Thursday, January 7, 2010

The Surrealists Won Their Revolution, and We Slept Right Through It

The difficulty with reading the “Manifesto of Surrealism” is in remembering that to write in this way, to think these things was to verge on revolution. In 1924. Surrealism in the popular imagination conjures images of Dali maybe, perhaps a Duchamp readymade (probably not), but it's an art movement when it's remembered. Not political action, that's not really what surrealism was about, right?

But, y'know, you read the first “Manifesto of Surrealism” full of gusto, vim and vigor, and the calling-out of soft-ass-bustas. That's what Breton's “Manifesto” did – he called Dostoevsky a chump. He quotes Crime and Punishment and sets it up with,
[T]he purely informative style....[T]he descriptions! There is nothing to which their vacuity can be compared...he tries to make me agree with him about cliches....(7)
But you know, read Nadja, read “Manifesto of Surrealism.” It's tediocrity. Why?

'Cause the surrealists won, their revolution was a stunning success.

The pioneering of automatic writing that Breton lionized, it's everywhere. This glossolalia that Breton induced in 1924 was the ground conditions for the Internet to occur. Breton's first surrealist manifesto begins with the assessment that the conditions of living in Modern times has become stultifying and a stupid proof of Marx's alienation of humanity (which is the result of the capitalist mode of production).

Breton sees the problem as a profound lack of imagination in the everyday dealings of human interaction. Perhaps, if, when we arrived at work in the factory, we halted the assembly line (composed of one routine movement codified and reiterated ad infinitum, thus and ossified - the nightmare of the Eternal Return), and instead of doing our preassigned tasks (over and over and over again), what if instead of cars being assembled with steering wheels they were instead given a fish? Imagine what the downstream effects would be if people had to re-imagine their relationships to the world, all the time!?

Breton's surrealist project is to align what he hopes Freud will find in psychoanalyzing dreams with the transformation of society in Marx and communism;
When will we have sleeping logicians, sleeping philosophers? […] Can't the dream also be used in solving the fundamental questions of life? […] From the moment when it is subjected to a methodical examination, when, by means yet to be determined, we succeed in recording the contents of dreams in their entirety (and that presupposes a discipline of memory spanning generations [….] I believe in the future resolution of these two states, dream and reality, which are seemingly so contradictory, into a kind of absolute reality, a surreality, if one may so speak. It is in quest of this surreality that I am going....(12-4)
The other day I pointed out that Guy Debord, in his Society of the Spectacle, puts Breton and the surrealists squarely in his cross hairs for this faith in the saving powers of sleep.

Here's some wild speculation on my part. Breton makes four reflections in his manifesto. First, his theory that dreams are continuous. Second, dreams are just as reliable (as in real) as lucidity. In the third he seems to be describing Evercrack, World of Warcraft, or Second Life, or...(you name it), the MMORPG ecosystem:
The mind of the man who dreams is fully satisfied by what happens to him. The agonizing question of possibility is no longer pertinent. Kill, fly faster, love to your heart's content. And if you should die, are you not certain of reawaking among the dead? Let yourself be carried along, events will not tolerate your interference.
Perhaps even more interestingly, the Surrealist revolution's victory is indicated with 4chan and the Pirate Bay, "You are nameless. The ease of everything is priceless." (14)
"You are nameless."
Here is a photo of the group Anonymous, apparently taken during their battle with the Church of Scientology (see their video declaration of war below).
4chan, some call it the asshole of the internet, is also responsible for most of the memes that preoccupy netizens, such as Lolcatz and the ever-fun Rickrolling (see the Encyclopedia Dramatica for more on that).

"The ease of everything is priceless."

The Pirate Bay, although perhaps the imprisonment of its founders may spell the end of this site, they are the avant-garde of the copy left movement. Wildly popular, the Pirate Party now has two seats in the European Union's Parliament.

Of course, were the Pirate Bay to cease to be, there has nonetheless been a cultural shift, at least in terms of the music industry. It's historically been the case that the music industry has not been kind to its musicians. Consider Little Richard, the father of rock n' roll, who received half a penny for every album he sold. Better still, read how Steve Albini (the man) broke it down for us in his excellent, "The Problem With Music" over at negativland (also awesome).

The "Manifesto of Surrealism", Nadja, these surrealist texts are hard to read today, in large part, because their written in such a familiar style: it's like wandering into livejournal in 2002. All that stream of conscience stuff, all that free association, makes me scream for a reasonable copy editor.

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