of Surrealism, M. Stone-Richards]
Tags: [Surrealism & Politics]
Indeed, in the history of Surrealism between 1919 (from the composition of Les Champs magnétiques in the shadow of the Great War and the counter with the tragedy of war trauma as captured in the proto-Surrealist récit 'Sujet' (1918), in the shadow of the death of Jacques Vaché to whom Les Champs magnétiques is dedicated) and the outbreak of World War II, at each occasion of significant self-definition in relation to the political realm, there would be a crisis and concomitant sense of failure in the movement as it would reconcile its interiority and thereby its space of difference and thus some would leave (Philippe Soupault and Artaud) or be 'expelled' (André Masson and Michel Leiris). The eventual split between Breton and Louis Aragon in 1931-32 after the debacle of the Congress of Kharkov can, certainly, be represented as the choice between a Stalinist Communism or moral independence, but it could equally be understood as a rupture in the integrity of the group thereby foregrounding an important aspect of the importance of the group in Surrealist experience, namely, the narcissistic dimension of group cohesion. (page 301-302)

[From chapter: Failure and Community: Preliminary Questions on the Political in the Culture of Surrealism, M. Stone-Richards]
Tags: [Surrealism's Failure, Surrealism & Politics, Community]
After the rupture with the PCF as recorded in the still magnificent document 'Du temps que les surréalistes avaient raison' (1935), the Surrealists joined with Georges Bataille in 1935 to form a radical left non-party formation named Contre-Attaque: Union de luttes des intellectuels révolutionnaires, not only to challenge the Party but to explore 'the continuation of politics by other means' (Bataille). in so doing, both Bataille and Beton are clear that the creation of the Front Popular in 1935 would not in itself be sufficient to bring about the kind of radical transformation of values that would alone suffice: it is not merely a rejection of capitalism and the bourgeoisie that would be required, but a fundamental change in the values and conceptions of reason that had informed Western and European self-understanding, the very values which, Nietasche and Valéry had argued in a manner definitive for the Surrealist generation, were also the basis of European nihilism. (page 302)

[From chapter: Failure and Community: Preliminary Questions on the Political in the Culture of Surrealism, M. Stone-Richards]
Tags: [Activism, Surrealism & Politics, The Left, Capitalism, Rationality]
That Surrealism has always been informed by the experience -- but never the celebration -- of failure, negativity and a sense of radical incompleteness is something that its ablest contemporaries recognized, a generation which once emphasized the aspects of contingency and fragility intrinsic to the Surrealist liberation and the related attempt to construct 'a new ethics and a new aesthetics'. (page 304)

[From chapter: Failure and Community: Preliminary Questions on the Political in the Culture of Surrealism, M. Stone-Richards]
Tags: [Surrealism's Failure]
Breton's emphasis on the spontaneous nature of the workers' strikes and insurrections was not idiosyncratic; he shared this with Bataille, and for similar reasons. For both Bataille and Breton, the success or failure of the Front Populaire was seen to depend on the extent to which it could remain outside the institutional practice of politics. Underlying this emphasis on a 'totally unforeseen system of struggle' on the part of the workers is the conviction held deeply by Breton and Bataille that the stage of capitalism reached in the form of bourgeois parliamentary democracy necessitated a new conception of political action. In the founding document of Contre-Attaque:

"We affirm that the current regime must be attacked with a renovated tactic. The traditional tactic of revolutionary movements has never been valid save when applied to the liquidation of autocracies. Applied to the struggle against democratic regimes, it has twice led the workers' movement to disaster. Our essential, urgent task, is the constitution of a doctrine resulting from immediate experiences." (page 320)

[From chapter: Failure and Community: Preliminary Questions on the Political in the Culture of Surrealism, M. Stone-Richards]
Tags: [Surrealism & Politics]
Bataille and Breton, during the Contre-Attaque phase, articulate a much under-appreciated aspect of a certain type of avant-garde thinking, that kind of non-technicist avant-garde thinking that is not bound to technology, namely they begin to theorize the failure of revolutions, for all revolutions past have been betrayed, they argue, by the individualization of power arising from the 'need' to satisfy the mass (for example, through the redistribution of the goods of the ruling elite) which, need being in principle insatiable, has in its train necessitated a centralizing authority to control the mass. This centralized authority is the narcissistic ideal transposed to the realm of political sovereignty. Not surprisingly, Breton and Bataille's conception of political community alludes, but only in certain points, to a conciliar system of governance -- the near equivalent in modern times to the classical Greek conception of the polis. That such a system of governance would seem impracticable is not the criticism that some might think, for its impossibility points to the absence of any genuine political, that is, public space within the industrial complex of modernity in the form of the nation-state and the monopoly of power (that is, violence) which is part-and-parcel of its theory of sovereignty. We are instead given a social sphere, the sphere pre-eminently of violence and policing in the maintenance of normative practice. The conception of action and public space articulated by Breton and Bataille holds a paradigmatic significance in making clearer the nature of the reality of political power in modernity, not least by addressing the unacknowledged negativity of prevailing political power as also in addressing the question of the failure of revolutions of power and sensibility. (page 326)

