little pure wilderness is the one great present want."
(about 5 1/2in. long)
back to topics
Dialectic x Dialectic x Dialectic
many decisive moments in its historic trajectory, surrealism has
proved to be next in line with something completely unforeseen.
What else are turning-points for? "The End of the Immobile:"
Doesn't this chapter-title from René Crevel's Harpsichord
of Diderot touch the core of surrealism's dialectic? Ready or not,
surrealism goes places, and those who know what it's all about tend
to have no trouble getting through.
is well to remember that surrealism as a sustained collective activity
is something Americans had never tried before the 1960s. The U.S.
had nothing that could be called "surrealist traditions."
The young men and women who formed the Chicago Surrealist Group
had to start almost from scratch in developing a collective identity.
However much we corresponded with surrealist friends in other countries,
we knew that "for all practical purposes," as the expression
goes, we were on our own.
us, moreover, the surrealist compass always pointed toward the future.
"What remains for surrealism to do," we proclaimed in
1970, "far exceeds what surrealism has done." Bored by
the thought of covering old ground, we preferred to let ourselves
go. And so it came to pass that members of the Chicago Surrealist
Group ventured into more than a few domains where surrealism had
not made its presence felt before. Like the Sticktight Flea (Echidnophaga
gallinacea) of Georgia and the Golden Arrow-Poison Frog (Dendrobates
auratus) of Nicaragua, Chicago surrealism has never excelled at
standing still, but prefers to advance by leaps.
surrealism's dialecticas it has developed in Chicagoreceived
its fundamental impulse from Hegel, but it is a dialectic nourished
(critics might say: intoxicated) by Blake, Fourier, Emily Brontë,
Marx, Lautréamont, Vaché, Freud, Ferenczi, Fanon,
Malcolm X and Marcuse; by a century and a half of revolutionary
struggles all over the world; and by decades of surrealism, blues,
jazz and Bugs Bunny.
a society divided against itself, only those who strive to make
themselves anachronistic can solve the riddle of history. Only those
who are out of step with the times and who know the reason why are
truly contemporary. The resolution of such contradictions is what
surrealism is all about.
And isn't it obvious that only surrealists can supersede surrealism?
back to topics
Alchemy, By Any Means Necessary
"leaps," and much else that we do and dream, owe more
than a little to the ancient art of transmutation known as Alchemy:
a superb meansto borrow an expression of F. W. H. Myers, of
"maintaining life and love at a high degree of energy."
In surrealism today, as in no other intellectual current, the alchemical
adventure continues, restored and enlarged. In the splendorous engravings
of The Book of Lambspring, Michael Maier's Atalanta Fugiens
and Solomon Trismosin's Splender Solis, as in the treatises
of Eiranaeus Philalethes, Basil Valentine and Nicolas Flamel, we
recognize our own insurgent recalcitrancethe very substance
of poetryas well as our will to reestablish the unity and
equilibrium of the human psyche, so ravaged by an incoherent social
order. Like poetry, of course, alchemy is beyond the grasp of "believers"
and other dogmatists. The whole experience of surrealism confirms
that the surest way to the recovery of "lost powers" is
via what the alchemists of old called children's gamesa path
leading to a playful freedom far from the closed society of "initiates"
and "adepts." In surrealism, all doors and windows are
always, in the lovely phrase of Gherasim Luca, hermetically open.
back to topics
The Emancipation of Wilderness
of the many productive collisions of esoteric and exoteric that
have marked surrealism's forward motion throughout its history,
alchemical inspirations have combined with the revolutionary imperatives
of our time to bring forth a specifically surrealist ecology.
Like the alchemists of old, surrealists propose to overcome the
forces of disintegration by a radical reintegration: reintegration
not only of each individual's divided self, but also of the individual
and society, and of humankind and the planet. In their conception
of the natural world; their implicit (sometimes explicit) anti-anthropocentrism;
their critiques of racism, imperialism, sexism, positivist science,
work and "Progress" ; and their militant appreciation
of Native American and other "primitive" cultures, Breton
and his comrades departed radically from all ideologies of domination
and pointed the way toward the most defiantly "no compromise"
currents of radical environmentalism today.
theoretical elaboration of surrealism's ecological implications
has drawn on thinkers as varied as Spinoza and Amilcar Cabral, and
more particularly on an "underground" of American presurrealist
poetic thoughtThomas Morton, Melville, Dickinson, Thoreau,
Frank Hamilton Cushing, John Muir, Edward Bellamy, Mary Austin,
Robert Marshall, Zora Neale Hurston and others who, in their different
ways, dreamed of a world in which Nature and human nature were not
perceived as contradictory. The working out of this dialectic is
a project still in its beginnings. This much, however, is certain:
To defend the Marvelous today requires the absolute and unequivocal
defense of wilderness. Ecology will be revolutionary and
surrealist or it will be nothing at all!
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