have the habit, when I encounter insolent people of being 500 times
more insolent than they are.
The Tour of France
excerpt frm the Introduction to Surrealist Experience
frequently affords opportunities we should never have thought of ourselves.
The Count of Monte Cristo
AT THE AGE OF twenty-three I abruptly left school, quit my job,
packed up my furniture, gave up my apartment, bought a one-way
ticket to Paris and set out to meet the surrealists. My traveling
companion was my fellow dreamer, Franklin Rosemont.
already considered ourselves surrealists. In fact, there was a
whole group of us in Chicago, known locally as "The Surrealists"
(a.k.a the Rebel Worker group, the Solidarity Bookshop
group, the Anarchist Horde, and the "Left Wing of the Beat Generation").
From Chicago, however, it was difficult to tell whether surrealism
still really existed as a movement. We knew the Paris group published
a journal, La Bréche (The Breach), and we had corresponded
with some of them, but Franklin and I were eager to meet them
personally, and to see what they were doing.
idea was to go first to London, where we planned to stay with
anarchist friends and to brush up on our French. However, the
English immigration authorities had other ideas (this was during
the Vietnam War) and we were sent directly on to Paris. As chance
would have it, this was perfect timing, even though it was the
middle of winter, for only three blocks from the hotel we found
with the help of Europe on $5 a Day, the Surrealist Group
had organized an International Surrealist Exhibition.
we been allowed to stay in London, we would have missed this important
exhibition entirely, and we may well have been unable to meet André
Breton, who became seriously ill a few months later. As it turned
out, the exhibition, titled L'Ecart absolu (Absolute Divergence),
gave us a splendid idea of the current orientation of the surrealist
movement as well as its latest manifestations in the visual arts,
and made it easier to meet the surrealists of France and other countries.
* * *
whole chain of events began to unfold, quite distinct from anything
I had known before. My encounter with André Breton and the
Surrealist Group in Paris was an extraordinary and determining event
in my life, and the role of chance in it has never ceased to amaze
as well as amuse me. Thanks to a spiteful, mean-spirited British
immigration bureaucrat, our participation in the international surrealist
movement started early, and could hardly have been more auspicious.
with Breton and the Surrealist Group were intensely energizing
experiences for me, and it seemed only natural to equate the
energy they gave me with surrealism itself. In a revery
many years later I came up with the formula:
Breton said: 'Beauty will be convulsive or will not be at all!'
formulation is of course a play on one of Breton's ownthe famous
passage in his 1935 "Speech to the Writers' Congress" in which he
identified Marx's call to "transform the world" with Rimbaud's appeal
to "change life." A result of psychic automatism, my playful "development"
of this passage is something more than mere nonsense. Equally concerned
with the need to explore the internal life of the individual and to
take action in the external world of social reality, surrealists have
been unusually well-situated to perceive the affinityor the
identity?between psychical and physical energy.
"Albert Einstein said: 'E = MC2.'"
"These two watchwords are for us but one."
* * *
André Breton's Nadja to Gellu Naum's Zenobia,
surrealists have found the fortuitous encounter to be an
unparalleled provoker of sparks, electricity, an exchange of electrons,
and above all a transmitter of spontaneous knowledge and
therefore a means of revolutionizing everyday life.
of the experiences that can properly be called surrealistfrom
mad love to the vertigo of objective chance to the collective elation
generated by certain gamesstart with encounters. And what
is a surrealist experience? Nothing less than the direct
experience of poetry as it is lived in the moment.
of all kinds are the substance of this book, especially chance encounters,
and the diverse experiences which developed out of them. . .
I am interested in above all are encounters that lift repression,
relieve us from the pressure to surrender and obey, and stimulate
our consciousness in ways that automatically release the immense submerged
force whichat once psychic, imaginative, moral, erotic, intellectual,
emotional, and creativeis best summed up by the single word:
poetry. Signs and symbols of our complete nonconformism and
revolt, such encounters mark the rhythm of the poetic life.
In the essays and sketches collected here, I hope to communicate something
of the energy these encounters have generated for me: the excitement,
enthusiasm, passion, insight, revolutionary fervor, delirium, the
sense of anticipation and new awareness.
* * *
am I a surrealist? Because surrealism is not only the most beautiful
idea that has ever existed, but also the highest, deepest and
wildest adventure in and beyond history; because, as a way of
life, it involves the least concessions to the system of repression
and misery, and indeed identifies itself with the realization
of poetry; and because the revolution surrealists desire and struggle
for is the surest way to a society based firmly on the freedom
of the Marvelous.
is also a way of challenging one's self, of transcending all rationalized
excuses for saying yes to miserabilism and tolerating the intolerable.
As E. L. T. Mesens once wrote, it is the most radical way of "putting
ourselves to the test."
is what happens when poetry and life dare to be one and the same.