[From chapter: Failure and Community: Preliminary Questions on the Political in the Culture of Surrealism, M. Stone-Richards]
Tags: [Surrealism & Politics]
The conception of the political at issue is one which 'prolongs ethics ... by giving it a sphere in which to operate. In addition, it prolongs the second constitutive requirement of ethical intention, the requirement of mutual recognition -- the requirement that makes me say: your freedom is equal to my own. Indeed, the ethics of politics consists in nothing other than the creation of spaces of freedom'. The absence of such spaces of freedom is part of the politics of melancholy. (page 326)

[From chapter: Failure and Community: Preliminary Questions on the Political in the Culture of Surrealism, M. Stone-Richards]
Tags: [Surrealism & Politics]
Though there are differences in the positions of Bataille and Breton, they were absolutely agreed on one thing: that the possibilities of truly significant change (that is, changes in the forms and sensibilities of life which could alone be adduced revolutionary) could not be controlled or predicted, and thereby, at all costs, the tempestuous events of the mid-1930s had to remain in the streets, outside, that is, the normal practice of politics -- and for both, this meant above all outside the control of the PCF. Thus for both Breton and Bataille, the subsequent failure of the Front Populaire, though deeply disappointing, was not a surprise. (page 327)

[From chapter: Failure and Community: Preliminary Questions on the Political in the Culture of Surrealism, M. Stone-Richards]
Tags: [Surrealism & Politics]
Not only failure, but the sense that Surrealism is always confronted with its alterity is something that the generation of Monnerot, Rolland de Rénneville and Blanchot took for granted, hence Sartre, in his critique of Surrealism on the occasion of the 1947 L'Exposition sureéaliste, could speak of its Hegelian anthropological dimension, its dimension of totality. As early as 1925, in 'Le bouquet sans fleurs', Breton declared that nothing would be beyond Surrealist commitment, and in so doing began that vertiginous openness to systems of knowledge whilst itself avoiding systematicity. This gives that distinctive tenor of la connaissance surréaliste (Breton's term) in which one encounters a plurality of voices. In his reflections on Nadja, Blanchot would go as far as to identify this plurality of voices as definitive of Surrealist experience -- the necessary correlate of which is an incompleteness of experience -- whereby through the affirmation of the collective dimension Surrealism is always experienced by its members as something always apart from them, as something always in the third (en tiers):

"The Surrealist affirmation affirms, thus, this multiple space which does not become unified, and which never coincides with the understanding that individuals, grouped around a faith, a work, can sustain in common." [Blanchot, L'Entretien infini, p. 600] (page 328)

[From chapter: Failure and Community: Preliminary Questions on the Political in the Culture of Surrealism, M. Stone-Richards]
Tags: [Surrealism's Failure, Surrealism's Promise, Surrealism & Politics]
The plurality of voices and incompleteness is what distinguishes the Surrealist group from any other group as avant-garde, namely, 'to be several, not in order to realize something, but without any other reason (moreover hidden) than to bring plurality into existence in giving it a new sense'. [Blanchot, L'Entretien infini, p. 601]. The understanding of Surrealism as an experience of alterity and negativity, of failure and limit-experience -- and we note that not even a Thirion, still less a Monnerot or Blanchot, ever sets Bataille and Breton up as oppositions, however supposedly heuristically -- should modify the way in which one might think the historical relationship between Surrealism and the PCF and by extension Surrealism and the political. (page 328)

[From chapter: Failure and Community: Preliminary Questions on the Political in the Culture of Surrealism, M. Stone-Richards]
Tags: [Surrealism, Surrealism & Politics]
It has long been realized that the Surrealists' adherence to the PCF was less a mark of profound commitment to anti-capitalism as understood by traditional Communists than a mark of their profound ethical refusal of the world of the bourgeoisie, of the modern world as unremittingly bourgeois. To this extent , their anti-capitalism was contingent upon the perception that capitalism was the economic expression of the values of the bourgeois modern world, and parliamentary democracy its institutionalized political embodiment. Hence, Théodore Fraenkel, in the fascinating notes of a conversation with Léon Pierre-Quint in 1936, in the midst of the Front Populaire phenomenon, could dismiss the prevailing political options from a Surrealist point of view:

"We are living on completely outdated political ideas. The reactionaries depend on the Monarchists of the 17th century -- and Maurras has brought no innovation -- the liberals on the ideas of the 19th century: St. Simon etc. -- the Socialists: Proudhon, 1848, L. Blanc -- the Communists on Marx, end of 19th century. But after 1918, the 20th century really started. The war made the breach -- which is an abyss. Every old ideology is outdated."

