The activities of surrealists, and of those who have fallen in love with an idea which they are unable to live, can sometimes – and in certain cases more often than not – become petrified into fossilised gestures, whether in visual or verbal images, or in emulated modes of behaviour. Doubtlessly, in our persistence of revolt, in the continuity of a movement that has developed a strong tradition (a radical notion these days!), it is perhaps inevitable that we are haunted by our ancestors, and not only by the traces they have left in pictures and words, but in our imitation of their demeanour. As is already known, this is perpetuated in the elementary clichés by which Surrealism is usually mistaken in the public sphere, taking easily recognisable ingredients and applying a formulaic process, with an end result that conforms to a pre-conceived notion. Such idealistic repetition, whether conscious or unconscious, leads us only into dead ends and, even worse, adds to the misrepresentations of Surrealism that, as a movement, we would bitterly contest. If we are not vigilant, what originally were and continue to be meant as methods for loosening the imagination can carelessly be misused to produce counterfeits. Even the playing of surrealist games – or, rather, a naïve satisfaction with their end results – can add to this persistence in retracing lost steps, no matter how well-intentioned our departures. Sometimes it is useful for us to traverse familiar territory, but not to have this territory as an unchanging destination, well-mapped and with an itinerary planned out in advance. It is the purpose for setting off that qualifies our explorations as surrealist, and not the end in itself; a purpose that is above all rigorously moral. Let us make maps that delineate the evidence of our own surrealist experience, not of where others have travelled.
Many who are drawn to Surrealism, with varying degrees of understanding of what exactly is at stake, in their boundless enthusiasm and sincerity, are very much like fans or aficionados. But no matter how much they are in love with the idea of Surrealism, no matter how near they might come to the door that is always open, it remains closed to them, and our glass castle revolves invisibly. Some find themselves on the outside because of a fundamental misunderstanding that Surrealism is principally constituted by – or even only survives as – a body of techniques with which to stimulate their attempts at art and literature, or that it is a suitable category which can be used to situate their work. For others, this ignorance is entirely wilful, based upon a complete disregard for Surrealism’s historical context and development, conveniently allowing them to present their solipsist misconceptions as ‘Surrealism’, which they stupidly believe can be anything they want it to mean. Evidence of an astounding absence of curiosity about the Surrealist Movement’s current manifestations is only too apparent, as is an unconcealed aversion to theoretical knowledge, sometimes clumsily brandished as a claim to authenticity. Some, undoubtedly sympathetic in their intentions, preferring to stand apart from the Surrealist Movement, yet wishing to retain certain characteristic shades and complexions, would also want to define Surrealism for themselves with scant reference to its historical continuity and, in particular, its unequivocal political dimension. It appears that there are now those who adopt qualifiers such as ‘neosurrealists’, ‘trans-surrealists’, ‘massurrealists’, etc, as well as the occasional aggrandized ‘ism’ which is transparently a movement of one person’s ego across a computer screen. It is hardly surprising that we are sometimes amused, sometimes puzzled, or fail to recognise in such conceits any parallels with our own experience.
With honourable exceptions in the academic ghetto and leaving aside its paid liars and parasites who would reduce our adventure to a unit of study, the various would-be partisans of Surrealism, through received misunderstandings or due to the blind spots of a partial selectivity, end up in their verbal fumblings and web-based forums by misrepresenting what they believe they are promoting. Nowhere is this misrepresentation more prevalent than on the Internet. These poor imitations of surrealist encounter generate a misplaced sense of belonging, a simulacrum of collectivity made in preferred isolation from experience, without the vulnerability and risk of genuine communion, and lacking the intimacy of poetic exchange. Surrealism as a collectively organised activity demands a level of commitment far beyond that required by preoccupation with Internet discussion groups and ‘chat rooms’. Although the Internet can be another convenient medium for presenting surrealist evidence, and an accessible means of communication, its usefulness is limited and vastly overstated. The Internet has a globalising and homogenising tendency that, through the very technology of the medium itself, can reduce the significance of what is being presented to an equivalence of surface that is only passively consumed. There is no doubting that technology is seductive and at the forefront of cultural consumption; we know all too well that no other wide-ranging medium has had a more despotic and seductive power than television. The Internet, in the name of communication and possibility, has extended the ascendancy of this seductive power to interaction on a personal level where connection with reality, let alone surreality, becomes virtually impossible.
Surrealism reveals the latent inter-connections between things, poetic and magical relationships that might have been lost or forgotten. It is said that a butterfly flapping its wings in a rainforest can cause a hurricane an ocean away. So far, the effects of a virtual butterfly flapping perpetually across a monitor screen have yet to be measured. As surrealists, we will always choose more reality, an intensification of everyday life, over the fantasies of virtual reality. We will always choose the physicality of place over the mediocrity of cyberspace. Our life is in the streets, around the next corner or on the other side of the bridge, not sitting passively in front of a computer screen, where adventure and revolt can so easily be reduced to mirages. Between the tightening constrictions of wage-slavery, where the impossible is constantly being demanded of us to the tune of a corporate anthem, and the preconfigurations of escapist leisure activity (making ‘surrealistic’ pictures with some new software?), perhaps it is time for us to be impossible – demand more reality! In our unrest of the spirit, troubled and enthused, sometimes given to poetic fury, sometimes manifesting in anonymous interventions, we are seeking to create a disturbance, a breach in the limited reality that is permitted to us; a breach, above all in ourselves, opening onto the experience of a greater reality, a surreality for which we must ceaselessly struggle.
LEEDS SURREALIST GROUP
Kenneth Cox, Bill Howe, Sarah Metcalf, Peter Overton
9th July 2002