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I have the habit, when I encounter insolent people of being 500 times more insolent than they are.
—Flora Tristan,
The Tour of France




An excerpt frm the Introduction to Surrealist Experience


Chance frequently affords opportunities we should never have thought of ourselves.


—Alexandre Dumas,
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.

We 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.

Our 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.

Had 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.

* * *

A 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.

Meeting 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:

"André Breton said: 'Beauty will be convulsive or will not be at all!'
"Albert Einstein said: 'E = MC2.'"
"These two watchwords are for us but one."

This formulation is of course a play on one of Breton's own—the 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 affinity—or the identity?—between psychical and physical energy.

* * *

From 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.

All of the experiences that can properly be called surrealist—from mad love to the vertigo of objective chance to the collective elation generated by certain games—start with encounters. And what is a surrealist experience? Nothing less than the direct experience of poetry as it is lived in the moment.

Encounters of all kinds are the substance of this book, especially chance encounters, and the diverse experiences which developed out of them. . .

What 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 which—at once psychic, imaginative, moral, erotic, intellectual, emotional, and creative—is 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.

* * *

Why 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.

Surrealism 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."

Surrealism is what happens when poetry and life dare to be one and the same.

Penelope Rosemont