Perhaps the most important contribution of surrealism to our understanding of reality is its concept of the marvelous. Any of us humans can feel a "frisson," a certain vibration that we feel pleasurable when we are faced with the glory of a sunset scene, the smile on the face of a recently born child, a particular bloom of a flower, or the taste of a ripe fruit.
When the surrealists, almost one hundred years ago, began working on their poems or images, they found that these same pleasant vibrations could be recognized in events and developments that previously were classified as bizarre, ugly or even despicable.
The marvelous we are talking about, the surrealists' marvelous, refers to events, moments, feelings that we experience all the time, but many let go by, do not perceive and even avoid. This kind of event is sometimes called a coincidence, a mystery, something weird.
C. G. Jung who studied the phenomena of the psyche talks about these coincidences and considers them as manifestations of our unconscious (that they often are) or as inexplicable events that make us feel that something weird happens. He tells about and afternoon in his home when in a closed cupboard without anyone in the room knowing why, a knife broke into pieces, producing a considerable din. It is the sort of event that can be called marvelous.
Or there is the fact that we perceive something happening very far away, such as a death or accident and a short time later we get the news that actually there was such an event. This is also marvelous. Or the phone rings and weknow that someone we have not seen or talked about a long time ago is calling, even before we come close to the receiver. Marvelous.
It is marvelous to play with images by drawing something, folding the paper allowing the next player to see some minor detail "hanging out" from the section one has hidden, then a third of fourth person adding to the drawing. None of the players know what the others have done and yet, when the paper is unfolded there always appears a surprise, the marvel of seeing an odd creature born from the exercise or some unexpected sense being made visible with this sort of collaboration. This marvel the surrealists call "an exquisite corpse;" the name comes from the time they played this way with words and the first sentence that emerged was something like: "The exquisite corpse likes to drink the new wine." A stunning sentence that impressed all those present very favorably.
In my view reality is so complex, has so many elements happening simultaneously or in sequences beyond our grasp, that we, armed with the protection of our mind sorting things out to keep us from "loosing it", perceive only tiny segments of reality at any time. And if we allow ourselves "let go" and keep an ear close to the ground of our everyday lives we are actually bombarded constantly with the crisscrossing of the elements of reality and find that the marvelous is ever present.
I talk about someone and the person appears knocking at my door, without any previous planning on my part or his. I look for something I need and it's right there, next to my hand, where I haven't seen it before. It is my conviction that at such times I'll only find what I really need, when I really need it, and looking for it at other times is useless waste of energy. The appearance of the visiting person or finding the missing piece while working are marvelously satisfying, joyous events.
The world of dreams plays an important part in the understanding of the marvelous. Dreams are not reasoning, they don't follow the rules of good behavior or strict social values. They present us with vivid images that we perceive as reality while we dream and when we wake up we don't understand. They can be premonitory, announcing something that does happen months later, they can be menacing or soothing, they can be just plain funny. Surrealists take their dream world, this inner impulse of their unconscious very seriously and consider them part of what is our general reality. They are, of course, not alone in this assessment.
Writers or artists who complain about periods when their work is stalled, when the white page or the blank monitor becomes a menace, the primed canvas an impenetrable vastness, are simply not open to the marvelous. Our inner self, our unconscious never stalls, never stops working. If we just let ourselves write a senseless something or make an unplanned mark on the canvas just by the fact that we have done that much, the work will begin to flow. Make a line, any line written or painted, if it doesn't satisfy you, you change it and you are in the flow. What does happen though is that you have to allow for the marvelous to tell you things, give you results that might be unplanned, crazy, uneasy or even ugly. But it will be there, it will shout back at you and it will feel good if you can just admit that the specific moment when you are working looks like that and it is marvelous.
I read somewhere recently that surrealists did not use reason in their lives. Nothing is farther from the truth. What is at issue in this field of the marvelous is that seeing life in the light of reason, excluding everything else as folly or sickness is a very poor life indeed. Surrealists make their lives richer by embracing the marvelous with their conscious, reasoning minds, by considering, exploring even, the marvelous. Our reasoning minds will thus arrive at the conclusion that our lives are richer, fuller and filled with moments of joy when the marvelous appears.
So in the surrealist thinking what is not reasonable can be marvelous. What is not open to usual analysis, can be marvelous. Just because. And because allowing for the vastness of reality to appear in ways that are not mandated by rules and regulations, one can build works of art that grow and spread and fill us with joy, just as they happen. This means, of course that the marvelous cannot be planned. It happens. One doesn't necessarily have to be an artist to live this way; being open to the marvelous is a way of life that all of us can adopt as our own.
SUSANA WALD (Hungría, 1937). Diseñadora gráfica, traductora literaria y escritora. Ha realizado trabajo como docente en Chile, Canadá y México, enseñando principalmente cerámica, dibujo, pintura y teoría de la creatividad en las artes. Ha realizado exposiciones individuales en Chile, Canadá, EUA, Francia, Alemania, Bélgica, Islandia, Venezuela y México. En octubre de 2001, fue artista invitada de Agulha Revista de Cultura # 17. En el Proyecto Editorial Banda Hispánica se puede leer su libro Intuiciones y obsesiones (2010): www.jornaldepoesia.jor.br/BHCAlivro07.pdf. Foto de SW por Daniela Sol. Contacto: firstname.lastname@example.org. Página ilustrada con obras de Leonardo da Vinci, artista invitado en esta edición de ARC.