Surrealpolitik

Surrealpolitik and Cultural Gaslighting

Still from George Cukor's 1944 film Gaslight with Charles Boyer and Ingrid Bergman
Still from George Cukor's 1944 film Gaslight with Charles Boyer and Ingrid Bergman

Surrealpolitik arises from the nexus of dreams, hyperreality, deep state agency, paranoia, art, myth, and culture. It's also the name of my research project, which I am pursuing these days as a PhD in Creative Writing at Northumbria University. It turns out it's a good idea to do a lot of reading when you're doing a PhD, and I started collecting good quotes in a database for my own use.

For example, if I'm looking for something pithy and pointed about 'The Other', I can search for that keyword and line up some candidates for inspection. So the main idea behind this website is to share my exhilarating online repository of thought-provoking quotes with the world as a service to humanity. Of course this is the sort of job that's never finished, as there is always a backlog of underlined passages waiting to be included (and behind them, unread passages waiting to be underlined). So there's always more coming, but if you have an idea about something good to include, feel free to let me know.

More on the Concept

Central to the notion of surrealpolitik is the realization that -- scientific revolution and Age of Enlightenment notwithstanding -- myth is alive and well all around us, masquerading as the same triumphant rationality that declared myth dead and called off the search for the body. The myth of no myth means, among other things, that substantial chunks of what we believe in may just be the oneiric conjurings of what we may as well call propagandists. Mediated knowledge, to the extent that it is merely received and not subjected to merciless critique, is better called what it is: faith. Surrealism, along with postmodernism and critical theory, exposes the epistemological flimsiness of our assumptions, queries the values served by our myths, and expands the sovereignty of human imagination beyond the tyranny of instrumental reason.

This way of thinking is political as well as artistic, thus the term 'surrealpolitik' more or less suggested itself to me as an intriguing and useful concept. Implicit in my investigation is the question of whether and to what extent the totalizing foreclosure of alternatives represented by capitalist realism -- and its most militant expression in the post-9/11 surveillance-security state -- is an exercise in 'gaslighting' on a cultural scale.

Gaslighting is a psychological term, deriving from the 1944 film Gaslight (and/or the play that preceded it), denoting a form of mental abuse. The story depicts how a husband twists, omits, and falsifies information in order to replace his wife's own sense of reality with his invented faux-reality. As a result she more readily questions her own sanity than his behavior, providing him good cover for his criminal pursuits. Applying this concept to culture, my research explores the usefulness of a surrealist literary mode as a tool for querying the reliability of how we individually and collectively construct reality, in part by contesting some current socio-political givens that condition and inform our views.