1 | After a century’s depuration of Surrealism, and having rejected its confusion with a school or just another ‘ism’, the aesthetic propriety of any give creative work cannot be dismissed. How do you understand Surrealism’s aesthetic ideal?
ALLAN GRAUBARD | Surrealism has no aesthetic ideal. It is a state of mind, a way of being and becoming, from which poetic artistic, and physical expressions emerge and evolve.
DAVID NADEAU | Lors de l’expérience surréaliste, l’esthétique est réinventée et devient un instrument de connaissance et d’exploration intérieure. La surprise révèle des aspects méconnus et fascinants de la vie inconsciente et du mythe nouveau en formation.
GREGG SIMPSON | I think for a painter, whether surrealist or not, there has to be a coming to terms with formal values of their practice. A good painting is a good painting (or drawing, collage or sculpture) and having aspirations to create something which invokes the ‘marvelous’ also requires skill, hard work and a vision of what painting is, or can be, today. I single out painting because it hasn’t actually been replaced, as was prophesized, by all the other media which have emerged such as performance art, installation, video or conceptualist theory. Most of these activities were done to get grants, further careers and please a segment of the curatorial elite in today’s museum system.
STUART INMAN | I’m not quite sure I understand, or agree with the question! It seems rather provocative of a standard response, that Surrealism has nothing to do with aesthetics, or else that it has no aesthetic ideal. But I suppose a more thoughtful answer might stress that aesthetics is not an end, but a means. As Surrealism is not an art movement, nor a literary one, nor does it embody a style, but employs all these within a context that is both more than, and other than aesthetic. I’d say a more correct term would be ‘poetics’, understood, of course, not as a philosophy of versifying, but of ‘poiesis’. If we can agree that a surrealist poetics can’t be limited by automatism, but can still use it, and other means, to go beyond the intentionality of the artwork, to employ art as a means of research, rather than as an end in itself, if that can still be understood as any kind of aesthetics, there might be the site of an answer to your question.
2 | The classic expulsions that Surrealists carried out from the original Paris formation were of a behavioral nature. Poor-quality work was never judged. Even now, although expulsions no longer take place, when Surrealists comment on their peers they do so in the light of sympathies and alliances, which emphasizes the existence of a clique. To what point does this distort the understanding that one might have of the most important cultural revolution of the 20th century?
ALLAN GRAUBARD | The work any creator reveals informs and is informed by that creator’s ethical, social, and political behavior. Creative activity exists in and because of the world, and the liberties and constraints lived in the world. How can anyone enforce distinctions here, or mask one for the other? At the very least, surrealism tried to steer a viable human course through one political blood-bath after another. How it succeeded or failed as a movement, a collective of men and women, is a judgment that anyone of any temper can make.
DAVID NADEAU | Le surréalisme n’est pas une révolution culturelle limitée au vingtième siècle mais une aventure individuelle et collective qui continue de nos jours. Les individus se regroupent par affinités, pour débattre au sujet de recherches communes et partager leurs découvertes.
GREGG SIMPSON | There was, under Breton, the ironic picture of great visual artists such as Ernst, Miro or Matta being expelled by a literary clique. I am less interested in the politics and ideology of Surrealism, although I am generally in favour of leftist/progressive policies in society. (To me communism is often socialism at bayonet point.) I am more interested in the idea of Breton’s ‘poetic imagination’ than adhering to any fixed political program.
STUART INMAN | I am not at all sure I have an answer to this question. It might be that distortions ensue from an overly rigorous assertion of surrealist identity and the non-surrealist identity of others, but it seems inescapable when many people will insist on their favorite writer or painter being a surrealist when they are nothing of the kind. They don’t even reconsider when informed that their favorite refused to identify themselves as surrealist. Their opinion overrules everything! Then there’s people who have a surrealist ‘period’ and who then leave Surrealism behind, Hantai, for example, whose post-surrealist work has little or nothing to do with surrealism and would not be confused with it. On the other hand, Dali’s later work is very often confused with Surrealism, and not surprisingly, as it employs the same imagery and rhetoric, but many, to say the least, of us would claim that those works operate from a different spirit.
