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“Headless Consciousness” (2002) Drawing by Sotiris Liontos
What is surrealism? The question recurs, more than eighty years after its original formulation, to render explicit what should be by now self-evident, manifest, and, to a large extent, common to all humankind, in its long process toward mental liberation and social emancipation.
To start with, it is essential to note that surrealism is not a mere literary and artistic current of the avant-garde, complete with dates of birth and death, as is claimed in encyclopedias, dictionaries and histories of art and literature. Rather, it involves the bringing into consciousness, and tendency toward the total expression, of a project, whose early sparks illumined the nocturnal sky of the modern world, forming the monogram of a promise that, even if destined to remain unfulfilled (but who is to say this before we speak our final word?), the desire to approach its source, to harmonize with its perspective, is no less keenly felt.
As a human need, surrealism is neither confined within narrow spatial, social and historical limits, nor timeless. If its roots go a long way back, if it systematizes a network of signs that did seem to develop autonomously and blindly, unconscious of their profound contiguity, and if its manifestations continue to touch fleetingly those prevented from recognizing and naming it, the decision of its founding was no less factual; nor was it free of influences by those vibrations which traversed the intellectual and social horizon of the time. And if it emerged from a climate involving a series of “schools” or avant-garde currents, it harbored no illusions regarding its convergence with them. The historical context of its early expression furnished the conditions under which a potentiality becomes conscious, whose validation could only ensue by means of its transmission into the whole of human existence.
Surrealism thus lies within history, albeit not in the sense of a moment within the overall development of those modes that determine the perception and function of art. Which is to say that the movement’s “end” would not by any means guarantee the survival of its presumed “legacy” in the supposedly broader context of an indefinitely continuous avant-garde, given that this latter, being unthinkable as a concept but for the conditions that produced it and the limits entailed thereby, is also unable to guarantee its necessity in a world that changes without stifling the desire that still kindles the surrealist project. Besides, such an “end” cannot be regarded (as was once suggested) as the inevitable completion of a circle in the overall course of an “eternal” surrealism, for the sole possible destiny of a gesture that once collected the existent vibrations into an unprecedented bunch of energies is to scatter them once and for all upon its suspension, wholly indifferent to eternity. There are but two choices: either surrealism remains as ready as it has always been to recognize its end only in a more radical movement, one whose range surpasses its own; or the choice is formed to reject surrealism’s very perspectives as “historically irrelevant.” Yet the total resignation, the immobility of ideas and sensations that would ensue from such a conviction, would be an inconceivable choice for anyone who has experienced the unceasing transformation of desire along a thread tracing the outlines of the most intricate shapes, yet still answering to the same name.
Contrary to what we might believe, should we trust a convenient (to some) commonplace, surrealism is not an attempt to evade reality or escape from the everyday; it does not reduce everything to absurdity, nor does it tend toward the dissolution or fragmentation of all cognitive objects; it is not inclined to render its heterogeneous attributes into a static condition of apparent uniformity. It is, on the other hand, a consistent theory concerned with a fuller view and interpretation of the world. It represents a particular manner of conceiving, comprehending and negotiating life’s manifestations, with emphasis on a multitude of underrated or defamed aspects of the human intellect, in an effort toward the re-composition of the scattered and alienated human consciousness.
Surrealism is at once an integral way of contemplating and perceiving in its entire spectrum the nature of what is called life, and a specific stance toward the phenomena that comprise the world; its foremost aspirations being the radical change of the viewpoint by which humans regard life and reality, as well as the highlighting of their multidimensional substance. By demonstrating an absolute trust in improvised momentary inspirations, in the irresistible impulse of introspection as of the revocation (by the unconscious) of suppressed thoughts, desires and emotions, in verbal automatism, linguistic transport, mental spontaneity and abandonment to the unexpected discoveries of chance, surrealism incites humans to liberate their intellect from moral prejudices and social obligations, in order to widen the horizons of their perceptivity, thereby transforming entirely their living conditions within their direct social surroundings.
