Sunday, November 8, 2009


"Surrealism followed Sigmund Freud's theory of the unconscious and his ‘free association’ technique for bypassing the conscious mind."

"Surrealism as a movement in literature had its formal beginning with the publication of the Manifesto of Surrealism by André Breton in 1924.  Prior to that, in 1919, the first automatic text, The Magnetic Fields, was produced by Breton and Philippe Soupault.  In his first manifesto Breton explicitly defines surrealism as "psychic automatism in its pure state" -- the purpose of which is to express and thus reveal "the true functioning of thought."1  There is a need, of course, to discuss the signal importance of this claim -- that is, if the claim has any meaning, and if the techniques prescribed by surrealism achieve what it purported of them.  Insofar as western civilization (and thus our very lives) is practically built on thought (or was built, and is sustained, by the activities of thought -- to an extent to be determined by the very phenomenological inquiry that surrealism intends to be), then surely it is important to look into surrealism, its basic concepts, to see what is there.  And this is quite apart from the curiosity one might have about the various techniques employed by the surrealist poet; though in fact an understanding of the concepts lends credibility to the techniques and thus one begins to regard them in the light of their own purported expansive possibilities.
The concept of surreality is that of a reality "higher" than that to which we are accustomed: the reality of "waking consciousness."  This surreality is proposed as a unity of the world of waking reality and that of dream; of objectivity and subjectivity; of world and imagination or mind; etc.  In another important work, The Communicating Vessels (1931), Breton expresses this plainly enough:  "the world of dream and the real world are one and the same."2  The analogy contained in the title is that the mind and the world are not separate but are continuously "communicating" like two connected "vessels."

So strong is the belief in life, in what is most fragile in life – real life, I mean – that in the end this belief is lost. Man, that inveterate dreamer, daily more discontent with his destiny, has trouble assessing the objects he has been led to use, objects that his nonchalance has brought his way, or that he has earned through his own efforts, almost always through his own efforts, for he has agreed to work, at least he has not refused to try his luck (or what he calls his luck!). At this point he feels extremely modest: he knows what women he has had, what silly affairs he has been involved in; he is unimpressed by his wealth or his poverty, in this respect he is still a newborn babe and, as for the approval of his conscience, I confess that he does very nicely without it. If he still retains a certain lucidity, all he can do is turn back toward his childhood which, however his guides and mentors may have botched it, still strikes him as somehow charming. There, the absence of any known restrictions allows him the perspective of several lives lived at once; this illusion becomes firmly rooted within him; now he is only interested in the fleeting, the extreme facility of everything. Children set off each day without a worry in the world. Everything is near at hand, the worst material conditions are fine. The woods are white or black, one will never sleep.

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