Excerpts from the Introduction to the concluding section of
Surrealist Women: An International Anthology
New beauties kindle, and new joys arise!
In a 1981 symposium on “Surrealism Today and Tomorrow,” David Roediger suggested that “the maturation of major women surrealist theoreticians will vastly expand the already wide horizons of the movement.” Certainly, in the world such as it is today, there is plenty for surrealism’s critical theorists to do! The recent writings of Haifa Zangana, Eva Svankmajerová, Alena Nádvorníková, Silvia Grenier, Hilary Booth, Nancy Joyce Peters, Rikki Ducornet, Alice Farley, Elaine Parra, Ivanir de Oliveira, Nicole Reiss, and the poems (which double as manifestoes) by Jayne Cortez, Carmen Bruna and Petra Mandal, are examples of bold, adventurous inquiry, rejection of dogmatism, critical interpretation as a poetic activity, absolute divergence from ruling ideologies, and a fresh start of the most desirable kind of utopian dreaming… In surrealism today, poetry, critical theory and revolutionary activity are perceived as one and indivisible. In their search for ways out of the social prison of the global commodity economy, such writings help fulfill Leonora Carrington’s recent call for “surrealist survival kits” to enable us to get through these terrible times.
Since 1968, as we have seen, surrealism has been increasingly recognized throughout the world as a forerunner and catalyst of many of the most daring and creative developments in contemporary culture and politics. However, surrealism’s current viability—as a continuing current of ideas and as a living and organized movement—is a question that most critics and historians have chosen to ignore. Surrealism has been pronounced dead so many times (André Breton told an audience of U.S. college students in 1942 that its obituaries had appeared just about every month since the movement began) that few writers have bothered to look at the plentiful evidence of its present-day vitality.
This favoring of the past over the present is part of the modus operandi of the disciplines which thus far have taken surrealism as a field of study. It is no secret that art criticism, art history, and museum curatorship have generally been bastions of social conservatism. Those whose job it is to preserve and protect the traditions of the status quo prefer to look on surrealism as a dead cultural artifact.Living surrealism remains an embarrassing problem, an irritating nuisance that they prefer to ignore.
At the time, the 1960s surrealist resurgence did attract considerable attention, even in the U. S. That was because the volatile cultural/political climate of those years fostered the growth of worldwide countermedia (radical and “underground” press, films, etc.) which in turn made it harder for Establishment media to ignore the real (i.e., eye-opening, revolutionary) news of the day. In stark contrast, the great majority of recent academic literature on the subject in the U.S. pretends almost unanimously not to notice that anything has happened in surrealism since World War II.
One reason why contemporary surrealism seems to provoke so much consternation among critics and scholars as well as the general public is because it “fails” to copy the “classic” models of surrealism now on display in museums, and therefore is not “entertaining” enough. Prisoners of frozen categories who complain, viewing a painting by Eva Svankmajerová or an object-box by Michele Finger, “Thatdoesn’t look like surrealism to me!” show only that they have missed the whole point. The liberation of the imagination can never be reduced to a mere style of art or a type of literary production, much less a form of amusement. In poetry, painting, collage, sculpture, photography, film, dance, games, critical theory and politics, surrealism is always new because the subversive imagination is always right now when you need it, ready or not.
Without coherence — that is to say, without the real recognition of a certain progress in this direction, let us say, since Gotenborg (this progress seems blindingly obvious to me), and the permanent perfection of this progress — the SI of today must be considered to be without interest (and thus, given the part that we have played in it, of negative interest for us).
The primary condition for coherence is obviously the choice of people who join the SI. The greatest obstacle to coherence is the refusal of this choice or its quantitative and qualitative sabotage.
Coherence implies that, as [both] precondition and consequence, none of the situationists can be regarded so inferior (or superior) with respect to the others that dialogue with him [or her] on a single subject would be impossible. A fortiori, none of us can ever feign such a “regard.”
Coherence finds its only measure in communal praxis (even when this praxis is limited to theoretical activity for some time).
We must base trust between us upon coherence. And not the reverse.
We must be able to trust each other in the present (always tacitly renewable) and never abstractly in the future. If we admit that our agreement must be unbreakable, then it is no longer anything. Not only is the complex richness of the future trampled — for the group and for each one of us — but one also ends up rendering current deficiencies uncorrectable and intangible. (In reality-in-movement, in which things that don’t get better get worse, the situation will no doubt end up much worse: providing future weapons or intelligence against us to people who, despite all of our “good intentions,” will quickly pass through the SI and then combat it, which has already happened.)
When one asks, as Attila [Kotanyi] has, to humanize our attitude towards “errors” that one or the other of our comrades will inevitably commit, one is fundamentally mistaken: one speaks as if the exclusions, motivated by individual or collective anger (it matters little which), were intended to “punish” a single ”mistake.” In reality, each exclusion has responded to a consistent and significant series of hostile gestures, not to punish them, but to defend our very “existence.”