Surrealism aims at a total synthesis of the components and antinomies of reality, on an equal basis and in a continuous dialectical interaction, through the unceasing alternation of sovereign and passive roles in all the forms of their manifestations, as well as through the exposure of obscure and neglected sectors of the human imaginary and of their pure, undisguised projection upon the surface of consciousness. As a process, it is a perpetual pursuit of passages toward fresh mental analogies and unprecedented perspectives, toward a systematization of the human psyche that would include its so-called irrational components, without for all that giving rise to the establishment of a specific “irrational” schema at the epicenter of all actions and outlooks. Besides, the designation of these components in tandem with a certain so-called “stabilizing” mechanism that would impose their annihilation or shadowy survival implies an as-yet unresolved antithesis, that surrealism turns into potentiality, without ever reducing it to neutral coexistence.
Surrealism urges us to take full advantage of our capacity for overcoming our inherent contradictions, recognizing the magnetic affinity of its distinct elements. It denounces our survival within an appearance of life, as incomplete humans, powerless to face the world, deprived of our potential for inventing new myths and unsuspecting of the pleasures we do not dare experience, reluctant to release them from the innermost recesses of our consciousness, for fear of letting them lead us to places unknown. And yet the key which opens wide the doors of the surrealist fields lies within each one of us, and its handling does not require a user’s manual.
Surrealism is not a literary or artistic style that endeavors to be original or impressive, by virtue of stemming from the bizarre and the unreal. If it is placed, suspiciously, on the plane of aesthetic expression, this happens because it locates and reveals, at the very moment of its birth, that imaginary potential which, outside surrealism, is cut off from its relation to the psychic and social becoming and conducted into an alienated and autonomous sector. Yet surrealism is the placement, upon a total system of values, of the innate human need for the freest possible expression, outside of social, moral and ideological principles, beyond the suffocating contexts fixed by the dominant ideology of each given era, in order to impose, for purely authoritarian reasons, the concept of specific “models” for both thought and speech, with clearly delineated limits allowed to their expression.
Surrealism invests upon the liberating power of language; it estimates that, from a particular use of the latter, there may occur a generalized proposal for self-knowledge by means of the direct and unmasked recording of impressions, excitements, impulses and desires of all kinds, origins and forms, by whichever way these may emanate or be drawn into existence; to this end surrealism utilizes, without exception, all the mental data and abilities possessed by each person, and which, once traced and recorded, furnish direct proofs of the existence of self-sufficient realities, wherefrom they have occurred, or whose expressions they constitute, with no intervention from the rational process of explication, interpretation, evaluation or justification of their presence. By this course of self-knowledge, we are capable of reaching a fresh understanding of the concept and content of human freedom, assigning to it the most radical meaning possible, and considering it, not as some ideal projected onto a distant future, but as a perpetual risk, a matter of the utmost importance, directly felt amidst the signs of everyday experience, always prepared to be claimed and capable of leading us to a redefinition of human destiny.
Myth—a fundamental constant in surrealism—appears here stripped of metaphysical parameters, without for all that the conditions of the said parameters’ formulation being ignored. Surrealism is fully conscious of the fact that the desire traversing it has the explosive quality of the permanent invocation of those antitheses that are inherent in the human condition as it is experienced. If the human being’s alienation from the world is reflected on the components of its inner cosmography, surrealism activates revolutionary nostalgia, the perpetual search for the lost keys that would restore balance, without resorting to the alibi of expecting an otherworldly abolition of differences. The surrealist myth is an open one, precisely because it develops, by means of infinite orientations in the “forest of indices,” a course led by the drunkenness of potentiality, by derision toward the straight route, and whose outcome, being uncertain, prolongs the desire of its continuation. And if the shadow of negativity lurks upon each turn, if the course is scattered with a laughter whose outline is traced in blood, these are our guarantees that the road we have selected is far from being the safest.
When, as individual entities, we reach the point of accepting and correlating immediately and effortlessly the surrealist manifestations of the perceived phenomena, introducing them in a natural manner into our everyday lives; when we manage to recognize the value, both of the unconscious functioning of our individual existence, and of the discoveries of objective chance, those which kindle desire and conduct it into every single sector of our activity; then surrealism, as a way of thought and action, may become an indispensable human experience and carve itself into life, as one indivisible, absolute and multidimensional reality.
