Monday, March 31, 2014

A Game of Refutation

March's game in the What Will Be almanac was A Game Of Refutation, proposed by the Paris Surrealist Group. The purpose of the game is to loosen reason's hold on reality and to gain access to a different, more 'unreasonable' kind of truth.

We played the game according to the instructions given in the almanac. The first stage of the game is that one player selects a photograph and writes a short and deliberately 'unreasonable' interpretation of it. Merl Fluin presented the following photograph and interpretation to the other players:


Here we have a typical scene in an NHS hospital waiting room. These two happy ladies have come to accompany their friend, who has an outpatients’ appointment. The gentleman on the left is a representative of a local charity which has supplied turf and hedges so that everyone can amuse themselves with a little light gardening while they wait, and perhaps even grow a few vegetables if they start getting hungry. Their friend, alas, whom they have seated in the middle so that she can have a good view of the green-fingered fun, has a terrible wasting disease which means that she has kept on shrinking and shrinking until her head and limbs no longer extend beyond the hems of her clothes. But with typical British pluck she refuses to be downhearted. The lady on the right has had the words of patriotic songs tattooed onto her face and body, and they can all hear the muffled voice of their sickly friend singing Land Of Hope And Glory from inside her quilted overalls. That’s why everyone in the picture is smiling.

In the second stage of the game, the other players provided refutations of Merl's interpretation:

Hahahahaha. Are you deluded? Is this a dream, or a delirium? This is no hospital, but backstage at the Third Annual Throat-Singing Competition. The woman on the right catalogues the lyrics on her body; the one in the middle puts the singers’ national flag round their necks as they sing; and the suited man, of course, is the host. The spare suit for the flag-bearing woman is kept in readiness because, of course, no self-respecting throat-singer wants a national flag hung around their neck, so she often finds her clothes being spat on, torn, and egged by audience and singers alike. The man in the background is a hapless volunteer who accidentally superglued his hand to his hat, and he hasn’t yet worked out that he could simply take his hat off to stop the aching in his arm.
Elva Josef

This is paranoia and not real. Looking at us hungrily…these are not patients but doctors, not waiting for treatment, waiting for the poison to kick in so they can take our organs, which they will place in the green basket…a ‘charitable donation’ they will say. They put them in baskets to contain them, and the threaded wicker allows for breathing, porous. They put them in baskets because of manners/social etiquette which is to dream of teddy bears and picnics with bloody jam sandwiches which can never be ate because of a threaded mouth, just smudged in circular motions around and around in the fur…eventually the whole body is a mass of clumpy/sticky/matted fur…ordered and negotiated by neat and luscious hedges…all a case of keeping up appearances. Invented purely for the green basket, its better half. Appreciatively the green basket inhales, Thank kings and queens for tiny little holes in the skin!
And you can only smile (which is equivalent to eating) for so long before being reduced to organs, jammy mass, spinning on a teddy bears mouth/ mortal.
And im pretty sure they are all headless really, and I am just imagining faces. Limbless really and I am just imagining limbs. What we are seeing is the digestion of OUR organs, under those clothes, twined together (as you would the innards of taxidermy, or thread a teddy bear). Twisted bastards. Never the less they are representatives of localness, locality. They represent the jammy mass and so are charitable, good people, good good good. Thank you for your donation.
the man in the distance looks over at us and not them.
Our organs are going to GREAT BRITAIN (in a green wicker basket)
Kirsty Woods

Here we have a gathering of witches and a high priest for an unholy Sabbath. The suit belonged to a child lost at sea and never found. Filled with finely ground seashells and charcoal, it has been placed prominently in position to allow a fleeting return of the boy’s soul. The high priest runs a coal supply company and has donated two sacks for this gathering. These will be made into red-hot coal beds, upon which strangers will be made to dance gracefully. All this makes for a successful evening and that is why everyone is smiling.
Patrick Hourihan

