Memphis Minnie's Blues Link







"A little pure wilderness is the one great present want."
-John Muir

stormy petrel
Stormy Petrel
(about 5 1/2in. long)





The Forecast is Hot continued

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Dialectic x Dialectic x Dialectic
At 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.

It 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.

For 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.

Methodologically, surrealism's dialectic—as it has developed in Chicago—received 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.

In 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?

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Alchemy, By Any Means Necessary
Those "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 means—to 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 recalcitrance—the very substance of poetry—as 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 games—a 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.

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The Emancipation of Wilderness

One 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.

Our 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 thought—Thomas 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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