For this reason Fraenkel, as recorded by Pierre-Quint, considered what a Surrealist group in politics might have been:

"For me, the autonomous group which needs to be created, would have for its essential aim less the overturning of capitalism -- thus at lest it would be Marxist -- than the overturning of the bourgeoisie. Moreover it would be necessary to go deeper in order to see if capitalism and bourgeoisie are not indissolubly bound." (page 328-329)

[From chapter: Failure and Community: Preliminary Questions on the Political in the Culture of Surrealism, M. Stone-Richards]
Tags: [Surrealism's Promise, Surrealism & Politics]
The keen awareness of failure, incompleteness and the impossibility of adequation between an ideal and its possible instantiation in the political sphere constantly tempered the rhetoric of assertiveness that the Surrealists used in their manifestos: the writings beyond the manifestos never separate ethical reflection from the possibility of failure at the societal level. Hence the implicit importance and role of mourning in Surrealism: from the encounter with the traumatic neuroses in the Great War, from personal loss (Vaché, Nadja, Crevel) through the quest for purpose (the ruptures in deep friendship: Aragon, Eluard), there is a constant attempt to relate the movement of the group with the movement of the historical, but a historical defined in terms of the delayed recognition of personal, group and cultural loss: the time of Surrealism, from its inception, à la veille d'une révolution, is always a time to come: il faut tout attendre de l'avenir declares the frontispiece of La Révolution surréaliste in 1924; the poet evoked at the end of Les Vases communicants (1932) is the poète à venir, just as, in 'Rupture inaugurale' in 1947, marking the definitive break with Communism, now considered a form of moral extermination, 'Le surréalisme est ce qui SERA'. The temporality of Surrealism is inextricably linked to the movement of the loss of Europe (fig 57), from the still-life collage letter than Breton made for Vaché, but which was never received by its addressee, to the still-life collage that he made to commemorate the death of Vaché at the end of the War i 1919 with the fragment 'Souvenez-vous de 1914 / Pas d'allemande' creating in this circuitry a caesura of emptiness. (page 331-332)

[From chapter: Failure and Community: Preliminary Questions on the Political in the Culture of Surrealism, M. Stone-Richards]
Tags: [Surrealism's Failure, Surrealism's Promise, Surrealism & Politics]
The barbarism of Stalinism which led to the loss of faith in Communism on the part of the Surrealists -- and the diction of faith is everywhere present in 'Pourquoi je prends la direction de la Révolution surréaliste' -- still went hand-in-hand with a faith that, in Valéry's famous phrase as reported by T.S. Eliot, L'Europe est finie. It was finished by the Great War, which, in Fraenkel's words, opened up an abyss, and the only issue remaining for Valéry, in the still stunning reflections of 'La Crise de l'esprit européen', was the damning and telling question: 'Will Europe become what it is in reality -- that is, a little promontory on the continent of Asia?' (page 333)

[From chapter: Failure and Community: Preliminary Questions on the Political in the Culture of Surrealism, M. Stone-Richards]
Tags: [Surrealism's Failure, Surrealism & Politics]
Conversation with Théodore November 1936. Political attitude of the Surrealists. First, it had as a motto: the Revolution for the Revolution. Less a political theory than an expression of Romantic despair. Destruction of all that is. With what joy R[obert] D[esnos] will set fire to the apartments of these bourgeois masses where once he would have so liked to please and shine, where he experienced a contained rage from its vulgarity, that vulgarity of the petit bourgeois world...It's a kind of nihilist dream...The Surrealists wished to go further. Above all they sought to put their ideas into practice -- Breton, tortured at once by the absolute and action, thought that Communism would be the party which would most quickly bring to the Surrealists the Revolution for which they longed....It remains that the economic aspects of Communism were then a matter of indifference to them...Were they not victims of an illusion? The worker, the fate of the worker -- basis of the party -- was it not, in the end, a matter of complete indifference, but for the hatred of the bourgeoisie?...Philosophy. Ph[ilippe] S[oupault] declares that the idea of Revolution for the sake of Revolution is an aesthetic point of view -- and admits that there has been some evolution in the ideas of the Surrealists. For me, the autonomous group which needs to be created, would have for its essential aim less the overturning of capitalism...than the overturning of the bourgeoisie. Moreover it would be necessary to go deeper in order to see if capitalism and bourgeoisie are not indissolubly bound. Why? Because in the bourgeoisie everything is false, because it only allows for a disfigured life -- narrow, painful, horrible. Because it is mean and heartless. Because it lacks intelligence; because it envisages nothing but what is given, the scientific. (page 337-339)

[From chapter: Appendix I: Notes in the Hand of Léon Pierre-Quint Being the Record of a Conversation [with Theodore Fraenkel]]
Tags: [Surrealism & Politics, Revolution]