No. This is behind the scenes at a Grand Prix in Switzerland, where the skivvies of big tobacco companies are forced to await their call to work. The woman on the right is a secretary for one of the motor-racing teams. The company makes her buy her own stationery, so she has taken to writing memos on her skin. The woman next to her is an agent for a tobacco company, who has been sent to prevent discontent among these poorly paid hirelings. She has dressed in the uniform of a track scavenger (one of the people who pick valuables from dead drivers trapped in burning wreckage) to hide her identity. The disguise has failed miserably, because her hat is made of paper, her scarf is cut from a banner for the Swiss People’s Party, and her large knife is barely concealed beneath her coat. Behind her is the body of a minion who had to be chastised on a previous occasion. The head, hands and feet were removed with a handsaw and displayed to the cheering advertising executives lining the trackside. The rest of the corpse was then mounted here as a warning to the other serfs. Beside the two women stands a local weather presenter, whom the company agent is about to dismember on the suspicion of child abuse. A police investigation will subsequently find this suspicion to be baseless, although the presenter was, everyone agreed, a charmless loner. In the background can be seen two track scavengers drawing up an inventory of valuables found on the corpse of a driver killed during a time trial that has not yet finished.
Paul Cowdell

This is in fact, not an NHS waiting room but a candid moment backstage during rehearsals in Geneva where, due to public spending cuts, the UK’s entry for the 2014 Eurovision Song Contest has been amalgamated into the delegation representing British quantum theory research at the CERN large Hadron Collider.
To the left of the group, Roger Black, Britain’s 400m silver medallist at the 1997 World Athletic Championship can be seen as official ambassador of the GB Olympic Committee.
The empty suit belongs in fact to none other than Patrick Moore, icon of British TV astronomy for over 50 years, and is the official mascot for this year’s British entry.
The group, made up of 2 ex-members of Bucks Fizz, have the lyrics to their song ‘Boom Boom Big Banger Bang Bang’ written – in binary code – on post-it notes stuck to their clothes in a last ditch attempt to remember all the lyrics in time for their big night.
Paul Day

In the third and final stage of the game, the players together compared and discussed all of the interpretations and refutations in order to excavate a further layer of poetic truth:

This is a dream Switzerland. There is a state of ritual with singing. It involves gathering organs from a child lost at sea in order to create a sea for a landlocked country. The child will then be lost again in this new sea, in a self-perpetuating cycle. Only countries with an oceanic border are allowed into the throat-singing competition, and a league of landlocked countries is established to discuss their specific concerns. They are setting up border agencies to scare away migrants.
The refutations are refutations of detail, not of tone, and we thought about where the latent desire might be. This is clearly their dream, and we are looking into their dreams in order to cut off their heads. The ritual is to enable this.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

The Dice Game

February's game in the What Will Be almanac was the Dice Game, devised by the Portland Surrealist Group (2001–2008).

Each player in turn rolls two dice and rapidly says a phrase or sentence comprised of the number of words shown on the dice. The dice are then quickly passed to the next player, who continues the narrative.

We played two rounds of this game and made audio recordings of the results, transcribed below.

*

There were three men who ate straw cakes. It was a dark night of fire, and yellow pigtails were coming out of the north wind, which howled and whined and left in their traces a soft. There are too many fish in the pie with open windows. But that’s quite alright because then it fell sideways through a open door and into the great wall of darkness in which the open windows were shut once more. And six snakes left on the cube were finishing the reading of a book in the middle of an empty casket which had fallen from underneath the eleven sisters of nightmare who were eating those straws again. Something strange was about to happen. Nobody quite knew what it would be, so then a small piece of sugar tongue tray. So this is your secret, and only time will tell whether we’re going to be able to eat enough of these colossal empty octopus figures in which my old grandmother took out her false teeth and opened a new stanza of words. Down the passage way, the open casket found its way into the moonlight where a fox was eating bananas leaves and swimming naked in the shark infested lava pools of America. He.