3 | Surrealist magazines – where were previously just printed, and are now available in virtual format as well, with extensive recovery of the early days of the effort through facsimile and PDF editions – form a collection beyond comparison with any other movement, school or avant-garde over the centuries. I maintain that the most valuable ones are those that never countered other views of life and artwork that were alien and/or complementary to Surrealism. I believe these magazines to be the explorable space of counter-orthodoxy, of the full exercise of generosity, and of the sharing of sparse worlds. However, we still face an immense – declared or undeclared 0 rejection of Surrealism precisely because of its orthodox beginnings. How to separate wheat from chaff?
ALLAN GRAUBARD | The wind of time and events separate the wheat from the chaff.
DAVID NADEAU | Les publications surréalistes ont toujours accueilli des artistes et des chercheurs outsider, étrangers au mouvement mais dont la démarche a présenté un intérêt d’un point de vue surréaliste.
GREGG SIMPSON | There is currently a feud between the defenders of fantastic or even fantasy art, who claim to be surrealist, and those who trace their connection directly to Breton and the Paris Group, represented in later years by José Pierre, Edouard Jaguer and Sarane Alexandrian. Members of the former group are often far to right of where Surrealism began. I believe the magazine or journal format, whether in print or on screen, or both, is where the distinction can be emphasized. But these purveyors of pseudo-surrealist kitsch don’t have this level of intellectual activity. Where are their poets, where does their sensibility emanate from?
STUART INMAN | I don’t really understand the question, I think it would have to be rephrased for me to give a sensible answer.
4 | Two terms within the Surrealist environment have always caught my eye, not because they appear inappropriate to me, but rather due to the compliment-rejection partition that they carry within: ‘Surrealist movement’ and ‘Surrealist civilization’. How different are the two, and what to they represent to the point of appearing antipodal?
ALLAN GRAUBARD | Surrealism is a movement to transform our civilization from within toward greater individual and collective liberties. Is a surrealist civilization possible? Perhaps. Is it desirable? That’s for you to answer.
GREGG SIMPSON | If anything, I endorse the term Surrealist Movement rather than ‘Group’. It is too diffuse now to claim there is one group, but there is instead, a series of links and connections one must make to the Surrealist lineage begun in 1924, but not to anyone claiming to be the official group. Instead there are many ‘groups’ from France to Peru, Canada to Portugal. If this helps to liberate humanity to any degree then Surrealism must strive to help create a global civilization which will embrace it.
STUART INMAN | If indeed they are antipodal, it is within a more limited system in which they are the poles of one thing, rather than being wholly opposite or opposed. Put simply, a “surrealist civilization” suggests a broader and more organic base than a surrealist movement, which implies a stronger organizational base and impetus. However, I rather think of surrealist civilization as within our larger civilization, a smaller egregore, within a larger one, slowly (perhaps too slowly!) emerging and growing as the other becomes more dispersed. It might be that I merely read too much W.B. Yeats in my youth and a portion of his strange system remains with me after all these years.
5 | the imaginative power and the experimental nature of Surrealism, which are essentially complementary aspects, are often evoked. However, given the unquestionable impossibility of perennial renovation within the environment of artistic creation, what one often sees in Surrealism is a repetition of resources, ways of being and language gimmicks. How does one address these variations, which are common to all creative landscapes?
ALLAN GRAUBARD | By not mimicking or reproducing, within one’s creative arc, previous achievements and discoveries, whether artistic or ideological.
DAVID NADEAU | L’approfondissement d’une mythologie personnelle par les moyens expérimentaux qui s’imposent renouvelle le plaisir de la surprise. La répétition obsessionnelle de thèmes et de formes peut elle aussi être un moyen d'exploration de la vie intérieure.
GREGG SIMPSON | Whether in images, or in words, merely repeating time worn clichés from the 1930’s doesn’t make sense in 2018. For surrealist art to continue to flourish, it must encourage not only an originality of vision and a skillful use of form and color, but be able to hold its own with other forms of plastic art. Coming from one of the newest part of the New World on Canada’s west coast, I have been able to work without too much direct influence from art history. I work within the legacy of Surrealism, to continue and extend it, but not repeat what has already happened.
STUART INMAN | WHY is perennial renovation… of artistic creation impossible? I’m not denying that much of what I see of ‘surrealist art’ is indeed a repetition, or at least very strongly influenced by this or that artist or poet, but I don’t see the problem as one of being hemmed in by the limits of the possible, but possibly the limits of individual artists, no doubt including myself. Also, isn’t surrealism concerned with overcoming the impossible, at the very least by going to the limits of what is possible?