The study and analysis of dream phenomena, along with the visionary flashes of the impious imagination, which broaden the perspectives and multiply the probabilities regarding the practical application of our most profound desires—but also the inter-subjective communication of lovers, maintained at a state of pure spontaneity while, in each manifestation of its evolutionary process, continuing to pursue the marvelous—abolish the boundaries between distinct beings, as well as between the conceivable and the livable world, dream and wakefulness, thereby comprising all forms of human thought and behavior within a unique concept of the world upon its very becoming, whose every element may at any given moment be transformed into its opposite, die and be reborn.
Surrealism thus identifies itself with the ideal function of poetry, which is none other than the human mind’s ability, when in the state of the maximum possible freedom, to compose a series of particular or complementary realities, thereby creating, within a single and indissoluble whole, a total surreality. The condition of surreality is a feasible possibility of the human substance, one which may be attained when the mind, liberated from all external constraints, moral obstacles and acquired prejudices, proceeds to accomplish a synthesis between lived experience and imaginary invention, between a mythicized past and a future open to the nods of possibility; between, on the one hand, the non-negotiable individual freedom and the deepest human desires, and, on the other hand, the society in which one has been obliged to live—a society founded upon the manipulation of humans and the restriction of their rights.
Being potential poets, humans are endowed with the privilege, not only to conceive, but also to conquer the “surreal,” thereby touching upon a poetic mode of living and creating palpable poetry; one not limited to the writing of poetic texts, but which, stemming as it does from the indomitable creative force of the revolted subjectivity, from the individual will’s unquenchable desire for a life free of bounds, may expand over the space of a broader spectrum of activities, comprising unconscious impulses, latent wishes, the investigation of the dream world, the highlighting of the role played by instincts, the recollection of flights of fancy, the employment of black humor, the study of erotic passions, the extension of carnal pleasures and the necessity of practical action toward the transformation of everyday life.
Under the present conditions, surrealism may not necessarily be understood as a faithful attachment to the letter of whichever historic theses or declarations of the past; nor is it perceived as the dogmatic employment of certain “rules” or as the adoption of “behaviors” favored by some of its representatives, any more than it is a mere reproduction of the methods or defining characteristics manifested by its representatives at any given time. It is, rather, an outlook (as uncontrolled by the rationalist brake as possible) of rupture with the surrounding social conventions and the prevalent mental conservatism, and of a simultaneous revelation, by every means available, of our inner world’s obscure aspects, whose degree of uncensored disclosure is proportionate to our completion as human beings, as they lead us to the widest attainable mental and thereby social liberation.
Poetry, as a motive power of our aspirations, constitutes a process of mental feedback, which stems from our inmost individual needs and mirrors each aspect of our emotional world, thereby violating the limits of the communicative function of language, transforming the semantics of words and overcoming the collective stereotypes and social ideologemes of each given era. Surrealist creators, exercised in mental wakefulness and extended sensory receptivity, replace the aesthetic criteria of reception and evaluation of their products with a high degree of self-knowledge, which permits at once the outward flow, as liberated and uncensored as possible, of their poetic expressions at any given time, and their immediate recording, free of restrictions, prohibitions and exclusions. The investigation of all that is mysterious, apparently paradoxical, ambiguous and enigmatic, defying moral prejudices and metaphysical pretexts; the search for analogies and correspondences between the inner facts of the mind and the outer phenomena of life; these contribute to the exhaustive exploration of all the aspects of our consciousness, to the abolition of its boundaries and to the struggle against the obstacles erected by the force of habit.
When facing the prevalent view with respect to the role of art, whichever form this may assume, we as surrealists avoid all one-dimensional interpretations of the world; we do not negotiate its phenomena by means of rationalism; we are radically opposed to the concepts of talent as “gift” and of inspiration as “god-sent”; we are not after originality and publicity; we avoid stereotypes and commonplaces, without for all that entertaining delusions of innovation or pretending to fight amongst the ranks of an avant-garde now devoid of content; we discourage self-complacency and egocentrism; we do not wish to cultivate a certain eccentricity of an ornamental type; we do not favor sensationalism; we do not resort to affectation; we do not allow ourselves to succumb to mannerism; we are not lenient to ourselves; we do not wish to produce works of art; we are not interested in literary activity; we do not indulge in the reproduction of cultural palimpsests; while we feel nothing but contempt for ideologized locality and the ethnocentric idealizations of the cultural layers pertinent to this or any other country. We are thus radically opposed to the concept (favored by today’s establishment) of postmodernism, whereby, in the total absence of subversive concepts, everything is mingled with everything else, in an abstract fashion, resisting all assessment and shying away from the merest shadow of a movement along the direction of human liberation.