*

Small children playing with fire are never quite dowsed in petrol, until you put them in the bucket with water. It’s usually at that point that sugar cubes fall off tables and under the large tapestries which hang among the corpses of unburied giant anteaters which go backwards because their hair is triangular. But in the morning the dead never walk, because it is too easy a solution. Instead, they tend to congregate in halls and under Chihuahuas where they chew on straw cakes made of backwards-looking fish. Afterwards, she decided that the supermarket didn’t like her, so left to her own devices and sporting a geranium in pockets, she took out a gun and fired it into the midst of the small children who were eating lemon-flavoured cookies in which someone had put a very, very small bomb which exploded and caused pelican chaos throughout the night because the pope could not decide between apples and pears. Meanwhile, in another part of the forest, spores were erupting from the elementary forces under the wood. When it was time to go home, the pixies put their belongings under the Vatican umbrella, so everybody could have a good body in the winterland of the mind. But a cattleprod that worked its way under the fingernails had not yet developed into a small, round, peculiar, spotted duck. It floated on a stream of piss, which was quite smelly but it didn’t matter because black wasps were stinging each side of her face without knowing which way up was, and so they went down because it was faster than going up. But we went sideways out of orange, and into a bleak setting. They were freezing the waltz, and cats chewed on the hedges of a surface. Nevertheless, the numbers two do not add up to anything sensible, so that is why I never go out with an umbrella under my wig. It so happens that just the day before, I had forgotten to pick up my lips. They were left to be thrown across the room without prejudice. This means that, unlike the blistered elbow, the red-bottomed orang-utan had not managed any mischief that day, so he picked his nose with a pipe cleaner. This was the nun’s favourite dream, because it was the dead of night. “I’m getting near to the end of my tether now,” she spat playfully, and wondered why nodoby else could see the ghosts which had congregated under that umbrella that I left. Carpet burn of the soul can be great fun because we know that edible trout can be found in every person’s thinking part, and even the unthinking part. “One more thing,” she said. “Totally.” “I wish I’d remembered to eat of my greens,” said the tortoise to the bishop. So tomorrow can be another day. Or then again, perhaps it can be exactly the same as yesterday, or not. I do not know where this coffee cup came from. I must throw it onto the fire until it cooled down and started another speech for today.

*

The players were Paul Cowdell, Paul Day, Merl Fluin, Patrick Hourihan, Elva Josef and Jonah Wilberg. 


Thursday, February 13, 2014

Analogical Bone Garden

What Will Be contains an almanac of 12 Surrealist games, one for each month of the year.

January's game is the Analogical Bone Garden, devised by the Stockholm Surrealist Group. The game was inspired by a dream by Mattias Forshage in which he visited a cemetery that was also an almanac.

We played the game according to the instructions given in the book. Each of us decided upon a concrete object that we associated with the month of January. Having told each other the objects we had decided, we all collectively discussed and figured out the abstract principle uniting all of the objects, in order to deduce the overall theme for January. In our case the process was lengthy and required a Venn diagram; the theme we discovered in this way was REANIMATION.




Over the next few weeks we all individually went away and collected further associations with this theme, primarily in the form of found objects.

We then reconvened with our objects and experiences and created a three-dimensional scene embodying the principle of REANIMATION.





  







This game was played in London by Paul Cowdell, Paul Day, Kristoffer Flammarion, Merl Fluin, Elva Jozef, Patrick Hourihan and Kirsty Woods

Monday, February 10, 2014

What Will Be: Almanac of the International Surrealist Movement


We are delighted to have contributed to What Will Be / Ce qui sera / Lo que será, an almanac of the international Surrealist movement edited by Laurens Vancrevel and Her de Vries.

The book features more than 170 contributions – images, poetic texts, theoretical reflections, polemics and enquiry responses – from 25 countries, a compendium of Surrealist games, and a chronology of the movement from 1964 to the present.