6 | Aldo Pellegrini is one of the few scholars of Surrealism that specifically addressed its poetic sphere. Any list of Surrealist references will emphasize show the relevance of visual arts. This always seemed to be like a failure of the critics because the rejuvenating essence, even in the early 20th century, concerns the image itself and its many angles. Is this one of any number of adulterations to the Surrealist principles, or even they barely recognized the presence of a difference – except in purely technical terms – between imagery and poetics?
DAVID NADEAU | Il n'y a pas de différence pour moi entre la poésie, le collage, le dessin et l'art sonore; ce sont différents aspects de la même recherche.
GREGG SIMPSON | The same revolution hit literature as it did visual art in the early twentieth century. The doors were opened for surrealist art by Picasso and Cubism, as we can see in the early work of André Masson and Joan Miro. In literature the developments were similar beginning with the Futurist’s use of typographic experiments, sound poetry and noise music which directly led to Dada. But one hundred years ago there was no internet and now we are saturated in images, so perhaps the poetic imagination will be the only means by which we can navigate through this.
STUART INMAN | I do not know Pellegrini’s work and can make no comment on it. However, I have seen a great deal of academic work on surrealist writing, and usually of very variable quality and usually missing the point of surrealism. For me, to really address the poetic sphere in scholarly work, there would be the burning need to consider the whole question of poetic analogy seriously, and really analogy as a “figure of mind” rather than merely metaphor, a “figure of speech”.
7 | When they Surrealism first emerged, its social expectations revolved around what then stood as revolutionary actions, in particular what was seated on the propositions of Marx and Freud. Octavio Paz went as far as to declare that the 20th century would be remembered as the century of Freud and Surrealism. By eliminating Marx from his prophecies, he forgot – if it was indeed forgetfulness – that the marked would defeat, to say the least, every revolutionary intent, including the two that the Mexican pointed out. How does one view this in our day and age? Given the market’s virulent absolutism, what happened to the forces unleashed by Freud, Marx and Surrealism?
ALLAN GRAUBARD | The “the forces unleashed by Freud, Marx and Surrealism” have, in large part, been absorbed into the market or suffer co-option in other ways, making them socially acceptable as “art”, “poetry”, or “psycho-analysis”. Yet such absorption or co-option is not total. When used with clarity and passion, “the forces unleashed”... yet can help us to oppose current forms of domination and their supporting ideologies, even if on a micro scale. Surrealism charted a revolution murdered as much by reactionary forces as by the hubris of revolutionaries. What can evolve from these ashes is not mine to say for anyone else. And that, I think, is key. If it’s not up close and personal, if risk is absent, if that compelling sense of a new social logic vanishes into abstraction rather than rising through praxis, then I won’t be around to pick up the pieces. Because life then, my life, simply won’t be worth living.
DAVID NADEAU | On vit dans une époque ou les idées et le mouvement révolutionnaires n’ont certainement pas le vent dans les voiles La résistance au misérabilisme et la création de nouveaux langages libérés de l’utilitarisme marchand entretiennent le désir utopique de transformation sociale, désir exprimé sous la forme d’un mythe collectif constamment réinventé.
GREGG SIMPSON | I wonder if Freud was a Marxist. That would be interesting to find out. I somehow doubt it with his bourgeoise background. Breton managed to enlist both in his quest to liberate the human imagination. But then in those days, and for the rest of the twentieth century, the battle lines were between Communism and Fascism, with capitalist market forces replacing the latter following the War.
In a sense the new social movements like Occupy, Me Too and others are the only opposition. The Left discredited itself in many ways from Stalin to Pol Pot and after the fall of the Soviet Union, many have come to see Communism as Socialism at bayonet point. In a reworking of the “all systems go” expression, I say “all systems, no”.
STUART INMAN | Honestly, I don’t know the answer to this question. I have never been, shall we say, religiously marxist, what I have understood I have tended to understand as a critical system and as a tool. In that sense it seems more relevant than ever. Maybe it is the only antidote to “the market’s virulent absolutism”.
EDIÇÃO COMEMORATIVA | CENTENÁRIO DO SURREALISMO 1919-2019
Artista convidada: Marcelle Ferron (Canadá, 1924- 2001)
Agulha Revista de Cultura
20 ANOS O MUNDO CONOSCO
Número 139 | Agosto de 2019
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