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OPEN LETTER TO GUY GIRARD (1999)

 

Guy Girard has sent us an ambitious and detailed criticism (see appendix 1 below) of our declaration "The Scream In The Sack". We would like to emphasize that Guy Girard – except for a couple of minor points – has understood the content and the spirit of it completely and extensively.

To reply to his criticism is therefore most relevant, because it exposes differences within the surrealist movement that we are happy to discuss in a wider context. Our admittedly deficient but nevertheless thought-out declaration, "The Scream In The Sack", has met with predominantly negative reactions within the movement – this pleases us immensely – but now, at last, there is someone who speaks out against us!


Defense of intelligible speech Surrealism is the imaginary solution of the contradiction between Enlightenment and Romanticism. In the philosophical meaning it is surrationalist. From the beginning it has also had scientific ambitions (or pseudo-scientific ones, as it is situated outside all scientific institutions).

More than a few surrealists in the world have acquired an elementary humanistic education at universities or through other ways. They are consequently able to read Marx, Hegel, Freud, Sade, Lautréamont, Herakleitos, Nietzsche, Benjamin, etc. and understand their writings in a reasonable way. This basic knowledge, however, is not available to all. We live in a class society with unevenly distributed educational opportunities and literacy rates.

For sure, surrealism can never become a mass movement or a popular movement. But nor should it ever give up the ambition to intervene in the social struggle that permanently storms everywhere, to influence a larger number of people through its radicalism, its unusual perspectives, its spirit. This is not done through incomprehensibility. Guy's criticism on this point could easily be interpreted as elitist. It is not enchanting enough to speak intelligibly.

That surrealism puts becoming before being is obvious. A fundamental point regarding surrealism is its refusal to reduce what it speaks about to the already familiar, to the easily surveyable and unambiguous. It is therefore not surprising if surrealism sometimes must sound unintelligible. But from there to assert that one never can express a clear and intelligible assertation about surrealism is idiocy.

We regret certain things in our declaration. Remorse is a truly surrealist virtue – one too seldom given its due by too many conceited surrealists. In our group we have always stressed the importance of taking risks. To subject oneself to the possibility of getting lost. Sometimes some have gotten lost so thoroughly that they have stayed lost and not wanted to acknowledge their crazy path; the other of us draw our conclusions with lighter or heavier feet.

Trying to write a short intelligible text about surrealism is such a risk. We know that it is much easier to agree on sweeping, lyric formulations precisely because they do not require any responsibility from us. That is why we have aimed at avoiding the seductive, the suggestive and the passionate.

There is another issue concerning intelligible speech that is more important.

Guy doesn't take it up, probably because it puts much more at stake for the whole movement. It is the question of the relationship of the surrealist group to the public sphere. In the beginning of the history of our group were imbued with presumptuous secretiveness and the paranoic feeling of having penetrated all tricks of power. We rejected a priori a public sphere – and a whole population – we were, in fact, lacking knowledge of.


Our overestimation of ourselves has decreased through the years and our desire to communicate has grown. We still consider the public sphere to be a deceitful, hostile and commercial alien who is always ready to exploit us for its own purposes. But we are nevertheless prepared to try the highways, the media and the latest internet connections. The desire to communicate leads us to expose ourselves to the risk of making mistakes even there. As long as we are watchful and serious, we will also be able to find accomplices through such channels. And we believe nevertheless that it is in the interest of surrealism to communicate and to be questioned in broader circles rather than becoming a sacred secret to be kept within a secluded brotherhood.

We deny the contradiction between thought and emotion, between reason and poetry. Often the difference lies in different speeds. Slow reflection breeds kinds of formulations different from enthusiastic frenzy. In a world of faster and faster information and image flows, we shun negligent texts and simple pictures. We demand an abyss of reflection. We can never be slow enough. Nor intelligent enough. That does not mean that one should stop writing. But the writing is conditional, which is a consequence of that surrealist attitude that is pragmatical and empirical in the midst of all its dialectics.


Defense of the attack on the individual Guy Girard defends Stirner's and Freud's bourgeois individual subject and claims that it is only on the ground of the individual that the "utopian" can be built.