The book is available in paperback from Lulu.

Sunday, February 02, 2014

Liberty in Question: Responses to an Enquiry from the Paris Group of the Surrealist Movement


Collage: Paul Cowdell, Merl Fluin, Patrick Hourihan, Elva Jozef, Jonah Wilberg, Kirsty Woods
 
Dear friends,

We are launching an enquiry the ambition of which is to identify what the surrealist spirit might still mean in a world that appears to have integrated surrealism into its references and discourses, but in reality tramples upon its major demands.

It seems to us necessary, firstly, to clarify what the watchwords love, poetry and freedom stand for today.

We begin by challenging freedom, with three questions that you can answer with a word, a sentence or a long speech, or even criticizing the question. All contributions would be welcome.

1 - Does the word freedom still seem to you, here and now, inspiring?

This seems an oddly anxious question. It seems designed to encourage a rather unconvincingly loud ‘YES!’ in the face of difficult odds. The question’s uneasiness points to a more general anxiety in the enquiry as a whole, moreover, that loses the very point of freedom.

Idque apud imperitos humanitas vocabatur, cum pars servitutis esset

The history of oppression is littered with the oppressors claiming the language of the oppressed. They would have our labour, our lives, our loves, our dreams, and even the very words out of our mouths, but this is not a fight for a dictionary.

The word ‘freedom’ is only a shorthand summary of a world we have not yet made, not yet invented, not yet even imagined. I’m much more interested in making and inventing that world, but I’m not prepared to let go of the words. They also have a part in that future, necessary, world, and we want them too.

The attempted appropriation of such words by our enemies, those who would deny us that future, may play a rather limited role in drawing attention to the need to reclaim them. As a student under the Thatcher government I remember explicitly focusing on their use of words like ‘liberty’, ‘freedom’, ‘democracy’ etc. If I felt frustrated in their use of words that for me signified a better future yet to be made rather than their corporate shithole, I also felt that I had to find ways to change the world to make that future.

The ruling classes internationally are increasingly employing such words to justify bloody crimes. State surveillance and the curtailment of democratic rights are justified in the defence of ‘freedom’. In Britain the mantra of all sections of the ruling class for the last decade has been that ‘if you are innocent you have nothing to fear’ from escalating police intrusion. The British ruling class has already started marking the anniversary of World War I by defending its wholesale slaughter as a ‘just’ war, a ‘war for democracy’, etc.

Such lies do meet an instinctual gut opposition, suggesting that the words have not lost their force but there is still a striving towards their content.

2 - Do you think that freedom could scare some to the degree that they prefer servitude?

I find this a deeply unpleasant and self-congratulatory question. It shifts the blame for capitalism’s crimes onto its victims. The question provides a licence to dismiss those who may not yet have found ways of articulating their hostility to this most crushing of political environments by simply branding them ‘scared’. At the same time it can be used to excuse the Elect, those who are pleased with themselves for not being scared, from any political or poetic engagement to shatter this brutal world. After all, they do not ‘prefer servitude’ …

3 - In a recent review (Le Monde, 11th October 2013 - ‘Trois poètes libertaires’) we read: “... this pre- and post-war spirit of surrealism, which may seem so distant now, in its radical and desperate freedom.” Do you agree with this judgment?

The liberal press is the vehicle for all the attempts to take these words out of our mouths. In the past, when times have been good enough for liberals to be comfortable, they have been able to mouth some bland progressive platitudes. This led some to think they were a sort of ally of radical and revolutionary.

They never were, notwithstanding the former political associations of people like Edwy Plenel. It was just that they had comfort enough to feel the pangs of social conscience. Now that times are bad for them too they will become more vitriolic than ever. We have a duty to defend the real history of Surrealism, but let’s not spend all our time taking up point after point against these most insipid and crushing of hostile voices. Attempting to convince liberals is hardly a way to expend our energy – what would we get for our pains? What would constitute success in this field?