Susceptible to an availability based on the unhindered articulation of desires, employing plastic or written expression merely as the most suitable media for transmitting the surrealist messages, we consider our involvement in collective organization, and the consequent manifestation of our presence as an autonomous surrealist initiative, to be imperatively essential in clarifying our oppositional stance vis-à-vis the existing social and cultural environment, while seeking to renegotiate on a new basis our situation in a world that ignores our deepest needs, thwarts our inmost desires and suppresses every attempt toward their free expression.
In the present status quo of mental enervation, social decay and cultural stagnation, we estimate that the experience of common action and participation in the surrealist adventure will at the very least fulfill our elementary aspirations, thereby creating the essential preconditions for a fertile collective osmosis; one that will permit us to oppose the self-powered satisfaction of our most profound wishes to the notions of profit and authority, adopting a series of sensory practices capable of liberating passions, feeding our will for actual life and capturing the secret pulse of things, revealing the unnamable and attempting a radical reversal of perspectives, in order to evade alienation and the lowering of our resistances.
Without denying the value of individual affirmation and the products of solitary creation, we are well aware that a collective enterprise in the exercise of surrealist activity, whose unanimous operation is inspired by confidence in the justness of its aims, may achieve what a single individual, being prey to assimilation, ignorance and failure, is more or less condemned to abandon. Our foremost motive regarding the necessity of common action is our desire to participate in the surrealist experience, risking much more than what is promised by a sheltered life founded on compromises and disguised insecurities. By both creating a fertile interpersonal environment, rich in challenges and incitements, and taking full advantage of the merits entailed by a vigilant collective intelligence, we may reach a wider-encompassing mental level allowing us to perceive the world via the most complete possible synthesis of its components.
Our decision to employ in practice a number of collective methods to the end of approaching the surrealist ideal constitutes a conscious attempt to liberate ourselves entirely from the mechanisms of the cultural establishment and of the institutionalized directions followed by the latter’s manifestations, imposed and validated either by attachment to tradition and submission to some sort of mental appeasement, or by the whims of fashion, via the shameless promotion of trivialities under the guise of masterworks and the conversion of commonplace, formally facile and ideologically anodyne cultural products into significant aesthetic artifacts. Thus, in the current social-mental context, bound by inertia and stagnancy, we perceive ourselves as cultural/conscientious agitators rather than artists, maintaining our indefeasible rights of self-definition and self-determination; at the same time we declare our incompatibility with any “innovative” or so-called modernizing tendency of some “enlightened” avant-garde appealing to its own authority in order to persuade of its nonexistent radicalism those unsuspecting and ignorant, whilst being riddled with evident tendencies of elitism, pretentiousness and haughty intellectualism.
To those who, evidently envious and openly hostile, dismiss our overall attitude and endeavor to depreciate the significance of our undertaking, demanding from us certificates of authenticity and confirmations of legitimacy, we state boldly that their opinion leaves us completely indifferent, to the extent that their discourse is by now devoid of all revolutionary significance, having lost a long time ago any validity it may once have had. Besides, the importance and range of our enterprise may be assessed mostly on the basis of the clarity and precision of our intentions, and validated according to the adequacy of our arguments.
Instigators of aggressive energy, converts to a mysterious alchemy of the word and the image, possessors of a disturbing ability to propagate magic, we develop fully the limpidity of sensual delirium and derive our inspiration from the sensitive intelligence of children, from the imprudent madness manifested by the subjects of erotic passions and from the primitiveness of sexuality revealed in puns, in the metaphorical uses of words, in the audacious linguistic inventions and the undermining employment of images, which sow confusion over the geometry of power, without ever ceasing to transmit simultaneously the contradictory messages of life and of death.
Yannis Alexandropoulos, Makis Chrysostomidis, Dimitris Dimitriadis,
Diamantis Karavolas, Lena Konstantelou, Tasos Lizos, Sotiris Liontos,
Elias Melios, Nikos Stabakis, Yorgos Yannopoulos
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