He may be right. We don't know and are not particularly interested. To us, utopia is but a literary genre among others, often especially appealing as it comprises the fantastic and a kind of freedom of thought. But we deny utopia as a political instrument. On that point we agree with Marx.

In our view the individual and the subject are the fundamental myth of our time.

We are not content with rejecting "one-dimentional man" – the consumer – but want to get at a deeper illusion. We deny the individual subject as an essence and a fundamental unity. Kantianism sucks. Our loneliness – a vulgar materialist fact – is contradicted by the collective character of our thinking. That is also why we enjoy being wrong. Neither do we consider that a surrealist group is a "freely chosen collectivity".

Natural right thinking was already obsolete in the 19th century even if our times' neoliberals still hold on to that idea.

We do not believe in the lonely genius; it is but a signature behind which a wilderness of collective energy is raging. Thus: fight against the subject and everything that looks like it. Related to that is our hatred for charismatic leaders who readily spice their empty texts with dusky metaphors.


Defense of a surrealist scientific mind Surrealism was from the beginning inspired by both natural and human sciences. A break took place after World War II. When Breton, who for tactical reasons wanted to rally the movement around diffuse manifestations rather than around theoretical discussions or conflicts within surrealism, personally became fond of certain occult phenomena – not the latest fields of science – a certain obscurantism took root, which to a greater or lesser extent, still marks us today. We try to turn away from that, and maintain instead the ambition to carry out a critique and a practice animated by a scientific spirit – without sharing science's stiffened forms.

The self-evident surrealist stand for wildness and passion includes a terrible desire for more reality. We do not want to transform reality (including other people) into base materials for our thought or into object of our desires (as has often been the case with the surrealist view of Woman, for example). We demand that surrealists be permanentely being shaken by the sight of the reflected participation of their own deficient persons in the dynamic magnetic field of materia and meaning that allow them to exist.

That is where a scientific attitude is important. We mean that free questionning, systematic investigation, critical inquisitive thought, passionate love for knowledge, in short scientific mind in its fundamental and best form, is superior to any religious or sacred occupation. But we do not want to degenerate to idealism and raise some contradiction between "science" as an idea and the science we see around us today which too often serves the most repulsive interests in an oppressive way. The science that exists is the science that is meaningful to relate to. Long live astrophysics! Long live /evolutionary biology, geomorphology, linguistics and meteorology! Death to religion and the charismatic leader!


Short about art Guy interprets our attitude towards art as a "constriction of the imaginary for the benefit of a shrinkage of critical reason". He possibly aims at our critical attitude regarding the image and its function in society and our subsequent suspicions concerning the surrealist image. We would hardly constrict the imaginary; rather, we would smash the images that stand in its way. The surrealist image is all too often but a hobby, a masturbation, a self-confirming ritual. One may call us the Zwinglians of the surrealist movement – rather that than its papists.

Art has its possibilities for freedom and its oppressive mechanisms, both within the market-sensitive contemporary art sphere and within the more traditional, noninstitutional and hobbylike surrealist art sphere. Fruitful exceptions can be found in both spheres. The surrealist art sphere can be much more fun to devote oneself to. But we can neither accept nor understand a contradiction between these two in which the surrealist art sphere would constitute a reserve for the true essence of art and the contemporary art sphere the opposite.


A few semantic issues Our standpoint on morals and Guy's on ethics is probably only a question of semantics and/or personal preferences. Everybody knows that the collective within surrealism has always been an arena in which to examine consistency or inconsistency, risk taking, consequences of and responsibility for actions.

Guy's criticism of point VI in our declaration is on the other hand totally correct. The surrealist tradition does not consist of themes. Instead, it is a form of a historic continuity of the spirit that links given themes into a kind of totality. We have corrected our text and thank Guy for his remark.


The issue of surrealism in general One of the deepest surrealist insights is that most dangerous and most criminal in everything human is free thought. What we need to ask ourselves is how that free thought – which works according to that real functioning of thought that we readily want to be able to represent and also actually learn to use for the benefit of mankind! – can express itself in our mad, pluralistic and tolerant time, a time that cuts both ways as signs tend to lose their meaning.

During the from serf to lord self-evidently religious Middle-Ages, atheism was the expression of unrivalled free thought. But today? In the 1910s, it was an unrivalled free action to expose a urinal an art gallery and call it art. But today?