Nothing can make radical and desperate freedom seem remote more effectively than spending our time in this way. A much more fruitful response would be to get on with our investigation and transformation, not wondering what the neighbours think of us behind their net curtains. Such anxiety about what the papers say will itself facilitate the further recuperation of Surrealism. To disprove that requires more confidence in what we do and say ourselves than in the authority of the papers.

This question accepts the premise outlined in the enquiry’s introduction, that the modern world has ‘integrated’ Surrealism’s ‘references and discourses’. We’re not fighting for ‘references and discourses’, we’re fighting for Surrealism and Surrealisation. The newspapers will, in any case, carry on saying this kind of stuff. We need to continue inventing and creating and loving and dreaming the world that is necessary to break out of this hell.


Paul Cowdell

Collage: Paul Cowdell, Merl Fluin, Patrick Hourihan, Elva Jozef, Jonah Wilberg, Kirsty Woods


We are launching an enquiry the ambition of which is to identify what the surrealist spirit might still mean in a world that appears to have integrated surrealism into its references and discourses, but in reality tramples upon its major demands.

This enquiry seems to me to be largely pointless. It is from the Surrealist group in Paris, and seems to have been distributed to Surrealist groups elsewhere in the world. It is to be presumed, therefore, that both those posing the questions and those answering them are already convinced that the Surrealist spirit does indeed still have profound and urgent meaning. If we thought that the Surrealist spirit were no longer meaningful, we would simply have abandoned it, and we would therefore not be answering this enquiry. Perhaps there are some members of the Surrealist movement who enjoy repeating to themselves and each other what they already know, who find comfort in reaffirming basic principles over and over again as if they were new revelations. We all need comfort from time to time in this vile world we live in, and the recitation of platitudes can serve that purpose for some. But comfort is not progress. If Surrealism wishes to retain and even sharpen its edge – and the desire to do so seems to be what ultimately lies behind this enquiry – then we need to raise the bar of international Surrealist discourse, not content ourselves with the endless revision of Surrealism 101.

It seems to us necessary, firstly, to clarify what the watchwords love, poetry and freedom stand for today.

I do not agree that it is necessary to clarify the meaning of these words. Nor do I find the definition of keywords in any way an exciting, inspiring or, most importantly, poetic project for the development of Surrealism. Indeed, if the opening paragraph of this enquiry is correct that the world has integrated Surrealist references and discourses, one of its most successful methods for doing so has precisely been to reduce Surrealism to keywords, slogans and signifiers. Let’s proceed by actively manifesting the Surrealist spirit through acts of revolt and concrete utopianism, not by reducing that spirit to keywords.

We begin by challenging freedom, with three questions that you can answer with a word, a sentence or a long speech, or even criticizing the question. All contributions would be welcome.

1 - Does the word freedom still seem to you, here and now, inspiring?

The way this question is phrased, at a level of abstraction and generalisation that is not rooted in any historical or social context, renders it meaningless.

I’m not interested in the word ‘freedom’. I am interested in practices of freedom.

Thinking in terms of practices of freedom necessitates thinking about context, strategy and tactics. For example, this enquiry, like most international Surrealist enquiries these days, has been drafted using software from the US company Microsoft, and is being distributed by email. This means that the questions and all of the replies will be surveilled, collected and stored by the United States National Security Agency. What do we as Surrealists have to say about that? More importantly, what do we do about it? What do we say and do about freedom in relation to the resurgence of the Far Right in Europe, or the false narrative of austerity, or the recriminalisation of homosexuality, or the precarisation of the working class? Let’s have an enquiry that figures out some answers to those harder questions, and perhaps we’ll get somewhere interesting. (For me the underlying strategy for approaching all of these questions is the rejection of abstract labour. I have already written about this elsewhere, and would be very enthusiastic about discussing it in more depth with Surrealist comrades.)

