A Cavalier History of Surrealism

By Raoul Vaneigem (1977)

Entry 4367


From: holdoffhunger [id: 1]


Revolt Library Anarchism A Cavalier History of Surrealism

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(1934 - )

Raoul Vaneigem (Dutch pronunciation: [raːˈul vɑnˈɛi̯ɣəm]; born 21 March 1934) is a Belgian writer known for his 1967 book The Revolution of Everyday Life. He was born in Lessines (Hainaut, Belgium) and studied romance philology at the Free University of Brussels (now split into the Université Libre de Bruxelles and the Vrije Universiteit Brussel) from 1952 to 1956. He was a member of the Situationist International from 1961 to 1970. He currently resides in Belgium and is the father of four children. (From: Wikipedia.org.)


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Author's Note Commissioned in 1970 by a French publisher who planned to issue a series intended for high-school pupils, this Histoire désinvolte du surréalisme was written in a couple of weeks under the pressure of a contractual deadline. The fact that the original bearer of the name chosen as a pseudonym, “Jules-François Dupuis”, was the janitor of the building where Lautréamont died, and a witness to his death certificate, should be a clear enough sign that this book is not one of those that are particularly dear to my heart; it was merely a diversion. When the original publisher’s projected series was abandoned, the manuscript was returned to me. It then languished for some years at the house of a friend, who in 1976 showed it to a young publisher of her acquaintance. As a result it was published a year later (Nonville: Paul Vermont). It was reprinted in 1988 (Paris: L’Instant). Perhaps it is fair... (From : TheAnarchistLibrary.org.)

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1. History and Surrealism The Crisis of Culture Surrealism belongs to one of the terminal phases in the crisis of culture. In unitary regimes, of which monarchy based on divine right is the best known example, the integrative power of myth concealed the separation between culture and social life. Artists, writers, scholars and philosophers, just like the peasants, the bourgeois, the wielders of power, and even the King himself, had to live out their contradictions within a hierarchical structure which was from top to bottom the work of a God, and unchangeable in its very essence. The growth of the bourgeois class of merchants and manufacturers meant the molding of human relationships to the rationality of exchange, the imposition of the quantifiable power of money with mechanistic certainty as to its concrete truth. This development was accompanied by an accelerating tendency toward secularization which destroyed the formerly idyllic relationship be... (From : TheAnarchistLibrary.org.)

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2. Changing Life The Refusal of Survival It is significant that the first Manifesto of Surrealism starts out by denouncing that mode of existence which, to distinguish it from passionate and multidimensional life, has been called "survival": So strong is the belief in life, in what is most fragile in life - real life, I mean - that in the end this belief is lost. Man, that inveterate dreamer, daily more discontent with his lot, has trouble assessing the objects he has been led to use, objects that his nonchalance has brought his way, or that he has earned through his own efforts, almost always through his own efforts, for he has agreed to work, at least he has not refused to try his luck (or what he calls his luck!). At this point he feels extremely modest: he knows what women he has had, what silly affairs he has been involved in; he is unimpressed by his wealth or poverty, in this respect he is a new-born babe and, as for the approval of his consc... (From : TheAnarchistLibrary.org.)

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3. Transforming the World Revolutionary Ideology The failure of the Barrès trial, as of all other efforts to equip Dada with a social and political consciousness, led to the adoption of Marxism, as revised and corrected by Lenin, and to the abandonment of Dada's two great enterprises-the quest for total negation and the project of a collective poetry. The latter, had it succeeded, would have evolved into a critical theory in search of its practical self-realization through the overthrow of all the conditions presently imposed on the world and on everyday life. As we have noted, the Surrealist group at its very inception – unsurprisingly, in view of the artistic preoccupations of its founders – already bore the traces of this twofold renunciation. This was the root, furthermore, of a guilty conscience whose persistence throughout the entire history of the movement manifested itself as a fundamental and unshakable despair and a continual ha... (From : TheAnarchistLibrary.org.)

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4. Promoting the Image as Object Language and its Subversion The adventure of the arts (painting, sculpture, poetry, literature, music) passes in its decline through three essential phases: a phase of self-liquidation (Malevich's "white square", Mutt/Duchamp's urinal rebaptized "Fountain", Dadaist word collages, Finnegan's Wake, certain compositions by Varèse); a phase of self-parody (Satie, Picabia, Duchamp); and a phase of self-transcendence, exemplified in the directly lived poetry of revolutionary moments, in theory as it takes hold of the masses, or in this notice posted on Saragossa Cathedral by Ascaso and Durruti, and followed up by the action announced: "Having learned that injustice reigns in Saragossa, Ascaso and Durruti have come here to shoot the Archbishop." Surrealism partook of each of these three tendencies but gave itself over to none of them; on the contrary, it deformed them to the benefit of the same separate art... (From : TheAnarchistLibrary.org.)

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5. Converting to Mysticism Reconsecration No sooner had ascendant bourgeois power, thanks to the arms of criticism and criticism by arms, successfully shattered the unity of the old social and religious myth, than the new rulers felt the urgent need to reinstitute an organization of appearances – a universal representation of the individual freedoms so essential to the conduct of business – that could provide a justification for their function as an exploiting class. The tentacular expansion of the economy-nerve-center of the bourgeoisie just as it would later be of the ruling caste of the socialist State – was not easily reconciled, however, with recourse to a god, to a mysterious unity which the new conditions of social atomization could not in any case either resuscitate or maintain. By the beginning of the twentieth century art had been effectively annexed by the general system of the economy, and no choice remained to it save... (From : TheAnarchistLibrary.org.)

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6. Now Today Surrealism is all around us in its co-opted forms – as consumer goods, art works, advertising techniques, alienating images, cult objects, religious paraphernalia and what have you. As much at odds as some of these multifarious forms may seem to be with the spirit of Surrealism, what I have been seeking to.convey is that Surrealism indeed "contained" them all from the beginning, just as Bolshevism was "fated" to generate the Stalinist state. Surrealism's curse was its ideological nature, and it was forever condemned to try and exorcize this curse, even going so far as to replay it on the private and mystical stage of the myth of old, duly exhumed from the depths of history. Surrealism had the lucidity of its passions, but it never conceived a passion for lucidity. Somewhere between the artificial paradises of capitalism and socialism's pie in the sky, it created a space-time of uncomfortable detachment and blunted aggressiveness which the com... (From : TheAnarchistLibrary.org.)

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Translator's Acknowledgments Many, many thanks to those friends who generously read all or part of the translation and gave me the benefit of their advice (even if I did not always follow it): Jim Brook, Bruce Elwell, Paul Hammond, Cathy Pozzo di Borgo, Florence Sebastiani, and John Simmons. On the design and production fronts, I am most grateful to Marsha Slomowitz, the AK collective, Freddie Baer, and above all to Anne Cordell. Thanks too, once again, to Mia Rublowska for all kinds of vital help. In handling quoted material I have relied on the existing translations listed below (though I have occasionally made changes). I gratefully acknowledge my debt to the translators and publishers concerned. All other translations of quoted material are my own. Breton, Arcanum 17, translated by Zack Rogow (Los Angeles: Sun and Moon Press, 1994) Breton, "Introduction to the Discourse on the Paucity of Reality", translated by Richard Sieburth and... (From : TheAnarchistLibrary.org.)


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