These and similar issues are what surrealism should devote itself to. The issues of freedom, thought and imagination in relation to history and contemporary times. Instead many of us seem to grasp at any kind of diffuse invocations that can inspire and cheer them up, either "the sacred" or "the magical image". Are we really that depressed? Well, perhaps.

We are tempted to issue a moratorium, a temporary but absolute halt to all nauseating "surrealist poems", those fusty "surrealist pictures", those conformist "surrealist theoretical texts", those always-alike "surrealist journals". Turn off the surrealist TV-set.

This doesn't mean that we aspire to a negative poetry. We do not believe that silence is the best poem or emptiness the best picture. Neither do we think that destruction is the only creative act worthy of the name. We would not be surrealists. Rather, we want to listen more – curiously, ardently and critically - to listen to the new words, to search for the new images and to feel the new movements like a vibration in the asphalt. No more my-desire-like-a-rabbit-in-the- pocket-of-your-onion-that-is-flapping-in-the-moonlight-with-the-scaly-thighs-of-the-marvellous-etc-etc." Moreover, the distressing lack of the surrealist movement's presence in our epoch is astounding. The feeble attemps at criticism of "post-modernism" for instance that have been glimpsed within the movement, and which for certain are totally legitimate, reveal at the same time a fundamental lack of knowledge and perspective. What would the surrealist critique of the 20s and 30s have been worth had surrealism not stood in the world without screening off against everything and everybody that did not want to call itself surrealism? It is time to seriously confront the following question: where is the surrealist spirit to be found today? It is up to the international movement to furiously throw itself into the adventure of that question, or else it will look like a philatelic association or anything else, a social network without crime.

September 1999 The Surrealist Group In Stockholm Aase Berg, Carl-Michael Edenborg, Mattias Forshage, Bruno Jacobs, Riyota Kasamatsu, Niklas Nenzén, Sebastian Osorio.

Reservations: Kalle Eklund, Maja Lundgren



 

Appendix: D'UNE LETTRE DE GUY GIRARD A BRUNO JACOBS DU GROUPE SURREALISTE DE STOCKHOLM

Cependant, sur le fond même du texte, et sur sa forme je persiste dans ma rude critique. Bien sûr, je ne suis pas en Suède et ne puis mesurer par rapport à quel abîme d'incompréhension vous vous trouvez placés, pourtant je ne pense pas que ce genre de déclaration catégorique – je disais catéchisme, et cela ressemble à des articles fait pour être appris par coeur dans une impensable école de formation surréaliste – soit digne d'intérêt. Car avec un tel texte, à qui parlez-vous, à des poètes inconnus ou à des épigones? Le surréalisme ne s'apprend pas point par point selon un quelconque code, mais il se reconnait et l'on se reconnait dans sa complexité en devenir, et sans doute par le sensible et d'imprévisibles mouvements d'exaltation, d'imagination et de révolte qui font se dire que c'est par là que ça se passe, et que là sont les amis avec qui l'on désire partager et inventer quelque chose d'autre, c'est le surréalisme, une déjà longue histoire certes, et des légendes, qui ont leur force justement parce qu'elles ne peuvent se réduire à cet arrêt sur image/sur idéologie qui me parait être le plus grave défaut de votre texte.

Ce n'est donc pas une bonne lanterne que vous allumez là. Trop simpliste en effet, au risque de faire fuir les gens véritablement intéressés et intéressants qui, je les imagine selon les surréalistes que je connais, n'auraient surtout pas envie de voir un tel esprit enfermé dans un corps de doctrine écrit apparemment par souci pratique de donner des réponses et non par désir de poser des questions. Et j'avoue que l'idée d'imaginer ce texte publié et diffusé de surcroit sur internet m'agace terriblement: s'imaginer logé à si peu inventive enseigne! D'autant plus que de çi de là, il y a des points sur lesquels je suis en désaccord. Croyez-vous vraiment que, point I., l'idéologie bourgeoise condamne, méprise (contempt) la pensée humaine et son pouvoir d'invention? Le moindre documentaire TV sur les prestiges de la science par exemple, dira le contraire, au nom justement de cet anthopocentrisme mi-idéaliste, mi-matérialiste qui s'estime être le plus performant rejeton de la «pensée humaine», en cette fin de siècle à Wall Street et partout ailleurs qui lui ressemble.