On a philosophical level – the level on which this focus on keywords seems to want to operate, albeit without reaching very deeply into it – I would say that ‘freedom’ has greatest significance as one half of the dialectic between freedom and necessity. The Aufhebung of that dialectic – the vanishing point of the contradiction, to use the familiar Surrealist terminology – is one of the goals of Surrealism (but only one). That Aufhebung is something of which we all have direct, if sometimes only fleeting, experience, during acts of love, creation or poetic illumination, when freedom and necessity cease to be in contradiction and are thereby elevated to another plane of reality. 

2 - Do you think that freedom could scare some to the degree that they prefer servitude?

This question enrages me, since it so easily invites responses that treat those who are not ‘enlightened’ – i.e. anyone other than those answering the enquiry – as dupes and cowards who lack the intelligence or courage to resist their own oppression. No one in this world today is ever offered a choice between servitude and freedom. At best we are offered a choice between servitude and the struggle against servitude, a struggle that is ridiculed as futile on the one hand and repressed by brutal violence on the other. Millions of people around the world bravely engage in that struggle every day nonetheless, individually and collectively, with whatever meagre means are at their disposal. The question we should be asking is how we can join all those large and small struggles together and amplify them to the point where capitalism cracks. Surrealism has enormous potential to crack capitalism in that way, if only we can get down to the tactical questions of how to do so most effectively.

3 - In a recent review (Le Monde, 11th October 2013 - ‘Trois poètes libertaires’) we read: “... this pre- and post-war spirit of surrealism, which may seem so distant now, in its radical and desperate freedom.” Do you agree with this judgment?

I don’t give a flying fuck what gets written in Le Monde or any other liberal newspaper.


Merl Fluin

Collage: Paul Cowdell, Merl Fluin, Patrick Hourihan, Elva Jozef, Jonah Wilberg, Kirsty Woods

Dear friends,

We are launching an enquiry the ambition of which is to identify what the surrealist spirit might still mean in a world that appears to have integrated surrealism into its references and discourses, but in reality tramples upon its major demands.

It seems to us necessary, firstly, to clarify what the watchwords love, poetry and freedom stand for today.

We begin by challenging freedom, with three questions that you can answer with a word, a sentence or a long speech, or even criticizing the question. All contributions would be welcome.

1 - Does the word freedom still seem to you, here and now, inspiring?

Yes and no, or more than this, the implied gap between freedom and inspiration (or mobilisation), as if between the unfurled tricolor and its effect on the simple pistolier, being characteristic of the uninspired liberal conception of freedom – doing what one wants’ – which is left in ruins by the fact that one lacks the imagination to truly want anything, let alone that the passion of inspiration transcends the language of wanting and willing, this being the reason why Breton’s emphasis on the political importance of imaginative freedom (e.g. in Toward a Free Revolutionary Art) should be understood as being not merely about a particular kind of freedom but rather as invoking the essence of freedom – Das Freie – the authentically infinite playground of imagination in which we approximate ourselves, not only by means of  “the full development of material, intellectual and moral powers” (Bakunin’s definition) but by simultaneous exploration and creation, using strange new senses and ancient magical abilities, of alternate identities and distant realities, each eliciting new rationalities and so negating every successive rational definition of a freedom nevertheless defined implicitly in every painting or poem no matter how insane.

2 - Do you think that freedom could scare some to the degree that they prefer servitude?

Yes, this can be easily verified by means of vivisection and endoscopy.

3 - In a recent review (Le Monde, 11th October 2013 - ‘Trois poètes libertaires’) we read: “... this pre- and post-war spirit of surrealism, which may seem so distant now, in its radical and desperate freedom.” Do you agree with this judgment?

I try to steer clear of judgements, especially judgements about surrealism.


Jonah Wilberg
 
Collage: Paul Cowdell, Merl Fluin, Patrick Hourihan, Elva Jozef, Jonah Wilberg, Kirsty Woods