When Attila speaks of quasi-constitutional guarantees to avoid “liquidations” or the problem of controlling information, he in fact poses the question of power within the SI. [And he does so] In terms that are applied to power in global society rather than in a free association of individuals (who forbid themselves from using the dubious services of “disciples”). I believe that this is the root of the misunderstanding with Attila at Antwerp.
What clearly characterizes power in global society is the exploitation of the work of others. I believe that in the SI no one has neither the will nor the means to exploit the “work” of anyone else. (The contrary opinion was held by Frankin, but it was frankly crazy. If one were to follow it on this ridiculous sub-economic terrain, one could just as well say that Frankin himself had exploited the editorial work that I have done on all of his formulated ideas, which even Arguments would refuse to publish. But the flaw in his reasoning comes earlier: Frankin presents several “heretical” ideas, which he only formulated in the course of his dialogue with the SI, as recognized economic values, and then suddenly claims private ownership [cave canem]! He has ceaselessly poured out these ideas in letters to and personal conversations with all the Morins of the world, which is quite fortunate because these people have stolen from him without compensation.) Even Lefebvre, when he is so inspired by us, doesn’t “exploit” our work. He is simply a bit inelegant on the intellectual plane, because he retreated from a communal action (true dialogue) with us. And that is what is serious.
If we consider the SI to be the equivalent of a form of society and manage it as such, our anti-hierarchical principles would obligate us, the very next week, to lead a phalansterian life in which ludic communism had to be realized upon the basis of poverty (needs and labor measured in an egalitarian way). If we estimate that our humor doesn’t go that far, we must no longer accept the torturous rhetoric of the “as if,” which is opposed to the dialectic of the real.
A second vital condition of coherence is that the situationists debate their possible actions, at each step, in the perspective of actual execution (knowing what they are doing, what will be what and where, accounting for a decent percentage of delays and errors), and not in the perspective of an intimidating eloquence that, each time, could designate what is the most urgent and the most central asalways elsewhere (which isn’t an alternative solution that has been proposed against this type of real action, but the art of skimming over this action by washing one’s hands of it).
(Unpublished text, drafted by Guy Debord around the time of the public break between the situationists and Henri Lefebvre, circa February 1963. Post-humously published in Oeuvres Completes,Gallimard, 2006. Translated from the French by NOT BORED! January 2010. All notes by the translator.)
 The Fifth Conference of the Situationist International, held in Goteberg, Sweden, on 28-30 July 1961.
 A reference to the Nashists’ attempt to fill the SI with members from Scandanavia.
 The Sixth Conference of the SI was held in Antwerp on 12-16 November 1962. Among other issues, the question of situationist coherence was debated.
 Andre Frankin, a Belgian situationist, resigned from the SI in September 1961.
 Latin for “Beware of dog.”
 Edgar Morin (born 1921) founded and directed the magazine Arguments (1954-1962).
 The situationists accused the sociologist Henri Lefevbre, with whom they had developed a relationship between 1960 and 1962, of plagiarizing their text on the Paris Commune.
 A reference to the self-sustaining cooperative communities founded by the followers of Charles Fourier.
1. One cannot reduce chance. One can [merely] know all of the limited possibilities of chance in the existing conditions (statistics).
2. In known conditions, the role of chance is conservative. Thus, games of chance do not give way to any novelty. Likewise, the readers of cards play upon the very small number of possibilities [de hasards] that might exist in someone’s private life. They often “foresee” events to the extent that an average individual’s life is as impoverished as the classical variants of their own predictions.
3. All progress, all creation, is the organization of new conditions of chance.
4. At this superior level, chance is really unforeseeable — amusing — for a certain period of time, but the new field of chance sets other limits to its action, and these limits will come to be precisely studied and known.
5. Man does not desire chance as such. He desires more, and he expects from chance the encounter with what he desires. This is a passive and reactionary situation (cf. the surrealist mystification) if it isn’t corrected by the invention of concrete conditions that determine the movement of desirable chances.
(Written by Guy Debord on 23 May 1957, but never published during his lifetime.)
From Not Bored
Overheard at the local anarchist cafe this evening. A man mansplaining that he believed in
Best mash up of washed-up moronic thinking since 1980s Euro “Third Positionists” chanted “Mao and Hitler United in Struggle”.
One need only read what the accused have written for it to be obvious that these five students, scarcely more than adolescents, lacking any experience of real life, their minds confused by ill-digested philosophical, social, political and economic theories and bored by the drab monotony of their everyday life, have the pathetic arrogance to make sweeping denunciations of their fellow students, their professors, God, religion, the clergy, and the governments and political and social systems of the entire world. Rejecting all morality and legal restraint, these cynics do not shrink from to advocating theft, the destruction of scholarship, the abolition of work, total subversion and a permanent worldwide proletarian revolution with “unrestrained pleasure” as its only goal.