Point IV. Je dirais «éthique» plutôt que moralisme. Problème de traduction sans doute, mais l'éthique implique une réflexion, une conscience de soi et de ses rapports à l'autre, perfectible; tandis que par morale je n'entend que soumission à des lois, et donc reconnaissance de la légitimité des tribunaux et des polices.

L'égo individualiste: quoiqu'il en paraisse à travers le «moi» aliéné des citoyens consammateurs, la question de l'individu, du moi comme du sujet, de sa formation et de son devenir ne se traite pas ainsi en deux phrases.

Que l'on se reporte plutôt à Stirner comme à Freud pour s'interroger tout d'abord ce qui constitue le sujet, son aliénation et sa possible libération au travers de l'enrichissement des rapports avec l'inconscient comme avec une collectivité librement choisie dont en effet l'esquisse peut être cette du groupe surréaliste. En cette époque propice à toutes les psychoses et états «borderline», je pense qu'il faut affirmer que rien d'utopique ne peut se construire qu'a partir de l'Unique, qui me paraît être la négation créatrice de l'homme unidimensionel.

Un scientisme critique? Si bien sûr un plus large intérêt parmi nous est souhaitable envers le domaine scientifique et ses alentours dits para-sciences, je n'attends rien d'un quelconque scientisme, critique ou non, dans la mesure ou en tant qu'idéologie de la science, le scientisme s'estime seul à détenir les clés de la connaissance, par un usage d'ailleurs aux antipodes d'un véritable projet émancipateur.

Point V.: Désolé, mais les surréalistes se sont beaucoup occupés d'art, et s'en occupent encore beaucoup, puisque – toute critique sur le rôle de l'artiste et de l'art comme marchandise étant toujours à remettre à jour – le domaine de l'art est d'évidence domaine d'invention et de réalisation (symbolique si vous voulez) du sensible. Je parle bien sûr de ce qui de civilisation en civilisation, jusqu'à notre utopie se réalise comme art magique. Ce n'est pas parce que l'art contemporain officiel est l'ignominie que l'on sait, c'est à dire un instrument hélàs bien rôdé de censure du sensible et des enjeux libérateurs et poétiques du sensible que nous allons abandonner dans sa totalité l'expression artistique véritablement créatrice à une critique iconoclaste qui développe un refoulement de l'imaginaire au profit d'une hypertrophie de la raison critique, l'échec des situationistes pouvant à cet égard nous servir de leçon.

Enfin je m'arrête au point VI (car il me manque la dernière page de votre texte!) Attention aux glissades de mots: le surréalisme n'est pas la tradition surréaliste, (laquelle n'a aucun sens s'il n'est précisé qu'elle se fonde sur une série de ruptures) qui n'est pas un répertoire de thèmes maintenant classiques (horreur!) à décliner selon l'humeur ou le programme du jour. Il ne s'agit pas de thèmes (l'amour: un thème!) mais de ce qui oriente la vie, qui fait tenir, réponse formulable ou non, face à l'envie de se flinguer. Et vous en parler, l'air détaché, comme d'une collection de manies intellectuelles, à peine plus conceptuelles que les techniques qu'elles appelleraient inévitablement pour mieux noircir du papier! C'est avant tout cela qui me gêne dans votre long [mot illisible], c'est en apparence – car je ne doute pas que vous l'ayez en vous – le manque de passion, la froideur clinique poussée sous le joug de l'agit-prop, à parler si doctrinement de ce qui nous bouleverse, et qui bouleverse ceux à qui nous choisissons de parler.

Car tu me dis que la rédaction, pendant de longs mois, fut parmi vous l'occasion de débats passionnés, mais pour aboutir à ce compromis apostoliqué. N'y aurait-il plutôt moyen, selon une écriture plus vivante, d'exposer ce qui fait vivre votre groupe, autrement la puissance poétique de poser des questions, plutôt que la mince certitude de faire se trémousser une charrue idéologique?

(...)


Guy Girard 6 juillet 1999



 

 

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