Thursday, 21 January 2010

A Practical Guide to Surrealism (excerpt # 1)

Surrealism: A Tercet of Origin Myths

Some say the entrance to the Surreal was discovered by André Breton, on his expedition to the Tristes Tropiques, accompanying Claude Lévi-Strauss. (Picture him there, on the prow of the good ship Apollinaire, hair aflame in the salty air.) Marked by a series of vertilinear Vs carved on a trunk in the Amazon, the Surreal was still a physical place at this juncture, and rather liked the idea of people roaming around inside it, hunting / fishing / carrying little babies with their bubbles of drool, and invisible butterflies to catch. The Surreal would rarely be so pinpointable, thereafter.

Others maintain that Surrealism was a method for interrogating the very fabric of reality, devised by the Comte de Lautréamont, decades before, while contemplating the chance appearance of an umbrella and a sewing machine on his dissection table, during a session of Spring-cleaning in his chateau. Mesmerized by their hidden logic, he sank to the floor, and demanded that his manservant fetch him brioche and wine, as he contemplated their power over him. What was it, in the conceptual rhyme of this prosthetic skin, this machine for assembling such prostheses, in the very site of man’s unmaking / his re-making as a machine…? Could it be that, just as a pattern of musical notes captivates through consonance, the Comte had become sensitized to the music of concepts? Once we have caught the first melody in that strange mode, how can we not be captivated…?

Never let us forge–

(I’m sorry, I was interrupted)

Never let us forget, the Surrealism of André Breton, returned from the jungle, was a Surrealism “in the service of the revolution” – words that were stamped, military-style, on the front-page of each pamphlet he produced. What was the revolution, though, and what weapon might he have brought back from the jungle? Was it a weapon at all? Who would survive the Revolution? Whose backs would be against the wall?

Only one thing is clear to me, O my best beloved, in these days when young blades congregate on street corners, their lobster epaulettes glinting in the faint luminescence of the black sun, we have gone astray – badly, badly astray. The arts are astray that once conducted us to the secret music of words; that once allowed us to dissect and re-stitch meaning, simply by sounding, aloud.

Les Surrealistes!

See them striding down the boulevard! The sun glinting off their watch-chains, the emerald-eyed skulls on their canes! The spurs on their boots strike sparks! A mere glance at a lady breaks hearts! See the sun failing to glint off their bowler hats! See how André Breton’s mirrored codpiece flashes furious invitation to desperate duels! See Jacques Vaché who wears an udder the way a Scot wears a sporran! See Paul Eluard riding a tortoise with gilded shell, inherited from his godfather Joris, a German count! (Damnit, we’ll have to wait for Eluard…). Anyway –


Some say they arose as an elite to combat the BOURG; others that they were its own foremost agents, the deepest undercover, equipped with false memories, false faces, false trousers (that could be inflated rapidly, for a fast roll-away). What were they searching for, these gentlemen-explorers of the mind? Was it La Chose? Was it that strange figure from the heraldic universe, known only as La Femme Inconnue? Was it what the Greeks knew as Gnosis, seeking to penetrate the mystery-religions of the Near East? Was it the Deep Image itself… or was Agent EP & HD’s “Imagisme” a misprision of L’imagisme, referring to le mage (qui) jisme – the Hanged Man who achieves enlightenment even as his neck is broken – just as San Graal refers (as any schoolchild knows), to le sang réal, the Royal Blood…?!

One thing we do know: they owed allegiance to a king, they called Ubu, but further investigation by agents of the BOURG revealed that this Ubu was only a king as the King of Kings is a king, with his own private mythos, but no constitution, executive or legislative branch. No Miracle-Working – Demon-Expelling – Parabilizing – Crucifixion – Resurrection – Redemption for Ubu! No, his myth-cycle was one of Enchaining – Debraining – Cuckoldry – and then, and only then, Kingship, once he had shed all dignity, novelty, and held fast only to his rotundity.

(For all their revolutionary ideals, the Surrealistes are, in fact, sentimentalists. They despise the BOURG, but cherish the artiste manqué as much as the aristocrat déclassé. It’s the absurdity of their being stranded between Ideals that makes them seem so pitiful, as their monocles steam with shame. Perhaps, this particular day, LES SURREALISTES are paying a visit to Raymond Roussel, son of the Governor of Egypt, and a rather serious fellow who professes suicidal aspirations. Breton scoffs at this, whenever the subject comes up – “Suicide, my dear fellow, is an artistic solution second only to vanity-publishing; No, no, the surrealist does not die for his cause, he lives his cause.” Eluard and Soupault clink glasses, chortling. Nonetheless, Breton is always available day and night, should Roussel hail him on the speaking trumpet; a patron is a patron, you know, and he could do with a holiday at Roussel’s Locus Solus, if Raymond finally takes the hint and invites him…)

As it happens – nothing happens! The Surrealists are going nowhere at all! They merely stand on the boulevard, legs flung wide, elbows out like wings, as carriages swerve around them. Even as the sun sets over the Seine, and the Eiffel Horaire swings its shadow-dial over the rooftops of Paris, and around to 7 o’clock. Finally, they unthaw from their pose. It’s time to take a show at the Folie Bergeres. Time to visit Nadja…

[Christmas 2009]

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