December 15, 2003

Surrealism & philosophy

Trevor, you may not know but most of my books from the academic days are stored away in boxes in the store room in the holiday shack at Victor Harbor. I do not have shelf space for them in town. The books have been stored that way for several years.

Late this morning I started unpacking a box of art/aesthetic books, and I came across some old texts on surrealism. There was a catalogue of a dada/surrealist exhibition at the MOMA in the 1960s, Andre Breton's First Surrealist Manifesto and The Philosophy of Surrealism by Ferdinard Alquie, which was published in 1969.

These texts caught my eye as I remembered these remarks you made earlier post:

"I would argue that surrealism is not an alternative practical philosophy in this sense, with a vision for a future reconciled state of affairs. In fact, it is not a philosophy at all, even if it leads to certain philosophical pronouncements. It stands in essentially the same relation to reason as does poetry. Hegel's view of art came from his systematic theory, rather than from observing the character of actual art. If any story is out of date according to our current sensibilities it is Hegel's. Max Weber's view is much closer to our own.

You call this reconciliatory surrealism Bretonian surrealism. You may be right. I have not given enough thought to Breton to say one way or another. Perhaps we could pursue the matter further in the near future."

Both of the above texts are highly influenced by Andre Breton's psychological understanding of surrealism, dream image, automatic writing, and beyond reason, and aesthetic and moral preoccupations.

The MOMA catalogue's understanding of surrealism the firstr wave of surrealism emphasises the interior image that points to what had been inaccessible (the unconcscious); rather than the perceptions of objects in everyday life. What is highlighted is the juxtaposition of images common in free assocation and dreams:
Joan Miro Landscape (The Hare), 1927.
It is all about the visionary, poetics and metaphoric order. A literary informed unconscious mindscape as it were:
Yves Tanguy, Old Horizon, 1928

The MOMA catalogue mentions the rupture in surrealism in the late 1920s, Breton's Second Surrealist Manifesto of 1929, and the arrival of Salvador Dali. There is no mention of Bataille or the reasons for the fallout between Breton and Bataille. The MOMA text is an art history of the European avant garde, its transplant to New York in the 1940s and its death knell in 1947 with the rise of Jackson Pollock, drip painting and abstract expressionism.

Though the word philosophy is used, there is no exploration of the relationship between philosophy and surrealism. This is an art history blind to the aesthetic categories it uses.

In The Philosophy of Surrealism Ferdinard Alquie says that surrealisim is the pathway of emotion, dream, reverie, poetry madness and rejecting constraints and limits. He identifies surrealism with Breton:

"...the definition of surrealism would become unweildy if distinquished from Breton's expressed ideas taken as a whole.To ask who really has or has not been surrealist would end in insoluble quarrels over words--- any refernce to surrealism an sich being naturally impossible. As those splitting with Breton have generally ceased to call themselves surrealists, we can consider Breton's thought and as essence and norm for the philosophy of surrealism without wronging anyone."

That does away with Bataille. That does away with the ugly. We are left with truth and beauty.

On this account surrealism involves an "authentic theory of love, of life, of the imagination, of the relations between man and the world. All this presupposes a philosophy" which Alquie then tries to isolate and define through the work of Breton.

In aesthetic terms the opposition between beauty and the sublime (on the one hand desire and the pleasurable experience of the beautful, and on the other hand, the pleasures of the fearful or terrifying experience of the sublime) is collapsed.

Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at December 15, 2003 12:46 PM | TrackBack


I tried to create some contributions about the surrealism in the following pages:
Please criticize my studies.

Best regards,
Mazhar Togrul
Surrealist Artist

Posted by: Mazhar Togrul on March 21, 2004 01:10 AM
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